Chilling Out

We are living through dark and difficult times.  It’s hard to stay upbeat and positive under the constant barrage of bad news:- fires in Siberia, more mass shootings in the  U.S., flooding and the horror of Brexit in the UK, riots in Hong Kong, a possible war in Iran….its an endless list.  There are days when I avoid listening to the news. Instead I immerse myself in quotidian activities such as housework, cooking or gardening to try and regain a balanced perspective on life. I find being outdoors amongst nature and animals the best therapy for a gloomy mood.  Also I love creative art – to paint or draw or take photographs  and truly observe the world in all its wonderful detail. It’s important to take time out doing something you enjoy.  It’s important to focus on the little things that make life worth living, to stop and look at the beauty around us.

Here is my favourite mindfulness exercise.  I hope you find it helpful.

1. Acknowledge FIVE things you see around you. Maybe it is a bird, maybe it is pencil, maybe it is a spot on the ceiling, however big or small, state 5 things you see.

2.  Acknowledge FOUR things you can touch around you. Maybe this is your hair, hands, ground, grass, pillow, etc, whatever it may be, list out the 4 things you can feel.

3.  Acknowledge THREE things you hear. This needs to be external, do not focus on your thoughts; maybe you can hear a clock, a car, a dog park. or maybe you hear your tummy rumbling, internal noises that make external sounds can count, what is audible in the moment is what you list.

4.  Acknowledge TWO things you can smell: This one might be hard if you are not in a stimulating environment, if you cannot automatically sniff something out, walk nearby to find a scent. Maybe you walk to your bathroom to smell soap or outside to smell anything in nature, or even could be as simple as leaning over and smelling a pillow on the couch, or a pencil. Whatever it may be, take in the smells around you.

5. Acknowledge ONE thing you can taste. What does the inside of your mouth taste like, gum, coffee, or the sandwich from lunch? Focus on your mouth as the last step and take in what you can taste.

 

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Play it Again Sam

If I had my life to live over I’m not sure I would do anything differently.  Life is a journey,  a series of crossroads, roundabouts and T junctions without any signposts to guide the way.  At each intersection we must make a choice.  Our decisions are based on limited information.  Emotions, intuition and experience colour our judgement and we choose what we think best at the time.  We evaluate, we take a risk or not.  Whatever path we take there will be highs, lows and plateaus but the journey will not necessarily be better, just different.

The truth is life is unknowable.  Crystal balls and tea leaves will not help. Surrender to your journey wherever it will take you for it is uniquely yours, your  own fascinating  story.  Enjoy the highs, learn from the lows, rest during the plateaus.  There are no good or bad journeys, only what was meant to be.

 

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Original Photograph created by the author

 

Moth Dance

Alone in my hospital room at night I watch tiny particles of dust and fluff swirl beneath the reading lamp.  They say dust comprises of dead skin cells, we sweep them away when we clean, removing all trace of our former selves.  Our cells are constantly reproducing and every seven years our bodies regenerate anew.  Your body is repeatedly recycling itself but not your mind.  Your mind is an entirely different story.  Our brains become less active, neural pathways die, our memories fade and disappear, we lose skills and alertness,  sometimes we even lose our sense of self.

But back in my mean small room, Ward 3A.  I’ve been here fourteen weeks now.  A reluctant patient, more like prisoner. So every night I sit, sleepless and thoughtless watching the dust  and wondering if these are particles of the old me, a shedding of  my past life. Occasionally moths enter through the open window and dance wildly in the pool of light, their fragile wings clinking against the electric bulb. Blinded and bewildered they circle.  In the morning I find their wispy bodies spent and shrivelled on my sheets.

 

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Self portrait by the author

 

 

 

My Secret Place

Before the onset of middle age and chronic caution, I often went out exploring the picturesque country lanes and tracks around the market town in North Yorkshire where I lived for ten years.  I would forget my chores, ignoring housework and assignments and set off in my old maroon Volvo 340 with my collie-cross dog, Flossy in the back seat. Sometimes I took a picnic. I would drive around for hours out of curiosity.  This resulted in a few scrapes such as getting stuck in mud, falling into ditches, trapped behind locked gates and lost on the moors. However, it was also the way I discovered wild and beautiful places hidden away off the beaten track. These were my secret places where I would go whenever I needed to recharge my energies.

One of these idyllic spots was by a crumbling stone bridge spanning a fast flowing stream and surrounded by a cluster of trees.

I would stay there all day, reading, dreaming and painting and see no-one at all other than birds, rabbits and the occasional fox. I felt completely relaxed and safe. Solitude to me is safety. My dog would run free, swim in the stream and then shake water all over me and my water colour pictures…often improving them in the process!

There was always a deep undisturbed silence free from the intrusion of traffic or human voices.  In the silence my anxious thoughts would unravel into peace and optimism. I would start to think and see more clearly.

According to the OS Map it was possible to ford the stream at this point but I never had the courage to try. I never found out what lay on the other side of the water or where the track would eventually lead.

 

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Photo by the author

Where Have All the Flowers Gone?

Picking blackberries from hedgerows, making daisy chains, collecting acorns, playing conkers, wandering the fields looking for rabbits, daydreaming under a tree on a sunny day. These are the precious memories of my childhood when my relationship with animals and the natural world became an integral part of my imagination and personality.  I was lucky enough to grow up in the late sixties before the age of parental paranoia and health and safety fanaticism.  Children were allowed personal freedom to explore the world, test their bodies and minds,  learn about risk, learn about the magic of nature.  But times have changed. We live in an age of fear, much of it unfounded.  Kids spend more time alone with their tablets than playing outdoors.  I was sad to learn that the 2008 edition of the Oxford Junior Dictionary aimed at children between the ages of 7 and 9 has omitted the following ‘nature’ words believing they are no longer relevant.

The obsolete words are catkin, brook, acorn, buttercup, blackberry, conker, holly, ivy, mistletoe.  No doubt they have been replaced by technology words like database, spreadsheet, voicemail, pixel.

Contact and knowledge of the natural world are essential to a child’s artistic and spiritual development, be it poetry, visual art, music.  How will future generations learn to cherish other living things and respect their environment if they don’t even have the right words?

 

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Photo taken by the author