“Please keep the noise down,” I said to the lad who was shouting over at his friend. “I’d like to keep my hearing into old age.” “You’re not old!”, the thirteen year old boy said emphatically to me. “Not yet,” I replied “But I am getting older and I’m OK with that. I’d like to be an old lady one day.” He looked me in disbelief, “Urgh, I never ever want to be old,” he said and shuddered.
Our conversation left a bitter-sweet smile on my face. Only that morning I had been contemplating, while walking down a quiet avenue. The colour of the autumn leaves had taken my breath away filling me with joy. Gold, emerald, copper, chestnut brown, vermillion; it was as if nature, before going to sleep was putting on her best fireworks display. I had recently had my fortieth birthday and the autumn leaves made me think of the seasons of our lives. I’m still in summer but I see and feel glimpses of autumn; a grey hair here and there being the most obvious outward sign that it’s just around the corner.
Walking through the trees, and hearing what the boy said, had made me reflect on how much our modern society values youth. We spend money on trying to look young; companies prefer to hire younger people; only the most successful actors continue their careers past my age. Yet look at the seasons, autumn is so very beautiful. The colours, the harvest, the bounty; all the efforts of spring and summer have produced this spectacular abundance, a feast for the eyes, the body and soul. Are our lives not like this? Does our experience, our learning; the seeds that we have sown not yield the most wonderful harvest? Is not the simple fact that we exist in itself not wondrous? Instead of celebrating this beautiful season we enter, why hide it, why shy away from it?
That same day, I mentioned getting older to a friend of mine who said, “But it’s just awful, it’s all about letting go of everything you had.” Well, certainly it means letting go of some things, yet also gaining others. As I grow older, I let go of things that were so important to me when I was younger and develop new interests. I don’t crave the same adrenaline rushes, or need the same extremes as before in order to fully experience life. I don’t have to run around all the time to feel that I am making the most of my existence. I am still an experimenter and very curious; however many of the things I could, or chose to do when younger, seem less important to me right now. I’m more interested in the depth, not the number of my experiences and in putting the fruits of my work to good use for the display that I hope to be producing later in my life.
We equate youth with beauty and functionality. If we make a parallel with nature that means that the only beautiful and useful months in the year are spring and summer. Really? I know many people over sixty who are just as beautiful and capable, if not more than they ever were before.
In more traditional or indigenous societies, old age was revered, just as nature was. Ageing was part of the sacred cycle of life, and each season was celebrated. (In Bali, the grandparents and elders are still given the most beautiful house in the family compound and as a sign of respect it often built higher than the others.) What if we could see our “golden autumn” as a harvest of all that we have learned in life and imagine our ideas and actions as beautiful falling leaves that cover, warm and fertilise the ground ready for the new life that follows?
When I was younger I used to dream of summer all year, and cling to the warm days when September rolled around. Like the boy I spoke to, for me it seemed that all opportunities were in spring and summer. I didn’t appreciate autumn and winter back then. The trees seemed stark and sad without their leaves and the days were dark.
Now I embrace each season. Soon the jewel-like leaves will have fallen and all will be quiet. Yet as my mother once pointed out to me, it is only when the trees are bare that you can truly appreciate their form. It is only then, that I can see the landscape around them, which is hidden in summer by all their foliage.
Winter affords a different type of beauty: a clarity, a stripping down to the essence of things. It appears that everything is dead, yet we all know that the earth is simply resting and new life will spring forth once more. “So what about our own winter?” you may ask. If you see things from the perspective of the seasons, although it appears we have died, we are simply transformed and grow again. Now surely that is the ultimate adventure and rather than something to run from, something to look forward to?
At the end of the day it is all a matter of perspective.
What do you think about getting older?
How do you feel about the seasons?
