Finding joy

I’ve found such a sense of joy during these lockdown months as I’ve spent more time with my immediate family. Weekends are made of rambling walks, barbecues if the weather is right and movie afternoons with us all snug on the sofa.

Don’t get me wrong, the time hasn’t been perfect with a strong-willed two year old with a penchant for 5am wake-ups and it’s uncomfortable to be finding such happiness when others are struggling so much, but I’ve realised that if I had to spend the rest of my life in isolation, I’d be happy with this company to keep me happy and sane.

I want this to be my life predominantly when we get out of lockdown – life is better lived at a slower, gentler pace.

But I have fears too.

What will happen to friendships that maybe need to be gently let go of to keep this space? Is this just going to tumble around me one day, leaving me with no friends and regrets for those I let overtake me in their faster life?

But this feels right for me and so I’m going to keep unfurling in the gentle joy of being a family of three.

Work, if I’m honest, has been less joyful.

Don’t get me wrong – this is not to say that my life at work is not full of satisfaction. But I’m realising that there’s something about how I’m approaching work and the distance between people which is starting to rub a bit.

And so here are my thoughts about how I can bring more joy to my working life over the coming weeks and months.

Connecting

Connecting with peers and people who inspire me on a 1:1 basis is so important for me. After a good conversation – talking through challenges, connecting with others on a very human level – my heart feels bigger, my spirit feels lighter.

I feel joy.

But the connections I’d usually have over lunchtime walks and meetings have been fewer and further between.

And conversations with people in the organisation who inspire and spark something in my have been fewer and more focused on the immediate than the spacious time they were in pre-covid times.

I’m learning that these are conditions are important for me to thrive and so they should be one of the priorities that I take forward – thinking who I need to connect with and looking at how I can be intentional about this in the weeks ahead.

Finding fun

One of the permission slips I’ve written for myself at work is ‘the permission to have fun’. I notice how uncomfortable this feels to share with you, dear friend, because having fun isn’t ‘serious’.

It might be seen as wasting time or not being productive.

So let me clarify, this isn’t having fun in the sense of playing video games or fooling around instead of get things done. It’s a mindset, and an important one for creativity, reimagining what’s possible, stepping into new roles at work.

For me, fun is setting myself a hard task and being intentional about the areas where I can gain enjoyment from it.

Fun is looking at other people and organisations to see what I can learn from them.

Fun is trying out new things, knowing that the point is to try – not get things perfect.

Fun is working with people who are as open and imaginative as I am.

And I haven’t really allowed myself to have much fun recently. I haven’t prioritised it.

So I’m going to bring this back.

Distance

Until now, I’d said that I’d be happy to work from home for the rest of my life.

I like not having to leave the house by 6:45am to catch the right train to work. I like being able to eat lunch with my husband. I like spending the time I used to spend commuting running along the seashore and through the fields near my house. I like sometimes working from my sofa, in my garden, at different times of the day.

But I recognise now that it’s a bit lonely.

There are limited spaces for interaction outside of the meetings I’m part of and the online presence means that these meetings have less chat at the strt are are more focused on a particular purpose.

And meetings set up for connection are in big groups, which I don’t enjoy or feel nourished from.

There are no conversations in hallways that lead onto something.

There’s less laughter, less spontaneity, less connection.

So, while I like the better balance of working from home, I can see the importance of finding a way of being together in a group and recognising the impact of online connections on my joy.

So what does this mean?

There are some easy things I will be doing over the coming weeks – it feels good to have ordered my thoughts with you to look at what’s going on and what I need:

  • Considering who I want to connect in with over the next few weeks and months
  • Finding a sense of joy through looking at the road ahead and where I want to be intentional in bringing some fun and lightness
  • Acknowledging that it’s hard to connect online, reminding myself that this will pass

Kindness

When I got married, my mum gave me a card with some advice to me as a newly wed.

She said the most important thing in a successful marriage is kindness. I couldn’t agree more with her – it’s been one of the most vital things for my relationship to stand the test of time – we’ve been together for close to ten years now!

And as I spent a day off work last week, completely exhausted from the ups and downs of covid life and lack of sleep (thanks for the 5am wake ups, Jenson!), I was reminded of the importance of kindness not just towards my husband but towards myself.

I spent the morning having a wonderful run to the seaside and into some countryside – time in blue and green space was just what the doctor ordered, but after that, I started to feel really antsy and uncomfortable. The day that had started so well was no longer going so well – I was doubting myself and feeling like the day was going to be one big disaster.

And then I remembered that what I really needed was a huge dollop of kindness.

I started to ask myself ‘what would be the kindest thing to do for myself?’.

And here’s what I was guided to:

  • Get back into your PJ bottoms to stay cosy
  • Listen to the sound of rain on an app you’ve got as you spend a bit of time just chilling
  • Have lunch in bed, watching a feel good film
  • Enjoy the nice full feeling you’ve got from having eaten slightly too much chocolate
  • Have a nap
  • Take it slow

It’s such a different approach to a child-free and work-free day of the past where I’d try to cram in so much – needing to feel like I’d achieved something from the day instead of asking what I needed from the day itself (rest, fun, reflection…).

