If not now, when?

As a child ‘when’ was not my favourite word. ‘When you finish your supper you can have pudding’; ‘when the school term is finished we will go on holidays’; ‘when you own your own house you can decide the rules. Until then you abide by our rules’. 

But then I grew up and discovered life is full of ‘when’. All self-inflicted. As a midlife woman I must now decide those things which really matter because when there is more of life behind than infront, now becomes so important.There is no time for ‘when’; it is a luxury of youth and a belief things will get better. They don’t. Things just change. If not now, when?

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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.

 

Calming the troubled mind

I’ve been waking up in the night. My mind turning over tasks and deadlines; the troubles amplified by my half wakened state.

Here are my recommendations to calm the troubled mind

1. If awakened at night. Make yourself wake up fully. Get up and make a cup of herbal tea or fetch a fresh glass of water. Be aware of the quiet of the night and its sounds. The hollow silence of night. Be in the moment. Then return to bed and sleep.

2. Think of the worst thing that could happen, imagine your way through that scenario. You can cope. It isn’t that bad. It is? Seek help.

3. Imagine you never achieve the task that is troubling you. Imagine how it would feel if the task disappears. Live in your mind the weightlessness. Then realise doing the task, living through it, will deliver the same outcome.

Day-to-day happiness

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May has been a busy month and I suddenly realised while planting new lavenders in the garden that I needed to write my second blogpost for this month. But what to write? What aspect of my midlife might be of interest? Inspiration was at an all time low.

So as I’ve been worndown by work and minor obstacles this month, I decided to share with you my five favourite ways to relax. I am not sure whether being a midlifer has changed the list from previous decades but maybe I want to treat myself more these days. If not now, when? What am I waiting for? Here we go….

1. Lying in a bath with a good magazine and a scented candle. My favourite is diptyque

2. Filling vases with cut flowers bought by me, given in love or picked from the garden. What could be more uplifting than bringing the colour and smell of nature into your home

3. Lying on my bed reading in the afternoon sun with the Welsh hills in the distance

4. Playing with my cats throwing catnip stuffed fabric mice up the stairs

5. Gardening – the process of gentling controling, shaping and celebrating nature.

Me and money

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Money is part of everyone’s life and most of us have a complex relationship with it.  Whatever your religion or culture and wherever you live, you will have values and behaviours associated with money.  How you acquire it, what value you place on having it, how you talk about it (or don’t), how you spend it and how you save it (or don’t).  You may feel guilty about how you spend your money and how much you spend.

Most people use money as a way to compare themselves to others on some level.

It’s alright for them, they have loads of money”

“Money doesn’t buy happiness”

I am so lucky I have enough money to pay for a roof over my head and put a meal on the table”

“I’m lucky I have enough money, so I should give to others who have less than me”

“I live within my means. I am responsible”

“You only live once, there is no point in worrying about money”

“S/he earns more than me but I do the same job, so that’s not fair”

“I work hard to get promoted because I’ll earn more money”

“I earn more money because I have more responsibility than people in my organisation who are paid less”. 

Sound familiar?

Some people only feel secure when they have lots of money and others are frightened of the responsibility of managing money; either extreme can result in a money phobia.

There is a plethora of books on how individual entrepreneurs made their fortune and how you can make yours.  There are also books and talks that explore your attitude to financial abundance, which sits broadly under the category of wellbeing.  There have always been groups of people who renounce worldly goods including money.  The motivation is usually connected with spiritual fulfilment.

Whatever your perspective, we’re all obsessed with money.

Like most people, my attitude to money is influenced by my childhood experiences, overlaid and reinforced by the messages that I choose from the pick and mix of views that society feeds me.

Honesty here, both my parents were hopeless with money, that led to rows and stress at home when I was a child and ultimately to me and my brother financially helping out our parents when we were in our twenties.  That left me very careful with money and critical of people who didn’t manage their money.  I knew from personal experience not managing  money has consequences for others and is irresponsible. A slightly arrogant attitude maybe, but there is some truth in it.  My brother responded by valuing money quite highly and aiming to make plenty of it.  Oddly enough I place little value on money itself beyond the security it provides. I expect no one to provide for me, the reverse. I would feel a failure if I relied on others to pay for my life. So there are my hang-ups.  You’ll have your own set.

As a midlife woman my chickens are beginning to come home to roost and my careful ways beginning to pay dividends (sometimes literally).  At the same time I find myself wanting and needing less money and placing a lower value on it. Not because I feel more secure (though I admit to a bit of  that) but because I realise focusing on money as a goal is not the right way to think about money.  According to many of the books and talks out there, it isn’t even the right way to go about acquiring it!

As a midlife woman I also now see that money and the security it buys is just another thing, as valueless and indulgent as a new pair of shoes or an exotic second holiday.  I may save every penny I have but miss living today when I know for sure that I am alive. That doesn’t mean I’m about to get rid of all my savings.  A time will come when I can’t work anymore or when people no longer want my services, so I’ll need my savings but I’ve realised that lots of the things still left in my life that I want to do, don’t cost that much. They are about sharing good times with friends, connecting with people in person and online; about learning new things for the sheer hell of it, about spending time in nature, reading voraciously and enjoying my garden. Yes, I need money for all those things but it is not the money that will enable me to enjoy them; that comes from my mind set.

So I’ve just purchased a pair of shoes online, not because I really needed them but because they are beautiful and it will please me to wear them.  I shall wear them in honour of all the pairs of shoes I never bought because I decided to save for the future instead.  Well the future is now, starting today.