A watery darkness

I talk a lot about the importance of generating joy and what could be more joyful than a trip? I especially thought Sweden would be a naturally joyful place. But the trouble is, you take your baggage with you, sometimes oversized with emotional items, as in my case, where my anxiety and fuzzy thinking packed themselves and came along with me.

They emerged in full force one day when I went for a walk in the countryside. A local told me about a nature reserve with a lake about an hour’s walk from where I was staying, continuing straight along one road. It sounded simple enough, but of course, I should have known better. Due to the aforementioned fuzzy thinking, I didn’t even double check where I was going on a map or write down the name of the place or even take the phone number of the people I was staying with. Worst of all, while I followed the signs to the naturreservat, I didn’t confirm with the very few people I passed that I was, in fact, going the right way, and missed an unexpected turn and got incredibly lost. It was a hot, sunny day and I’d been walking for two hours. I proceeded to have a meltdown, and was incredibly upset, crying out and raging against the universe, while also pleading with it for a solution.

I eventually encountered a cyclist, who kindly put me back in the right direction and then I met another girl who confirmed that a sign I ignored (thinking it was for somewhere else) was the one I should have followed. After another bout of walking, I eventually found the reserve and a very serene lake, in which two figures were bobbing, mainly a young couple that was also staying in my accommodation. I was not only very surprised to see them, but also immensely pleased, because I had already decided I couldn’t face walking another two hours back in the hot sun and was not looking forward to testing the Swedish attitudes to hitchhiking. But the universe came through, as it always does, and my two rescuers even told me on the car journey back that they were originally headed to another lake, but at the last minute, decided to try this one.

There are so many things I could learn from this experience, other than the importance of being focused and prepared, and of course, asking for directions. But most of all, the essentialness of being fully present in one’s situation. I was too busy fixating over finding the lake and freaking out over being lost, that I couldn’t enjoy all the wonderous creatures around me on my walk – the beautiful flowers and tiny blue butterflies and even a snake. How much better would it have been if I could have accepted my predicament, appreciated the nature around me and just CALMLY turned around and retraced my steps.

Sometimes we have to work hard at not letting a situation shatter our peace. Because without that peace, you are immersed in your agitation and are separated from everything and everyone else. And without the joy and openness that comes from being at peace, you leave yourself vulnerable to darker emotions creeping in and can’t access the beauty and magic of everything around you.

Flight of faith

Recently, I’ve been planning a trip to Scandinavia – somewhere I’d always wanted to go. But I was having working out the details, and I found myself wracked with doubt, confusion and uncertainty about whether I should be going at all. The stress and anxiety got so bad that I was on the verge of cancelling the trip altogether – and forfeit all the hundreds of pounds I’d already invested in various bookings.

Finally, one night, when the anxiety was crippling me, I went to one of my special places in nature. I knew the roar of the rushing river would help calm and steady my nerves. Plus, I went to ask for a sign. This river is potential place to see kingfishers, though they’re definitely not easy to spot. I asked the universe to send me one as a symbol that I should be doing this trip at all.

 I spent nearly an hour amidst barking dogs and loud children, scanning the river and seeing nothing.  I prayed very hard to show me this sign, and was on the point of giving up and leaving, when I suddenly heard the elusive bird’s distinctive whistle. I stood on a raised mound and seconds later, a shot of brilliant, iridescent blue flew past right in front of me, followed immediately by the roar of a plane overhead. I felt an immediate release of pain and a healing flooding in. All the mania and uncertainty fled from me as swiftly as the bird and gave me the first bit of peace I had felt in a long time.

Faith is such a fundamental aspect of our being, and yet, how many people engage with it? Whatever it is that you believe in, having the strength of that connection is invaluable. Sometimes, when things get bad, faith is literally the only thing I have left to keep me going. It helps me to access that sometimes small inner voice and give me guidance on what to do when I’m plagued with indecision.

Even so, messages can get blocked or obscured by the wheels of doubt and confusion spinning round, and sometimes you have to outrightly ask the universe for a sign of what to do and then make the space to receive the answer. It’s a way of asking for help, by reaching out to something bigger and more powerful than yourself.

Faith is also what creates the bridge between your ideas and desires and the ability to enact them. It can boost your fears with a belief that you can succeed and give you the confidence to propel you forward. Faith is what anchors you to the bedrock of the earth, while letting you reach for the stars.

