Throw those curtains wide…

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One day like this a year will see me right…

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I loved this Elbow song when I first heard it but didn’t give it much thought, just liked the idea that someone would be happy to have one good day, which, to be honest, didn’t seem very ambitious.

Then, 3 weeks ago, I found myself having one of these days, I even started humming the song and thought – ‘I’m having a day that would see me right’ (I wasn’t sure for how long at that point.)  One whole day where I felt happy, contented and at peace.  This happened on a recent holiday to Cornwall – I chose to have a day alone with my dog, just walking along the cliffs and it was heaven. There was nothing I had to do, nowhere I had to be, no one I had to talk to – just there on the cliff tops in the beautiful Autumn sun with my dog.

The effects of that day lasted a good two weeks, feeling better, more peaceful with myself.  It sounds a bit ‘new agey’ when I read this back, but this day was it.  It felt like I had just hit my reset button and instead of going back to factory settings I upgraded to a slightly happier and contented me.

I struggle with feeling at peace and contentment, there is usually a small voice telling me I should be doing something productive, or even just something else.  Like everyone, I do of course have calming moments – usually when I’m walking the dog, or running or gardening.  But these moments don’t last long – maybe an hour or so, or sometimes a little longer, a day at most, and then real life kicks in again (or my mind starts being difficult).  Even holidays don’t quite have the same effect.

What was it that made this day so special that it enabled me to reset for a while?  I think I can tie it down to a few core features

  • 1.    I was outside – amongst stunning natural surroundings
  • 2.    I was outside for a few hours
  • 3.    I was with my dog
  • 4.    I was alone (apart from the dog)
  • 5.    I was away from home – far enough way that it felt distant
  • 6.    I knew I didn’t need to check in with anyone or anything (work/home/amazon delivery…)

So now I’m wondering realistically what are the chances of this becoming more than a one off or once a year thing.  Is one day a year enough? What about one day a month or a week (probably pushing it but just think how calm and contented I could become if I had a whole day of resetting every week – seriously worth some thought.)

It’s also got me thinking more about mindfulness and what this really means.  I don’t meditate or practice mindfulness in any way but I’m guessing that this is what I partly experienced during that day, and I definitely need more of that.

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Taking control in Limboland

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IMG00230-20120325-1122There’s been a lot of talk recently about ‘taking control’. Teresa May wants to give us ‘more control over our lives.’ Brexiters talk about wanting to ‘get back control’ of the Country.  I don’t really know what any of this actually means in practice.  At the moment I feel like many people – waiting to see how things turn out. I feel as if we’ve all moved into Limboland for a while.

Of course we can’t ever really have control over our Country or even every aspect of our lives – we always live in a certain state of limbo. Sometimes things happen that we as individuals can’t do anything about other than accept or question – be it the economy, our health, our travel plans, our jobs etc…. Sometimes we do have to wait things out and live for a while in Limbo. 

I think limbo is a really interesting concept and a very real state of being. Recently I wrote about the importance of resilience, and living in limbo certainly requires resilience.  I find that arriving in Limboland gets harder to accept with age – I don’t have time to loll around in Limboland doing nothing!  Time is passing, I need to get out of limbo and do things (which things I still haven’t quite figured out).  

But the very essence of Limboland is that it will release you when it’s good and ready, how long you spend there is not something you can always control. You just have to be vigilant about keeping an open mind for the exit door.  So my advice about coping with the limbo situation –

Figure out first if you really are in limbo and all exits are locked or if you are sticking your head in the sand and failing to see the door that’s been opened a crack.

 A) If it’s lock down – then go with it, see it as a natural break in the madness of life, explore it, regroup, let time work it’s magic and save your energies for the next opportunity to move on, up and out. Sometimes we may be here for a short stay and sometimes a long one – just keep one eye on the door.

B) Sticking you head in the sand? Why, what’s scaring you? Do you need a change? Some help or guidance? A map or plan to help you negotiate your way out of the land of limbo?

Understanding which category you fall into each time can be a lifelong challenge, the land changes all the time, but hopefully recognising Limbo as a real place can help.  It’s ok to land here, you may need help to get off, and a revisit is highly likely.

