The dictionary definition of hope is ‘a feeling of expectation and desire for something to happen’ or ‘a person or thing that gives cause for hope’. The opposite of hope is to be hopeless which is defined as ‘feeling or causing despair’, or ‘very bad or unskilful’. Out of the two I know which I’d rather be and yet hope is often viewed as a worthless or pointless feeling.
How do you view hope? Is it one of the evils that were contained in Pandora’s box, therefore a relief to know that it was not released when she opened the box and letting out the evils of the world? Or was it the one saving grace that she trapped in the box when she quickly closed the lid realising what she had unleashed?
I prefer the view of hope described by Dr John Messerly in his article about Hope and Pandora’s Box | Reason and Meaning that I came across the other day. “In the tragedy Prometheus Bound, the playwright Aeschylus writes that Prometheus’ two great gifts to humanity are hope and fire. Hope aids our struggle for a better future while fire, the source of technology, makes success in that struggle possible.”
The idea of hope aiding our struggle for a better future seems to be a good one. Hope is then viewed as something that motivates us to do something and to move us forward towards a better imagined future or situation.
I believe that a good dose of hope to motivate us to take actions, however small, to improve our lives and those of others that we share this planet with – including other sentient beings – is a good thing.
I recently reviewed ‘The Book of JOY – Lasting Happiness in a Changing World’ written by His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu with Douglas Abrams. There is so much good is this book and I can recommend it to anyone who needs a bit of a boost in spirit during difficult times. I opened it just now at random and my eyes settled on this quote from the Dalai Lama. ” I hope this book will leave you with more hope and a sense of greater responsibility rooted in genuine concern for others’ well-being. ……………………….. In this century if we make an attempt with realistic effort and clear vision, perhaps in the later part of the century, we can really have a happier world. A more peaceful world. A kinder and more compassionate world. So, my hope is that this book can be a contribution toward bringing about this happier humanity.”
Both Archbishop Desmond Tutu and His Holiness The Dalai Lama thought it was worth writing an inspiring book because they had hope that they could play a part in making a difference in the world. If each of us try each day to do our small part in making the world a better place then there really is hope for the planet. This doesn’t have to be complicated or onerous. It can be as simple as smiling at a stranger or helping a friend.
As I write Russia has embarked on what it calls a ‘special military operation’ in the Ukraine. Europe, and The USA call it war.
In France and the UK, the two countries I am most connected with, the restrictions people have lived with for the last two years in relation to the Corona virus are starting to be lifted. There is an air of ‘normality’ returning to our lives, and yet, nothing is ‘normal’. We have each of us lived through a very strange period in history, certainly within our own lifetime’s history. The experience of living with Covid has affected us on many levels and we each have our stories to tell. It is often only with hindsight that we can make sense of experiences and this will be no different. The perspective with which we choose to view ‘Covid’ will affect the way in which we live our lives going forward. Some down-time after a period of stress is important. We need to reflect, to re-group and to re-evaluate what it means for us. We have been told many things during the last two years by governments, the media, organisations, our friends and our neighbours.
Some have lost family or friends to Covid and many have been ill themselves. We have been told what we should do and what we should not do. When to cover our faces, how far apart from each other we must stand, how much physical contact we should have with other humans, how many people we should see at one time, when we should leave our homes and what we should put into our bodies. This is unprecedented and I think there is value in recognising what we have been through, and in doing that, to try and discover our own thoughts on it all. How do we feel now? Would we do it all again? What was it all about? Questions and a degree of reflection are important I believe.
Sadly it seems we are not to have the opportunity for the ‘down-time’ to grieve, evaluate, question and recuperate. As we are all too aware our attention is now directed towards The Ukraine and Russia, and in particular President Putin. The level of fear has been raised a few notches.
How do we cope with these feelings of sadness and fear? It almost feels too much for some. The television, radio, newspapers, and even our conversations with each other, all work to increase the levels of distress we feel and can lead to us feeling helpless and hopeless, not to mention terrified.
