Viral Vitalities – Day Eleven – Harness the Good, Let the Bad Stuff Go

Here is another guest post from Serendipity…

As I relax into a slower pace of life, I wonder how things will change when we get to the other side? Before I start, I want to point out that I am very aware of those who are still working relentlessly – namely those in the NHS and other fields of care-giving.  The nationwide applause last night indicates that I am not the only one who is extremely grateful. I am also aware that many are very worried about loved ones and those who are vulnerable. Please forgive me if this post appears trite in any way – that is obviously not the intention.

However, for many of us, we are waking up to a new dawn.

Until I was rattled by some work-related communication and the tricky relational dynamics that sometimes go with this, I have been largely unstressed. I’m somewhat ashamed to admit that I am not used to this state of being. In fact, suddenly being put off kilter with worry over a work-related issue, highlighted to me just how used to stress I am – how much of a bedfellow I have allowed anxiety to become.  The uninvited invasion of this creeping worry was like a blight on an otherwise clear and peaceful landscape.  It brought me up short – reminding me of how damaging ‘worry’ is and just how much better I function without it in my life.

Is that really a revelation?  Well, perhaps not… and I know that it shouldn’t be – except that it is not always something that we can actually experience and have the privilege of naturally walking in – daily.

Reflecting on how to take this forward is something that is top of my mind at the moment.  How can I harness this new perspective and carry it with me?  As a Christian, I know all the verses and have had times in my life when I’ve managed to rest in God’s peace and abide without worry… but I can’t help feeling that this time is an opportunity to understand this in a deeper and more experiential way.

There are so many areas of wider life that are being affected for good – areas where peace and positivity is saturating society.

I realised yesterday (although I haven’t looked at any figures) that Road Traffic Accidents must be significantly fewer at present.  We are all probably aware of the wonderfully positive impact that this ‘stop’ has had on the environment. Gradually settling for many (I trust) is the realisation that we don’t need even half of what we think we need… there have been several newspaper articles and posts that show the wartime rations and how these are in stark contrast to the panic bought mountains of toilet rolls and tins of soup.  As we settle into the new routine, I like to think that many of those freaked out alarmists have realised that they probably have enough food in their freezers and cupboards to carry them through at least the next three months… if not longer; and that – in desperate times – there are many ingenious alternatives to toilet roll.  And – I would point out – this perceived need is not exclusive to food and groceries – there are probably many other needless tasks and activities that we engage with on a daily basis that could be replaced with… family, calm, quiet, reflection, peace.

True priorities are rising to the surface; being able to hug an elderly relative has suddenly risen in value over staying at home on a Sunday afternoon to watch that ‘really important’ football game.  I was also reflecting on the fact that – whilst there are myriad issues surrounding the lonely and vulnerable – never (in my living memory) has there been such compassion towards this group of people.  Never have they been more thought about, more highlighted… never have they been as cared about – with postcards, offers of help, neighbourly kindness, special opening times – the list goes on – and that can only be a good thing!

As I think about these things, I sincerely hope that many of them will serve to meter out a ‘new normal’ when we get to the other side. I hope that I – too – will be able to make some ‘new normals’ to carry with me out of this bizarre journey.

Harnessing peace and leaving anxiety behind – whenever possible – is something that I am hoping to master in a way that I never have before.

My husband and I have spent a good couple of hours talking this through today and he has been trying to help me navigate these waters. While. We. Have. Time.

What are my assumptions when I allow worry to overtake me?  Why do certain things trigger me and threaten to steal my peace when others don’t?  Much of the solution (which I’ve always known) is – of course – to do with resting in who I am, knowing to whom I belong and holding onto the inner peace and security that comes with that.  It’s very hard to push someone whose house is built upon the rock.

I’m sure that many of you will also be considering what to harness and what to leave behind.  Wishing you all the best if you are also thinking about establishing ‘new normals’!

