Island Blog – Noticing Thoughts, Starlings and the Wonderful

This time of isolation, for us since March 16th, has given me the chance to really think things through. I decide, for example, thanks to the nudges from my body, the universe and my long bedroom mirror, to change a daily habit in order to discover something wonderful. Although the process of re-jigging and then maintaining daily a new way of doing old things can be a pain in the aspidistra, the ‘wonderful’ is going to be so worth the effort. Writing down a new plan is key; bullet points numbered, and with space at the end for an achievement tick. After a week, I want a gold star, so that means I must write down the date of first commitment, to keep track of my progress. July 1st sounds like a good date upon which to set this ship a-sail.

Perhaps I want to finally lose this jelly belly, the one that flops over my underpinnings. Perhaps I drink too many glasses of coke, or sherry, or coffee. Perhaps I turn away from a walk if its raining. There’s that kitchen cupboard asking to be scrubbed clean all the way to the back this time and not just wiped at the front in a kidding sort of way. Whatever it is I want to change, for no reason outside of myself, I must begin by noticing the triggers that keep me lazy about taking action. I write them down. They look ghastly, sloppy, unthinking. Luckily nobody but me is going to see them as they stare back up at me from my A4 notepad. I had thought I was in charge of me. Obviously I was wrong.

What will the ‘wonderful’ be? Well, I don’t know, but at a guess, the jelly belly will retreat somewhat, if not completely. Who will notice or care? Well, nobody but me. Is that inspiring enough? Yes it is, I tell myself, noticing that trip up thought. Although it might be true that I expect the first day to have me all sorted, I can very easily fall back on what has become my norm, the one that doesn’t require me to think much at all. Day two might feel like trudgemonkey. This is when I must refer back to my plan with bullet points of action and room for an achievement tick. Oh…..must I? Seriously? Yes I must, because the ‘wonderful’ is not an instant thing but a distant one, and I will never know how distant unless I remain steadfast in pursuit of my goal. It is innately human to believe that results should be served up the minute a decision implants itself in a brain. This is a lie, a big fat lie. Nobody ever got nowhere without consistent dedication to their goal.

I find it helpful to jot down my thoughts. Not all of them or I would never get anything else done, but the ones that catch my attention, telling me I am in need of a snack, a sweet one, and right now. Hang on a minute, I say, putting up my hand. You aren’t hungry for a sweet snack at all. You are just a bit bored or lost or feeling uncomfortable. That’s when I step back, look at this hungry little whiner and tell it straight. You are not useful to me at this time. You had breakfast 30 minutes ago, and even if you think you really are in need of a snack, it won’t be sweet, trust me on that. It will be a shaved carrot. So there.

Same goes for the sherry call. Perhaps a thought tells me I am not coping with this, or that and that I need a shot of something to take the edge off. The edge off what, precisely? This situation within which I live and move and have my being, that’s what. And how will numbing your brain help change said situation? It won’t, not long term. So, you are not useful to me right now whereas a cup of tea most certainly will be. Please leave.

It’s amazing how obedient my thoughts are. Quite surprising in fact. I think they are astonished at my questioning them. After all, they have ruled my roost for decades, confident in their control over me. In my facing them down as the questioner, they are lost for words. It’s rather exciting and one of the early glimpses I get of my ‘wonderful’. So this is how it works! If I commit to change, notice my thoughts and challenge the ones that want to keep me living like a robot, the serendipities begin to rise. I actually feel good about myself, more powerful, more excited about what happens next. My jelly belly may still flop over my underpinnings, my nightly sherry may still beckon from the wings, and the rain may still put me off walking, but I have moved forward and it feels, well, wonderful.