Joy from above

Following up on he heart and soul divide, I had another incident recently where I was torn between them. One plan was helping my friend with his monthly musical group in another town, serving tea and chatting with the participants, the other option staying put to attend the local carnival and once-a-year opportunity to climb to the top of the church bell tower, an experience I had done once before and absolutely loved. I was really torn until the last minute, fully expecting to abandon my plans and go with Trev and then surprising myself by watching him drive off. Though I felt quite guilty, ultimately, it proved to be the right decision.

I had so much fun climbing the never-ending winding staircase to see the amazing views over the town and watching the cutest – and shortest – carnival procession ever. By the time Trev came home – having managed fine without me – I was bursting with energy to tell him about all the quirky encounters I’d had that day. My joy was infectious and lifted him up too from his exhausting afternoon.

It’s always worthwhile to want to help, and there are times when choosing to be on hand over fulfilling your own wishes is the right way to go, even if it results in crushing disappointment. But sometimes the greatest gift you can give to someone is your joy. When you have followed your heart and have honoured your deepest desires, it generates a buoyancy and joy which you can pass on to other people to give them a boost and raise their energy too. And a gift of happiness coming from the depth of your inner being is so much richer than one delivered from guilt, as it has the potential to be given again and again, knowing no bounds.

Walking the line

I’m back again in England, visiting my dear friend in the quaint old market town where he lives. I like to go for walks in the early morning along the river when the sun is shining. One morning, my friend wanted to come along, and although this is usually my ‘reflecting time’, he seemed keen to join me, so I acquiesced.

We went past the quarry and were en route to the river, when he had a strong desire for us to divert and venture through what I call ‘the weird woods.’ This is a bit of woodland which should be nice, but has such odd energy, partly because it borders on a huge aggregate processing works. I usually avoid it, but he had such a strong yearning and I didn’t want to let him down. The woods were – as expected – very weird, dark, overgrown and uninviting, with slippery, unnavigable paths. I couldn’t wait to escape back to my usual walk and regain some of my inner peace.

We often feel torn between our head and our hearts, but equally, I feel, are the struggles between our heart and soul. Many times, family, friends or loved ones pull us in one direction – out of loyalty, obligation or genuine love – while our spirit calls us to go in another direction, driven by an inner compulsion.

It’s a tough choice and at times, unwinnable, often involving an unsatisfying compromise. While we need heartfelt connections, if you neglect your soul too much, it can whittle away and begin to die. The best scenario is when your heart and spirit align – where you are on a similar path with those closest to you, or where you can divide your time between being with them and having the space to follow your soul’s journey.

It’s an ongoing tension and one that’s rarely easy to resolve. For me personally, I only feel my alignment of heart and spirit when I’m out in my special places in nature, with the birds, the water and the trees, the only time I can feel a sense of calm and contentment and not feel pulled in a hundred directions. I think the more you can find that place – be it somewhere external or internal – where your heart and soul come together – the greater the opportunities you have for finding a sense of lasting inner peace.

Not ducking out

The other day, while walking in my local park, I had to stage a ‘duck intervention.’ Not as dramatic as it sounds, but what I felt to be pretty important, nonetheless. A family was perched over the pond feeding the wood ducks. When I saw the telltale bag of bread in the father’s hand, I knew I had to overcome my hesitation and stage an intervention.

I hate ruining others’ enjoyment, especially when they’re interacting with nature, and honestly, people always think they’re doing something nice feeding ducks’ bread. I did it too as a child. But really, it’s the worst thing for them. It swells up their stomachs and has little nutritional value for them, so they could end up malnourished and unable to fly. Better alternatives are corn, peas, oats, seeds, lettuce or rice.

No one likes to be told off, and I don’t like chastising people either. But neither did I want the ducks to suffer unnecessarily. So I tried a different tack, by approaching the man and saying, ‘Hi there. Do you happen to have any corn?’ When the man obviously said no, I explained the above scenario and how such vegetables or grains would be better alternatives to bring next time. I then invited him and his family to enjoy the ducks and went on my merry way. He was fine and, most of the time – though not always – people are receptive, as they generally don’t want to harm the ducks that they’re taking pleasure in feeding.

I’ve had a few other incidents lately where my initial reaction would have been to rush in and fix a problem by criticizing the action, but it’s far better still to offer a solution, vis a vis the ‘light a candle rather than curse the darkness’ response. This is especially challenging for me living a vegan, surrounded by meat eaters. It would be easy (and tempting) for me to criticize people for their food choices, but if people are open, I feel that it’s better to offer what I perceive are healthier and kinder alternatives.

Everyone wants to feel that what they’re doing is right and it’s natural to want to correct others who you feel are doing wrong. I think, where it’s warranted, it’s okay not to ‘duck out’ of a potential confrontation and to inform and educate people, but with a view to offer a viable alternative instead. It makes the situation better for everyone – especially the ducks.

