Category Archives: relaxation

Borrowing Keys

dicentra

The concept of today’s post is not original. I lifted the Ten Keys for Happier Living from the Action for Happiness website, and put my own spin on them to relate them to the grieving process… I hope they are helpful.

Do things for others

Grief, particularly soon after loss, is both solitary and introspective. The act of reaching out is not easily achievable. However, simply sharing as much of our own story that we wish to reveal with others in a similar situation is mutually therapeutic. We do not need to do things for others in the form of charitable acts, but simply communicate as best we can. Simple exchanges create positive outcomes for both parties.

 

Connect with people

When trauma strikes, we sometimes have to reassess our needs and accept interventions that we would otherwise reject.

I don’t know where I would be today if it were not for the other bereaved parents whom I met, vritually and in reality, through The Compassionate Friends and Drowning Support Network. Both organisations provided a safe haven for me to share and explore my emotions from the early days, nearly ten years ago. I also received support from CRUSE and whilst I was initially very defensive about ‘talking therapy’ for my loss, as time passed I realised its benefit to my overall sense of wellbeing.

 

Take care of your body

Actually I would extend this to say ‘take care of your body and your mind’ because a holistic approach encompassing mind, body and spirit is the most beneficial way to make ourselves feel better about what has happened to us. If we are as fit as we are able to be, we are stronger and better placed to begin to shape a better future. Physical activity produces endorphins (the feel good hormone) which in turn can boost immunity as well as lifting our spirits.

 

Notice the world around you

We are all so busy these days rushing from one point to another that it is easy to fail to take time to smell the roses. If we utilise all our senses when we take a walk, it is virtually impossible not to feel uplifted by the world around us and take pleasure in, for example, the changing of the seasons. Buying fresh flowers for the kitchen windowsill is a simple way to introduce some everyday colour to our lives and to bring to notice the natural world.

 

Keep learning new things

The thirst for knowledge can never be quenched. In experiencing loss, we may discover a very strong need to learn more about grief to try to understand how best to process it. Reading is one of the best tools for expanding knowledge. But we should not limit our learning to the topics closest to us. Sometimes it is helpful to learn something entirely outside our comfort zone to stimulate our interest, which then has a tangential knock on effect in making familiar targets seem more achievable, and easier.

 

Have goals to look forward to

In early grief the smallest aims seem insurmountable. Getting through a day hour by hour seems impossible at first. But slowly and surely we come to realise that with each day that passes we feel minutely better. Goals such as being able to enjoy ourselves without feeling guilty do not happen overnight – but they are achievable. Today my goals relate to living mindfully, joyfully and meaningfully in spite of my loss.

 

Find ways to bounce back

It is true to say that we all have a story. Few of us swan through life without experiencing trauma, loss or sadness. But we all possess untapped reserves of optimism and strength that together provide us with the resilience to manage tough times. By focussing on what we actually can achieve, rather than having unrealistic expectations, we can grow stronger. Putting together a toolbox to manage adversity is a useful device. My own toolbox contains: mindfulness, writing, reading, talking, running, spiritual nourishment, amongst other things…

 

Take a positive approach

The concept of looking for anything positive in loss seems counterproductive. However, our efforts to be proactive in grieving pay massive dividends in providing a positive platform from which to launch our future. Losing my son is the worst thing to happen in my life. Yet I am still here, still standing, still upright and still making a useful contribution to life. It is only by constantly focussing on the positive aspects of my life – my loving husband, family and friends that I am able to put into perspective the tragic loss we have experienced. Turning negativity into positivity means looking for the light that comes after the darkness. And it does come … in the way that day follows night.

 

Be comfortable with who you are

When we are young, we are inclined to measure ourselves against others and find ourselves wanting in some way or another – that’s human nature. But maturity brings with it a certain degree of self acceptance. We must not beat ourselves up over things that have happened in the past and which we cannot change. A level of self assurance is undoubtedly helpful in traversing the grief road. Experiencing loss gives us a greater ability to present a face to the world that says, take me as I am. This is who I am today.                                                                             I am (finally) comfortable in my own skin.

