E is for Expectations

Some letters of the alphabet are greedy aren’t they? I can think of so many entries in this alphabet project for E that I am entirely exhausted. I do keep coming back to this one though, so I am going to choose it as my second E entry.

Beware-Expectations-on

Expectations.

Well, Charles Dickens wrote a book on them, didn’t he? This is not going to be about escaped convicts in marshes, or deranged brides. It’s disappointing, I know, but Charlie did those better than I could. This post is going to be about the expectation of being a Quaker, or at least, my two penn’orth on the subject.

It was as I settled into meeting for worship last Sunday that I realised I get a little jolt every time I sit down in a Quaker meeting. The reason for that is because we are there to try to find our way together and actually no one can be quite sure what will happen. We sit in quiet expectation of hearing an inner voice guiding us. One moment you may be thinking of those around you and those absent, or of snowdrops and catkins and early spring sunshine, or what to make for dinner that evening. The next you are propelled into a stream of refugees escaping Homs, or to Death Row, or to supporting the family of a teenager who has killed themselves, or the excitement of a new gransparent quivering with the possibilities of a new life. Meeting can be an adventure, a trauma or a celebration and occasionally all of those things and more in one hour.

Meeting can also be subversive. It can be as dull as dishwater. It can be joyful. It can be cold. So my expectations of it are a little like a child on Christmas Eve, hoping for a miracle, and not sure whether I’ll receive a puppy or a magic ring or my third copy of “The Wind in the Willows” or an umbrella (I was only nine – an umbrella? What was she thinking?). Perhaps socks and knickers from M&S.

So there you have it: expectation and a little frisson of uncertainty. Eternal possibilities.

Last Sunday it occurred to me that as well as the holding of meeting there are expectations on the people present. It wasn’t a very original thought but I became aware that people at meeting view me very differently from colleagues at work. I behave differently too.

When I left home and went to university I was absolutely certain I did not want my former school friends to mix very much with my new university friends. The reason it was going to be difficult was because I had tried to reinvent myself a little, and I acted differently as a result. I wasn’t being deceitful; I was just experimenting with different parts of my personality. I was seizing the day. Once I had the new bits in place and felt comfortable, like a new pair of shoes worn in, I was perfectly happy to mix both groups together.

I’m at the gawky stage with meeting. The keeping things separate stage. The trying out stage.

When I’m at work everyone knows I am a miserable, irritable, but successful project manager. I may get a little terse and not do human very well, but I know how to plan, organise and deliver application developments, and I do it very well. Just don’t expect me to remember your birthday or compliment you on your hair or ask about your son’s exam results.

At meeting it’s different. People think I am supportive and thoughtful, a little reserved but basically fairly kind. I am still good at getting things done, but I do it differently. The reason I do it differently, I realised, is because everyone around me seems to expect me to do it differently. They hadn’t decided to make assumptions about me based on stereotypes of IT professionals for example. At work I am often told what “you techies” are like. This is despite the fact I do not conform to many (if any) of those perceptions.

Meanwhile at meeting I am a Quaker with some years of experience behind me. Therefore I am seen as supportive, helpful and thoughtful. I am credited with tact and diplomacy in a way that would frankly astonish my co-workers. I am viewed as having insights and contributions which are creative and positive rather than technical and process-driven.

I don’t think I am doing anything very different. I think much of it is because of the expectations of those around me that I am told I am good at apparently very different things. But the result is that I am starting to change my approach a little. I am seizing another day.

Way back in 1968 Rosenthal and Jacobsen carried out a study into the effects of teacher expectation on children. When teachers were told that certain (randomly selected) children were actually “late bloomers” who would improve over the school year, it was shown that those children did improve significantly. I won’t bore you with all the studies and arguments back and forth since then, but essentially the phenomenon of teacher expectation was recognised. It applies in other areas of our lives, at work and at play as well as in the classroom.

Quakers believe in “that of God in everyone” – you can use your own definition of God here. Essentially they expect the best of people and for myself they are bringing out perhaps the better parts of me. I have been away from meeting for a few years as family life took over, but when we attended regularly I was a kinder person on the whole at work as well as at meeting. As I rediscover that person again, the fluffier softer EBL if you will, I remember how to behave in more positive ways while still achieving the targets being set by management.

Most importantly perhaps I start to expect it of myself again. I start to expect love.

And if my meeting can affect me, perhaps I can go out and affect those around me in other situations. Good grief – it could become a Movement!