Viral Vitalities – Day Ten – Burning Up the Dross

Last night we had a ‘bonfire’ in our small garden.

I love bonfires.

I’ll take any excuse to make a fire and throw all the wood and other bits and pieces on… cardboard, garden foliage waste etc.

The thing that struck me about the fire last night was that whilst it was raging away, we couldn’t get close enough to enjoy the warmth – maybe it was the situation and the location of the fire pit.

We did get close enough for our clothes and hair to stink of smoke!

I love watching the flames lick up the latest item to land on top, as it rapidly disappears into ‘nothingness’…

We managed to rid the garden of every last bit of prickly branch and unfriendly thorn.  Finally the fire had done its job and we could sit down next to it, glass of wine in hand and be warmed by the very hot embers, that rather resembled burnt dauphinoise potatoes.

As the fire approached the end of its natural life and purpose, that was when I appreciated it the most. The evening had turned chilly and my feet were cold.

After just a few minutes of sitting next to the embers, I was warm all over, enjoying the relative peace and quiet – albeit with some relaxing music on in the background.

Life can sometimes be a little bit like the raging fire don’t you think? Lots of activity, noise, excitement and fun – all of which can be good – in and of itself. But it doesn’t always warm the heart.

That can be What Went Well.

But Even Better If can sometimes be about the slowing down, the reflection of what just took place, the deep appreciation of the experience we’ve just had and the slow figuring out of what it all means to us now, going forward.  What is left after all the fuss and noise has gone?

Maybe it’s just me but I’ve already discovered that other people have had bonfires last night and just maybe, people up and down the country, all over the world even, are having similar contemplations?

Happy fire-making!

 

Guest post from my wife, Serendipity – Blessed To Be At Rest

Firstly, a caveat; there is much to be concerned, prayerful and sad about. Please understand that I am not suggesting – for a second – that this is not the case.  However, were we not to look for the good, we could easily get disheartened.

I am also aware that parents of young children reading this blog could feel cheesed off – unable to relate.  Never mind.  I trust that each of you will find something of encouragement here.

Rest.

Even during the holidays, it seems a battle to find rest sometimes.  I have to fight the urge not to feel guilty if we don’t organise at least one or two outings or activities that require getting up early and rushing around preparing ‘stuff’.  The pressure leaks in.

Two days ago, Paul told me he was going to set the alarm.

I was quiet for a few moments while I thought carefully about my response. And then I gave it.

“No.”

I am not usually dictatorial – perhaps a “CF” (control freak) at times… but not dictatorial or particularly direct at home.  Carefully, because we had time, I constructed my explanation.  It started with a question… “Why?”

There are so many reasons why one might deem it necessary to set an alarm when working from home and I get that.  You could argue that it is needful in order to maintain motivation; that it’s good to have a routine and set goals.

Getting enough sleep and waking up naturally is one of the most healthful things that you can do for yourself – did you know that?  It takes me so long to settle into rest that I rarely end up getting sufficient amounts of it even over the holidays.

Did you know that in Old Testament times, the land was farmed for six years and then given a year to lay fallow? To rest?  The Sabbath year.  I can’t stop thinking about this at the moment.  Rest is a beautiful biblical principle. Whether you are a person of faith or not, you cannot fail to recognise that Sundays have lost their ‘quiet’ and that we have lost the ability to rest.  In a story in the New Testament, the disciples are stressed out in the middle of a storm on the Lake of Galilee – note what happens next, they have to WAKE Jesus up… he is sleeping in the boat, in the midst of the storm. He is resting.

I recently had some minor surgery.  This really wound me up.  I am not good at taking time off work.  I hated it and was itching to get off the sofa as soon as I could possibly stop wincing in pain to return to the grindstone.  Imagine my frustration when, two weeks later, I was clearly in the throes of Covid-19 and had to self-isolate.

Now the schools have closed.

