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.”

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