So how about you? Do you find yourself behaving differently in response to the expectations of those around you? Or am I just a candle in the wind?

Namaste

 

Grateful

Well, this is certainly a departure. I know, I know. EBL is hardly known for her humility or tendency to appreciate the small kindnesses and glimpses of fragile beauty that surround her. However, as usual, it has been a week of events, and for once I am in the mood for some gratitude.

Yesterday and today, that is to say Stormday and Aftermathday, I travelled up and down and round about Yorkshire by rail. At least, I went to Sheffield and Leeds, which is a reasonable approximation. Naturally as my first two days of travelling since my operation it seemed only sensible to do this at the worst possible time when the national rail network was still reeling form the frankly bracing weather which we have been enjoying recently.

All my trains were on time, except one which was almost 10 minutes late. That was the one from Scotland, so perhaps it can be excused. So I couldn’t complain. Literally, I couldn’t. I felt cheated. The breakfast news team, whom I trust with my life, had lead me to expect more trauma and my loins were seriously girt.

Nevertheless, two days in a row of hurtling in slow motion along railway tracks while it variously blew, buffeted, rained, snowed and shone outside left me a little weary. The irony is that York is not currently flooded, although there may be some minor seepage. However the rest of the country appears to be submerging slowly and gracelessly under the ocean. Honestly, all the movies about Atlantis sinking implied it would happen more quickly and with considerably more men in leather kilts and sandals dashing about. Again, cheated.

Of course I am genuinely grateful not to be flooded. We had that here some years back and it was appalling. However, the English can’t face disaster with anything other than a self-deprecating quip, unless it’s with a broken beer bottle and a Spartan “come on if you think you’re hard enough” face. I find the quip less exhausting, but don’t push me.

By the time I was on the final leg of my journey home tonight I needed to relax a little. I was tense from a tiring couple of days and a distressing work issue. In a moment of weakness I opted for some relaxation music which I keep on my phone for just such an occasion. I played the very nice music and took some deep breaths and stared out of the window at the scenery.

The Derwent has burst its banks along much of the way, and was muddy and bubbly with the effect of fast flowing water charging down to join the Ouse, like a toddler on a sugar rush. It’s a perverse river in that it rises in the Moors, flirts with the coast briefly then heads inland in defiance of riverly custom and best practice. During snow melt and heavy rain it gets deep and fast and strong, and very brown from mud and silt and Moors run-off. Today the brown water and the muddy fields and winter-bare trees combined into a pleasing palate of neutrals set against a pinkish evening sky. It has been observed, I believe by Stephen Fry, but am too lazy to check, that nature is incapable of being ugly. Even in this time of horrible flooding the scenery is beautiful – except for the man-made parts. Nature, I concluded, even in times of flood and fear and raw sewage on your carpet, was awe-ful in the original sense of the word: powerful, frightening and still majestically and cosmically gorgeous. If something is going to destroy your words it is only right that it is epic.

The music played through the head-set like a soundtrack to my own personal movie. It set the scene for some inner dialogue and reflection, and I obliged, trained up by years of film watching and exposure to the tropes and truisms of Hollywood (and more lately Studio Ghibli). The music and the landscape made me feel grateful for being able to live in such a marvellous world. I was seduced into gratitude for not being flooded, for living somewhere so clearly superior to the rest of the planet, for having a safe journey to a warm home and loving partner, for just, well, everything.

I even started a list. I know some of you keep gratitude journals and I’m sure it is a worthwhile thing to do. Whenever I try the list is the same day after day: Sigoth, Offspringses, work colleagues, a job I enjoy nine days out of ten (because there are always some occasions when people are simply disappointing). The list may have the odd additional entry, such as Netflix or tea in bed or whatever ephemera have pleased me that day. Yet the core remains the same, my foundation for living, and I don’t need a journal to remind me of it. I know I’m blessed, even if I sometimes forget for an hour or two. Even if sometimes I get impatient with Sigoth or irritated by a colleague, just as allegedly Sigoth is driven to distraction by my quaint and endearing eccentricities (not nearly as infuriating as his faults of course). In my heart of hearts, I know.

At this point I feel it highly appropriate to refer my honourable friends to the beat poem, Storm, by Tim Minchin. I love Tim Minchin (not in a creepy way). He is a Dawkins kind of a chap, and the poem is a paean to rational and scientific wonder. No hocus pocus, just honest glory in the natural world.

