‘The Stories that Shape us’

It’s nearly Christmas! Time for mulled wine, mince pies, twinkling lights and time to retell the greatest story ever told – the coming of the child who is King and Lord of all. 

As a child, I loved stories. I still do.best

‘Story’ was the most exciting word ever – more than toys (or Christmas) or sweets! 

I loved new stories, especially stories about overcoming incredible odds. (‘The Silver Sword’. ‘The Incredible Journey’). 

And I loved to make up and write my own stories too. (They weren’t so incredible!)

I’m babysitting. My granddaughter brings me a pile of books,  asks me to read a bedtime story. The conversation goes like this: 

‘Me: ‘This one?’ (Hopefully)

Granddaughter: ‘No, that’s not the right one!’ (Tosses book aside)

Me: ‘Is this the right one?’ (More hopefully)

Granddaughter: (Thinking) ‘Mmmm….No!’ (Clearly not Granny!)

Me: ‘How about this one. Is this the right story?’ (Third time lucky??)

Granddaughter: ‘Yes! That’s my right story!’ (Relief!)

There is a ‘right story’ about each of us….

The stories we hear about ourselves when young, in some sense define us. They may inform who we then become. If these stories major on problems and weaknesses, (without the story arc that ends with overcoming) … then ‘our story’ can become a damaging road map. Sometimes the stories we inherit are just plain wrong, and we need to stop living from them, and learn a new story.   A redemption story. 

all things quiet

So, I’m going to say a bit about my story…. The one I inherited, and how I had to re-write it. 

My story starts here … 

Most of my life I’ve believed there was something intrinsically wrong with me. 

Not physically – but something wrong in my brain, some ‘glitch’ that meant I took things in too slowly. Took too long to learn and process things. I believed I had a ‘stupid gene’. 

There’s a reason I believed this… 

When I was eight years old, I was pulled out of my school class to be assessed by the first of three child psychologists. Up until this point I had been fairly happy at school. 

I was quiet, a bit of a daydreamer, but I had friends and I liked sitting with them up against the playground fence and making up stories. I was doing ok (or so I thought).

lynne-at-school-photo

Then they rolled in the first child psychologist.  

I remember that he wore a dark suit, and looked a bit like a crow. I felt scared. 

He asked me the difference between 18 and 30. 

I told him that they were two different numbers (astonished that he didn’t seem to know!). It didn’t go well from there….

My parents were called in, told I ‘wouldn’t amount to much’ and that the school would be moving me to the ‘remedial stream’. (It was called something more brutal back then). 

They moved me the very next day. I stopped talking, curling back in on myself. Suddenly, the world seemed a frightening place, where I had no voice, no control, except to remain silent. So I did. 

I was saved only by the fact that my parents refused to believe what they were told without a second opinion, so they engaged two further sets of psychologists – nice, friendly ones this time.  

I remember going  to be assessed at an old red-bricked Georgian house, windows festooned with copper-red Virginia Creeper,  manfully trying to grow through the cracks in the brickwork. 

I liked this psychologist. He pretended to sharpen his finger in the rotary pencil sharpener on his desk. I asked whether the Virginia Creeper was really a triffid.  (I’d heard ‘The Day of the Triffids’ on the car radio). 

We did puzzles and picture recognition cards and he eventually reported back that there was nothing wrong with me,  that the school were doing me incalculable harm, and that I should be withdrawn immediately, and sent somewhere smaller and quieter where there would be

… Less pressure to perform. 

… Less competition to be heard.

I was enrolled in a small village school, and so began the long journey back to confidence, hugely helped by the quieter, smaller environment and some focused attention. I began to succeed, more than succeed. I did very well. My confidence grew, and I found out, when the pressure was off, that I loved to learn. 

However, what never left me, all the way through high school and university, and on to work, was that gnawing, malignant fear, that one day, that as-yet-undiagnosed flaw would re-emerge, and I’d be exposed as a fraud. 

I believed that I had to work harder than everyone else, not to do well, but just to keep up. 

If I slacked off,  I’d be back there in remedial, where no one could hear me scream. 

Any love of learning was almost sucked dry by performance anxiety and drivenness. 

I didn’t know this poisonous cocktail of feelings had a name. It was years before I heard of Imposter Syndrome. I assumed everyone else felt as confident as they seemed. Shame meant I kept my feelings hidden. 

My confusion and lack of confidence around my own ability meant that despite gaining a 1st class Honours degree, and even being offered an Oxbridge scholarship, I  walked away from many opportunities I might have had, because my ‘story’ told me they weren’t for me.

I’d always wanted a family, so when my children came along, I threw myself happily into a world filled with dressing up boxes and kiddies’ stage plays, trips to the library and museums, morning swim times and kitchen tables covered with craft glue and tissue paper. It was my safe place, as well as theirs. 

 When my quiet daughter started school, my safe haven fell apart. 

Almost from the start, I was having to defend her right to be quiet and still be ‘OK’.

I was constantly having to reframe stories of her as ‘withdrawn’ and ‘uncommunicative’ in terms of her need to have quiet, uninterrupted thinking time; space for her imagination to work amidst the hubbub of the classroom. 

Almost from the start, marched in the recommendations for assessment: Maybe she had hearing problems? Maybe she suffered from petit mal or some form of autism? 

I fielded them all, inwardly screaming. 

I knew my child. 

Outside of school, she could be deliciously quirky and funny, sensitive and perceptive.   Inside school, these ‘queries’ made her uncertain of herself.

I found myself looking backwards into a mirror.

I knew I was losing perspective. Plunging into a dark, familiar place. 

I found a good counsellor to talk to, who taught me that my fears were ‘phantoms’ from my own past, that my daughter was NOT me, she was her own person and that in any case she had me and others to lead, guide and protect her, should she need that. I had to deal with my anxiety so that I didn’t contaminate her with it. 