So is there anything we can do to mitigate these feelings while continuing to be caring, compassionate human beings? I would suggest that yes, there are many things we can do.
Firstly we can choose to reduce the amount of time we listen to the television, the radio and read newspapers. In doing this we are looking after ourselves; we are building a layer of protection. We are not being uncaring. The situation will not change because we haven’t watched the news every hour, or every day. It does not make us bad people. Our brains see the images and suffering on television and react as if we are there. No wonder we feel sad and fearful.
Secondly, we can decide to do something practical – or not. Both are OK. We can decide to take some action. This may be extremely practical action directly related to the current crisis in terms of doing something to help the people suffering. It may be writing letters, campaigning or setting up a support group for refugees. It could also be any other action that we feel to be positive and good in the world, hence the title of this piece. “Give to the world what we want the most.”
If we want the world to be more peaceful, then we can begin by being peaceful ourselves. If we think there should be more love in the world then we can be more loving in whatever way we feel that can be expressed. There are numerous ways in which we can put ‘good stuff’ into the world and it will make a difference. It will make a difference to ourselves as we begin to feel stronger in our belief that we can make a better world. It will make a difference to all those people with whom we come into contact as they experience the positive actions we are taking and it will ultimately have a wider effect as we add into the positive energy in the world. We never know the impact our small actions have. We do not need to feel fearful and helpless. Those of us that are religious or spiritual might like to pray or meditate, send peace and love and light to the sad situations that exist. All is of benefit to the world.
It is also OK to do nothing – by choosing to do nothing we are doing no harm. Maybe we need the time to look after ourselves; that is a good thing in itself. We do not have to respond in the way everyone else is. If we don’t want to fly a Ukrainian flag or change our Facebook page or do whatever the things are that people are doing to show they care, then we do not have to. It doesn’t mean we don’t care about the suffering of people in the world. If we know in our heart how we feel that is enough. We should not underestimate what we have experienced over the last two years. It is OK to give ourselves permission to take a break – especially a news break – when we can.
The Corona virus seems to have led to many of us having somebody or something to ‘worry’ about. We may fear that people we love will become ill or even die. We may fear that we ourselves will get ill or die. People we know may be at risk of losing their jobs, others may be isolated and lonely. It feels like there has been a sudden increase in the number of people and things to worry about!
Worry is a feeling we are all familiar with. It is that horrible gnawing feeling in the stomach, waking up at 3am, headache and an inability to focus on anything for long before the worry reappears again. It is an exhausting circle of anxiety and concern and it certainly does not feel good!
This led me to consider why we worry and whether it helps the person we are ‘worrying about’ in any way? Is it even possible that it could do them more harm than good?
So, let us take a moment to try and unpack why we worry. I think worry is the result of our basic response to fear. We hear that someone we love is going through a difficult time or under threat and our first instinctive feeling is fear. Once the fear response is triggered in our bodies this sets a whole chain of reactions off. It is our most primal response and extremely useful for our survival, or at least it is useful when we need to run away from a lion or react in a physical way to a threat! It is our well known ‘flight or fight’ mechanism and has served our species well over the centuries. However, in our modern world it is triggered by many perceived threats where there is no neccessity to run or to fight! This is a problem because once the response is triggered by fear, as in the fear of someone becoming ill or dying or losing their job, the hormones are released and quickly enter our systems to enable us to react swiftly. However, as we are not running or fighting there is no natural conclusion to this situation and we are caught in a cycle of fear – which I would suggest is what ‘worry’ is in it’s most benign state.
I would also believe that there is a social aspect to worry. We worry because it is seen as normal to worry. If we know someone we love is going through a difficult time then worrying about them is a very socially acceptable thing to do. If you don’t agree with this try for a minute imagining a situation where you say the following to someone. “Yes, my mother is very ill at the moment, but I’m not worried about her.” It sounds bizarre. The next question would surely be. “Why aren’t you worried about her?” We are much more familiar with someone saying. “I’m really worried about my mother/sister/son.“ I think socially there is an underlying impression that worrying is normal and good, and not worrying means that we don’t care and is therefore abnormal or bad. Therefore to be socially acceptable we have to demonstrate that we are worrying to be considered ‘normal’ and a ‘good’ person. I also wonder if we believe that we are in some way helping the person we are worrying about by going through their pain with them and identifying with them to such an extent that we are almost living their experience?
