Team Caroline

My mum recently spent two weeks with us, and they were weeks full of good times, as there was a Jubilee weekend with extended family here, and then we celebrated her birthday. I love my mum dearly but when she went home again, my immediate reaction was to collapse on the sofa as I felt I could relax again.  People who know me might say I never stop – but mum has a gold medal in busyness. She just never stops. I’ve only ever known her to watch two TV programmes consistently, and that’s Coronation Street & Wimbledon – and even as she watches, she knits – and the weeks leading up to Wimbledon were always the busiest two weeks of the year (to allow her to sit down for two weeks and enjoy the tennis).  I struggled with this for a long time, but now I have compassion for the child she was that learned to be busy or face the wrath of a violent alcoholic father, and for the fact that the pattern was so ingrained that it has remained a constant in her life.  As children do though, I simply copied the pattern, and even when I want to slow my life down, I consistently struggle to do so. 

At the start of a year, I give the year ahead a theme – and last year was to be my Year Of Slowing Down. Except it wasn’t – I jumped into (and was catapulted into) my busiest year later – and ended up with no time to breathe, think, or realise I was going down routes I would not necessarily have chosen for myself.  So at the start of this year, my theme was partly about finding balance, slowing down and nurturing myself.  Half way through the year, I’ve spent the last few weeks reviewing my progress and realised there’s been an “epic fail.”

Except there is no failure – there is only feedback! So I’ve thought about what it is I need to do, how I am setting myself up for failure at times, how I try to do so much and why it might be that I’m always reading, researching, learning, doing.  To be fair, I think there is greater balance in my life now than last year, and I start a new working pattern tomorrow, dropping half a day a week and still able to get a full day off each week that means.. that means what? The opportunity to exercise, write, catch up with people, housework, emails and messages etc? Well that’s what it has meant so far – and as a result,my life stays busy as I seek to constantly connect and encourage other, but forget to do anything to get me towards my own goals.

I’m blessed to have a supportive loving family.  And I’m blessed to have some very special friends who continually support me – there are some wild women in there, let me tell you, each uniquely making my life better.  Who better then than to enlist to help keep me accountable as I declare my intention to change in 101 days.

I want to do this for a number of reasons, but perhaps the main one is that I was diagnosed with fatty liver and don’t want that to get any further than it already has.  It comes with fatigue which is a bit of two edged sword then, as it makes it harder to lose weight – and harder to exercise as the Catch 22 is that you are tired.  Combine that with arthritis and a problem with my blood pressure that means it swings wildly but at it’s lowest goes to about 80/40 or 75/35 which just wipes me out. As I get older, it wipes me out more – and I could use this an excuse not to exercise at all.  Instead, I’m just going to have to pick things I can do and find ways to work around this – as 101 days isn’t that long.  Or so you’d think, but for me, 7 days doing this is a long time, and long enough for me to give up!  

It’s 101 days because I picked a date to achieve certain weight loss, fitness and balance goals, nurturing myself all the way (just writing this scares me), but when I counted the days up, it came to 101 days! 101 is the number of completion apparently, so I thought that was unconsciously brilliant. And hopefully auspicious – but just to be sure, I contacted Team Caroline and asked them to encourage me to do this, hold me accountable in being honest enroute, failures and all.  I emailed them and wrote this:

 As you know, this is “my year of finding balance & nurturing myself”. That’s the theme anyway!

You are all dear friends who encourage & nurture me & I am so very grateful for you and for time spent with you. It refreshes my spirit however I interact with you I am always better for the time spent with my encouragers.

I’m going to be radical – for me – and go public – because in writing, I find I stay on track better – with Project Me – 101 Days, via my blog. And that’s scary as I’m already fearful of failing, or of being judged, or indeed of being less than perfect. And another 101 reasons for NOT doing it!

You all already know that about me anyway, just as you know I’m really not very good at nurturing myself, although I’m better than I was. I’m not very good at finding balance either. But I need to, because I’m at that stage in my life where something needs to change; and that something is me. I’m struggling with this fatty liver thing & these blood pressure swings leaving me very tired too often. And still, I want to keep growing, learning, doing, so I can change the world. So to STOP and just BE is a massive thing for me as you know. I just want to take 101 days out to change me. To focus on me. To see what needs stripped away and to learn what I need to learn to effect long term change.