Keeping plan B in the back pocket

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Plan B

So after the Referendum we appear to be in a state of turmoil – living with a public decision that was unexpected. We didn’t expect the reactions, regrets, backlash – It feels like there was no plan B in place and we’re just reeling with the punches trying to accept that the unexpected is real.

It’s now all about the Plan B.

Why is it that we are so often unhinged by the unexpected?  I know I’ve been guilty in the past of thinking that ‘things’ happen to other people.  It’s taken my middle years to realise that in fact ‘things’ happen to you and people you know – good things, bad things, unexpected things. Things don’t always go as planned, life, jobs, politics, diets, exams, relationships, death, life.

I also know that clouds don’t always have silver linings and that we don’t always learn from our mistakes and every set back is not a journey to self discovery. Sometimes life is just difficult, untenable at times and plan sailing at others. We do sometimes regret the things we didn’t do, but we also sometimes regret the things we did.  It’s life Jim – but not as we know it – or often want it to be.

I don’t think that’s being pessimistic and it’s not dreading what’s around the corner, it’s being realistic. I came across this emotional compass circle during a short course on existential theory in counselling by the rather wonderful Emmy Van Deurzen.

 Emotional compass

The idea that each emotion has an opposite and throughout the course of our lives we go around and around this circle of emotions. We all hope to remain in happiness at the top forever, but that’s not real and we are constantly working our way around at different times and different speeds, going between emotions in the space of minutes, days or sometimes being stuck in one part for years. This is completely natural, we can’t have one feeling without the other.

We can prepare for our plan B (and C, D …)  by recognising the importance of coping, of resilience and understanding . I’m a big fan of resilience. Some people have it in truck loads, some of us need to hone our resilience and some of us need to learn it from scratch.  It’s not a natural characteristic – we are so often hidden from bad news or taught to expect the best and not be negative – ‘think positive and all will be well!’  But thinking positive isn’t always helpful, if life is shit then we have to cope, survive and be in the moment, not try and dismiss our feelings or turn them into something else.  

Living with adversity and building resilience should be on the core curriculum. It’s not just about our own individual coping mechanisms but also about recognising when we need to ask for the support of friends, family or professionals – resilience is a family and community essential too  – often better together.

 Emmy van deurzen

Scaffolding and the circle of life

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Scaffolding

I walked past this building the other day as I do most days.  It used to be a big old house before the developers knocked it down to rebuild it into something else. Somewhere along the way the renovation has stopped and it’s been left in mid build.  As I walked past I thought – that’s what I feel like, a bit empty and in need of a rebuild yet held together by support.

I read a couple of blogs recently that resonated with this.  The first was about films being a good illustration of how life often emerges from the middle. We see an opening scene that starts at some point in a character’s life, often we begin in their middle and we go from there full of anticipation about what we are going to find out. It doesn’t matter where they started because we are engaging with them wherever they are now.

The second was about pressing the reboot button like you do on a computer, just a soft reboot to make small changes where things are no longer working for you.  It doesn’t have to be major, just a few adjustments, keeping the core functionality in place.

I like both of these ideas they strike me as an easy and engaging way to think about how we can choose to do things differently or change, even in really small ways.

I think when you get to middle age things naturally start changing around you, you can’t stop it and you have to adapt.  You lose people, age gaps become a little more apparent, priorities start to shift, time starts to race. I see this building as a representation of this – a down to earth gritty reality of the circle of life without the Disney sentimentality.  The emptiness that happens due to the losses and changes and the need to rebuild, reboot and adapt to these losses and changes. Sometimes the adaptations may need to be significant and sometimes tiny, but either way you have to keep developing and adapting to remain relevant, engaged and living.  With any luck the scaffolding you surround yourself with will keep everything solid enough to get through these changes and provide the confidence to reboot or restart your film.

It can feel like a long process, every time I walk past this building now it makes me question how far I’ve come in my own adjustments since I walked past it last time.  Sometimes I feel stuck and empty, other times I feel like I’ve secured a new brick or two and sometimes I think I could even take down some of the scaffolding. If this building ever gets finished I wonder what it will look like and how far I’ve got.

ps – the blog Raptitude.com is worth a read.

The Family in mid-life

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It’s not often a sentence stops me in my tracks but this one did –

‘What usually has the strongest psychic effect on the child is the life which the parents…have not lived.’ (Carl Jung).