I was fifteen years old, at school and my daily maths class was about to begin. I hated maths. Just knowing that the class was about to start, bringing forty-five minutes of brain torture, made me restless. In those days we had blackboards and chalk (yes, I am that old!). That day, as on many previous days, I was intending to hide the board rubber as a delaying tactic. Our teacher would have to spend about ten minutes looking for it or would have to go to another classroom to get one, which would mean only thirty minutes of agonising brain strain. I was just thinking about where I was going to put it this time, when suddenly the door opened and in stepped Mrs Teague, catching me red-handed with board rubber and a very guilty look on my face. I was terrified and really, rather ashamed of myself. I just wanted the ground to swallow me up and awaited my justly deserved fate. Expecting to be severely reprimanded, taken to the headmistresses office, or at worst detention, I was utterly surprised to hear a very gentle Scottish voice say:
“I think we’d better put that back hadn’t we?”. Daring to gaze up, I saw serious yet kind eyes looking at me. Sheepishly I nodded and returned to my desk and although my cheeks were still burning I felt an immense amount of gratitude. She hadn’t screamed at me, or punished me after all that class time I had wasted over so many weeks. I couldn’t believe it.
I tried hard to focus on my work but just couldn’t understand the equations. My teacher came several times to my desk that day and quietly and gently asked me what I was struggling with. Now that she knew that I was the hider of the board rubber she had realised that what was preventing me from moving forwards with maths was not inability, apathy or disobedience, but in fact fear. With kindness and patience she gently started to steer me in the direction of possibilities. By believing and connecting with my innate goodness, and believing in my ability and potential, she was able to help me over my hurdles to finally see the possibility that I could in fact understand maths.
Up until that point, my maths had been so bad that my parents were told I would be lucky if I even scraped through the exams. This was serious stuff, as without basic maths I would not be able to continue higher education or university and would find it hard to get a job in the future. Everyone had pretty much given up on the hope of me ever managing more than a grade C and were just praying for that. Based on consistent past performance they had understandably come to the conclusion that maths just wasn’t really my thing. I had begun to think I was slightly stupid. My teacher was able to recognise and transform my block. By giving me the gift of her belief in my ability and never giving up on that, she allowed me to also believe it was possible to succeed. Because of her kindness and patience in the face of my misdemeanour I also believed in her and wanted to work hard and make a huge effort. So there was a partnership of trust and belief taking place. No longer distracted, I was able to move beyond my fears. I really paid attention in class, and…..the end of the year I passed maths with a grade A to everyone’s and my own surprise and joy!
When we believe in others, we help them to believe in themselves and the seemingly impossible becomes possible. Faith and kindness can take us such a long way.
So next time you catch yourself saying, “there’s no hope for”…or “…will never change” think about what message you are giving yourself and the other. What motivation is there to try?
Someone believed in me when everyone else including me had given up hope, and that was all it took to keep me believing in myself, take action and move forwards to success.
Is there someone you can see struggling? Do you think there’s no hope for them? Where could you inject some belief into their lives?
What or who has helped you believe in yourself when you had nearly given up hope?
If there is an area where you believe you are blocked or stuck and want a partner to help you through don’t hesitate to contact me: email@example.com
Recently I had two afternoon meetings: a thirty minute meeting starting at 3pm and another at 5pm. Both were located within 15 minutes of each other. Even allowing a 15 minute margin for the first meeting to end (i.e. a hard stop at 3.45pm), that would still mean that I would get to my next meeting at 4pm; a whole hour early.
Had I been aiming for “efficiency”, I would have engineered these meetings to take place with a much smaller gap between them. So why did I choose not to do that? I decided I wanted space: space to allow myself the opportunity to relax and disengage from my first meeting and to prepare and have time to reengage with the next. The first meeting ended promptly at 3.30pm. I now had an hour and a half before the next one. (This would have maddened some individuals I know, and no doubt my own good self a few years ago.) After the person I met had left, I sat a little longer, considered what had been discussed and made some preparatory notes for my next meeting. Thirty minutes later, I was done and still had an hour to my next meeting. Normally I would have jumped on the bus for a few stops, but as I had the time, I chose to walk. There was an area that I often seen from the bus window that I had always been curious about but never had time to stop and see. I decided I would allow myself half an hour to get lost in there and see if I could find a way on foot to my next meeting.