Isn’t this enough?
Just this world?
Just this beautiful, complex
Wonderfully unfathomable world?
How does it so fail to hold our attention
That we have to diminish it with the invention
Of cheap, man-made Myths and Monsters?
If you’re so into Shakespeare
Lend me your ear:
“To gild refined gold, to paint the lily,
To throw perfume on the violet… is just fucking silly”
Or something like that.

http://www.releaselyrics.com/1187/tim-minchin-storm/

If the very nice relaxing hippy music doesn’t soothe my troubled mind, then a dose of Minchin does.

Meanwhile I’m off to get into pyjamas and shake off this unfamiliar and bizarre gratitude. What is the world coming to? I’ll be turning into a nice little old lady at this rate and I can’t allow that. (Actually there’s no real danger of that happening. Don’t worry.)

Do you have your core list, your foundations, that keep you going through thick and thin? Hold them fast and share them if you will.

Namaste.

 

When I was young, I had just begun…

Just lately EBL has been feeling her age. Obviously I am extremely venerable and wise, just like Bede who lived and died not that far from here. Bede achieved rather a lot of important things during his life, and is a hero of mine in many ways. He wrote the definitive History of the English People, checking his facts as far as he could through references to manuscripts from across the known world. He also invented the modern calendar, for it was he who came up with the idea of numbering years form the birth of Jesus, rather than the Roman model of “in the 3rd year of Emperor Whosit, when Jeremy and Tristan were consuls” kind of thing. He was extraordinary, and what gives me the literal shivers is that I can go and visit his tomb, where his remains are laid, to give my respects. They have been at Durham Cathedral since 1022 (Bede dies in 735 and was originally laid to rest in Jarrow).

Personal heroes can ask you difficult questions about yourself, and today I have been feeling my years but not my worth. Now before we get all sentimental about how we are all precious gifts etc etc, let me stop you right there. I have no illusions that I have achieved some successes of which I am proud, for example four shining Offspringses who are lighting up the world. Hopefully I have been a meaningful and positive force in Sigoth’s life, and I have contributed both at work and as a volunteer, where at least I hope I have done no lasting harm and am sure I have sometimes done some good. In other words I have lived a life, and it has been fairly ordinary and not too bad.

When I was sixteen I had infinity before me, and now infinity seems smaller.

I was reading a book about Buddhism the other day and there was rather a fierce concentration on the message that we should be clear that we may die today. I have no problem with this; it makes sense to me that it is better to live as if today was my last day, not to let the sun set on an argument, and so on.

Knowing I will die is not depressing, but it was an idea far from my youthful mind. Young folks are immortal of course, which is why they so often die in car crashes. Nevertheless I had before me a life to live and things to achieve, although what those were was never a clear idea in my mind. I thought only that I was capable of achieving things of great importance. If not World Peace, then at least a good step towards it.

Now I find it less likely I will manage it. Time has slipped by. Every day I tell myself I would have written more but there was not time. Nor was there time to finish my knitting, practise my music, read up on my Eald Englisc, phone friends to see how they are, meditate, practise calligraphy, go for a good walk, take photos, bake a cake, do yoga or whatever I fancied having a bash at. There is never enough time to do everything.

Of course, I do seem to find time to watch television with Sigoth, which I also consider important because we enjoy the deconstruction afterwards and it is a relaxing thing we can do together. We seem to need more time to relax as we get older too. We also find time to write the quiz and to play the occasional board game. Sometimes I do write something, and sometimes I post a blog post. Sometimes I call a friend. Sometimes I do achieve these small goals. All is not lost!

But I do not feel consistent about these pursuits, nor confident that I will improve. So I have decided not to worry about it any more. Last year I made a list of personal goals I wanted to achieve in order to balance my work and life more equitably. I have managed more than I expected. I have now adjusted my goals a little and hope to carry on in 2014. That will have to be enough.

Bede was outstanding. I am unexceptional. I have done what I have done, and whether I could have done more is too late to worry about. I shall simply carry on as best I can and my main goal will be to accept what I do is what I do.

Once I have improved my equilibrium a little further following my recent operation, I shall be in a position to impose a little seldf-discipline. It is something I am capable of doing so it is entirely possible that one day I will finish the novel, will learn to write beautiful calligraphy and with luck, achieve World Peace.

In the meantime, I am practising being kinder to myself.

I know many of us are more demanding of ourselves than of other people. If you are one of the many, how do you manage to keep sense of perspective?

Meanwhile, my dears, as always –

Namaste

 

Mostly ‘armless

Well, my dears, today is day three of the post-operative project so I have decided to try a little light keyboard exercise. The equivalent of scales on the piano.

