Tag Archives: being present

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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What do journaling and skiing have in common?

I’ve just returned from a family ski holiday where we had everything from deep snow, icy patches, cobbles, slush and champagne pistes, as well as alternating between flat light, white-out conditions, and sparkling sunshine. “Skiing is all about variables” our erstwhile instructor at Whistler used to tell us – and when you think about it that in itself is just like life.

It’s great to get out onto the hill and tackle the variety of gradient, snow quality and visibility. It’s exhilerating to glide over the snow, feeling the wind on your face and the subtle leg movements that allow you to make snake patterns in your wake. No matter what the conditions the best policy is always to attack the slope, put the weight of your head and shoulders towards the front of the skis and make turns by applying pressure to the carved area on the inside of the ski tip. And it’s always easier to ski faster.

It’s counter-intuitive. When you’re hurtling headlong down the side of a mountain it feels utterly wrong to be leaning further forward; yet without doing so control is difficult, if not impossible. Your skis begin to run away from you as the body wants to hug the slope, and there’s always the risk of leaning too far back, in an attempt to resist gravity and the terrain. You start to gather too much speed; you fail to complete the turns; you become exhausted and terrified.

Resistence is futile, so the saying goes. Better then to have a basic technique that will serve in all varieties of terrain, with perhaps some subtle tweaks and adjustments for extreme conditions. It’s a question of staying alert and being able to respond to what’s underfoot and in the immediate environment.

In life we can practise this type of alertness in our journals. We can pay attention to what we are experiencing physically and write about it, until gradually physical awareness becomes automatic.

Similarly when we resist the flow of things we put ourselves in danger, and when we try and go too slow we start to think and fear too much. So we can practise getting into the flow in our journals, allowing our pen to move without resisting, expressing ourselves without over-analysing.

With practice we become more relaxed, more responsive, more ‘in the moment’, more able to deal with whatever variables are thrown at us. And these principles, borne out by journaling, boost our confidence and our adaptability, on and off the slopes.

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Filed under Journal Writing, Sport

How to use our journals to get into action this festive season

At 11.11 am on Friday 21 December 2012, the leader of the Druids, King Arthur Pendragon, made his Winter Solstice speech at Stonehenge, a little further south of where I live in Wiltshire, welcoming in a new cosmic era of peace, care and compassion, and calling for an end to suffering and greed.

The end of the world hasn’t come to pass. Personally I didn’t think it would. But, not unlike the Druids’ message, I am choosing to view this media-hyped Winter Solstice as a new opportunity, a time of new intentions, commitments and change.

And my journal is where I am devising the change I want to see in the world. However devising sounds like I’m going through a very deliberate process of planning and manipulating my thoughts and ideas about how I want life to be, then writing down a to do list or project plan of what I must achieve in 2013.

This would not be an accurate description of the process. It would be altogether too premeditated, too forced and analytical, too “left-brain”.

Rather I am allowing myself to write in response to what is happening in the world, and I’m being present to the emotions and feelings that real life events are evoking in me. What I find are ideas about how to do things differently, new creative ways to celebrate Christmas, and a quiet conviction that whatever needs to happen will present itself as the obvious next step. It’s an entirely different feeling from the concerted “I must be the change I want to see in the world” mindset. It’s much gentler, much more in the moment, and much more authentic.

One of the ideas that has most inspired me this festive season is the notion of “living well in your place.” So instead of sending Christmas cards this year I have chosen to hand out small parcels of Quality Street choccies to all my neighbours, complete with a folded note giving our phone number, and a thank you to one and all for being my neighbour. Although we have lived in our 25-home street for twelve years, there are some families that I have never met, and I suddenly wanted desperately to change that.

It was whilst writing about my current perceptions in my journal that this idea came to me. It was a moment of “clunk” when inspiration hits and you feel compelled into action. And it was such a simple idea that I can’t believe it had never before occured to me. My daughter and I walked round in the rain and knocked on everyone’s door, handed out the chocolates and our best wishes for Christmas, and basked in the smiles we received. It was truly heart-warming, and confirmed the spirit of Christmas for me and my little girl.

That’s how our journals can help us get into real, genuine and authentic action. And that’s how we can change the world.

With every good wish for the festive season.

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Filed under Journal Writing, Reflective Writing Practice