Archives For An A-Z for your life

openness copy

As with nature, you may already be open to all that is happening around you.  Some of us are very open and take in much of what is happening in our immediate environment and the world at large.

Our world can be very busy and it is not possible to remain open to everything all the time so some choices need to be made.

Nowadays we challenge ourselves to  know and retain more and more information but such volume is probably not very healthy.

If we wish to protect ourselves from things that make us feel vulnerable and powerless then we should give ourselves permission to do so.  This could be about crimes, wars, the rise of racist political parties, the state of the global economy etc.  This does not mean living in a fantasy but still having some idea of what is happening in reality and if we can be a positive influence.

For example, I am open to fair trade and environmental concerns because I believe that my actions matter and contribute to the collective decisions made.  Others may feel that situations are futile and choose to shut down and bury their heads in the sand.  The belief affects the behaviour, which then has an impact on the environment.

Some of us believe we are very fragile so we live in an overly protected and closed space that may begin to lose its life energy.  If we block off everything around us then our life will be quite limited and dull.  We might also appear unreal and disconnected.  Some level of openness and engagement is healthy.

Others of us need to know everything that is going on in the world and we pack so much in that we give ourselves no space to discover what is going on within.  We are open to so much that nothing really has a chance to connect to our inner world.

When we are truly open to new experiences then new things can come into our lives.  For me I have found that very refreshing.  It may be as simple as befriending someone who is not like anyone you are normally friends with.  Sometimes it is about leaving gaps in our plans so that we can take up the suggestion of another.  Openness implies some flexibility and spontaneity in how we live our lives.

Openness allows for new people and ideas to be included in our world.  For instance, we can be open to new insights into how the brain works and how to keep healthy which won’t have been around when we were being raised (by parents and at school).  If we are not open to personal growth or adult education then we fix ourselves to a very staid and dull existence with no learning.

Like everything mentioned in these chapters, it is also about balance.  Being open does not mean attaching yourself to every change that comes along.  To me it means having some constant centre whilst being able to appraise new ideas and experiences as they come along, accepting some and rejecting others.  That’s true freedom.  The two extremes of accept everything or accept nothing can become automatic and unhelpful.

How do you experience this in your life?

 

 mothersfathers

Like most things in life we learn about love and emotions in our early years.  Many psychologists and analysts have documented the role of the mother in this.  Our mother’s presence or not is critical to our early development.  It can affect our relationships with other women whether we are male or female.  But mothers are not solely responsible for child rearing, our fathers are important too.  It is about recognising the impact these early years have had on who we are now and what we might need to do to continue to develop and grow.  It seems silly to get into old age and still be blaming your parents for the bad start they gave you.  At some point it is up to us to heal our own wounds so that we can move on.  Parents often parent the way they were parented or they may become the exact opposite of their parents.

What sort of parenting did you have and how has it affected you?  If you are a parent, how has it influenced you?

Is there a quality, expectation, thought pattern or behaviour that you need to change because it is no longer helpful to your life even though it was essential in your family of origin?  Are you still trying to get the approval of your parents or siblings or are you now travelling on your own path and being true to who you are?  How does this early environment still affect what you believe you deserve and the subsequent choices you make?

If you feel there is something here to explore then you can arrange to see a therapist.  This is confidential and you do not need to tell anyone.  What would it be like if you could really become your best self?  The real you could be hiding underneath lots of ‘shoulds’ and ‘should nots’.    You may discover that your whole life so far seems more like a dream than reality.  Do you need to find a new home, job, relationship or purpose?

This is about beginning to live the life that would make you happy not necessarily the one that impresses mum and dad.

Money

Money is something many of us get very excited about.  Generally people who do have money say it is not the most important thing in life and those who do not have money think it is.

Many of the things that make us happy cannot be bought but a comfortable lifestyle can make it easier to maintain relationships.  Only you can know what role money plays in your life and why it has this position.  How much of this is about you and how much is due to how you were brought up?  What was fine for you back then may not be appropriate anymore and you need to be able to see this and act on it accordingly.  If money becomes your only goal in life then, not surprisingly, other things will suffer and deteriorate.  How we relate to money affects our generosity, ability to receive, possessions, status and the choices we make.

Personally there have been times when I have earned a decent salary and wasted it chasing after ever changing fashionable clothes.  At other times I have had little money but enjoyed free pursuits such as a walk in the park or by the river.  I could be positive about this as I was never really at the risk of being homeless or starving and that must be a very stressful place to be.

