Virtuous circles

Not a lot of people talk about virtue these days. The word and concept has gone out of fashion. For the record virtuous is the opposite of vicious. Think circles. Think vicious circles and now think virtuous circles. Everything you do to make yourself more grounded, peaceful and fulfilled is part of your virtuous circle. Identify the points on your circle, celebrate them, make some more and then see the results.

I’ve been scoping my virtuous circle – yoga (celebrating and connecting my body and mind), eating healthy and whole (think good nutrition that fuels your body and mind), time for me (because I really am worth it), doing things for charity (giving spreads benefits and feel good factors), self-belief (my ideas, views, morals and aspirations carry value, they define me) and walking (reflection – or discussion if you are walking with friends – helps me sort problems and expand ideas and ideologies). The circle produces a more fulfilled me and a better citizen.

Self-help, self-delusion or self-destruction?


I didn’t use to read self help books. But over the last few years, as I muddle through midlife and try to make sense of aging and come to terms with the fact there is more of my life behind me than in front, I’ve started reading self help books. I’m looking for insights, explanations  and support structures. 

Originally I wanted to ask myself questions but was not sure about what. To be honest, I was alarmed, confused and overjoyed to discover I seemed to be morphing into my 19 year old student self. My mindset had switched. I felt carefree, fight-to-the-death-in-a-debate passionate about big issues and much less concerned about looking the part and following social norms. I felt irresponsible and wanted to play hooky. Suddenly going to see a play or going for a walk in the woods became more important than writing a report or finishing household chores. What had happened to the responsible me, mindful of my role and responsibilities? I frequently felt disconnected and disinterested, especially in my career. 

But did all this mean that the main chunk of my life had been lived in denial or playacting? Was I only now re-establishing the real me? So had it all been a waste of time and worse, should I have lived my life differently? Could self help books help me resolve all this or at least make some sense of it? The answer I discovered is – yes and no. 

Armed with these huge questions I began to explore the world of self help.

Self help book books come in all shapes and sizes from the thoroughly researched perspective of life (Brene Brown and Susan Cain), through the spirtual path (think many of the Hay House authors including Gabby Bernstein) to the personal life story as a starting point (from Kris Karr to Elizabeth Gilbert). I’ve read them all. 

Many I have enjoyed because they let me into the lives and minds of others and several helped me to see other people differently, which I discovered was frequently more helpful and interesting than thinking about myself. I don’t think one book stands out as my bible, though I have a few favourites usually because I warm to the authors. 

It was a revelation that there are a small number of life support mechanisms but an infinite way of communicating them to others and executing them in real life. It is reassuring to be told the same things over and over. The lesson is reinforced by repetition rather than deminished. 
You need to read a lot of self help books to realise what you do and do not know about yourself. You need to read a lot of self help books to learn which ones are for keeps. You need to keep an open mind and draw on a wide range of writers. Treat yourself as a research project. Be prepared to surprise yourself. You may be drawn to authors you least expect, reflect on why, that maybe a lesson in itself.

I realised how easy it would be to become addicted to self help books. It wouls be so easy to become reliant on a suite of platitudes and exercises to navigate life. To be honest that is not a disasterous way to live, assuming the platitudes are not unreasonable and you apply them responsibly. But it is a very passive way to live. Potentially you lose your freewill and become cultlike in your behaviour; more and more susceptible and persuadable but little wiser and probably increasingly gullible. It is no way to resolve your problems or to answer your questions.

I’ve learned a lot about how to read myself, about who I am and my attitude to life. Self help is about the reader not the book and like learning anything new, you need at least one teacher to show you the ropes and stretch your capabilities. But at some point you have to leave school.

Meanwhile I keep reading, dissecting and playing hooky (sometimes).

Fear

I live in UK and our world turned topsy turvey last week. A referendum about staying or leaving the EU resulted in the unthinkable; we voted out. To turn our backs on our European friends after 40 years of EU membership resulted in panic in the stockmarket, in the banks, among politicians of all persuasions, among the electorate. The Prime Minister resigned, the opposition leader’s future is under threat and everyone is walking around as if the bomb has dropped. In some ways it has and the dust has yet to settle.

Politicitians on both sides used fear to present their arguments and now fear and panic are ruling what happens in the aftermath.

Fear is like a plague.  It is contagious, it spreads and while it purges, it does so with dark consequences. 

Meanwhile like millions of others, everyday I get up and work with colleagues, laugh with them, trust them and share with them. On a human scale of one-to-one and small groups fear does not work well. It only holds real power on a grand scale where the rabble mentality can be manipulated. Or in the mind of a single person, where in the dark silence of the night it takes hold. But fear spoken between a few people is frequently rationalised and dispelled.

Don’t listen to fear. Be vigilant, so you reconise its voice. When fear starts to occupy your mind, share your fears for what they are.When someone tries to sell you their fears; don’t buy.