I had my operation on both shoulders on Wednesday as planned. Following an hour’s drive to the hospital through the dark, in rain and fog, we arrived before breakfast and did lots of exuberant paperwork. The NHS loves its paperwork, and I do not complain because I love the NHS.

Then I sat in a bed waiting to chat to the lovely consultant who was going to dig away at my bones. We had a lively exchange of views, as I had a couple of questions which he initially thought impertinent. He soon changed his mind though; he is quite seriously a lovely man.

And so to sleep via anaesthetic.

Sigoth collected me on Thursday, after a slight delay while they x-rayed my chest because I was still a little breathless. The pain was minimal and I have good movement. The unanticipated problem was how tired my arms feel. Just using my hands to do anything is exhausting. This is not the worst of it however. Brace yourselves for true horror – I cannot make tea! I can’t life the kettle you see. It’s too heavy. How I suffer, my dears, how I suffer.

More annoyingly I feel quite foggy in the head still. Certainly when I woke up I was quite dazed and confused so was quite unable to take in what the physio was telling me about exercises. I am doing some exercises with great dedication. Whether they are the right ones I have no idea. There is a leaflet. It seems broadly similar to what the nice man said.

I also have to make various follow up appointments for a certain number of days after the operation. I am not quite sure when or with whom. I hope to sort that out on Monday. In this I would take issue with the professionals. Really they expect too much of people who have been drugged unconscious for hours.

It seemed to me that this is what dementia is like. I was able to hold coherent conversation with the nurses, joking and being terribly British about the level of discomfort. I did all the things expected of a patient; I was brave and grateful and didn’t like to complain. I managed by myself but accepted  help graciously. I said “sorry” and “thank you” alot. I was charming and tired and a little wan, but generally a good sort. Really they deserve to be treated right by those in their care. They are trying so hard to be helpful.

But I still have no idea what I am supposed to be doing next. The advice is very vague. Do what you feel able but don’t over-do it. Move as much as you can but rest. Wear the support stockings to prevent DVT but only if you are not active. I lead a sedentary life, with computer based work and generally armchair hobbies. What is active in this context? No one could tell me.

So this is how my mother sees the world. I don’t like it. I am letting people down by not understanding their apparently reasonable instructions. I know what the words each mean, but somehow they don’t fit together in my head to make sense. I can’t work out what to do next, what is expected or who I can ask.

I am lucky. My head is getting clearer and I will probably be all over it tomorrow morning. Mother meanwhile is oblivious, and I am glad she has now reached that stage. The journey was terrible, but seeing her sitting in her  bubble of being-in-the-present is some kind of victory. So we each cope with our confusion.

Thank you for your kind thoughts while I have been recovering. Hopefully more coherent service will soon be resumed.

May your thoughts be clear and your minds sharp.

Namaste.

 

B4Peace: Keep saying it and it will come true

Last year Kozo, over at Everydaygurus.com set a challenge to write a blog about peace at least once a month. He provided prompts to get us thinking and so a movement was born. This year we carry on, spreading the love across yon t’Interweb; for January Kozo has proposed we write about a thought we will keep in mind for the year to try and bring about peace. The premise is based both on Buddhist tradition and modern neuroscience which jointly conclude that we are what we think. So let us think, and be, Peace.

Kozo’s mantra is “Abide as the stream of love”, and those of you who have been with me a while may recall that there is a poem I particularly adore which seems to reflect this thought. I will do no more here than point you once more to “Valedictory Sonnet to the River Duddon” by Wordsworth, which includes the immortal line

“Still glides the stream and shall forever glide”.

Wordsworth wrote this when he was moving from his home of many years (I think it was from Dove Cottage to Grasmere, but it isn’t important as such) and was concerned at leaving his favourite walks and places for creative exercise. He wondered if, in leaving his genius loci he might also leave behind his Muse. Thus he was drawn into contemplating his mortality and chances of immortality, either through a religious lens or a legacy of poetry. Wordsworth was not very humble from what I can see, and expected his poetry to live on.

Watching the river he understood that life went on, with or without him. I talked about my own views on life after death recently in my first post for the Quaker Alphabet project, so won’t bore you again. In fact, this rambling introduction has done no more than set the scene for the mantra that I use when practising any form of mindfulness or meditative activity. You may or may not be relieved to hear it isn’t Wordsworth.

