Island Blog 123 Freedom is all in the mind

 

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My favourite word is Freedom, and I have no doubt written about it before now in my blogs. I have also changed my thinking about it over the years, of all it encompasses, of where and how it is grounded, where it finds settlement, sinks its big old flag and stakes its claim.

It has zip to do with place or time, with Mr or Mrs Right, with money or lack of it, new sofas, kitchens, bathrooms, or even the four stone walls that surround me, and everything to do with that airy fairy head of mine, and yours, although I won’t presume to know the percentage of airy, or fair,y in your head.  We are taught, or do we just learn……..that the acquisition of a good education, of a good grounding in common sense or many worldy belongings should be our main aim as we walk through our life; that, if we haven’t succeeded in surrounding ourselves with all those things expected of us, that we ourselves expect of us, by a certain age, we are idlers, bad planners, twits.  The odd thing, though, is that not one single one of us finds fulfillment or deep happiness in any Things and yet, still we seek them out, stack them up, protect them with a ferocious zeal, and then plan our next move to gather more in and more.  In doing so, we imagine this Freedom thingy will come too, eventually.  The more we own, the free-er we will become.

In a word, this is pants, because Freedom, real Freedom is all in the mind, all of it and it always was and ever will be till the sand runs out.  I have read many tales on this, tales told by people who own nothing, who are locked up and enslaved, and they speak of Freedom. And yet, how can they?  Just look at their lives lived, the restraints and fences that locked them behind another’s barricade!  They were never free, were they?

Oh yes, they were.  And all because they refused to allow the fences or the bars define their state of mind.  They chose, in the face of extraordinary and unbelievable constraints, dished up daily for years, for a whole life, perhaps, not to see the mud, but to see the stars.  Most of us, so I am told, live lives of quiet desperation, trapped in some way, or many ways, and we have no real tangible understanding of these lives lived in circumstances only ever described to us on the news or in newspapers.  We ordinary folk, living however we live, may not imagine that Freedom is in our grasp.  After all, aren’t we tied in to our work, doing a job that demands most of our allotted daylight hours, and don’t we have partners, children, homes, all of which require our devotion to varying degrees?  By the time all those calls on our so called Freedom have been met to a good standard, what is left for us?

Well it all is, because Freedom is not limited unless we limit it.  I know that it is considered selfish to take for ourselves when we ought to be giving everything to others, but I don’t agree with that concept, if, indeed, it ever was a real concept in the first place.  We learn to love our neighbour as ourself.  This meant nothing to me for many years, as I most definitely did not love anything about myself.  So what does it mean?  It means I must give to myself all that I give so readily to another, and that means an equal share of Freedom, not freedom from whatever my life requires of me, but Freedom to myself.  Freedom to think, to love, to create, to consider my actions and their consequences.  I may live inside another’s boundaries, but that person cannot control my thoughts, my times of reflection, my understanding, the passions that keep my heart beating, my hopes, my dreams…..in short, my self.  No-one else can control these, and these together make me, and I am unique.  I don’t need to step on anyone else to do this, nor put another soul down, for life is not a race, but a journey.  Although we may sail alongside each other, we all sail alone.

So, when I feel controlled or constrained or forced or entrapped by another, let me understand this.  I have chosen this domination and therefore I can bring to bear the same power to change it.  And I don’t need to say one word out loud.  All that squealing and whining, all those ‘how could you’s’ just tell me that it is now I who try to dominate, to change another’s way of being, to make them more like me, and this is merely a power struggle, one nobody ever wins.

If I want to be free, I just decide I am (and read good books on the subject) and get on with my day, my life. If I find chores dull and demanding, I can either sigh and moan or sing and laugh.  There is fun, even in washing dishes and I can work up a great percussive concerto all by myself, my arms sud deep, my mind entirely my own.  And my first step is to understand, and then decide, to believe that there is enough Freedom going, ad infinitum, to free every living soul.

Who out there can tell me I am wrong?

