Tickled pink

I had a lot weightier things I’d planned to write about this week, but instead, I’m going to write about a pink hat. This venturing off piste from something a bit more serious to a more lightweight and fun entry kind of sums up the story too. Before I set out the other day, there was, needless to say, no thought about a pink hat entering my life in any description, but enter it did, despite the fact that I set out looking for more practical things like a kitchen colander and shoes. 

Somehow I ended up (as I often do) looking at hats, which hold a strange fascination for me, perhaps because I metaphorically wear so many different ones in my life. At least this time, I was drawn into looking at useful, warm hats, unlike the wildly impractical Downton Abbey style cloche hat I recently bought in London on a whim and then had a bedevil of a time packing and carting back to Canada without wrecking it (cue – schlepping it with me on board the plane). So at least I thought, as I plunged into the alluring array of cozy looking hats, this would be warm and practical, especially a non-nonsense black hat. So how did I end up with a bright pink one? Suddenly in that moment, I didn’t want to be practical and sensible. I wanted a bit of colour and life and joy exuding out of the top of my head. And so, the bright pink hat is what ended up in my basket.

Needless to say, I didn’t come home with shoes or a colander (though I did look for them, truly) but instead, unintentionally making an outward statement of what I internally would like to manifest – exuberance, happiness and light – and perhaps the pink hat will also succeed in making others smile too. I think it’s important to be the change we want to be, walk the talk, or in this case, wear the hat that speaks your truth to the world. And that truth can also entail veering wildly off a sensible course and just living and breathing and celebrating life – spontaneity being the gloved hand of creativity. Ah gloves, but that’s another story…😊

The act of giving

I think we all face difficult decisions trying to live our best lives while fulfilling what I call ‘karmic responsibilities’ to other people and commitments that we’ve made. Sometimes it can feel like a constant pitched battle of having to choose between situations that impossibly conflict with one another, and that whatever choice we make, we will either feel guilty for neglecting our responsibilities or disappointment at missing out.

 I think the truly fortunate people are ones whose passions align with their responsibilities, such as those who care for animals or children, for example. But for many of us, responsibilities like those to family or community members can often result in us feeling robbed of spontaneity, freedom and joy.

There is certainly no perfect fix for this, and it can be a constant struggle to get the balance right, so that we are not always feeling anxious or unhappy. I think at times when we feel that we have chosen to sacrifice our time, our energy over doing something we truly want to do, the most healing action we can take is to try and step back and to view it as an opportunity to revisit our shared humanity. This can be hard when we’re immersed in the midst of a challenging situation, but it’s worth considering that we are all in a continual dance of giving and taking, and the act of giving can be in response to a time when you have taken in the past, or more pertinently, you are making the space for reciprocity to occur in future when you need to ask for help and will receive it from others.

Though it can feel upsetting or draining or even a wrong choice at the time, I think when we meet our karmic responsibilities and give, we are embodying humanity’s greatest treasure – the gift of compassion. And while it is equally important to have compassion for ourselves and our own needs, and not to neglect them and to honour them when we can, when we can give with compassion, we are actively engaged in a process of liberating our souls. And if we can develop the ability to give with compassion in a way that also brings us joy, this is the time when we are truly free.

A bridge of sighs

I wish I could say I’m writing this from Venice, but for me, Chipping Sodbury has equivalent charms. As I was looking at a little bridge over the River Frome on my early morning walk, it occurred to me what a wonderful name for a bridge this was. What is it about bridges that makes us want to sigh when we see them? Is it the hypnotic flow of the water rushing past underneath? Or is it the significance of the melding together of two places and the transition that takes place between them?

I’ve always been very drawn to bridges, especially old stone bridges, which must have seen an enormous amount of traffic of all kinds over the centuries. I’m sure it’s because I’m someone who lives in two different places of the world and is always trying to straddle the substantial distance between them. I think also that most of us have some kind of divisions in our lives that split our affiliations and loyalties. It’s human nature – to be a part of a family and move away from it or be divided between a job and a relationship – so many ways we section ourselves, especially as the world has opened up and is full of infinite possibilities.

In this way we all need effective bridges in our lives – something that helps us navigate between two areas over what is often a turbulent, unsettling divide between them. I think if we can all find what can work for us as a bridge and how we can use it to safely navigate across our different realms, we would find these transitions less harrowing and fraught. Whether this bridge is a specific location, activity, person or even state of meditation, we all need a safe divider to help us translate, transform and to be in peace in the different spaces of our lives.