However, something magical has been happening.  I have slept.  I have begun to take enforced rest.  Not rest that stops when I am better… or on Monday morning… but rest that surrounds me like a blanket.  Rest that is a balm to my tired soul.  Rest that whispers through the quiet streets.  Rest that cradles the flourishing spring flowers and rest that seems dense in the blue and cloudless skies.  Rest that – when it isn’t whispering – sings the songs of reinvigorated songbirds.

I won’t be supporting a bid to set a regular alarm clock in these strange, unfolding times.

May I suggest that you also sink into the new rhythm of life and stop pushing against the tide?  Find rest and reacquaint yourself with this friend who only has blessing for you.  I have almost felt a very gentle warning for myself ­– this opportunity may not come around again… take it now. If you can go with it (PLEASE bear in mind my caveat at the start) I have even had a feeling that the positive flipside of the very obvious and difficult negatives is that this is almost a Year of Jubilee – these came around every 50 years – after seven lots of seven… a year when debts were forgiven, amnesties made and rest ruled.

I am a teacher and – you will probably know that – we NEVER stop.  I am blessed to have a head who recognises this opportunity and finished her email to us this morning with this:

MOST IMPORTANTLY – take time out.

Thanks, I will.

Viral Vitalities – Day Eight – Virtual is Our New Reality

I have never liked the idea of virtual reality, simply because I’m a bit old-fashioned like that. In the same way, I don’t approve of mass mobile phone-video recording of anything that is supposed to be a valued experience.

If you’re going to video the concert for example, that you’ve probably paid three figures for, why not save a lot of money and video a similar show off the TV is my logic?

Anyway, that is going way off piste.

My point is that currently, virtual is our reality – for better or worse.

Sometimes, you can take what you might have normally done somewhere else and simply recreate it at home.

Is that virtual reality?

Not really but you know what I mean I trust.

Last Saturday, my wife and I suddenly had a genuine desire for a cream tea.

As you do.

It would be wonderful to state here that the above image is of some fabulous home -made scones that we enjoyed in our beautifully large country garden.

I must confess however, that we bought some scones (I know we could have made some and maybe we will next time – provided we have the ingredients in the cupboard), a pot of clotted cream and we already had some strawberry jam in the fridge.

And no, this is not our garden, although we are enjoying sunny days this week in our much smaller mini-garden.

And we enjoyed our virtually ‘home made’ cream so much that we forgot to take a photo. That’s what happens when you refuse to record everything you do for fun.

Viral Vitalities – Day Seven – Thank You Mum

As you may or may not have noticed, my ‘daily self-isolating blog’ was absent over the weekend. So, not very daily really but it was the weekend and I now realise, I need to pace myself in this relatively new lifestyle.

Today, and partly inspired by the wonderful words written by Allison Pearson about her sadness at not being able to see her Mum on Mothers’ Day, I thought I would dedicate today’s blog to my Mum.

Dear Mum,

Thank you for simply being you. Always there for not just me but everyone who has any kind of relationship with you. Dad, me, Joe… we all know the list could very easily become a very long one indeed. Your ongoing, consistent prayers and the huge investment you have made on behalf of others is one that will be richly rewarded – both in this life and the one to come. On earth as it is in heaven. I’m so thankful you’re my Mum.

You are the one who let me practise the art of keeping someone talking when it was “way past your bedtime” – simply because incredibly, you enjoyed the conversation. Just when things were quietening down and you were preparing to finally leave me to sleep, I would suddenly think of another question that would inject at least a further five minutes worth of awake time. I’ve been learning to cut short the conversation when necessary ever since!

You are the one who somehow managed to teach me how to spell difficult words by breaking them down into phonetic syllables, even though spelling is not your strongest point. I still don’t know how you managed to do that.

You are the one who persuaded me to join you at a Christian conference in Bognor Regis exactly thirty-one years ago last Friday. This single invitation enabled me to experience an overnight but lasting, life-changing conversion experience. It took me ten years of your gentle persuasion for me to concede.