Freedom.  It’s a way of being.

Island Blog 122 Follow your heart

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I have done this all my life, wherever and whenever possible, and it isn’t always either.  In situations where boundaries and expectations are set by a higher authority, I may not be able to go with my heart on every point, although there is room enough in each situation for me to choose my attitude.  Attitude, however, shows itself in my outer behaviour, whereas my heart is deeply interior, and sometimes they argue.  It’s an internal dialogue that can be unsettling, especially if I show a good attitude and plan murder.

So, if a disagreement betwen heart and attitude causes me indigestion, then I must work on what?…….not my attitude, for that may be learned behaviour, or just me being an ostrich, and is not good for my health.  I can ‘copy’ my idea of a good attitude and bring it into the mix easily, if my acting skills are well honed, but it won’t do me any good and, after all, it is only me with whom I am primarily concerned.  So what must I work on then?  Of course, my heart.  According to old wisdoms, to be found in the good book and all other good books, what is in my heart will ‘out’, whether I allow such an outing, or not, at a conscious level.  We always know when someone is not being congruent, in sync with the essence of themselves.  It is as clear as day and as silent as snow.

In life decisions there is often a third player in this game.  It’s a three horse race and the third horse is called money.  I once had a fascinating conversation with a wise man (not a member of the Magi, but wise, nonetheless) who asked me what decision I would make if money was removed from the dilemma.  Oh goodness!  I said, immediately knowing the right direction to take.  A few seconds ago, I had been caught in a web of possibles, fixed and trapped by their sticky tendrils, sure there was no way out, and, in a flash, I could see my way ahead.  I have employed this process ever since and it is surprising how often I need it, for money has many guises.  For example, I might employ someone whose influence in my business is destructive to some degree.  I might, for a long time, have been either avoiding this issue, or pretending it would go away without having to lose them, which I don’t really want to do as they are good at their job, very good, and if I lose them, I may lose……..money!  I may even have explained my dilemma to others, which of course is what I will do in order to hear affirmation of the clever way I talk about the situation, without really mentioning the real problem, perhaps unsure of bringing anything as airy fairy as my heart into the conversation.  All I have to do is hear from someone how brilliant this person is and how the business thrives thanks to his or her skills and work ethic.  But I know more than that someone does, and if I speak it out, I will have to pull my own head out of the sand and face the music, which I absolutely don’t want to do.  But, it niggles at me, night and day and I know I am being evasive and weak.  And then another busy day comes along and I can forget it for a while, until I remember it all over again in the middle of the night, or whilst waiting for the kettle to boil, and there it is again nipping at the edges of my mind, and it will go on doing so until I take action.

These life lessons are a wondrous thing.  It seems to me that there is a force always pushing us towards our best, towards inner peace, because the only way to find and keep that inner peace is to listen to what our hearts tell us.  And hearts don’t need money, or cashflow, or a succesful business.  Nor does it need to be better than another heart, nor top dog, nor cushioned against a stock market crash.  It doesn’t ask for savings accounts or good investments, unless of course, the investment is of the kind you cannot see or limit or define.

So, full circle I have come.  If I want to feel at peace with whatever life throws my way, the good and the bad, I must always seek cousel from my own heart.  What is it I really feel about this dilemma?  What is it I really want to do, or say to change it?  If I have worked on opening up the highway to my heart, and kept that highway open and flowing, then my heart will speak clearly to me in a language I understand and then I can turn that decision into action.  However well-versed I am in the world of literature or science, business or art, I am still just me, one person, one soul wanting to do and to be my very best.

I must begin with my heart.  Begin, continue and end with it.  After all, it is the only thing that keeps me alive.

Island Blog 121 Listen to your ears

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When I hear something, I hear it.  I may respond distractedly, or with intense concentration.  I may not quite hear it for a few seconds, when a word or phrase yanks me back into the room, back beside the person who spoke and then I will ask them to say it all again.  In domestic situations, taking into account familial or relational baggage, I may find myself in the blast of a dismissive retort.