 

Be part of something bigger

As individual human beings we are all part of the something bigger that is humanity, but it is within the bounds of our circle of family, friends, work and the community to which we belong that we tread our own paths. Making a difference as an individual can appear difficult to achieve but we only have to look at the efforts, say, of a fund-raiser running a marathon for a given charity, to see that we all have it in us, in some form or another, to be part of something bigger. Any creative strength and spreading the word, through writing blogs such as this, creates a sense of being part of a wider community and adding to the knowledge base of others. For myself, the satisfaction of being part of something bigger – in grief terms – is being able to share the path of my sorrow with an ever widening audience and at the same time as helping others in grief and loss, help myself towards a better understanding and assimilation of loss.

We all need to feel that we are here for a purpose. Sometimes it is hard to see exactly what that purpose is, and anything that helps towards clarity is a useful tool, not just in grieving but in our day to day living.

http://www.actionforhappiness.org/10-keys

www.tcf.org.uk

www.cruse.org.uk

https://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/DrowningSupportNetwork/info

 dandelion

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Which Book are You?

ARENA

“Those of us who have been true readers all our life seldom fully realise the enormous extension of our being which we owe to authors” – C.S. Lewis

Inspiration for today’s post came from a conversation I heard when catching up with BBC   Radio 2’s GMS programme when Ruth Scott was a guest on the show.

Ruth said,                                                                                                                                               “Before we were married, my husband and I were asked what book would best represent us before we met our partners – and I replied, ‘Enid Blyton’s Famous Five’, whilst Chris’s answer was ‘Charles Dickens’ Bleak House’. Ruth couldn’t come up with an appropriate book to represent their lives today, but I asked myself: which would be my book?

My book would have to be Paulo Coelho’s ‘The Alchemist’. One of the first spiritual books I read, the magical story of Santiago’s travels teaches so much about the wisdom of listening to our instincts, learning to read the signs which are there before us, and above all following our dreams and truly believing that we will ultimately achieve and arrive at our goals.

I had never encountered a book which seemed to speak to me as this one did, and it really had a life-changing effect on me at the time I read it, and beyond.

The world of literature is a wonderful place to take us out of ourselves in whatever direction we choose. It teaches, inspires, amuses, provokes thought, uplifts, encourages, relaxes, opens up new avenues of exploration, and in equal measure can disturb, perturb, or enlighten.

Reading is learning, but that is not to say it is the only way to learn. It is a huge part of our life education and how we read is important in contributing to how we deal with what life throws at us. If we read with sorrow or anger, we will feel pain and negativity.

I accept it is a blinkered viewpoint, but I choose not to read fiction that is gruesome or distressing as I dislike the imprint on my mind that is left by the imagery. However, it is not the case that I only read light and fluffy fiction – but I balance my reading between, say, a good thriller or family saga, with a factual account – perhaps an autobiography. I go to the library regularly to feed my reading appetite and my choice is usually led by what I feel will tick the boxes of a good read; it is one’s personal and individual choice which is a great part of the delight of reading. Some books leave far more impression than others and this is true of factual writing as well as fiction.

More esoteric reading such as Paulo Coelho’s ‘Manual of the Warrior of Light’ is a great way to start the day and may provide a platform for contemplation and meditation. Even a brief ten minutes spent in this way at some point in the day is helpful in processing all the ‘stuff’ with which we are constantly bombarded.

If we can find books to read that offer hope, humour, love, empathy and wisdom, then we will expand our knowledge with very little effort, and enrich our lives in a dimension that endures.

The pleasure that comes from being totally lost in an interesting story is immense. Whether our choice is poetry or prose, literary fiction or historical fact, adventure, thriller, romance…. there will always be a book waiting for us to enjoy.

There’s an exercise I do from time to time that I think of as an emotional barometer. It is very simple … in my diary I write three words to describe how I am feeling that day… if I were doing the exercise today I would write ‘calm, relaxed, grounded’. A week or so later I repeat the exercise without looking at the previous words, which I will most likely have forgotten. Then I look back and compare the words. It is surprising how often the same words crop up (in my case, I frequently write ‘blessed’) and it is a heartening exercise to carry out. I always try to record positive words rather than negative …if the words were continually negative I think I would look for some help to turn that round to a more optimistic viewpoint. In itself, reading an uplifting account has the capability to change mood and outlook. Even individual short quotations have the ability to inspire a sense of optimism.

