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.

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.

The Fourth Quarter: Week One – Look for Signs

image

It was a gloriously warm September afternoon.  I almost regretted wearing my new wool jacket
as I stood guzzling a bottle of pop whilst enjoying the sun on my back.  But when I got back to my car, there it
was.  Irrefutable evidence.  A crisp golden leaf lying on the roof: a definitive
sign that summer is done.  Autumn time is
here.

The leaves turning and falling may be a sure sign that the
seasons have turned but it isn’t the only one.
In the last week I’ve noticed the early morning nip in the air and
received carrier bags full of apples passed along to prevent the garden’s glut
going to waste.  

Autumnal cues aren’t restricted to the natural world.  We can see them everywhere, in towns and
cities as much as villages and country lanes.
Again in the last week, I’ve delighted in seeing small children wearing
big uniforms and spotting the first crushed conker shells on the pavement.  

Not all the signs are welcome, of course.  Some relish the darker nights and colder days
but not everyone shares this enthusiasm for ‘seasons of mist and mellow
fruitfulness’.  Knowing that soon one
will have to get up in the dark and come home from work in the dark is a common
complaint.  For others, losing the long
languid days of summer triggers a more serious response, and they enter a
period as dark and cold as the world outside their door.

Whichever your stance, I welcome you to join in with The Fourth Quarter.  

If you love this time of year then The Fourth Quarter offers reflections to enhance your appreciation
and opportunities to celebrate what you treasure.  

If the prospect of some nice new knitwear doesn’t spark joy
in your heart, then there’s something here for you too.  I hope that within the weekly reflections you’ll
find a snippet that resonates, a spark that excites or a morsel of comfort – even
just one thing to embrace as we move towards the end of the year.

All you have to do is read and reflect.  Read these weekly commentaries then reflect
upon them as you go about your days.  Nothing
more demanding than that.  If you’d like
to share thoughts or pictures then that’s great; simply use the hashtag
#fourthquarter2015 on social media or pop a comment on A Life Of One’s Own Facebook page.

I’ll be doing likewise with additional bits and pieces
between the reflections as this is as much a journey for me as well.  The autumn months pull at my heart strings
like no others.  I feel like they offer
something integral to my A Life Of One’s
Own
vision but I’ve only a hazy sense of why.  I want to learn more, grow more and share
more as we go along.  

So let us begin this movement through the fourth and final
quarter of the year together!  

The reflection for this first week is this introduction
itself.  

The calendar on the wall (or just as likely on our phones)
tells us that it is September, with October almost in view.  Yet how do we know that it is autumn?  

The leaf on the roof of my car signalled the change of
seasons to me, but there are many other indications too.  Let’s spend the week gathering the
signs.  Let’s look around us, in our
homes and outside of them; in the built environment and the natural
environment; in the familiar and the unfamiliar.  How do you know that autumn is here?

Perhaps keep a written record of all the signs you
spot.  Or maybe a mini photography
challenge appeals, capturing the clues in a visual record.  

I like the idea of making it into a game, a bit like ‘I Spy’
only I guess all the answers kind of begin with the same letter – A for autumn!  (You could throw in F for fall, for
variety!).  In my fantasy world where I
am the world’s most amazing junior school teacher, I would play this game with
my class of nine year olds whilst going for nature walks (I have several
different alternate universes within my head; being a junior school teacher is
one of them).

Or maybe craft a poem from the season’s signs.  Acrostics are simple and amusing: make each
line begin with a particular letter, say A-U-T-U-M-N.  

Look for the signs, those you cherish and otherwise.  Don’t feel you have to filter to create a
particular vision of the season, just let your eyes take you where they
will.  And of course use your other
senses too; what are the sounds, smells and sensations of autumn?

As you explore and observe, you may also want to look
within.  What are your signs of
autumn?  Are there any internal clues?  Does your heart and soul respond to the
turning of the year in a particular way?
We’ll be thinking more about this internal response and the metaphorical
meaning of the seasons more in forthcoming weeks.

Let us now take our first step in this journey
together.  I’ll meet you back here next
week but in the meantime hope to see you on the Facebook page or via our
#fourthquarter2015 hashtag.

The announcement: not the one I was expecting.

I’d excitedly posted on social media the other day about a new group programme announcement coming at the end of the week.  Here it is.  It isn’t the announcement – or the programme – that I was expecting to make…

I had
developed a group programme under the title The
Fourth Quarter: use the time that remains
.
I was excited about, thinking about the different ways it might help
participants.  I put out a few announcements.  I even put all the bits of paper in their own plastic folder, a definite sign that
this was real and happening.

It would
have been a good programme, I’m sure.
But…you knew there was a ‘but’ coming, didn’t you?  But it felt out of sync.  The material was strong but ran contrary to
where I am in my own life.  Right now I’m
all about nestling down, whereas the programme was about gearing up.  After an intense few months of work and
travel, I’m craving quiet nights under a blanket with a good book – a retreat,
not an expedition.  Whilst I knew I could
do a good job, I began to wonder if I’d be at my best if the programme’s
purpose was out-of-step with the ethos I’m channelling at the moment.

The
original plan also felt a little out of sync with what A Life Of One’s Own is all about.
Not contradictory or in opposition, just at a different angle by a few
degrees.  Lots of coaches could deliver
similar material.  Cerebrally I liked it
a lot, but it didn’t resonate deep down in the way 24 Days Before:
an advent journey
(my previous group programme) had.

Seeing
deeply authentic material by some of my favourite fellow-travellers on this
exploring/writing/coaching journey made me pause the preparation process.  A beautiful offering from Sas
Petherick
, a heart-warmingly honest missive from Susannah Conway, a thought-provoking blog post from Courtney Carver,
a blossoming community with Tori’s Tales
#talesofseptember Instagram challenge: these made me stop and think this this is what I want to do, want to offer, want to create – things
that touch people on a deeper level.
This is what A Life Of One’s Own is
about, this is where I want to get back to.

In the
spirit of my latest read, Brené Brown’s new book Rising Strong, I wanted to be open
and honest about this change of heart.
It makes me feel very vulnerable saying ‘I wanted to do this but now I’ve
changed my mind.’  The story I’m telling
myself (to use Brown’s phrase) is that you’ll think I’m at best a dilettante,
playing at self-help and navel-gazing, and at worst incompetent, not having a
clue what I’m doing.

I hope not,
dear readers.  I hope that you recognise
that this kind of work is always in progress, never complete, never
perfect.  I am working to create a product
– and more broadly a practice – that gives voice the deepest parts of my inner
life and in doing so speaks to yours.  My
original design and concept for the group programme was a good idea, but it did not do that.

And now the
instead…Instead I’m putting out there a much softer programme.  The Fourth Quarter
remains as a title, but this comes from a different place.  The Fourth Quarter now
is about scaling back, toning down, sinking deep.  It’s about growing in one another’s company,
hence the new subtitle: let’s
spend it together
.

With three
quarters of the calendar year now almost past, The Fourth
Quarter
is about using the time that remains in 2015 to embrace the
seasons around us.  Let’s show up for
autumn, and then for winter too.  Rather
than simply trudging through the darker nights and trying to ignore the cold, let’s
work with this time of year to make it our own – a period with meaning.  

I was out
of sync and now am getting in line simply with where I am and where the world
around is.  I invite you to join me in
doing the same.

More
information about The Fourth Quarter: let’s
spend it together
is available here.