For Such a Time as this….

 

 

 

At the end of Lord of the Rings, the battle over and hard won, Frodo (weakened and scarred) is about to set sail with Gandalf for the Undying Lands.

“I wish it need not have happened in my time”, says Frodo wearily.

“So do I,” replies Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

Wise words Gandalf. Wise indeed.
They seem very real and relevant right now.

If we’re learning anything as we’re struggling with a world changed beyond recognition by Covid-19 in just three short months, it’s this…

We are not autonomous, independent, self-sufficient beings. We are connected symbiotically with every other living thing on the planet in fragile, complicated and interdependent ways. John Donne, the Metaphysical poet and Dean of St Paul’s, writing 400 years ago during a serious illness understood this. ‘No man is an island, entire of itself.’ He wrote, ‘Each man’s death diminishes me, for I am involved in mankind; Therefore send not to know for whom the bell tolls. It tolls for thee.’

We are vulnerable. The fortresses we build around ourselves to keep us safe (wealth, status, careers, health, social connections) are houses of glass and like so many dominoes can be toppled by an enemy so tiny it can only be seen through an electron microscope.

Being in control is often an illusion. For all our advanced scientific and technological knowledge, it feels right now as if we are but helpless children abandoned ‘on a darkling plain…where ignorant armies clash by night’. *

Let’s not pretend or dance in the dark. These really are frightening times.

But they are not times without hope.

 

 

Amidst all the bleak (and frankly scary) news reports that clog up my daily social media feeds, there are many, many reports of people coming forward to offer their skills and services as volunteers to support our Health Service; people going the extra mile to support the elderly and vulnerable. Everyday heroes living amongst us.

Many things have been stripped from us by this pandemic. Our workplaces and schools are closed. We can’t meet up with friends, family and loved ones. Our finances may be in freefall. Our health, life even, at risk. But for many of us, especially those in lock-down, one thing we have been gifted:

TIME.

With everything that isn’t in our control right now, what is in our control is what we decide to do with this time that is given us.

C.S.Lewis (the ‘Narnia’ guy) wrote this during the ‘fear of the bomb’ years:

‘ If we are all going to be destroyed by an atomic bomb, let that bomb when it comes find us doing sensible and human things—praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts—not huddled together like frightened sheep’.

Time really is a gift, and I can choose to spend it in fear, in hiding, in hoarding and in selfishness, or I can choose to use it to grow, to reflect, to learn, to pray and to nurture my relationships.

When we have so little choice over everything else, we get to choose this… We get to choose how we will respond to what is happening to and around us.

‘Everything can be taken from a man but one thing,’ wrote Auschwitz survivor Victor Frankl in ‘The Search for Meaning’, ‘the last of human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.’
That, to me, feels like the greatest freedom, and one that no one and nothing can take from us.

 

So, how should I choose to use this time?

I miss my family and friends hugely right now, despite all the Zoom and FaceTime meetings. I miss the hugs, the gatherings in the kitchen to share a glass of beer or wine and catch up on all their news. I miss seeing my grandchildren. I miss the family dogs! I wonder whether, as introverts, we’re more temperamentally suited to this strange situation? All the evidence might seem to suggest so.
Let me tell you why I think that’s way too simple.
Yes, we’re ok with our own company. Yes, we may have countless individual projects on the go. Yes, we might not need ‘people stimulation’ quite as much, but then there’s the downside….
Rumination and Anxiety!
The problem with being reflective, with being ‘in your head’ a lot, is that when times are tough, it can be a pretty dark place to be. So, if that’s where you’re at right now, I’d like to share what’s helped me.
Worries, and anxiety in general, love it when you invite them in for a cup of tea. Sound odd? Well, it’s when you let them stick around, when you hold a conversation with them, ruminate on them, try to find evidence to disprove or prove what they’re suggesting. It’s when you let them ‘squat’ in your headspace.
What anxiety hates most is when we get proactive. When we take action or problem-solve around our worries.
So what I’ve chosen is what I’ve called my ‘Plan Against Panic’. I‘m going to choose to spend my time in these ways….
I plan to:

Go forwards
I want to build and plan and create for the new future that’s coming. It’s going to be different. You and I will be different. So I want to learn something new, develop myself. I’m already having to learn how to work remotely, and I’m finding that a focus on learning a new skill means my brain is less open to anxiety. It’s occupied. There’s a measure of agency, control and a positive feedback loop. I’m also helping my future self. So challenge yourself to learn something new. Something that maybe you’ve always wanted to, but never had the time. Now, you have.