That, of course, was just the beginning.  My daughter (and my other children) have grown up to be strong, loving and (it seems to me) fearless and assured adults. 

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What my daughter and I have in common is that we are both introverts. 

Not always quiet, or necessarily shy. Certainly not anti-social.  But often observing life from the sidelines first before we plunge in. 

I was no stranger to introversion. I’d done Myers Briggs. I  thought I knew all there was to know about introversion and its ramifications. But I was wrong. 

Recent findings in neuroscience research, cited in Marti Olsen Laney’s ‘The Introvert Advantage’  reveal that the differences between introverts and extroverts are not simply at the behavioural level. 

They are hard wired into our brain circuitry.  

Introverts ‘need to reach back into long term memory to retrieve information. This requires reflection time without pressure’, because we use a different neurotransmitter to extroverts (acetylcholine rather than dopamine) and this requires a longer neural pathway. Introverts then (particularly right-brained introverts) can seem, on first acquaintance, slow.   Stupid even. 

I know now that as an introvert I am hard wired to need time to process information. That and the tendency to shut down when overstimulated or in noisy environments, daydreaming and being often content to sit back and listen provided the perfect storm of symptoms that set the wheels in motion for a psychological assessment that pathologised my introversion. 

I’ve made peace with myself now. There is no undiagnosed fatal flaw. 

No longer will I let others’ stories of me define who I am, however ‘qualified’ they may be.   I’ve learnt (like my granddaughter) to choose the ‘right’ story…. My story. 

And so can you. 

We hold the rights to the screenplay of our own lives, and no one else can write that script. 

we-hold-the-rights-to-the-screenplay-of-our-own-lives-and-one-else-can-write-that-script

Time to start re-writing!

Christmas blessings,

Lynne X

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8 keys to getting noticed … (without the song and dance routine) 

All things quiet

I was on my second cup of breakfast tea. My husband (who was scouring the paper for teaching vacancies), looked up and sighed, 

‘”Just look at this!”   He poked the ad. I read it. 

‘Wanted:  Energetic, dynamic, enterprising team player required for this vibrant forward-looking Department’.

He groaned. “Can’t I just be good at what I do without having to do this eternal song and dance routine?”

I felt his pain. Most of the appointments echoed the same sentiments.

My husband, you see, is also an introvert. He wouldn’t describe himself as ‘energetic, dynamic or vibrant’. He just gets the job done. Quietly. 

Eventually he gave up trying to balance education and entertainment and left teaching for the quieter fields of IT, where he didn’t have to play Fred Astaire.

What he came up against that day was not just our cultural bias towards extroversion but …

(more worryingly) …

its’ tendency to equate outward displays of exuberance for that inner pilot light of fervour that drives commitment, competence and leadership.

Outward enthusiasm might indicate inner commitment, but it might just be surface dressing and natural excitement. A calm, quiet exterior might mask a burning passion for something. We can’t judge by externals. 

All too often, however, we ARE judged in this way.

In other words:     Exuberance=good, quiet=bad.   (Or maybe just ‘not worthy of attention’)

Look carefully, and you’ll see this everywhere.

Richard, a quiet 10 year old boy sits at his desk in the middle of a busy primary classroom. 

“Can I have someone to help with the nature pond this afternoon?” asks his teacher. Richard is keen to help. He has a real interest in the natural world and spends time during the weekends helping his dad with conservation projects. 

His arm shoots up, his eyes shine, but he doesn’t shout out. 

He is a polite lad, he knows you shouldn’t shout out in class. 

But all around him classmates bounce off their seats, calling out, “Me, me…pick me, miss!” 

Richard sits quietly, as he knows you are meant to, and soon he is invisible among the tsunami of waving, jumping children. 

“Go on then Amber, you go!” announces the teacher. Glad to be shot of the biggest wriggler in the class. Amber too is delighted… she is missing Maths. 

Richard’s arm comes down slowly, and he lowers his head so that no one can see the hurt. 

You can bet that the lesson he learnt that day was that to be quiet is to be overlooked; that those who shout the loudest get all the attention. 

In other words, he learnt that his quiet nature often worked against him in getting what he wanted. 

This is why introverts often turn themselves inside out trying to play extrovert. 

This is why they fail to understand and develop their natural strengths. 

This is how they learn shame. 

And it has to change. 

Put simply, if I’m to prove I’m keen, if I’m to stand out….I’d better be super-mega-enthusiastic and noisy. I’d better flag-wave, cheer-lead and demonstrate a lot of forced hype. Whether I’m feeling it or not.

Whether that’s the way I naturally show enthusiasm or not. 

And if I don’t dance the dance, well then…I’m a cold fish, lacking zeal and probably commitment. Not to be trusted.

Shakespeare’s ‘King Lear’ is, without question, Shakespeare’s darkest, bleakest depiction of human nature. It’s visceral, gut-wrenching stuff. At its’ centre is Lear himself, a flawed and narcissistic character of vast proportions whose downfall is equally colossal.

The play opens with Lear’s fateful ‘trial of loyalty’ to each of his three daughters. A one-off test (overlooking a lifetime’s knowledge of his children) to determine who loves him the most and who will subsequently win his inheritance and favour. And the test? 

It’s for each daughter to prove her love and commitment in displays of passionate and extravagant language.  

If you know the story, you’ll know that the two eldest daughters, Goneril and Regan,  rise to the challenge and provide Lear with glowing, if unrealistic, descriptions of their love. Cordelia, the youngest, who is actually Lear’s favourite, cannot play the game. She is unable (and unwilling) to ‘heave my heart into my mouth’, as she puts it. She speaks the truth, that she loves her father as a daughter should, ‘no more, no less’. For this, her share of the inheritance is divided between her sisters and she is banished. 

