Week 13: The Gift of Light

As I sit down to write, it’s a proper grey December
afternoon.  Ostensibly still in the
middle of the day, there’s been no sign of the sun even though science tells me
it is actually still there, hidden away behind the thick blanket of cloud.  It’s a good job physics et al have a
reasonable track record in being correct about this kind of stuff else right
now I’m not sure I’d believe them.

Returning to my computer after lunch, I immediately flicked
on all the electric lights in the room.
Then, in an action that has been repeated innumerable times in countless
locations over many a long year, I struck a match.  I struck a match and lit the lone candle that
sits on my office desk.  Suddenly the gloom
lifts.  Illuminated by the flickering
wick near the window, the scene outside takes on a new atmospheric hue, making
me almost want to bundle up and head out for some of its fresh, crisp air.  Inside, the room assumes a golden glow, an
aura of festivity and sparkle.  My mood
is lifted and I am ready to write and work.
The little candle will remain my constant companion in the hours ahead,
the flame seeming to burn even more brightly once the grey sky drifts to black.

Of course in the same way that I know the sun is there somewhere
behind the clouds, the rational part of my brain knows that the 100w
bulbs overhead are doing more to light the room than the one small votive.  But what we know to be true does not always
correspond neatly with what we feel, or what we would like to believe.  And perhaps that is never more true than in
the depths of winter.  For good or ill, magic
and mystery lurk in the dark shadows that embrace the northern hemisphere
during these months.  

It’s perhaps no surprise that so many faiths have a major
festival during this fourth quarter of the calendar year.  Our souls, whatever label we attach (or
none), long for a flicker of light and a glimmer of truth about what it means
to be alive when so much around us seems to be dead.  In this context, a cylinder
of wax can take on a huge weight of symbolism,
from the advent candle to the Hannukkah menorah.

In this thirteenth and final week of The Fourth Quarter seasonal journey, I’d like to encourage you too
to light a candle.  It doesn’t have to
mean anything other than being a pretty twinkle on a tabletop.  Or it can be a light in the dark in the most
profound way you can possibly imagine.
It might be somewhere in between the two.  

Ignite a candle this week and in the weeks ahead if for no
other reason than to bring another source of light into your life, however
small.  We all need a bit of extra light
sometimes, and we have the ability to give that gift to ourselves as simply as
with striking a match.

As with over the previous twelve weeks, you can share your
thoughts and images either the A Life Of One’s Own
Facebook page
or using the hashtag #fourthquarter2015 on Instagram and/or
Twitter.  This is it in terms of The Fourth Quarter autumn and winter
journey.  I cannot believe how quickly
the months have passed!  I’ve loved
sharing my seasonal reflections with you and hope that they’ve bought comfort
and joy, to hijack a currently seasonal phrase.
From the new year I’ll be back to sharing regular blog posts but if
there’s anything in particular you’d like to see me write about (or indeed
*read* me write about!) then get in touch.
Suggestions are always welcome as I want to be as much help to others as
I can be.  

Have a happy holiday season all, and I’ll see you back here
in 2016.

Week 12: A Christmas Story

An extract from Louisa May Alcott’s ‘Little Women’

When I sketched out my ideas for the thirteen weeks of The Fourth Quarter seasonal journey, I
didn’t plan on doing any explicitly about advent, Christmas or the festive
season in any guise.  Twelve weeks in,
all I can say is what was I thinking?! Even as a child I don’t think I’ve spent a
December in such a state of excitement.
Maybe I should have guessed when, before moving in with my partner back
in April, I expressed a desire for a real Christmas tree.  Clearly the ideas and feelings that are
coming out now have had a long germination process!  I think that moment when I first mentioned
the tree also gives a big clue as to the roots of my seasonal joy; it means a
lot to me that we have our personal space in which to create a Christmas of our
own as a new family.  There is now a
physical environment and an emotional context in which I can try out all of the
wishes and desires I’ve ever harboured about Christmas.  

I didn’t realise that I *had* so many wishes
and desires about this time of year, but it seems that I kept them tucked away
safely somewhere until the time came where I could unleash them.  Now I’m embracing them as firmly as I can,
seeing what works and what doesn’t, what has meaning for me and what I can
happily accept as just meaningful for others.
This is requiring a hefty dose of mindfulness and conscious attention on
my part, for fear that I could descend down a never-ending candy cane spiral of
Christmassy Things To Do (if you’re in doubt about how infinite the
possibilities are, enter the search term Christmas on Pinterest!).  When I found myself contemplating making my
own pate, I knew time had come to take a deep breath and relax about it all.  Swept along by my own enthusiasm, I was in
severe danger of reaching peak Christmas well ahead of the day itself.  There was a good chance that by 25th,
my internal pendulum would have swung and I’d have become a Scrooge like
figure, wrestling the crutches off any well-wishing Tiny Tim and chasing them
down the street with them.

