Silence

Clee hill

 

It’s hard to believe it’s just two weeks since our trip to London. It’s even more difficult to believe that a visit to the capital city with all its hustle and bustle, perpetual motion, noise and mayhem, could be seen as an oasis of tranquillity. My son had said “I don’t want this to end…” I can easily see why.

When I took up my current post I made a conscious decision to step back a level. In doing so I sought to achieve something that had eluded me for several years – the fabled work-life balance. I’d come to believe it was as rare as a unicorn and the last time I saw one of those I was seven years old with my head in a mythological creatures book!

Being a well-paid business person is all well and good but the salary isn’t much help if you’re dead. No matter how good the employer they’re unlikely to pay your family for your untimely demise due to overwork or work-induced critical illness. I know too many people who didn’t make it to retirement age and not one of them said they wished they’d spent more time at work.

My father, knowing me well (and holding much the same values, ethics and ethos), has often said I wouldn’t like a boring job. He’s right, whichever way I look at it that statement is true. I find slow, bureaucratic and/or stagnant very unattractive along with anything that requires scant intellectual challenge. It’s not that I’m hard to please, I just need some pace, some food for thought, some ability to improve things (you know the phrase change or die? Only one of those conditions is aspirational), and some willing comrades to work with. I like being part of a good team delivering interesting, useful stuff that makes a difference to other people’s lives.

Along with cancer the eighty-hour week is something I chose to consign to the past and having consciously stepped back I wasn’t looking for the kind of role that rips through your every waking hour like the biggest dawg-gone twister this side of the yellow brick road. I wasn’t looking so guess what I got… Some sparkling red shoes and one hell of a journey in all directions.

Preventing my head from exploding or simply rolling off my shoulders has been a high priority over the last few months. As a naturally hardworking person with empathic tendencies and the ability to carry a heavy load, (one of my previous French colleagues said “you English work like stupid donkeys” and in my case he was probably right), I sometimes forget that the maelstrom happening all around me also works its way into and through me. I do not want to be caught up in the chaos or torn to wafer-thin shreds because at a cellular level my health probably can’t withstand that turmoil again.

People develop cancer because normal
cells suddenly become abnormal. The abnormal cells proliferate because they never switch off. Holistically and right down at a nano level we’re all supposed to switch off.

Silence is the best option and lately I hunt it down like a trained assassin. Alone isn’t worry-making for me, it’s a long story for another time. I’m happy searching out the most depopulated, remote, off-the-beaten-track places I can find. North Wales is good, mile upon mile of hills with little evidence of any other humans to be seen. Clee Hill summit is also good and somewhat closer to home. I almost bought a house on Clee a few years ago. The purchase fell through but not before one of my dear colleagues of the time advised against living there… “they’re strange folks up on the hill you know…”

Despite the warning the hill is where I went last weekend and it’s where I’ll be heading this weekend too. It’s empty. Emptiness is next to godliness as far as I’m concerned. Past the car park the only way to the summit is to walk using one of the scrawny uneven paths carved out by rugged sheep who look at you knowingly as you pass by. It isn’t an easy walk for me, flat ground is better, but there’s no hope of finding an expanse of flat ground devoid of human detritus, clutter and noise nearby. The hills are all that’s left, untouched by developers because they’re frequently inhospitable.

The walk is worth the pain because the environment is strangely welcoming. It is often totally silent. Have you ever heard complete silence, the kind that engulfs you from head to toe, seeps under your skin and deep into your psyche? You could be persuaded to think the whole world disappeared except on top the hill you can see it stretching in front of you like an impossibly large green carpet.

Close your eyes and you could be out in the dark silent vastness of space.

For a split second the silence is eerily daunting because our lives are so full of 24×7 noise. When the birds stop singing there is no sound at all. Even the voice we all carry in our heads, the one that reminds us to put the trash out, buy some milk, clean the car, phone Susan – and for goodness sake get a grip of your work email because there’ll be a thousand more to deal with next week – seems to find it’s mute button. All it takes is an hour’s silence.