Now Goneril and Regan are toxic to the core. Their declarations of love are born of flattery and manipulation and in no way represent spontaneous, innocent extrovert enthusiasm. Cordelia, likewise, isn’t the simple introvert victim. There is a certain stubbornness and pride in her truth-telling to take into account.  (Not unheard of in introverts!) 

But it’s Lear’s reaction that merits attention. Because he is the one who holds the cards. He is emblematic of all gatekeepers. And he (like Richard’s teacher) listens to those who shout the loudest. 

Somehow, without engaging in flattery, manipulation, pushy-ness or going against our own natures as introverts, we have to find a way to be heard above the crowd in what matters to us.

So why is it so hard for us to convince others of our excitement or dedication? 

It’s hard because as introverts we are naturally more reserved. 

We also tend to use words sparingly. We UNDERSTATE rather than overstate.. 

In Introspeak, “I’m feeling a little chilly” might just mean “I’m suffering from hypothermia and will shortly keel over and die”.

(Be mindful of this with your introvert friends and family!)

all-things-quiet

Like most introverts, I try to be very ACCURATE in what I say. 

When I’m really excited about something, you’ll know about it, but I’m not easily enthused. Nothing wrong with that. I just can’t manufacture enthusiasm if I don’t feel it. 

If I give praise for something, I really do mean it. If I don’t say anything, it’s likely I’m not overly wowed. I don’t throw my compliments about like confetti. 

Otherwise they have no meaning. 

That said, accepting praise can be just as problematic for introverts. We need to scan compliments to check first that they are a) genuine and b) merited before we can really receive them, and our low-key responses can sometimes throw cold water on extroverts’ genuine attempts to express gratitude! That said, I’m learning to bend a little …to give more positive strokes, because I now know that these things are an extroverts’ lifeblood. This can sometimes  feel uncomfortable, like flattery, or emotional manipulation (can’t I just say once that I appreciate them for doing the washing-up? Don’t they believe me?) but I’ve had to learn that if I don’t feed the extroverts I love regularly with praise, they end up emotionally starved. They may end up feeling I don’t care about them. I don’t want them to feel that way, because they are incredibly important to me. I’m still a work in progress, as they are.

The problem we have as quiet people then is that it can be difficult persuading people that we are really into something, or committed to something, or want something (like a new job opportunity or promotion), NOT because we’re necessarily shy or lacking in confidence, but because (like Cordelia) we don’t see the need/ can’t bring ourselves to do the required hype.  It feels insincere, fabricated. False.  Worse, it can feel like the worst primary school “Look at me, I’m so keen!” public display competition. I might care a great deal, but resent simple assertions of my interest and commitment not being enough. 

It can feel to quiet people as if we’re caught in a lose-lose trap – be false to ourselves or seem indifferent to others. It’s not a happy choice! 

So, how do we make sure our passions are heard, (particularly to gatekeepers), without denying our personalities? 

We make sure our every word counts!  So … 

8 Keys to Being Heard:

  • Pack your declarations of interest/commitment etc full of DETAIL, like cherries in a cake. Make sure every word you utter (or write) counts and reveals your introvert strengths – research, analysis, strategic and detailed forward thinking and planning. You’re good at this. You know exactly what you could add to any organisation, and where the development niches are. Think Content. Not Delivery. Quality not quantity. Show, not tell is the way forward.
  • Express yourself in WRITING. Get a written statement of interest in before you have to do the talking. Again, pack with detail. Take your time thinking and planning exactly what you want to say. Show you’ve done your homework. That communicates interest more than anything.
  • TARGET  the right people. Sometimes you might just be in the wrong place. You need managers and others who will see beyond a slick 20 minute presentation. Align yourself with kindred spirits in an environment where you will be heard and valued. Sometimes that takes the courage to abandon ship and move on.
  • BELIEVE in yourself and your unique strengths. Get to know and develop them. Don’t compare, but don’t compromise either.
  • WORK WITH your natural strengths. You may be a good sympathetic listener, ideally placed to hear what’s not working so well in an organisation and to be one step ahead in identifying and coming up with a plan you can share to make things work better. That’s contributing to team working and organisation The Introvert Way. 
  • PICK THE RIGHT TIME! Usually when you can be alone with ‘the person who needs to hear you’. When you can guarantee their undivided attention. Approach them or email and ask for a 1-1 meeting. Don’t fight to be heard in the arena (like Richard in the classroom). Decide what you want and plan ahead. Stick to your plan.
  • Don’t be discouraged if you’re not heard first time. DON’T GIVE UP! Try a different tack, a different person, a different job. Believe you have value. Because you have. 
  • And finally, when it seems impossible to get the attention of gatekeepers… Don’t forget that the real power is in your hands to turn your zeal into action. Don’t give away that power to others. Just keep going! 

Enthusiasm  is fine, but it’s commitment that counts in the end. Life is a marathon, not a sprint. 

life-is-a-marathon all things quiet

Blessings as ever, 

Lynne x

Should it stay or should it go? ….. The Life Inventory

You can only carry so much

I haven’t posted on here for what seems like ages, and I’ve honestly missed that more than I can say.

But there’s a reason I haven’t been posting….

Over the last four months, you see, along with my family, I’ve been emptying, clearing and selling the family home I grew up in. The home that had been in the family for over half a century. 

It was part of my childhood and growing up. It was the house from which I got married, and which came to be special to my children too, as they rediscovered all the nooks, crannies and play places I had made dens and memories in when I was young.

I’ve learnt that there isn’t much that is harder than parting with your history and your memories. 

Every cupboard or drawer you open tells another story, another memory unfolds from within an item that you might have to relinquish.

