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.  

Advertisements

Just Empty the Bins

This post is part of
my ‘This is my real life’ week.  

To read how that began, you can click here for the opening post.

To read other posts in this series, simply scroll down past this one.

We all know that what we do on a Sunday can hugely influence
the week that follows.  Dedicate some
time to preparing for Monday and we often reap the rewards all week, everything
from time and money saved to stress avoided.
Have a Sunday where that kind of preparative work isn’t possible and we
can feel the ripples for days, whether it’s because we have to buy our lunches
out or because by Wednesday we find ourselves rummaging in the laundry basket
for a pair of socks that we can reasonably wear again.  

Trouble is, those Sundays when we don’t have time to calmly
do weekday prep are often the best ones!
Part of the joy of weekends is being able to step away from to do lists
and schedules – having the freedom to be out for the day on a whim, anything
from a last-minute trip to lunch with friends that runs on into the
evening.  No-one wants to be the person
who leaves early or forgoes an invitation because they have to do their ironing
on a Sunday night.  

Even if we don’t go out or have anything in particular
planned for our Sunday, that doesn’t mean we want to dedicate all the time to
gearing up for the week ahead.
Relaxation and downtime is hugely important.  I truly believe Albert Schweitzer’s statement
that ‘If
your soul has no Sunday, it becomes an orphan
’ – although I also believe
that this kind of Sunday nourishment for the soul can take many forms, whether
it’s going to church or playing with your kids or curling up with a cup of tea
in bed in the morning.  Sundays often
give us the chance to take time in a way that feels impossible on the other six
days of the week.  We don’t want to
sacrifice that at the altar of ‘getting organised’, which is probably why even
when we have the opportunity on a quiet Sunday evening to prepare for the week
ahead we don’t do so.  

So we face a dilemma: we want the benefits of time spent
preparing for the week without feeling like we’re surrendering a precious day
of the weekend in order to do so.  How do
we get around this?  I think I have found
an answer…

I have read enough women’s magazine and self-help advice
over the years, and seen innumerable Instagram and blog posts on this topic, to
be able to create a ‘Fifty Ways to Prepare for Your Week’ article off the top
of my head.  Actually, I could probably
list one hundred actions you could take.
All would no doubt be useful in some way, but the list would make you
either want to punch me or simply refuse to do anything next Sunday except lie
on the sofa watching repeats of Storage
Hunters.  

My solution?  Just
empty the bin(s) in your kitchen.

Emptying the kitchen bins is a small, discrete task that
doesn’t take long but somehow gives you a sense of huge satisfaction.  Let’s face it, there’s nothing more depressing
on a Monday morning than going to chuck something away only to discover that
you can’t cram anything else in there – and it smells – and suddenly you’ve got
bin juice on your clothes – and that’s it, the most hellish start to the week
imaginable.  

So if you do nothing else, just empty your kitchen
bins.  

Feel calm, in control and like some kind of domestic goddess
for the absolute minimum effort possible.
Then if you feel energised into doing some other preparative bits too,
then go ahead.  You know what would work
well.  You know the kinds of actions that
make your week run more smoothly, whether it’s time to write in your journal or
complete your planner, making a batch of dinners to freezer for the evenings
ahead, or ensuring that the kids have done their homework before 6pm so there’s
time to chill before bed.  I like to make
sure there’s no ironing lingering.

But if not, then at least you’ve got nice empty bins to
start the week.  And tell me that doesn’t
feel a little bit good?

What about you?  Do
you have a routine for preparing for the week ahead – or do you just take it as
it comes?  If the latter, is that a
conscious choice or would you prefer to take a different approach?  If you’d like to share with me then there’s Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest or
the A Life Of One’s Own Facebook page – or you can email (rae@alifeofonesown.co.uk).

This post is part of
my ‘This is my real life’ week.  

To read how that began, you can click here for the opening post.

To read other posts in this series, simply scroll down past this one.

Why You Should Always Carry Stamps

This post is part of my
‘This is my real life’ week.  

To read how that began, you can click here for the opening post.

To read the first post in the series, you can click
here
.

