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’!

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 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 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.

Replaced By Robots?

If you’re anything like me, you may be repelled by the seemingly relentless advances being made by robots.

Not that ‘they’ are the ones making the advances of course. I’m not too worried about a potential real-life horror story along the lines of the Terminator films – whereby the human race effectively hands over all control of the planet to robots, who in turn destroy the earth as we know it and seek to terminate all human life.

Not yet anyway.

The other day, my wife was watching the first episode of Kevin McCloud’s Rough Guide to the Future. I was in and out – not paying too much attention – until I realised one of the co-presenters was going to visit a man in Japan, who it transpired, had married a digital toy. There was a video of the wedding ceremony that had cost him around £13,000, where he pledged his love for the digital doll that he was holding in his arms.

Back at his home, she appeared as a hologram. He tried to demonstrate to Alice, the presenter, how the love of his life sang to him but the hologram wasn’t functioning properly.

The man in question identifies as ‘digi-sexual’ – a new one for me.

I was not impressed and there are obvious connections to the ‘already here technology’ of so-called ‘sex robots’ for those who would prefer to be with a non-human.

I only tell you all of this to firstly, reveal that I am not a fan of such technology but then secondly, to make the point that not all technology surrounding robots is all bad.

For, soon after this sequence in the programme, Alice visits a pop-up cafe – also in Japan – where the waiters/waitresses are robots. She ordered her coffee and then a few minutes later, a robot came trundling along a fixed track in the cafe floor and asked her to take her drink from the tray.

If you are able to watch the video that shows the human connection with the robot

you will be amazed and encouraged that this level of technology is able to literally transform human lives.

The reason is because the person operating the robot and speaking to Alice and any other customers in the cafe, is a severely disabled man who spends the vast majority of his time on his bed – unable to do anything else.

Without this robotic technology, he would struggle to connect with anyone at all.

Using highly sensitive, ‘eyesight-monitoring’ software and robotic technology, he is able to function as if he were a normal, able-bodied waiter interacting with customers, taking orders, and delivering them to the customers’ tables.

In stark contrast to the ‘digi-sexual’ technology, I was genuinely impressed and so encouraged that not all robots are mere machines replacing human labour. Some are actually being used to provide employment for a human who would not otherwise be able to work anywhere.

So, in case you may be a bit like me, don’t throw the baby out with the bath water.

Trust the Signs

On the first day in Tirana, Albania this week, I decided to walk back to my hotel for lunch. Partly because I wanted the exercise of a brisk walk through the city and also because I love the challenge of remembering a route.

I was staying in a new hotel for the first time and so was unfamiliar with the short drive to the office in the morning. I therefore paid much closer attention than normal in the back of the car, while we spent much of the time in the relentless, rush hour traffic of Tirana.

So, when it came to walking back to the hotel, I was up for the memory challenge!

It wasn’t that difficult to be honest. I had a pleasant lunch and then looked forward to the walk back – this time keeping a look out for the various landmarks I had taken even closer notice of an hour or so before.

What struck me about this exercise was that the landmarks – let’s call them ‘signs’ for the purpose of this blog – were not always obvious at the large junctions, where I had thought they might be. Or rather, I had tried to notice something at a certain junction but in fact, the ‘sign’ I did recognise came after I had made the decision to turn right for example, at a set of traffic lights.

The mural I had registered in my mind only appeared a bit further along the road – not at the corner.

If you’re anything like me, you want the signs to show up and point you in the right direction when you expect them or would like them to be there. You probably don’t know or can’t remember what that sign looks like but you hope to recognise it when you see it.

In life however, the signs usually show up when they need to be there – not necessarily when you expect or prefer them to be there.

Sometimes I find at least, you need to be prepared to go with your inner sense that “this feels right”. Soon after, you very often see that yes, it felt right for a reason. The sign you were hoping for does indeed show up – just not where you thought it would be.

With or without an active, daily faith, the reality is, we all have to live by faith one way or the other.

Faith in our subconscious memory, faith in our ability to find our way back, faith in that often dormant ability that enables us to be as good as we can be – if we learn to trust the signs.

 

 

 

When I Woke Up, I Couldn’t See!

One morning, when I woke up, I couldn’t see.

I called out to my Mum (I was only about eight years old at the time!) who came in to see what the matter was.

It turned out, I had conjunctivitis. The nasty pus that comes with it had effectively congealed over my eye-lashes and therefore, I could not open my eyes in the normal way.

Imagine for a second, if you woke up one morning and the effect was permanent!

