Island Blog 156 Another Way Back Home

2014-12-31 09.15.26

I realised, whilst getting myself lost in the streets of Barcelona, that although most of us have two eyes, two ears, one nose and one mouth, no two of us look exactly the same.  Similar, yes, almost identical in twins, but never exactly the same.  Even the identical twins I know, numbering one brace of birds, are not exactly the same; eyes slightly further apart on one, mouth a bit wider on the other, one quiet and pensive, the other gregarious and full of chat.

People throng through these streets.  I stop in a patch of sunshine as they flow by me.  They seem to know where they’re going, these hundreds of different faces, just in this one square with 10 narrow cobbled streets running out from it like sunbeams in a child’s painting. Not only am I seeing different nationalities and colours, but within those very numbers there are more differences, and more.  Perhaps, I wonder to myself, as I puff for the enth time back into Government Square, they are all thinking it’s Groundhog Day and I am the one keeping it going, popping into view again and again as if I can’t get enough of Government HQ. Although they are a moving mass of human souls, I’m sure I recognise a few of them and they do stare a bit as I grow more and more de-hydrated and anxious.  How on earth I manage to keep returning to the same flipping square, when I choose a new street every time is a marvel, even to me, although in my defence, I would like to point out that every single one of them is lined with the same shops.  One Desigual, one Barcelona Football Shop, one Flower Shop and one Pharmacy.  I might be needing that one if I don’t find my way out of the maze.  I also have no money, no idea of the address I’m staying at, nor do I have my mobile phone.

I bet not another soul in this flipping Government Square (oh here it is again!) is as vulnerable on this deceptively calm sunny afternoon.  I decide to stop panicking and lean against a wall looking as nonchalant as I can manage. Even though my mouth is dry as sandpaper and my heart about to take off,  I manage to calm my breathing, refusing to pay attention to any thoughts of being lost in Spain for months and dying of thirst.   Nobody knows where I am, other than somewhere in Barcelona and, as it took us 30 minutes to reach the outskirts yesterday in a speedy motor, it’s a pretty big city.  It’s beautiful too, and filled with stunning architecture, churches with bells that toll every quarter and on the hour, quirky alleyways (!), window boxes ablaze with colour, bustling cafes and wine bars.  Gaudi is everywhere, or his influence is.  The Gran Familia is spectacular from the outside with swoops and swirls of stonework, angels and trumpets, holy words and what looked liked bowls of fruit at the very top.  The queue was long and it was raining that day so we didn’t go inside but sat, instead under a cafe umbrella drinking strong black coffee and sharing our opinions on the charge of 25 euros per person to walk through a sacred space, squashed, as you would be, in a seethe of people, and unable to see very much at all.

We are not only different on the outside, but on the inside too.  It’s a strange part of our DNA, this difference thingy, because, to be honest, if a little more consideration had gone into our wiring, we might all be great pals, and life would be a doddle.  And dreadfully dull, or so I imagine.  If we knew just what to do next around each other, we wouldn’t have to ask, research, enquire.  We wouldn’t have to dig deep inside ourselves for those folk we find ‘difficult’.  We would never need to change. It sounds like Pleasantville to me.

However there are times when I get thoroughly fed up with all this inner changing.  It’s all very well writing, and reading, books on the subject of inner betterment, but putting any of it into practice is hard work.  Sometimes minute by minute hard work and for years and years.  What I have learned is that, if I want to succeed in life I must put everyone else first.  I must be compassionate even when I feel like murder – especially then – and I must learn not to talk about myself as often as possible.

I could fold my mental arms and stay exactly as I am, but the damnable thing is that if I put into practice all of the above, learn to breathe more slowly and to count to ten instead of ripping someone’s head off, it is I who feel better about me!   I have achieved something, because I have overcome myself. I have found a new way. I don’t welcome change, not in the areas I don’t feel need it, but it is needed for there to be any peace. Biting my tongue is painful, but so much better in the long run.  Those unspoken words can leave my mouth in one slow outbreath.  Simples.

I was certain I was right in my choice of direction out of the square and yet I was insistently walking the same way over and over, hoping for a different outcome.  Once I stopped marching forth with all the conviction of a zealot, my mind set in concrete, and I slowed down, breathed away the panic and allowed in, if not welcomed, the possibility that I might be wrong in my choice of direction, I noticed a wooden walkway between two buildings that had been there all along.  It was the one I had walked beneath and admired some hours before. This was my way back home.

I can do the same around a routine, or the way I like something done.  It can be a no-big-deal sort of thing and yet it escalates into exactly that when I hold on too tight. After all, I’ve done it this way for years.  Why should I change it?

But….  if I let go,(just saying it lowers my shoulders and unclaws my fingers) I allow in the possibility that there might be another way.

Another way back home.

Island Blog 122 Follow your heart

Spider web

 

 

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 92 On Writing

On writing

As you may know, it is essential to read, especially if you are a writer.  I read avidly, even during the day sometimes, which would have had me thoroughly tutted at by Granny-at-the-gate.  Reading is for pleasure and wifeys don’t do pleasure inside of working hours which numbered, in my recollection about 22 per day.  But now I have less demands on my time by little or big people, although sometimes, just before collecting my book and settling into a chair, I do check the clock and feel a frisson of minor guilt.  It is so much easier to busy up with faffing jobs that lift the dirt or fill the larder with goodly smells, leaving the me part of me just a bit skinnier.

