Category Archives: Mood Management

A lesson in presence

Imagine the scenario: you’re really excited at the prospect of spending a family holiday on a beautiful island off the western coast of Scotland. Famed for its pristine white sand beaches and turquoise waters, its deer and its eagles, as well as its mountain wildernesses and deeply moving history, it’s a place you cannot wait to explore and have been looking forward to visiting for months. Not only that but you have a story idea set on the island for which you wish to conduct some research – it could be your first novel and you’re nervously excited about that too.

The plan is to travel via the Lake District to visit family and include a hike in the fells of that spectacular landscape as well. All in all this is going to be your ideal trip.

And then, the evening before you’re due to depart, the phone rings and an unfamiliar voice tells you not to worry, but your son seems to have injured his leg during American Football training. The ambulance is on its way and you can either come along to the pitch or meet him in A&E at the hospital.

Of course I went to the pitch straight away to find him lying on the ground surrounded by paramedics and concerned team coaches. He was wearing an oxygen mask and I slowly realised he was inhaling nitrous oxide to stem the pain in his leg. Having loaded him into the ambulance the paramedics then administered intravenous paracetomol. Meanwhile my brave boy did little more than wince and groan a little.

Much later that evening, after our son had endured much more Entonox, some morphine, two x-rays and confirmation that he has incurred a spiral fracture in his right lower leg, snapping both the tibia and fibula, we had to confront the reality that our long-awaited holiday was not going to happen. With a solid cast all the way up to the thigh on his almost four foot long leg, this boy was going nowhere, especially not on a 7 hour long car journey.

All this was quite a lot to take in. Emotions were high and we were all exhausted. As well as concern for our son, the dawning realisation that we wouldn’t be travelling to our island paradise after all tipped me over the edge. I had to leave the consultation room to weep, deeply disappointed about the trip and then terribly guilty that I could feel like that when our son was laid up on a hospital bed.

The following morning after very little sleep I had a strange experience. Strange yet deeply comforting. The voice that I often hear in my journal whispered to me to remember the moment. And as I lay in bed in my half-waking state I suddenly felt extremely safe and comfortable in the present moment. I was able to push aside all my conflicted feelings and disappointment about our disrupted holiday plans and just allow myself to be completely present, as if the moment was the safest haven there is.

I’m not sure whether this inner experience would have been possible without the reflective practice I’ve done. I can imagine in younger years shedding bitter tears for days over thwarted plans. On this occasion, with the most important thing being our son’s healing, I’ve retreated to and trusted the present moment, and it’s been a place of safety for which I’m enormously grateful.

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Weather – or not?

Here in the UK the country’s population is breathing a collective sigh of relief at the sight, for the second day running, of the sunshine. We might even be daring to imagine that spring is finally here.

It’s been a long, cold winter, on the back of last year’s long wet spring, summer and autumn. We Brits are struggling.

Personally I’ve noticed a much lower mood, and a craving for all sorts of food I really ought to avoid. Comfort eating, someone called it when I mentioned it to some friends yesterday, and we all nodded in earnest agreement. Seasonal Affective Disorder has been long recognised as a medically diagnosed ailment. Rarely before has it been possible to perceive some of the symptoms in the entire population. I’ve even been wondering whether the travel companies have inflated their prices to cash in on Brits desperate to get to the sunshine whatever the cost.

Don’t get me wrong. We Brits love talking about our awful weather. As much as we say it’s awful, we really love it because of the opportunities it affords us to complain. And complaining is one of the primary ways that We Brits engage with one another. In fact a few years ago I read a book by a social anthropologist named Kate someone who asserted that in order to be socially acceptable We Brits are obliged to agree with one another’s weather-based exchanges and observations. Even if the sun is shining gloriously, if someone says to a Brit “there’s a chilly wind though isn’t there?” We are honour-bound to agree. Woe betide anyone to dispute at this juncture the chilly wind in favour of the glorious sunshine. You couldn’t possibly say “Actually I hadn’t noticed the wind – I was too busy enjoying the sunshine.” You’d be ostracised.

But despite all this I think our relationship with the weather has gone a step too far this past 12 months. We’ve moved on from despising the weather just for the sake of social engagement, and have been stuck with weather so despicable that we’ve partially abandoned interaction altogether.

And now the sun’s out and, as one of my recent journaling workshop participants pointed out, we can finally see shadows. It’s wonderful to rediscover light and shade instead of just constantly being surrounded by gloom.

So today I’ve made a special commitment to make the most of the sun, and to be grateful for every opportunity to soak it up. For there’s another thing We Brits are fond of saying when the sun shines: “There’s nowhere like this country when the weather’s nice.” Just don’t mention the chilly wind.

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Journaling to nail the marketing jitters

It’s been an exciting week during which I pushed the publish button on The Journal Writer’s Handbook, thus inflicting my book on the world!

My head’s been full of marketing stuff, and last evening I had the great privilege to join in on #JournalChat Live on Twitter, beautifully hosted by Dawn Herring of Refresh Journal fame, who’d chosen my blog post 7 Astounding benefits of journal writing as #JournalChat Pick of the Week. The chat was awesome – heartily recommended – and I met some great journaling folks from the other side of the pond.

Needless to say, in amongst tweeting, updating Facebook, blogging, amending websites,writing press releases and emailing to get the word out, (the joys of independent authorship) I noticed yesterday that I was starting to get a bit jittery. I know this feeling – mentally I start to jump hap-hazardly from one thing to another without completing anything, and all the while ideas are crowding each other out in my brain. Add to that a deep physical tension like my body is constantly bracing against something, shivering like crazy and with an annoying ache in my jaw, and I concluded that this was certainly not conducive to making progress.  So I did what any wise and seasoned journal-writer would do in the same circumstances, I made myself a cup of tea and reached for my notebook.

I needed to nail the jitters. I needed to rein in my desultory thinking. I needed to be crystal clear on the key tasks that would take me the furthest along my checklist of things to do. I needed to prioritise.

What’s amazing is that within the time it took me to drink my tea I’d written 3 sides in my notebook – and completely nailed the jitters. And here’s how it went:

I named what I was experiencing and described how it felt in my body.

I named what it was I was working on, and described the last discrete task I’d actually completed.

Then my brain went wandering, and I started listing out the next umpteen tasks I might possibly embark on. I swear I got to 7 tasks before I woke up. Woah!

Things were getting desperate so I threw myself a challenge. “What’s the bare minimum I must do?” Fighting talk!

But it didn’t work! Immediately I began waffling on again about this or that I could or should do. What a twit!

“Hang on,” I manfully wrote, “What’s the deal?”

I was running out of tea. I knew it was my last chance. Effortlessly a list of 4 must-do-nows plus 2 nice-to-haves flowed from the end of my pen. I wasn’t shaking any more and I ticked off all my necessary tasks within the next 20 minutes. Phew.

And that is how journaling helped me nail the jitters – and take a significant leap forward in my book marketing activity!

(BTW, click here to buy the book!)

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