Instead of telling myself that I need to be productive or do something with my time, it was such a relief to just be. 

To allow myself to unwind from the pace of life for a moment. To sink even deeper – if that’s possible – into the potential of a life designed around taking care of myself with loving kindness.

And I’ve really appreciated a tip I took from a resilience webinar I attended on Wednesday (shown in the photo below) – in every choice we make throughout a day, we have a range of options – from something that’s the best possibility, to the worst possibility.

Our days are made up of these possibilities, stacked one after another in each decision we make. They can make us ascend or descend – the image shows how you can make the least kind decision but then bound up and ‘recover ground’ by making the most kind decision next.

Yet I rarely lived like this before. In the past, if I made one unkind choice towards myself (usually around eating my feelings away instead of acknowledging what I was feeling) I’d immediately discount the day and would spiral into some form of hell – beating myself up, eating even more, feeling crap about myself…it’d usually continue in that way for some days after until I managed to jolt myself out of the cycle.

But what I see now, what the model shared in the webinar showed, is that after that initial ‘worst’ choice, there is always another opportunity, another decision, another path to take which can lift us up – whether that’s the choice to:

  • stop eating and acknowledge what is going on to us instead
  • take a step back and assess our options
  • start speaking to ourselves with kindness
  • take the higher ground

It can turn around a day that has started to spiral

It’ reminded me that it’s never too late for kindness.

So what are you going to do with your day? How are you going to show yourself kindness today, friend?

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Merry go round

In the past, I’ve had so many conversations with people about how overstretched I feel. I can’t count the amount of times over the year that I’ve said “I wish this merry-go-round would stop”; talking about my life and how I wish I could just get off it for a moment to catch my breath.

I think I’ve even written it here on this blog.

Life pre-covid-19 was so busy – family time was demanding with a young child, work was stretching (in a good way) and my social life kept me busy with plans stretching months ahead.

But the other day I was speaking to someone on the phone, asking each other how we were doing and I realised that with the current lockdown we’re living through, I’ve slowly unfolded into a new slower pace of life.

The merry-go-round has stopped.

And I’ve loved it.

Sure, there have been challenges – I’ve written about them on this blog – but the overwhelming feeling I’ve had in my life is relief for the time and space I now have in my life. 

Relief of having weekends filled with nothing but family togetherness; the highlight being a pizza night or a cycle down to the seafront and time throwing stones into the sea.

Relief at having time to properly care for myself – running through parks instead of commuting to work, reading in my newly set up ‘cosy corner’ in the afternoon sun, finding moments of kindness and connection as I wave to people on the walk up my road. 

Relief to find myself suddenly in a pace of life where I don’t expect myself to do anything or be anything.

I just am.

And part of me feels awful for feeling thankful in this time that is so deeply challenging for others – people pushed to the brink of breaking point psychologically, emotionally, financially, physically.

Is it right to flourish and have gratitude for the sudden break in life when people are losing their lives to this pandemic? 

But as I find myself whirling into a tailspin, wondering if I can even share these words with you, dear friend, I’m reminded of a podcast I listened to recently on comparative suffering, knowing that my lack of suffering at this moment doesn’t take away from what others are going through.

There’s room in this world for all our experiences. 

And I recognise that I was suffering before this pandemic slowed me down. 

Suffering from lack of space, a life that was unsustainable, an unhelpful pattern of constantly saying ‘yes’ to things that didn’t serve me, FOMO, not listening to myself and what I needed. 

And part of me is scared about what will happen when this lockdown ends – when I am back in a life that has more hard edges to it – with commuting, for example – and more soft edges too, with the possibility of socialising. 

I feel like a freak for loving the additional time alone, for not wanting to be with lots of people, for having a life that is full enough as it is. 

And yet, this is my truth. 

  • I love time alone. 
  • I only need a few close friends to feel like the richest person in the world. 
  • I’m happy living a simple life, with the company of my family and time out in nature. 
  • I like living somewhere with neighbours who look out for each other. 

I love this world where the merry-go-round has stopped – not for the suffering it has caused others but for the simplicity it has brought to my life. 

I hope I find a way to not get back on the merry-go-round – or to find a way to regularly get off it – when it starts to turn again. 

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I’m not alone

I’ve been coming to terms for a while now with the fact that I’m not somebody who enjoys small talk.

It’s made me feel shame that I’m not enough – that I can’t easily fit into the world of people who enjoy nothing more than being in a group with others, laughing and joking, sharing the every day occurrences of the world.

I’ve got a few good friends with whom I share a different type of relationship. It’s not a bond borne through years of knowing each other – it’s a bond of letting ourselves be fully seen.

We may not know what we’ve done on a day to day basis, but we know what makes each others heart stop with wonder or fear or anger. We know what stops us from stepping into our true calling. We share our highest dreams and our lowest moments.

We share from our depths of our souls. 

But that’s only with a handful of people and I’ve felt quite alone for much of life with how I’ve felt, not sure how I could both honour myself and find my path through a world built on a different type of interaction.

It feels like I’m speaking a foreign language – stilted, awkward, unsure.