So I ask for your support – Team Caroline – knowing I will get it, as much to make sure I am authentic & totally honest with myself as I blog my progress on losing weight, loving myself and nurturing myself and getting fit and healthy again.

Much love, Caroline

So tomorrow? Here goes – a journey into the unknown for me, as I put myself first.  For 101 days, at least….

 

Wish me luck!

To Be A Pilgrim

My mum sent me a picture this week out of her local paper. It was of me, sitting cross-legged in my Girls Brigade Uniform. Before I moved to the village of Saintfield (so called because St Patrick was supposed to have slept there on his way to Saul, Streull & Downpatrick), I had been in the Brownies. But I joined the GB when I was six & left when I was 14, and loved my time there, through all the parades, displays, competitions and services.

Each year we would have a special service, marching to the church along with the Boys Brigade. And we would often song the old song “To Be A Pilgrim.”

I read John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress many years ago but I believe that key theme of carrying burdens that we don’t need to carry still has great truth. Anything that we choose to still carry from our past is too heavy, as is anything we do that is done out of duty with a heavy heart or resentment, or anything we do because of a belief that no longer fits us.

If you are on a spiritual journey, you will carry them until your eyes are opened to a different way of living or doing things. Then you are forever changed. These moments of change are sometimes unnoticed, arriving without fanfares – or sometimes, they can make you instantly laugh out loud!

Our willingness to grow, learn, change and continue towards peace, happiness and joy are what the journey is all about. THIS is what makes us all pilgrims of some sort – even when at times, we might not know where we are headed.

Poet Mark Nepo writes this:

“To journey without being changed
is to be a nomad.
To change without journeying
is to be a chameleon.
To journey and be transformed
by the journey
is to be a pilgrim. ………

I, as you, consider myself to be a pilgrim of the deepest kind, journeying beyond any one creed or tradition, into the compelling, recurring space in which we know the moment and are changed by it. Mysteriously, as elusive as it is, this moment – where the eye is what it sees, where the heart is what it feels – this moment shows us that what is real is sacred.”

What would you miss tomorrow if it was taken away today?

Learn to enjoy every minute of your life. Be happy now. Don’t wait for something outside of yourself to make you happy in the future. Think how really precious is the time you have to spend, whether it’s at work or with your family. Earl Nightingale

Ever found that you’ve got from one end of a month to the other and not really remembered what happened in between 1 and 31? We live our lives all too often in either a blur or a daze, but have you ever stopped to think that the life that you know now – the one you are living right now – could change instantly? 

Whether it’s really bad, or really good, things will change, either because of tragedy, because we live a life of cycles and ebb and flow, or because changes over time add up and then you get to a point where it’s too late to change things back, if at all.  (That’s often where relationships break down, because you can’t begin to untangle the steps that got you to where you no longer love this person in front of you, or even sometimes, like them). 

Nothing is permanent.   Our normal lives can change through our choice or factors completely beyond our control, yet we live them as if all will be the same tomorrow and the next day, and the next.  We stop living in the moment and stop paying attention to what brings us joy, not realising whatever we are doing right now could be the last time we ever do that thing. The “little happiness” and the “present moment” are things I’m learning about, and lately I’ve been thinking about all those other things we take for granted that bring us happiness or contentment that might not just be part of our lives the next day.  The things I take for granted.  Especially the things I take for granted.

