Some of you will know, many of you will not – my much loved aunt died last month aged 93. It was a life well lived full of courage, travel, friends and love. Despite that, and the fact I know she is free of infirmity now, I will miss her and grieve the loss of yet another family member. My mum died when I was 23 and my dad when I was 27. Another aunt died at my mums funeral, her son of a brain tumour, and her husbands of Parkinson’s.
My lovely and sadly, late aunt; Nora Lewis Pole
Because of this I had experience of impactful deaths relatively early in life. Since then my husband has, at times, accused me of being overly morbid and talking too much about death.
There is some truth in this, in that whenever my daughters ask about dying or death I don’t shy away from the topic but discuss it with them. I think it would also be fair to say that the deaths in my life have shaped me in painful ways; including a brush with anorexia and a long term fight with depression and panic attacks. However although the experience of bereavement was and still is painful and traumatic there were, and are still, some good things that have come out of the loss.
Bad things too – like panic attacks, fear and an aching hole inside especially when I think that my daughters will never know their maternal grandparents, but unexpected good things as well. What the deaths of loved ones has taught me:
1. Don’t sweat the small stuff. You hear this one a lot but it really is true. Whether your socks match or your car smells of dog or your house isn’t show home perfect is really no big deal.
2. Appreciate the family and friends you have got while you have them. Yes they are annoying and imperfect but really these are the people that matter in your life – cherish them.
3. Money really really can’t buy happiness, or back time you didn’t spend appreciating what you already have.
4. It’s great to be alive – I am often – muddled, mistaken, but alive and happy to have another day.
5. Every day is precious. The division between life is knife blade thin. A whole life can be gone in a matter of seconds yet is even more beautiful because of this.
Early morning sunrise and clouds
We are only a month into 2016 and already it is all go for GirlWritesBlog (and the rest of her family too)… After much dithering and indecision I have made the decision to qualify as a personal trainer! To fund the course I’ve taken on some part time work and to actually be able to drive to clients at the end of it all I’m still working on the panic attacks I have whilst driving.
In the afternoons, like so many parents, I work as an unpaid taxi driver for my kids as they have now reached the ages when their horizons have widened yet they are still too young to drive themselves…
Nothing very shocking in all of this but in all the busy-ness I have a renewed appreciation of walking the dog! Amid the rushing around slowing to a walking pace and just striding along gives me a feeling of peace and freedom which I really value. No great surprise here just a real sense of gratitude that I do get a chance to escape the rushing and have some “me time” in this way. I am sharing some of the photos from my walks therefore and would love to hear what you love doing to unwind too???
A lone guava waits for his mates to fall from the tree behind…
Serious selfie with orange flowers
Taking a break
Why have we stopped here?
Almond tree in blossom
Ready for 2016?
Tomorrow it will be 2016. All 365 days of 2015 will be done and another year will begin. Traditionally this is the time when we make new year’s resolutions. We vow to lose weight, get fitter, face our fears, work on relationships and generally improve ourselves and our lives. In truth however life does not always work in this way. No matter how much we seek to control ourselves and the spheres in which our lives move, there are always events and people beyond our control. A measure of order us good but trying to tie down all the uncertainties and unknowns is exhausting and is unlikely to succeed.
Back in October I wrote a post on a TED talk by Scott Dinsmore, founder of Living Legend. The talk is called How to find the work you love. The talk, and Scott’s passion for life, and for creating a community of fulfilled, courageous people inspired me. I signed up but found I was unable to do much of the work as Autumn became so busy I had little time. Over the last few days I have been looking at the material and information again. I was shocked to discover that in September of this year Scott was killed by a rock fall whilst climbing Kilimanjaro. He was 33 years old. Speaking of his son’s death however Scott’s dad said something amazing.
‘He lived more in his short 33 years than most do in a lifetime,’
His words and Scott’s incredible life and sudden death brought me up short. In part I am inspired by the fact Scott really did follow his passion and create something amazing. I am also hit by the way Scott’s death highlights the fragility of life and how quickly it can be gone or changed.
This new year is not going to be about resolutions so much a resolve to step out in courage – with my panic attacks and with jobs – and see where that takes me. I won’t be in control but I will see what it is like to live what I believe.
The classic Mud Christmas song “Lonely this Christmas”
It is time to confess – I love Christmas. I love buying presents, I love the cheesy songs, I love putting up decorations and having people round to eat mince pies and drink wine. I celebrate the ideas of peace and goodwill and the belief in something incredible and bigger than ourselves.
As the new Star Wars film comes out however I want to acknowledge there is a “dark side” to Christmas. There is intense pressure, on women especially, to get an unrealistic number of things done and to make Christmas day itself “perfect”. There are adverts encouraging us to buy more and bigger toys and gifts and luxury food and drink. In the UK the Samaritans report more calls to their helpline from suicidal and depressed people over the Christmas period than at any other time of year.
I don’t think however the problem is Christmas itself but how it epitomises our Western way of looking at life. We are taught as children to be individuals, to accomplish things by ourselves and think of ourselves and our families. We think of ourselves as separate to other families and individuals and not usually as part of a community or “tribe”. This means at Christmas we focus in on buying presents for our children and our friends. We invite our family for Christmas and try and make everything perfect for them. We strive to do everything ourselves. In this I am just as guilty as everyone else.
I have been racing towards Christmas trying to accomplish ever more and get my to do list done each day. I have missed the more vital realisation that Christmas is not what we do or buy but a celebration of love which is spent with those we care about. The trappings of Christmas – the presents, food and decorations are not nearly as important as the opportunity to embrace love and share it with others.
When I was younger my amazing mum had a poster on her wall at work. It showed a cat sitting on a wall and underneath the picture were the words “People are lonely because they build walls instead of bridges”.