It’s hard to share this as I feel like writing my truth – how I love deep conversation – discounts or belittles the pleasure and the fulfilment that other people get from chitchat, banter, sharing what’s going on in the day-to-day. And it’s not that I think it’s wrong to enjoy this way of living – it’s just not right for me.

And I’m finding myself feeling more and more uncomfortable living at this level.

Feeling this way and being unsure what to do about it has felt really lonely.

I felt unsure what to do or where to turn until I read a section from the book I’ve been reading recently called Soulcraft.

Reading these passages felt like a coming home to myself and I wanted to share them in case you feel similarly alone in seeking deeper soul connections:

We spend much of our time talking about trivial matters and practical ones – the weather, plans for the day, routine office events, frivolous gossip, the new movie, canned jokes, the latest shopping acquisition, the next technological miracle, stock-market shifts. Chitchat, the every day wins and losses. So little of our conversation addresses our passions, loves, emotions, dreams, or our creative insights and soul stirrings.

An effective strategy for tuning our awareness to the frequency of soul is to minimise every day conversation that separates us from the here and now and from what is truly meaningful. This can be a rather challenging discipline. Sometimes it seems almost everything in our culture conspires to distance us from the heart and soul. So many messages are ads, trying to tell us something of questionable usefulness while ruthlessly pandering to our vanity, insecurity, or happiness – new toys, fashion, entertainment, or insurance against the inevitabilities of life.

Few people ask the bigger questions. For the Wanderer, however, nothing is more important: she seeks the hidden treasure, the spring bubbling in the desert, the song of the world.

Constant superficial conversation keeps us from noticing what’s going on with us emotionally or spiritually or in our bodies. Small talk alienates us from ourselves – perhaps a purpose as well as a result. 

Sacred speech is conversation that deepens. It deepens relationship and enhances the fulness of our presence wherever we are and whomever we are with. It is dialogue centred in what exists here and now between us. We speak from the heart and address what truly matters – our feelings, imagery, dreams, life purpose, our relationships, soul stories, our discoveries of how we project aspects of self onto others or learn to withdraw those projections and our meetings with remarkable humans, animals, plants and places. There is no requirement that such conversation be solemn or hushed. The sacred is often funny as well. We laugh at our oh-so-human foibles and the jokes that life plays on us everyday. The more real our conversations become, the more alive we become, the more we want to scream or shout or cry. 

What a relief to hear that my experience is one shared by others. 

What joy to feel fully understood and to know I’m not alone. 

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Daring to lead

I’m reading a leadership book by Brené Brown, Dare to Lead. It’s the book we’re discussing at work in a book club I’ve started.

The sub-title for the book, to give you an idea of it, is:

  • Brave Work
  • Tough Conversations
  • Whole Hearts

It’s about daring to step into discomfort and lead wholeheartedly in work.

And it’s brilliant.

I read it a while ago when it first came out but reading it again and making notes to guide what I want to get out of the conversation with other leaders at work has been really helpful.

Here are my thoughts from what I’ve learnt so far:

What gets in the way of daring leadership

I’ve nodded a resounding ‘yes’ when reading what gets in the way of developing potential in others and in the work we do:

  1. Avoiding tough conversations – choosing comfort instead
  2. Not addressing fears and feelings
  3. Lack of empathy
  4. Fear of failure and perfectionism, which stunts creativity and risk
  5. Getting stuck and defined by failure, setbacks and disappointment
  6. Too much shame and blame, not enough accountability and learning
  7. Moving to fix stuff instead of staying with the problem to really learn about it

Whose opinion matters

Through what I’ve read to date, I’ve considered whose opinion of me matters in my work and have been reminded of how often I’ve been swayed by naysayers who sit back and criticise whilst avoiding involvement in imperfect, messy work that has the risk of failure. I feel lucky to have people in my organisation who I respect and trust – who will stand alongside me and give me honest feedback to help me on my path.

What quotes have resonated with me?

I’ve loved so much of what I’ve read – the book is now littered with underlines and highlights. Some of the words I’ve especially loved are below:

“Vulnerability isn’t winning or losing. It’s having the courage to show up when you can’t control the outcome.”

“Great leaders make tough ‘people decisions’ and are tender in implementing them, giving people a way out with dignity.” 

I’ve wondered whether the processes organisations have in place to ensure a consistent approach to how people are treated takes away the humanity in things such as the management of poor performance or how redundancies take place.

“If you believe people are doing their best, you sometimes can no longer know how to lead them. The strategies of pushing and grinding the same issues must give way to the difficult tasks of teaching the team, reassessing their skills gaps, reassigning them or letting them go.”

Shame

A whole chapter of the book is dedicated to how shame manifests at work.

Many of the areas where shame manifests – not getting a promotion, being demoted, public belittling by a superior at work – aren’t experiences I’ve had. But I did spot one source of shame that I think is particularly rife at the moment and that I’ve had experience of during this period of pandemic:

“Shame is seeing things change so quickly and not knowing how and where I can contribute. The fear of being irrelevant can be a huge shame trigger.” 