Whatever you’re doing today, whatever brings you joy and happiness – enjoy!  Stop long enough  to enjoy it by being fully present – not while sitting on a computer, not while ironing or cleaning or cooking or working.   This isn’t about being maudlin; it’s about appreciating what we have while we still have it.  It could, after all, be the last time you ever:

  • Speak to your mum on the phone
  • Enjoy the smell of freshly baked bread, coffee, roses, perfume, babies, roast dinners, curries, wine, chocolate, great baking or crisps   
  • Read, to see the faces of those you love, a wedding dress, the colours of nature, the sky or the moon, snowdrops and bluebells
  • Hear the wind or the rain beating on your house while you’re tucked up in bed, the sea, music – or a loved one’s voice
  • Taste pavlova, ice cream sundaes, crème brulee, pate, fish and chips, pizza or chocolate cake
  • Drink cola, orange juice, wine, beer, champagne or any alcohol – so those long girlie cocktail afternoons will never be quite the same again
  • Have dinner with your closest friends before they tell you they are about to emigrate to the other side of the world.
  • Take your beloved pet for a walk
  • Feel your child slipping their hand into yours or you get a hug freely given without them looking to see if their friends see them doing it

My daughter is just about to make the very difficult decision to pull out of university until they figure out what is wrong with her health.  Knowing she would be unable to graduate, she realised she was sitting in what was possibly her last ever lecture.  It made her stop, slow down and notice all she hadn’t noticed before, to store it away in her memory bank.   Most of us never get this chance.  More often than not, we don’t know we are doing something for the last time.   We either miss its absence at some point in the future, or the change comes with no warnings, no fanfares, and life as you know it is no longer the same.  You will hopefully get comfortable with a new normality or learn to live in a new way – but perhaps it’s time to see the little happiness, live in the present moment. It’s time to pay attention. Now.  

What would you miss tomorrow if it was taken away today?

2012, A Course in Miracles and Healing My Life

11 years ago, I made some choices that led to significant personal changes for me and many others. Although I couldn’t see it at the time, while the choices I made would not be the ones I made now (and I won’t beat myself up because I have the benefit of hindsight), I know that those choices were actually about me starting to own my own power, to stand up for my life, to speak up and speak out. I did this at a time when I’d say I was entirely emotionally and spiritually bankrupt. As someone who then became very independent, I understood what “self help” really was – and knew I needed it, and since that time, I’ve grown immensely as a human being. I’ve lost or significantly reduced the hardness, the judgemental black or white side of me, and the narrow mindedness that once defined me. I’ve learned some hard lessons along the way, and I’ve equally known love and kindness and grace.

At this time of the year, I normally spend time looking through my journals to find clues for my theme for next year. I don’t “do” New Year’s Resolutions for a number of reasons, mainly because I find they don’t work for me, and since 2005, I’ve had a general theme for the year. That’s really important for me as I am highly curious and get bored very easily, which is a less than totally helpful combination when it comes to focus. I find the theme helps me filter out things. Does what is presented fit with the theme? Then go for it! Otherwise, I can decide whether or not it takes my energy up or not.

So 2011 was to the year of balance and outrageous joy. I’ve already written about why I’m so thankful I chose that theme, as the year unfolded in most unexpected ways and proved to be the busiest and most challenging of my life. Without it, I’d have collapsed, exhausted. Although I know I didn’t reach this year of balance and outrageous joy, I know I kept heading in the right direction at least. I don’t need to review my journals as I did that in September on our two week retreat at our various havens, and I know that there are themes that are already appearing. Did you note that? Themes, plural…and that’s got me frustrated, because if I don’t focus on one thing, I’m not likely to hit it… but there are so many things to focus on, how do I choose. So out came my journal.

I know that above all, this theme must be MY theme. I know already that:

– it is a year I will learn to love, inspire, nurture and encourage myself
– that self care and health will be a vital priority (and on this one, I’ve bought a cheap calendar and I’m going to cross off with a big red cross every day I do 30-45 minutes exercise and eat in a way that nurtures me (with the idea that I don’t break the chain of crosses; this is the “one significant change” that will make the most difference in my life as Steven Covey suggests). I’ve also found a local yoga class (the only other time I did yoga I ended up hurting myself as I pushed myself too far) and I’m intending to limit my time on Facebook and Twitter significantly – and even more importantly, I’m going to limit the amount of new books I buy and read, and the amount of internet reading I do too….
– that it could be a year of adventures in grace and gratitude, but then I’ve already had those years (2007/2006)
– that Louise Hay’s and Heal Your Life will feature large in it
– that A Course in Miracles will feature large in it, and that as I heal others, I heal myself, and it’s time for me to accept Perfect Love..
– if I am to be authentic, then I need to update my status and my journey so if I say I’m going to the gym and then don’t go (because the car park was full, yes Geoff), I put that in too, to give the fully honest account…