When I first started trying to incorporate regular meditation/mindfulness into my routine I used various recordings from the Internet to help me learn to focus. I live in a rural area and although there is in fact a meditation group in a nearby town, run by the Buddhist Centre at Pocklington, nevertheless I have never managed to attend because I am usually away for work during the week. So I make do and mend by using that ever reliable and trustworthy resource known as YouTube.

One of the files I found (and I can’t remember which it was so can’t include a link) talked about a loving universe surrounding and upholding you. I find this concept comforting, and try to think about it as I settle into any period of meditation. To help me do so I tend to use a certain phrase – breathe in the love.

breatheinloveThis helps me to focus on my breathing and to calm myself down so that I can sit quietly. Iy also allows me to recognise that I can find support and help if needed, and that I am not as useless as I tend to assume. I have been known to sub-vocalise this phrase when facing something particularly irritating during the daily grind. On one or two occasions it has helped but usually I admit I leave it too late and the lava is already erupting before I try and shut it down, by which time mantras just don’t cut it at all.

So why am I suggesting it might be useful for me to carry on doing this? Well, I suppose I’m not saying that exactly – although I will carry on. What I am trying to say is that I believe that if more people practised meditation or mindfulness, with or without spiritual overtones as they see fit, the more peaceful the world would be. If more of us tried to do this, and kept trying to remember our mantras sooner than later, then we might have fewer angry words and sulks and hurt.

“If every 8 year old in the world is taught meditation, we will eliminate violence from the world within one generation.” Dalai Lama

And he should know.

Now if you don’t fancy meditation, and lots of people don’t, that’s OK too, because that is why poetry was invented. Perhaps you can use a simple mantra just on its own. One that helps you keep your head when all about you are losing theirs, and blaming it on you. One that reminds you that you, too, are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars. One that encourages you to walk cheerfully over the world, answering that of God in everyone. In short, one that holds you close, like a bridge over troubled water, when life is getting too difficult and people are doing your head in and all you want to do is channel your inner toddler, lie on the floor and have a massive tantrum. We’ve all been there. Don’t pretend you haven’t had days like that. It’s OK. All I’m saying here is, a mantra can help, sometimes.

Other Bloggers for Peace can be read here; read and enjoy and find inspiration for your daily heroics.

You are amazing.

Namaste.

 

C is for Chill

It has been a difficult week at EBL Towers. I had taken a lengthy break over Christmas and New Year so I thought I was ready to go back to work. It was with some surprise that I found myself on my first day at the desk sitting and having a minor panic attack. I was tearful and felt sick and couldn’t concentrate. I girded my loins and by the end of the day I had wrangled that inbox into submission and felt like the very gods. The next day I had to go to Head Office and while I was there had a catch up with my boss. I confessed how I had felt and she said she was already concerned I was not really right so I am taking a few days off to try and chill.

It seems appropriate to include this post under the alphabet project because for my last post I wrote somewhat from my heart about being Busy. I think I was already feeling the strain so today I am going to talk to you about chilling. There are times in our lives when we need to do so. In the past I have pushed on, feeling that stopping for exhaustion was a sign of weakness. Looking at that from the outside I have to say it seems an extraordinarily short-sighted attitude. Certainly if one of my team suggested it to me I would tell them not to be so foolish and to take a break. So now I am allowing myself the same luxury. Go me.

The thing about being busy is that it is value loaded. The Puritan work ethic means that sitting idly is synonymous with sin. So I see taking a break following a period of extreme busyness at work as a failure. In society we brand the unemployed as scroungers. Retired people are a drain because they do not “contribute”. Parents who work part time or stay at home are not committed enough or are not actually working: although I think a moment’s reflection will confirm that childcare is hardly a relaxing option. As Quakers we often feel guilty at not doing our bit, at failing to change the world, at being human. We are not alone in this. It is pre-programmed into our culture.

So I am taking a few days out.

At least I thought I was.

I got home from a site visit on Friday evening to find a letter from the hospital to say they had a slot for me next Wednesday for my shoulder operation (the one that was cancelled before Christmas because they were caught by surprise when more people got ill in winter).

Having spent a couple of days convincing myself it was acceptable to take time out and relax with some knitting and reading and films, I am now irritated to find my time is cut short and I have to sort out blood tests and arrange transport and complete various jobs in quite a limited timeframe. Well, woe is me.

I also have to admit to being a little anxious about the operation and worried about how I will manage in the immediate aftermath. Sigoth is of course primed and ready; when is he not? He will take me to the hospital at the crack of dawn and collect me the next day. He will look after me if I need help for as long as it takes (hopefully only a day or two before I can manage most things). He will be amazing.

