Day 25 - Thursday
Fantastic to wake up to the sun peeking out from massive cumulus clouds! Today the weather is going to be kind I am sure - after all it cannot keep raining can it? I can do a good clean out of the bothy, which after a few days of being pretty much inside for most of the time, was resembling a Chinese laundry, with clothes hanging up everywhere trying valiantly to get dry.
A word about the dawn chorus here.
Surrounded as I am with trees covering this little valley in ancient woods, there are a plethora of birds. I also think that with the proximity to the sea on this western side of the English coastline, there are more different varieties of the feathered kind inhabiting the trees and hedgerows.
I have counted upwards of 30 different varieties and they all have their own distinctive call and song. The chorus starts early, just after 4am as the very first vestiges of light appear on the eastern horizon. It usually starts with the crows flying from their roosts at the tops of the trees across the valley. They are noisy birds and probably 'kick start' all the others. Robins and blackbirds start to get in on the act, and as they are lower down and much closer to the bothy, they tend to get my attention. Soon they are joined by the cooing of the numerous pigeons and the rasping cackle of the jay, by 4.30am we are in full swing. The jay (I think there is only one in this part of the wood) often lands of the bothy roof, hopping along the top cackling away. Outside at ground level, 'no tail' adds to the orchestra of sound, so by 5am we are in full swing and no chance of dozing back to sleep! The buzzards join in as they leave their nests for an early morning glide around the heavens looking for breakfast below. The cacophony of sound first thing is a thing of beauty, and can only really be appreciated away from built up areas.
Day 26 - Friday
I woke up to clear blue skies as the sun makes its way up over the hill behind me, stretching its long subliminal ray's of warmth across to the other side of the valley. I know it will be a beautiful day when, by 5.30am the first ray's illuminate the tops of the old oaks standing proud on the far side.
After a quick breakfast, I get my shorts on and wander down to the beach. Before dropping down the last 200 metres or so to the sea, you come across the south west coastal path which bisects the beach path at a small bridge where another old, building (being renovated) stands. I wanted to first have a look for the 'elusive' Peppercombe castle, which although marked on the map, I have yet to find evidence of. The trees and undergrowth at the top of the path and along this stretch are thick and guard its secret location. And a secret it remains, because despite looking in the obvious (and less obvious) places I could nothing in the shapes of old walls, sunken tracks or obvious viewing points. It was a little disappointing but I will go back again to search on another good day.
Further along the track are pre-ponderous amounts of bluebells. Only in Herefordshire were we once lived have I seen so many adorning another ancient wood called Athlestone. But here, the sight was incredible. The loveliness of the bluebell is not so much as an individual flower, although indeed they are very pretty specimens with the 'bell' of the flower hanging downwards supporting by its slender stem. For me, the beauty are in its numbers. Along this track, either side there are thousands of them growing, a massive and overwhelming splash of colour - a sea of blue among the greys, browns and greens of the wood floor.
As it was still early, there was little chance that I would encounter any walkers, so I found a small glade to one side and tip toed through the bluebells and found a spot highlighted by a sun beam breaking through the canopy above. Here, I just lay down on this wonderful carpet of blue and just closed my eyes. It can only be described as magical. The smell of the bluebells covered me and the warmth of the early sun bathed me, and I imagined fairies dancing to their hearts delight! I spent perhaps an hour or so there, knowing that this type of experience only occurs once a year, as soon, the bluebell will retire and fade until spring next year.
I returned along the track and went to the sea to collect driftwood for my fire tonight. The beach was deserted and the tide was on its way out, the water to return in 10 hours or so.
As I turn my phone on to send my 'x' to Buffy, an alert comes up reminding me it was May 19th and the anniversary of Adrian's passing. It was strange, that over the past few days, I had been thinking of Avebury and its enormous majestic stone circle, and obviously with that connection came Adrian. A year ago, he passed and I cannot believe that amount of time has passed already. Shortly after his funeral ceremony at Avebury, I had gone off for my first time of solitude onto Dartmoor. Whilst there, I am convinced that his spirit was close to me, even to the extent that I believed I had a conversation with him whilst sat in the Grey Wethers stone circle. Back at the bothy, I lit a candle outside which promptly went out, so I lit my fire instead - partly to cook food on and partly to have flame/light whilst in mediation sending love and peace to his spirit, but also to Helen his partner and Gracie his daughter. It was a poignant evening...