What do you keep? What do you lose? How do you choose? 

It sometimes felt as if I was getting rid of myself. 

Pulling up my very roots.

Keepsakes, photographs, old books and belongings that used to speak of who I was … (maybe not now, but there’s an emotional attachment) and a sea of memories comes rushing in. 

It’s very hard. 

I didn’t know where to start. As a family, we researched the best way to do a house clearing. There’s the  William Morris take on ‘stuff’ … ‘Keep only what is beautiful or useful’.     Mmmm…. Deciding what is beautiful or useful turned out to be widely subjective!   Or there’s the mantra that says ‘keep it for six months, if you haven’t  used it, chuck it’.  Problematic. It might take me six months to find said item amongst the mountains of stuff! 

We decided to start doing a basic sorting, and set aside separate rooms for ‘keep’, ‘sell or donate’ and ‘get rid’. That was the easy bit, but I still felt as if I were drowning!

What grid do you use to help you decide what to keep and what to lose anyway?  (I LIKE grids. I like templates, and instructions, and safe, secure ‘how to’ methodologies, but found nothing that touched the real core of the issue).  No one, you see, seemed to take the emotional attachment bit into account. That’s the bit that makes it hard to let go. 

Then came the awful thought…would I fail to get rid of ANYTHING? Would I end up like one of those hoarders, buried beneath a sea of random stuff?  Eaten by Alsatians? (With apologies to Bridget Jones!) 

stuff

Horror of horrors! 

Have you ever noticed that some of the best ideas we get come to us in dreams, or maybe just in that dreamlike state between sleeping and waking? 

Well, I was rescued by a ‘dream’..I woke one morning with the words ‘IDENTITY’ and ‘LEGACY’ swimming in my head. (Normally, the only words swimming in my head on waking are ‘Get up!! You’ve overslept!).  Thank you Lord! I have a grid! I am one happy lady! 

So my grid began to click into place. I began to see that the things we need to keep, and to treasure from the past, are to do with IDENTITY… with who we are, and are becoming. They may be actual things, books, letters, a sewing machine, an old typewriter… They might be relationships that have been significant in helping to build who we are becoming. These things have become ‘family’.. They have become part of our DNA. 

 LEGACY is to do with what I keep to pass on as an inheritance. Not just clocks and cabinets, but personal history and narratives, a love of art or music, a thirst for knowledge and discovery. It’s about finding and identifying the baton so you can pass it on. 

So here are the questions I asked myself, to help me choose what to keep, and what to lose….IMG_2426

Is it still part of my/our ongoing life journey? 

Is it a reminder of those special people in my life and what they have built in me? 

Does it still fulfil a purpose? 

Does it speak of who I really am? 

Does it echo with my plans and dreams for the future or is it ‘dead wood’ from the past, pulling me back and making it difficult to grow steadfastly forward? 

THAT grid was helpful.

I’m not just talking about losing or keeping actual possessions either, I’m talking identities. In psychotherapy, we understand that the powerful image of the ‘house’ often stands for the self. Moreover, our ‘stuff’ (physical or otherwise) can house old and outworn, sometimes unhealthy identities, that NEED to be shed. 

….Like when we keep all the old punk albums we listened to with the scary ex. (Although we’ve always hated punk!) 

….Or we keep the books from that course our parents signed us up to, that we bunked off.

Why are we keeping that stuff? Because until we get rid of it, we’re tied to that identity, that failure. We haven’t let it go, got closure on it…and so we can’t move on. 

Those things are the barnacles on our shells that slow us down. 

Other ‘stuff’ might remind us of parts of ourselves that we need to pick up and run with again, interests and leanings that have lain dormant….      

WE NEED TO DO A HOUSE CLEARING!   DO WE STAY AS WE ARE, BURDENED WITH A LOAD OF ‘STUFF’ OR DO WE DO A LIFE INVENTORY?  

We have to be intentional about what we allow ‘in’ our lives, and what we decide has to ‘go’.  And the decision can only be ours to make. 

So why is it so hard? 

I think it’s hard because on the whole we’re creatures of habit, content to live with our own particular status quo, living in stasis, however cluttered, so long as life will allow. 

The problem is, Life usually doesn’t!   

Because we were not made for stasis, we were made for growth. 

And growth requires reflection, evaluation and making (often scary or brave) choices. Growth can be uncomfortable, even painful, because to be free to grasp hold of something new, you have to let go of the stuff you’re holding onto….otherwise your hands are already full. 

I love watching natural history programmes. Recently I was watching an episode where there was a close up, prolonged footage of a snake shedding its skin. I’d never really thought much about the process, but as I watched, I had one of those light bulb moments…

When the snake’s skin becomes too restrictive for further growth, the impetus for shedding is triggered. 

I don’t know what activates that process….without giving the snake human feelings, I guess he must feel pretty cramped and tight and uncomfortable, and certainly in the process of shedding, the snake becomes cranky, stops eating, and will likely go somewhere quiet and private….because it’s vulnerable at this point. 

But the point is, it cannot grow unless it sheds that skin, and it cannot get rid of the discomfort until it sheds either! No pain, no growth. A bit like giving birth. Pain is an indicator that something HAS to change. Pain is a precursor of birth, of change, of growth. Pain isn’t always something to avoid, to be afraid of.  

C.S.Lewis in ‘The Problem of Pain’ spoke of pain as ‘Gods megaphone’. It wakens us to action. It demands decisions, not avoidance.  

So, what are you going to do?    What needs to ‘go’ in your life, and what needs to be reclaimed?   

You can only carry so much luggage in life. So pack with care. 