On the road

My friend and I recently attempted another road trip. We enjoy ourselves – much of the time – but the driving aspect is always stressful. He drives, I navigate. And we’re talking paper maps – no Satnav. Sometimes it works and a lot of the time it doesn’t, as I’m directionally challenged and he won’t get involved in figuring out how to get somewhere. So we often get lost and sometimes turn up late for things – another source of stress. I also have to plan everything and he just goes along with it without any input into what we do on these trips. Fine, but when there’s a problem, he tends to overreact.

So such things cause me to be annoyed with him, but I’ve started to realize that when problems arise, reacting negatively doesn’t remotely help the situation. It’s hard, but with some newly acquired self-restraint, I’m learning that instead of lashing out, to take a step back and try to approach the situation calmly. Not always easy, especially in the spur of the moment, but what helps me is to look at the situation from an entirely different perspective. Many people behave negatively or overreact because they are suffering in some way internally. We all have our own particular anxieties and issues that lead us to act in outward negative ways – myself included. Wouldn’t I want someone to show compassion to me in these moments, not anger or irritation?

So this is what I (try to) do now is to modify my own reaction – to act instead with compassion and to focus on finding a solution to the problem. This decision to let go and approach the situation calmly has brought me so much peace, and more profoundly, into a whole other realm of humility – the realization of how vulnerable we all are and our sense of connectivity and responsibility to one another as members of humanity. I’ll write more about humility another time, but please don’t get annoyed with me for leading you on and not saying more about it now. 😊

Lemon meringue pie

I’m not actually a big fan of lemon meringue pie, but would be the first to say that when life throws you lemons, sure, you can make lemonade, but sometimes you can go one step further and make a fully formed lemon meringue pie.

I had such an experience the other night when I was getting ready to go to a play I had been planning to see for months, a one-off outdoor performance at 7.30pm in a country town seventeen miles away from where I was staying with my friend. This friend, who was driving, had packed up the deck chairs on his way to work, in a town thirteen miles in the opposite direction.

He assured me he would be back in time to go to the play and he would have been, had it not been for an accident that occurred just as he was returning home, and which blocked traffic for miles in every direction. He was stuck in town and would not make it in time.

What was I to do? I had been looking forward to this play for the whole summer, and there would be no opportunity to see it again. I sprung into action calling taxi companies – there being no public transit out these parts – but none were available until later in the evening.

I finally had the idea of knocking on the door of my friend’s neighbour, who I had only met once, but seemed like a nice girl and more to the point, was younger than me, so more likely to have an Uber app (my relationship with technology being of the dinosaur variety). Luckily, she was home and was more than willing to help. Although it was nearly 7pm by this point, she miraculously found a driver willing to come. While we were waiting, we chatted away easily, and made a really nice connection.

The driver then whisked me away along the windy Cotswold roads, where I catapulted onto the play about five minutes after it had started. My friend actually arrived five minutes after me, in tatters, but soon calmed down enough to enjoy the play, which was wonderful and worth the monumental effort in getting there. And, as I brought over a thank you gesture to the neighbour the next day, I was glad we had connected this way and I appreciated how kindness truly exists everywhere – something we all need more of these days – along with a sturdy helping of pie – of whatever flavour. 😊

A chirp in the dark

I had another bad night recently, where I was too hot and kept waking up, and when I did sleep, I was ridden with anxiety dreams. By the time I woke up for the last time at 6.30am, I felt tired, achy and completely uninterested in moving a muscle.  

But then out my window I heard the unmistakable whizzy sounds of a flock of goldfinches. These are particularly lively and colourful birds, and this morning’s visitors were mostly juvenile birds, whose faces hadn’t yet formed the distinctive red hue. They were whirring about the garden, flapping energetically between the big trees, especially favouring the buddleia tree just outside my window with its plentiful seeds. There were a couple of very young, hapless looking birds, flitting their heads about with uncertainty. Soon enough, one of the parents swooped in with tasty treats to feed them until they were satiated.

All of this succeeded in instantly lifting my mood, and even amidst my aches and fatigue, reminded me that there are always possibilities, always the potential for new energy and life. A bad night doesn’t need to carry on into a bad new day. When you are open to the infinite flow of the universe, there are always opportunities for healing and for things to take an unexpected turn for the better, if we are able to let them in.

