The meaning of words

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Talking with a friend the other evening, we discussed the meaning of words, how we each see and hear a word differently according to our experience of using a word in context.  Both of us might have liked to take the conversation deeper, but as we were at a celebration, it was never going to happen.  Happy people, all saying hallo, moving around the room, laughing, joking, having fun, sharing words that require no inner Googling.

We are taught in all the good books to accept, that acceptance is half the battle, half of any battle within a relationship, whether in work, school, home or community.  To accept that we are different, not just on the outside, not just in the way we see colours or moods or situations, but deep inside and based on childhood learning, familial teaching, experiences and lifestyle.  How on this good earth can we ever expect that to work?  It presupposes that whatever subject arises between us is never going to land in a soft place, unless, of course, we can accept our differences and just enjoy the chat.  I have a friend who is colour blind.  He sees everything in shades of grey.  I can wax as lyrical as I like about the Autumn colours and he will just chuckle.  I imagine for a moment not being able to describe anything at all in terms of colour.  Well, I can’t imagine that, and yet, he, who has never seen red or green or anything in between is barely phased at all.

That particular example is pretty easy to accept, but there are many others, millions of others where we can potentially butt heads.  I want white walls and you hate white.  White reminds you of hospital waiting rooms.  I attempt to change your mind because white, for me, is cloud, ice cream, frost on winter branches, school socks, Persil.  But I cannot change your experience of white any more than you can change mine.  One of us has to accept.

Or, is that resignation?

My friend at the party did have a moment of two to think deeper whilst I yelled my return hallos into a very noisy room.  He has always been good at that, being a deep thinker and on his feet regardless of noise.  He first thought that resignation sounded like giving in, like a weakness, a washing of hands, but, then he found a different way to understand that word.  Resignation is pro-active, not necessarily reactive.  ‘I resign’ sounds powerful, autonomous, in control of self, of my own mind.  It’s also a very good way to hold onto dignity should I come to the realisation that I am about to be fired.

Back home, I know that I have consciously chosen both those words to explain how I am managing my role as carer.  I accept that I have been gifted a role in this new production.  It isn’t the lead role, nor the one I would have auditioned for, but it is the one assigned to me.  On a minute to minute basis I get to choose how well I play my part.  When I meet bad temper, does it cause me to react like for like?  Yes, sometimes, when I am tired or when I take my childhood understanding of those words, the way they fit together, the way they sound and let them hurt me.  To him, they mean nothing much.  He was just grumpy, that’s all, and once the words are out, five minutes later, he is cheery and chatty and asking me if I slept well.  I was seeing, at that vulnerable moment, colours he never painted. Those words, projected like a fireball, were aimed nowhere in particular and rooted in frustration and fear.  I get that when I am not tired or low or feeling sad.

Then, there is resignation.  I am resigned to the fact that I am here, right now, and for the long haul. Does this make me feel weak?  Am I giving in?

Absolutely not.  In choosing that word I take control, not of the situation, not of him, but of myself.  I resign myself to the fact that this will not get better, nor will it go away.  I resign myself to no end in sight, to more bad temper, more of everything.  And I learn, bit by bit, inch by inch, that if I watch the words carefully, seeing them in my colours and yet understanding that he may well only see in shades of grey, then I can accept that words are just words.  It’s in the interpretation of those words where lies their power.

If I sound like your mother when ticking you off about not picking up your socks, you will scoot straight back to childhood and respond accordingly. You will probably whine and then sulk.  I undoubtedly do sound like a mother, but it will be my own peeking through those words because she is the one who taught me the inflection and tone and colour of a ticking off.  I do it her way without a second’s thought, and, as all mothers around dropped socks sound much the same, I could easily sound like your own.  I try a different tone, a different choice of word assemblage floating towards you on a fluffy cloud, but the message still stands.  ‘Pick up your fricking socks will you!!!!’  And the response doesn’t change.  Nobody responds with a ‘Of course I will, I’m so sorry, it will never happen again’ (aka an adult response) do they?