I’ve been thinking where this shame shows up in me – a lot of self-talk about not being a ‘good enough’ leader or not knowing how to contribute in a meaningful way to make things better – and I’m sure this is showing up in others right now.

So if you feel this way, you’re not alone. And you don’t have to hustle for worthiness, trying to be more than you are. Yes, strive for being helpful, but your innate worthiness as a human being isn’t solely down to you being the most helpful or saving the world through covid-19.

Values

One part of the book that I’m struggling with a bit is around values.

I’ve had my share of working with values over the years – at most, I’ve seen them as something used as a measurement (i.e. you get to go on this leadership development programme because you’ve shown that you are accountable and you challenge the status quo!) and at worst they are words used that get put on marketing packs and are miles away from the experience of people working within the organisation.

If I’m honest, I don’t like them.

But this isn’t what I’m struggling with – the book is in agreement with my dislike for these measurements and Brené says that only 10% of companies she’s worked with have measurable values that are used to train employees and hold them accountable. And without this, they’re really just empty words that serve no purpose and can actually do more harm than good.

I like, instead, the concept of getting clear about individual values – what are important values that can guide us as individuals in becoming brave leaders.

In the book, there’s a list of values (I got this sheet from the Dare to Lead Resource Hub in case you’d like to use it) and you’re guided to select the two values that are the most important to you. 

Not the values you’ve been taught you should have or the values that others have taught, but the ones that define you and who you are at your best.

Mine are faithfulness – to myself, the parts of myself that I value, the issues I hold as important, to those I love – and growth – ever deepening my knowledge and experiences, like a tree reaching high and taking root low.

It’s taken me so long to find these words – it was so hard to do, because for years my natural inclination was to self-protect and so I took decisions based on what I thought others would want of me. And I channeled my growth into what I thought I should become, not what made my heart sing.

But these feel right, they feel like my words.

What the book then guides you to do is to define three or four behaviours that define these values and some slippery behaviours we’re tempted to do even though they go against our values. So here is my starter for 10:

Behaviour 1: Faithfulness

Three behaviours that support this value:

  1. Choose courage – putting myself out there – over comfort
  2. Lean into conflict and stay curious
  3. It don’t make it my job to make others more comfortable or be liked by everyone

Three slippery behaviours I find myself doing:

  1. Taking decision out of shame – thinking that I’m not enough (and trying to make up for it) or am too much (so trying to not show myself as I truly am)
  2. Choosing a shallow belonging – “you agree with me, I accept you” over the possibility of a deeper belonging “I see you and accept you for all you are”
  3. Unkind self-talk

Behaviour 2: Growth

Three behaviours that support this value:

  1. Healthy striving – wanting to explore up, down and out over following a set path
  2. Knowing this is my journey to take at my own pace – honouring my individual path instead of comparing it to others
  3. Lean into my growing edge

Three slippery behaviours I find myself doing:

  1. Fear of not belonging closes of avenues of exploration or deviant views I might hold
  2. Wanting to ‘be right’ instead of ‘get it right’ means I don’t ask beginners questions or stay curious
  3. Avoiding the discomfort of not knowing or not having an answer

It’s been really interesting to consider my values and to think more about what they might mean for me.

By being really clear about what they look like, I feel better equipped to live by them.

It was useful to hear Brené’s thoughts about how it feels to be living into her values – it’s less of an exciting flash of brilliance of living an epic life totally aligned to the values, but more like “quiet moments when I feel strong and solid.” 

I can relate to that.


So there are my thoughts of what I’ve currently read – I’ve really enjoyed and got a lot out of it and I hope you’ve learnt a thing or two from what I’ve shared.

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It’s a marathon

Over the past three weeks while we’ve been in a covid-19 lockdown, I’ve seen incredible reactions from organisations and individuals, helping those most in need to get through this period of time.

Informal groups have formed on streets to look out for each other, people have stepped into new roles where needed to fill gaps, people have stayed indoors during this glorious period of sunshine to protect others and individuals have burned the midnight oil, working well into the night and into weekends to sort out the logistics of changes to services and the volume of work that needs to be done.

I’ve started working shifts at a crematorium that is part of my organisation because they need to increase capacity (a sad but necessary task so we can support people to say goodbye to their loved ones in a dignified and meaningful way) and have been working to support the work being done to link up volunteers with those in the community who are vulnerable and in need of help.

And I’m working on some resilience support for people within my organisation.

And am at home with a two year old a lot more than I have been in the past.

It seems to me that we need to shift from ‘sprint’ mode to getting into a marathon stride. One that is slower paced, but necessary to not burn out.

It’s needed if we’re to accept that we’ll probably be living this altered reality for some time yet to come in order to protect our health system from being inundated with sick people and to protect ourselves and our communities from covid-19.

So here is what I’m doing to keep my marathon stride:

Keep some sort of routine

Life seems more manageable if I’ve got some sort of routine in it. And that’s fairly easy to do because of childcare and work…but it’s been a bit challenging around the Easter weekend when we would usually be going out with friends or having lots of plans for how we’ll use our time.

So we’ve had discussions each day about what the bank holiday would have in store for us.