I, on the other hand, will be a pain in the neck. I am a terrible patient, in that I am not patient at all. I will moan about the discomfort and try to do things I shouldn’t and whinge. I will get frustrated that I can’t turn somersaults and lift weights and conduct the London Symphony Orchestra with vigorous waves of my baton. I will discover a yen to practise semaphore and to walk on my hands as a matter of extreme urgency. I will generally complain and be even more unpleasant than usual to be around. Sigoth will manage perfectly well and tell me off when I get too silly and eventually the soreness will subside and all will be well.

Meanwhile tomorrow I have to clerk Preparative Meeting. It’s a Quaker thing, this business meeting, and a thing of beauty. I am not going to write about it here and now, but the Quaker business method is one of the things most worthwhile about the whole enterprise in my opinion. Nevertheless, preparing for it, doing it, and following it up are all potentially demanding tasks when one is not feeling completely on top of one’s game. Yet it needs to be done. It is another thing I have promised to do. Quakers are very keen on your yes being yes, and you no being no. So I will do this job at least.

None of this is chilled. None of it is reducing stress. It is teaching me that I have to slow down more emphatically. Rather than letting me get away with a week at home reading Neil Gaiman and knitting, all of which are things on a To-do list, I will learn enforced stillness, enforced patience, enforced gratitude for help and support. I have spent a half century learning the lesson of being busy and valuing activity. Now I have to learn dependency and patience and slowness.

It may make me a better person, if I am lucky and manage to take the lesson on board.

May you find times to be busy and times to be quiet.

Namaste.

A is for Afterwards

This year I have committed to participating in the Quaker Alphabet Blog Project. I have created a separate page with a little more information too. What it means is that I will try to post a blog for each letter of the alphabet thoughout the year, interpreting this theme as it takes my fancy and reading what others write. I must be a glutton for punishment: I barely managed the Bloggers for Peace monthly post in 2013! Still, EBL is always up for a challenge. Either I can feel a great sense of achievement or have fun beating myself up for failing. What’s not to like?

So today I start with A for Afterwards. Because when you start something I find it pays to think a little about what happens afterwards. I am a project manager. I get paid to do this kind of stuff.

I suppose Afterwards is in my mind because in starting this project I am already thinking about what more I will be committing to doing in 2015. That’s the way the EBL brain works I’m afraid. Never focus on today when there is a hypothetical future to take all my attention and energy away from the moment.

“But EBL! This is supposed to be a Quaker Alphabet!” I hear you cry.

Oh, alright. Let’s get down to it.

One of the things that appealed to me about Quakerism when I came across it in the green of my youth was the lack of going-on about an Afterlife and Heaven and Hell and all kinds of similar dubiousness. I liked very much the focus on practical doing and thinking about how to make our current and shared existence a better one. (And yes, I am aware this is in painful contradiction to the earlier paragraph where I confessed to focusing on the future at the expense of the present. I’m only human you know. It’s an ambition to be more present, rather than an actual, you know, achievement.)

Back to the Quakers though. People are what can make a difference. They make it not only in their contribution to community and the wide world, but also in the odd comment or conversation which can affect other lives. I was a member of a particular Quaker Meeting on the outskirts of London where I met a very special Quaker who once spoke about her understanding of the Afterlife.

Have you had the experience of finding someone who articulates for you what you wish or hope were true. Life after death was not a regular feature of the discussion I had been participating in, so I was not entirely clear what other Quakers thought about it. It was therefore with the most wonderful feeling of relief that I heard this learned and respected person tell me what I felt in my heart to be true.

“I don’t care about what comes after I die,” she said. “I’ll find out if and when it happens. Life is more important.”

This for me summed up what I felt to be important in my faith: life, in the here and now, was the most important thing to think about. Not hypothetical future events of a frankly superstitious and unverifiable nature.

And so, my dears, it is. We live this life together, as many times as fits your personal belief framework, and we can but help each other along the way. There is no After that is not Now.

I wish you all a beautiful year, and thank you for keeping with me on the journey so far.

Namaste.

Misty wanderings

The other day Sigoth and I went Christmas shopping. It’s a little early for us, but I had an unexpected day off work, and time is galloping by in the run up to seasonal festivities. Mostly I have placed orders on-line, hoping that the pictures of the products do not lie. However, where stocking fillers are concerned nothing beats a trip to town.

That’s not what I want to tell you about though, you will be pleased to read. It was the journey back that I wanted to share, although to no great purpose.