Go inwards
Go in and go deep…. Yes, it’s ok to think deeply, to reflect about your life; reflecting isn’t the same as marinating in anxiety – just put some positive parameters and boundaries on the time you spend doing it, and how you do it. Most of us live like pondskaters on the skin of life, afraid of the depths beneath, running away from uncomfortable truths through activity and distraction. Hard to do now though! So face the truth head on. Monsters are less frightening in the light of day, especially when we decide to do something about them.
Try journaling. It can be very empowering. Identify the changes you want in your life, and the steps you need to take to get there, and commit to the first tiny step on your journey. There may be things in your life, that now they’ve gone, you don’t want them back.
Start redesigning the life you want. Here’s some journaling aids, so you keep safe:
James Pennebaker & John Evans ‘Expressive Writing: Words that Heal’.
‘Journaling as a Spiritual Practice’, Helen Cepero.
‘The Quiet Journal’ Susan Cain.
(There are of course lots of helpful books and articles on personal journaling out there – I’m not getting affiliate commissions on these by the way! I’ve just found them helpful).

Go outwards
Reach out with your heart. Connect. You’re stuck at home, but your influence isn’t.
You’re connecting (probably much more now) via social media with the world out there. Sow good, positive, hopeful seeds; words; virtual deeds. Encourage people. Teach them (if that’s your thing). We’re seeing so many people reaching out with their skills and knowledge to offer free services in this time…. online exercise videos, virtual classrooms, art and music tutorials, live streaming theatre… Sow your gifts out there too. Freely, if you can. We are one world.

And finally, a bit about faith, and hope. Hard times are the furnace where these qualities are often forged.
Who feels the need of a lamp when the sun is shining? We can distract ourselves from the things that frighten us when the day is bright, but when darkness falls and the world grows quiet, what then?
We need the companionship of faith and hope, and the assurance of eternal realities.
At the beginning of 2020, not knowing what it would bring (as none of us did), I posted this…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It feels more relevant now than ever.

Take care, stay safe – ’til next time

Blessings,

 

Lynne xx

 

*Ref: ‘Dover Beach’ (Matthew Arnold)

 

 

 

Why you need to start writing …

 

 

 

Ok, so today was National Writing Day!

Did you know there was such a thing? I didn’t! (Face of shame)

I’m so glad this one is a ‘thing’ though  ( rather than, say, National ‘Tidy your Cutlery Drawer Day’. That one wouldn’t happen in our house.)

I’ve not talked much on here about writing. But I’ve talked about stories, re-writing our own stories, (when the stories we or others tell about our lives are tying us down, disempowering us or holding us back).

That’s the fuel in my heart. That runs deep.

But if we are to tell our stories – new, powerful, healing stories, or just funny, quirky, unique stories – and these stories are to last, and be passed on (like torches into the night), then we’d better get comfortable writing them down. Nor let anyone discount us, or tell us that our story doesn’t have value or isn’t somehow important enough.

Because, yes! it absolutely IS! Your story is a chapter in life’s book.  Without it, the book makes no sense.

Some years ago, when I was training as a therapist, I noticed that some people who came to counselling could only share the most difficult parts of their stories if they wrote them down first, and (when/if they were able) shared them with me. Many of them found this really helped them. So when I went on to do research, I explored the two big questions I had:

Why were they writing?
And how was it helping them?

I didn’t know what would happen when I began, but pursuing those questions kind of took over my life!

I left work in the end to chase down the answers. I completed my research.
I was fortunate enough to be able to share my findings at a national counselling and psychotherapy research conference. I shared them through many workshops. And after much editorial blood, sweat, tears and ink, I published them too.

It was a long hard but rewarding road.

And this (in short) is what my research participants taught me…. precious lessons for you and me too.

*Writing helped them to ‘offload’, to get painful and difficult thoughts and feelings out of themselves, onto the paper.
*It gave those thoughts and feelings ‘physicality’, so that they could be explored, processed and understood.
*It revealed parts of themselves that had never felt safe to ‘show up’ before.
*The writing became a place where they could ‘capture’ what they were learning and integrate it.
*It became a place where they could ‘re-story’ their lives and find themselves and their unique voices.

Writing worked because on the page they had control. They had a private space (a ‘room of one’s own’ almost). They had choice (what to write, if to write and if and what to share). They gained confidence.

They were able to find their voice (in private) before they tried it out in public and often they discovered identity and purpose too through their writing.

 

Treasure beyond price indeed!

 

So why am I sharing this on allthingsquiet?

Well, not just because today is ‘National Writing Day’, but because part of the original motivation behind this blog for me was to explore ways to help us, as quiet people, to ‘find our voice’.

Writing is the ideal introvert platform. To experiment, to craft, to explore…. to ‘re-story’.
It’s a prime weapon in our arsenal. A secret tool in self-discovery. A confidential friend along life’s highway.

So, have a go today, try some writing. Pick up your pen. Set up your laptop, and here, for good measure, are some good, accessible places to start:

‘Expressive Writing’ James Pennebaker
‘The Right to Write’ Julia Cameron
‘Journal to the Self’ Kathleen Adams

Maya Angelou wrote that writing ‘puts starch in your backbone, so you can stand, so you can compose your life’

So, go forth and compose!  And if you’ve time, aside from all the writing, let me know how you’re getting on too…

Blessings, til next time..

Lynne x

And if you’re interested in the research, here’s the link:

https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/capr.12074