The flow of stars

I was sitting in the back garden the other night at 3am, as it was too warm and I couldn’t sleep. When I looked up, I saw an enormous sky full of stars – a rare sight – and the air was crisp and cool. During the time I sat in the garden, the sky clouded over, erasing the stars in their wake. I felt immediately disappointed but then it gave me pause to reflect. Perhaps my appreciation of the stars, as much as it was for their beauty and luminosity, could also have been for their transient and fleeting nature.

Maybe this is the best way to value the special things in our lives, by being present when they enter into our orbit and appreciating them for the time they are there, knowing, but accepting that they too will pass. This is what can enable us to properly appreciate them. Possibly if we had such things all time, we would cease to be aware of their value and at best, take them for granted and at worst begin to tire of or even resent them. Even silence, a precious commodity in today’s world can take on an oppressive form if we had too much of it, too much of the time.

We must remember that we are like a river, forever flowing through the various ebbs and streams of our lives and it is impossible to stop and stagnate – we can either flow forwards or backwards. It is through our flowing that we encounter our special moments along the way. Often times these people or experiences flow along with us, or we are caught up with their own particular eddies, but always there is the flow. Like the stars, the true gift of all encounters and experiences is how and when they touch our lives and our precious, sweet memory of them when they float away.

Following a sound

I have a special relationship with red squirrels. They’re not that common or easy to spot, but for me, if and when I see one, it’s always a good sign and immediately lifts my spirit. Yesterday, I was at a lakeside spot with a grove of different trees, some of them pine, and I strongly felt the presence of a red squirrel. Often I hear them, but there were none of the trilling or squeaking noises that they typically make. Instead, I heard bird song, so I went towards where these sounds were coming from. Sure enough, within a minute, a red squirrel appeared with a fat pine cone in his mouth, which he settled down with and proceeded to eat with gusto.

Sometimes we only have a feeling about something and it’s not based on anything rational or demonstrable in our environment. Maybe it’s just a small feeling or niggling voice telling us to do something, to go towards something, even if it’s not exactly what we’re looking for. It’s always worth following this inner voice, because our paths in life are rarely clear or straightforward, and instead are often windy and illogical. But our inner voice of passion is always true, even if it seems to be leading us to places other than what we were expecting.

With all the noise and distractions we have in life, it can be quite hard to hear, much less follow, what this small voice is telling us. But it’s there if you listen carefully and it knows the way, however odd it may seem at time, if you have the courage to follow its lead, it will bring you to somewhere you need to be.

Seeing, not looking

I think one of the problems we have as human beings is our innate tendencies to look and not see – forever searching, rather than seeing and appreciating what we have and all that is before us. The trouble with looking is that we’re imposing our expectations and our needs, rather than being present to whatever is around us and to process things and appreciate them for what they are.

Similarly, we often hear but don’t listen, which again, means we’re not really present. It can be hard to listen, with our minds racing here and there, but the value of listening can’t be underestimated, not just for the person being listened to, but in developing our own skills in being present and empathetic.

I especially practice both of these skills in nature, for when I just encounter what is there – rather than what I would like to be there or hope will be there – I experience such joy and openness and gifts – beyond what I could have hoped or planned for. Sometimes just by baring witness, to whatever it is, what will come to us is not what we wanted or expected, but often it will be so much better and by being present and still, we will be in a much better place to receive it.

Five-dollar mask

Masks have become a regular part of our everyday lives over the past year and a half. I wear only the cloth ones, as my heart breaks with all the disposable ones I see littered on the ground everywhere. One night, on a walk around the neighbourhood , my mask ended up on the ground somewhere too, as it fell out of my pocket. Although it only cost $5, it was quite a pretty mask decorated with flowers, so I would have been sorry to have lost it. As I discovered its absence only on returning home, I re-traced some of my steps, but couldn’t find it. I thought I would try again the next morning.

Before doing that, I ran an errand at a local drug store, and at the cash, I found $5 on the floor. Without thinking, I handed it over to the cashier. I don’t know if anyone would claim it or not, but I didn’t feel it was mine to keep. Oddly, handing over the $5 bill (the cost of my mask) made me sure that I would find my mask again. And I did. I went further along my route and found it on the grass of the local park.

You might say that I would have found the mask anyway, but for me, it was a reinforcement of how my relationship with the universe works – founded on honesty and openness, and things I put out literally come back to me. Of course, I think we should all strive to be honest without any expectation of return, but it’s also nice to have reassurances from the universe that it’s continuing to look out for me and the things that I care about.