In difficult times such as war, no amount of money can guarantee fair food distribution or home security.  Then money just becomes bits of paper whilst influence becomes the more valued currency.  So money is of no value in itself but only for what it can purchase.  Food, shelter and relationships are valuable in their own right: life sustaining.

What is your relationship to the money in (or not in) your life?  Is it the thing you spend all your time thinking about or does it come much lower down in your priorities?  There is no right or wrong answer here. It depends on where you are starting from, your expectations and responsibilities. Any thoughts?

 

love

The Bible says that God is love and sacrificed Jesus because he loved us so much.  William Shakespeare refers to music as the food of love in Twelfth Night.  Sigmund Freud identifies it in Eros as life’s energy force.  Others say love (and money) makes the world go around.  Hollywood tells us that we all want to fall in love, as many times as possible.  Some of us are in love with love.

There are probably as many views of love as there are people on the planet.  Great writing, music, art, film, dance and architecture have been inspired by love and serve as a monument to its expression.  Love is powerful.  Oprah Winfrey says that experiences presents us with an opportunity ‘to choose love over fear.’

Love is certainly part of human need, desire and longing.  Some of us are lucky enough to experience it at some point in our lives, and others are not.  Maybe loving others starts with loving ourselves.  In order to give and receive love we need to be able to trust ourselves and trust another.  Can we love if we know that our feelings will not be reciprocated?  Some people find it easy to love their children, family and friends; others do not.  I have heard parents say that they would be prepared to die for their children: real sacrificial love.

Love may be both about who and what we attach ourselves to. We may have been badly hurt by our earlier attempts to love and be loved.  Consequently we may find it easier to love power, status and material possessions.  We can find ourselves becoming addicted to that which we once loved, or we might assume we love something because we are unhealthily addicted to it.  Love is mysterious and can turn into hate.

Some powerful questions you might want to consider: Who or what do you love and how does that affect how you relate to them?  Does it feel like a healthy love or more of the obsessive kind?  Have you been hurt by loving and need to heal before you can love again?   Do you not love because you are afraid of exposing yourself to the pain of disappointment?  Are you missing out on beautiful emotional connections because you fear it will all go wrong?   Do your actions express what is in your heart?

There is no need to love everything or everyone but to be open to the possibility seems important to me. What do you think?

 

 

Kindness is a good quality to practice on our journey through life.  The Bible talks about doing unto others as you would have them do unto you.  But there is also something to be said for being kind whilst not expecting anything.   Kindness is simply about saying yes to a request that we can accommodate or offering to do something that we know will help another person.  It could be as simple as picking up someone’s shopping, watering their plants, giving them a lift, phoning to check that they are ok.  It is about allowing someone else’s situation to cross our mind and allowing ourselves to offer to ease their burden without feeling superior or heroic.  It is sharing the gifts and resources that we have.

waterfall

We may also find ourselves on the receiving end of such generosity.  John Donne wrote that ‘no man is an island’ and it helps us to remember that our lives are all connected.   Unfortunately it often takes a tragedy to remind us of this.  Sometimes giving of our time and energy has more of an impact than writing a cheque.   I am reminded here of a television program called The Secret Millionaire, where wealthy people go undercover to discover real needs and later, financially support these.  I know they can get publicity from the show but as they already have a high profile in their field I do not think that is their motivation.  It seems to me that they want to help and to feel the joy of giving.  There are of course many who give of their time quietly through caring and volunteering.

Kindness is not about wealth.  We are all capable of giving of ourselves, whoever we are, wherever we live.  Is kindness something you experience of yourself or from those around you? Would you like to be kinder to yourself and others?

 

Bird of Paradise

Bird of Paradise

So who are we?  Do you feel you know who you are?

In my work as a counsellor I find that underlying many problems is the sense that people do not know who they are.  I myself have been exploring who I am in a more meaningful way.  Each of us is unique; from the experiences of our early life, our family of origin, location of our early years and the backdrop of world events.  These all have an impact on who we are and how we see ourselves.  Some of this may seem quite random, but imagine being a teenager in Iraq during the last decade.  Whatever the family stands for they cannot remove the impact of the community and the world.  All of our past goes into who we are now.  This may now determine where and how we choose to live our lives, what we do with our time and how we maintain our relationships.  As we get older and the world continues to change we could find ourselves, and our sense of identity, in constant flux.