This morning I sat with coffee and watched the birds around the feeders. Siskin, goldfinch, greenfinch, sparrow, collared dove, robin, coal tit, blue tit, great tit, blackbird. Suddenly the sky darkened and in flew about 50 starlings. They covered the feeders, lined the fences, perched on the shrubs, all the while twittering in fluent starling. My heart lifted, as did I to get my camera. By the time I got back, they had gone. But I had seen the wonderful, noticed it, logged it in my mind. Next time I will remind myself just to sit and to notice. The way the sun turns their feathers blue, their darting flight, the way they stay together, fly together; the sound of their voices, the quick turns of their shiny heads.

Noticing the outside is very important and we have the time now to do just that, but noticing our internal world is even more important. We are not robots, we are wonderfully intelligent agents of change, and when we stop to think, to notice our thinks, we become more powerful than we could ever have imagined. It all starts with a decision to take back control.

And, as we do, the ‘Wonderful’ awakens.

Island Blog – Three Keys in My Hand

I have one, no, two meetings this week. One on Tuesday, a zoom with a writer friend, and one on Wednesday with my counsellor. In my opinion, many of us need to find someone just a bit more above things than we are. I have always found that a hand reaching down is a huge help, despite the initial shame I felt at asking for it. And there’s a thing. As this lockdown keeps us stuck/imprisoned/safe, there are many who are finding it super tough, whose mental stability is being seriously challenged. I get it. As one who has always been mentally turmoiled to a degree, and who sees that last week was Mental Health Week (as if one week would ever be enough) I am more than happy that the world is getting it, or, at least, the slowmovingrulemakers are thinking wider, perhaps. In my life I have met many who could flower but cannot flower within the confines of stigmatism and of what is socially acceptable. Hence the hidden pain. And the most destructive judge of all lives within. We are all flawed, broken to varying degrees, doing out very best to fit in without sticking out in ways that might draw attention to our faults.

Looking out upon the natural world is key, but we must also look within. As I have been a student of self-improvement for decades, I have absorbed a million positive phrases and still found myself not quite at home with myself, no matter how bright the epiphany. However, I am finally beginning to understand that time holds the second key and time requires my patience, my faith in the strength of a human spirit and my trust that the goodly gods are working for me, and not against me. When the world demands something I do not want or cannot give, I need this trust. If we were all meant to be the same we would be mere automatons. We are far from that, thank goodness. Although we are currently required to live as such, it will pass eventually. Confined to home, required to wash our hands a hundred times a day, separated from loved ones, stuck in the wrong country and so on, we have this time to reflect on who we are and on the life we want for ourselves once we are freed from the chains that bind. Think on that.

I watch the young birds fly through my little garden, feathers awry, all ruffly spot and unsure of where to land. New life learning old ways. For them, survival is the teacher. They cannot suddenly square up to a cat or challenge the dive of a sparrow hawk without almost certainly turning into lunch. But we can. If we consider our predators, our demons, our self-doubts and our fears to be in control of our lives, then they will be. Noticing every thought and questioning it is key number three. Even if I am uncertain of my path, my voice, the strength, or lack of it, of my own human spirit, if I decide to turn this thing around, to turn myself around, then wonderful things begin to happen. I don’t need to run from my doubts and fears, my thoughts and worries, I just need to about face and question. Do I really think this or is this thought thinking me? Then, if it isn’t useful, I say cheerio. I don’t need you. Every time I do this, I empower my true self. I am not controlled by my thoughts. I control them, and in this uncertain life when a single day can throw a tidal wave over my carefully constructed sandcastle, my thoughts are the only thing I can control.

I know what it is like to be in the darkness of depression. I know how overwhelming life can be. I also know how to rebuild my spirit and I am thankful for all my guides over the years. Not everyone finds their way. Some souls are lost. Most of our illnesses come from inner stress, manifesting in the physical body, sometimes destroying it. This time of reflection is a gift to us all, not only to make new ways to live for ourselves by taking a long hard look at our core values, our life choices, our work and our families, but to look and to see others who may need our clear and open friendship. Those, whom we might have dismissed before as misery guts or gloomy or bad tempered. Nobody wants to live like that. Nobody. But everybody needs somebody to lift them at some point in their lives.

