The Last of the Human Freedoms

I first shared this with some Facebook friends in May 2010 – it was a Toastmasters talk…

Buddha said, “Let us rise up and be thankful, for if we didn’t learn a lot today, at least we learnt a little; and if we didn’t learn a little, at least we didn’t get sick; and if we got sick – at least we didn’t die, so let us all be thankful.”

THAT’S what I call perspective, or looking for a silver lining!

AH, you might say.  That is all well and good  having that type of attitude – but the proof is in the pudding, and that’s fine when things are going a little bit wrong.  But it won’t work when your back is REALLY against the wall, in what the Queen called an Annus Horribilus.   Or will it?

Let me take you back to 2006, and I’ll share with you how I learned how to practice this  perspective  in an Annus Horibilus of my own – and over the next five minutes, I’m going to share with you the three main reasons why my year changed from grey and black to silver.

2006 was a year when:

I’d three car accidents resulting in lasting injury, and me finally writing my car off
It was a year of tests and hospitals and bad news and good news
We moved house in a move where anything that could go wrong DID go wrong and we ended up with two solicitors and were homeless for three weeks
A year when my grandmother died after years of existing in the twilight of dementia
When I eventually resigned from a senior post in a local council because of stress, bullying, work overload  – and was left with a serious crisis of confidence
And it was a year when my husband’s business failed, leaving us in considerable debt.
It was a year when bright turned to grey and black, and I shut myself in and switched myself off – and the flicker of light within me really struggled to shine at all.

So what changed?  After all, the events themselves didn’t change.  Some of them I could control, or could have controlled – others were outside that.

The FIRST reason is that I did an NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming) Practitioner course, and I will tell people, whether or not they want to listen, that in so many ways, this changed my life, because:

I realised there IS no failure, only feedback.  No-one ever became successful without failing at some point.  No-one is an instant success – therefore perfection isn’t necessary, failure is a normal part of life, just pick yourself up and go “next”

I am 100% responsible for where I was because of the choices I had  made – and I was 100% responsible for where I wanted to be in a year’s time.  That meant no more victim mentality and feeling sorry for myself.  The buck stops here.

No matter what I thought I was, I was ALL-WAYS more than that…

These were just three of the “NLP Pre-suppositions” that we learned, but they totally made sense to me.  And while NLP is seen by many as a branch of cognitive psychology, and a massive tool for change, the part that really sang to me was the NLP Communication Model that shows how thoughts become beliefs become actions.  What was even more important than learning to communicate (as in training or coming to Toastmasters) was how I communicated with myself, my inner thoughts, the beliefs that I could not always see that were limiting my life, and I learned what to do about this – as it was all in my control.  And because my thoughts were under my control, my feelings could also be under control.  How fantastic is that!? By understanding the power of communication and how the words I used and the thoughts I had affected me, I could change my present.  Any my future.

The SECOND reason was that I realised that if I was to become positive, and stay that way, I would need to weed my garden of friends.  I would need to slowly replace the “drains” – who drained me of time or energy or positivity, and replace them with radiators.   This wasn’t always easy (or fast), but I did it respectfully, and it made a huge difference.  Somehow (as I’ve no idea how), I ended up briefly joining what was called the Yes Group that met in Jury’s Hotel in Glasgow, and they “introduced” me to Tony Robbins and HE showed me “the Giant within”, that was controlled by my thoughts, limiting beliefs and words – and that perhaps it was time to let that great giant out from where it was hiding.  Some of my old friends remained – and I am forever grateful to them as much as to my new friends.  Albert Sweitzer said “At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person.”   And I am grateful for friends who encouraged me, had coffees, listened (and sometimes listened), or advised.  Friends who held up my head and blew on that flicker and allowed it to glow again.