Day 27 - Saturday
The rain has returned! That's put a dent in my ambition to wash some clothes and cook outside. By careful use, my little gas canister is still running and long may that last as I restrict myself to a morning cuppa and a mid morning cup of coffee. I am hoping to be able to set off on my walk home with the last canister still yet to be used. That way, I can pretty much guarantee that I will at least have hot drinks. I estimate that the journey home will be around 150-170 miles (it's around 100 miles by car), so I will need to average 20+ miles a day. Normally I would have considered that very 'doable', but with my overall pace now having slowed down and the fact I will be carrying a large pack, it will be a good challenge.
Despite the rain, I donned my wet proofs and went 'walkabout' up into the woods opposite me. After an initial steepish climb, the wood opens out a little with a wide variety of mature trees. A mixture of oaks, ash, beech and lime trees adorn the hillside, all of which are pretty big and old. I found a quiet spot at the top and sat down at the base of, clearly, an ancient oak. It was a wonderful feeling sat with my back against such a mighty tree with the knowledge that hundreds of years ago, it started life as a tiny acorn. The trees have an energy about them which is noble, steadfast and gracious. One could almost feel the sap running through to all the branches above me, given to the tree by Mother Earth and, of the light of the sun.
Sitting there reminded me of the film Avatar, where one massive tree was the home, both physically and spiritually to an entire community. It was their sacred home. They say in parts of the U.K. there are very old yew trees. Some over a thousand years old and more - often found in churches, where once gathered the ancient Britons and Druids to connect to a sacred being, a sacred space. Most old Christian churches occupy the site of such pagan gathering sites, unashamedly taking over the space in order to convert the 'savage pagans' as the Romans called the Druids to Christianity. And yet, it was our forefathers connection to the world in nature around them, that allowed such a deep connection to nature and our earth, that many of us lost eons ago.
Sitting there surrounded by huge trees allowed me to connect to all that was around me so much easier than normal. A squirrel dashing around the beech trees, the blackbirds swooping through the glades, the butterflies dancing with abandon over the wild orchid looking flowers, all took on a slow motion passage as I watched with heightened awareness of what was around me.
My eyes started to close and I drifted off. I knew I had been asleep there on the forest floor, because firstly the sun was beaming through the trees, and secondly my stomach groaned complaining it was hungry! I had no watch on me but knew I had left the bothy around 10am, and when I got back it was 4.30pm, and I had only walked a quarter of a mile away! I must have been asleep on that wooded hillside for upwards of 4 hours! Amazing.
The weather held enough for me to have a hot supper over the fire of spicy butter beans with vegetables. Even though I had slept during the day, I was tucked up and sleeping by 8pm!
Day 21 - Sunday
It absolutely poured down last night from around 5pm onwards. I had two sets of visitors to the bothy. Firstly, around 6pm while I was waiting hopefully for a break in the rain to light my fire, two guys came up to the front of the bothy, peered in, saw me and turned away. I felt sorry for them as it was really pelting down, but then skin is waterproof and it does rain in England!
I was asleep so it was at least gone 9pm and just about dark, when I was woken by someone trying to bash the door down. That woke me up, but before I could shout out anything, they (I think it was two people) wandered around the corner and stood in the outside loo! After about 5 minutes of mumbling, they left just as the rain got even harder! I think it is to do with the fact that the sign on both tracks to the bothy, does not say 'private', and hardened walkers might actually think that it was a bothy for general public use to get out of the inclement weather. Anyway, it took me a while after to get back to sleep afterwards.
I woke up at 6am to see it had stopped raining, although there are still big clouds in the sky, but at least the sun was tentatively shining. Fingers crossed for an outside fire tonight. I set off for my 'hide' around 1130am to await Buffy's arrival. It was beautiful sitting under the beech tree where my 'lean to' was, just listening to the ocean in the distance and the plethora of birds with their songs in the trees above me. One thing that is bothering me somewhat, is that I have not seen or heard of 'no tail' the pheasant for about 3 days now? I hope he is alright.