I know all this because of various events and “synchronicities” that have happened since September; what’s been bugging me is the overarching theme. And today I realised why – it’s because I’m wanting it to be perfect. (Yes, Brene Brown, I’m still working on the Gifts of Imperfection and may just read your book again!) It’s that duality of wanting to grow emotionally, spiritually as a human being at the same time as knowing that I need to slow my life down and just be. Which at this point I would say is an impossible task, even though I’m very tired and continually fighting bugs of some sort. And I can be pretty confident it IS, given that every year I’ve told everyone “next year, I’m going to slow down,” or “next year, I’m going to live a quieter life.” Now, my friends just shake their heads and say, “no, Caroline, you’re not going to do that, don’t be silly!”

Then – in the way of synchroniticies- I “chance” upon a video by the Spirit Junkie who talks about the Course in Miracles and speaking your truth, and learning to be a miracle worker. And laughingly, I think, ” I could make this the year of Lessons in Miracle Working,” as this concept of how we are all here to know miracles and work miracles is something I’ve just started learning about. Then my ego steps in; this is too grand a theme, too “out there.” But I’m learning to move my ego out of the way and ask the question, “what if.” What IF this was to be my theme? And having moved ego out of the way, the inner critic steps up to the mark, and reminds me that actually, my health, and learning to love and nurture myself is actually more important than this, and really, it’s more important that I just slow myself down and BE. And then my head kicks in and I see how it may be important to slow myself down, but given the various projects I’m involved in, my long commute and busy days in my job, the meetings I attend, the time I spend on social media and emails, connecting with people and catching up with people. All of which is important to me, and none of which I can see any good reason for eliminating, so I can see no way in which I CAN slow down, even with my “48 hour days” and “time tardis” that I know enables me to do so much more than many people (which is not in any way a compliment to me but is instead evidence of me wanting to do it all, push myself to the limit, keep busy, keep moving towards perfection). I laugh and think “flip sake, it would take a miracle to get you to slow down, woman, AND it will take a miracle to keep you focussed on any health and fitness goals.”

And then I really laugh. If it would take a miracle, when why on earth would I NOT call this a year of Lessons in Miracle Working? There will be no greater miracle than this. In the process, I expect that I will learn to love and nurture myself and I will make my health and fitness a priority: these too will be miracles.

I’ve already enlisted one friend who will keep me accountable, and remind me when I’m getting off track. We’ve arranged to meet once a month to review honestly how we are doing. I have three other friends who will do the same once I ask them, my guardian angel-friends. I’m going to need their input; and I’m going to need a lot of miracles. And then I pick up my new “I can do it 2012 calendar” to get it ready for Sunday… and read the introduction, which says…

Last year had many restrictions, and it took hard work and diligence to build the foundations you desired. This year you will find much more freedom. Welcoming change will allow your boundaries to expand. Let the old ideas go, and do something different or unusual. Always remember that Life loves you and will support you in all your endeavours.” Louise Hay

Time to let the old ideas go.

Always keep developing yourself

CPD

As an HR professional now specialising in employment law, I need to have a record of my CPD/my continuous personal development.  I also have a personal philosophy of CPD and for that reason I happily read self-help books.  If I can’t help myself, I’m in a poor state, after all. And since I know I’m not perfect, and need all the help I can get at times, such books offer me many great ideas I can implement myself or I can pass on to others. 

CPD & Change

Continuous personal development means change, and since change is a constant in our lives, we may as well learn how to get comfortable with it.  Sometimes that will be about reacting to external changes we have no control over.  Other times, we will (or can) choose to change with an aim to improve and grow.  As a recovering perfectionist, of course that isn’t enough, as “improving” implies something isn’t perfect already – but it’s this that make my journey interesting, because to risk change and growth is to risk failure.  Gulp!