This may not resonate with everyone, but the impact of that sentence really got me thinking. The chapter that goes with this sentence explores the importance of enabling all members of the family to be individuals within that unit and to follow their independent paths – parents as well as children.   It’s about positive role modelling within the family and creating reasonable expectations and boundaries for all members to thrive.  I do wonder how this model was played out in the homes of our parents and grandparents. All equal?  All able to explore their individuality?  What was the impact of the more traditional society back then on family members, particularly our mothers and grandmothers, before the rise of feminism and equality? And how did this affect our generation in terms of our role models within the family?

I think about this a lot and believe that for many women now in their 50’s we are the trailblazers in re-defining the family unit. Today our choices around starting a family have become much broader both in terms of the time/age we choose to start a family and the choices we have in how we operate within it.

For our generation being in your 50’s is a unique time for family life.  It’s a time to come to terms with decisions about your own family choices (for me, I find my decision not to have children no longer defines me in the way it did in my 30’s or 40’s).  Other friends in their 50’s are coping with a whole range of family situations – bringing up younger children, getting through the difficult teenage years and dealing with the empty nest.  It’s also a time when many of us are coping with a changing relationship with our own parents, coping with elderly parents or the death of our parents and the realignment of ourselves within that unit.

I talk a lot about trying to figure out my purpose, be more productive, make the most of my future, but I don’t think I had truly grasped that one of the fundamental issues to explore and accept is the past, the impact of family and how that may shape my future. I didn’t expect this to be so impactful at this age, at 50 you kind of hope you know this, but actually at 50 these issues are probably at their most raw and connection to family, whilst shifting, is more important than ever.

Distractions – procrastination or normal life?

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Orty pier

I was reading an article about the danger of distractions and how, if you get distracted from a task, it can take an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to get back to the task.  This was an article about working productively, so more about the everyday work distractions (email/colleagues/facebook etc).  But what if you find yourself distracted away from normal life in general, for more than a few minutes or hours or days.  Let’s say hypothetically that you were all set to head toward some goal or other and then you find that you have been distracted by some unknown force and pulled off course for around a year with no sign of said goals being started, let alone achieved.  What on earth do you do then?  And what does this mean?

This is what I’m pondering at the moment. In a month I’ll be 51 – it seems I was only worrying about 50 a few days ago. Time is ticking away and I don’t feel any closer to being more productive, making a difference to the world, finding my purpose or in fact channelling my time toward any other worthy life enhancing groundbreaking direction.

When I hit 50 I was going to be someone, but it seems I’ve been a bit slow off the mark. Is my distraction a sign that I’ve been lazy, have lost my mojo, picked the wrong goals or just been derailed by life events?  Or should I give up worrying, drop the life enhancement theme and just get on with normal life?  I really need to find out so I’ve bought some more books – ‘What Matters Most: Living a More Considered Life’ and ‘Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Life’ – hopefully I’ll have read them before I’m 52.

Loss and Life

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Arnie at bozzie

Getting older is tough in ways that I hadn’t really bargained for, I’ve thought about running out of time to do things or achieve things but time will run out on so many aspects of our lives.

Over the past year I’ve been trying to become more acquainted with death, not in a morbid way but because it should be better ingrained in our everyday living.  You could even say I’ve worked quite hard at this, through attending a course about ‘How to face Death’ (another great School of Life Course) which despite the title was one of the most uplifting days I’ve experienced.  I’ve read about Death Cafes and Death Conferences – neither of which I’ve attended yet – but it’s on my ‘worth considering’ list. A few months ago I began work with a local hospice as a volunteer bereavement counsellor because it felt the right path for me and I felt strong enough to do this.

In the space of a few short weeks I’ve lost my dog and my Dad – the impact of both is very very tough. I’m writing this 2 days before my Dad’s funeral and so I’ve been reflecting on our lives as a family and remembering and thinking a lot about what death means and how we can or can’t prepare ourselves for this inevitable event.

I’m glad I started to engage with ‘Death’ before my losses, before I even thought I may have these losses. Maybe without realising I had started to prepare myself.  In middle age – you can’t avoid losses, they start to add up, that’s life, it’s hard, but it’s life.

Experiencing death and grief is never going to be easy, it’s one of the hardest things to bare but the conversations need to be had. However difficult it is, I want to continue to engage with death – I’m not sure how to live without it.