You never listen to me!  I’m not going to talk to you until you put down that mobile, laptop, dog,book, whatever!  Then follows a doggy-type following around, an apology (if you’re lucky), a plead to say it again, an ‘I AM listening, honest’…….sort of drama, which, if I am very lucky, ends well, although by this time, having pattered about whimpering and wagging my tail, I am so not interested anymore, even supposing whatever I didn’t listen to, on first delivery, could get me to the ball after all.

I have read much on the difference between hearing and listening, and, to be honest, am none the wiser, confusing the two whenever I deliver said difference in an astonishing phrase of pure wisdom.  Nobody has ever corrected me, confirming my suspicions that nobody else gets the difference either.  But I do know how critical it is to listen to what our children say and really hear it.  Really not hearing it is the root beginning of an immense baggage collection, guaranteed foreign holidays for psychiatrists, counsellors and mediums, and establishing once and for all that 90% of our troubles, self-doubts and hangups stem solely from our mother.

But what about those things I hear without actively listening?  Those words far off, lifted at random from another conversation, over there somewhere, that can float all by themselves into my head to settle on a comfy sofa, feet up, just waiting for the chance to rise into my concious mind.  I can read something in a book, or in the poetry of a hymn in church and, without consciously choosing to remember any of it, I find myself looking at it as I wake in the early morning, hearing it anew, and marvelling at the brilliance of my aging brain.  Because our senses are all linked by millions of little byroads, I might watch the movement of the clouds across a darkling sky and find words in my mouth and I don’t mean ‘Wow, look at THAT!’  It might be a line in a letter (does anyone remember the last letter that came through the post, with a stamp, licked by the writer and handed over by Amy the Post?) or it might be a phrase from the book I’m reading, or something someone said, but I don’t remember the time or the context.  Somehow, it fits in with the clouds and the darkling sky and again I am astonished at the incredible majesty of the human brain, even though we only ever tap into about a third of its potential.  Just think what we could do and who we could be, if we only knew how to build a mental motorway or, even just how we might repair the byroads already in place.  But we don’t, despite all that irritating knowledge that highlights our human lack.  Why do we have this immense brain in the first place?

As we grow older we begin, everso gradually, to lose the byroads we do have.  One by one, they give way to sprawling grasses, weeds and foliage that turns a shortcut into a wilderness.  Ok, we know this.  We might not like it much, losing our glasses ten times a day, forgetting an appointment made some time before, leaving the margarine out of the cake, and so on, but it a fact of life and we may as well find the dance in it.

My old granny, long dead but unforgettable, never lost her dance.  When it could no longer be found in her strong and shapely legs, or her long elegant feet, it was there in her eyes for all to see.  In a shop, at a bus stop, in her own little flat, she brought that dance forward at every encounter with every person from the Red Cross collector, shaking her bucket outside the door, to the doctor or the minister, although she was highly suspicious of the minister, to be honest.  Even in hospital, dying, she lifted her smile to every nurse, every orderly without exception, and she was no goody-goody I can tell you, being overly full of mischief and with a keen eye for the caricature.  It was for herself, she danced, not to be seen to be dancing, for she had little care for such vanities.

Listening to my ears is not really possible.  It makes little sense, suggesting that my ears have ears and, with a few large-eared exceptions, this seems an unlikelyhood.  But when my little grandson said it to me this morning as we walked through a lovely wild place, I realised I had heard what he said twice.  First, effortlessly, in the normal way, and then, again, as if I was hearing myself hearing.  It made me realise, as I considered this new phenomenon, that not only is there wisdom, beyond their understanding, falling from the mouths of babes, but that, if I really think it through, this is the only way to live.  If I do practise listening to my ears, I distance myself from an instant response, one that might cause an injury to another’s heart.  Words spoken in haste, fuelled by baggage, can wound and wound deep.  Words written in anger can live for a lifetime and beyond.  But if I can learn to close my trap (oh hallo mother) and to keep my ears (all of them) open, I not only allow words to settle in the sofas of my mind, gently; not only allow the moment to move beyond my clutches, however much my fingers itch to capture and internalise it, but, in those precious moments of mouth closed, ears open, I can hear, albeit distantly, the grace notes floating across the divide and find that my feet take up the dance.