Usually some form of exercise outside – a hike or bike ride, a film in the afternoon, the games or activities planned for the day (I’d highly recommend playdough pictionary!) and an idea about dinner, whether that was a BBQ in the back garden or a pizza night, which we’re looking forward to this evening.

With a toddler who has the need for attention, routine has been helpful to not go crazy and to feel like we could carry on with this, even if it was for a few more weeks, months or longer.

Take care of the basics

I’ve been making sure to take care of the basic things that make me function well. The boring stuff, like getting enough sleep, exercising, not just eating trash (Easter Eggs aside), meditating, blogging…

Someone in my team sent this around in our team Whatsapp and it sums up how I’m trying to live through this time – remembering that it’s the normal self-care practices that enable me to make the difference and not go into meltdown.

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Find ways to get my ‘time out’

If you know me well, you’ll know that there’s nothing more that I like to do than go to a cafe and spend hours there – reading, writing, eating cake and drinking coffee.

And while it’s an easy sacrifice to no longer get this time outside, I still have the need for space by myself – the main reason for my cafe addiction.

And so I’ve created my own comfy space, where all my trinkets are now stored and where I can keep all the books I want to read. I’m currently sat in this little cosy corner – tap, tap, tapping away on my laptop in happy solitude.

And I’m keeping my ‘alone time’ routine – spending the Thursday evenings I’d usually be by myself off parenting duty – in my chair in happy solitude. WhatsApp Image 2020-04-04 at 18.10.36

Acknowledge what I am doing

At the start of lockdown, I felt hopeless. ‘I’m not doing enough’ was the story I was telling myself. ‘I should be taking more of a leadership role at work’ was another of the stories floating around in my head.

But I was doing all I could – in work and outside of work.

I wasn’t perfect, I could have perhaps done more, but I did what I could.

So I want to say the same thing to you –

  • If you’re a key worker, going out still, you are doing your bit.
  • If you are staying inside and socially distancing when you’d really love to go out, you are also doing your bit.
  • If you are phoning up friends and family to make sure they’re ok, you are doing your bit.

Now is not the time to be unkind to yourself about your shortcomings. Now is the time to acknowledge all that you are doing for yourself and others.

Finding gratitude

For all the fear and uncertainty that covid-19 is bringing, there are also things to be grateful for. Finding them has been key to keeping my mental health as well as it is.

I feel grateful that I’ve kept my health and that most of those around me have stayed healthy and well too.

I’ve also felt grateful for the simple things that are having so much more meaning to me now, exercise outside once a day – a jog has never been more of a treat than it is now – the sunshine we’ve had this weekend, time saved not commuting to work that I can spend having a longer lunch break to do said jogging or to spend time reading.

Before covid-19, my time was mostly allocated – weekends had things booked in, evenings were busy for two months ahead. And I’ve been grateful that this has stopped and I’ve had time to breathe and be still. To live a simpler life co-parenting and enjoying less plans and more living in the present moment.


So here are some of my thoughts about staying sane during this time and getting into the stride of a longer period of isolation.

I hope some of my words have been useful to you and give you inspiration of what you can do to look after yourself.

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This moment

I never really understood mindfulness before. I just didn’t have the patience for it and couldn’t see the benefits of just ‘being’ in the moment.

It seemed like I’d be taking myself into a vacuum (and one I didn’t particularly enjoy for that matter) to purposely separate myself from the past and the future. It was far away from the adrenaline rush I could trigger and enjoy by keeping myself in action.

But I heard it was a useful thing, something that others had got a lot out of and so I attended some mindfulness training about five  years ago. I was aware of being often overcome by anxiety and I hoped it might be the silver bullet to help me cope better, the key to finding more calm in my life.

But to be honest it just really annoyed me and I didn’t stick it out. 

The pace of it was just too…mindful. A slow wander through understanding how my body reacts to stress and learning body scanning meditations that I’d then feel bad about not completing during the week because of being too busy but, most important, not enjoying being trapped watching my worries and anxiety unfurl around me.

But recently I was given to book by a friend.

A book about the power I’ve being quiet and still and connecting to what’s going on in this very moment (it’s called ‘silence‘ if you’re interested).

And I started to see the benefit of being more present in the moment. The benefit of not getting dragged into stories that I tell myself about the past or worrying about the future. 

Perhaps it’s made bearable because I’ve changed – I’m kinder to myself, I put less pressure on myself to attain some arbitrary, inhuman standard of perfection. And perhaps it’s because all I can do is surrender to and find peace in the moment in this world full of chaos, a world where things are absolutely outside of my control.

I think, looking back, pre-covid-19, I felt like everything was in my control.

If I just tried damn hard enough pretty much anything was possible.

But living through a pandemic where lives are being lost to such a serious illness has made me aware that all we have is this moment.

It sounds trite, but it was actually a revelation to realise and to keep on discovering the solidity that comes from being aware that all I have is this moment.

And this moment here with me now.

And this moment.

And so I started to practice my own cobbled together version of mindfulness, focusing on my breath as I lie next to my son at night when he was going to sleep.

Practicing not ruminating on past events or projecting into the future but instead just breathing in and paying attention to my senses. What I could hear in the moment, what I could feel physically in this moment, what I could hear, what I could smell.