What a fabulous surprise I had! Turning off the busy main road that leads to the airport (my next meeting was based at offices right by) I entered a magical little “village”. I walked among small houses, with cottage gardens full of flowers and fruit trees blossoming. All of this in the middle of what I always knew to be a commercial “no-man’s land”. It felt as if I had entered another world far away from city life. Beehives, allotment patches, little country lanes with wisteria covered cottages at the end of them. For half an hour I continued to walk and explore, always heading in the relative direction of the airport. During this time, with a big smile on my face, I was able to appreciate the beauty of my surroundings and to be constantly surprised by the magic I saw around me. This allowed me to completely let go of the previous meeting and be reenergised for my next one. Upon leaving the fairytale wonderland, I found a path that led me over a motorway to the airport. What a contrast between the tranquility of where I had been, and the return to the busy movement of “modern” life!
However, I was able to embrace it all thanks to my “pause”. It had given me the gift of space in which the peace and beauty that had magically appeared allowed me to get to my next meeting with a big smile on my face and still 15 minutes early; full of joy and fully focussed to work with my client to the very best of my ability.
One may pose the question (I certainly did): “Well that’s all well and good, but you could have packed another meeting/phone call into that space and surely that would have been a more efficient, productive and better use of your time?”. Absolutely. I could have done. Would the quality of my interactions have been as good? Would my energy and attention levels have been as high? Would the short term gain have been worth it? I don’t have a definitive answer for you. But what I can tell you is that after the gift of space I gave myself, I felt well and happy, and that feeling spread outwards. I didn’t reach my second meeting out of breath or rushed. I was 100% there, I was early. I was centred, I was ready, and I was ready for anything. The meeting was very productive for both my client and for me. As a final note, the magic of space also gave me the idea to write this very post which you have given yourself the gift of space to read. I hope you find it beneficial and would love to see your comments on the below questions and any other feedback.
Where do you feel the need for space in your day to day activities?
How do you think space would benefit you?
How could you create space?
As those close to me know, every now and then I get the urge to go on what I call a “walkabout”. This entails me packing a rucksack, and heading off into the sunset for anything from 12 days to 4 weeks. Although some planning is involved (for example, knowing what to pack, having cash, credit cards and vaccinations in order) other than a focal point for my destination and intention for my journey, the rest of the “plan” remains intuitive and spontaneous, allowing me to get into the flow of life and to see what emerges.
My latest walkabout was to Stromboli, a gem of an active volcano in the Aeolian islands. Since reading “Journey to the Centre of the Earth” in my childhood I’d always wanted to go, and am forever fascinated by volcanoes.
Stromboli is an island like no other. Like a perfectly shaped cone it rises 924m out of the sea (and goes to a depth of 2000m below). The island is very small – 12.6 square km, and only one side of it is really inhabitable (with exclusion of tiny Ginostra on the far side and it’s 26 inhabitants). Around 400 people live on the island all year round.
One of the things I loved about Stromboli, was how life functioned in the absence of meticulous planning and risk management. Now, to put things in perspective, I live in Switzerland, a country which is extremely organised. I have also worked in firms where every single thing was planned to the last detail, to the extent of 8 backup flights being booked for people travelling on business! Every possible risk scenario had been calculated and allowed for. No margin for error was allowed. Like a military operation it was beautifully precise. However, it was also very clinical and there was absolutely no room for any spontaneity (unless of course it was planned…).