Our identity is about our sense of self and belonging, how we see ourselves and our place in the world.  For me it is a complex thing that is not fully captured by those who see us from the outside.  I truly believe that only we can explore and own our unique identity.

For me it is about exploring and being connected to all the different aspects of who I am.  So I am a woman and need to figure how I relate to other women, both in our similarities and our differences. Similarly, how do I relate to men generally and specifically?  As a Black Caribbean woman who lives a very British life how do I relate to Black British women of a different background, Caribbean women living elsewhere and British women who are not Black? – I have some similar experiences to all of these.  It’s about being aware of those points of connection.  Add in faith, education, class, age and sexuality; these are all aspects of how I see myself and how the world might see me.  But my internal sense of these observable identifiers may be different from that of the onlooker.

So how about you?  What does it mean to be your specific gender, ethnicity, class, culture, sexuality and age?  Do you have a difference that is hidden (e.g. deafness, epilepsy)?  If you feel you are ordinary then imagine someone different from you in those identifiers.  Do they remind you of someone in your social circle or someone you have never met and whom you may have strong opinions about?  Only by truthfully looking at ourselves can we begin to figure out our identity.  As we look deeper within we will have a better sense of the truth about who we are and how we relate to the rest of the world.

For me it is about trying to connect to all parts of me, good and bad, and having people in my life who reflect different parts of that to me as I do for them. What does identity mean to you?

 

 Hope

Hope helps us to believe in possibilities. It tells us that good things can and do happen and it is up to us to pay attention.  Certainly this is a better way to approach life than feeling hopeless.

If we have hope we are more likely to put in effort and make plans for ourselves, because we expect to make things happen.  Of course hope does not mean things will happen the way we want them to but it puts us in a good frame of mind and encourages us to try; this is the first step to something occurring. ‘We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.’ Anais Nin.  Without hope we would not try.

Like everything else it is about balance.  If something has proved unlikely to happen with our effort then there will be a time to accept this and move on.  Hope is a starting point but it would be foolish to hold on to it when reality points the other way.  We can redirect that effort elsewhere without feeling wronged or punished.  Life has something better planned for us and we need to reach out and accept it.

Are you someone who is scared of hoping for anything because you fear being disappointed? Do you hope more for things you want to create or things you would like to be given?

An A-Z for your life – God

February 25, 2013

GodAnd so faithfulness brings us to an idea of God.  It is possible to have some religious beliefs, to have none or to be unsure about what you believe.  Whatever the case it seems a sign of maturity is to give yourself some time to reflect on the questions and come to a sense of truth for yourself.  At some point it is helpful for us to have a sense of why we are here, how we can use our life and what might happen in an afterlife.

For some faiths it is about spreading God’s word whether that is a Jewish, Christian or  an Islamic god.  Other faiths are about peaceful coexistence and views of an afterlife that may include reincarnation.  For some without religious belief it is all about now: we are born, we live and we die.  Some beliefs pay special attention to the individual (Buddhism), the family (Christianity) and the community (Islam).  This is a very simplistic glance at who or what God might be to you.

There are libraries dedicated to the great faiths of the world and I suggest you begin to explore what your beliefs are.  We may develop our faith from the family we are born into, our cultural heritage, as part of the greater culture to which we belong or as a part of a personal journey.  Such soul or spiritual seeking can lead to various experiences of acceptance and rejection by you and to you.  Eventually you may find an approach that feels true to you.

Belief and faith can be very nuanced and individual things as they are not externally provable to those who do not believe.  It is possible to belong to a faith and not believe every aspect of it; some people are more literal than others.  ‘Faith is not belief. Belief is passive. Faith is active.’ Edith Hamilton. 

Myths and stories also play a vital role in elaborating on the human experience.  In my experience faith is not just about good and bad and sin and forgiveness, it could also be about the value of life and stewardship of the earth’s resources or human rights and equality of opportunity for all human beings.  Whatever faith or God we believe in we are human and we are imperfect.  We may have godlike qualities but that is not all of who we are.

I find it sad when people decide against a belief because they have met fallible representatives of that faith.  If we can accept that there are imperfect parents, children, learners, teachers, doctors etc why can’t we accept imperfect believers?  Human imperfections encourage us to trust in our God and not rely on our own limited resources.  Our approach of all or nothing does not give us choices but limits our experiences.