Today I will be taking a walk up to the Post Office to
purchase postage for a large letter.  I
don’t quite know what size qualifies as ‘large’ for Royal Mail in the UK as
this is a fairly new category, but I think it’s some combination of size and
weight.  Anyhow, I know that my A4
envelope requires a different kind of stamp than is usual.  I don’t really mind making a special trip but
it is a bit irksome when I have four perfectly good regular stamps in my wallet
already.

I always carry stamps.
As with yesterday’s favourite
mug habit
, I’m not exactly sure when this began.  It goes back at least to 2008.  It was around that time a friend lent me a
book (I think it was Sam Gosling’s Snoop: What Your Stuff Says about You)
where the author asserts that the world is divided into two kinds of people:
those who always carry stamps and those who don’t understand why anyone
would.  I definitely identified with the
former.  

My teeny tiny A Life
Of One’s Own
tip for today is therefore the suggestion that you get
yourself a book of stamps and carry them in your wallet.  As there’s no expiry date with postage, it
doesn’t matter how long it takes for you to use them, but when you’re
eventually down to one, buy another book before you run out.  Then repeat.

Why?  

Firstly to help yourself.
Now that electronic communication has reduced levels of mail, we may not
use stamps as much as we used to, but often when we do need them it is for
something urgent or important: the birthday card that needs to be in today’s
collection, the bank form that has to be with them by tomorrow.  Now think about the nearest pillar box in
relation to your home or workplace.
Wouldn’t it be easier if, rather than having to go to a shop that sells stamps
first, you could lay your hands easily on what you need and pop the item
straight into the post?

If that alone doesn’t convince you (and why wouldn’t it?!),
a second reason to always carry stamps is in order to connect with others.  There are two aspects to this.  It is in part about communication via
mail.  Maybe you’re out somewhere and see
a funny postcard that instantly makes you think of a particular friend or
family member; if you have a stamp on you then sending it to them seems much more
straightforward than if you have to factor in getting postage too.  Likewise when you hear some big news or an
announcement.  Whether it’s passing an
important exam, an engagement, a birth or a death (or remembering a birthday at
the last minute!), having one less step in the process makes buying/sending less
hassle.  Carrying stamps opens up more
opportunities for you to connect with those you care about, recognising and
celebrating the important moments in their life.

The other aspect of connecting with others is the giving of
stamps.  We’ve all said to people around
us ‘I need to get a stamp’, and we’ve probably all asked or been asked if we
have a stamp.  It’s up there with the ‘Do
you have a light?’ appeal between smokers.
In a way, the two function similarly, albeit stamps posing less risk to
your health.  If the request can be
fulfilled, a moment of connection is forged.  The person receiving is grateful because
without that, their object (the cigarette or the piece of mail) is
useless.  It cannot function without the
other element, be it the light or the stamp.
In the case of the latter, you’ve also saved them time and possibly hassle.  

As the giver of the stamp, you’ve just helped someone out
for very little cost (in fact no direct outlay, as you’d bought them anyway)
and no inconvenience at all – they were already in your wallet.  You’ve done them a favour, made their day a
little easier.  That’s a good
feeling.  It may only be fleeting but
aren’t most experiences in this life?  

Grab opportunities to connect as much as you can.  Buy stamps.

What about you?  Do
you carry stamps?  If you don’t then has
this post encouraged you to buy some?
Who knows what opportunities it will facilitate!  If you’d like to share with me then there’s Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest or
the A Life Of One’s Own Facebook page – or you can email (rae@alifeofonesown.co.uk).

This post is part of my
‘This is my real life’ week.  

To read how that began, you can click here for the opening post.

To read the first post in the series, you can click
here
.

My Favourite Mug

This post is part of
my ‘This is my real life’ week – to read how that began, you can click
here
for the opening post.

I’m not sure when the ‘favourite mug’ thing started but it
was certainly a thing by the time I worked in an office aged twenty-one.  In that instance, I became particularly
attached to a red McVities mug designed to look like a packet of their
digestive biscuits.  I didn’t realise how
attached a colleague proudly placed it on my desk after it was her turn to make
the tea one afternoon: ‘I like that mug’, I said; ‘I’d noticed’, she
replied.  