A barred way

Last week I was in a dollar store picking up some hand sanitizer – now a regular item in our shopping baskets.  Behind me in line was an elderly lady, and while I was packing up, she set down a big stack of milk chocolate bars on the counter and then discovered she had forgotten her purse. She seemed disappointed and said she’d have to get them another time, as she wouldn’t have been able to manage the flight of stairs down to the store again. I felt bad and nearly offered to buy them for her. For some reason, I held back, feeling conflicted, and then the moment passed.

For quite some time after, I felt upset about my inability to help, and reflecting on my hesitancy, I came to the following realization. Other than the obvious expense of paying for all the bars, what stopped me from helping out was the fact that she was buying milk chocolate and, as a long-time vegan, I feel very strongly about not supporting dairy products in any way, especially not in purchasing them. If it was another item, I felt like I would have gone ahead and done it.

What this incident showed me is how common it is for us to have situations where we feel unsure how to act because the choices involve conflicting emotions and beliefs. One course of action feels partly right for one reason and partly wrong for another, creating an impossible situation. This can often be the scenario with family members – where whatever we decide will benefit one person but not the other.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, while these types of situations of uncertainty are bound to occur, what’s most important is feeling the need to do what’s right. I felt genuinely bad that I couldn’t help this woman, and it impacted me negatively because helping other people actually lifts my own spirits and helps me too. It’s not always possible to have clarity in such situations and naturally, the best scenario is where both parties are on par and feel mutually uplifted by a heartfelt exchange.

Service with a smile

Last week, I was working in the box office of an international film festival. As we were operating out of an existing cultural centre, we were relegated to the cloakroom to run our makeshift enterprise, though it functioned suitably well in our quest to procure patrons with tickets for the vast array of cinematic offerings.

Of course, there were hiccups in the procedures, as we navigated through the computer’s less than agile ticketing system. Glitches sometimes occurred, especially when we had lineups and multiple inquires. I had one particular incident, while I was still learning the ropes, which resulted in me taking a few missteps, coupled with computer and printer errors and one spilled coffee – at the customer end, not mine, thankfully, but we eventually got through it. Fortunately, the patron was incredibly patient and kind. He could so easily have blown a gasket, but remained calm and understanding throughout, for which I was very grateful.

It was a lesson I could have used when I was recently doing some banking for my elderly mom, as I often do. Usually, I use the bank machine, but this time, I wanted to check something with a teller. I was mentally hoping not to get served by a particular person, as she always questions my POA credentials and the interaction takes forever. I did, of course, get her, and had to re-explain my situation, followed by her meticulously going through everything, including me signing my name twice, as my signature didn’t sufficiently match the one on file. I gritted my teeth, silently wishing I had used the ATM machine.

But the truth is that no one is perfect, and while we hope people are all doing their jobs to the best of their abilities, some customer service will always be better than others. But we all need to live with human foibles and errors too, if we want to have this personal interaction with at all. Machines are rapidly replacing people in every facet of our society, and soon, face-to-face transactions will become even more a thing of the past.

Such erasure will further erode our communication skills, and more poignantly, our ability to be courteous, patient and kind. With our being accustomed to automated efficiency, we are already a lot less forgiving of each other’s imperfections and errors. But it’s really okay to make mistakes, as long as we acknowledge, apologize and try to rectify them. And being on the receiving end, we really need to try and exercise patience and understanding, as there may come a time when we will be asking for the same treatment in return.

 While we still can, let’s give people a chance in the workplace to serve and help one another, with imperfections, yes, but often with a lot of charm and individuality too.

Heard on the grapevine

I was once again considering what to write about when I decided to go line dancing. Why? Well, why not? There was a group that meets weekly in my local park and I decided to join them. The sun was shining and, in any case, I like to support community initiatives, especially those that are inclusive and accessible for everyone. And anyway, it’s actually kind of fun.

I know line dancing has a bit of a reputation for appealing to a certain age group, but really, it can be for everyone. The moves are simple steps – though surprisingly easy to mess up, and it’s great exercise and comes with a lot of laughs. So, it was an enjoyable way to spend an hour and I met some nice people too.

I think we often put labels on many things and dismiss them outright without giving them a chance. In our internet-obsessed world, where everything is on display, we urgently need to know the details of anything we get involved in – be that an event or even a person. We’ve become accustomed to pre-screening everything, even though the reality is often different. It’s like we’ve lost the art of taking a chance. And with so much on offer, we’re afraid of wasting time, or choosing badly, or do something that will make us look like a fool, or conversely, not be suitably Instagrammable.