The THIRD reason was my journal.  Now I’ve kept diaries all my life, and I’ve used journals off and on, but this was the first time I really used it!  I started using it as I realised my friends were probably getting a little tired of me bending my ears.  And it started as therapy, to get feelings and thoughts out of my head and on to paper so they could stop whirling round my head all the time (which is always exhausting as they seem to get stuck on some sort of loop) – and so they would lose their power.  When you get things on to paper, they either gain or lose power, depending on your intention.  I also started it to give me insight into things I could not or would not see as my emotions were involved, and having them one step away meant that I could actually “see” what the problems were.  And I did it as I’d disconnected from who I really was, and I wanted to re-connect with what my values were, and feel again.  To use it to get my head up.   Yes, when your head is down you see the pennies you can pick up so you have “luck”.  (And Charlie Brown says you HAVE to have your head down when you’re feeling depressed).  But when your head is down, you also see chewing gum stuck to the streets, rubbish, the effects of dogs running wild and too much alcohol.

And through my journal, I  finally fully realised that IF I was to change me, it was vital that I changed my focus.  And so in came another 1825 reasons! These came as I forced myself to find things to be grateful for.  And it WAS a case of forcing myself to do this, so inward looking had I become. The first time I did this, I sat on my bed for an hour and a half before I could think of one – my electric blanket.  (I love my electric blanket!)  But  I made myself find five things a day – five because I have five digits on my hand, so as I became aware of something (anything), I would use one of my fingers as a reminder.  And when I’d get home, I’d count them out on my fingers. These were things like:

roof over head
electric blankets
cups of tea made for me
boiled eggs and soldiers
electric lights
peaceful country/democracy/freedom
love and support of a great man
some great colleagues, some great ex colleagues
some amazing  hang-in-their-girl friends

Before, my eyes were on the ground and my head was in my hands – but gradually… I saw what was always there.  Thankful?  I had so much to be thankful for, to be profoundly grateful for – not only that, I was richly blessed.   Five things a day became 1825 things in a year – and this became my year of gratitude.

And I am grateful that I learnt the most important lesson of all – that my attitude is within my power to change by the choices I make in what I think, what I say and what I do.

I COULD, of course choose to believe that a positive attitude makes no difference.   There is a book out in America written by a scientist about how positive thinking fooled America.  But that’s the wrong sort of positive thinking – the slap-a-happy-smile-on-your-face-all-the-time type of thinking, the one that does not honour yourself or allow you to feel your real emotions.  The key is to not get STUCK in the emotion.  There are many other scientists who agree that positive thinking does make a difference.  Perhaps it makes THE difference.  And I think that when you have LIVED the difference, and see how this changes your own life (and inevitably others) –  then I think you have the right to stand up and say “you know what – most of the time – life ROCKS!”

This isn’t a new lesson.  After the Second World War, Frankl (who had himself survived living in a concentration camp, and lived the horrors of that, beyond most of our imaginations), wrote how he watched how a few men chose to comfort others, to give away their very last scrap of bread.  Thinking of this, he said that they offered “sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing – the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances.”

Project Me – 15/101 Billy Goats Gruff

As a child, I adored fairy stories and read all the books we had in our local library. I fell in love with the Brothers Grimm, Hans Christian Anderson and the Arabian Nights. And then I grew up, and moved to the real world, and forgot about these stories – but stories are amazing tools for change. Modern workplaces are discovering this (check out The Ugly Duckling Goes To Work!). In 2007, I took part in an amazing NLP Storytelling course run by one of my “team”, the amazing Jane Talbot of Humans Resourced – and I fell in love all over again with the stories, as I understood the layers of any story….

So this week, in my stuck week, I was asked along to Spiral Heart’s story telling event in Glasgow, I decided to go. Leslie had done the same course – and is also part of Team Caroline. The course is about using stories for change, using Milton-esque language skills and guided relaxation.

Going up to this event was a BIG THING for me to do on a Wednesday night, a day I don’t otherwise have to travel to Glasgow. I went for lunch with Emma, and she decided to join me, as I explained that Andrew and Leslie were shamans and that storytelling is a vital part of their beliefs, but that this would be a chance to experience how stories had layers, and something she might be able to use in teaching.