Ah, Scrooge!  It seems
entirely apt that I should fall back upon a famous festive novel to provide the
right imagery.  Is Dickens’ A Christmas Carol the most famous book
about this season?  Maybe so, but there
are others that contain equally evocative festive scenes which have become
lodged in the collective Christmas memory – Louisa May Alcott’s glorious Little Women, featured in this week’s theme photo, to name just one.  And what could be better at this time of year
than curling up with a good book, particularly a well-thumbed old friend?  Whether you love Christmas, loathe it, or
don’t celebrate it at all, December afternoons were made for a spot of
reading.  When it’s cold and grey and
often kind of crazy outside, we can find a warm corner and curl up under a
blanket with familiar pages open on our lap, drawing us into a different world
whilst comforting us with a story we already know well.  Unlike films, the quiet hush of reading can
be a soothing balm to the razzmatazz and glitz of this time of year.  Like all the best things, a good book in
December is a paradox: an antidote to festivities but not a refusal of them; a
moment of escapism but also often part of our Christmases, whether because we
associate a story with the holiday or because they were always our favourite
kind of present.

So give yourself the gift of a good book this week.  Pick up an old favourite and snatch as much
time as you can, whether five minutes or five hours, in its company.  Think of it as your own Christmas story.

And please do share with us your favourite festive
read!  I’d love to get some more
suggestions as well as the examples above.
You can share your thoughts (and your reading moments) either the A Life Of One’s Own
Facebook page
or using the hashtag #fourthquarter2015 on Instagram and/or
Twitter.

Week 11: As with tea, with life

When I came up with the idea for The Fourth Quarter seasonal journey through autumn and winter, a
list of weekly symbols quickly emerged, as did what felt like the right running
order for them.  I didn’t plan them out
in detail, but I had clear thoughts about the themes behind each one; last
week’s reflection
on bathing
, for instance, I wanted to represent quietness and moments of
solitude.  What has surprised me as the months
have passed by, though, is the extent to which the meanings and metaphors have
evolved.  I *thought* I knew what each
week would be about, but the journey has taken on a life of its own (apt given
the title of my site and coaching practice!).
This perhaps isn’t surprising, but what is notable is that each symbol
has remained completely apt.  If anything,
the symbols have become even more pertinent.
In an Elizabeth Gilbert Big
Magic kind of way
, it is as if I have been the vessel through which the
concept and symbols found form but my real world brain has taken a while to
catch up with what they all actually mean.

This week’s focus, tea, has proved a particularly strong
example of this, what I can only inelegantly describe as ‘not what I thought
it’d be but totally right’.  In my
original human thinking, it was going to be all about a relaxed form of
hosting, offering people tea as a gesture of hospitality and forging
connection.  That would have been totally
fine, I’m sure; maybe even good.  Yet the
mysteries of creativity have another agenda that is forcing its way on to the
page.  Let’s see where it takes us…

This time two years ago, I developed a dairy
intolerance.  Seemingly out of the blue,
I literally could no longer stomach milk or cheese.  Adjustments to my diet followed, and I swapped
cow’s milk for first soya and then almond milk.
This generally worked well, only I didn’t like the taste of other kinds
of milk in tea.  As a result, English
breakfast tea, a former staple of my day (and one of the few attributes of the
British nation that I was happy to share), vanished from my life, replaced by
herbal varieties or coffee without milk.

Strangely, despite years of heavy consumption, I didn’t miss
it – so much so that even as my tolerance for dairy products has improved, I
haven’t returned to drinking it.  Then
the other Sunday, I was out with a friend and we were having old fashioned
cake.  Coffee just seemed like a weird
accompaniment, so English breakfast tea it was, served in a proper cup and
saucer too.  And just like that, proper
tea was back in my life, like a lost love or the prodigal child, reunited at
last.

What does this symbolise?
Of course it may mean nothing at all; it may simply be that I went off
tea and now I like it again.  This is
undoubtedly partly the case, but I think there is something figurative going on
inside those cups of char as well.  The
lesson I’ve drawn from it is that things change, and not just once and for
all.  Life is a constant ebb and flow.  Sometimes we’ll like tea, at other points we
won’t, there may be occasions where we can’t have it – and then it could all
shift again.  As with tea, with life:
people come and they go, relationships blossom and wither, jobs are started
then finished.  And the same is true of
identities.  Certain labels may serve us
well at one time but down the line they may no longer suit.  The danger comes when we cling on, refusing
to let go or allow the cycle of change to continue.  I was a tea drinker, then I wasn’t.  I couldn’t drink tea, then I simply didn’t
drink tea.  Now I get to choose: maybe I
will, maybe I won’t.  I don’t need a
definite position on the issue.  

I hope these thoughts resonate with you over the weeks
ahead.  December is a month packed with
annually occurring events and traditions that can make us feel like each year
is – or somehow should be – the same as the one before or one when we were kids
or one that occurred way back in some mythical past before that.  Except it isn’t like that.  This December does not have to be the same as
the last one.  Things change, you change,
the world changes.  Today you may have
coffee; tomorrow you might have tea.  As
with tea, with life.

I’m off to put the kettle on.

Tell me what it is that you are drinking right now,
literally and metaphorically!  You can
get in touch via the A
Life Of One’s Own Facebook page
or using the hashtag #fourthquarter2015 on
Instagram and/or Twitter.