The self-help movement has gathered momentum in the past decade, and it runs alongside the increasing images of perfection that swamp our society. One of my heartfelt hopes as we shift through this global pandemic is for us to move away from perfection, seeking validation in images. The over-commercialised aspects of self-help add to the noise generated from these perfect images. It leaves folk nowhere to go with their internal dialogue and the stories of not feeling good enough. There are repeated messages of instant fixes available, also adding to the stress felt by those who aren’t feeling great.
A life foundation built on awareness and a loving sense of self supports us to make sense of the stories we hold about ourselves, whether they are the ones we have made or those we have inherited from others.
Our life is the mirror we hold up to the world.
Every action we take, no matter how small, creates the life we live in the following days. The spectrum of choices we have in our daily round; to how we brush our teeth, communicate with others, the food we buy, the work we do and the time we choose to go to bed. All these small choices build energy that creates the life we live and there are many actions we do automatically.
Over the years, I have often heard the cry from those reaching out for help ‘I just want things to change’ & ‘I don’t want my life to be like this anymore.’
My perspective is that change comes from making small, different choices that bring about a new outcome. Sometimes we can anticipate the result and at the other end of the spectrum, it truly is an unknown. Not knowing the outcome can freeze us into not making any kind of change and stop us from making different choices. Whereas, going all out for change can easily lead to feelings of overwhelm, as on a practical level you have way too many new things to remember and do each day. Just ponder on New Year’s resolutions and you see why they are unsustainable. One small change, practised each day till it becomes automatic, can gather the energy of momentum to usher in the changes that you have chosen.
It is like getting on the same bus and expecting the route to be different. Mind you, that did happen once when the driver forgot which bus he was driving, but that is another story.
Early morning is such a peaceful time, and I had a daily habit of wrecking mine. Fresh from sleep I would check my phone, start answering emails, reply to comments on various websites and fall down a hole of reading other posts, all whilst drinking a lot of coffee. I felt driven, on top of things and busy, which ironically, was not setting me up for a productive day. I had created a corkscrew routine of fake productiveness, which turned tighter over time, and I felt drawn to call myself on my own ‘BS’. Our modern way of communication is advanced, yet an intrusion if we allow it to be. The world will not stop if I reply to emails and messages later in the day or even on another day.
My early morning routine is now simpler and more peaceful. I breathe deeply, sit in meditation, read, pray for help for souls in my healing book and anyone who needs loving energy from spirit, and I write in my gratitude journal.
My Mum and I are alike in looks and character, which weaves into our loving bond. I also find freedom in being understood unconditionally and hold much gratitude in my heart for her love.
I once lived in a first-floor flat with an adjoining flat roof covered in rubbish and old plant pots choked with weeds. It took a serrated carving knife to break the earth from the pots into manageable chunks. I cleared the roof, creating a clean, freshly swept canvas. The view was across The Mersey River towards Liverpool, and every day I was filled with awe as I watched nature and life play out.
My Mum was ahead of my plans, and when I next visited her and Dad, she gifted me several light planters and some beautiful plants to fill them.
Memories of childhood, filled with blue and pink Hydrangeas, a miniature pink Rose for love, red hot Geraniums (like the ones my beloved paternal Grandad used to grow in his greenhouse), white Milkmaids (which are a profusion of flowers in the spring and autumn) and Azaleas, from teenage years spent in Africa.
Through trial and error, I found the best place for them all to thrive, and it was against the house wall, where they had protection from the worst of the sea breezes and storm winds. At the front, there was a large dish which I filled with fresh water every day for the birds.
Mum gifted me the little stone rabbit from her garden to keep watch over it all.
We view life through a multi-layered lens of our choices and the past. One of my layers is the hope that everyone is doing their best at any given moment. It may not always be the case, yet it feels kinder to think this way, and life feels softer.
It is all too easy to take it personally when anyone acts out of anger, bitterness, and jealousy. Nine out of ten times, it isn’t about us. There are many emotional triggers inside each of us, and we can react to others’ jarring emotions, usually adding our upset energy to an already volatile mix. It is challenging, yet kinder for all involved, not to react initially. Not easy by any means, yet softer if we can pause for a moment. The gift of time to ponder why we were triggered allows us to gain a fresh perspective. Why the other person may have acted with a harsh emotion? You may never find out the other person’s ‘Why.’ Yet building in a pause gifts a non-reactive space and flows kinder energy.
The value I look for in a connection with someone new is kindness.
When my daughter was nine, her dad was taken ill, and it quickly became apparent that it would be a challenge for a long time. It was one of those moments when life as we knew it ceased, and we were left scrabbling for loving things to hold on to.
The first day at the school gates was an ordeal and after I had dropped my daughter off a lady I did not know well, asked if I was alright. I briefly explained and she put her arm around my shoulders, and I didn’t have to say anything else. A friend, who knew us well as a family, sailed past and said ‘Cheer up, Jane. It may never happen.’ The lady beside me shot back with ‘It already has’. My friend carried on and I doubt she even heard. I remember fondly, the shared moments in my new friend’s home. Popping in for a quick coffee after grocery shopping, teas together for all the children and a loving-kindness that flowed naturally from her.