For a start there is almost no internet on Stromboli. There were only 2 places on the island that had reasonable internet connections. Mobile phone connections were often down. “How annoying” you might say. No, not really. Actually it was great. It meant that you were totally offline unless you absolutely wanted or needed to check something. It meant that you could truly enjoy your surroundings. It meant that you were actually watching the sunset rather than looking at your telephone. It meant that if you were going to meet someone in the evening, you would say “I’ll meet you in the town square at around 8” (if you were certain you wanted to meet), or “I’ll see you around this evening” (and undoubtedly you would). Invitations such as “Come around to my house this evening and meet the family if you have time”, meant just that. Life continues to function albeit at a much slower pace.
Apart from the incredible scenery all around me, that was the beauty of it. The pace and style of life was so organic. As I was walking back to my house on the beach, I was told, “Slow down. You’re on the island now. Take it easy”. Wow. I thought I moved out of “type A” style behaviour years ago and was taking it very easy (I certainly wasn’t walking fast and was in no rush). Clearly I still had some work to do there. After 3 days, I’d already started to detox from city life and get into a much, much slower rhythm.
What is incredible is that these people choose to live on an island on an extremely active volcano. While I was there, every 20 minutes or so there would be a loud a boom, followed by smoke billowing from the top of the mountain (and towers of flames at night). You could literally feel the energy beneath your feet. I think it would be difficult to live on the island and be ambivalent about it. Everything is about the volcano. It’s certainly venerated. People occasionally have volcanic rocks falling on their rooftops (you see them scattered around the town), and because of earth tremors walls and doors are often set askew. There was sign on the beach right by my house, that showed the necessary escape routes in case of eruption, tsunami or earthquake. (which by the way pointed right back up the mountain).
In fact the volcano itself is not that dangerous, and is being monitored. What is more serious is the tsunami risk. “So what’s the plan if something serious happens” I asked? “What plan?” I was told. There’s not much you can do. I guess we’ll call the helicopters and hope for the best!
And of course another important aspect is the weather. When the weather changes, which it frequently can, ferry boats and hydrofoils do not run. The locals told me that sometimes, in stormy weather, even if the overnight ferry from the islands to Naples is running, it doesn’t mean it’s going to stop at Stromboli, and it will sail right by as you watch while waiting with your suitcases at the jetty.
The point is that these individuals are comfortable with the risks that they live under. They accept the forces of nature, be it the volcano, the weather, the rough seas. They don’t need every scenario to be planned and organised in order to enjoy life. They have chosen the natural beauty and wildness of the environment above the safety and comfort of city life. Many individuals who left Stromboli to go to Australia and New Zealand during the Great Depression actually returned – and I can understand why. They have the luxury of living on a wild and incredible island, in the middle of the sea, with no cars, no glaring electric lights everywhere, sparkling sea water, fresh air, fresh fish, and possibly one of the worlds most incredible natural fireworks displays going off every night.
Speaking of which, nothing could have prepared me for the experience of sitting at the top of Stromboli. The one area where planning does kick in is taking people up the volcano. Here they have serious guides, taking groups up every day. Up to 400m you can go on your own and enjoy viewing the explosions from different points on the mountain. From 400m you have to go with a guide. Some are for this organised system, some against. Some believe that the mountain should still be open to everyone. My own personal take is: if it helps the local economy, and stops people getting lost near the craters, the I’m all for it, but mainly – thank goodness you still have to climb the volcano (and that they haven’t put a cable car up the top!)
As you climb you can feel the power of it under your feet as it booms. I felt incredibly tiny, knowing that I was sitting at the top of a roaring molten fire, the arteries of the earth, with the moon above me, the sea far below me, the explosions all around me, on this planet spinning through space. And yet I still felt connected to everything. It was so very beautiful.
And the jellyfish? Well that’s another example of risk management and when to let go. I’d taken a boat to another island – and while swimming off the boat ended up finally meeting what I had been warned about – a variety of “Medusi” – or Pelagia Nocturni. Never having had a close encounter with jellyfish before, I kept my distance and warned others. I decided perhaps it might be a good idea to get back onto the boat – but noticed that there were a couple of jellyfish right by the boat’s ladder. I waited for them to move on, swam towards the boat, and then it happened.