Whilst I waited for Buffy under those trees with the gentle background sounds on the air, I drifted off into a sort of semi sleep. I was awake, but not, if you know what I mean. It was all a little surreal but it allowed me some insight into breathing, feeling how it was so different on each inhale and exhale. It's part of my meditation process now to just be aware of this simple, yet life continuing process that we all do instinctively.
Buffy duly arrived and made 2 trips from where the van was parked. One was to drop off food, and the other to bring my sea fishing kit. How thoughtful was that? With any luck I will try out fishing from the rocks once the weather has improved. More fantastic food stuffs to get stuck into. There's no chance of me losing weight this time, unlike Dartmoor where I really did. She also brought her beautiful elemental chimes which really do add to the 'magic' of the place. I have started toning (allowing sound to come forth) these add to the mysterious sounds I am creating!
Day 22 - Monday
Yet more rain! I would really like to cook outside for a change, but there is no chance of that with continuing rain. One of the interesting facets of having no internet coverage here, is that I have no idea what the weather will do, other than guess by looking at the sky and checking wind direction and speed. Generally speaking, with no real wind but weather systems coming from the prevailing west, it tends to rain a lot. This is because the weather is all coming out of the Atlantic. When the wind veers around to the north it gets colder but tends not to rain as much.
Coming back to breathing, I think there is a lot more that I can do with this practice, prior or as part of, meditation.
First of all we can bring our attention and awareness of what is happening to us right now - thoughts, emotions and body sensations. There is no need to deeply analyse these at all, just to recognise and accept these sensations, even the difficult ones.
At this point, I bring my attention to the breath and bring my full focus to it, experiencing every in and out breath. Interestingly enough, no one breath is the same as the other - some are shorter or longer than others. Maybe only when we are asleep do we get closer to a steady rhythm rather than in our waking hours when the breath is different a lot of the time.
The breath helps me focus my awareness, but also takes me away from internal mind 'clutter' and very much into the 'now'. It is then possible to expand this awareness to the whole of my body, like the whole of my body is breathing, not just the nose, mouth, windpipe and lungs. I can now gain a sense of the space that my body takes up, as well as the immediate space around me.
Noticing that 'space' and the calmness that comes with the sensation allows me to be calm, and almost, but not quite yet, remove the ego chattering away. I reckon this is something that needs a lot of practising, but it is something I am working with.
Still no fire tonight but a delicious cold meal of salad with cheese and artichoke hearts! Thank you Buffy!
Day 23 - Tuesday
Rain. For the first time when I woke up I had a real sense of sadness not being at home with the family. I have had the odd moment whilst here, at wanting to be at home, but this morning the feeling was strong enough to make me cry.
I had to recognise the sadness, accept it, but then focus on why I was here. To know myself more, to grow as a person, but also to come to terms with past 'issues' and break the mould of unsavoury habits. I want to be a calmer and nicer person to be around - all of the time. I believe, I am getting there, so wiping away the tears and giving myself a hug, whilst sending ethereal love to my family and friends was what I needed to do.
I got the wetproofs on mid morning and walked the coastal path to Clovelly. It took around 3 hours to get there, but with the rain that meant no encounters with other walkers, which was fantastic. The sea is remarkably calm with gentle waves caressing the shoreline. Even with the grey clouds and poor visibility, the beauty of my surroundings are there to be seen.
This is something I do a lot of now walking slowly and really taking in the environment around me. It's beautiful to notice the small things and how perfect they are - tiny snails climbing baby fern shoots with beautifully formed spiral shells with the rain glistening on their bodies. The endless drifting flight of a seabird over the water, making tiny changes to the wings to bring about effortless change in direction. Many things that we take for granted, yet are all around us if we chose to look.
I remember some years ago whilst on an NLP course, we were invited to walk outside and really take in our surroundings. That moment was a real 'ah ha' moment for me as I slowed my walking pace right now to observe a countryside lane with its myriad of flowers, insects and birds.
