Holiday Quiet (is not always peaceful)

I don’t think I have ever noticed it quite so clearly before, but it feels like the city (world) really does go “off-line” over the Christmas / New Year period. The streets are quite, the shops are closed. People stay home or with family (or if they’re unlucky, they still have to work.) I imagine this time of quiet for many people is a respite from the usual fast-pace that life can be.

What happens to those who are less connected though?

Those without families?

Those with families but who live alone?

Who have more less-structured days or alone times?

Those who are having a rough time but whose usual supports are having a (well earned) break?

Volunteer and support services are often closed. For me I know that it is not only the “clients” but the volunteers that this can have profound effect on.

The less connected can become and feel even more disconnected. More lonely.

Neighbours and friends are around, but many go off the radar, either spending time with family or just taking some much needed time out. This is understandable.

Some times big things, unexpected things or crises happen which throws usual patterns out of whack, compounding the challenge of getting through an already difficult time with less resources. This is life. These things happen.

What do we do in this time if we feel like we have little to hold on to, to tether us? We sit quietly trying to pass our days, wondering what on earth to do ourselves and hoping that things will improve when the world turns back on again. Or at least that seems to be what I’m doing. You might have a different way. Please share if you care to. We all have our own ways.

For someone whose days and weeks are structured much differently to many peoples, I’m hanging out for the city to turn its lights back on, for the pedestrian and car traffic to pick up, for shop doors to open, routines to recommence, volunteer gigs to kick off in the new year, markets that sell strawberries to light up and regular, trusty routines to return.

In the mean time, what is there to learn from this? I suppose if we take the time (and head space), we can note by their absences what things are just so important in our day-today lives and work on strengthening them in the coming year (and maybe even plan ahead for future times.) In the middle of potential emotional tumult, we can discover who is able to offer tendrils of connection or hope when we need them most (and from whom we might find them mos helpful.) If we find them (I have) then we can acknowledge them with gratitude. We can be reminded of why sometime Facebook really can feel like it offers a life-line, whether or not we engage with it. We can understand and empathize just a little more with others who are struggling in their own or similar ways.

I think most at this time, we (I) can acknowledge what I already knew – just how important¬† connections with other people are and how treasured different types of relationships can be. From simple waves and sidewalk conversations to shared cups of tea, to crossing paths at local markets (and more…) They all have their place, and I am grateful that I have enough of them to notice their absence when they are not there. My wish – my New Year wish (and resolution?) – is that some how all might be able to find even just some of these connections, and that I might be able to play a small role in offering them as well as receiving them.

J X

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‘Tis the Season

Today is my birthday. I’ve always loved birthdays. I’ve always loved Christmas. New Year I can take or leave.

As an adult, birthdays have remained special to me. While so many have reached a “meh” point with them, for me each one has marked another year that I have kept myself alive. That is no easy feat.

Birthday and Christmas celebrations have always run together. It’s just been a special time of year.. The lights, the carols, the good-will (for those of us who are lucky enough to experience it.) Decorations, trees, traditions. It has always held some kind of magic.

This year it has been a bit different. It all started off the same with the excitement, the lights, the magic. All was well.

But life happens.

For the first time ever I felt to some degree what many others feel at this time of year. The magic disappeared, I’ve been exhausted and dreading obligations (but still lucky enough to have family obligations.) I have just wanted to run off to some bush retreat(or hunker down at home) until it had all passed and things were back to normal (whatever that is.)

I thought that this year would just be a write-off, the year to go down in history as that Christmas that I would just want to forget.

But… Some times it just takes something small to change things. For me, I called on a friend, a neighbour, and asked her if she would be up for a morning cuppa on my birthday. I just wanted an hour of something small and normal to look forward to. She bought be breakfast at a local cafe. The weather was perfect (the heat of the day is yet to hit.) In that hour, I couldn’t have asked for more.

That breakfast, that “small” but lovely start to my morning has shifted something. I am grateful. I think that maybe, just maybe some of the magic has seeped back in.

I am lucky. I have so much and so many good people. With just that tiny hint of the misery that engulfs so many at this time or year for so many reasons, I think my perception of how hard it can be might have shifted that little bit from head knowing to heart knowledge.

I hope that others, whatever is going on, can find even just a tiny spark of magic this year, and if not, that they are able to endure the darkness in the hope of better things in times to come.

Peace be with you.

J X

There is life after Facebook

It has been one month since I deactivated my Facebook account.

I might also add that on the same day, I removed my web browser from my phone (and all unnecessary apps), relegated my television from my home and sold my iPad. I “dumbed down” my “smart world.” I don’t regret it.