When I am writing, I become lost in the story, as I am now.  Nights are broken as I weave my web, and ideas come at the most inconvenient of times, when the night is dark as a cave and I know I should fight on to achieve my 6 hours of rest, but once the next idea comes, the something that might happen to someone, the how of it and its consequences gets a hold of me, then Lady Sleep leaves the room.  Over the years I have worked with various top tips.

Get up and start writing.  No thanks, its too cold downstairs.

Keep a pad beside the bed and write down your idea.  Yes I do that sometimes, if the story is just a foetus without a name, but if I am well on with the tale and the tellers of it, I can just lie there and follow the thread.  Often, almost always, a character takes me in a direction I never mapped out for them, and that aspect of story-telling has always surprised and delighted me.  It is, as if, once named on a page, each character accepts an initial structure, quite quietly it seems, until he or she decides I’ve got it all wrong and should listen to what they have to say about themselves.

Yesterday, a woman took an action I would never have expected of her, with a confidence that never came from me.  That action changed the whole course of the story and I sat back in my chair, fingers hovering over keys that had just become a jumble of confused letters.  A moment or so earlier, I knew just how to write a sentence.  I knew where he was going, what she would say, what they would do as a result.  Now I stare down at a keyboard that is singing me, not the other way around.  I have become a player in the greater game.

Some writers don’t like this state of affairs.  Some painters, musicians, song-writers too.  But for me, it is the time when I can, to a degree, let go of control, and enjoy learning about each character by listening to their guidance.  I move wholly and completely into their world.  I work to understand their feelings, often not my own, about what has happened to them.  I endeavour to find empathy with choices I would never make, have never made, although I do wonder if that bit is quite true.  If I have considered, even for one minute a choice of action not in sync with how I see myself, might that mean that I could do that thing in different circumstances?

When I am writing a story, I move into it.  I have to, or nobody would believe in it and the book would be closed and sent to a charity shop, un-read.  Good drama draws us in, involves us and we can emerge from a book feeling angry, upset or filled with a happiness that never came from the outside.  We can love a character, or hate them, wish them joys or want to punch them in the tonsils, but we can never find them dull, for if we do, we won’t bother to read on because we just don’t care.

Once I have found my characters, and, believe me, I do find them, or they find me, more truthfully.  These characters came to me in an ordinary moment when I wasn’t looking for them at all.  Two people sharing lunch in a café, and the dynamic between them.  It captivated me and the story began to tell me how it wanted to be written.  I made notes, kept looking at it as I walked, worked, cooked, cleaned and gradually the protagonists revealed themselves.  How they dress, laugh, eat.  How they love, how they live, and how they wrote their past.

Then, one day, I know it is time to begin and not long after I do, there is a knock at the door and in they all come.

Island Blog 80 Acorns

Dreams

Let’s say I have a dream.  Not one that requires a fairy and a wand, but  more like I’ve felt a change in the wind and I need to tighten my sail.  Oh, I’ll still arrive at the next shore in the end, but I could make all the difference to the quality of that arriving, if I made a correction or two.

Well that’s fine.  In the bag you might say.  After all, my big and agile brain has come to this conclusion.  I can just sit back now and watch it happen.

Wrong.

As the day begins I am a veritable bounce of good intentions.  I go about my list of tasks in the way I usually go about my list of tasks, but this time my step is lighter and my inner movie is definitely Disney.  I reel in the line of hours, wind them around my spool.  Done.

Ahead of me, I can see the old habit coming closer.  It’s part of the pattern, of course, so it will come closer and closer until it is right in my face and looking at me expectantly.

This is when I begin to tell myself that the whole commitment thing is pointless.  Who’s looking anyway?  Who cares?  I am still dashing along with verve and vigour, sails full, ahead of the game, aren’t I?

But I know different.  So how to make this change, that’s the question, and the answer is, baby steps.  I just need to correct my sail once, just once, and then to feel the shift and tell myself, Well Done!

Then, do it again the next day.

People we admire are always those who overcome themselves.  We all know what it is to be ‘ok’, doing away, not bad, and other such beige states of being.  We also, I think, imagine that those who overcome themselves, and therefore the mountains that block out their sun, are just lucky.

Lucky Schmucky.  No such thing.

You don’t get through to the Olympic team by luck, nor to Wimbledon, nor to the finals of The Voice.

What those ‘lucky’ people chose to do was to tighten their sails every single day and often during it.  They pushed themselves when others sat back in the sun with a pint pondering the meaning of life.  Over long lonely hours, they kept practising over and over and over again until they stepped out into the light with a Da-dah! and we all marvelled at their superhuman-ness, something each one of them would deny with a derisive snort.

I may not want to play at Wimbledon, join the Olympic team or sing on TV, but there will be something in my life I just know I want to change, if only that fairy would appear with her wand and make it happen.  If I do nothing, nobody will know.  But I will.  And when the fat lady sings, will I know that at least I tried?

We found an acorn and planted it in the woods, just pushed it into the soft peaty floor and moved on.

So did the acorn.  Now, it’s shade from the sun and shelter in a rain shower.