Ask yourself these questions:  is this thing/relationship/ habit/lifestyle leading to growth, to health, to happiness – is it helping me on the journey I’m on, does it feed into my values and identity or is burdening me, pulling me back to the past, to old identities, mistakes and memories, and beckoning me along a sideline, not along the main track of my life? 

The biblical concept of ‘Leaving and Cleaving’ recognises this principle of letting go in order to grasp something new. You cannot build strong new attachments until you relinquish or lessen the pull and primacy of old ones, even good ones!   If not, you’ll be pulled in so many directions, master to everyone but yourself, and who you should be. 

Unfortunately (especially for introverts) our Western culture values (demands sometimes!) multiple involvements and commitments. It tells us (mistakenly) that we can have it all, keep it all, do it all – at no extra cost. 

So we need courage and self awareness to choose a quieter, more focused, less cluttered path. 

Self awareness to know what to keep and what to lose, and to shelve the guilt that comes with saying ‘no’ . . 

Courage because choosing to say NO, can (sadly) open the door to being judged as selfish or indifferent. 

Ironically, saying ‘no’ to some things simply means we can be MORE committed to the fewer things we choose to say ‘yes’ to! And depth, not breadth is introvert gold. 

You cannot keep everything in life, nor should you try. Keep only what passes from your hands to your heart. Let all else go.   

Til next time then, 

Blessings,

Lynne 

You cannot keep everything in life. Keep only what passes from your hands to your heart. Let all else go

‘On The Road Not Taken’

 

I’m sitting looking out of the window at my garden. Outside, it’s grey and blustery, but warm. Here in England it almost feels like Spring. Daffodil spears are pushing valiantly through the cold soil. Winter seems to have passed us by. But it’s still only early February, it could go either way….winter may still come roaring back.

 

The New Year too arrived with its promises of a new life, a chance for us to do things differently in 2016.

 

We resurrect resolutions, hopes and expectations…and maybe even some concrete plans, for the year ahead. Some of these, we’ll make inroads to achieving.

 

Others will remain in the ‘Back Room of Good Intention’.

 

Some will be abandoned after a few weeks (usually the ones to do with diet and exercise regimes!) By this stage into the year, I guess you’ll all know which category your resolutions fall into.

 

But there’s another side to the New Year, one that can cause us a measure of disquiet. It’s the flip side of resolutions and expectation…

 

…It’s the spectre of ‘what ifs’.

 

The symbol for January is after all, Janus, the Roman two-faced God, who faced forwards, but also faced backwards.

 

New Year can also be a time when we reflect on the year that’s just gone, and there, alongside all the good (and not so good) times, we might light upon ‘The Great Imponderables’ –

 

Those decisions we didn’t take,

The route we didn’t go down,

The opportunity we let go by,

The relationship we didn’t follow up on….

 

And there it is, hanging in the air…

 

What would have happened if …? Did I make the right decision?

 

Sometimes, that unanswerable question can throw us into a morass of self-doubt, recrimination and regret. Particularly if life currently isn’t a bed of roses, that imagined alternative future can seem like a lost chance, a better life thrown away…and of course we blame ourselves. Who else is there to blame!

 

This is not a happy place to be.

 

You might be thinking – What has all this to do with introverts finding our courage and our voices?

 

Well, potentially, a great deal!

 

You see, as introverts, we tend naturally to think long and hard about our decisions. We research the options, we listen to our intuition, our value systems, we weigh up the pros and cons. We may even tabulate them! We don’t easily share this process. It’s internal.

 

You might think that this makes us better, clearer decision makers. Well, sadly not necessarily. We may amass a huge arsenal of information to guide our decision…but it doesn’t always lead to a decision!

 

The introvert leaning is towards analysis, over-thinking and often perfectionism and its companion procrastination.

 

Not easy bed-fellows to decision making!

 

We are also by nature cautious and risk-averse.

Making decisions – important, life-changing ones – can be agonising. We want to get it right, but how will we really know what the right decision is when the options are not between good and bad, but better and best, or two seemingly ‘equal’ pathways? We can be racked with self-doubt and recrimination.

When both roads looks inviting, Which one to take_

 

We might be further paralysed by ‘black and white thinking’, leading us to believe that if there is a right path to take, then the alternative choice must be wrong and lead to all kinds of disastrous consequences! The result of this kind of polarised thinking is that we can find ourselves unable to make any kind of decision because the stakes are just too high. We go round and round in circles. We become frozen by indecision.

 

Anyone thinking of Hamlet here?   More to the point, anyone recognise themselves here too?

 

These tendencies we have as quiet people prove a potent cocktail, one that makes decision making difficult and extremely stressful. Often, we decide NOT to make a decision.

 

We forget that avoiding making a decision is (sorry to remind you!) making a decision! You just decided to pass on it, to keep things as they are…..that’s still a decision. And it’s a common introvert decision…..because we value security and safety, we often decide to stay with the status quo.

 

Some years ago, I found myself inexplicably listening to that siren voice of regret.

 

I say inexplicably because it focused on a decision I had taken MANY years before. It was a decision not to take an opportunity that was offered to me. It was a sparkling and rare prize that was totally unexpected and unsought. I felt honoured, but oddly not tempted to take it up. For years, I never thought about it again, then a change in career caused regret and doubt to raise their ugly heads.

 

Regret is not a comfortable feeling, but when it revolves around a decision you made years ago (and didn’t doubt at the time), it’s a pointless exercise too!

 

We can’t go back and change things.

 

Regret only erodes our belief in ourselves and our ability to make good choices in the future.

 

It causes us to live in the past, and miss the blessings (and opportunities) of the moment.

 

It steals our confidence. It takes away our clear, confident voice.

 

That’s not to say that we can’t learn from past decisions. Undoubtedly we can, but we need to forgive ourselves, let go of tormenting ourselves, turn our backs on believing that our future has been set in stone by past mistakes in order for us to be open to learn anything in the process.