So, next time you go for a walk, try being slower and look with focus on the world around you. Take your time, it will be worth it.
One piece of good news is that 'no tail' is back! I was absolutely soaked by the time I returned to the bothy. Should be very interesting to see how shoes and clothes dry out in the bothy with no heat.
Day 24 - Wednesday
Predictably, I woke to the sound of rain...there is hardly a breath of wind, so it could be with me all day.
I nipped out to check my wood stocks to make sure they were still dry on the off chance I could light a fire at some stage. The fern leaves covering the wood are doing a fine job, keeping the bulk of it dry and usable.
There was a slight break in the rain around midday, so I walked down with a bin liner on as protection to my jumper with my gortex extrem jacket on the outside as that was still sodden from yesterday's walk to Clovelly. I managed to get a signal and sent my 'x' to Buffy before the rain came in again.
Back in the bothy, I had a quiet lie down in meditation exploring the dream I had last night involving Bella (my daughter Isabelle) and the hurt lady (see an outline of the dream below). I was not able to fathom much except it seemed that Bella was extremely thoughtful of that person and at the same time practical about what to do immediately. We so often ponder many different options without actually 'getting on with it' but it confirmed in my mind how resourceful Bella is in many situations.
For lunch, as it was still raining, I did a little experiment with food. I could smell the Camembert cheese (I have two cakes now) and felt I ought to start eating them before they attracted every mouse in the local environment! However, instead of just applying cheese to biscuits and eating straight off, I decided to really make a 'big deal' out of the meal. So, after opening the cake up, I just smelt it for about a minute, taking in all the olfactory senses and allowing that to linger a while in my head and body. Before cutting into the cake, I then blest the food and the cow that had supplied the milk to make the cheese, the farmer who milked the cow and the producer for turning that into the wonderful cheese in front of me. I did the same for the oatcake biscuits.
Now, and only now was I ready to taste the cheese. I cut a small piece off and placed it into my mouth - no eating yet. Now I just allowed my tongue to explore the textures, a bit of crust and underneath that a beautiful soft and creamy 'goo'. After allowing that sensation to build up, I noticed my salivation increasing - memory banks in the brain had sent signals to my mouth, my stomach and my mind as to what to expect.
Then I bit into the 'goo'. The sensation was incredible. It was like going back in time but fast forwarded cinema scope images of times of holidays in France, times at home, times when Camembert was put in front of me. What a wonderful gustatory extravaganza!
The bottom line is that I think if we slowed up our eating habits and really appreciated every mouthful slowly, instead of gulping it down, how much more we would appreciate the food in front of us. It was a memorable slice of time doing a simple thing and eating cheese!
The day just slipped away, and being dark and grey throughout, night seemed to come earlier than normal. My evening meal was a cup of tea and a crab salad with pitta bread. Very nourishing and wonderful to taste.
I was with Bella and we were somewhere hot, I have a sense it was on the Mediterranean coastline. We were looking down a valley and saw a tourist type bus dropping some folk off at a large villa. Just as one largish women was climbing off the back, the driver set off and she fell with real crash to the ground. I ran down the road to see if there was anything I could do. Apparently she had a broken leg, and without doubt a head injury as blood stained the side of the road. She looked grim. Really grim. Everyone around us were stunned, silent and in shock. No one had called for an ambulance, so Bella charged off back up the hill to 'our place' to phone for one. What seemed like only seconds she had returned and started to administer immediate first aid and holding this lady’s hand murmuring encouraging words. A crow flapped its wings on top of the bus and seemed very animated towards us by calling its rasp 'craw craw' sound. From nowhere came a helicopter which landed beside us and her the injured lady away. It was all so fast. We walked back up to our villa with the crow flying in between us the whole way. Odd...
I was toying the other day with the word ‘mindset’. It seems to be used everywhere to describe attitude and behaviour, for example having a positive mindset or a negative mindset are words that are in common use – particularly among athletes.