Aside from not having ready access to anything I wanted to know or Google RIGHT NOW (a relief not to be able to, actually, and a darn good lesson in patience and discerning what actually matters and is worth looking up later), the only time this has caused me real inconvenience was when I got lost trying to find a place and couldn’t look up the address or number to call and find it. I did find it (eventually.)

Like many, I doubted whether I could live without Facebook and the “connections” it provided, particularly those related to events and invitations. I was lucky enough to have had two months last year without Facebook to give me some idea that was possible. I returned for event and group connection thinking that I could manage my use, but over time it became an insidious habit again; that is how it is designed to be.

So, what’s changed?

I have contact with less people, but I do have more quality contact with the people that I do see or talk to. News and happenings in people’s lives have actually become news, not just an “oh yeah, I saw that on Facebook.”

I do miss out on some event invitations, but in all honestly, despite intents, I actually attended very few and I’m not missing them thus far, so time will tell.

I’ve become a lot more productive and creative. Someone wise once said that boredom was necessary for creativity. I think I’m starting to agree.

I sew more.

I play music more.

I go out more.

I come up with ingenious (in my mind) solutions to simple problems.

I wait more patiently, even if I still pass that waiting time with Tetris on my 23 year old Gameboy.

Both my house and my mind feels more peaceful.

I still pick up my phone out of habit and for lack of anything more interesting, I check the weather and then put it back down again. The frequency of this is slowly decreasing.

I do still watch TV. I watch free-to-air and Netflix on my lap top. It is still a screen, but the simple change of having less screens in the house has been calming.

I look forward to seeing what the next month will bring.

If you’re considering whether Facebook is doing more harm that good in your life, test it out. Give yourself a fortnight or a month and then re-evaluate. You may be surprised.

J X

Christmas Peace

I’m sitting here typing after adding the little extras to my modest but special Christmas decorations. The majority of my decorations have been gifted by friends over the years, and lacking the space for a traditional tree, are hung around the house off door and cabinet handles.

I have turned on the old set of coloured lights that I’ve hung in one window.

I’ve turned on the mini LED lights on my mini wooden cutout “Christmas tree” that sits on my sideboard, surrounded by a few modest gifts.

I’ve lit the candles that are part of my nativity.

I have two cardboard angels in my front window, with two old coffee jars containing two tealight candles to maybe draw forth a smile from a passer by.

I’ve lit a couple of extra strategically placed candles, simply because they make me smile.

There is no one else here to see my efforts or appreciate them with me, but at this point I don’t need them. Content in my own company and with my own smiles brought on by this little space of Christmas peace… it is more than enough.

To be able to sit with one’s self in such peace is such a wonderful gift.

I hope that you have times when you are able to experience these little times of magic.

J X

Feeling Feelings

Initially leaving Facebook was such a relief for me. It is still a relief, but I’m struggling a little more not to log-in now (I haven’t). There was, after-all, a reason I returned to it last time.¬† I notice that the times that I miss it most are the ones when I feel most vulnerable; when I am tired, when I am not simply alone but lonely. It is a hard realization – even when you have known it intellectually – that your more stable and meaningful relationships are fewer than you would like.

Facebook doesn’t necessary offer more meaningful relationships or satisfy the needs that those particular sorts of relationships meet, but ever so briefly, it can allow ourselves to think otherwise. For me, I find that thought a fleeting one, though, otherwise I’d just head back.

When you’re tired and alone and lonely, and more specifically, alone with your feelings, the temptation to run back and refresh that newsfeed can be strong. Sitting with difficult feelings is, well, difficult. I don’t think many of us are very good at it, and we certainly live in a society that offers endless distraction and escapes from them, at least temporarily. When we stop, the feelings return. When they return, we seek another distraction to escape them yet again.

I think distraction has its place in ensuring our well-being or survival. There are times when difficult feelings can be so intense that they can cause use to become unsafe (with ourselves or with others.) Distraction at these intense times can serve a hugely positive purpose.

Intense and unsafe times aside, I do advocate practicing sitting with challenging feelings. There are many benefits, but for me, one of the main ones is that running from them just becomes so exhausting. Feeling so exhausted and drained ultimately makes me even more vulnerable to such difficult feelings. It can make things worse.

In starting to sit with difficult feelings, I think we need to start small. Maybe set a challenge such as not pulling out your phone while waiting in line or for a bus. Maybe delaying a distraction response of just five minutes (one one or two) and slowly increasing over time with your capacity to do so.

In my experience, allowing space for challenging feelings to “just be” can also mean that we slow enough and create enough space to also notice and thus allow positive feelings or moments of joy. When we are so constantly occupied, I think that we can lose the latter with the constant attempt to avoid the former.

These are just my own thoughts. Yours, they may well be different.

Do what you need to do and do what works for you. Regardless of your choice of action, one useful question (that only you will be able to answer) is “so, how is this working for me?”