 

Holding onto regret ties us to the past, holds us back and can prevent us from taking personal responsibility for our shining futures.

 

I don’t believe nowadays in giving regret any rent-space in my life. I am officially serving him his Eviction Notice! As of now. And so should you.

 

So, I’m sharing with you my own personal ‘Eviction Notice’.

 

You do not have to live with regret as a lodger in your life for one second more! Get rid of regret and you free yourself up to begin to enjoy what life has for you up ahead, without the fear of taking a wrong path. You can confidently explore and discover who you were really created to be, and begin to find and use your unique voice and message.

 

So remind yourself of these things:

 

* That a decision made by the person I once was, cannot be questioned by the ‘me I now am’. We rarely consciously make decisions that will harm us, so the ‘past me’ did the best she could with the tools and information she had at the time. The ‘present me’ cannot judge her.   I will choose to stop blaming myself.

 

* That life is not usually made up of good or bad decisions. The decisions we make and the reasons behind our choosing one option over another (to take up this career or that one, to choose this relationship over another) are complex. Regret tries to tell us that we have ‘missed out’. That the path we did not take was filled with sunshine and rainbows and fulfilment. That the reason our lives are NOT filled with all these goodies is precisely because we ‘took the wrong path’ ….but we are the executors of our own happiness and opportunities, whatever path we take. The path itself is not filled with sunshine, we carry that with us on the journey. It’s up to us.

 

* Beside my desk is a bookmark given to me years ago. It reminds me that He who created the universe knows the hairs on my head and sees every path that I take. He is not thrown by my ‘wrong turns’. They do not keep Him up at night as they do me. To Him, they are ‘small fry’. He can turn things to good again, just as the potter re-shaping spoiled clay.

 

And finally, a lesson from my satnav!

 

* I love it that when I take a wrong turn, or miss a turning, that my satnav doesn’t shout at me, or tell me that I’m stupid, but calmly instructs me to ‘turn around where possible’. Sometimes of course, it isn’t possible, and then she obligingly finds an alternative road, and we get there in the end. Often by the scenic route.

 

And sometimes life is like that. That we end up at our destination in the end, despite our wrong turns, led home by a different route. One we didn’t plan, and it maybe took a little longer, but we enjoyed the scenery and were brought home safely in the end.

 

So don’t allow regret to sabotage your peace and happiness this year. Serve him his eviction notice and then change the locks!

 

And take this old, but still powerful verse from Minnie Louise Haskins with you instead into the New Year –

 

‘And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year

“Give me a light, that I may tread safely into the unknown”

And he replied,

“Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the hand of God

That shall be to you better than light, and safer than a known way”

IMG_2304

‘Til next time …

Blessings,

Lynne x

 

Christmas is for Listening

cold

I have a guilty secret I’m going to share with you, but I’m sure it’s not mine alone. I do hope not anyway!

But I can’t be the only woman on the planet who sinks into a hot bath with a big glass of wine on Christmas evening and is secretly (and guiltily!) glad that it’s all over for another year.  Can I?

And I DO feel guilty, because I truly love Christmas, or at least my fantasy of the perfect Christmas…but let’s be honest, for women all over the world, the reason for the season gets a little lost under the mountains of wrapping paper, shopping lists, fairy lights and mince pies.

Despite all good intentions, we can end up frazzled, exhausted, shrieking at the kids like so many demented crows…..not much peace on earth and goodwill to men there then!

If I’m honest, my perfect Christmas would be quiet and uncluttered, but crammed full of simple pleasures (that you can’t wrap up) like close friends and family, good books, country walks, yummy food and warm conversation and the comforting familiarity of old traditions. And the odd (or not so odd!) cosy pub. Above all though, punctuated with quiet times for reflection.

Isn’t that what Advent is for? Advent means ‘coming’…it’s traditionally a time for quiet, expectant waiting and preparation in our hearts and lives for the celebration of the birth of Jesus, God’s gift to the world.  Just as Mary quietly prepared for the coming of her special child, we are to use the time to be still and listen.   More and more, that season and its’ rich significance has been drowned out by the roar from the shopping mall.snow

But the whole Christmas story is about LISTENING.

Mary and the shepherds ‘harkening’ to the Angels’ messages.
Joseph and the wise men listening to their dreams.
God Himself hearing man’s deepest needs and sending the gift of His Son.

So it’s entirely fitting at Christmas to carve out time to step back and listen.
To those around us and to the unspoken stories in their lives.
To listen compassionately to our own deepest selves.
Above all, to listen to the still, small voice of God,  whose heart is always turned towards His children in love.

I wrote the following piece for an Advent service performance I did some years ago now. It’s not poetry (I haven’t the patience for that!). I like to think of it as ‘painting with words’, and now seems a good time to dust it off and share, as my little gift to everyone who has stopped by allthingsquiet this year. Whatever your traditions, whatever your beliefs, I hope you enjoy it and I sincerely wish you all every blessing, joy, peace, love and the beauty of quiet contentment this Christmas time!

The Deepest Night

“Christmas is for the kids you know.”…snow 2
You hear it all the time.
Infant ears strain to catch the silver singing of the bells.
Waiting, waiting for the morning.
Feeling the heaviness of rustling presents at the foot of the bed!
Hardly daring to breathe lest they vanish – born of magic.

Christmases long past, held in memory…
The winter of ’63.
We lost our dog. America lost their President.
Dad built an igloo in the garden. It was still there in March.
The year Gran lost her dentures in the pudding,
And Mum cremated the turkey.
The sea of soil on the carpet, that year I felled the tree.
“Santa’s come a long way,” mused Dad, drawing on his pipe.
“I think a wee dram might be in order on this cold night.”