But then I started to focus on the word, and realised that having ‘set’ in the word meant, like concrete drying and setting, it would be very difficult to change the mind. I started to think about having a flexible approach to attitude and behaviour, and of course, the word ‘flex’ came into play – and by combining the pair we get mindflex!
But how can we change our minds to having flex or flexibility and start using the term mindflex?
Say “thank you” every day to change your attitude about life.
Practicing gratitude rewires our brain to think about positive things, the things that we have going for us, instead of the things we do not have and that can leave us feeling frustrated and unhappy.
Why not create a gratitude journal and write in it for 5 minutes each morning when you wake up or just before you go to sleep? List 3 things you are grateful for in your life right now. It can be the simplest of things, such as having a warm bed to sleep in, a roof over your head, a family that loves you, food in your fridge, a dog or cat that you have as your pet. Get specific: if it is a family member, write down which of their qualities you are grateful for.
Adopt a ‘growth mindflex’ – see I used that word!
Henry Ford once said: “Whether you think you can, or you think you cannot – you are right.” In other words, the view we adopt for ourselves profoundly affects the way we lead our life. For example, if you believe you can think more positively, you can make it happen. Conversely, if you don't believe in the power of positive thinking, then it doesn’t matter how much others will tell you how great the benefits are.
How can you think more positively? Start nurturing a “growth mindflex” (versus a fixed mindset). If there is something about your current mindflex you do not like, the good news is - you can change it for the better.
Treat happiness like a habit that you can implement in your life.
A happy life cannot exist without you creating it.
What does that mean?
It means that every day you need to actively look for what you can do to become happier, instead of expecting life to just become happy on its own.
How can you do this?
Apply some positive psychology to the way you lead your life, and you will feel a more positive impact on your attitude, your motivation, and your relationships with people.
Do one small thing every day that makes you feel good.
Doing what we enjoy boosts our happiness levels, which is why it’s important to make the time for activities we like to do. Depending on your personality, it could be a solitary activity or something fun you like to do with a partner or friend. Make time to practice it every day. For example:
Replace saying “I can’t do this right now” with “why not?”
We all feel like procrastinating on some things in life, it’s human to do so. It doesn’t require a lot of effort to procrastinate. In fact, it’s almost a default reaction to something challenging that’s in front of you. Try these ideas to beat procrastination:
Develop a positive attitude towards your mistakes.
Making mistakes is a normal part of life. It’s how you approach them that matters. Try a different strategy of viewing your past by forgiving yourself for mistakes that you made. Reflect on them, learn from them, but don't hold on to them. This applies to your relationships, your career, your education and other areas of your life in which you feel you didn’t achieve what you wanted or underperformed in some way. By changing how you relate to mistakes, you will give yourself more freedom to manage your future more successfully.
Do not waste time with toxic people.
Toxic people may claim they are your friends, but they are not. What makes them toxic is their negative attitude towards everything, so it’s not likely they can give you a boost of positivity. Be very selective who you spend your free time with, and next time a toxic person wants to monopolize your time, just say no. Tell them you’re busy. Don’t engage in negative banter. You're better off spending free time on your own doing something that makes you relaxed and happy.
Take a more positive look at yourself.
Instead of being overly self-critical about everything you do (or everything you feel you’ve done wrong), switch to looking more closely at the best version of yourself. You know who that is. It’s that version of you that you strive to be, that you’ve always wanted to be. It’s the version of you who knows what is right, what needs to be done, how much time needs to be sacrificed, which goals need to be pursued.
Always keep a conversation going between the self you currently are and your ideal self. Whenever you are contemplating your next move, ask the best version of yourself what’s the right path to take, then go in that direction. This technique ensures that you see yourself in a positive light, which in turn will give you more motivation and a greater likelihood of success in your endeavours.
Think Mindflex and forget Mindset!
I have been watching the Women’s World Cup Rugby over the past 2 weeks held in Ireland. I admit to having a vestige interest as my daughter plays for the England team who are close to being, in my eyes, a ‘complete high performing team’. They are also about to contest a World Cup Final this Saturday.
What’s the big deal you may say?