The story was Billy Goats Gruff; and the first stage was simply telling the story we all know. Yet even through that, and I realised some very important truths! Andthen some other lessons appeared when we came at the story from different angles. It proved to be a special time – sometimes these unexpected things are, in ways we don’t expect at all, as well as an opportunity to escape from life.

This week, I learned again how the Law of Attraction Works, and I learned it’s time to deal with my fears about debt – and wealth. I was worried about debt (even though we are nearly at the end of paying all of our debt off), and I got myself very down about this, forgetting absolutely to take responsibility for where I was now, or to be grateful for what I had. So the Universe stepped in to remind me – three times.

First of all, my current account was hacked – but thankfully the RBS systems stepped in, and I was contacted and lost no money, but my card was cancelled, and I am still waiting on getting my account back up and running. Then I lost my pin number for another account, so couldn’t get money from there either. Then I got a letter from our mortgage provider to tell me that the bank had told them there was no instruction from my bank to pay the mortgage – the bank and the mortgage provider both blamed each other. I also almost nearly forgot my password to talk to the bank in the first place.

At this stage, I didn’t know I had three events – but I made the link through the Billy Goats Gruff story, a story of threes! AndI had the grace to laugh when I realised I had to be told to listen three times.. so I’m working on changing my beliefs in these areas, starting by being willing to change..

Because the stories are heard in a relaxed state, your unconscious mind can access the learning you all-ready know and bring it forward so you can see what you couldn’t before – so for me, there were also lessons about fear (being afraid to walk over the bridge, fearing the troll), to just feel the fear and do it, because the treasure is on the OTHER side…. that once over the bridge, I didn’t need to be fearful anyway, as I was never going to go back over that way, to lighten up and have more fun, to keep moving, and that I can actually do things NOW to make a real difference to other people, I don’t have to wait until I’m wealthier, I just need to step back and think about other options. (Emma had told me earlier that day about a film on this subject, called Paying It Forward that is all about this, where each person does something for three other people that they couldn’t do for themselves – and thus effects massive change in that community).

So you can see why I still love stories! And I have a feeling that Andrew and Leslie could have found their way to make a difference to the world; they made a difference to mine.

If life is a tapestry, then mine is one woven with words.

2010 was my year of Finding My Voice – and to help me, I joined Toastmasters, an organisation aimed at helping anyone find their voice, or find confidence in speaking in public.  I found I only had difficulty speaking in public where my emotions were involved, and I wanted to learn how to speak without my voice catching, without tears… and found that sometimes, tears are what you need to express anyway, and people connect to your story.  Your Toastmasters Introductory talk is about yourself, to ease you in gradually as most people can talk about themselves easily enough.  Here’s what I said.

If life is a tapestry, then mine is one woven with words.

As a cross-stitcher, I follow a pattern so that stitch by stitch, a picture is revealed, on one side at least. The other side is a jumble of colours and textures, of darkness and light. MY tapestry is different – it’s been over 40 years in the making, and there’s been no pattern to follow, yet as I look at what is completed, I can see themes emerge nonetheless. And I can see that it isn’t perfect, but it’s still turning into something wonderful.

My tapestry has all the colours of the rainbow in it, from the pastel background words like housework, commute, sleep, dinner (for six or more), school runs and work, to the basic greens and blues of any landscape. The greens are those of farms, market gardens and the joy of growing up on the edge of an Irish country estate, to the blues of something borrowed/something blue, the azure blue of the Maldives and the ever-changing blues of sailing on Strangford Lough.

There are the misty grey colours of boredom, frustration, illness and injury – when perhaps the tapestry has been set down for a while before being picked up again.

Here and there, too, are accent colours of the white of words like hope, and change through to the black and white of fundamentalism and growing up in the Troubles, to the deep dark night blackness of words like depression, divorce, despair.

Throughout, you can see the candy-striped words of four-kids-in-five-years, books, moving to Scotland with new words like puddock and spicket, and the words that weave in and through each other, like daughter, mother, sister, wife, friend, employee, manager, coach, writer, poet, judge.