Worry has its positive side. It can be motivating and lead us to take action, for example revising for an examination or seeking help for ourselves or helping someone else. However, the worry we are looking at here is the worry that goes round in your head, and your body; the worry that leaves you feeling exhausted and where no action is resulting. This type of worry is most frequently worrying about the future. As none of us can predict the future there is no benefit in ‘worrying’ about it, but of course that doesn’t stop us!
To recap, we worry because we are programmed to worry both physically due to our flight or fight response and socially because it somehow seems like a good thing to show we care by worrying. However, none of us like this feeling and it has been shown that chronic worry makes us ill. If we become ill through worry then no doubt someone will be worrying about us!
What can we do? I think we can begin by thinking rationally. Let’s begin by trying to answer the question posed earlier “Does worrying help the person we are worrying about?” Think about that for a minute. If I am worried about my mother becoming ill with Corona virus does this make any difference to her? It only makes a difference if I do something. My worry may encourage me to put things in place that are more likely to keep her safe or it may encourage me to write more often so she feels less isolated. This could be viewed as the more positive side of worry. However, if I’m losing sleep, ringing her every day telling her how worried I am or feeling so worried I can’t face ringing her in case she tells me she’s ill, losing my ability to think clearly, snapping at my husband and screaming at the kids, then this is of no benefit and is actually causing harm to myself and others around me. There is certainly no benefit to my mother who by now is probably becoming increasingly worried about me!
Can you see how worry has the ability to become an entity of it’s own? Life is such that there will continue to be people we love going through difficult situations. We cannot control this, but we can control our response to it. We can choose to be supportive and offer the help we can or want to offer. We can also choose not to offer help if we want. Most importantly we can make a conscious choice not to feed into the ‘worry bubble’. We need to remember that we can step back from our initial response of fear, take a deep breath and look calmly at the reality of the situation, and the things that we can control and the things we can’t. We can not control the future but we do have the possibility of controlling our own responses in the present.
I wonder if instead of worrying we begin to ‘send love’ to the person or situation we are concerned for. Maybe replacing the word ‘worry’ with ‘concern’ would be a good start? We are concerned. Is there anything we can do? Do we want to do anything? If we feel there is nothing we can do, then always remember that we can send love. Sit still for a few minutes and think of that person or that situation and send loving positive thoughts to them or light a candle and each time we see the candle think of that person lovingly. That way we are putting something positive into the world, we are also looking after our own health and we are definitely not adding into the ‘worry bubble!’
So, does worrying serve any purpose? Yes I think worry can serve the purpose of putting us on notice to ask if we can do anything to help, but no, I don’t think being in a continuous, state of worry serves any purpose whatsoever and the simple solution is to replace worry or fear with love. These times are giving us the opportunity to practice this and to make the world a better place, one less worry at a time.
Billions of dollars are being spent in the race to find a vaccine or even a cure for the Corona virus. Apparently over 70 possible vaccines are being worked on as I write. The consensus seems to be that it will be well over a year before we have a reliable vaccine, and even then it may be longer until it can be produced in quantity and deemed safe to use. It may also prove difficult to create an effective vaccine as there are several different strains of the virus. The opinion of many scientists is that we are going to experience more pandemics of this nature in the future. With all this in mind it would seem that we are going to have to find a way to live with this virus, and any others that come along, in the best way we can.
Countries are now starting to think how and when they can bring their populations out of ‘lockdown’. I live in France and this is the first day of our ‘release’ into the wider world! Many people are understandably fearful about venturing out in case they come into contact with Corona virus and this lead me to look at what we can do to look after ourselves while we wait for a vaccine to be developed.