I am so very grateful to you that I did finally surrender.

You are the one who when I hit absolute rock bottom and wept for days on end with no sign of abating, you managed to be there all the same.

You are the one who will call me and even if I don’t feel much like talking – for whatever reason – will make the most of the conversation that we do have, and call another day, hoping for a bit more effort on my part. I’m sorry for those times when I’m just not that keen to talk.

You are the one who every single time will say how much you love my writing. It’s a lovely thing to get back and I’m glad most of my words are a blessing to you.

In this time of ‘self-isolating’ and ‘social distancing’ I am so pleased that we managed to orchestrate a forensically safe way of seeing you yesterday – it was lovely to see you both and catch up – even if no hugs and kisses were allowed.

Appropriately enough, I’m still looking up to you both…

I love you!

Paul

Xxx

 

 

 

 

 

Viral Vitalities – Day Four – Reality is Whatever You Make It

Today, I spoke with a client who told me for the past week or so, between 30-40% of his communications with anyone has been driven by Coronavirus.

No surprise there of course but when you think about how most people operating at a fairly senior level tend to be pretty busy most of the time, that is a huge proportion of their time.

For “professional plate-spinners” – as I often think of them – this represents a massive burden. Many more plates than is safe to be spinning you could say.

Business analysis, forecasting, projections, budgets – everything has been thrown up in the air for everyone in businesses small and large.

Watching the latest Downing Street daily news conference as I write this, with the announcement of the enforced closure of cafes, pubs, bars and leisure centres, the reality of the necessity of a nationwide effort is being brought home – literally.

Whilst at home, it is tempting – trust me – to sink very quickly and easily into a pool of despair and depression if one is not careful.

To avoid this, I humbly suggest you have to do at least one of two things. Several things probably but here are my top two for starters:

  1. Be acutely aware that we are all in this together and there has never been a time like this since the Second World War – and even then, as someone wrote the other day, the pubs remained open! Somehow though, when you meditate on this truth – that is the collective effort of every single man, woman and child that will get us all through this – that in itself is a liberating thought.
  2. Once you have settled on that reality, the next thing I suggest is you think of just one thing that you can do (see below) – easily or otherwise – while you are confined to working from home, or your social life has suddenly been evaporated, or like me, you don’t have much choice and you are having to self-isolate.

Tend to your garden (if you have one) like never before. Find creative ways to communicate with your neighbours – regardless of whether or not you even know their names. We now have a WhatsApp group with a handful of our neighbours and today I sent them along with everyone else I know almost, the funniest video I have seen during this crisis.

It could be something a bit more creative like that book you’ve been telling yourself you will write one day. Now is the time! Today is the day to just do it and get started!

It may be something a bit more technical or practical (not my forte!) like the decorating you’ve been putting off for weeks, months or even years.

In other words, the reality is whatever you make it.

Here’s a little collection of things I keep on the side of my desk that help me to stay positive in good times and not so good times.

Stay strong, stay safe, be healthy and whatever happens, never, ever give up!

 

Viral Vitalities – Day Three – Killing Coronavirus with Kindness…

All around the world, beautiful stories are emerging of human beings killing coronavirus with kindness.

One of my favourites was of the President of Israel reading a story to children and their parents via his Facebook page for all those who are having to self-isolate.

I bet that is a first for any world leader.

In Italy, where almost an entire generation is being threatened with extinction due to the large proportion of elderly in the country, people are coming together via their balconies. This is just one of many videos that will warm your heart.

Apparently, there are now more than 1,200 mutual aid groups across the UK volunteering their help to those in most need.

One of them includes the man who is going around parts of London and playing his cello – or perhaps it was his double bass – outside the homes of residents who are self-isolating. I’d love to provide more accurate detail but it is quite difficult to track the origins of this story down – given the enormous amount of news stories all over the Internet about Covid-19. I only read about it yesterday but already it has been almost buried by the constant stream of stories about this virus.