Then we grew…

And Christmases, when kids are sick and families at war
And money tight and jobs are lost.

Where is the magic then?

Can we distil it like whisky, to savour and warm us
When life chills the bone?

Or is this just a tinsel time of fancied hopes…
A time for children only?

A dream lost, as we age – a Neverland, unreachable.

Listen, let’s go back ….

It is the deepest night of the year.
Heaven touches earth tonight.
Winter’s breath frozen to this star-spun night,
Pinned to eternity.

The long night ahead, a rumour of snow on the air..

The shepherds on the darkening hill
Stamp their feet against the cold.
Straining towards the first pale sight of dawn.
The distant tinkle of a goat bell.
Else that, all is still.

The whole world, it seems, holds its breath
In expectation.

Far out yet, three mystics following an uncertain star
Set their compass to the hope in their hearts.

The promise of a Coming King.
More than that..
Immanuel. God with us.

And on that word, that hope..
Their thousand mile journey is birthed.

For Mary and Joseph, the waiting is nearly over.
Their journey is just beginning.

For out of a vaulted dome of sky
An angel cathedral sing,
“Glory, glory, glory to God in the Highest and on earth
Peace to men.”

The waiting is over. The true King is here.
The Lion of Judah,
Banishing winter,
Breathing life into withered hearts.

This Christmas, this God waits for US.
Behind long-closed, half-forgotten places in our hearts.
Where we had turned the key against belief..
With gifts of love and hope and forgiveness and life.
He waits…and it is no myth..

Open the door. The magic can return.

The invitation is for you.

Happy, happy Christmas!The magic can return
Blessings,

Lynne x

The Fish, the Bicycle and the Introvert……or ‘why we need extroverts’

Goodguy bad guy

When I first started this blog, I got some interesting reactions, ranging from bemused curiosity ‘Why are you doing this?’ to guarded suspicion…’Are you going to start lynching extroverts then?’ … I have to say that most of those comments came from extrovert friends.  And I totally get those reactions.

Sadly, the reason for the suspicion and guardedness isn’t far to look.

Amongst the recent groundswell of introvert voices, I’ve occasionally noted some that have seemed to cast extroverts as ‘public enemy no 1’.

This is neither fair, nor true…nor does it serve anyone’s cause or best interests. An ‘us’ and ‘them’ mentality never brings real or meaningful change.

Recently, I saw the movie ‘Suffragette’, and much as I enjoyed some of it, I felt irritated by the black and white portrayal of men and women’s roles. I was particularly frustrated by the ‘token supportive male’. This is not to underestimate the immense and sacrificial effort of the women campaigners, but great changes are brought about by collaborative working, often with the support of those who (should change come about) will not be the chief beneficiaries.

I believe this to have been the case with the fight for women’s suffrage, and also within the Civil Rights Movement.

I grew up with the familiar feminist mantra ‘a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle’ ….which (even though I had it scrawled on my school pencil case) struck me as faintly ludicrous even then.  The relationship between a fish and a bicycle in no way equates to the relationship between a man and a woman. It was simply a memorable way of saying ‘we don’t need you’.

But we do need each other, and not simply those who are like us, but more importantly, those who are not like us too. We’re all in the boat called life, and we’d better start pulling oar together.

I used to love watching old films as a child. We always had to ask who the ‘goody’ or the ‘baddy’ was, though in westerns it was pretty obvious… The good guy rode a white horse, the bad guy rode the black horse!   Knowing who was ‘good’ and who was ‘bad’ absolved you of knowing anything else about the characters. You could just cheer or boo accordingly. Usually, the bad guy (or woman!) got their just deserts by the time the credits rolled.

Simple days, simple pleasures!

That early need to know who was on the ‘good’ side (and hence who was on the ‘bad’ side!) doesn’t end with childhood though. It gets more complicated, more subtle  (and much more problematic) as we enter adulthood.

Choosing a side gives us a feeling of belonging, a sense of ‘tribe’, of supporting and being supported by a larger body. That’s good surely? Well, yes and no. It also means that anyone who isn’t seen as part of our tribe, might become the ‘enemy’ if our identity, values or even survival is seen to be threatened. We don’t need to look too far to see the implications of this, both currently and throughout history. All too easily and too often, those who aren’t ‘on our team’ can become stereotyped, demonised.
Worse.

When I was very young, my family moved from our home in Scotland, to live in England.
It truly was ‘another country’.
We carried with us all our Scottish heritage, incomprehensible accents, love of the bagpipes, kilts, haggis, whiskey and Hogmanay….and with all this, the bitter legacy of Culloden and Butcher Cumberland (nothing to do with the sausage, Dear Reader).

I lived and went to school in England, but my heart was to remain in Scotland. I was not encouraged to see England as my home.
And I was NEVER, EVER to marry an Englishman!

But, of course, you can’t legislate life. Inevitably, I got to know English people and discovered that they weren’t all armed to the teeth with muskets and bayonets, intent on eliminating every Scottish person on the planet!

And yes, Dear Reader, I married an Englishman.

But what has any of this to do with finding your voice as a quiet person?

Well, if we have a right to our voice, and to finding that voice, it never comes at the expense of another’s voice.

Voice 1

Jung’s original comments on psychological type outline very clearly that none of us are wholly introverted or extroverted ( or we’d run mad). We are all on a spectrum (and that spectrum can vary depending on the exigencies of the moment, although our preference remains constant). We alienate those we wish to influence, risk weakening our cause and becoming marginalised if we go down the ‘goodies and baddies’ route.

Some of my best friends are extroverts.
Dang! Some of my CHILDREN are extroverts!

I suspect this is true for many of you too.

Like it or not, we need each other. John Donne spoke truth when he wrote ‘No man is an island, entire of himself’.

