I have been waiting and waiting for the right moment to post a new blog; waiting for some kind of lull, or even a tiny pause in the continual wave of emotions that are my reactions to massive world events way beyond my control. But there hasn’t been a lull, or a pause, or anything even slightly resembling a moment to take a breath, so clearly that is what I need to be writing about.
Overloaded? I know I am, and I’m sure I’m not alone. These are strange times indeed, the like of which I never even imagined I would witness in my lifetime, and I am having to resort to the survival tactics I learnt during my illness in order to stay even slightly sane. And in doing so I am reminded that this actually is it. This is the life we have at the moment. The one where we see pictures on Facebook we really wish we hadn’t, or hear news of another atrocity or act of violence, or witness crazy politics nobody understands or wants to be involved in. There is no point in hoping to wake up from the dream, or waiting for someone to kiss it all better – this very moment is the one we are living in, good or bad, and it is the only one in which we can be properly present. I remember, waaay back at the beginning of chemo, I wrote that in the face of such an awful diagnosis and the prospect of months of aggressive treatment, the only thing I could control in the whole situation was my reaction to it – and I truly believe that is the case now, just as it was then. There seems to be so much anger and resentment around at the moment that it would be very easy to jump down in the pit too – but I didn’t go through the whole cancer experience without changing a bit and realising there is another way to deal with all this, as those kind of reactions don’t solve anything. In fact they are poisonous and spread way too easily. So let’s not spread them, huh?
Easier said than done, possibly, so let’s just see what the ever-wise Rumi has to say:
“If you are irritated by every rub, how will your mirror be polished?”
… which I take to apply equally to a whole host of less than positive emotions that rear up inside me occasionally. In order to overcome these foes I am busily assembling my weapons of mass inspiration (and yes, I know it is an oxymoron) to help spread love and the ability to be calm in the face of extreme provocation (that’s the ‘polishing’ bit, I guess); right up the very top of the list is this beautiful flashmob meditation that I never, ever get bored of watching, promoting the socks off, or sharing in moments of panic or extreme need. Whack those headphones on and be transported to a place of exquisite peace and beauty for 7 minutes and 38 seconds with Thich Nhat Hanh and The Bell Chant
Nice, isn’t it? I used to play it when I was on the chemo drip as it made the time go that much faster and it distracted me from the unpleasant background vibration of the pump. Funnily enough I don’t equate the video with hospital and treatment – I just fall into the music and the atmosphere and don’t want it to end. Hope you do too.
And while we are on the subject of my favourite person of all time, Thich Nhat Hanh says (amongst a zillion other beautiful things):
“Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy.”
… which I especially like as it reminds me of a trick I learnt a long time ago, and I love playing it on grumpy people. It is easy when you are happy, so wait until you have a severe case of being pissed off – then SMILE. Yup, through gritted teeth if necessary, nice big smile with your lips closed (that bit seems to work a special magic), right to the edge of your mouth, even if you feel more like giving someone a big slap. I can absolutely guarantee that within about 20 seconds you will start to laugh at how ridiculous it is and the spell of the bad mood is broken. Then you might feel a bit more like doing this. Take a couple of slow breaths using this advice from the same wonderful human being:
Breathing in, I calm body and mind.
Breathing out, I smile.
Dwelling in the present moment I know this is the only moment.
So now we are all smiling a bit more, it’s time for the next weapon in my cunning plan. Smile at a complete stranger; especially one that is looking harassed – the supermarket is a good hunting ground for this. They will probably appear spooked or shocked, and almost definitely look over their shoulder to see who you are smiling at. That’s all you need to do. Because inside they will be having a bit of a smile too and that might just make their day, and you will feel a whole lot better too for having been nice. Did you know it apparently takes more muscles to frown than it does to smile? Being a basically lazy person I would always go down the path of least effort.
So smile :-)
In the same vein, the beautiful Anita Moorjani (author of Dying to Be Me, and the soon to be released What if This is Heaven? ) has responded to the pain we are expressing at the turn of current events with the following suggestion, which I am trying very hard to carry out. She suggests we try to carry out two acts of random kindness a day. “Oh yes,” I hear you say, “that one’s as old as the hills”. Well here’s the thing: the first, obviously is for someone else, and it can’t fall into your usual daily remit. (I’ll get on to the second in a minute so don’t leap ahead; it’s not clever and you’ll miss a good story.) So, for example, if your job is customer service and you are extra nice to someone, that is cheating and doesn’t count, as you should be doing it anyway. It focuses the mind wonderfully. We were in the local supermarket and I was very aware I had almost failed on the very first day: we were close to finishing our shopping and I still hadn’t managed to inflict my act of random kindness on anyone; then, at the very last minute I noticed a gentleman in a mobility scooter trying to get food from the freezer cabinet. What a horrendously difficult operation that was for him! I wandered over and offered to help and he was chuffed to bits. I sorted him out with a couple of frozen pies, then he asked if I knew where the curry was. This is absolutely my favourite food, so we had a nice chat about the joys of curry while I helped him to choose some lovely stuff, then we went our separate ways.
I’ll get on to the second act of random kindness in a moment, as the most amazing thing just happened (and I was wondering what to write about?!). We have the office door open (yay – British summer has arrived) and literally as I was typing up my freezer meeting, a lady walked by laden with bags, one of which split right outside our door. I watched stupidly for a couple of moments as torn up bits of paper fluttered all over our lovely clean road, and I must admit there was a moment of WTF? Then I realised here was an opportunity for an ARK and that I should help – I leapt into action, having absolutely no idea what that might involve, as what normal person walks up a long road with bags full of rubbish? Best not go there, but anyway it turned out it was her recycling so I collected up all the bits of paper that were blowing around and helped her get all her rubbish into our recycling bin. Phew. Big smiles all round.
OK – so the second act of random kindness is for YOU. Yep. It’s relatively easy to do something nice for someone else, but how about for ourselves? As someone quoted on Facebook recently, “I never thought I was a bully until I heard how I talk to myself. I think I owe myself an apology.” It certainly resonates with me, and the thinking behind being nice to ourselves is that if we feel nice and cherished we are more likely to pay it forward and be nice to someone else. I am definitely my own worst critic, and I am appalled when I stop sometimes and rewind my previous thought . Woah! If I wouldn’t say that to another person I shouldn’t be saying it to me. So a bit of work to be done there, especially in trying to do an act of random kindness for myself, which doesn’t come naturally. I guess one way would be to think what I would really like someone else to suggest to me as a treat, then possibly doing it for myself. Hmm. Food for thought. I’ll get back to you on that one.
Staying on the theme of Anita, and coming to my current favourite weapon of mass inspiration, is some beautiful music we heard at her workshop in February. It is called Purification, by Avishai Barnatan and you can download it on Amazon here. We were absolutely entranced by it when Anita used it for a group meditation and now we use it on a daily basis to calm down and tune in before we go to work. We are loving it.
I can understand that all this optimism and brightness could be getting a bit irritating (ooh look, that takes us back to the top!) so I want to leave you with this quote from ‘When Things Fall Apart: Heartfelt Advice for Hard Times’ by the lovely Pema Chodron, which seems especially pertinent just now:
“When things are shaky and nothing is working, we might realize that we are on the verge of something. We might realize that this is a very vulnerable and tender place, and that tenderness can go either way. We can shut down and feel resentful or we can touch in on that throbbing quality.”
So let’s do that. Let’s be brave enough to leave the past behind and have the courage to trust in a better, kinder future.
Wishing you love and good health,