Or sometimes I imagine myself as little girl Amy, sat on the same bench as the current version of myself. Just watching the moments go by, the thought patterns circle around like waves on the shore.

Knowing that I only have this moment shores me up against the batterings of anxiety and worry. 

This afternoon, just before coming to a late work shift, I was sat in a nook I’ve created for myself at home, meditating and having a moment of peace. 

In the middle of the meditation, I found myself feeling a weight of sadness and worry. It’s not something I can attribute to a particular thing, but it is a mix of anxiety about the future we’re facing and worries that I’m not doing enough. 

I could have cried or got sucked into the story of how I wasn’t enough and my impending future of being found out to be a fraud and ruining the world with my lack of ‘correct’ and ‘perfect’ action. 

But instead, I found myself being reminded by something greater than me to ask how I was in the moment I had. And I found the weight of anxiety and sadness lift from me when I realised in that moment that I was well. 

I was in a safe space, physically well, in a moment of peace and without the burden of any responsibility on me. 

What power, what grace, to be reminded that I only have this very moment in time. 

We only have this moment. 


I’ve been toying with recording my own meditations, here is a quick 4 minute mindfulness meditation in case you’d like to give stillness a go:

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Covid-19

I’m home alone! My husband has gone to Derbyshire with my son to spend time with his parents. He’s enjoying time with them and getting support so we can work during this coronavirus turbulence.

It feels so lovely to have space and time by myself and also a bit strange.

Like I experience the time alone is more enjoyable when they’re close by and when the experience of being alone is so fleeting. A week to myself, I hardly know what to do with it. But I’m sat here on this Friday evening with a cup of tonic (I’m avoiding the gin whilst this crisis is in progress) and reflecting on what I’m learning, feeling, experiencing through this moment of uncertainty and volatility.

So, what am I learning?

Here are some thoughts I’d like to share with you.

My face

I touch my face all the damn time!

I didn’t realise this until I’ve started to follow the guidance of not touching my face and realising every other second that my fingers are on it.

On my cheek because of resting against my hands while I think, on my lips as I consider what I’m going to do next, on my eyes as I rub them with tiredness.

My hands are always on my face and it’s such a difficult thing to change this habit so I’m not passing on any infections to myself or other people.

My fear

I get it, I truly understand the fear of people who are rushing to the shop to stock up on things that they don’t really need.

More rice, more pasta, more bread, more, more, more that isn’t needed.

Whether it’s the remnants of my anorexia which means that I’m fearful of being hungry or just the panic of feeling helpless and fearing for the worst so wanting to protect myself with a fully stocked larder.

I feel the fear and want to get swept up in the pandemonium.

I don’t do anything beyond perhaps buying a tiny bit more here and there – making sure we’ve got some pasta, some rice.

But I get it.

I also feel sadness and anger at shelves being swept clean at the shops and those on low income or working too many hours to care for people being left with nothing.

But I get it.

I also can imagine myself in a different life, being someone who buys things and sells them at at incredibly ridiculous over inflated cost. I hope I wouldn’t be like them, but if I had been born into their life, suffered their hardships, took a few hard turns…I can imagine a reality where I was in their shoes.

I still feel angry at them and despairing at what they’ve done and are doing.

But it just seems like we are dividing at a time that we should be coming together,

Our chance

I see this moment in time as one that could shift us fundamentally.

We could look back on this time and, despite the hardships and the unbearable pain of loved ones dying, find a cause for celebration.

This time could be one where we did a hard life audit and saw that we were on the path to wreck and ruin. We could turn to ways that are more sustainable for both us and the planet.

Who would’ve thought a few days ago that the aviation industry would come to a standstill? That the government would be paying people unable to work to keep roofs over their head? That neighbours would reconnect to support each other in solidarity.

We’re living through unimaginable difficult but with the ripest opportunity to completely re-imagine our society.

The German Prime Minister was talking about the need for a universal salary for people, countless lives will saved through the reduction in pollution across the world. We’re seeing the value of those who are caring for us – NHS workers, charities and supermarket staff working their upmost to protect and serve us.

I see this is the moment where we could pivot – where businesses could be given grants to get back on their feet but with terms around environmental growth. Where people, used to having less for a while, stop buying so much. 

If only this would come true. 

I can’t quite believe it possible though.

I also feel helpless, because I don’t know what me – one person – can do to bring this change into being.

Sure I can petition, leaflet, protest.

But what power do I have?

I have the power with you, dear friend, sharing my thoughts and maybe impacting you in some small way – and you, in turn, influencing others.

But I’m unsure of what impact this can ultimately have.

I don’t know if this is all just too little, too late.

I saw a picture of how long we’ve been on this planet in the whole history of the world in a great book I read called ‘Active Hope‘ – if the history of the world was made to fit into a 24 period, humans exist in the last 5 seconds. And if the history of human life was made to fit into a 24 period, the industrial revolution would feature in the final 20 seconds of the day. 

Humanity as we know it is a short-term blip on this planet Earth.