I mean, life is for living. Let’s take a chance. The real world – not the one filtered online  –  is full of wonderous, as well as ridiculous and heartbreaking moments. But it’s there for us to take hold of. Isn’t one of the purposes of life to try things out and learn, even from our mistakes?

 The pandemic forced has many of us to do things in different ways than what we were used to and as the world opens up again, we should continue to exercise that muscle and try things out of our comfort zone. Who knows what may come out of it? You might meet some interesting people or learn a new skill, or just have a bit of fun. And now back to seeing what else I can hear on the grapevine…

Slow Down and See the Earth

The other day while out on my bike, I was hit by a car. Not badly, thank goodness, as it just clipped me, but yet another calamity on my bicycle, the third in as many months – third time unlucky? It occurred while I was crossing at a pedestrian light. I saw the car waiting to turn right, or so I thought, but the driver just kept going and plowed into me.

My bike actually saved me, as the car mainly hit my back wheel and I managed to remain upright, uninjured. I was so shocked I just froze, while the driver got out of the car to apologize. As I seemed to be alright – and I was standing in the middle of an intersection – I just carried on.

I was only two blocks from my mom’s place, but it was enough pedaling for me to realize that something wasn’t right with the back wheel. It turns out it was buckled and needed to be replaced – a hefty misfortune, indeed.

There are so many upsetting things about this episode, including my not pulling myself together enough to get the driver’s details. Of course, the whole incident could have been a lot worse, but it could have been better too – not having occurred in the first place.

The truth is that cycling has become even more dangerous in this city, as many drivers are in a rush and simply don’t look where they’re going. One of my main joys of cycling is the ability to go at a slower pace, to take in what’s around, to stop check out a Little Free Library on the sidewalk or to pet a dog.

It’s this slow-paced enjoyment of our environment that’s constantly being eroded, most notably in our car culture, with many drivers so wrapped in their own bubbles, that they’re dangerously detached from the world outside their cars. Pedestrians, cyclists and animals are the ones that suffer the adverse consequences when this disconnect leads to erratic driving.

With Earth Day around the corner, it’s a timely message that we should all be more mindful, more aware of our environment and to slow down, stop and take a look before proceeding further. Apart from the countless benefits of being more present in our surroundings, it can literally make the difference between life and death.

Taken for a ride

I was musing about what to write in this week’s blog when my bike was snatched. Perhaps not intentionally, but there was definitely some mal intent going on. Let me explain.

The public buses in this city allow you to place a bike on a rack at the front while you ride on board. This has been a real lifesaver for me, especially for uphill journeys or to travel to far-flung parks. I was headed to such a park last week, en-route to a hospital CT scan, in an attempt to assuage some of my anxiety about the procedure.

The trouble began at a stop where drivers were changing shifts. We had been there for some minutes, so with a sense of rising anxiety, I got off the bus to ask a couple of the drivers when we would be departing. One of them said the bus would leave when the driver arrived. I turned around to see that a different driver had got on the bus and shut the door. I banged on the door for him to let me in and he wouldn’t open it. He pointed to the bus stop, directly in front, so I scooted there, only to watch him drive off – with my bicycle in tow.

Although he probably didn’t know it was my bike, there’s really no excuse for him not letting me on the bus. Watching my bike disappear rendered me instantly apoplectic. My plans were in tatters and furthermore, I LOVE this bike.

After attempting many ways to find a solution, eventually, the driver of the next bus (who had witnessed the event) called his supervisor and it was arranged that he would drive me to a stop 20 minutes up the road, where I was to wait for the same bus to come back round again. Nearly an hour after it whizzed out of my sight, I was once again reunited with my beloved bike.

Unfortunately, upon my seeking an explanation for his actions, the driver was unrepentant and completely indifferent. I told him I was going to report him, which I did later that day. I’ve yet to see any results from my impassioned account, but I still feel it is important to report any kind of unacceptable behaviour like his to try and stop it happening to other people.

Speaking of behaviour, while I confess that I didn’t conceal my distress very well and was crying and wailing a fair bit, on no occasion, – on either bus, or waiting endlessly at the bus stop, did any of the passengers approach or ask what was wrong. I mean, really? I know that this is a big city and people are mistrustful of anything out of ordinary, but I was clearly not dangerous, just upset.

 Maybe it was harder to look away before we had phones to disappear into, but consider what will happen the next time the person who needs help is you. Random acts of kindness should not be noteworthy, they should be the norm. Let’s all step up and try and show that bit of extra care and consideration for one another, whether in our jobs or in our everyday lives.