A few years ago I couldn’t imagine the thing I most enjoy at weekends would be scrambling up a barren hilltop past some tumbledown ruins, a handful of sheep and the occasional crow simply to find a complete and all-consuming silence. A silence impervious to everything including the chattering of one overly conscientious inner voice. The desolate hilltop is the only thing keeping me from the madness of a world that was not of my making. I will fix it because my conscience doesn’t allow for anything else but this time I am older, wiser and understand the costs involved. They are not mine to be borne alone.

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Monthly Peace Challenge – Party On Garth!

This is the final B4Peace challenge of 2013 and before getting in the party spirit I want to reflect on why Bloggers for Peace captured my heart so easily. I want to live a peaceful life, one where compassion, understanding and acceptance prevail. But I’d like more than that. I’d like amity, kindness and tolerance for all humanity.  It may be a big ask but we’re in the 21st Century, allegedly ‘civilised,’ so we ought to be able to achieve it. Recent re-runs of Star Trek (I’m a geeky sci-fi type) drew my attention to an ongoing unpleasant truth about humankind. Whilst some of us are kind many are not. 200,000 years worth of evolution has yet to abate all our more primitive, combative and intolerant behaviours. We still abuse, torture and kill a variety of other animals as well as members of our own species. That’s not a great advertisement for humanity.  An alien visiting today would find we haven’t improved much since the 1960’s when Star Trek’s aliens thought humans were too aggressive and dispassionate to play any role in the wider universe.

We can change this. If more of us say no to violence, oppression and ignorance we will have a kinder, more supportive and understanding society. We can change this if we want it badly enough and accept 200,000 years of fighting isn’t something to be proud of. We can change this if we educate our children to love themselves and one another, irrespective of differences whatever they happen to be. If  we don’t stand up for peace, compassion, tolerance and understanding who else will?

OK, so now it’s time to party. This party can be a rave or casual dinner party, a picnic or a peace-walk, celebrate in whatever way suits you best because everyone is invited and we’re going there virtually.

Our location is an arboretum, to remind us we are just one of many species on this planet with a right to live life fully, compassionately and peaceably. The words of the great peace-makers of our world whisper from the branches of every tree and if you listen you’ll hear songs like Imagine, Get Together, Peace Train and Love is All Around. You’ll also hear laughter, lots of laughter, because people from all walks of life are celebrating.

We’ve given peace a chance and it’s paying off, travelling around the world faster than stories about Kim Kardashian and Kanye West.  All the dollars we used to spend on war (or protecting against war) have been redirected to humanitarian causes. So we’re closer to ending poverty, curing cancer, dementia and other degenerative illnesses, and we’re about to solve the problem of homelessness for all those sleeping without shelter this winter. We’ve made more progress than at any time in our history because we stood up for peace. Join the party, make it happen  🙂

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party

peaceparty

 

B4Peace ~ Love Thy Enemy

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A belated post for November’s Bloggers for Peace Challenge, courtesy of Kozo 🙂  Go check out the other posts, ’tis the season of Peace and Goodwill.

B4Peace Monthly Peace Challenge: I have a dream…

dartmouth 22july2013 2013-07-22 024

 

 

 

It’s hard to believe that these steps were once the haunt of privateers, pirates who preyed on French and Spanish vessels stealing their cargo and murdering their crews. That was almost 700 years ago and times have changed though not as much as we might think. Almost 70 years ago in June 1944, four hundred and eighty ships sailed from this port to the Normandy beaches. Operation Overlord saw 160,000 soldiers land at five points across a 50 mile stretch of the French coastline. They were supported and aided by over 195,000 allies and merchant navy seamen.

It is estimated that 60 million people, nearly two-thirds of whom were civilians, died in World War II.  The equivalent of the entire populations of the Bahamas plus Iceland plus French Guiana plus Qatar  plus Lithuania all lost their lives over a seven-year period. If every person in these five countries was to suddenly lose his or her life the rest of the world would proclaim it a disaster and rightly so. Fighting for peace by killing ‘the enemy’ is victory by disaster, death and destruction.  Life is sacred yet in times of war we forget that all and any loss of life, ‘them’ or ‘us,’ is a tragedy.