That part fills me with hope – we can change, our way of being isn’t written in stone – but I also feel that we might just be a blip on this earth. A race who will disappear.

And it makes me sad for Jenson. It’s not what I want, but it’s sometimes hard to see a way forward. 

My community

I’ve started a mutual aid group on my street – you might have one near to you. It’s where residents come together – obviously not physically together – to support each other.

It started through me feeling hopeless and useless, but wanting to do something. And so I put a little note through everybody’s door on my street to say that they can contact me in an emergency – I was willing to walk dogs, pick up shopping or have a phone call for those who are isolated.

And from that has sprung out WhatsApp groups, messages of kindness, group donations as people request clothes for emergency foster care children and share things like books, DVDs and laptop chargers with each other.

I’ve learnt there are a surprising number of animals living on my road, someone who sings beautifully, a plumber, nurse and several teachers…

People who have never spoken to each other have started connecting and planning street parties (post coronavirus), coffee mornings are you come out into your front garden and wave at each other, who knows…we may have a singalong at some point.

But it feels lovely to connect.

Great to get to know each other.

Hopeful to think about what we could be if we knew more people, connected more, used a social resources in a different way.

I’ve seen what could happen if we stopped living just as individuals or a small families and instead got to know people on the street. Helping out each other, trading things, sharing gestures of good will and random acts of kindness.

We’re strong when we stand in solidarity with each other. Regardless of beliefs, political views or backgrounds. We’re all sorts of people living side-by-side, more connected now than ever before. 

Memes

And it wouldn’t be a coronavirus post without the amazing memes I’ve discovered through my far more digitally connected friends. 

They are incredible! 

View this post on Instagram

💀💀

A post shared by Daquan (@daquan) on


So from the darkness of my hopes for humanity to the lols of coronavirus memes, I’m sending you wishes that you and your loved ones stay healthy and well during this time. 

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A day without point

Last weekend I had a day by myself with my son.

It was the first time I had taken Jenson out for a substantial part of the day without his buggy and I spent a bit of last week mulling over the experience of moving at his pace.

These reflections come as I read some books on quieting myself – Silence by Thich Nhat Hanh (a buddist monk) who writes about mindfulness, and Active Hope by Joanne Macy about how to face the anxieties around climate change and biodiversity loss without completely feeling overwhelmed and paralysed or feel that we’re all doomed.

The principle tenants of what I have read in them so far (I haven’t read them both completely yet) is to be aware of what is happening in the moment, of reconnecting with the truth that we are all interconnected instead of being trapped in the story that we are alone.

This involves stopping and appreciating wonder of the beauty of this world to:

  1. appreciate what beauty there is outside of the story we’ve bought into that the only richness in this world is financial, when there is so much other richness available – love, community, beauty, appreciation, generosity.
  2. quiet my mind which is constantly pulled to the past and into the future instead of appreciating this present moment and the wonders within it

I shared about a year ago in a previous post that my son is like my little mindfulness guru – he is so in the present that I can’t help but appreciate the beauty of this world when I allow myself to see it through his eyes.

For example, he’s taken to saying ‘what’s that noise’? Listening out for birdsong, a car going by, the hush of the dehumidifier fan.

And he doesn’t need for the latest thing, the coolest product – he just wants to be with me and his father. Content to spend hours playing with cars.

He is aware of what is going on moment-by-moment and so, when I allow myself to concentrate on him, he brings me into the present moment.

So the Saturday that I spent with him without the usual buggy to strap him into and charge about, lost in myself whilst looking after him, I was swept away in mindfulness.

yYet, I achieved ‘nothing’ on that day.

Don’t get me wrong, I got so much from my time going at the pace of my son.

I walked among the trees and touched them along with Jenson who’d say ‘knock, knock, knock – hello?’ to see if they would answer him.

I ran along the street to hide from Jenson – both to hurry him along and also to delight in his squeal as he shouted ‘Boo!’ at me in my poorly conceived hidey-hole.

I sat and smiled in a cafe as Jenson terrorised an older child, shouting ‘tada!’ when he had finished drawing and rubbing out squiggles on the chalk board available in the children’s corner.

I exchanged words with strangers that Jenson interacted with, waved at a little girl in a restaurant that Jenson approached and smiled at.

But what did I do for eight hours of my life? Nothing I could tick off a list or say I’ve achieved.

I was going to say that it was nothing that added to my life…but that’s wrong. I smiled, I slowed down, I appreciated the time without purpose (to a certain extent), I surrendered to the present, I allowed myself to be. I smiled, I sang, I interacted with more people than usual, I felt my chest puff with pride at who Jenson is.

And yet I’m exhausted from a day on the go, a day where nothing much was achieved.

I’m writing this because I’m not sure what to make of the day.

A certain part of me is aware that I need more time to just ‘be’. Journeys to the station that don’t see me plugged into my phone – listening to something – and instead just enjoying the silence. More lunchtimes with a proper break, getting out of my head and into my body to calm my nervous system, less time trying to multitask, more time with my phone off so I can focus without distraction.

More time that isn’t ruled by outcomes, progress, development.