Of course there are those who would say that they have nothing to do with God or belief.  Yet I believe there is that spiritual hole within all of us and we find something to fill it with.  This becomes our god by another name.  As I write this I can think of many such gods including money, politics, sport, art, nature, work, fame and power.  People of faith could also participate in these aspects of life but their motivation and relationship to it would be different.  It is not always what we do but why and how we do it.

So who or what is your god?  What do you believe in and put all your effort into understanding and following?  I am not here to judge you for it but to encourage you to be aware of what it is for yourself.  There is no need to tell the world but it helps you to know what you choose to believe and how that affects your subsequent decisions.  All belief is about faith: nothing will be proved 100% otherwise it would simply be a fact and not a question of faith.  Some of us believe.  Eventually we will know.  Others feel and think that there is nothing to believe.  Find out what you believe and share it with those you care about and who care about you.

Any thoughts?


Effort and Energy

February 11, 2013

Effort energyWell no doubt you are beginning to feel that life really takes effort and energy.  It does but it can be a cyclical process where the energy supports the effort and such effort encourages more energetic responses.

It is about the energy we give off when we meet others and that which we pick up from them.  We have our own natural energy levels but that gets drained when we are surrounded by people, places or things that do not encourage us to reveal who we are.  A lifetime of that could really take its toll and leave a person feeling completely depleted.  In such circumstances a recharge is necessary before any energy could be found, let alone emitted.  So if all this sounds too heavy and laborious, maybe you need a retreat, a chance to rediscover yourself and what you want to put into and get out of life.

Think of your favourite person – how would you describe the energy they give off when you are with them?  What about your least favourite person – what is their energy like?   And what about you – how would others experience your energy or lack of?

Effort can have a bad name but there is nothing wrong in trying to achieve something.  Most of us admire people who build something from nothing through their own effort.  I am not suggesting forcing ourselves to be constantly heroic by ignoring our human frailty but success after effort can be very good for self-esteem and brings about a sense of empowerment.  I remember how great I felt after passing my driving test having had several attempts.  Although I found it more difficult than academic study I knew it was important for a more confident adult life.  It gives me more options about what, when and how I participate in the world.  Both energy and effort helps to move our life forward rather than allowing us to stay in some early form of development for our whole life.  Life has a lot to offer but generally things tend not to fall into our laps.  Although it may seem so for others that is not the case.  Apart from winning a lottery most people work hard to get somewhere or to stay somewhere.

Are there any issues in your life you have ignored or avoided because you did not want to put in the effort?  Was this from a real need to protect yourself or some less admirable reason?  Is there anything you would like in your life now if only you could put the effort in? Leave a comment to share how you experience effort and energy.

 

 


DeathSadly for all of us dying is an aspect of living.  It is inevitable, regardless of our attitudes, behaviour or caring.  None of us are infinite.  Death comes, whether slow or fast, gentle or chaotic, expected or shocking.

So how do we live with this certainty?  For me, this is something that has changed over time.  Although I have always known that young people could die, the experience of my family and friends has always been that one got old and then one died.  Then my youngest sister passed away very suddenly.  What is that about?  What does it mean?  What am I here for?  What shall I do with this time?  This was my specific process in facing my newfound conscious awareness of my future death.  Of course, we will not mourn our own death, others will.

What would you like to offer to the world, to leave behind before that fateful day?  Now is the time to start thinking about this.  For me it does not mean being depressed or particularly serious but recognising that we cannot take our life for granted so we need to prioritise what we would like to do and try our best to live the way we feel called to – our soul’s unique journey.  Maybe we have a special gift for the world and whilst we waste time trying to copy everyone else our gift is not being used or seen but remains hidden.

Here is a quote that encourages us to explore our individual gifts and the impact that has on us collectively:

‘Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body and each member belongs to all others.  We have different gifts, according to the grace given us.  If a man’s gift is in prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith.  If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully.’

Romans Chapter 12 verses 3(b) to 8 in the Bible (New International Version)

It would be wonderful if we could all offer our gifts to the world before it is too late. Together we can have a big impact on our world.

If you consider that you will not be alive forever how do you feel?  What would you like to do with your time here on earth?  Are you concerned about what happens after death and does that impact on how you view your life?