I have walked the WWII cemeteries many times, seen row upon row upon row of brilliant white crosses standing silently amongst the lush green grass. This war was before my time and I did not know these men yet my sense of loss is palpable. I try to remain detached, a quiet observer paying respect to those who lost their lives so that I could live in freedom today.  I try and every time I fail. I cannot walk among these graves devoid of emotion. I cannot detach myself from the pain and fear and suffering even though I was not here, not even born, when disaster came to call.   A deep and mournful sorrow constricts my heart squeezing so hard that I think it might break. Tears stain my face as the silence seeps into my soul. These are soldiers graves. I do not know where the many millions of civilians lay in the dark, dank earth. No doubt their bodies are strewn in graveyards across three continents, or lost along with some of the soldiers whose remains were never found.

 

Ardennes American Cemetery

 

 

 

 

Massicault War Cemetery

Massicault War Cemetery (Photo credit: stevie.gill)

 

 

 

 

 

 

And so I have a dream…

 

I dream that my child, his children (if and when he has them) and his children’s children’s children never bare witness to loss of life, whether one life or millions, simply because humanity is insufficiently evolved to settle its differences through peaceable means. My child, of course, has already borne witness – to Iraq, 9/11, 7/7, Burundi, Nepal, Kosovo, Ethiopia-Eritrea, Congo, Chechnya, Gaza, Afghanistan, Syria and countless others. I wish it were not so and I hope that by the time he is my age this feuding will have ceased.  I dream that our children and their children’s children’s children live in a world where differences are accepted and valued, prejudice is long since forgotten, wealth is not hoarded by the rich, food is not withheld from the poor and where religion serves only to forge a common bond, preserving our faith in the sanctity of all life on Earth.

 

 

Peace at Home: Monthly Peace Challenge

 

forpeace6June’s bloggers for peace challenge asks us to consider peace in relationships or peace in the home. I’m running late with this post simply because there’s so much that could be said and distilling it into a few paragraphs needed some thought.

Friedrich Schiller said “Peace is rarely denied to the peaceful.”  This, I think, is true.

As humans we have a vast array of behaviours and attitudes that enable us to cause chaos in the home, in the community or even on a global scale.   These behaviours and attitudes result in pain and distress for all involved, they drive fear, hatred and cause unnecessary destruction. Fortunately we also have the ability to be tolerant, compassionate and patient and these human traits help bring balance to our world.

Being at peace with someone else – partner, sister, neighbour, colleague – can only happen when we have inner peace. So our quest for peace in relationships must begin by making peace with ourselves. Here are some thoughts on achieving inner peace so that we have space to fully appreciate the lives of others and in doing so build enduring, engaging relationships:

1. Acceptance. To achieve inner peace we have to accept ourselves for who we are; tall, short, portly, slim, serious, fun-loving, diligent or self-critical we are the sum of all our experiences to date and we’ll continue to be shaped by the things that are yet to happen. Acceptance puts us at ease with our physical presence, our personal characteristics and our abilities. Acceptance also gives us room to develop at our own pace instead of chastising ourselves for the absence of things we have yet to master.

2. Kindness. If you cannot be kind to yourself, how can you possibly be kind to someone else? Practice being kind to yourself, to offer praise instead of criticism. We all have an inner voice or self-talk, what’s yours saying? Encourage it to be kind, to accept who you are and be glad of this life. We’re all worthwhile, we all have value and we’re all loveable so stop doubting, be kind and keep that inner voice positive.

3. Forgiveness. Being human means making mistakes. We are learning creatures and we learn by getting things wrong. In order to let others learn we have to forgive their mistakes… The same is true for ourselves. Practice the art of forgiveness by forgiving yourself for your mistakes, learning from them and moving on. Dwelling on the past doesn’t change it but learning from it makes for a better future.

4. Thinking. Take time to think, reflect and consider. Modern society rarely offers the opportunity to stop doing. We are in perpetual motion and often have no idea why. Stop doing and take some time out to think, reflect and consider. If the things you’re doing aren’t bringing peace, happiness and fulfilment stop doing them. Change is always possible and life is too short to live every day in misery.

When we have inner peace we’re comfortable in our own skins, we accept who we are and acknowledge our achievements. We give ourselves permission to make mistakes and learn by doing so. We’re aware consciously and sub-consciously that what we’re doing makes us feel happy and fulfilled. The  principles for inner peace are also the basis of  strong effective relationships – acceptance, kindness, forgiveness and thoughtfulness.