One afternoon, it started pouring rain as I stood outside the school gates and a car door opened nearby. I could see an arm waving. Another lady I didn’t know invited me to sit beside her, as her baby girl slept in the car seat behind us. There was no pressure to talk and there followed many afternoons where I shared her car. In her, I discovered an understanding and wisdom within that loving soul, built on a strong foundation of kindness. On difficult days she collected my daughter and took her to school and there were times she would collect my ironing and bring it back pressed and fragrant. She was an anchor in a stormy sea and I have never forgotten her kindness. We are still in touch today. Her greatest gift was non-judgment and I feel that goes hand in hand with kindness.
We are finding out in these times of a global pandemic, what a difference the kindness of strangers makes, as we discover new ways to flow care to each other.
Little Things Poem by Julia Carney
Little drops of water
Little grains of sand,
Make the mighty ocean,
And the pleasant land.
So, the little moments,
Humble though they be,
Make the mighty ages
So, our little errors
Lead the soul away
From the path of virtue,
Far in sin to stray.
Little deeds of kindness,
Little words of love,
Make our earth happy,
Like the Heaven above.
As the Falklands War started, I returned from South Africa to live in England. My family had settled in Salcombe, Devon, and I headed there on the last train out of London. Changing trains a few times, I zig-zagged my way down to the Southwest and arrived in the middle of a furious snowstorm.
In the early morning hours, I got off the train at Totnes station and saw my Mum and Dad for the first time in over four years.
Having landed an evening job waitressing in a local restaurant, I worked during the day, dividing my time between babysitting, cleaning homes, and doing computer data entry stints. One of those jobs has stayed in my heart, and the memories are clear.
I started to work for a quiet, thoughtful lady who lived with her husband, known to everyone as ‘The Major’. For all I know, he may well have held that rank in the army and my memories are of him striding about the place, ‘harrumphing’ a lot and I cannot recall ever having a conversation with him. I used to go and help Barbara clean her home, and we developed a loving bond as we bottomed out rooms together and had fun rearranging furniture. I used to shake the dusters outside the window, looking out over the estuary and sparkling sea beyond, and it all held the feel of a bygone era.
It was a beautiful, rambling house, set into the hillside with a garden full of Roses, Sweet Peas in summer and Aquilegia (Granny’s Bonnet).
Our favourite time of day was mid-afternoon as we sat at her kitchen table chatting and drinking Earl Grey tea. One day she asked if I would help her with something important, and for the next few months, I would type for her. She had kept her mother’s diaries and the letters between her mother and father during the Second World War, and lovingly, we pieced them together into a book. After all the years, the blue airmail paper was transparent, yet the dark ink was legible. They were parted for years and living through dark times, and it was humbling to read their words and shared thoughts.
I can still feel Barbara’s loving energy coming through from the spirit world and hear the ticking of her Grandmother clock in the kitchen.
I was living just outside Ruthin, in North Wales, when my phone pinged with an unexpected text from a long-term friend. She was staying nearby and wondered if she could call in. We hadn’t seen each other for a few years, and I was delighted at the opportunity to have a catch-up.
We were neighbours in Bedfordshire when my daughter was a baby, and Kate worked from home creating beautiful pottery. A friendship started the day she asked me over to share in the homemade lemon drizzle cake her Mum had sent from Germany and over time we shared many moments together. I remember feeling bereft when she moved away.
We sat in my new home, chatting over a cup of tea, and decided to spend the next day having an adventure together. Kate had worked out that I was only a few hours’ drive away from Snowdonia, so she suggested that we went walking there and a day unfolded that I will never forget. I didn’t have any walking boots, so Kate gifted me an old pair that she had used as a teenager. I still use them today. We met up in Betws-y-Coed and explored the town a little, stopping by the babbling river for morning coffee. A short drive took us into Snowdonia National Park, and we started to walk towards Mount Snowdon, meeting many interesting people as we walked around the lakes and across the hills.
We met one chap and his friend, and he shared that he had been a caretaker for that area for many years. He looked as hardy as the countryside around us, and I can still see his happy face now as he talked about the land he loved.
Pausing, we even paddled in one lake, and yes, the water was freezing. It is where I took the cover photograph for this book.
We met a sheep farmer who had just been to the market and was pausing on his journey home to have an ice cream cone and soak in the scenery. A cloth cap perched at an angle on his head, he shared farming stories and invited us back to his farm for tea. Smiling, we declined and carried on.
It was late afternoon when we started to feel chilly, and although we were at the foot of Snowdon by then, it was pushing it to do the final climb that day. We turned back and re-traced our steps along the cobbled miner’s path.
As we walked and talked, we made discoveries about each other in stories not shared before.
© Copyright Jane Sturgeon 2020