North Yorkshire landscapeI live in a small village in North Yorkshire, and I love the peace and quiet we enjoy for most of the year. I particularly like the serious quietness of winter, when the earth settles down for a snooze and the cold freezes all the frantic activity of nature to let things take a rest. At this time of year, in our northern hemisphere, the light is relatively brief. So as Sigoth and I were driving home at about 3.30 it was already getting dark.

Sigoth remarked that it was only 3 weeks until mid-winter after which the days would start to get longer again. He is a creature of the sun and light and warmth, and he is looking forward to spring.

I sat and stared out of the window at the hills around us. There were no lights along the road, or across the fields. Everything was grey and there was a slight mist forming. It was ancient. This was the experience of our forebears, as they too prepared for a feast to shut out the worst of winter. I was glad I did not have to worry about wolves.

The hills rolled onwards forever, smudged in grey. Briefly I did see a light in a distant farmhouse but soon it was hidden by the trees. The road was unusually quiet so there were not too many headlights coming towards us.

Sigoth said he didn’t remember it getting dark quite so early.  I disagreed.

I thought back to 3.30 on winter afternoons when I was at school, cycling home in darkness and sleet, my knees blue and my hands frozen into position on the handle bars, my books dragging me back. When I got into the house I made tea and toast, or hot chocolate and a bacon sandwich, trying to thaw my unresponsive fingers as I waited for the kettle to boil.

At the top of Golden Hill we saw the local market town spread out ahead of us. The lights glowed in the fuzzy air, each with its own perfect halo. We carried on past town and headed for our village. There’s a point along the main road where you can see the houses on the ridge like a line of lanterns showing us how much further we need to go.

Our house was dark, except for the annexe where my mother sat with her electric coal fire and chatty television, dozing in her chair. We unloaded the car and gave thanks for the ancient Aga warming the kitchen. Of course we made tea.

The garden was invisible now as the mist and dark grew heavier. The house enfolded us against the cold and wolves, and I drew the curtains.

Sigoth planned when he was going to go and get the Christmas Tree. I put the shopping away and together we made chowder.

On Thursday night the pub is having a curry night, so we’ll walk through the village, stumbling in the dark and slipping on the old fallen leaves and the mud, while we look for constellations in the sky (unless it’s cloudy).

The dark and misty hills reminded me of Hardy’s poem “The Darkling Thrush” partly because of the opening lines, but also because it ends on an uncharacteristically cheerful note for Hardy.

The Darkling Thrush

I leant upon a coppice gate
When Frost was spectre-grey,
And Winter’s dregs made desolate
The weakening eye of day.

The tangled bine-stems scored the sky
Like strings of broken lyres,
And all mankind that haunted nigh
Had sought their household fires.

The land’s sharp features seemed to be
The Century’s corpse outleant,
His crypt the cloudy canopy,
The wind his death-lament.
The ancient pulse of germ and birth
Was shrunken hard and dry,
And every spirit upon earth
Seemed fervourless as I.

At once a voice arose among
The bleak twigs overhead
In a full-hearted evensong
Of joy illimited;
An aged thrush, frail, gaunt and small,
In blast-beruffled plume,
Had chosen thus to fling his soul
Upon the growing gloom.

So little cause for carolings
Of such ecstatic sound
Was written on terrestrial things
Afar or nigh around,
That I could think there trembled through
His happy good-night air
Some blessed Hope, whereof he knew
And I was unaware.

And so, in darkness and in light, may we all sing joyfully.

Namaste.

 

First World Problems

firstworldproblemI have recently found myself feeling grateful for a number of things, most of which I consider quite basic. I’m not sure what is wrong with me; EBL is not naturally a grateful or sensitive little flower. It must be all this darn meditation I have tried to incorporate into my routines.  When in doubt blame a Buddhist.

The thing is, once I started noticing it, I also started noticing how most of the stress factors in my life were in fact first world problems.

Let’s back up a moment and take it from the beginning.

The gratitude thing began recently when I started thinking how pretty the water was when it sparkled in the shower cubicle’s light. Our shower has a light and extractor fan which we always turn on if it’s too cold to have the window open, to try and prevent condensation. This means on dull, dark, winter mornings the water glitters as it comes out the shower head, and I think it’s shiny, shiny, pretty. Then I think how lucky I am to have access to plenty of good, clean, hot water to use on a daily shower.

So that sets me up for the day noticing things I usually take for granted. As well as clean water for making tea (even more important than showering I would suggest, although colleagues and close personal friends may beg to differ), I have all kinds of miracles at my fingertips. Like fridges – so I get fresh food and keep it fresh. Or safe public transport.