Island Blog 120 On Leadership

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It’s a funny old chestnut, Leadership.  It sounds so grand and important.  In fact, as a youngster I wanted it for myself.  Those, it appeared to me, who were given such a badge of honour, positively glowed with the warmest of light.  They were lifted above us earthly girls, fixed to the ground with our lack of leadership skills, our heavy lace-up brogues and our triple-layered (for safety) regulation greys, and they never came back down again.  I met them in corners with members of staff, or prefects, or team leaders, discussing something important in hushed tones, corners I rounded in an un-leaderly, and often late dash to the next fixture in my school diary.  They would both stand in a conspiratorial silence, one that positively burgeoned with importance, as I hurtled by, knowing two things for sure – that I would meet some disgrace for running in passageways, and that my bottom jumped around way too much inside those earthly greys.

When they said to me that they were sorry I was leaving the school because, did I realise that they were going to ask me to be Music Prefect next school year……I knew what they were up to, asking me AFTER I had announced with barely concealed joy, that I had now collected my 7 O Levels and was abandoning my brogues for ever.  If I had said……Oh, ok then, I will stay, they would all have fainted clean away and I would have finally become a leader, one they may well have regretted inviting into a corner.

A few minutes later, as a newly engaged farmer’s wife-to-be, I pondered leadership once more.  This farmer with whom I was about to spend the rest of my life, needed some serious leadership.  For a start, he didn’t want to be led at all and most certainly not by me.  Well, ok, I can be patient.  After all, look at how he does what his mummy says, albeit now and then, but ‘now and then’ looked promising to an over-zealous young woman (child, really) with a fat sapphire on her forever finger and plans already laid out in the loft of her mind.  He argued with every plan I brought forward for discussion.  He made all the ‘big’ decisions with automonic confidence. He dropped his clothes on the floor, the ones he deemed ready for washing, which was usually two weeks later than my deeming.   He wore white crimpolene flares.  There was a lot of work to be done.

Leadership isn’t nagging.  Ok, ok, so what is leadership then and why can’t I lead him?

Answer……he doesn’t want it and, listen girlie, he is as determined as you on this matter.

Once this sank in, was resisted vehemently, caused endless rows and overly slammed doors, removal of priveleges and absolutely no cake for tea never mind the honey, I remember falling into a black depression.  My mother, who also tried to lead my dad, who also had no intention of being led, had the advantage.  Dad was away all week so that she could lead all five of us, the neighbours, the butcher, the baker and the candlestick-maker to her heart’s delight.  Then, when Dad came home at weekends, she could probably just about manage to shelve her leaderly urges for two days until she popped him once more on a plane to Dubai or Italy or Africa or wherever his veterinary consultant skills were currently in demand.  But my husband was always at home rejecting leadership, so I had to think sideways.

43 years later I have a crick in my neck and still no husband running along behind.  I ask myself, is that what I want?  And the answer (quick learner, me) is absolutely not.  What I want is actually just to lead myself, not to lead, and not to be led, although that bit is very much according to my current mood swing.  There are times, many times, when I do want him to lead me, and love the feeling of safety and protection his leadership brings.  When it goes wrong are those times I feel controlled, which is, of course, the same for him.  My tutting over dropped clothes, or whatever, serves only to make him feel controlled, and therefore to resist.

Aha…….now we are getting somewhere!

So, if I can’t control him and don’t want him to control me, and he feels the same, why does this need to lead still raise it’s discordant cry?  Because dear sweet daft woman, it is yourself you need to lead.

Well how can I lead me?  I am me and me is me and that’s three of us already.

Yes, and you can lead all of them, all the mees, as much as you like, to your hearts desire, knock yourself out!