Some years later, a counsellor asked me to tell her
something about myself and the first thing that came to mind was that I like to
have a favourite mug.  I elaborated
somewhat and she said it was one of the most lovely things anyone had ever
shared with her.  This perhaps overplays
it somewhat as there’s nothing elaborate or particularly special about it.  What it is: wherever you regularly have hot drinks
(home, work, round a friend’s), select which of the available mugs that you
like the best.  Whenever you are there,
try to use that mug or request your drink in it.  Not even any need to go out and buy a new one.  You could if you wanted but it’s by no means
necessary (I haven’t purchased a mug myself since the mid-1990s; it was from The
Body Shop, purple with a yellow elephant and the slogan ‘Now you see us – soon you
won’t’).  

What’s the point of this?
There’s no great mystery or power to it.
All you are doing is drinking from a mug that you have decided is your
favourite amongst those available.  Yet
strangely that becomes almost talismanic: there you are with your favourite mug
again…and again…and again.  Like slim
golden thread weaving its way through your life, there’s a sense of continuity
but also of valuing your own preferences and idiosyncratic choices.  For many of us, particularly women, asserting
our desires can be difficult in a world where we don’t always trust that we
have the right to choose.  This can be
visible at the most profound level (abortion) to the most mundane (to have
dessert or not?).  Favouring a particular
mug is like practising using a muscle, testing it out so it gets stronger –
strong enough to face tougher choices too.

Even if not, you have an inanimate but intimate friend to
accompany your days.  Back when I worked
in that office, the cherry red McVities mug sat beside me on the boring days
and good days too; the day we read from the book box and the one where we had
an over-catered (and overwatered!) Christmas party; on the day we were made redundant
and many forgettable days in between.   I remember it as fondly as I remember the
colleague who placed in on my desk that maybe-Wednesday afternoon.  And that is why, my friends, having a
favourite mug is a small but beautiful thing to have in your life.    

What about you?  Do
you have a favourite mug?  If you haven’t
then has this encouraged you to adopt one?
It could be the start of a whole new relationship!  If you’d like to share with me then there’s Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest or
the A Life Of One’s Own Facebook page – or you can email (rae@alifeofonesown.co.uk).

To read how the ‘This
is my real life’ week began, click
here
.

This is my real life: a week of sharing

This morning I found myself hosting an unexpected party in my
own head.  I was a reluctant host, as the
guests that showed up (or perhaps I should say gatecrashed) inside my mind were
pretty much every doubt and demon I’ve ever had.  I rolled from side to side in the vague hope
of returning to sleep but the cacophony was too loud.  The work-related gremlins were particularly
raucous.  They launched a two-pronged
attack, trying to undermine me on both a micro level and a macro one.  This ranged from ‘If you can’t think of a
title for the blog post you’ve drafted then that is a sure sign it’s total
rubbish and should never be read by anyone ever’ to questioning even the
possibility that I can forge a career path that allows me to combine being a
historian and a life coach (the fact I’ve been doing so for the last eighteen
months did nothing to quell this fear, because of course rationality has no
role when you’re in this kind of mindset).

These cunning tricksters then launched a new offensive, one
that played on some of the uncertainties I carry round even when I’m in the
best headspace.  ‘Is anyone even bothered
about what you have to say?’ loomed large, closely followed by taunts of ‘Who
do you think you are?’ and ‘Why do you think anyone would trust you enough to
pay you to help them?’ (again, the fact that people *have* paid for my coaching
services was conveniently left out of this reasoning).  This was quickly followed by a resume of all
my solopreneur weak points.  Technology
topped the list (*still* cannot figure out how to get comments enabled, thus
failing Blogging 101).  Next came marketing;
‘You’re too embarrassed and awkward and British to ever promote yourself
effectively’, the mocking voices rang in my ears (You know it’s bad when your
nationality – a chance of birth – is used against you by yourself).  My commitment
to getting support with these areas (Susannah Conway’s The Inside Story and
Sas Petherick’s support for
coaches
have both been, and continue to be, super useful) again summarily
dismissed out-of-hand.