I love it when I see collaborative working happening across disparate groups.

The leadership team of Quiet Rev and Emma Watson’s ‘He for She’ campaign are two such notable examples.

It’s no good judging extroverts for not being quiet and reflective!  Isn’t that just the same as extroverts expecting introverts to be more gregarious and social?

Trench attitudes!

Let’s value, honour and respect our different strengths and work together to the benefit of all.

voice 2

Vive la difference!

Til next time…

Blessings,

Lynne x

Return to Mole End

Do you remember the stories and books you loved as a child?

…the ones that stayed in your mind and heart long after you’d read them? … the ones that became friends?

I wonder what they were.

Books like that are magical. They live with us forever. In some ways, they form who we become…they speak to our deepest selves, even before we really know what that ‘self’ is.

If we listen carefully to what they have to say, they can become marker posts in our journey to find our unique path in life

Reading my special stories takes me back to being nine again, sitting with ink-stained fingers at my little wooden desk at school, lost in a book….the only good place to be lost.

I’ve discovered that those early stories tell us more about who we really are, what stirs us, what moves us, what causes us pain, than hours of navel gazing or therapy! They speak to our true identity before that identity took on the ‘shoulds’ and ‘oughts’ and masks involved in ‘doing life’.

So I’m going to tell you about my all-time favourite book (there are many I love). It’s ‘The Wind in the Willows’ by Kenneth Grahame.

The Wind in the Willows

I so loved this book as a child, with its description of life by a chalk stream river, with its deep banks and shady, hanging willows. I dreamt of going boating with Ratty and taking a picnic hamper full of potted meats and ham and ginger beer, and learning how to scull. I wanted to explore the Wild Wood and meet the formidably gruff but kindly badger. I even loved reading the deliciously scary ‘Wild Wood’ chapter and imagining the hard little eyes glaring out at me from the undergrowth as dark enveloped the wood. Oh yes, I could get lost in this book!

But there was a chapter that I didn’t want to read again…a chapter I avoided re-reading as a child. A chapter that made me sad to my very soul. I didn’t really know why, but it was almost heart-breaking to read.

It was Chapter 5, the chapter where Mole’s old home ‘Mole End’ is calling to him.

In the story, Ratty and Mole are returning from their day’s adventures… snow is threatening and Rat is pushing on to get home quickly. All of a sudden, Mole becomes aware of something very familiar, ‘one of those mysterious fairy calls’ that made him ’tingle through and through with its very familiar appeal’.

It was his old home calling to him.

He tries to get Ratty to stop or slow down, or simply to hear his pleas to go back and find his old home, just once… but Rat overrides and jollies him along, ignoring his increasingly desperate friend with sensible exhortations to ‘come along Mole, don’t dawdle, there’s a good fellow’.

Mole sees the distance between himself and his old home widening with every step; the beckoning call becoming fainter, left behind. He fears he will never find home again.

Eventually, he stops, slumps to the ground and weeps.

Of course, you know the story. If you don’t, then this is the time to beg, steal or borrow the book and read it!

To his immense credit, Rat stops, apologises and listens to his friend, and (though not really grasping what’s going on for Mole), agrees to go back and find Mole’s home with him. He is the soul of tact and diplomacy, the perfect friend.

Mole reacquaints himself with his familiar, homely dwelling; Rat all the time complimenting his friend on his little home. Eventually, Mole feels he can leave, and go back out into the wider world with Ratty again. He sees ‘Mole End’ as ‘some such anchorage in one’s existence’ and exclaims that ‘it was good to think he had this to come back to’ (whenever he wanted to).

Mole End

Now that I am older (a lot older), I can read the chapter with ease. It ends happily. Mole does find and return to his old home and it’s even ok that he only visits and doesn’t go back to live there permanently.

But I can also see the episode as a kind of metaphor for how, as quiet souls, we can risk losing ourselves in being ‘out there’ in the world too long and too often without respite, whilst our neglected inner lives are plaintively calling out to us to pay them heed!

To come home to ourselves.

‘Mole End’ becomes a metaphor for what Prof Brian R Little has referred to as ‘restorative niches’…those little gaps and spaces in our days when we can step out, step back, replenish drained energy, but more importantly, get to know ourselves again and set our compass to our own path.

As quiet people, we need this. It’s non-negotiable if we are to live in harmony with how we are created. It’s not a luxury (though some might make you feel it is!)…. above all else, as introverts we need to make sure that we don’t lose ourselves, our direction and our inner motivation through too much external interaction and adaptation.

The engine that drives us needs the oil of solitude and self-connection regularly, or we are no use to the world we live in. We lose our voices, we lose ourselves. Our communities lose us.

So, what is your ‘restorative niche’ today?

It can be as simple as stepping outside for ten minutes to enjoy a coffee in the garden, or walking through a park on the way to work, lunch-break in the art gallery… or headphones and favourite music on a busy train…

Only you know what is restorative to you, and what is possible in your life…but regular restorative niches or ‘Mole Ends’ are essential to your soul. Give yourself permission to carve out space for them in your day. It will change your life.

Back to ‘The Wind in the Willows’ for the final word!

In the wonderful spin-off ‘Counselling for Toads’ by Robert de Board,  Toad (the quintessential extrovert) finally runs out of steam and suffers from depression. Supported by his friends, Ratty and Mole, he reluctantly finds that even he has to step back and seek out his own ‘restorative niche’ in therapy with the Heron.

This is a delightful book, featuring all the familiar riverbank characters, and a few extra. Put it in your Christmas wish-list if you’ve not already got it. You’ll not regret it.

But for now, schedule in those restorative niches, re-discover who you really are in the quiet places.

Come Home to yourself!

‘Til next time,

Blessings!

Lynne