As Helen Keller famously said, “The only thing worse than being blind is having sight but no vision.”

At the beginning of this year of all years – 2020 – why not look around you and begin to imagine what could be a reality at some point during this year?

Could it be the realisation that your life is far more impacting than you previously imagined?

Perhaps the reconciliation of a relationship that you need to see happen?

Maybe that creative idea you’ve been putting off for so long has finally clambered its way to the top of your To Do list?

Whatever it is, let’s all do our best to ensure that when we look back on 2020, we can confidently say it was a year when we really pressed in to our vision for life and all that can happen within it.

 

 

“This Story Has Obvious Motion Picture Potential…”

I haven’t always had a study but now that I do, I never want to be without one.

Having only recently furnished it with a couple of pictures and most of my favourite books, it finally feels like a home from home.

A place of peace.

Somewhere to work, write and read.

 

As I embark on rewriting a novel I wrote almost twenty years ago, this is crucial for me at this time in my life. Needless to say, the original draft did not get published (even though one well known literary agency was initially very enthusiastic, while someone else in America offered me a contract with the unforgettable words, “This story has obvious motion picture potential…”. Sadly that ‘offer’ turned out to be a scam).

I eventually gave up on it and continued in my day to day life, occasionally wondering what might have been.

Recently however, I have been doing a bit more than merely wondering what might have been and actually returning to the novel that took me two years to write (early mornings before work and late nights after putting young children to bed).

I asked someone to read it and they eventually came back with some honest feedback, which confirmed what others had said, and made me realise how much I wanted to not simply leave the manuscript as it is, gathering dust, going nowhere.

Some things in life are better left alone. Acknowledge what they were, be grateful for the good they ushered in and then move on.

Other things deserve a touch of resurrection.

A fresh breath of life, perhaps with far more maturity attached. Maybe a more secure and stable structure could make a huge difference and who knows what that could lead to?

For me at least, I can apply that to the novel as well as my life in general.

What about you?

 

Beauty, Rubbish and Danger

I am currently in the middle of the first two week, summer holiday I have had for a very long time – soaking up the sunshine in Greece and making the most of the time to relax and do… next to nothing.

Whilst I could share many images, a few stories and one or two restaurant reviews, no one really wants to read about that. I do however, want to share three personal images…

The first image is a picture postcard view.

It is, of course, a beach.

And the scene before me was so similar to hundreds I’ve seen before of idyllic holiday destinations that I just had to share it.

The location is ‘Kathisma Beach’ and it is quite simply, stunning. There are no jet-skis; no water-skiers (though I love to do both of these activities!).  There is nothing that can disturb the tranquil beauty of the turquoise sea – apart from those who can’t resist cooling off, swimming or just splashing about.

As some of you know (from my experiences last year), I can now swim front crawl ‘properly’ (head down, mouth up every third stroke) and I can swim further and faster than ever before, using a fraction of the energy. This holiday has given me the opportunity to push through and actually swim like this in open water for the first time. After struggling to swim through either misty or reed-infested water in the UK, swimming here has been a totally different experience, providing clarity like I’ve never seen before. My wife counted thirty-three strokes before I stopped to see how far I’d got. Previously, I’d never swam more than about six strokes in the sea!

The second point to note, on the walk back up the hill from a taverna the other night, was that of a collection of rubbish that caught my attention. I was extremely impressed with not only how much rubbish had been squeezed into a relatively small, twin public street bin but how much care must have gone into the final few pieces that had been added.

We all have rubbish in our lives (even if we think we don’t!) and – of course – it’s good to try to be a bit careful with it. Some of us however, for whatever reasons, find it difficult to be at all tidy about our rubbish – that’s okay too – but we could take inspiration from this bin.

Whilst taking some time out, and reading a challenging book, I’ve been considering how I for one, can be a little bit more patient with others, regardless of whether their rubbish is obvious or not.

Third point.  On our second trip to the beach, we took a wrong turn and ended up driving on some hair-raising, dangerous narrow roads that contained no barriers and a sheer drop down several hundred feet of mountain ravine.

It wasn’t a massive problem to me as I was driving (!) and for the most part, the drop was on the passenger side! I can’t say the problem was as small for my wife… but we survived, and eventually made it to the beach. (No photos were taken during this particular road trip for obvious reasons).

Coastlines are special places for me and so – facing a bit of danger – maybe even dealing with a bit of rubbish along the way – is always worth it. I’m tempted to say, ‘Life is a beach’… but (as detailed above) not always in the way you might think it will be.

We should all take time to sit with our fellow travellers and enjoy the view: