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 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.

Stir it up Sunday…or any day

This coming Sunday, 22nd November, is what is traditionally
known as ‘Stir it up Sunday’.  This is
the name given to the last Sunday before advent begins and apparently the name
comes from a prayer for the day which begins ‘Stir up, we beseech thee’ (thanks
to
Elspeth Thompson’s The Wonderful Weekend
Book
for that tidbit of
information).  However, this is also
customarily the day to make Christmas cake, so I like to think that the ‘Stir
it up’ name is as much linked to the baking action as the church liturgy.  Am sure the coincidence is no accident!

This year will be the first time that I’ve observed this
seasonal ritual and I will be attempting to make a Christmas cake.  I’ve always wanted to do this and when
mapping out themes for The Fourth Quarter
it seemed too good an opportunity to miss.
Alas I’m already busy on Sunday itself so it’ll be ‘Stir it up Saturday’
for me – and I’m inviting you to join me!
Whether it’s Saturday or Sunday or any other day of the week ahead, why
don’t you stir it up too?

You can be literal about the theme and make some kind of
baked goods that need stirring – whether that is a Christmas cake or another
creation.  Or you could interpret ‘stir
it up’ more broadly.  Where in your life
could things do with mixing up a bit?  

Think about your life in terms of a recipe.  What ingredients do you have?  What is missing?  Where can you get those items from?  

What about the ratios between different ingredients?  Maybe you’ve got all the necessary elements
but the proportions don’t make for an appetising whole.  What changes do you need to make?

Or is there one specific area where things need stirring
up?  What’s the wooden spoon that you
could use to do that?

Whichever you choose, whether stirring literally or
metaphorically, don’t forget to make a wish!
This is central element of the ‘Stir it up’ tradition, with whoever
helps to mix the ingredients getting to make a wish.  May all of our stir it up wishes come true,
whatever form they take.

Also don’t forget to share your reflections on this week’s
theme, including any pictures or thoughts about stirring it up, either via the A Life Of One’s Own
Facebook page
or using the hashtag #fourthquarter2015 on Instagram and/or
Twitter.

Week Eight: Comfort

A pair of leather gloves have taken up residency in my
handbag.  I’m now regularly layering
vest, t-shirt and jumper, with the bottom item most *definitely* getting tucked
in my waistband.  And socks clad my feet
when only a short time ago I was happy to stay barefoot when working at home.

It can only mean one thing: winter weather is here.  The bright and often warm autumn days that
often linger from September into October are no more.  November has bought wind and rain and almost
endless grey skies as well as darker nights and shorter days.  Surely even the most ardent lover of cosy
evenings must feel some despair at going out in the mornings in the dark and
returning home later in the same?  

When the ‘seasons of mist and mellow fruitfulness’ segue into
months of encircling gloom, mist and fog patches, what are we to do?  Curling up and hibernating is alas not an
option (although we could probably all do to take more notice of nature’s cue
to sleep more, as I discussed back in Week Five: Rest).  We can, though, take inspiration from the
idea of it. In particular, we can create for ourselves the kind of comforting
nest that hibernating creatures need if they are to get through the winter months
and emerge when the cold and dark begin to subside.  

Don’t worry, I’m not proposing that we all go out and make a
shell of leaves and twigs to carry on our backs for the next few months!

What we can do is mindfully ensconce ourselves in our own
human equivalent: our clothes.  What we
wear serves many purposes: warmth, protection, modesty, identity, status,
creativity.  However an aspect that we
tend to overlook is the visceral feel of the garments, the tactile sensation of
how the item and our skin, our bodies, interact.  We might thumb a sleeve in a shop and think ‘Ooo
that’s soft’, or wince when we pull something on in the changing rooms because the
fabric rubs unpleasantly, but on a day-to-day basis that kind of sensational
awareness too often gets forgotten.  By
bringing ourselves back to it, by cultivating consciousness of it, we are
creating an easily accessible source of comfort.  

So this week I’m encouraging you to turn your attention to
this tactile goodness.  Approach how you
dress in a different way, focusing on touch more than sight.  Feel your way through your wardrobe and
drawers seeking out those garments that make your hand pause and linger.  Wrap yourself up each day in whatever you can
that feels like a comfort to your skin and to your soul, from lace briefs to a
woollen coat, silky camis to cashmere…well, cashmere anything.  

Build a wearable warm nest to take about the day with you –
because we need to get our comfort wherever we can right now.

