Let it go…

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It is late. A warm bed and a cosy book await, yet I still have a lot that needs to be done.

Or that’s what my mind is telling me.

It has been one of those days. The day went as such days do, with a series of minor annoyances. For a start, I slept through the alarms. Or turned them off in my sleep and given the rigmarole involved in turning off the second alarm, that’s pretty impressive. Especially as I had to get out of bed to do it. Normally I am up before they go off, but they are no more than a fail-safe for the occasional lapse. Thankfully, the dog never sleeps through the alarms and eventually woke me by snorting at the door. It was still long before dawn, but that loss of time would have been a problem any other day. Thankfully, I was due to start work several hours later than usual, so I still got to sit down with a coffee and open the email… where I found a request to start at my normal time after all.

My son’s cat, when I arrived at his home, had been busy too. It liked the new, wood-based litter in its tray and had decided that it would make a good plaything. I fed the cat and swept it all back up, refilling the tray while it ate. I swept it up three times over the next four hours. The cat objected and bit me, but I persevered… then gave in and went to the supermarket in search of the old type of cat-litter to replace the lot.

Grumbling to myself, both about the cat and the necessity of crossing the supermarket threshold at all, I made a bee-line for the pet aisle and grabbed the litter, stocking up with the dog’s requirements while I was there. Might as well but myself a little time…

Which I lost when I finally arrived home to a seriously depleted fish-tank. I dealt with that…again… fed and walked the dog, cleaned all the muddy footprints off the nice, clean floor,  and realised I should have bought something for me at the supermarket too. I was about to nip to the village shop for provisions when the phone rang. By the time the call had finished, the shop was shut. I fielded another phone call from one son and sat down to talk with the other, all the while fielding the ball for the deliriously happy dog who goes loopy when one of her boys turns up. And suddenly, the day had gone.

By eight thirty, I was ready to eat and start on work I had hoped to have finished twelve hours earlier. Some of it is stuff I am desperate to finish. I could get really stressed about now, especially with a crashing computer and a brand new set of muddy pawprints tracking across the living room floor… and the level in the fish tank steadily dropping again. I could stay up all night and get it done…or not.

I think not.

What is the point of getting stressed?

The animals taught me a lesson today. The cat, annoyed by my constant interference with her game, sunk her teeth in my arm and drew blood. The dog, over-excited by her visitor, barked and bounced like a lunatic in her joy, making conversation impossible until she had calmed down. Both of them had reacted to the emotions of the moment and neither of them were particularly pleasant to be around, though for opposite reasons. Do I want to be like either of them at this moment? Or fighting like cat and dog, either with myself or with time? There would be only one loser.

There will, inevitably, be more pawprints in the morning. There always are. The inboxes will be full regardless of how efficiently I empty them. There will still be writing to be done even if I finish the to-do list tonight. The PC always crashes and always has. And if the leak in the tank wasn’t solved earlier, there isn’t much more I can do. The fish are safe, the cat is five miles away, the dog is asleep and I have cereals in the cupboard I can have for supper.

There is nothing that has to be done tonight; none of it will shake the world if it doesn’t get done by morning. Were I subtracted from this world overnight to some alternate universe, this world would carry on without me quite nicely.

We acquire this sense of obligation to the tasks we set ourselves quite early. ‘Conscientious’ is a word often used on school reports and a quality prized in an employee. It implies responsibility, both as a duty and a quality. We carry that idea and ideal with us and call it ‘doing our best’, even into tasks and areas of our lives where there is no real necessity for it.

None of us, and few of the things we feel we just have to get done, are really that important. I think that is at the root of much of our daily stress… this sense of obligation to some unwritten timetable that we impose upon ourselves, coupled with the unconscious feeling that we have to meet our own expectations. We can project those onto others too, convincing ourselves that they have expectations where that may not be the case. Perhaps it is partly the ego asserting its own sense of self-importance that makes us feel ‘we have to’, when actually, we don’t. If a few hours won’t really make a difference, really and truly, we can let the stress go.

There are so many tasks we see as important, through a habit of mind or a habit of routine, that are not really earth-shatteringly important at all. Things that could easily wait until we have eaten or rested or slept…and which would probably benefit from our taking time out before completing them.

Stress is a killer, both in physical terms and where the quality of our work is concerned. Things completed under pressure are seldom as well done as those completed with a little time and consideration. Sometimes just letting go is the best thing we can do for that to-do list.

It is late. A warm bed and a cosy book await. They won’t be waiting much longer.

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.

Place and time

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I looked around and was silenced mid-sentence. Fingers halted in empty air over the keyboard, I was doing a fair impression of a goldfish. It was not what I expected to see. But it just goes to show how much our inner world can influence the outer and how complex the chain of events can be that lead from ‘cannot’ to ‘can’.