There are less of us still breathing in the world today. This virus is greedy and it isn’t done with us yet. Let us make sure that the ones who will emerge back into the light of ‘normality’ even more broken, even more damaged and even more fearful of their futures, do not have to walk alone.

Island Blog – Cloud Stories

Waking each morning in this grounded world I take myself through the normal routines, pulling back the duvet, opening the curtains, dressing, finding sneakers for a barrier between my night-warm feet and the cold floor. The only bit that isn’t rooted in this grounded world is the moment I open the curtains. Now I am connected not only with the physical world but also with the cloud stories. They tell me weather, for one. They show me looming hailstorm or a blanket white sky cover depending on their spread, their individual shapes, the plans they have for me. I may have been able to guess their plans prior to that curtain opening ta-da! I would, after all, hear rain slamming, trickling, falling straight or slanty. A cloud dump of hail is deafening, scary even, making me wonder just how strong the panes of window glass are, how much they can withstand. An overnight fall of snow brings a silence like a long held breath and we respond by holding our own, for snowfall is gaspworthy. But, there are none of those shenanigans this morning. Just weather silence, as if there was none to be had this day. No weather at all. Perhaps after endless storms, days and nights of fighting between heaven and earth, everything seems quieter. I feel like a child consoled into peace after a long parental row.

The sea spreads out before me, wide and only a bit rippled. Seabirds split the air, rising, wheeling, keening like lost souls only to land in lines on a rocky bluff, their heads facing the sun warmth, their white chests bright and round, puffed out for preening. They mutter quietly to each other, lifting now and then to perch beside someone else for new conversation. Rainbows appear all the time, their pots of gold lying ocean deep, unattainable. Other island appear and shrink back as the light changes. What looks like an old broch shines, illuminated until the sun shifts round a bit to show me some other natural marvel of basalt and granite. White spume bursts against the coastline even now, even when all I see are a few ripples. Submerged rocks, the pull and thrust of the tide and a living, breathing wind make sure of this; this spectacular explosion of bright white water hurled ashore, snatched back, worked up to a new froth and hurled again. Over and over and over. Ships have foundered. Ships have drowned. Get these hidden rocks wrong and your connection to the world is cut like a ribbon at a garden fete. You are now open to the sky. A part of a new cloud story.

In the evening, as the sun sinks into the sea, the clouds show me castles, pink-tipped, scallions turning into rapunzel towers in minutes. I lift my thoughts into the storyline, guessing, imagining, seeing dragon shapes, eyes watching me, wild horses running free, a baby reaching up, a turtle, the sharp outline of a wolf. Sometimes when the clouds touch the distant island I see whirlwinds, spinning tops. A line of hail greys the distance, moving like a murmuration of starlings, lifting, flowing, at the wind’s bidding. I want to take a photograph but I know that by the time I get outside the palette will have changed completely. Those pink-topped towers, that deep grey face of a beneficent giant, those capering children will have been turned off by some captious old god. So I stay still just watching the weave of a storyline, letting myself lift into each moment as it passes. Then, as night begins to steal the day, bit by bit and the cloud stories are left to themselves, I turn back to the grounded world, a supper to cook, a fire to light and curtains to close all the way up to morning.

Island Blog – Dinner and Confusion

Sometimes I feel an inner confusion as I study All Things Human, referring back to history, genealogy, culture and just plain Getting on with Life Wherever and Whoever You Are. I am, however, a big fan of holding two (supposedly) opposing ideas at the same time with me as an observer. In short, there are 3 of us in this moment, the two thoughts and moi. It is so easy to side with one or t’other as the observer, mostly because holding two opposing thoughts is like arriving at a traffic light stuck on red. Do I go or wait for someone in a luminous jacket to tell us in the stop zone who can go first?