Please do share your reflections on this week’s theme,
including any pictures or thoughts about tactile clothing or comfort in general,
either via the A Life
Of One’s Own Facebook page
or using the hashtag #fourthquarter2015 on
Instagram and/or Twitter.

We all need bonfires

Okay, so the photograph doesn’t show a bonfire.  Just shows I didn’t plan this before *last* Bonfire Night!

Thursday 5th November: Bonfire Night in the
UK.  I’m hesitant about trying to
describe this seasonal event to anyone unfamiliar with the concept because
having once tried to explain it to two New York shop assistants, I’ve become
extremely aware of what a crazy celebration it is: we light bonfires and set
off fireworks to commemorate the foiling of a 1605 plot by some Catholic men to
blow up the Protestant Houses of Parliament.
Sometimes we even burn an effigy of the plot’s ringleader, Guy Fawkes.  

It’s a strange tradition; pretty gruesome and distasteful
when you think about it in the context of twenty-first century terrorism.  It also seems to be on the wane somewhat,
pushed out by an increasing emphasis on Hallowe’en.  Yet part of me still hankers after a good
Bonfire Night get-together (this year I’m happily attending two, one on Friday
and one on Saturday – like other festivals that fall on weekdays, it gets stretched
to the nearest weekend).  I suspect that
its continuation over the years, and the reason that people still enjoy it, is
less to do with the political background and more because it fulfils some of
our deepest needs in the same way that Hallowe’en does (for more on that, see here).  It’s an excuse, a prompt, to spend time with
friends and family.  Little traditions
associated with the fire-and-fireworks element (largely food related: jacket
potatoes, toffee apples, cinder toffee) support an atmosphere of warmth,
conviviality and ritual.  We remember
these nights fondly from when we were children and want to share that sense of
joy and wonder with our own children too.

There is something quite magical about the occasion.  You huddle up in coats and scarves and
gloves, trying to keep warm through liquor or a loved one, and ‘Ooo!’ and ‘Aah!’
at the fireworks.  You write your name
mid-air with a sparkler and watch as that word, those letters so integral to
your identity, evaporate without a trace.
You stand beside the bonfire, chatting merrily to a friend, then find
yourself gazing at the flames, transported through memories of all the times
you’ve stood there before, perhaps in a different place, but still simply staring
at the fire.  

There’s something so mesmerising about the way it licks and
curls, rages and burns.  Fires draw us
closer, attracts us nearer, but also keep us away, fearful of their fierce
power.  We relate to them on a primeval
level, as our ancient ancestors must have done when their very survival
depended upon them, yet we live lives so far removed from them as a
source.  Nowadays we are as likely to
encounter fire in negative ways, such as when they tear through our homes or
land, than we are the positive – the gathering together in a small circle,
sharing its light and heat.

Where would you like to start a fire in your life?  Where could you use the power of its flames?  

Maybe you crave the communion of bringing those closest to
you in a coven around the hearth.

Maybe you need to set alight your passion, to strike a match
and let it take hold.  

Maybe you need a bonfire to burn some detritus in your
psychic garden, letting it drift in plumes of smoke up to the sky and
beyond.  

Fire has the power and the potential to help us secure
whatever it is that we need most in our lives.
And if you can work it into a fire-fireworks-food combination, then even
better.  

Happy Bonfire Night to you all x

Please do share your reflections on this week’s theme,
including any pictures or thoughts about Bonfire Night specifically or fire in
general, either via the A
Life Of One’s Own Facebook page
or using the hashtag #fourthquarter2015 on
Instagram and/or Twitter.

Forget Bah Pumpkin! Hallowe’en is just a handy excuse for life’s good stuff

And this amazing witch confections aren’t even one of those three reasons!

This week I’d like to offer you three reasons to love
Hallowe’en.

There are lots of reasons to not like it, I know.  Commercialisation, for one.  The shops have been full of Hallowe’en
merchandise and special offers for weeks, making the day seem like some kind of
weird kind of mini-Christmas based upon its worst aspect (in the same way that
Britain seems to be adopting the Black Friday tradition without the joys of
Thanksgiving).  There are also concerns
around crime and safety when you have lots of people disguised in masks
approaching others’ homes.  In the UK, some
also object to Hallowe’en on the grounds that it is a regarded as a US cultural
import that seems to usurping some home-grown, more traditionally British
seasonal occasions.