So, if none of us have really ever grown up at all, then how do we manage to look and sound like adults right up to the point when words blast us back to the playground?  We may be suited up and sensible but if we don’t begin to understand that words mean different things to different people, and then to consciously work on our childhood bungees, learning how to release them, to become the adults we purport to be, then wars really will never end.

If dementia had not come knocking, I would never have travelled this journey of learning, of inner Googling.  It is humbling, oh yes indeed, uncomfortable, yes, angry making and very frustrating at times, but the lessons I am learning tell me that whatever circumstances any of us live in, we can always go deeper, become stronger, wiser, more aware, more compassionate, more ready for fun.

More likely to wear the Unicorn Hat.

Island Blog 113 Secrets and Mindfulness (plus donkey)

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Inside us lies a world of secrets.  Secrets we share with one or two trusted people, and secrets we never ever tell a soul.  There are secrets we won’t even share with ourselves.

I am learning the wonders of Mindfulness.  What it asks of me, this Mindfulness thingy is that I pause long enough to notice my responses to any stimulation, any event, any person, any words aimed at me, and so on.  For instance, if you say to me something like ‘ I wish you wouldn’t always kick my donkey when you walk through his field’ I might respond angrily, especially if it wisnae me in the first place, but just some woman who bought the same red jacket last Autumn. If I did kick the donkey, then I might respond defensively, maintaining that the donkey is bad tempered and sly, watching out for me crossing his field and making sure he whaps my shin when you’re not looking.

In both these cases I am holding a secret.  The first one will be that I think you are a stupid smug donkey-owner and I never liked, nor trusted you one tiny bit.  You are a gossip and probably spreading no end of rumours about me down at the shop.  I don’t tell you this, of course but hold this secret within my soft interior, a secret that rises like bile in my gut every time I have the misfortune to meet you in the road.

The second one could be that I do sneak about kicking donkeys, even if they do mind their own business and are astonished any time my boot makes contact.

I appreciate that the above example is a tad silly, and I would also like to state, for the record, that I have never kicked anyone’s donkey, even though anyone’s donkey most certainly has kicked me. But that’s another blog, another time.

My thoughts, my private thoughts are my secrets.  I like them, but there are times when I must allow them to fly away because holding onto them will harm me.

Anger and resentment for example will make me ill, or, at the very least, bring me lower back pain and plooks. Oh I know, absolutely know that people who say anger is a bad thing have never been angry enough.  Fear of anger, my own or just anger in general gives the powerful emotion very bad press, and quite wrongly so. Anger is an energy, creating adrenalin and heightened strength, and, mindfully employed, can achieve remarkable good things – lashing out with sharpened weaponry not being one of them. If I can accept and be thankful for this surge of anger and think about why I felt it so strongly when all you did was break my favourite coffee mug, I will eventually be able to understand the root of it all.  In the current climate, someone will probably tell me it’s all my mother’s fault, but I must look beyond her.  Although she is a convenient soft landing for the punch of blame, she won’t be the whole reason I can promise you that.

My over response to unkind words, or of being abandoned, rejected, accused or blamed will have its roots in childhood. Could be at home, at school, anywhere in the playround of youth.  Often, the lineage of those roots is untraceable back to source.  So what?  Mindfully I can accept this and move on, but not move on and hold onto them.  I must move on and let them go.  I don’t need them, they weigh me down and make me secretly kick donkeys and over-react to broken mugs.  I know I don’t like unkind words, but I also know that you may not have meant them they way I heard them.  I know I don’t like the accusing gossip in you, but you very probably don’t like much in me either and, as we don’t have to meet, let’s not. I don’t want to be rejected or dissed or ignored or abandoned, but life is going to throw all of them my way at some point.  If I am mindful of my response to any of these as they cross my path, I am going to hear my own secrets.  Instead of pretending that it is all ok and that I don’t hurt at all, I will be able to honestly allow anger to rise against the pain and deal with it all by myself.  I won’t need to snap at anyone, or kick a donkey.  Then, when you break my replacement, replacement, replacement coffee cup I will be able to say (and mean it) that it doesn’t matter one jot because it’s only a cup, and can be replaced (providing there are any left), whereas you are irreplaceable.