My current conundrum is all about when to speak out and when to shutup; when saying what I think can make a good difference or when it will serve no purpose whatsoever in terms of anyone moving forward, leaving, instead, a confusion of confusions in everybody’s head. Not to mention anger or hurt. Standing up for someone is a good thing, even if I wish they would do it for themselves, but when is the right time for my voice to be heard on their behalf? In doing this standing up thing I will obviously be knocking another somebody down so that the end result is messy, to say the least. In a relationship there are a gazillion chances to make a right stooshie of things by saying anything at all. I guess there are the same number of chances to make good but knowing which and when is the issue here.

In childhood I learned that to speak out was only acceptable when the eyes of my elders and betters turned in my direction and a question was asked of me. Even then I must needs consider my response, taking in everyone’s feelings and placement in the hierarchy of the moment. In other words, not using my true voice at all. Exploding into baby adulthood, I spent long times in my room asking myself what I wanted, believed in or felt and I often came up with a big fat zero. I had no clue. Then I met my life partner and learned some more about myself, but only through his eyes. The length of my skirt, the visibility of my cleavage, the kohl around my eyes, the way I walked, talked and laughed all were dingled through his idea of a wholesome wife, and delivered back to me as my guidelines for my life. I found it most confusing to be told not to laugh so loud. Over time I forgot how to laugh at all, giggling, instead, like a hyena but quieter and in a different key to the one I felt comfortable with. I could be severely remonstrated with over the way I said something whilst the actual something got lost altogether. Confusing that. Coming away smarting from speaking my mind on some relational subject and feeling like I was back at school and had just cheeked the headmaster was weird indeed.

Standing up for someone else is considerably easier than doing that standing up thing for myself. This wonders me. Yes, learned behaviour is in there like the roots of an old oak tree, but I do look forward to the day I can challenge someone’s jab at me with consideration to self and to them, concomitantly. It is so much easier to go quiet, hugging the hurt and the sense of injustice and then to la-la-la away, only to return bright-faced and in collusion with all involved, as if nothing ever happened. Trouble is, those times don’t leave the building, not never. They rise again over time when a similar situation arises, reminding me of those long tangled roots.

However, there are times to shut up and take the knock, never to challenge it at all, ie when the reason for the perceived insult is a result of their baggage, not my own. In many ways I feel privileged to be able to take it and not to respond at all, unless with a kindness. I like to be kind. Working out when to and when not to, on the other hand, seems to be a lifetime’s study into All Things Human, for me, anyhoo, and I still have no definitive answer to that. Perhaps I never will, and doubly perhaps it doesn’t matter one tiddley jot. When I lie on my final bed and consider my long life stretching out behind me, burgeoning with memories of ups and memories of downs and a million squillion hectares in between, will I have the answer? I doubt it.

The biggest load of questions come from my relationship with my life partner. Well that’s not news to anyone with one. A life partner, I mean. Opposites attract and then that oppositeness becomes opposition shortly after returning from the honeymoon. In the Great Plan for All Things Human, this is, undoubtedly, a major flaw in the blueprint. When people rant on about our education plan, saying that none of the really important things are ever taught to our children, I can agree to a very great extent but the old stumbler is that most of what they really need to learn has no formula whatsoever. A conjoining of two souls for life is the biggest ball of confusion ever. Everyone knows that. So how can it ever be taught or learned? Well, it cannot. It is as slippery as an eel and as hard to hold on to.

Yesterday we played a game. If you could invite any 10 people to dinner for just one night, alive or dead, famous or down the road, fictitious or real, who would you invite?

God, I said for starters. And he’d better arrive first and I bagsy sit next to him because I have a constellation of questions to fire his way, to which I will require clear and understandable answers (no parables please). Another would be Freddie Mercury and a third Billy Connelly. (I only got to three but I’m working on the rest). Between the three of them I just might gain a little more insight into this confusion of a life.

Oh, and none of them are allowed to bunk off early.

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.