Joy alongside sorrow

‘I saw that there was an ocean of darkness and death, but an
infinite ocean of light and love, which flowed over the ocean of darkness.’ 

George Fox in his journal, 1647

I’ve been leaning heavily on these words over the past few
weeks – over the whole of February really.
This last month has had some truly great moments, both personally (a fun
weekend away with old friends, my partner making a Bakewell tart) and
professionally (did
you see my announcement about the event on dressing with less that I’m hosting
with Courtney Carver?!).
At the same
time it has been emotionally tough going.
Relentless is the word that keeps coming up when journalling – life simply
feels relentless.  

I’m like the boy who kept getting
battered on the obstacle course
, unable to dodge what keeps coming my way.  Moreover it seems there’s no way out of this.  Sometimes it is just how life is: stuff keeps
happening and you have to deal with it, however bruised you might feel.  I suppose I could stay in bed with the duvet
over my head but in the longer term that’s not healthy, nor is it how I want to
respond.  I want to show up as best I can
in my life, which includes trying to fulfil my responsibilities (even those
that are unspoken) when times are tough.

I know I’m not alone in feeling like this.  I know there are others who likewise feel
compelled to live this way, showing up rather than opting out wherever they
can.  I also know that we struggle with
living and being this way.

This kind of showing up is not a one-off discrete task.  It’s not an achievement which we can tick off
as done.  Rather it is an ongoing
process.  It also a process in which we
have little, if any, control over the context.
We don’t choose who dies or needs caring for or what dates some events
happen on.  We just have to respond.

We can, however, support ourselves through the most trying
moments.  We can seek out comfort and
care to sustain us even when our focus by necessity turns to the needs of
others.  This is not only desirable but
essential – the classic ‘Fit your own oxygen mask first’ analogy.

I wrote about self-care a few times last year (once,
twice,
the third
time
).  Yet there’s something else at
work right now: not just needing to ensure the basics, but a desire to feel joy
alongside the sorrows – to go beyond either/or and to live in a place of
both/and.

How do we do this?  

My response to this urge for joy alongside sorrow has been
to look to the natural world.  I’ve
bought daffodils for the house and tended the cyclamen on my desk.  I’ve second glanced at the snowdrops on
roadside and paused by the crocuses at the front door.  I’ve given thanks for the lighter mornings
and the gradually lengthening days.  I’ve
stood at the window enjoying the bright sunshine streaming in and been aware of
the increase in birdsong.

Spring is coming,
grows the whisper.  New life.  Hope.

At other times of the year, and in other places around the
globe, the natural world will communicate different messages, and maybe not
always so positive.  But right now, in
this corner of the earth, the natural world offers huge comfort and fills my
heart with joy.

And it does this without me having to do anything.  Nay, I cannot do anything.  I have no control over nature, just as I have
little or no influence over other happenings in my life.  Nature encourages me to accept, to loosen my resistance,
to embrace what is.  

To embrace what is…Winter followed by spring, night after
day, sorrow alongside joy, an ocean of darkness and death but an infinite ocean
of light and love too.

May you also find joy alongside sorrow in the week ahead.  

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Week 3: Life. Death. Nature.

image

Are you still spotting the signs of autumn that we looked
out for in Week One?  It’s pretty hard to
not notice, whether it’s the pleasant stuff such as pavements strewn with
conker shells and acorns or the less pleasing aspects like the encroaching dark
nights.  Nature and the changing seasons
throw it all at us, often at the same time: things we think of as positive and
those we label as negative.  We can’t
have one without the other.  Those
gorgeous crisp starry nights also mean cold and frosty mornings.  There is the riot of glorious technicolour as
the leaves turn and then fall.  And on my
word, how good are they at the minute?
Talk about going down in a blaze of glory.  Some trees are so beautiful at the minute
that remembering to breathe – or keep my eyes on the road as I drive past – is difficult.  This spectacle is soon is followed by the
sludgy mulch of decaying foliage on the paths, treacherous and icky – and if
you live in the UK, also the cause of annual ‘leaves on the line’ train travel
disruption (really this is a thing in Britain.
I’m not kidding).  Then the trees
stand bare and brown through the dark cold months when we would welcome a blast
of colour and joy.

This is the paradox of nature.  Life and death intertwined…and inevitable.  The two ultimate opposites, coexistent and
concurrent.  Life and death are constant
themes in nature but never are they more visible to us than at this time of
year, when the trees, fields and hedgerows offer us their bounty and their
beauty for a fleeting moment before apparent dormancy takes hold.  In a few weeks, it will be hard to imagine
the lushness of autumn was ever with us.
At times it may even seem hard to believe, to trust, that life will ever
flourish again.

We can’t cling on to all that we are enjoying about the
season right now any more than we can turn the world on its axis to avoid
darker nights and colder days.  Wishing
it were otherwise can be tempting but is ultimately frustrating and certainly
futile.  But we can learn, slowly perhaps
at first, to accept the turning of the year just as we accept the rising and
setting of the sun.  They are the rhythms
of life, and those of death too.

Not clinging does not mean, however, that we can’t
celebrate.  Let us enjoy this blaze of
glory for those precious moments that it is with us.  It will be gone soon, which is all the more
reason to embrace and enjoy it now rather than simply skipping to mourn for
what will follow.  The crown of autumn
may be fleeting but perhaps that is part of the challenge, part of the allure –
it makes us present to this very moment, these very weeks.  We have to be present centred, not day
dreaming about our summer holidays or worrying about the festive season ahead –
the past and future are merely distractions that rob us of the jewels we
possess right now.  Here.  In this place.  In this moment.