In the face of this self-created onslaught, I decided to be
gentle with myself.  I write that
sentence as if it were the most obvious statement in the world, whereas it
actually represents a complete 180 degree turnaround from my typical
approach.  Previously I’d have actively
joined in with the berating and allowed the day to descend into a quagmire of
self-recrimination and wallowing inaction.
However I’ve come far enough in my own journey (wow, I got to 433 words
before I used that cliché!) to know that there were other options available to
me.  So I chose gentleness.  

The photographed list shows the form that took.  My soul already soothed as I got into that
hot shower, an idea came to me.  ‘I need
to share this truth of myself.  I need to
share my feelings about this morning’, I thought, ‘because this is me and my
life.  This is my real life’.  

As I stepped out of the bathroom excited about the emerging
vision that was stirring within me, I was greeted by the glorious stream of
light coming through the door (pictured at the top).  I took this as a sign, confirming that the ‘This is my real life’ whispering was one
to listen to.  I knew I had to capture
this moment to share as part of this idea – complete with the debris of last
night’s Chinese takeaway hanging on the door handle, because that is my real
life too.

So what is ‘This is
my real life’?

Every day for the next week, I will share a short blog post about
an idea or action that I’ve found useful since rebuilding my life after my
breakdown in late 2007.  Like Brené Brown, I had a breakdown
spiritual awakening.  Since then, I’ve been incredibly
self-conscious about life and how we live it, trying to observe and document
and refine in order to create a way of being that felt truly right for me.  Indeed, that is how the whole A Life Of One’s Own concept came about.

Some of what I’m posting you may have seen before if you’re
a regular reader.  Other tips will be
new.  All will be small steps that are
easy to incorporate into the life you already have.  Alongside these daily posts, I’ll be sharing
other aspects of my real life on social media.
These will be unedited glimpses into how I live.  They’ll be things that either feed into the
useful and soul nurturing stuff or, conversely, things that strike me as amusing
because they don’t fit into the image that I (and I’m sure others) have in my
head of how a life coach’s life is.  The
imperfect, the undone, the unfinished – they’ll all feature.

The purpose of ‘This is my real life’ is to give an insight
into my A Life Of One’s Own philosophy
and how I practice that in real life – and I truly mean real life.  There will be mundane
stuff involved, although I prefer to use the term quotidian (from the French
for daily) as it is in our everyday existence that our life happens.  Making changes on that level can be hugely
powerful because that is where we live in our real lives.

‘This is my real life’ is also about authenticity on my
part.  I’m not some polished shiny guru
type figure.  I’m a slightly plump
thirty-something living in the suburbs of a somewhat boring town in the English
Midlands.  I’m trying to juggle my
existing career and this fledgling life coach practice.  I know I’m a bit prone to publicising the odd
moments of vague glamour that I’m fortunate to have come my way whilst tucking
away the more humdrum elements of life in a box marked ‘Do not share because
you are your brand and you have to behave like you are A Brand’.  So this week turns that on its head.  Here I am in my real life.  All of it.

I fear that as a result of this you’ll think I’m rubbish, or
worst still, ordinary (as a coach but
also as a person too).  I also fear that
no-one will actually read any of this (and because I’ve still not figured out
enabling blog comments can only rely on social media or email feedback to learn
otherwise. I do have analytics, but that seems to indicate that every reader is
a spambot hence I refuse to believe it.  That can’t be true, can it?!).  

Actually, my biggest fear is that no-one will read this followed
then by the worry that you’ll think I’m
rubbish and/or ordinary.  However I hope
the opposite is true.  I hope the spirit
in which ‘This is my real life’ is shared resonates with you, and that you find
it inspiring and useful (perhaps amusing too).
I also hope that it nurtures a bond between us – that you’ll feel you
know me more, that you’ll trust who I am and what I am trying to do with my
work.  Then, if and when the time comes
that you need support and encouragement, maybe we can coach together – because I’m
sharing my real life and I’d love to share in yours too.

Look out for the first ‘This is my real life’ post later
today, and for social media sharing too.
If you’d like to share with me then (seeing as the comments don’t work!)
there’s Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest or
the A Life Of One’s Own Facebook page – or you can email (rae@alifeofonesown.co.uk).