A whiplash of electric fire across my arm. The jellyfish must have been floating on the surface and I must have missed it. It really was painful – and I can’t say I wasn’t scared of going back into the water. I was. But a few days later, I did go in again – this time more aware of their possible presence. I suppose if we really wanted to mitigate risk, we could not go in the water, or everyone would have to wear stinger suits – but then what kind of experience would that be? It would be like taking people up Stromboli in a helicopter so that there was no risk at all of the volcano, and moving everyone off the island.
What did I learn from Stromboli? That you don’t have to have a plan to enjoy life. That if people living on an active volcano can live without the internet so can I. That by avoiding all risk, you’re also avoiding the experiences of a lifetime.
I think there is a fine balance between risk management, planning, and spontaneity. By all means make the plans that will serve you and will help to mitigate risk, but not at the cost of missing out on immersing yourself in the flow of life and all the joy that it can bring.
How could you incorporate some “island living” into your every day life?
Is your risk management and planning serving you or are you serving it?
How would you feel if you only had very limited internet connection? What would you do?
What structures will help you enjoy your life more?
Last week I was sitting in the park finishing some work on a paper based on “flow”. I turned my head and to my surprise noticed that someone had hooked up a line between two willow trees and was walking the tightrope. Fascinated, I watched him navigate his way all across the rope using balance and concentration.
I asked him what what was going on for him when he made it all the way across the rope.
His reply: “focusing on just one thing, on the goal”. I then asked him how he felt when he was actually in the flow of doing what he did. He said “I don’t feel anything. I just feel that I am in my zone, the only thing in my mind is…nothing really…just relaxing and being at one with myself”. When I asked him what “flow” meant to him, his reply was “The way of projecting your energy into one thing and then letting that energy take care of itself…”. On asking him how this translated into his day to day life, he said “This is just a hobby but it’s kind of like meditating, when you are in the zone you concentrate on your breathing and clear your mind. This is just a form of meditation for me, you could call it my yoga “.
He was truly enjoying what he was doing, and was so focused on it that nothing else mattered at that moment. By focusing on his goal and the present moment, while letting go of the outcome, he was able to be in flow, find his balance, enjoy the journey and succeed in what he was trying to do.
(One other very important point. When, at the end, he fell off the rope, I told him I could edit that part. He laughed and said he was happy to keep it in, as that was part of the experience. Then he got up and started again).
What tightrope are you currently walking?
How do you find your balance?
How do you know when you are in the zone?
What do you do when you fall off?
What’s your way of clearing your mind, your form of meditation?
Starting your morning off on the right foot can really make a difference to how you perceive the rest of the day ahead. Here are some tips to start your morning off on a high note.
1. Wake up a bit earlier. Give yourself enough time to really enjoy your morning.
2.Make yourself a delicious and healthy breakfast. It doesn’t need to he complicated, you can even prepare it the night before, then sit down and really enjoy every bite of it.
3. Read something uplifting. Rather than the news or emails, read something that really lifts your spirits and starts your day off on a positive. Whether it be a poem, or an excerpt from a book or an article.
4. Show some love! to your partner, your children, your pets, your plants, your home.
5. Listen to some inspirational music. Whether its classical, soul, jazz or house – whatever makes you feel good and ready to face a world full of possibilities.
6. Spend some time experiencing nature. Whether that means simply opening the window or being in your garden looking at the view, the trees, the sky. Take a good look around you and breathe it all in.
7. Do some exercise As gentle or intense as feels right to you. Perhaps just some gentle stretching is what you need, or a walk around the block, or perhaps you prefer to go for a run.
8. Do something you will appreciate when you come back home. Whether its simply making your bed in the morning, taking out the rubbish or leaving the kitchen sink clear, it will leave you feeling lighter as you leave the house, knowing you have one thing less to do in the evening.