Well, after 40 years of leading large and small teams in different and sometimes difficult environments around the world, I can truly say that the flow and synergy which is matched to consistent winning results only come to teams once in a while.
Teams such as these are extremely rare. They are tough to find and even tougher to build. But they do exist. They can be built. Anyone who has seen one in action or been fortunate enough to participate in or lead one will know it. We are watching such a team now in the England Women’s side.
Some background first.
This England Women’s Rugby team has built over years with a vision to be the best that there is in the world, and to win a World Cup (they were also building from a solid base having won the World Cup in 2014). The standard of women’s rugby (as well as the followership) has grown exponentially year on year, and the Rugby Football Union recognised that their approach to the women’s game needed to change.
To that end the Rugby Football Union decided that in order to achieve this vision, that they must make an Elite Squad of players for an 8 month period. Hats off to the senior management in the RFU for putting this into place, along with a set of coaches and back room staff that would make the difference in a constant emerging and fiercely competitive global game.
There are many so called characteristics of high performing teams, but for me I will only touch on 3 as I see them currently exhibited in this England team. They actually do form the core for any high performing team – without these, you cannot have a team of this magnitude.
First up is ability.
No one has yet figured out how to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, and world-class teams will not be produced without a fair number of world-class players.
Ability is important of course, but you cannot expect fantastic results with twenty or so brilliant individuals. Teams are created out of the belief that they generate an energy and synergy that make the whole greater than the sum of the parts. In the world-class team, the result is performance that is consistently at or beyond the level that any reasonable person could expect.
Ability is the result of the mastery of skills. In rugby these skills are very basic: running, kicking, passing, catching, pushing, jumping, tackling, and decision making. Each team member has a specific job to do which combines a number of these skills. Prop forwards are pushers par excellence, but also runners, passers, and catchers. Lock forwards are jumpers, catchers, and pushers, and occasionally runners and passers. Fullbacks are catchers, runners, passers, and kickers. Each of these specialists must contribute her particular skills if the team is to perform to world-class standards.
But this England team is breaking the mould. Both backs and forwards can excel in areas that you might not expect to see them excel in. For example, to watch a prop sprint 40 metres down the touchline is a wonderful sight, and to see the backs clearing out the ball in rucks and mauls with ferocity again, is incredible. In rugby, world-class teams are conspicuously breaking down the barriers of specialization. Forwards are learning to run and pass like backs; backs are getting bigger and learning to push and jump like forwards.
Next - Sacred ‘discontent’.
I use the term ‘sacred discontent’ because it describes beautifully a culture that exists in this England team.
By this I mean that this is linked to the team’s ability to question anyone in the team/squad in the pursuit of excellence. So, an honesty pervading in the squad that allows even the newest arrival to question the most senior player. I believe that the England coaches have had a massive part in this ‘team culture’ and again, should be highly complimented for this approach.
It is an attitude to learning and growth that is never satisfied with past achievements but always searching for the next challenge. It is remarkable how many sports players and teams are perpetually dissatisfied with their performance. After what seems an outstanding performance they appear ill at ease.
World-class teams are highly analytical and self-critical. They feel there is always more that could have been done, mistakes that could have been eliminated, and opportunities that could have been taken. The attitude is not one of unrelenting self-criticism, but rather a conviction that there is always more to be learned.
This team engages in extensive discussion, and everyone gets a chance to contribute — even the introverts.
Linked to ‘Scared discontent’ is the competence of discipline.
In this England world-class team, it has developed the ability to recognize, face, and tackle interpersonal issues promptly – and to be disciplined about it. Team members understand they must overturn any obstacles quickly and completely to focus on the job in hand. Issues may be settled by semi-formal methods or by extensive networks and informal chats. Coaches have been upfront and honest about team selection or individual performance.
Whatever form this takes, it has been incredibly powerful during the time they have had together and has helped bond the women into a force of co-opted warriors who will do anything for one another.
The players have solid and deep trust in each other and in the team’s purpose — simply put they believe totally in each other. Equally so, the leadership of the team shifts from time to time, as appropriate, to drive results. In this team, No individual member is more important than the team.