Okay, so there are three reasons to not like Hallowe’en and
I’m not going to deny or try to counteract any of them directly.  I used to share this kind of Hallowe’en
equivalent of ‘Bah Humbug’; let’s call it a ‘Bah Pumpkin’ attitude.  But no more!
I’m now the kind of person who not only owns some special Hallowe’en
earrings but is *really* excited at the prospect of wearing them and wondering
how soon is too soon to get them out.
Why the change?  Well here are the
three inter-related reasons why I’ve had a change of heart:

 1)     
Creativity

As the popularity of Elizabeth Gilbert’s latest best-seller,
Big Magic, demonstrates, creativity
is inherent to the human condition.  It
is not something exclusive to writers or designers or other arty types.  We all have the capacity to be creative and
when we give licence to that, it can be a hugely joyful and life-affirming
experience.  

From fancy dress costumes to decorating our homes,
Hallowe’en gives us the perfect excuse to indulge a playful approach to making
and creating.  It is an opportunity for
entering into the creative process without the pressure of a big occasion or
the need to produce award winning results.
Childish and silly and a bit wonky are par for the course.  And unlike say Christmas, where there is a
lot of other stuff going on too, at Hallowe’en the costumes and decoration are
a focal point; you don’t need to cook an amazing meal or deliver perfectly
wrapped gifts too.  You are free to play.

2)     
Friendship

We are about to enter the holiday season, with a whole host
of other occasions soon lining up in November and December.  So why on earth do we add another event to
the mix?  Surely we’d all be better
staying in this Saturday, saving our money and our energy for the crazy
festivities ahead?

Bah pumpkin to that!
Besides, who do you spend Hallowe’en with compared to the other
occasions?  Times like Thanksgiving and
Christmas are often about seeing family, which is grand, but there are often
other important people in our lives as well.
Hallowe’en is not only a chance to see them but also to celebrate with
them in a way that everyday life doesn’t provide much scope for.  Who hosts a party for no reason?  No-one.
We might throw the odd birthday bash or a housewarming or new year
shindig, but probably not regularly.
Hallowe’en presents another opportunity, again one with less pressure
than the big red letter days, to have fun and celebrate with others.  One could choose to have a party on 15th
October or 10th November instead, one without skeletons and spiders
and spookiness.  But generally we
don’t.  Hallowe’en gives us a prompt, a
purpose, even if that is just a convenient excuse for something that would be
pretty awesome to do anyway: get together with people we love and have fun.

3)     
Community feel

Most of our holidays and celebrations are private affairs,
taking pace with a select group of family and friends.  As our societies have become more diverse and
more fragmented, many communal traditions, such as gathering in public spaces
for carol singing, have died off.  But we
haven’t lost the basic human need for community.  Hallowe’en again offers a great opportunity
in this respect.  As a secular event,
divorced from its religious origins, it lacks the boundaries of exclusion.  It also encourages engagement with other
people.  As well as the parties, the
other obvious example of this is trick-or-treating: when else do children get
to interact with neighbours in their community?
(Anything that supports connection across generations is good in my
book).  Even adding a bit of Hallowe’en
decoration goes some way towards the same effect; walking down my road earlier
this week, I noticed pumpkins on a few doorsteps and in doing so I felt
immediately more connected with those households – as if by placing these items
outside their entrances they were signalling their desire to participate in a
chance for community too.  Sometimes this
goes large scale.  A friend always takes
her children trick-or-treating down a nearby street because, in her words,
‘they all really go to town’ with Hallowe’en stuff.  In doing so, the residents are forging a
special moment for themselves, a break from ordinary time and ordinary life,
creating a community spirit that others want to be part, fulfilling our oft
thwarted human desire to connect with others around us.  

This year, I’ll be going with my friend: funny costume, her
and the children’s company, seeing this street where ‘they all really go to
town’ – what more could I want?  Why
would I refuse an excuse for creativity, friendship and community?

What do you think?
What aspect of Hallowe’en would you like to seize upon and
encourage?  Could you use some more
creativity, friendship and community?  

Is there anything else I could add to that list?  I’ve been wondering whether to include ‘fun’
as a separate item but figured it featured in the other three.  No doubt there are other things too, both
good and not so great.

Don’t forget to share your reflections on this week’s theme,
including any pictures or thoughts about your Hallowe’en, either via the A Life Of One’s Own
Facebook page
or using the hashtag #fourthquarter2015 on Instagram and/or
Twitter.