There is much written these days about the power of positive thinking; some from a scientific and psychological perspective, some bordering on the lunatic fringe… and just about every possible shade in between from the sleekly professional, to views as fluffy as an angora rabbit. What most of us will come across hangs somewhere in the middle and takes a common sense approach to how we can make our daily life a better place to be.

We recognise negative thought as a limiting behaviour… our thoughts narrow our focus and refuse to move from their problem at hand. We react to specific situations and fail to see the other possibilities around us, creating a downward and inward spiral that effectively blocks us from finding a solution to the problem; either that, or we are so engrossed in taking immediate action that we are blind to all else.

Positive thinking has many well documented benefits for health and wellbeing. In one test, two groups were set up in order to control the experiment where the main group were asked to write about an intensely positive experience every day for just three days. Three months later their health and emotions were measurably better than the control group. It isn’t just writing that helps; anything that lifts the mood is a step in creating that positive mindset. Doing something you love, being with people with whom you are happy, creating art, music or craftwork, maybe riding a bike… or simply playing, allowing yourself to take time out just for fun.

Meditation, one of the techniques used in the Silent Eye‘s course, has also been shown to have a rapid effect on stress levels, health and on the brain itself.

One recent study looked at how and why a positive mindset could bring specific and long term effects. The findings showed that, amongst other measurable benefits, positivity enhances creative thought, by widening the focus so that all manner of possibilities can be admitted into the moment.

But possibilities are not concrete realities… and to translate the one into the other there is another ingredient, that is required and one not so simple to create… belief in ourselves. We are very good at hiding the cracks in the way we value ourselves. Buried deep, there is often something akin to the impostor syndrome, where we simply don’t think we really deserve the happiness, health, love, success…or any number of other states our surface mind strives to achieve. It is a belief which may have grown though out our lives, with small incidents and large adding strength to its presence.

Many are aware that they are not as confident as they may seem to others, but this elusive lack of belief is hard to pin down and often goes unnoticed. While it lurks in the shadows, we are entirely capable of sabotaging our efforts without even knowing it. We may also choose not to make an attempt for fear of not succeeding as we feel we should… a fear rooted not in any real assessment of our capabilities, but in an invisible and insidious belief that we are bound to fail.

Conversely, when we do believe in ourselves we are capable of achieving great things. That belief too tends to be something that has built up slowly over a period of time and with the confirmation of innumerable small successes. It is something we can encourage, by acknowledging those things we have achieved… from the small to the large… from evicting a spider from the bathtub to getting that promotion or publishing a book. We build a portfolio of associations that make us feel confident and bolster our belief in ourselves and what we can do… and who we are.

And sometimes everything just comes together. Time, place and mindset combine to produce the perfect moment for big things to happen. Take this weekend, for example. My son was out on his trike and chose to turn up at my door after a very long ride. Ani, who sees him rarely, had been ‘singing’ for several minutes and doing the ‘postman dance’, a very specific circular prancing that alerts me when we are going to have visitors or ‘intruders’ (like postmen…). I parked the trike and helped him inside. As we reached the door to the living room, with the dog bounding around him joyously, he said he felt he ought to be able to just walk across the room. I too, against all logic, felt that it ‘should’ so.

I helped him to the sofa, with the ecstatic dog bringing him balls faster than he could throw them. She has a habit of dropping them too far away when she is excited. I needed to look something up on the computer…and turned round to see my son walking across the living room to the table. This was where the goldfish impression came in…because, of course, my son can’t walk unaided…except on May Day… and, apparently, here…

When my mouth had finally closed and settled into an inane grin, we talked about what had happened. He had ‘just thought he could’; the room had that effect… a place that had been the scene of many moments of progress and triumph, large and small, when he came back home after the brain injury and our days were entirely focussed on his recovery. We had adopted a consciously optimistic stance, even while we acknowledged the more dire and official prognosis. We chose, here in this place, to believe he would recover and the association of place is positive… I could understand why he had felt that way. Then too, he had just arrived under his own steam, on a trike that was allowing him freedom to explore without someone pushing a wheelchair; something that cannot help boosting his self-belief. If ever there was a time and place to try, this was it. And he succeeded, placing yet another link in the chain of belief that will allow him to walk unaided again.

I think we underestimate the power of place and time. It is easy to recognise the effects of being somewhere that makes you feel good… a heather strewn dawn on the moors will do it for me, every time. Asking ‘why’ may throw some light on the associations we have with a location; it doesn’t matter to me which moor, for example… they all take me back to childhood, happiness and being with people I have loved. To be in such a place, with such associations, is always uplifting and opens the doors of possibility. Such a place is the ‘right’ place to find belief and embrace our hopes and dreams, opening ourselves to whatever possibilities the universe might offer. And the right time… whenever that feeling surfaces that you can be who you were always meant to be…is now.