Why try to change your partner,  accept who they are and they’re more likely to accept you.

Why be unkind when we can give encouragement and offer praise just as easily.

Why hold grudges when they anchor us in the past? Forgive and move forward.

Why keep absent-mindedly doing when thinking and thoughtfulness are the true path to contentment?

Peace in relationships is dependent on inner peace, work for that and bringing peace to any relationship will be seamless and meaningful.

 

PS. Acceptance, kindness, forgives and thoughtfulness = love 🙂

English: Robert Plutchik's Wheel of Emotions

English: Robert Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotions (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

 

B4Peace: How do we raise children to be peaceful?

Gift of Peace

Gift of Peace (Photo credit: YardSale)

This post is in response to April’s Monthly Peace Challenge which has a focus on children and peace.  Thanks for a thought-provoking topic Kozo.

When our children are young (and even when they aren’t so young) our natural instinct is to protect them, keep them from harm and shelter them from some of life’s harsher realities.  Like many other parents I didn’t want my son being exposed to violence, abusive language or torrid images when he was very young.  I don’t want him being exposed to those things today either but I know there’s little hope of preventing it. He, like me, watches and reads the news, walks down the street and drives a car.  He can now see for himself how delicate a flower peace is and I am pleased that he has grown into a peaceable young man.

So what made him grow up valuing peace more than war and humour more than aggression? I think it was a combination of things.

Before my son was born I read that the experience a developing baby has inside the womb can influence their character and demeanour after birth. To me that made a lot of sense.  Every emotion I felt whilst pregnant was transmitted if not physically then chemically to my unborn son. I made it my mission to remain calm and happy throughout the whole pregnancy and birth experience.  My son was a very calm and happy baby.

Throughout my son’s childhood there was always lots of love for him coupled with plenty of encouragement and understanding.  More smiles than frowns and more laughter than tears. From a very early age I taught him to value nature and respect all living things (this is a lesson my parents taught me).   I believe that if we teach our children to value the planet we live on and the flora and fauna that inhabit it they are more likely to think about the consequences of their actions.  Those thoughts, the realisation that actions have consequences some of which are desirable and some of which are not, help us maintain balance, harmony, peace and equilibrium in the grand system that we’re all a part of.

As he grew older I taught my son about some of the harsher realities of life. We visited the WWII cemeteries in France, we discussed the reason for Remembrance and why people wear poppies.  We talked about people whose behaviour is markedly different through no fault of their own, the sociopath and psychopath who do not relate to the world in the same way we do and thus do not live by the same rules.  We also talked about everyday people, people like us who have a range of emotions along with the capacity to master them, to avoid anger, hatred and spite.   I never promised mastering one’s emotions would be easy but I was clear our reactions to any situation are our choice, not anyone else’s doing.  Easy to say, not always easy to remember so regular practice is required.

My son has become a compassionate and calm young man. Trouble is something he steps away from.  I wondered for a very long time whether I had done the right thing – should I have taught him to have more fight, more bravado?  Our youngsters get beaten-up, stabbed and shot in the streets because some people choose rage and hostility over peace and the sanctity of life.   I pondered on these thoughts for a long while and concluded that teaching aggression, disrespect and violence only breeds more of those things making our world a turbulent, unhappy and dangerous place.

Only time will tell but I think I did the right thing.  Teaching love, peace, respect and dignity offers at least some hope that future generations may be more tolerant, more placid and more peaceful than those who went before.

 

B4Peace: Forgiveness is a four letter word

Asking For Forgiveness

Asking For Forgiveness (Photo credit: hang_in_there)

This months peace challenge is about forgiveness.

Forgiveness is a four letter word. I want to say that word is love. I want to encourage everyone who reads this to believe that to forgive is to love and in loving each other we somehow make all the Bad Things that have ever happened to us magically disappear. I am an optimist at heart but I struggle with this one because there are some situations that are very difficult to forgive. I’m not talking about the trivial things, the ones that aren’t worth getting upset about in the first place.  I am talking about events that lead us to feel deep despair, burning anger or heartbrokenly hurt.  Turning those emotions into love is almost as challenging as splitting the atom – it’s feasible but it takes the right environment, a lot of energy and specialist skills to make it happen. For most of us leaving the atom whole is much, much easier.