Although there is much we don’t know about the Covid 19 virus, there are several things that we do know. Firstly, we know that several factors put people at increased risk of becoming seriously ill or dying from it. These are older age, high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, lung disease, cancer and having darker skin.
The reason age is such is factor is possibly because older people tend to have one or more of the above conditions and that we are all ‘in a process’ of dying so it would make sense that older bodies would potentially be less able to cope with the additional stress of a viral infection.
High blood pressure, obesity, maturity onset diabetes (Type 2 diabetes), lung disease and cancer are diseases that are often the result of our lifestyles and/or our environments. I am not saying that they are exclusively the result of lifestyle and environment, but these are recognised to be major factors in these illnesses.
There is some good news in this because it means that it is in our power to do something to reduce our chances of contracting viral infections. There are actions that we can take without having to wait for drug companies and scientists to come up with possible solutions. If ever there was a time to take our health seriously this is it! The healthier we are, the stronger our immune systems will be, and the less likely we will be to contract a virus, or if we do contract one, then the more likely we will be to fight it off without becoming seriously ill.
Before continuing, I want to come back to the risk factor of having a darker skin. People with darker skin, living in northern Europe and the UK particularly, have a higher risk of dying from Corona virus. Although not widely discussed in the mainstream media, it looks as if this could be due to a lack of vitamin D. Darker skin is unable to absorb as much vitamin D as light skin and so many people with dark skin who live in northern Europe have a vitamin D deficiency that they are unaware of. Vitamin D is vital for a strong, balanced immune system.
‘In 2009, the National Institute of Health warned that low vitamin D levels are associated with frequent colds and influenza.(CDC. Influenza (flu): the flu season. https://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/season/flu-season.htm. Accessed May 13, 2019.)
With all this in mind here are some suggestions of actions we can decide to take to reduce our chances of contracting viruses.
1. Get to know our true nature: Go outside! We are nature and yet for years the trend has been to think that we are in some way above, and even in control of nature. One thing Corona virus has taught us is that we are not in control of everything! With the knowledge that we are part of nature maybe it’s time for us to get closer to ‘ourselves’ and to get to know nature better. There are so many health benefits to spending time outside. We could create a garden, go for a walk, sit, meditate, eat, drink, even sleep outside and most important of all observe and see what we can learn from nature.
2. Go outside again and uncover! We all need to ensure that we have healthy levels of vitamin D. This is made by the action of sunlight on our skin. We can therefore protect our immune systems by ensuring that we regularly expose our skin to the sun. The message of the last 20 years has been to cover up and to apply sun cream. Of course we don’t want to burn and damage the skin, but we do need some sun on it. (Have your vitamin D level checked if possible as many people are not making enough.) It is possible to take supplements of Vitamin D and these are not expensive. Vitamin D supplements need to be taken with Vitamin K so that the body can utilize it properly. It is recommended that a supplement of Vitamin K2 is beneficial regardless of whether our Vitamin D levels are low as many of us are low in Potassium. (K2)
3. Meditation: Stop! We need to take some time every day to do nothing, to sit, to breathe, to be still. We can begin with as little as 5 minutes and build it up. This has been proven to be of great benefit to our health.
4. Exercise: Just do more! We need to move our bodies and get them to be stronger, more flexible and generally healthier overall!
5. Re-evaluate our diet. We need to eat more organic or locally grown food, with the bulk of our diet consisting of vegetables and fruit. We also need to reduce the amount of processed food, meat and dairy and particularly reduce the amount of refined sugar that we consume. (It would be advisable to remove sugar completely from our diet as it contributes to causing the conditions that increase our risk of becoming seriously ill – and many more illnesses too!)
6. Sleep: Get to bed early! Sleep is extremely important for our bodies and is often something that gets ‘squeezed’ in our bid to keep up with a busy schedule. This is the time when our bodies repair, remove dead cells and heal. Rest has been overlooked as an important aspect of caring for ourselves. We need to move rest up our agendas!