So, the next time you feel that your team is at a high performing level – just see if they act and perform like the above England Women’s Rugby team core characteristics…
And remember, Excellence is Good Enough.
When Life tips out of Balance
In the rush of modern day life it is easy to push aside small concerns and fail to notice that you are actually no longer your old happy self (assuming of course you can remember such a happy self!). But it's important to pay attention to the light gradual changes so we can keep our minds well and stop our lives from spinning out of control.
Don't we all love that effortless feeling of flow? The times when life unfolds with ease, and we experience the clarity of mind and levels of energy that view us with what seems to be a permanent sense of optimism and inspiration.
I often wish I could bottle that feeling and pull it off-the-shelf for when life seems more of an uphill struggle.
For example, right now I am in Northern Ireland having travelled from Bahrain in the Middle East and Brunei in the Far East over the past 3 weeks. I am here in Ireland watching my daughter playing professional sport in a World Cup Rugby competition. All of this within 18 days of which at least 5 of those days are travelling. It's a busy, busy life!
It's curious though how difficult we find it to notice ourselves drifting away from that ‘happy home’ or happy state of energetic optimistic flow. Equally curious is, how long it can take to realise that our life is out of balance, and in fact that were not very well at all.
In some ways it's like the process of ageing. Day-to-day glances in the mirror tend not to reveal the continual but subtle transformations that come with growing older. Then, one day, we are suddenly shocked by our reflection and need to look at a photo from our youth to become aware of the change. Luckily, however, mental rejuvenation and re-inspiration happen all the time.
So, is there a way to recognise before we actually hit crisis point that our life is tipping out of balance? And what can we do to realign ourselves?
These questions often come from highly committed people who give life their all, but can feel an underlying sense of inadequacy because they perceive themselves as not been the ideal partner, parent or professional. They see, inadequacy, missed opportunities and at worse - failure. By the way, I really do not like that word – we have all grown up with it, and it has a deep seated space in our conscious and sub conscious minds – ready to pop up frequently to bring us down. I try not to use it or think about it and have reframed the word as ‘development’ – in other words this ‘episode’ or event that did not go the way I thought it might has now become a learning and development piece for me. Much better all round!
I will share ideas and strategies that have worked for me, but there are some important principles to absorb first. Then you can take my suggestions and make them your own.
First of all - Zoom out, Zoom In
We are told that humans are the only species capable of placing ideas and events in a larger context (well that's what a lot of people believe, but I think we do a disservice to the animal kingdom when we make that assumption!).
Humans have a skill that is like zooming out of the camera lens. It enables us to devote ourselves fully to parenting, postpone gratification and reinterpret elements of hardship or suffering as opportunities to learn or as part of a bigger, more worthwhile picture. Changing nappies, for example, is no big deal when we know and appreciate the importance of parenting.
We are capable of feeling joy and finding meaning in the smallest moments, but were equally capable of elevating the meaningless or error of the moment, into a larger more significant frame. If we allow them, mistakes for example to happen, they can offer huge opportunities for new insights.
Intriguingly we find it difficult to use this mechanism to prosper our own thoughts, through which we perceive what is going on for ourselves and the world around us, on a very regular basis. This is especially so when we are feeling anxious or stressed. We incline towards seeing only one thing or the other.
We would help ourselves enormously if we made a habit of stepping back and seeing the bigger picture; reminding ourselves of what's really important to us.
Someone I was working with recently had become too focused on a person he disliked. Once he chose to see this colleague as an irritating ‘mistake’ but then, on a much bigger canvas everything started to change. He gained a sense of perspective and was able to refocus on what really mattered in his life. He was also able to see the issues that presented themselves to him through the actions and behaviour of his colleague as an opportunity for both of them to grow together – rather than dwell on anger, upset and dissatisfaction.
We are all busy, busy, busy.
Our modern, often urbanised environment has a lot to answer for in masking our ability to notice when things are starting to tip the balance and notice that we are beginning to become unwell.