At this point you might be thinking ‘ah, she’s saying forgiveness has parameters – if its small don’t fret about it, if it’s huge you’re saddled with it and anything in between might be worth a shot.’

So many of the things that offend, upset or annoy us are intrinsically linked to our personal values. A situation that might cause me to be deeply unhappy may not even register for someone else. Parameters don’t really work because they’re as individual as we are and our boundaries for good/bad/acceptable/unacceptable behaviour start and end in different places. Promises and lies are good examples. I don’t care if someone I barely know breaks a minor promise or tells me a few half-truths because it’s unlikely to have a life-changing impact on me.  It’s a different story if a key person in my life breaks a major promise or tells a half-truth that will have a significant adverse impact on me or my loved ones. The chances are I will be deeply unhappy about it. It’s not just about the adverse impact  – I’m upset for three reasons – the person responsible caused a Bad Thing to happen and it’s impact is significant, I’ve invested in a relationship with that person and didn’t expect them to abuse my trust, trust is one of my core values and once broken its difficult to reestablish.  I’m not much fun to be around when this kind of thing happens!

In spite of all this I still see forgiveness as a four letter word. Not the one that’s an anagram of a popular fashion label though sometimes it might feel easier to say FCUK, FCUK off or for FCUKs sake. Tempting as they may be, forgiveness is none of these things. Saying them out loud a few times can help relieve tension but has nothing at all to do with absolution and I’ve realised over the years that in order to move forward with our lives we have to leave the past behind. Playing it over and over on a loop is a path to despair, resentment or partial insanity. A life filled with bitterness and loathing is no life at all and retaining a state of unforgiveness over an extended period of time is a good way to end up permanently bitter and enraged.

It is difficult to forgive people who cause Bad Things to happen in our lives. It’s hard to let go of all that anger, hurt and disbelief.  It’s not impossible though and there are alternative ways of viewing situations that call for our forgiveness. For me the four letter word that sums up forgiveness is GIFT.  I admit it’s not an entirely altruistic gift because it hasn’t slipped my attention that there’s something in it for me when I bestow forgiveness and draw a line through whatever Bad Thing happened. Separating the Bad Thing from the person who invoked it is where the gift begins.

If you stay mad, hurt, upset or disillusioned by the way someone else has treated you, the only person who really suffers is you. You suffer because of what happened and you add to that suffering with your own special mix of negative emotions. Why punish yourself in that way? Why waste your energy when you could be using it to get out of the situation you’ve just been landed in?

Forgiving someone is a gift, not just for them but for you too.  Even if you struggle giving this gift, it’s important to realise that by doing so you give yourself the gift of liberty: freedom to take positive actions to resolve the situation, freedom to move forward and freedom from grudges, bitterness and resentment.

Last year someone in a very influential told me something I believed to be true and acted on in good faith. A few months later that person changed their stance. Their shift in position had serious adverse consequences for me while I was undergoing cancer treatment. As you might imagine, I was upset, staggered and astonished. By Christmas 2012 I was approaching my wits end but it dawned on me I was the only person in turmoil – the other person wasn’t really bothered. The only way for me to move forward was to forgive that person’s behaviour and focus on sorting out the bad situation I’d been left in. Was it easy? No. Did it take me more than one attempt? Yes (a bit like splitting the atom – it didn’t happen straight away). Did I feel better when I was free to solve the problem instead of focusing on why it happened? Yes. Has my relationship with that person changed? Yes. Was that detrimental to either of us? No. Have I been able to let go of the negative emotions associated with the Bad Thing? Yes. Do I feel better without them? Definitely!

Forgiving is a four letter word – gift. It’s a gift to forgive someone else’s detrimental behaviour. It’s a bigger gift to free yourself from resentment, upset or loathing to move on with your life. It would be nicer, in my view, if we could live our lives and behave in such a way that we never have  cause to say sorry or forgive one another. Until that day comes keep giving the gift.