Thinking, reflecting on this bonkers truth, opens many doors to me, to all mees present.  If, in an argument, I only consider my own voice and the content of my retorts, my behaviour, I am in control.  I am leading. I don’t need to lead the other (the one who is so obviously wrong) in this situation.  I only have to lead myself.

Yes, but, will you listen to what he is saying!  It’s complete tripe and EVERYONE would ALWAYS agree that he NEVER gets it.

Hmmm……so many absolutes.  But life and love isn’t about who is wrong or right, always or never.  It isn’t about what happened in the past and the past is only a minute behind me.  It is about leadership of myself, and if I can get that right, after a few, or many clumsy crashings through the thorn and thicket of life, then I just may find, to my eye-wide surprise that someone is following on behind.

Island Blog 119 Do less and achieve more

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Oh ho ho ho and isn’t that just the easiest thing to tell someone else?

I am reading Mindfulness for Busy People by Dr Michael Sinclair and Josie Seydel and learning much goodly-grounded advice on how to fly.  Although Life throws us curveballs just when we think we are on a home straight (probably mixed up two sportsfields there….) it is really possible to live in the moment as long as somebody can show us how, and not just tell us.

As a writer I know the art of ‘show not tell’ and even the most lightweight reader (no offence intended) will yawn wide if an author reads like a schoolmarm. We are adults now and have spent way too much time being told what to do and how to do it.  Adulthood begins when a child decides, not when we with saggy skin and a certain way of doing pretty much everything tell them they may now be privy to certain conversations, once whispered, or, worse, spelled out, in shady corners of the house.

So, back to reading………….well, this writer knows how essential it is to read avidly.  For me, it is a pleasure, a need, a drive because in reading other’s words I form my own, not as a copyist, although it has been known.  I have decided that, should I find an angry ‘other’ at my door, spear raised, I will tell them they might think my pinching to be a huge compliment, and not a robbery. I take on other’s wisdoms so that my own reflections on what they have to say might shape into a new form, one that works for me.  There are as many ways to think as there are thinkers, more, and we all must find that which will comfortably settle within our own lives, among our own circumstances – circumstances that will always change, sometimes drastically, sometimes in a more kindly way, but we can still learn how to ‘be’ inside each moment, each day, whatever the challenges may be.

Yesterday, or last week, or last month, life was in ‘this’ shape.  Overnight, let us say, it flips and now looks upsidedown and most precarious, leaning (just) against the props that seemed tall as the cedars of Lebanon, and now look like my old washing line poles after a force ten gale.  Let’s look at them – let’s just stand here and look at them and do nothing.  Just look.

I can joke about it, to get a laugh, but the truth is, it is the only way, and not just for me.  Whatever comes, whatever goes, it all passes.  It cannot help but pass, because life moves on, with or without us.

As a young wife and busy mother, I knew I could not hold onto control and to a great degree, I let go.  Perhaps I was lucky in that.  Perhaps feeling out of control all the time, taught me to live by my inventive wits and to consider control a disadvantage.  But, for all of us, this is possible, no matter how valuable our props might appear.  In the event of extreme disaster, like your house slipping over a cliff, this way of observing and moving on is essential. I am not saying don’t grieve, or ululate for that which is lost, but there is a time for grief and a time to get past it, and not by force.  Accepting some new truth, any new truth on our road is like letting in a new light.  It is not something anyone can memorise by rote and commit to memory.  That is for O Level maths (in my case) and it is impossible to retain that learning for long as I discovered on exam day.  No, we must ‘allow’ the understanding to lightly settle in our bones and there is no other way to do that than to simply ‘accept’ the curveballs, do what we can, if possible, to make good from disaster, and then walk peaceably onwards.

If you are intrigued, I cannot recommend this book enough.  Try it.  There is absolutely nothing to lose and everything to gain.  If you say you are too busy to read, you fool yourself.  When you are gone, what will you be remembered for?  Being too busy?

I hope not.