It therefore seems appropriate for me to end with a quote from another of my favourite authors, the late Maya Angelou:

“If I could give you one thought, it would be to lift someone up. Lift a stranger up–lift her up. I would ask you, mother and father, brother and sister, lovers, mother and daughter, father and son, lift someone. The very idea of lifting someone up will lift you, as well.”


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New year thinking

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It’s here….. Like it or not, the clock slipped us round into 2015 and a new year lies before us, bright and shiny with promise like a newly minted coin (perhaps)… though are we ever really ready for whatever triumphs and disasters the world has in store?

The last time the year’s date had a number five in it was 2005, the year James died. I cannot forget the turn of that year into 2006. Part of me did not want to relinquish the last year in which my son lived. Instead of saying, ‘he died this year’, I would have to start saying, ‘he died last year’, which only served to emphasis the finality of our loss.

The expression ‘that’s so last year’ indicates that something has passed, that it has already begun to fade into obscurity, and no bereaved person ever wants to feel like that.

Only yesterday, my friend Karen wrote of her feelings at new year; she too lost a beloved son in 2005 and told me how in the early years, when writing the date she had to constantly think of the right year, as she always wanted to default to 2005. I totally get that.

And now, time takes us towards the July anniversary that will mark a decade of living with the loss of James.

I am so grateful not to be subsumed by grief.

Grief for James no longer defines my waking moments, it does not overshadow my life to the extent that I cannot live meaningfully and happily with the remainder of my family and friends. My grief is calm and quiet these days (though not always!)

One of the greatest lessons I have learned is to treat myself with grace, to go gently and allow my emotions not to get the better of me, but to help to make me live better.

I have learned to buff off the sharp edges of my expectations when I need to. A system of chore and reward has always worked for me. If I clean the kitchen, then I can write for an hour…. Figuratively speaking that is how I work with my emotions. Analogies for this are difficult to express, but perhaps along the lines of ….Open the box of the dark side of grief; sit with it, hold it, talk with it, mourn it, put it away again ….. and the reward is to come back into the light. Make myself a cuppa and eat a cake, hell, eat two cakes! I deserve them.

So here is my resolution for 2015…. rather than dwelling on the decade of life that I can (ungrammatically) call James’ un-lived time, instead I shall hold dear and treasure the memories of the 19 years that he lived.  Then I will square my shoulders, breathe deeply and step forward into the unknown that marks ten years of living this new normal life.

Welcome, 2015!

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Up against the wall

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The inspiration to write is a curious thing. At times, my mind teems with ideas and I wake up with a complete piece in my mind, at others there is an utter block and I fear that my creative spring has dried up. Fortunately, this never happens in the long term. But at such times, the inspiration to write may come from an image.

For anyone who wants to write, look at an image and allow your mind free rein to produce words to describe it. Even if you think you can’t write, at worst you will produce a list, and at best something lyrical.

The image above is a Cornish dry stone wall, or Cornish hedge as it is locally known. I took the picture when I was visiting my family in Perranporth earlier this year; the wall is just a few minutes’ walk from Stella and Pete’s house, up on the coast path above the bay.

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When I consider the image now, I see the large rainbow hued rock just left of centre as the heart of the picture. The irregular stones around it, which slot together in a form that holds and connects, could represent the rocky road of grief and loss. I wonder which stone started the wall. Was it the very bottom one? Logic says a wall can only be built upwards. So we grieve – onwards and upwards, creating a solid foundation before we can move to the next level.

The bottom layer of stones is standing end-on. They need to support what comes above so must be strong and straight. Thus it is with the strength we have to find to move forward and build up our lives again after the trauma of loss.

The next layer is smoother and looks rather more balanced, although there is a gap at the right hand end which gives the effect of two steps forward, one step back. Above the gap are two stones leaning in to each other; these look to me like angel wings, protecting what lies below.