Gather these jewels whilst you can.  Start a nature table, create an altar, give
over a shelf to celebrate and recognise autumn whilst she is with us.  It doesn’t have to be big; I love the little
collection gathered in a bowl, as pictured, which a child put together during a
garden working party I attended last Saturday.  Simply pick up tokens that catch your eye.  Conkers, acorns and leaves are the obvious examples, but there is really no limit.  The adventurous (and suitable knowledgeable) amongst us could forage for all edible items.  Or if you can’t get out into nature, how about bringing to you by searching your books & the online world for evocative descriptions or amazing images?  And please do share your collections, your creations, your responses, either on the A Life Of One’s Own Facebook page or using the hashtag #fourthquarter2015 on Twitter or Instagram.  I’ll be adding further thoughts and (hopefully!) inspiration through those streams across the week ahead.  I’d love you to share with us too.

Worship the amazingness that is the natural world in autumn.  Be in awe of what is happening around us
right now, because before we know it, it will be gone – as surely as day is
followed by night, and life is followed by death.

Repurposing: the joy of the toy-box

This
morning, my mum sent me a photo message showing my poorly eight year old nephew
clutching a well-worn soft toy in the shape of a panda.  Pandan, my nephew used to call him, and for
years he was never far from his side.  I
was always extremely thrilled by how much Joe loved Pandan as I had bought the
toy for him (although it is perhaps more accurate to say that I collected
tokens from the packets of a well-known brand of toilet paper and sent them off
with £1.99 for postage and packaging).

Now Joe is
almost nine, I hadn’t seen Pandan around for a while.  It was so heart-warming to discover that he
continued treasured him and still drew comfort from his frankly manky and
slightly discoloured fur.  It’s funny
which toys find a place deep in our heart and which remain simply
playthings.  

I replied
to my mum’s message saying that maybe Joe will put Pandan in a future toy-box
too, a joking reference to the toy-box that I have recently created.  Over the last few weeks, I have been boring
friends and family talking about my new toy-box (okay, so talking and making them look at it).  

The toy-box
(pictured above) is one of my latest mini-obsessions.  I love it almost as much as I love some of
its contents.  I had thought about
putting something like it together shortly after moving into my new home in
mid-April, having realised that we live in possibly the most un-child friendly
space ever (think lots of potentially dangerous items at low levels and little
to distract curious small people with).
Whilst we don’t have kids of our own, I want visiting children to be at
home here and want their parents to feel relaxed rather than nervous or
worried.  

One Sunday
afternoon, I read an Apartment Therapy post that mentioned the same toy-box
idea and that was that: I seized the moment and tore round the place gathering
up any suitable items.  Some pencils,
plastic cups, a few children’s books that happened to be in unpacked
boxes.  I had a large basket just right
for the job.  I even remembered the two
hand-knitted rabbits, one of whom featured in my first day at school
photograph, suffocating in a plastic box under the bed.

In the
weeks since, more bits have been added.
I picked up a colouring book from a coffee morning.  My boyfriend put in his childhood chess set.  I’m keeping my eye out for suitable bits
(please someone somewhere get rid of some Lego!) but most of all I’m
encouraging my mum to get up the loft and find more of my actual toys out.  I’ve already begun bringing things from my
parents’ when I visit, including the first book I ever remember, yet I know
there is more still in the attic.  

Suddenly
all these possessions that I’ve never been sure what to do with have had a new
lease of life.  This sense of repurposing
has bought me genuine joy and contentment.
Lots of the standard advice on sentimental items or such like instructs
you to have a clearout, perhaps taking a photograph as a reminder of a
once-prized object.  But is that really
what we always want?  Whilst drowning in
reminders of the past can stop us from getting on with life in the present,
surely we can find ways to forge a new path where we give space to honour our
earlier treasures and let the happiness that they bought us then infuse our
worlds now.

That is
what I feel my new toy-box does.  It is
my own way through.  It isn’t getting rid
of everything, although there will be much from my childhood that I won’t
keep.  Nor is it shoving it all in some
place out of sight (under the bed, the loft, a spare bedroom – preferably in
someone else’s house), hoping to never have to deal with it but also never
getting any pleasure from it.  Seeing
another child being entertained by toys that you also happily played with is a
beautiful sight.

Of course
it doesn’t have to be a toy-box.  This sense
of repurposing can be applied to other possessions too.  What item in your home (or left elsewhere!)
is languishing?  What stuff aren’t you
sure what to do with?  Is it something
that you can breathe new life into in some form or another?

If you like
the idea of upcycling then Pinterest is full of amazing ideas to give you
inspiration; I’ve made a board with some of my favourite ideas.  Not that you have to be artistic or crafty;
if you love reading, can you simply spare some shelf space to your favourite
childhood books?  

It may be
that you decide repurposing actually does involve giving something a new home
or to a new owner.  I used to have a
gorgeous ragdoll that an older cousin made for me when I was born; when she had
a daughter, I passed the doll on to her.

Or do you
need to rethink in a broader way?  Is
there a different way of looking at the item(s)?  It may be that a mental shift is more useful
than a physical transformation.  Old toys
were literally just old toys until I recognised that they still held their
magic for a three year old today just as much as they had for me thirty years
ago.  

Share your
repurposing below or via Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest or the A Life Of One’s Own Facebook
page
.  If you are finding it difficult to
think differently about a possession and would like some help exploring options
then get in touch too – as a coach, offering a different perspective is part of
what I do!  Again there is social media
or you can email me (rae@alifeofonesown.co.uk).  I’d love to hear your repurposing stories.