Like always running, Facebook doesn’t work for me anymore – it is just one example of my habitual distractions. We each have our own. We each walk a different path.

May peace be with you.

J X

 

“Good News” IRL

I had a way that I used to try to balance out all the upsetting and anxiety provoking news stories that came my way via my Facebook feed (after already eliminating newspapers and most television news.) I purposefully “followed” and subscribed to “good news” pages and sites.

In the beginning it was a breath of fresh air. I wasn’t just reading about acts of fear, oppression and violence, but also about “random” acts of kindness. A lot of great stories popped up; kids being inspired to take action to tackle local (and global) issues ranging from recycling, to feeding the hungry, to fundraising to help provide clean water to those in need. The first couple of stories about people picking up another person’s restaurant tab or grocery store bill were nice, too – they made me smile. Soon though, these stories seemed to be sidelined, or at least presented differently. More and more stories were popping up where people told of when they or their partner had done something considerate or kind. More frequently, too, was the presentation of photos and names of all involved parties – photos taken of the “unfortunate” person and thus the recipient of “selflessness”, “random” acts of kindness, or acts that “restore one’s faith in humanity.”

There were more stories turning up that were told by individual who carried out the act, too –¬† “hey, I bought this homeless guy pizza and he shared it with his homeless friend so I bought him another one, wasn’t he so selfless??” They appeared as self-aggrandizing posts that begged for people to affirm the individual’s kindness, while carefully trying to shrug off this impression my mentioning some positive quality of the other “receiving” party. It started to feel like the whole movement (if I can call it that) of Random Acts of Kindness was ceasing to be about quiet acts of gentle and genuine kindness, and more about promoting individual feelings of “I’m a good person because I did X.” It started to feel contrived and gaudy. It lost its magic.

Some pages and stories never lose their power or their ability to help one grow in curiosity, understanding and compassion. ‘Humans of New York’ is a great example of this (everyone as a story if only we take the time to listen) and kids taking on tasks as a result of great compassion or a sense of injustice is another one; they inspire me to want to be better and do better. Heck, even the stories of others paying or providing for a need without the now expected photographs and naming of all participating individuals are lovely. Unfortunately, these stories seemed to be becoming the minority.

I was becoming disillusioned with “good news” stories.

Fortunately, an unexpected thing happened when I opted out of Facebook. It had been there all along, but my attention to it was heightened. Every day, many times a day, in my suburb, in my city, in my street, these “good news” stories were happening right before my eyes. All I had to do was tune in. I found that I no longer needed them fed to me via a dedicated channel because I was surrounded by them the whole time, if only I cared to look. And once I started looking, I couldn’t stop seeing. It has been beautiful. There are no photographs, there is no kudos or reams of comments applauding those involved. There is just quiet kindness, simple gestures, and some deeper, less contrived display of empathy and compassion. Feeling good about being kind to others will often be a great motivator to keep doing more of the same, but when it becomes the primary motivator, it becomes… sad; the magic is lost.

Keep your eyes open for that magic – it is still there. May you smile as you notice it.

J X

 

Mend and Make Do

Over the past year or two I’ve been both reading a number of books based the lives of women around the time of World War II, and also adjusting to having less “disposable” income. These things tied in with my desire to decrease the amount of waste I generate directly or indirectly (E.g. Throw away packaging VS resources used in making a product) has created some interesting and fun (yes, fun) activities (and experiments.)

Yesterday morning I went to paste a quote from my advent calendar into my diary (I sewed myself a calendar and filled it with quotes rather than picking up a disposable chocolate one. I still have chocolate in the cabinet though!) In doing so, I discovered that both glue sticks had dried up as a result of time. I considered dropping into the big box stationary / office store where I knew I could get one (or five) pretty darn cheaply. But then I looked at the packaging. All that twist-up, screw-on lid, hard, plastic packaging. Looking at it with newer eyes it just seemed ridiculous. SO, after pondering the idea, this morning I found myself a empty glass jar and made some old-school flour and water glue. It worked a treat for today’s quote. I did (and do) doubt just how long this glue will hold things together but WikiHow had several other suggestions (like Milk Glue) that should do a better job.

But all of this isn’t about glue. Nor is it about the new elastic I sewed onto my old fitted sheet to give it a second life, either (yes, I was proud of that one).

It’s about looking at what we use, how we use it, whether we need it and what the cost of it is (financially, environmentally, socially.) It is about making considered choices about what what we choose to consume and why.

The Ministry of Trade in England had a slogan that they promoted during World War II in the times of rationing:

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do, do without”

or the shorter:

“Mend and make do.”

This is not revolutionary. I am not being revolutionary. I’m just finally learning to live with some of the frugality my grandparents have and trying to make those “common-sense” choices a little more “common” in my life.

Join me if you like.

J X