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The third level up is definitely the heart of the wall. It could not exist without the base foundation and it is large and smooth and even. My eye is constantly drawn back to the wonderful rainbow hued heart stone. I love the little tangle of lichen which caresses its base. Somehow a small interruption to its perfection seems quite appropriate.,

The fourth layer sits confident, smooth and stable atop the rest. It puts me in mind of the level of acceptance of loss that is only arrived at after a considerable passage of time. The layer is even and without any jagged edges. There is a small stone that sits quite differently to all the rest, tucked in just on top of the heart stone, which perhaps represents something new to be cherished. The shapes, textures and colours of the rocks in this row are amazingly varied. They suggest the return of an appreciation of the beauty that is all around us.

The fifth row echoes the second row in its neat, level formation, and I imagine this row lends strength to the wall’s structure. It says little to me other than ‘I am here and I am strong. I stand upon a foundation that will not crumble.’

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The final layer looks almost casual in its construction. It sits loosely atop the rest but in itself it provides a base for the sturdy, wind resistant plants that cling tenaciously to it. I love that in moorland plants. No one puts them there, they simply arrive on the wind, on the sea air, through the birds that fly above. They ask nothing; they clothe the rocks with colour and softness. They look soft, yes, but they are hard and tough, much like the indomitable human spirit.

Keats wrote odes to nightingales and Grecian urns but I don’t think he ever wrote one to rocks – perhaps he should have done. Why should we not be stirred by what we see as inanimate objects when put together in a form such as this, taking on a life and beauty all their own?

Next time you look at such a wall – really observe it, and see if it speaks to you as this one speaks to me. Who knew a Cornish hedge has a voice?

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Just Breathe

daisy

It’s easy enough, isn’t it? Breathing, I mean … after all, we do it unconsciously most of the time. In fact, the air that we breathe is one of the only things that is wholly free for the entirety of our lives.

This was brought to mind when I watched Daisy the cat, fast asleep on our bed this morning. It was not just her ribcage that rose and fell with every breath, but her belly domed up and sank down too; she was so very relaxed. Babies often sleep like this too.

I am sure that any bereaved person will recognise that when you are grieving, you do not breathe properly, not at all like Daisy or a baby.

I can remember feeling breathless, as if I was not getting enough air into my lungs, particularly early on in my grief. My heart would race and pound, and underpinning it all was a sense of anxiety and fearfulness that I simply couldn’t catch my breath, or get enough of it to sustain me. I pictured the air having to fight its way through tightness in my lungs rather than journeying there with ease. I grew lightheaded and the anxiety fed on itself. I had to learn to breathe again. Easier said than done.

Over the years, I have tried various meditation, relaxation and visualisation techniques. They all involve ‘breathing with mindfulness’. By this I mean it is necessary to concentrate your focus on the in and out breath, something which we generally ignore or take for granted.  It is only  by doing this that you realise just how nourishing breathing can be.

The solar plexus chakra is said to sit centrally, just below the diaphragm. This chakra is where we get our gut instincts and intuition. It is an emotional centre, and it has always felt to me like the point where grief will sit like a stubborn knot, a dark lump of heaviness that needs to be dispelled. It took a lot of practice and concentration but I have found it is possible to learn to expand one’s breathing using the right techniques.

I never used to pay much attention to the concept of chakras, but now I find comfort in imagining these ancient Sanskrit symbols quietly aligning themselves along my body.

The solar plexus chakra is associated with the colour yellow, and I like to envisage it as a beautiful yellow flower, opening and closing with my breath. It is also the area that I shield and protect, mentally or with a slight touch of the hand, before I set out for the day. Visualising a barrier that repels negativity and stress in this way is really helpful to empowering yourself and strengthening your intention to face any difficult situations that may arise.

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When you have finished reading this little piece, try taking a few mindful breaths.

Close your eyes, open your nostrils and suck in all that lovely free air!

Fill your diaphragm, feel your heart expand and poke out your belly … who cares if you look silly?!

Go outside into the mellowness of the autumn day and BREATHE IT IN.

Pull the air into your lungs …. visualise it filling you up inside, hold for a few seconds and puff it out with a huge sigh. Do this a few times and I guarantee you will feel better!

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