Getting Comfortable With Change

Yet over time, I’m getting more comfortable with change and taking risks because I now know there is no failure, only feedback,(thanks Jane Talbot), I now know that there are gifts of imperfection (thanks Brene Brown) – and I’m gathering evidence that I survive – and thrive. 

Thriving or Surviving

I read this story today and thought how glad I am that I keep taking the risks because that way, I know I’m living while I’m alive.   I know people like the guy in the story; people who hate their current jobs but won’t move because in 10, 20, or in one case 25 years time, they will get a good pension/pay off.  People who stay in neighbourhoods, houses, relationships and friendships they have long since outgrown but won’t leave because their very familiarity brings comfort where change would at least initially feel quite different. 

A Marking of Time

For some, life then becomes an existence, a marking of time – and a terrible waste of a life.  We only get one life, and our life is what we make it.  It’s too short to stay unhappy.  So take risks.  Accept you may fail.  Know that there is no failure, only feedback. Learn to fly without a safety net. Live while you’re alive.

The only way that individuals change is to do something new, which by definition means you’ll do it poorly, and for the high-need-for-achievement personality the challenge is they don’t want to look bad.  They don’t want to look foolish.  They often don’t trust the organization to support them if they take a risk and try something different.

I remember as if it were yesterday a 43 year-old headmaster of a school.  Now a headmaster or principal of the school, this was a gentleman who had 1,600 customers, or students, between the ages of 14 ½ and 17 years of age, and after I had given a speech this gentleman came back, and I appreciate his candor, but what he said to me, he says, “Professor Delong,” he says, “I need to confess something to you.” 

He said, “You told me that I need to try and do something different and that I needed to go through this path of agenda-setting and getting help from someone else.  But,” he said, “I just need to confess to you, but I hate what I do.  Thank goodness I only have 12 years to retirement.” 

Twelve years.  And so in some ways this great man has given up, and you can thank yourself, if you’re listening to this, that none of you have children that are going to that school because those 1,600 kids need a file leader, need an inspiration, and this young man at 43 has given up. 

He is basically halfway through life and he has stopped growing and he has stopped developing, and I’m naïve enough to believe that individuals can change at 40 and at 50 and at 60, and it is the most exhilarating feeling in the world, and it’s frightening, and you can’t do it alone, but you can fly without a net.  I promise you, you can.  It will, I promise you, put you back on the road to what I would call, in a very basic form, put you back on the road to life Twelve years.  And so in some ways this great man has given up, and you can thank yourself, if you’re listening to this, that none of you have children that are going to that school because those 1,600 kids need a file leader, need an inspiration, and this young man at 43 has given up. 

He is basically halfway through life and he has stopped growing and he has stopped developing, and I’m naïve enough to believe that individuals can change at 40 and at 50 and at 60, and it is the most exhilarating feeling in the world, and it’s frightening, and you can’t do it alone, but you can fly without a net.  I promise you, you can.  It will, I promise you, put you back on the road to what I would call, in a very basic form, put you back on the road to life.  Thomas Delong, Harvard Businss School Professor

Mama: What was your role during the crisis?

Liberia was a land where people were trapped in unending violence. One Liberian mother said, “My children had been hungry and across for their entire lives.”

In “Small Acts of Resistence,” Steve Crawshaw & John Jackson recount how 2003 changed that. Hundreds of women, all dressed in white, sat on the roadside on the President’s daily route. Day after day, through pouring rain and blazing sun, they returned – and the President mocked them for “embarrassing themselves.”

The snowball had started. Imams and bishops alike supported them. Religion or political affiliation weren’t the issue; freedom and respect were.

Lehman Gbowee, one of the protest leaders said, “We are tired of our children being raped. We are taking this stand because we believe tomorrow our children will ask us: Mama, what was your role during the crisis.”

At some point, all of us have the chance to say enough is enough; then we also have the chance to do nothing or do something. Knowing SOMETHING is better than nothing, it is then we know that we must take the risk of having people think we are “embarrassing ourselves.” All we can ever hope to be is one link in the change chain – but joined together, who knows where the strength of that chain will lead to.