The above suggestions are not complicated, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are simple! I know the challenges of trying to eat healthily and exercise regularly, but surely if we need a motivating factor this is the time? I feel there is far too little emphasis in the mainstream media about what we can do to help ourselves and it is almost ‘impolite’ to suggest that we cause much of our own illness, but there is nothing to gain by ignoring the obvious and everything to gain by rising to the challenge! Times are changing quickly and there may not always be someone there to ‘mend us’, but we are capable of amazing things when we put our minds to it!
It’s the 1st May 2020 and we are in the midst of the Corona Virus. It has caused most of the world to grind to an economic and social halt. How bizarre that practically the whole world should stop in this way. We could not have imagined it a few months ago. We would have said it was ‘impossible’ and yet here we are.
So where does this leave us? What do we make of these strange times? We all find ourselves in different situations, some of us have lost our jobs, some have been ‘furloughed’, many are working from home, some are ‘essential’ and continue to work, often in difficult circumstances, and for others life continues in a similar way, but without physical friends and family. I acknowledge that we are all in different situations, and in no way wish to play down the suffering that many of you reading this are currently experiencing and the fears that are keeping you awake at night. However, this is happening and so coming to a place of acceptance of the new situation is important. It is also important for us to realise that people were suffering prior to Corona virus and this economic ‘slowdown’, though they may not have been in our neighbourhoods or even in our country. We live well in developed countries largely because we have benefited from the work of others in poorer countries. This is a reality, but one that we often do not see, or even want to see.
I want to be honest here and say that I think this time presents a huge opportunity for the planet. The course we have been taking prior to Corona Virus has not been a good one in terms of looking after the earth and many of the people who live on it. If nothing substantially changes and we return to ‘business as usual’, we will before too long be forced to confront the results of our actions and inactions. What I am saying is that this situation would have happened anyway at some point in time – and it may well happen again too!
I view this unusual lifetime event as a gift of time, a breathing space. We have been given an amazing opportunity to stop, to feel, to think, and to re-evaluate our lives – if we choose to do so.
My purpose in writing is to highlight this opportunity and ask that you use whatever time remains of the current ‘lockdown’ measures to examine your life and consider what is important to you. What is really important to you?
We have all been born into a world that encourages us to be good consumers. In return for working hard we will get our rewards ‘in heaven’ or ‘retirement’ or even by being able to buy more things! For so many people this is not true. The truth is that we live in heaven now. Our earth is a heaven and can provide us all with everything we need for a full and happy life. It cannot provide us all with expensive clothes, cars, houses, holidays abroad, endless consumption and continuous growth however! We can only have those things at the expense of the planet and of others having much less and living in conditions that we would not be prepared to tolerate. This is not fair.
So what I am asking is could each of us play some part, however small, towards making the world a fairer and happier place for everybody to live? Could we make changes to our lives that mean we do less harm to the environment, help other people more, work less, feel more, think for ourselves more, create more, feel more alive? We have been sold a lie in that we have been lead to believe that having less is a bad thing when in reality having less is much, much more. True joy is not found in possessions and the fleeting ‘happiness’ of consuming. True joy is in our hearts, it is about love, love for ourselves, our families, our communities and our planet. We know this in our heart when we stop and take time to feel. Whatever the reasons for doing so, it is amazing that governments have given us the chance to stop. They have given us the gift of time, the most precious thing we have.
Consider the last few weeks. How has this ‘lockdown’ period been for you? What have you found difficult, sad or challenging and what have you found enjoyable, peaceful or fun? How will your life be after this time is over? Do you want to rush headlong back to your ‘old’ life? Will your old life exist as it was anyway? Things have changed and we will need to adapt and change too. Do you think there are some things you would enjoy doing differently? Maybe work less, longer walks, quieter times, gardening, cooking, spending more time with your children or partner, spending more time alone, spending less money? There are so many questions you could ask yourself and there are so many ways to live a life! It is helpful to recognise that much of our time is under our control. Yes, there are certain frameworks and structures, but within these we have choices as to what we do or don’t do with our time, our energy, and very importantly, with our money.