The constant appeal to our senses and the shared mental overload it brings has become a fact of life. It's a situation that exists and, is accelerating. It's up to us therefore, to learn to disconnect, to rest from the indigestible volume of information and stimuli that comes our way, if we are to lead the gracious and more balanced lives of which we are all capable of. I guess that is why, for me, I choose to take time out on solitude experiences, which you can read more about if you wish on my website: mikenoelsmith.com.
In the fragmentation of our attention, as we get bombarded by the current external world, we are less and less present and, also less attentive to the communication and language of our own bodies and in our exchanges with the people around us. Think about how this might apply to you and what you might do about it.
Change is the only constant
Although the Greek philosopher Heraclitus gave us the wise words “change is the only constant” over 2 thousand years ago, it still takes us a lifetime to come to terms with this fact. Life, and consequently our individual lives, can be described as a constant evolving process that takes place both in our bodies and in our relationships.
We need to find individual ways to wake up to and noticed this process of change as it takes place and not to buy into the sometimes bullying cult of permanent happiness. Truly recognise that change will happen to us and be aware of the emotional journey that accompanies change. Joy is a fabulous feeling, but we are blessed with the ability to feel so much more. Anger, revulsion, fear, grief and denial are some of the emotions that we try to hide from or at least avoid, but then these feelings help us become wise and compassionate and ultimately to experience life as meaningful. Denying their presence by sweeping them under the carpet becomes counter-productive, which, in turn, leads to insincerity and brittleness.
Being committed to raising our own self-awareness of how we are doing in our lives requires courage. The courage to acknowledge the less comfortable feelings as they arise and the awareness not to turn a blind eye to them are as important for us to assess the feelings of happiness.
By allowing all those different ‘guests’, as the mystic poet Rumi called them, to enter our ‘house’ our true self, we are able to develop compassion and tolerance of inevitable discomfort and ultimately resilience stops or at least slows right down and in doing so, hopefully, keep our lives in balance.
So what can we do about it? Here are some practical ways to recognise yourself slipping out of balance:
1. Make commitments
Perhaps the place to start is to make a commitment to yourself: that you make time and practice listening to your inner process as well as how you relate to others. Cultivate a way of listening and hearing that is kind and generous to yourself as well as curious and open. Stay present, however painful, and try to suspend judgement.
Paradoxically by accepting our vulnerability as a permanent fixture rather than something we need to work through at top speed, we become stronger and life become more deeply satisfying. So, by just knowing what state you are in, will strengthen you.
2. Learn to direct your attention
The quality of your life is directly connected to your ability to pay attention. For all the good that is it has brought, the mobile revolution that we currently live in has severely eroded many people's attention span.
There are things we can do to change this:
3. Connect with your body
Our bodies are very accurately keeping the score of how we are. This is a fact. You can learn to read and hear what the subtle stirrings are, without having to wait for its cries of despair to stop. Little things are warning signs: poor sleep, aches and pains generally in the body, stiffness in movement etc; So -
Connect with your mind
Conservative estimates tell us we have 20,000 thoughts a day with 75% of those being somewhat negative. We are predisposed to seek out the bad – it's a survival technique that we as a species have always had. By focusing effectively on danger we have managed to stay safe and evolve as humans for millennia.
The thing is that our environment is not as dangerous as it was but our brains have not quite got out of that habit, and what you focus on is what you get. To seek out good news, dismiss futile negative thoughts and make firm decisions about the quality of thought your commit to, because it will keep you buoyant and aware of times when it is more difficult to ignore negative ruminations. And this might just be telling you something.
Connect with other people
Even the most introverted of us need to interact with other people. We are inter-dependent as a species. Each exchange with another, even the person behind the till at the supermarket, will change us and we them.
Notice the quality of your interactions with others. Irritability, poor listening and a lack of generosity, can tell me when I'm slipping.
Investing in this form of self exploration is liberating. The lesser mercy of our unbridled feelings we are, the better. Remain ever curious and accept what you see: whether the quality of your sleep or your physical agility is affected or that your thoughts and interactions are less positive.
Slipping out of balance might even seem attractive at first glance because you may be able to feel getting our with less sleep, become overly optimistic, and even hyperactive, as good things. In the end though, you will only recognise your language of distress and these can be very telling.