I can see that this is the way that memories will get made with my son too – by going on adventures, having no fixed purpose but to see what unfolds of the day, to unravel back to childhood as the day gets shaped and shifted by a young child.

And I can see that this is what might build a strong mother and son bond – not fancy holidays, the latest stuff or full-on extra-curricular activities – but being there. Available and willing to get swept away in the ordinary moment.

As I’m writing these words, I can see the benefit of having a shift in my life. At present, life feels like 65% of my awake time is focusing on accomplishing (working hard, organising life, writing/coaching/creating with purpose, parenting – reading books, engaging in activities to be ‘a good parent’), 10% is resting (personal time that I fill with reading, writing, doing), 15% is relational and 10% (if that) is ‘without point’ – not needing an outcome or productivity, just go with the flow.

But I can see the benefit of reshaping this. Not necessarily moving things around or changing the make-up of my life, but shifting my expectations and how I approach things.

In writing this and thinking about it, I’m feeling less terrified about the prospect of being more in the moment.

I see what today has brought me – building the foundations of my relationship with Jenson, interacting with people with more presence (I’m smiling thinking about the cashier who saw Jenson’s beam and said ‘he’s got the best smile, he’s incredible’ – my heart is bigger just thinking of this interaction), allowing myself wild moments of retreat back into my childhood as I surrendered to play and imagination.

And I can see that appreciating this mindfulness in the moment doesn’t have to be black or white – drop my job and be nothing but present in the here-and-now.

But I can see how richer my life might be through allowing myself to be more in the moment, if only a little bit more

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Allowed to feel

I’m looking after Jenson, my son, as my husband goes to London to spend the day with his mum. The morning started off a little sketchy, with Jenson calling out for his daddy and the slightest thing setting off tears.

I tried to distract him and get this day going by suggesting a trip to the park. But I realised his trousers and his coat were soaked from playing in the garden earlier on.

I couldn’t leave him like that. I had to change him before we could set off to have a bit of fun and adventure for the morning.

He wasn’t keen on getting changed, and so I tried the parenting advice of offering him alternatives to give him some sense of choice.

“Do you want me to dry your clothes with the hairdryer? Or do you want to change into something dry?” I asked him. And after a bit of to-ing and fro-ing – tears and tantrums he said that he wanted to change his clothes.

So off we pattered into the bedroom to get him changed and ready.

But as I tried to undress him and put him in something more appropriate, he lost his cool. He was screaming, clutching his clothes, almost throwing up with the effort of crying. Furiously resisting me taking off his damp clothes.

Sometimes I’d think “ok, you can stay in your wet clothes” – for example, he hates having the rain cover put over his buggy, so quite often he ends up getting wet as I push him around. The screaming and tantruming is often not worth the price of him getting slightly damp in the rain.

But this was different, I couldn’t let him stay in something so wet with the cold weather outside.

It wasn’t a choice to just go with the flow this time.

And so I continued onwards in my wrestling to take off his clothes. Cajoling and begging and pursuing the removal of his clothes regardless of how he reacted.

It just kept getting worse.

Until he was almost naked, screaming and red-faced.

And so I did with my friend Laura Grove had suggested when he was a newborn, stripping down on top myself and hold him in a skin to skin embrace to calm him down.

I held him as he cried and went through cycles of sniffling and then wailing and then calming and then crying, finding peace, then going back to some more crying.

And eventually, he fell asleep, deep asleep, in my embrace.

I kept on humming deeply all through this, not ‘shushing’ him but instead making a sound which I hope expresses to him I hear you, I’m sad with you, I understand.

I thought about all the other times that I have tried to work through similar situations. Usually this involves getting us out of the house ASAP to provide Jenson with some distraction of the outside world.

But this situation today is revealing something deep inside me, the belief that it’s important for him to learn that it is safe to feel.

In a world where masculinity so often involves the denial of feelings in the pursuit of toughness, being constantly strong and capable, focusing on nothing but logic, thinking and reason, I need him to know that it’s okay to feel.

Is it okay to feel sad, frustrated and to express that whatever way is appropriate, even in tears.

Part of me worries about how he will fit if he grows up sensitive when the world doesn’t show kindness to delicate boys.

How can he be someone who feels when his friends and peers might mock him for this?

And how can I parent consistently in this way – encouraging Jenson to feel – when my husband has a different approach of distraction, himself actively avoiding feeling any negative feelings? 

How do we co-parent consistently and with compassion to him and with our different styles?

I don’t know.

But what I intuitively feel is that it’s important to allow Jenson to feel so that I bring forward a future with more space for the full spectrum of human feeling in him and for men of future generations – joy, suffering, wonder, anger, peace, frustration.

I want Jenson – and other children around him – to know it’s okay to express their feelings instead of bottling them up.

Because I know all too well what bottling things up results in – looking for distractions, afraid to be with the discomfort, paralysis in not knowing how to feel, discomfort with others feeling the emotions that you’ve deprived yourself the ability to feel.

It’s hard to stay in the feelings with Jenson, to not not try to make everything okay. Especially when I can’t always put things down to just focus on him.

But I think this is important and I feel that the foundations I’m building now – of him knowing it’s safe to feel – will be helpful for him in the future. 

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