Do you want to go backwards to the old world or forwards to help create a new one? A new world where our children and grandchildren have a chance of growing up, and of knowing the really valuable things in life, like the fact that we are nature, not above it. We don’t need to endlessly buy things to feel happy. We can choose cooperation and peace, rather than seek divisions and war and we can choose love instead of fear.
My hope is that this bizarre time in our history will provide opportunities that you never imagined and that you will be able to bring all your human creativity into being, and that the world will be a better place because of it. I believe that we can indeed be richer with less.
Last week we were ‘flooded out’ as they say, although we were in at the time; snugly tucked up in bed while the water slowly, I’m guessing slowly, seeped across our ground floor!
I’m always first up, rushing down two flights of stairs to get to the loo – you know the feeling! Splash, splash, splash as my bed-cosy feet paddle through icy cold water! Sitting on the loo (sorry maybe too much information here!) I survey our new ‘indoor pond’ complete with underwater scales and floating loo brush, and as usual I’m very aware of my choices as to how I can respond. The first thought that always comes to mind is to cry! I think this is a conditioned response – by that I mean that it would seem ‘acceptable’ to cry and not out of the ordinary in the situation – almost expected in some way even? My second thought is what’s the point? I still have to deal with the situation in the end so why not just bypass the ‘crying’ stage and get on with sorting things out? I also remembered all those times I’ve seen people who have their homes totally flooded or even washed away – our situation was nothing compared to that. A bit of perspective really helps I find!
So by 6.30am I was busy inside with cloths, mop and bucket, while Tom was outside digging trenches and diverting water. After a couple of hours the situation was much better, fires were lit and we were upstairs eating breakfast.
Our mini flood did make me realise though how the amount of ‘stuff’ we have has built up again since we moved here 6 years ago. There’s nothing like lifting soggy items off the floor and searching for places to put them to make you realise you have possibly accumulated more than you need – again! I say again, because when we arrived here we had been through a huge downsizing operation which involved moving from a house with 5 bedrooms and several extremely full sheds , into a campervan. Its interesting how keeping life simple seems to be a real challenge for us humans!
This is a picture of a mini-quilt I made last year. It was quite an accomplishment because sewing is not something I would count as a particular skill of mine! In fact I would go as far as to say that when I was younger I didn’t enjoy it at all and only had to look at a thread for it to end up in a knot! However, after a year of living in France I decided to join the quilting group in our village with the main purpose being to learn French. In the last four years I’ve made various items, met some lovely women and picked up some useful skills along the way. My French has improved also, though there is still a long way to go!
I’ve sometimes heard people say “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks!” when faced with idea of learning to do something new or different. The great news is that we are not dogs and its possible for us to continue to learn ‘new tricks’ all our lives. Our brains have what is known as ‘neuroplasticity’ which means they are able to physically change and adapt as we learn new things. The more we use certain pathways, the more that pathway develops and becomes stronger until there is a physical change in the brain.
Whatever your age or ability if there is something new that you would like to learn then begin now. Its good for your brain!
There are many videos on youtube explaining neuroplasticity if you want to find out more.
At the moment I am visiting my family in the UK and while out for a walk I met an old friend. I didn’t recognise him as he approached because he was walking backwards! I was intrigued because I had seen someone a few days earlier doing the same thing in another part of the country. I must admit the thoughts that ran through my head were along the lines of “maybe they have something wrong with their legs and so find it easier to walk backwards?.”, “maybe they are a bit ‘strange’ and I should be wary” or “maybe it is a new form of exercise?” He explained that he was doing it because it was thought to be very beneficial for the brain and helped to build confidence too. Apparently it has been known in China and Japan for years that ‘retro walking’ is good for you in many ways. For those over 50 its thought to be particularly good for improving balance and coordination. It improves the functions of the cerebellum which coordinates and balances our bodily movements as well as flexibility. It also sharpens your senses as you have to be constantly aware of pot holes, dogs and other potential obstacles!
As I walked away from him it did occur to me how amusing it would be if I then walked backwards too and we would gradually see each other disappearing into the distance in a ‘long goodbye’!