At the same time as killing coronavirus with kindness however, you will also be familiar with the increasing amount of conflicting advice – both official, government advice as well as what your friends and family may be telling you.

If you are currently in a period of decision making uncertainty, may I suggest: taking a few moments away from all of the clamouring opinions, quietening yourself and taking stock, remembering any latest government advice and then trusting your own integrity.  It IS important to take this seriously as we must look after our vulnerable people.

I think the truth is, no one has ever been in this situation before. not even the pandemic, medical experts. We are all in this together, trying to make some sense of it all.

Blessings to you at this time. If you are uncertain, afford yourself some time to come to a place of peace.  If you are someone who is already at peace, maybe you can do something to spread that to others.

 

Viral Vitalities – Day Two – Carpe Diem!

Last night – not long after I had posted the previous blog – I decided to do something I haven’t done for about ten years, maybe more. My wife had been saying to me, “Well if there’s a time for doing crazy things, now’s as good a time as any…”

In fact, she almost issued it a as a quarantine challenge!  Why not have some fun?

One of the reasons that I hadn’t done it (until now) was – to be completely honest – I was a bit worried about what people may think; really because I think I look better with a bit of facial furniture but every now and then, I get a little dose of curiosity concerning the novelty of a return to older ways.

Older ways that do however, make me look significantly younger.

I refer of course, to this…

There you have it. Lose the beard, lose some years…

So, carpe diem – commonly translated as, ‘Seize the Day’.

What could you do during these extraordinary days that you wouldn’t otherwise consider?

It has to be a positive action of course.

Would a lie-in be considered positive?  For me, yes!  I slept peacefully for hours last night (maybe it was the lack of beard?!) and woke up feeling so refreshed!

I then managed to make some significant progress on my quest to become so much more ‘online available’.

I was due to speak tomorrow evening, to a much-loved group of men who gather together once a month in Winchester. With me now self-isolating, the event had to be cancelled and we are not sure when a new date will be set.

I had suggested there was a possibility I could upload a video and send it out, or we could turn the event into a virtual meeting instead.

I spent some time today trying to figure out the easiest way to facilitate this and guess what?

It was easier than I thought. The answer for now at least, is to have a Skype call that can accommodate up to fifty people.

I suddenly got very excited at the prospect of my first ever speaking engagement delivered via video!

I just hope I don’t scare them with the shock of my clean shaven face – none of them have ever seen me without my beard!

 

 

VIRAL VITALITIES – A JOURNAL OF SELF-ISOLATING

Day 1 – Tuesday 17th March, 2020

Up until approximately 2.00am this morning, I was convinced I had this Coronavirus thing beaten. You see, I never get sick. At least it happens extremely rarely indeed. I am one of those annoying people who can be surrounded by all kinds of typical sicknesses and simply not receive them. Many years ago, I decided that whenever I felt even a twinge of a headache knocking on the door, I would tell it to leave immediately. The same with any hint of a cold or flu symptom. I might very occasionally get the odd cough but invariably it will only last for a day or two.

My wife was beginning to show symptoms of Covid-19 over the past weekend and I was determined not to succumb to it also. Obviously, based on the relentless news and near-apocalyptic scenes all over the world, this was going to be a bit tougher than the viruses I’m used to swatting away like an annoying fly.

Then the news came through that if anyone in your household was displaying symptoms of Covid-19, you have to ‘self-isolate’ for fourteen days.

A few hours later, I was struggling to sleep – given that my wife was barely able to breathe once she was lying down next to me. Then suddenly, I began to feel…well…not quite myself.

After trying to suppress the need to visit the bathroom, I eventually slowly trotted off to discharge any waste material that could be threatening to make me feel even more uncomfortable.

Before I knew it, I was discharging the usual non-pleasantries at both ends! I was horrified and now not feeling very comfortable at all.