All my life, I’ve loved words. I don’t ever remember learning to read. One of my earliest memories is sitting on the little chair my dad made for me in front of the one radiator in the hall that heated the rest of the house, thrilled because I had a new book to me, and oblivious to people walking around me to get to their rooms.

By the time I was in Primary 4, I had exhausted the school library, and my teacher Mr Leckey, would cycle a 10 mile round trip to bring me books from the public library once a week.

By the time I was 14, I’d read Anne Frank’s diary and Mein Kampf, much of Agatha Christie, H G Wells and Hitchcock’s work, and I’d fallen in love with Shakespeare, Churchill, Dickens, James Joyce and the War Poets.

Which is not to say I didn’t read the books of childhood like Milly Molly Mandy and Billy Bunter; and I WAS George in the Famous Five, Nancy Drew in her mysteries, Anne of the Green Gables – and a hobbit. When the Lord of the Rings came to the cinema, I held my breath to see if it lived up to my imagination – and found unbelievably, that it did. And later, when the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe came out, I found I had tears in my eyes as Lucy found the wardrobe and found the entrance to Narnia, having so often tried to find that myself.

A few years ago, I went to the little museum in the Leadhills in Ayrshire, and I sat in the library there at the end of the tour, surrounded by books while a soundtrack played. A lead miner, in poverty and on a pittance, was explaining why he wanted to borrow one of the precious books there, knowing he would read while exhausted, by candlelight, in a hovel that dripped water. He swore to keep the books spotlessly clean, so he could educate himself and change his future, and provide his children with a different life. And when he spoke of why he wanted to read, and talked of how a book smelled and felt to him, I would again have tears in my eyes as I found a kindred spirit speaking to me down through the years.

Always, I’ve HAD to read. And when the children were very small and I was also looking after my husband’s elderly aunt, I would creep to the bathroom – the only door with a lock on it – just to read a paragraph of a book, and find my space.

And then in 2000, it all stopped. After several years when I should have left my marriage but felt paralysed by financial and cultural constraints, and when the words I used were reduced to those like whisper, silence and invisibility, I finally took the decision to walk towards love and happiness. I needed all my energy to build a new life and social circle, settle into a new job so I could provide for the children, and make a new home. And I found I could not read, outside of what I had to do to survive. For almost a year, I could not read a magazine, a newspaper – or a recipe. At times I wondered if I would ever love words again, but once I’d remembered who I was, I did.

So my reading material changed – to lecturers notes, business books on human resource management, finance and strategy, as I worked at night to get my degree. Then as I moved on in the workforce, words like policies, contracts, Acts of Parliament and Statutory Instruments and minutes of Senior Team Meetings became my reading material, introducing lots of new words to my tapestry.

In 2002, I read Cheryl Richardson’s Stand Up For Your Life; and I realised words could change lives as I learned how to stand up for MY life, start to find my own voice again and use it, and with that, came the ability to write poems and books and letters and emails of encouragement.

2005 saw the words around NLP – Neuro Linguistic Programming – introduced, as I became a Master practitioner and an Eriksonian Hypnotherapist – and realised fully the power of words to enslave or change easily.

Still, there would be uphill words like depression, stress and exit interviews, and downhill words like flow, and strength, confidence and joy, as well as new words like “the truth, the whole truth,” and “desert simpliciter.”

And you will also see the gold and silver that highlight my story. Words like:

“It’s a boy,” “it’s a girl” – twice..
“Enough is enough, grievance and chief executive, and tribunal”
“I do – I very much do” to Lee when I married him. And if you listened carefully, you would hear words like joyful weeping when our guests heard him promise to cherish his new family, name by name.

If you could see my tapestry, you’d see words like “What Would You See, If You Dared To Be Free” – a poem of hope, published for charity. You’d see a Book Club I formed at work, to get me to read other genres and come across wonders like “A Thousand Splendid Suns.”

And you’d see Facebook and words like connection, and the use of written communication – but you’d also see Toastmasters, a tool that will increase my ability to verbally communicate my words to you all