It takes courage to reach out to other people, especially if you don’t know them or they are different from you. As a child I didn’t really understand why my mum and dad had strange people from church over to dinner sometimes or why people I hardly knew sometimes came for Christmas. Now, years on, I see that it was a form of risk taking by my parents, a way of reaching out to create something bigger than themselves, a community and friendship. So this Christmas I am going to try and be more courageous, to build more bridges and less walls. I wont be as safe but I could end up somewhere I never dreamed of…
James Bond gets mindful….
I struggle with mindfulness. I spend a lot of time imaging future scenarios, reacting as I have done in the past (appropriate or not), or in another worlds in my head. Just being in the moment is a challenge for me. As I rued this whilst walking the dog a thought struck me – is that one of the secrets of 007’s success…
Admittedly James Bond is not the first person that most people think of when thinking about mindfulness, but I wondered if an ability to live in the moment frees James Bond’s brain up to think of creative ways out of deadly peril? Does mindfulness also makes being an assassin easier I wondered – (don’t think about the past or present just now!) or is that made easier by a lack of empathy with others and a moral code which allows you to decide who lives or dies?
There is, I admit, a part of me which envies the ability of Ian Fleming’s fictional hero to kill or seduce without worrying about any moral uncertainties. I don’t admire other aspects of his character – the casual sexism and disregard for human life but I do admire the fact that Bond does not go to bed at night with the sense of a life half lived.
As my thoughts ran on mindfulness and assassins i realised that the main reason I suck at mindfulness is that sometimes I find facing the present and experiencing it fully is hard. Like sex with the lights on it takes a certain degree of self acceptance. When we are in the moment we need to acknowledge our feelings and really see what we are doing or thinking instead of ignoring them or being elsewhere in our minds. That takes intention and at times courage but I am encouraged by the fact that being fully alive in the moment means we can bring all our best creativity and skills to the task at hand and enjoy it – even if we are only putting out a wash or travelling to work.
The time is now for our decisions actions, friendship and love – let’s make it count.
Cold Morning Sunrise
Winter is coming – not just on Game of Thrones, but throughout the northern hemisphere. Even here in Southern Spain the days are shorter and there is a chill in the air both early morning and evenings. Days which start cloudy are often warmer as the cloud cover has prevented some of the warmth from the previous day escaping. As my youngest daughter grabbed a jumper for school she remarked “Sometimes the sunniest days are the coldest!”. Her throw-away comment reverberated in my head as a realisation that the same thing is true when it comes to measuring success in our own lives and judging that of others.
On the surface my Monday appeared very successful. I went to pay the final taxes to legalise small house we own and had a positive meeting with my daughter’s form teacher who only speaks Spanish. Only I knew that in order to get to the next town along the coast to pay the taxes I had taken back roads because I was scared of driving the A road in the rain. On the way back I did the same and was almost late for my meeting with the teacher because of my fears. The knowledge of my own failure to be courageous and fight my panic when driving A roads and motorways loomed over my day and eclipsed the other events. Looking back that evening this “successful” day was, to me, a bleak one because of my cowardice. When I spoke to a friend however she pointed out that dealing with Spanish bureaucracy and successfully speaking to my daughter’s teacher in Spanish were real achievements and could not understand why chickening out of driving on the main road was such a big deal for me.
As I reflected on our different viewpoints I saw that even my “failed Monday” could teach me an important lesson. As the native Indian saying goes, I really shouldn’t judge someone else unless I am prepared to “Walk a mile in their moccasins”. When we look at other people’s lives some appear to be rich, brave, successful, beautiful or super organised. If we asked them however, I am pretty sure the most surprising people would feel empty or cold inside, while others who seemed unremarkable would be truly courageous and incredible individuals fighting battles we know little or nothing about.
When I next need to go to Motril I am going to go via the A road and see what happens. When I get there it will not be an achievement for many people but for me it will be a success and a step forward. In the meantime I am going to count my blessings and successes. keep working on my failures and try and remember not to judge others too harshly even if their lives seem outwardly at least, undeserving of compassion.
A friend posted this quote on Facebook recently and to me it was a wake up call. My time, and yours, really is precious. Our lives and actions matter. As previous readers of GWB will have noticed I am blogging again despite signing off from blogging a month ago with a cheery goodbye and a wave…. This is for a number of reasons, but the most salient one is because I did not take the job I was offered.
The job was full time as an office manager in an estate agency. It would have meant working 6 days a week and until 7pm each evening and frankly be similar in many ways to the job I was doing before. I said no, partly because it would have cut time with my daughters, but also because I had a suspicion it was, for me, the cowardly choice.
At present the hardest things I do are those I gain the most satisfaction from doing, and those I fear the most. Writing blogs and copy, facing my panic attacks and the reasons behind them, and trying to live mindfully and with love in the world. It would be great in many ways to hide in safe office getting paid for something I do well and I may duck out and do that if I get too scared. Practically I may also have to do this if our financial situation gets any worse.
For now however I have an incredible opportunity to really look at what I love to do and fight my demons to come out with a renewed excitement for life and work, and free of some of the baggage which has been weighing me down for so long. I’ve been getting inspired by a great TED talk by Scott Dinsmore, founder of Living Legend. If you have time the entire talk is only 17 minutes long and so worth watching. If not however, just the last question is challenging in itself.
What is the work you can’t NOT do?
As Scott Dinsmore goes on to stress if we can discover that work and live it, it will not only change our lives but the lives of those around us (who see us happy and fulfilled), and, eventually, if more and more people are doing work they love, the innovation, creativity and treatment of others that come out of that will start to change the world.