Anyway, you get the idea, I’m sure. Generally I keep thinking how lucky I am to live in a country where I have access to clean water, food and shelter. I admit not all of my fellow countrypersons are as lucky as me, so that just makes me feel even more grateful.

Obviously I don’t spend all day in a self-congratulatory miasma. Rather than feeling smug I decide to take myself down a peg or two by chastising myself for worrying about all my first world problems. In case you haven’t come across the term it refers to those irritations in life which people like to complain about but which actually only reinforce how fortunate they are. For example, worrying about the fact my new mobile phone case clashes with my handbag. Not that it does worry me, in fact, but I imagine some people get upset by such things. I prefer to think of myself as quirky. Plus having a purple phone case and red bag is really sticking it to the Man. Oh yeah!

Here are some of my terrible worries.

  • Logging on to the WiFi in the coffee shop from my phone will subject me to more spam.
  • I need to write a post for my blog or people will think I have died, but I have nothing to write.
  • My nail varnish is chipped. Now I’ll have to spend 10 minutes sorting it out.
  • Tesco appears to have run out of halloumi and have replaced it in the order they have delivered to my door with cheddar.
  • The hotel doesn’t seem to provide BBC4 on its TV. Can’t watch re-run of Borgen.
  • My train was cancelled and I had to run to another platform to get an alternative service, as well as losing my reserved seat.
  • How can I be expected to carry two mobiles about with me; why can’t IT set up bring Your Own device?
  • I have to stream the episode of Borgen I missed instead of downloading it and my broadband is not fast enough.
  • In fact I have to endure rural broadband speeds all the time; Facebook takes actual seconds to load.

It’s all a bit embarrassing when I look at it. Honestly, EBL, get over yourself!

I was just wondering how you all get through your days. Do you ever find yourselves worrying over nothing like this? Or have I just embarrassed myself in front of the whole Interweb? Share your wisdom, people.

Namaste.

 

 

This time last year…

This time last year I decided to give NaNoWriMo a go and it was fun. But having been there, done that and got some kind of metaphorical t-shirt, I’m not revisiting it again. Needless to say I have hardly touched the novel since. It frightens me a bit; I am too nervous to take it seriously although I still want to finish it one day. Ah “one day”, my friend, so soothing to the procrastinating mind!

I started to write here more often as a result of NaNoWriMo and made some lovely blogging friends. Yes, hello you, thanks for staying around.

Then things turned busier at home and I had a break and since then I kind of lost the power of writing. It melted away like dew in the morn, and all I am left with is unsightly grass stains from kneeling on the ground looking for it. My mind just feels empty and echoey.

To be fair I’m not really doing anything more interesting. It’s not like I’ve dumped you all for the cool kids over there. My knitting is behind schedule. I stopped making soups and cakes and other deliciousness. I gave up yoga exercises recently due to the pain in my shoulder (operation very soon, only another couple of weeks!). I fall asleep when I try to meditate. I barely read any more, although I did manage “Raising Steam” because it’s the law and I don’t need more trouble with the authorities. Otherwise I’m just too tired and flat and drawn out to do anything.

I get this every now and then, usually as a pre-cursor to another bout of depression. It’s often this time of year, so please feel free to regale me with tales of SAD lights and daylight savings and so on. They may even be true, although at the same time I do love autumn/winter for those faded blue skies and frosted cobwebs and candlelit evenings, and ooh and ah, the fireworks. Always fireworks with the noise and the smell and the pretty, pretty prettiness, hands jammed in pockets and neck aching as you gaze up at the pictures in the sky, sometimes through mist or rain damp on your cheeks, sometimes through clouds of your own breath gasping out in astonishment and delight.

It’s been a busy year and I probably need to relax, but I suppose months of over-working won’t clear up in a weekend or two.

What I do remember from last November was the feeling of joy and energy from making myself write every day. I have learned more about the usefulness of a daily journal; I don’t do it routinely, but I know it is helpful when and if I do. It’s what I’m doing now, so apologies if you thought this was actually going anywhere except to hell in a handcart.

So, tell me my dears, what do you do when you get the blues? I mean these tiresome old blues which leave you feeling like the Dementors have sucked you dry and left you in the gutter.

Meanwhile I’m pinning my hopes on the Doctor to #savetheday this weekend. No matter how tired I am, I’ll find time for that.

Good night my dears and Namaste.