Because I hadn’t eaten a great deal, it was a very dry retching coming out of my throat. I immediately had a flashback to the time I was making a film in Pakistan and found myself sprawled cross the bathroom floor of my hotel room in Lahore. I had made the mistake of inadvertently drinking what I thought was mineral water from the mini bar. It wasn’t mineral water of course but merely tap water repackaged in an Evian bottle.

Anyway, the truth is last night was nowhere near as drawn out and painful as all those years ago in Pakistan but it was still pretty unpleasant and I had to bow to the almost certain reality that I had been ‘Corona-ed’.

I woke up this morning however, feeling right as rain again, and at the time of writing (around 17.30) I still feel fine. Go figure…

The challenge today was how to begin adjusting to what could turn out to be the new reality for so many people, having no choice but to work from home.

I am no stranger to the discipline required to do this day in, day out. But when almost everyone you know is having to do the same thing due to an unprecedented outbreak of viral infection, it certainly puts a different twist on things.

Suddenly you should no longer feel all alone on the days you do work from home. In a bizarre way however, if you’re not careful to remain positive, the ‘self-isolating’ can make one feel extremely alone.

I have decided I will aim to make the most of this enforced method of working by improving the online presence of my coaching business.

I have already been working on some ideas and because I don’t possess anything resembling a marketing budget to speak of, I am having to adopt the Fast-Cheap-Good triangular approach to getting things done.

That is to say, anything I produce online is hopefully going to be good and cheap – therefore it will not be fast. As opposed to good and fast, which would certainly not be cheap.

This being the first day of enforced ‘working from home’ with a potentially long term view, it went reasonably well. One of my wife’s colleagues shared a lovely image…

Tomorrow, I will continue in my very slow work of creating an improved online presence.

My aim is to keep a daily journal of self-isolating at the same time.

Let’s see what happens…

Just as with the very real trials, tragedies and tribulations of this Coronavirus pandemic, we are in uncharted waters.

I hope you enjoy the journey with me.

I Didn’t End Up Where I Expected

Apologies for the slight delay in delivering this post to you today.

The truth is, I felt a bit bereft of ideas so I decided there was only one thing for it…

A morning walk up on to the South Downs, despite the frost and freezing temperatures.

I’m so glad I did it, even though there was a point, on a long, drawn out steep incline, where  I began huffing and puffing a bit – realising I am not quite as fit as I was the last time I came here in September. Back then however, I was accompanied by a band of brothers who love walking together once a month.

Somehow, it is simply easier when you have people in front and behind you.

But it didn’t take long for the glories of rural, winter scenery to help me maintain my motivation.

I pressed on, sensing that it wasn’t too much further before the ground would plateau out and the worst part of the walk would be over.

It is always well worth the extra effort of course. If only for the views across the hills that begin to reveal themselves. The ageless fields in the foreground, the magical mist hovering over the land beyond and the clear blue sky providing a beautiful back drop.

Once I got to the top of the hill, I was instantly reassured it had all been worth the effort. An appreciation for the beauty of creation – right on my doorstep – and the resolve to do this more often echoed in my mind.

I then began the descent – but down a different route, although I felt sure, very similar to the one we had all taken in September.

I recognised some of the beautiful country houses and was convinced where I would end up.

But no, it was not to be.

As in life itself, you often learn many, many things about yourself and others and you think you are going to get to a certain destination.

Somehow, and you may never discover how, you end up somewhere different. It may be very different indeed to what you expected.

Or, as in my case this morning, I didn’t end up where I expected but it was only about a quarter of a mile to the east.

I doubt very much if there is anything significant for me in that slight miscalculation.

It didn’t hurt me, It didn’t upset me or annoy me. It didn’t even confuse me.

I simply accepted it.

I did however, walk a lot further than I think I would have done if everything had gone to plan.

I still don’t know how it happened.

Next time I may take a map or more likely, I will simply look for clues and enjoy the views.