Island Blog 16 – Locomotion

I walked today in the snow along paths flattened into bob sleigh tracks. I just knew that if anyone was going to hit the deck, it would be me. The students, just leaving school traveled confidently in their wellies, talking on their mobiles or chattering happily in twos or threes, their heavy school bags banging against their hips. Confidently, I said, which is not what I was doing.  What is it with growing older that brings new fears?  I recall leaping over rocks and skittering over ice with laughter and the fizzing taste of danger on my tongue.  If falling over was to happen, well, I wasn’t going to fuss about that, or even consider it, for youth is a fearless time, when I was invincible and above all unpleasant things, such as breaking a bone or looking a right charlie in public with my shopping bags bursting open and tins of baked beans rolling under the wheels of a long line of passing cars.

I joined the crocodile of students in the hope that, in their midst, I would maintain an upright position, but soon they peeled off, to their own homes leaving me to face a long stretch of shining ice, alone.  I kept close to the trees, where the ice was mushier and less threatening, humming a little hum to myself, telling my legs to relax their tension and to trust the image in my head, of being attached, by a long thread, to a cloud. I made the mistake of looking up only to find there were no clouds, which threw me somewhat.  I passed dog walkers, my age, striding out as if the ground were as solid and clear as it is before and after snow, thinking…’what is wrong with me?’

And then I watched the dogs.  They trot.  Well, you can trot when you have four legs!  When I walk in the wild places on the island, down steep hillsides and so on, following the deer tracks, I think about this whole number of legs thing, and I realise how compromised we humans are to have only two.  A centipede flows.  All those legs make walking, as we know it, unnecessary, for who would walk if they could flow instead?  I would much rather flow to be honest, but I do appreciate that a human with multiple legs might struggle to fit into society. Just think of buying shoes!

It seems to me that this blog is more about giving in to fears, than it is about growing more legs.  What I need to do is get out more, step onto the ice and walk it until it loses its hold on me.

In other words…..keep walking over it until I know it so well, I can dance.

A life lesson perhaps?

 

Island Blog 16 (1)

Island Blog 15 – Red Wax, White Water

Last night, during dinner, I kicked over a long-stemmed candle holder sitting on the floor.  It was, agreed, a daft place to leave it, down there on the ground, but the red candle sent pretty colours onto the white wall and, besides, nobody was expecting an idiot to walk into it.  I must have been in purposeful forward motion, for the whole thing flew into the air and slammed against the wall.

White wall, red candle, you can imagine the mess.

Apart from feeling awful at the breakage of the glass holder (one of a set of 3), I was horrified at the red dots that seemed to cover most of the room.  Perhaps I should take up football.

This morning I set too with a plastic spatula on my hands and knees, lifting each dot, some the size of a fifty pence, some pinheads and they were not just on the floor.  The wall, the music speaker, the wooden chest; nothing escaped my powerful right kick. Now all is as it was, amazingly, apart from the speaker which, hopefully, doesn’t affect its performance…..and me.  I still feel awful about it.

Why is that?  You may ask.

I think it’s that I don’t like to make such mistakes, to break or damage someone else’s something-or-other.  I think I should have learned by now to move slowly, be careful, THINK before I act or speak.  Rooted deep in childhood are our responses to life as an adult.  I know this, because I know this.  The process of self-forgiveness, at any level, is one big task, at least, it is for me.

So I want to be what……perfect?  As if all those years behind me make a solid and permanent change?

It’s not possible. But what is possible, is my response to making mistakes, and that, my friends, is one of my biggest challenges. Knowing that theory is one thing.  Living it out, quite another.

This morning, coming in from the showy garden, having put red meat scraps out for the kites, (I missed the photo opportunity again!), I saw the white water stains on the wooden floor boards where I leave my boots. I know it’s me, for nobody else does this food-putting-out thing.  My heart sank and I rushed to Google a cure. Mayonnaise, it seems is the answer. I am on it, or will be after I finish writing this.

Please don’t tell me that everything comes in threes…………

white water - Blog 15