Advice for the hard times

See I figure it’s like this. Life happens sometimes to us, or because of us. Challenges can come for no reason at all or it can be because of the other people around us or people who don’t even know we exist.

Yet what surprised me when working as a secretary in a mental health team was how differently people would react. That started me on a journey that meant I came to understand that it’s our thoughts that make the difference, and that our thoughts lead to our actions.

Which leaves us with choices. Faced with what today brings, we can worry about it, and let anxiety take away our peace, when we fail to reign our thoughts in and bring them back to the present moment. Or we can reframe the challenge as an opportunity – even if that opportunity is the growth of our soul, for we are always stronger than we think.

In the hard times, courage must often be beckoned quietly. To come on this journey with us, and counter what our brains are telling our heart it must believe. And then we choose.

We choose to look life in the face and say that though we are faced with some hard times, that doesn’t mean we have to face them with anger or frustration or pity or sorrow. We can choose to be cheerful – and in that choosing, find we are more cheerful. We can choose to be grateful for all we have in our life that is still good. We can indeed dare to be happier – and in the daring, find life is more than bearable. It is fully worth the living – hard times or no – for this moment is the life that we have to live. May “this moment” be peaceful, joyful, mindful xx

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Get a life. Look at the view.

Anna Quindlen (Pulitzer Prize author) gave this speech at a graduation ceremony. It’s wise advice for anyone…

I’m a novelist. My work is human nature. Real life is all I know. Don’t ever confuse the two, your life and your work. You will walk out of here this afternoon with only one thing that no one else has. There will be hundreds of people out there with your same degree: there will be thousands of people doing what you want to do for a living. But you will be the only person alive who has sole custody of your life. Your particular life. Your entire life. Not just your life at a desk or your life on a bus or in a car or at the computer. Not just the life of your mind, but the life of your heart. Not just your bank accounts but also your soul.

People don’t talk about the soul very much anymore. It’s so much easier to write a resume than to craft a spirit. But a resume is cold comfort on a winter’s night, or when you’re sad, or broke, or lonely, or when you’ve received your test results and they’re not so good.

Here is my resume: I am a good mother to three children. I have tried never to let my work stand in the way of being a good parent. I no longer consider myself the centre of the universe. I show up. I listen. I try to laugh. I am a good friend to my husband. I have tried to make marriage vows mean what they say. I am a good friend to my friends and them to me.

Without them, there would be nothing to say to you today, because I would be a cardboard cut out. But I call them on the phone and I meet them for lunch. I would be rotten, at best mediocre, at my job if those other things were not true.

You cannot be really first rate at your work if your work is all you are. So here’s what I wanted to tell you today: Get a life. A real life, not a manic pursuit of the next promotion, the bigger pay cheque, the larger house.

Do you think you’d care so very much about those things if you blew an aneurysm one afternoon or found a lump in your breast?

Get a life in which you notice the smell of salt water pushing itself on a breeze at the seaside, a life in which you stop and watch how a red-tailed hawk circles over the water, or the way a baby scowls with concentration when she tries to pick up a sweet with her thumb and first finger.

Get a life in which you are not alone. Find people you love, and who love you. And remember that love is not leisure, it is work. Pick up the phone. Send an email. Write a letter. Get a life in which you are generous. And realize that life is the best thing ever, and that you have no business taking it for granted.

Care so deeply about its goodness that you want to spread it around. Take money you would have spent on beer and give it to charity. Work in a soup kitchen. Be a big brother or sister. All of you want to do well. But if you do not do good too, then doing well will never be enough.

It is so easy to waste our lives, our days, our hours, and our minutes. It is so easy to take for granted the colour of our kids’ eyes, the way the melody in a symphony rises and falls and disappears and rises again. It is so easy to exist instead of to live.

I learned to live many years ago. I learned to love the journey, not the destination. I learned that it is not a dress rehearsal, and that today is the only guarantee you get. I learned to look at all the good in the world and try to give some of it back because I believed in it, completely and utterly. And I tried to do that, in part, by telling others what I had learned. By telling them this: Consider the lilies of the field. Look at the fuzz on a baby’s ear. Read in the back yard with the sun on your face.

Learn to be happy. And think of life as a terminal illness, because if you do, you will live it with joy and passion as it ought to be lived

Look at the view.

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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?

The Boxiness of Boxes

This morning, I watched a video of a cat who knew he was a cat! Check him out on You Tube; he’s called Maro. And he knows how to live life at a slow enough pace to enjoy life – and he revelled in the happiness that small things bring. For him, as he dive-bombed into various empty boxes, he was just loving the little things like the “boxiness of boxes,” as Rachel put it.

It’s a rare talent. GK Chesterton lived his life like that. He was a prolific writer and social/political commentator who was defined by those who knew him as the personification of gratitude. In fact, before he died, he said the one thing he would pass on to the world would be to understand how important gratitude was – and how strongly it was linked to minute-by-minute happiness. (Way before his time as scientists have only relatively caught up with that). It was this minute-by-minute focussing – a form of mindfulness – that meant that every minute, there was something for him to be grateful/happy for. So well did he live this that he would often forget where he was – or supposed to be, as he had lost himself in the wonder and joy that little things like an ink blot and “inkiness of ink.”

Mindfulness, little things and happiness. Now, there’s my thought for the day …..