Week Five: Rest

It is late afternoon on a clear, crisp October day.  The light is beginning to fade and so am
I.  The clock on my screen says eighteen
minutes past.  I glance at the cyclamen
on my desk for what seems like a few seconds, then suddenly I notice that the
clock now says twenty-five past.  I am
struggling with motivation and energy at towards the end of a long day.  I’m lucky enough to largely set my own work
schedule and I tend to focus on more challenging tasks in the morning because
that’s when I’m at my best.  I know that
a lull always hits around this time, yet still I try to push on; still I try to
do more of the hard things that I began earlier in the day.

I glance away from the screen again, this time gazing at the
view outside the office window.  The canopy
of the old oak trees is dwindling more with each passing hour.  The ground is covered with fallen leaves and
crushed acorns.  The scene reminds me of
so many sights evoked during this The
Fourth Quarter
autumn journey: trees, plants and hedgerows offering up
their goods before laying themselves down for the quieter months of
winter.  During this dormancy, it can
seem like nothing is happening but that is far from the case.  Nature is not dead, simply resting.

Oh what quiet!  Isn’t
that what so many of us long for?  The
pause, the interlude, the break from our frenetic, frantic pace of life.  Even if we don’t crave the quiet, often we
need it.  Our hearts, our bodies, our
souls try to get the message across.  Our
computers crash, forcing us to sit still patiently (or not) for a few minutes
whilst its system reboots.  We get ill,
forcing us to stay in bed for a few days whilst our system reboots.  This,
comes the whisper, this.  This is
what we need. Rest.  Rest.  Rest.

The entire ecosystem is in on the act too.  The scenes outside our windows at this time
of the year join in this whispered message.
Each tree, each bush, each plant is telling us the same thing: it is
time to rest.  Lay down as much as you
can, strip yourself back until only the bare bones of your essence remain, and
rest until spring stirs new life within you.

Even the much-maligned dark nights can be interpreted this
way: what if longer nights were literally a sign that we need more sleep right
now?

So that is what I offer you this week: permission from the
universe to get some rest.  And because I
can feel the resistance to this emanating through the ether, I even offer some
specific suggestions as to how:

#1 This weekend sees the end of British Summer Time in,
well, Britain obviously.  This means the
clocks go back an hour on Saturday night/Sunday morning.  Think of this as bonus extra sleep time!  And if you’re not in the UK, then sleep an
hour longer anyway and think of it as international solidarity.  If you let us know when your clocks change
then we can return the gesture.  Maybe it
could become some kind of new peace movement!

#2 Use this shift out of official ‘Summer Time’ to change
your sleeping patterns more broadly – perhaps move your usual bedtime earlier
by an hour.

#3 If the second suggestion seems a bit much, how about
getting aboard ‘the Ten O’clock Angel Train’ for a few nights instead?  Yes, you did read that correctly.  I did just use the phrase ‘the Ten O’clock
Angel Train’.  Those of you who have
worked with me before or did my 24 Days Before advent journey last December already
know that I’m a bit obsessed with this amusingly named concept.  Some years ago, as I began my A Life Of One’s Own journey, I
worked my way through pretty much every self-help book in my local
library.  On its shelves was a copy of Happy For No Reason by Marci Shimoff. I don’t remember much else about this book
except for the concept of the Angel Train.
To feel happier for no reason, Shimoff recommends that you go to bed for
ten o’clock for three nights in a row.
She promises that by the fourth day, you will feel better.  She also gives reasons for this based ancient
Indian wisdom, including the proverb that an hour’s sleep before midnight is
worth two after.  Shimoff claims that she
and her husband are huge fans of this idea, and labeled the practice as
catching the ten o’clock angel train.  

The phraseology has given me many chuckles in the time since
I first read it, but wording aside, I can vouch that it really works.  Whether this is because of circadian rhythms,
I don’t know.  What I do know is that I
always feel better for it – thus this suggestion to you.  

Try it.  See if you
can get to bed for 10pm three evenings this week – or at least an hour or two
earlier than your usual bedtime.  Even
better, try it for three nights in a row.

Remember that it isn’t just me that is suggesting you should
do this.  Right now, the whole universe
is conspiring to tell you, me, us all, that we need more rest.

Don’t forget to share your reflections on this week’s theme,
including letting us know how you got on if you tried any of the suggestions,
either via the A Life
Of One’s Own Facebook page
or using the hashtag #fourthquarter2015 on
Instagram and/or Twitter.