9. Turn off the communications. As you’ve given yourself some extra space to start your morning on a high, don’t leap for the mobile or turn on the TV first thing. You have all day to do that. Savour this time, with no unnecessary distractions.
10. Be grateful. Remember, you’re alive, and today is the first day of the rest of your life. Now that’s something to be excited about!
What helps you start your day off on the right note? I’d love to read your comments below.
There is the famous saying ‘it’s the journey that counts, not the destination’. Well of course, that helps if we were to take life as the case. The only thing that we are certain of in terms of our destination as human in beings is death. We all die one day, and as to what happens after that, we have absolutely no idea. Well, in fact, let me just restate that. There are plenty of ideas abounding from a variety of different groups of people but not one of those ideas has been confirmed, hence we have no certainty. As we have no certainty, where could be better to put this statement into practise than our own lives.
So this leads to the question – where are we all rushing to? In today’s Western society, everyone is rushing around, agenda’s packed, things to do, the standard response to “Hi how are you” “Oh I’m good but so busy” answered by “yeah I know me too”. I hear it all the time.
What kind of journey do you enjoy? A mad rush, with bags being packed at the last minute, then running around to see every site there is to see before collapsing in a heap at the nearest fast food or crowded resort diner, only to come back to every day life exhausted? That’s what the vast majority of people seem to be experiencing nowadays.
Think about what kind of journey you enjoy? Personally – I like to mix it up. As I’m naturally curious I like an adventure, which may enjoy a little adrenalin here and there, as adventures, like life, are unpredictable. But I know that I want plenty of time to enjoy the sunrises and sunsets, really savour my food, whatever it may be and get truly involved in every moment – before going on to the next. The next moment is going to come along anyway – so why rush towards it unnecessarily?
Photo by Nesrin Everett
People remind me of trees. A sapling, needs to be nurtured and sheltered, it is so very delicate and fragile. As a young tree grows, it becomes stronger, yet remains very flexible which is wonderful, for when a strong wind comes, the tree can bend and this flexibility allows it to survive. Young people similarly have flexible bodies and minds that are open, allowing them to adapt to new situations and be open to new concepts. Like people, young trees are very beautiful, with smooth shiny barks, straight trunks and fresh shimmering leaves.
As a tree gets older its trunk thickens, and the bark develops furrows. It’s perfect straightness may change, it may develop bends in its trunk, or lean a certain way. Now, rather than just pointing at the sky some of its branches may hang low. It is not as flexible as before, it is solid, hardened, its roots run deep and spread far. However, when a storm comes it is tough enough to weather it. Although it does not bend like a young tree its deep roots remain firm, and its trunk is strong. It’s beauty remains. It bears fruit which provides the seeds for new saplings to sprout forth, it shelters them with its shade and provides nutrients and moisture for them. It provides an ecosystem for animals, insects and birds to thrive in, as well as sustenance for humans in the form of fruit or nuts, sap, bark, and leaves.
Just as a tree’s beauty remains constant with age, so does a human’s. Older people have deeper and stronger values. This and their life experience gives them the strength to weather the storms. With their wisdom and capability they are able to nurture and shelter the young trees and provide strength and support to the others. Their branches are both pointing up to the sky and leaning down. Like a whirling dervish they participate in the cycle of life, with one hand leaning up to heaven and the other down to the earth. Grounded and yet connected to the higher realms. For them, its not just about reaching up but also giving back.
We all know the joy of watching young trees dancing and swaying in the wind, the beauty and promise that youth brings. We also know the joy of sitting in the shade of an old tree, a tree that was there before we were born, and that will be there hundreds of years after we die. A tree that has nurtured so many plants and animals, and born witness to so many events over the centuries, while remaining steadfast. There is a sense of peace, constancy, beauty and security in that.
May we strive to value both trees and people at all stages of their growth cycle, to always appreciate their beauty as well as witness their interconnection, and honour the cyclical and eternal nature of universal life.