Uncertainty and renewal

It is spring. The sun is shining. Everywhere there are flowers, trees are heavy with apple and cherry blossom, hedgerows are white with a bridal veil of blackthorn and alive with small birds. It is as if the earth herself is reminding us that this is a time of hope and renewal.

And yet, we are living a through a time of deep and anxious uncertainty. Families and friends who would normally be gathering to celebrate this weekend, whether for religious or social reasons, are now kept firmly apart. Police patrol the streets, the media disseminates fear and, in spite of the known health benefits of fresh air and exercise, and the detrimental effects of loneliness and social isolation, we are all locked away in our homes.

It seems hard to believe and even harder to accept that this is happening. Many of us feel helpless, afraid for our countries, for our loved ones and for the future.

We are not helpless. We can each take responsibility for our own actions and make the most of each day. We can use the time to take stock of how we live and realise what we truly value. We can look at the changes that have been imposed and ask ourselves if any of them might be worth pursuing. We can keep an eye on elderly or vulnerable neighbours… something that was once a part of every community, but which has been largely lost in the hustle and bustle of modern life. And, if we are at home with family and loved ones, we can take the time to be with them in ways our normal busy lives seldom allow.

While our bodies may be restricted by the rules of the ‘lockdown’, our minds and imaginations are free to roam. Our minds are our own and can only be locked down if we let them… we can do with them as we choose. Whether we choose to read, learn, do something creative, virtually visit new places, daydream or make plans, our minds are our own and we do not have to let them succumb to the atmosphere of fear and anxiety that seems all too ready to descend upon us. Both laughter and fear are contagious… and we can spread either.

We can use imagination as a means of finding calm in the swirling sea of emotions too. Meditation benefits health by reducing feelings of anxiety, depression and anger as well as lowering the levels of cortisol, the stress hormone. There are many types of meditation… one of the easiest is simply to build a scene in imagination, whether it is an image of a real place or not, and imagine yourself within it… rather like daydreaming. You can take as long as you wish… or just a couple of minutes. There is no time in the realm of imagination.

Sit comfortably, relax, breathe deeply but easily, close your eyes, and build the scene, little by little, until it is as real as you can make it without forcing. You can take a place from memory, from a photograph… or just imagine your ideal haven.

When you have the scene fixed in your mind, try to imagine the sounds and smells, the feel of what is beneath your feet. Then sit with the image for a while in peace.

When you are ready, feel the energy and renewal of spring rising up through your body and draw down the light from the sky… bring them together in your heart. Feel their presence. Let it fill you like an empty vessel. Then, send it out into the world again… as love, or healing, joy or peace… whatever seems right to you. Just offer it back and let it work.

Try it and see how it feels. Or perhaps you might prefer to create your own along similar lines. It is one small way to hold hope, peace and renewal and the calm that you feel will touch others too.

Summer weather…

fog and roses 003

August tomorrow… high summer… when the rush-hour traffic melts away and the roads are driveable, even at eight in the morning. A time of beaches and sandcastles, of ice-cream and strawberries. Of flowerbeds that are a carnival of colour… of sunshine and suntans… Or, in England… fog, rain and plunging temperatures.

Opening the curtains this morning was a waste of time. It didn’t get any lighter, and one look outside was enough to realise that it probably wouldn’t. The dog eyed the rain that battered the roses and went back to bed with a look of disgust. I couldn’t blame her… but like it or not she needed a walk before I left for work. We agreed… eventually… that we would indeed venture beyond the threshold, but Ani displayed none of her usual enthusiasm. To Ani, water should be confined to the pools and streams where she can get a mud bath.

If there is one thing we are good at in England it is weather. The variations we manage are quite stunning. Yesterday I came home beetroot red, in spite of long sleeves and soft cotton. Today, I am thinking seriously about putting the heating on to dispel some of the mouldering and all-pervading dampness that seems to have settled on every surface. I am cold, my bones ache and it feels like December… except that winter is just as likely to be mild and sunny…

I have to wonder though. Is it summer? Or is that just an arbitrary division of the year to which we doggedly hold, bound in place by our ideas of family holidays and the closure of the schools? The earth seems to think otherwise. Technically, I suppose it is, but we are, after all, already closer to the autumnal equinox than summer solstice. The harvest is being gathered, bales of gold dot the fields, there are ripe blackberries on the brambles and many flowers have already set seed.

Maybe it is a question of semantics and association. Speak of summer and the mind wanders to balmy days, leisure and laughter. It is our image, based on the memories that spring to the surface when we say the word… yet time does not stand still and summer melds imperceptibly with autumn, just as it had melted from spring for one brief burst of glory.

We like to have things neat and tidy in our minds and speak of the ‘first day of summertime’ as if the seasons will change at our instigation, or at least with some modicum of punctuality, when in fact there is no immediate transformation, more a gradual blurring as the seasons flow, one into another. I think it may be because Nature is beyond our control that we seek to cage her with our definitions and timescales. No matter how we manipulate genetic coding, defy medical conditions or learn to use the forces of the natural world, we are, at some level, conscious that Mother Nature still looks on with maternal indulgence at our meagre efforts to harness natural laws and bring them to our service.

We can delay, but cannot conquer, death. We can fertilise an embryo in a Petrie dish… but can we actually give it life when we cannot even adequately define it? Or are we merely taking the raw materials that Nature has given us to form a vessel, in the same way that the potter takes clay and water to shape a cup to hold the wine?

As to the weather… we have no chance. Ask an Englishman…

Out of control

heather 2015 derbyshire, higger tor, beeley circle, edensor, bak 038The clock is ticking… there is far too much to do and never enough time. That’s the way things seem to be these days, with everyone keeping an eye on the clock and a tight rein on deadlines. We all have them, often hidden…whether it is the meal you need to have ready on time, the kids to pick up from school or the dental appointment you have to squeeze in after work. Deadlines come in all shapes and sizes and half the time we don’t even realise they are there. We call it routine and recognise the benefits of having a rhythm to our days that allows us to get through them with some modicum of reliability.

It can be comforting to know what is expected of you at any given moment… it is a safe place to be, in an odd sort of way and our tendency is to fill the time available with what we know needs to be done, balanced with what we actually want to do. Even leisure time is pretty much scheduled… an evening with friends, a couple of hours feet up in front of the TV… these things take on a regularity that lets us know where we are.

The more overt type of deadline can be a spur for many people; that last minute completion fuelled by adrenaline has a familiarity and carries a sense of achievement… as well as relief. We seem to have transferred our skills as hunter-gatherers to our modern way of life… hunting at our work, chasing the prey of success, either personal or corporate, and gathering moments of leisure like ripe fruits to savour.

As we squeeze more and more into our waking hours, the quality of leisure has entered a strange land of extremes where many feel they have to be seen to be enjoying themselves… always ‘doing’… Some take up hobbies they find relaxing, whilst yet others simply switch off and use the white noise of electronic media, to relax. We are, when you think about it, always trying to control how our days unfold.

How many of us simply… stop doing. Just sit, not furiously thinking about the next problem to be solved or task to do… but just sit and let our thoughts meander where they will, our hands unoccupied, without feeling any pressure or guilt at taking time out? Time to not do, just to be?

For all of us such time has real benefits in terms of relaxation and freedom from the stressors of daily life. It is a time when inspiration comes unbidden, a place where realisations can swirl to the forefront of the mind. It is an essential time of inner silence, where that ‘still, small voice’ can whisper to a consciousness ready to listen. Such moments are the times between time, a place where we simply open the doors and leave space for something greater than we to come in.