A Vote for Peace

20160607_080200_HDR

I was born in 70s Britain to Irish parents. I had a comfortable, middle-class upbringing in Gloucestershire, punctuated by IRA atrocities on the news. My father had a building company and employed a large number of Irish builders, as well as British and other nationalities. When the Birmingham pub bombings happened, some of his employees were taken in for questioning. For being Irish and near the West Midlands. It was a frightening time to be an Irish immigrant in the UK just as it was a frightening time to be an IRA target.

Following the death of my mother from cancer we moved to southern Ireland when I was eight years old. The evening news continued to punch out stories of sectarian violence on a daily basis. Somehow though, there in the deepest, darkest west of Ireland, the violence felt more removed than it had in genteel Cheltenham. The north was another country. A world away, although little over an hour’s drive to the border. In the UK we had felt threatened by the violence – at risk of being caught up in an attack and also of becoming a suspect. A climate of fear, division and hatred reigned. It was good to be out of it.

When the Irish referendum on the Maastricht treaty came around in 1992 I was in my final year at university in Trinity College, Dublin. About to graduate into an Irish economy where jobs were thin on the ground, where emigration was still the norm and where the box in the corner continued to spit out nightly news of bombs and shootings.

I voted ‘yes’ to further integration with Europe at that time because I saw in it the first vague hope of a peaceful resolution to the hatred and conflict that had raged in northern Ireland all my life. For the economic benefits too but primarily my vote was for a philosophy of coming together, of unity as a power for good and for peace.

And so it proved to be. The northern Irish peace process of the 1990s culminated in the signing of The Good Friday Agreement in 1998 and the unthinkable finally happened. The atrocities stopped. For the first time in my lifetime Northern Ireland knew peace.

Forget the Celtic Tiger, the real miracle that Europe wrought in Ireland and by extension in the UK was not an economic one. It was far more profound, far-reaching and life-altering. It helped create the political environment which made a lasting peace possible.

24 years on and we live once again in troubled times. There are terrorist threats from other quarters. The politics of division and hate are on the rise. And it is the UK’s turn to hold a referendum on their future in the European Union.

For me, the choice is clear. I cast my vote for European unity. For integration, for the celebration of our shared humanity and the resolution of our differences. I vote for peace.

 

Unsticking the Stuck

Stuck. That’s where I am. Not in the middle with you. Just stuck.

In fairness, today was a day that invited melancholy. It dawned grey and grisly, with a thorough downpour. And not forgetting it was a Monday. Factor in a house undergoing renovations (read: no roof. I repeat: NO ROOF!) and you are probably getting an idea of how my week kicked off. (Ferrying soggy cardboard boxes around as their bottoms fell open spilling my worldly goods on the ground and generally feeling sorry for myself.)

But actually the weather and the worldly goods spilling on the ground weren’t really the problem, if I’m honest. I was just having one of those stuck days. Those days where the awareness of the length of your to-do list weighs so heavily on your shoulders that you can’t hold your head up straight. But equally you’d rather check in on Facebook just one more time rather than face action-ing just one of those suckers. And let’s face it, it’s not your fault. If you can’t hold your head up high enough to look at your to-do list then you can’t really be expected to tackle it, now can you.

So that’s how my Monday went. Avoiding. Sitting. Hitting ‘like’ on Facebook. Letting my woes mount. And then it struck me. The way to become unstuck.

There is no one item on my to-do list right now that will make me feel immeasurably better through doing. But there is one thing. And that thing is writing. Which is why I’m here. Unsticking the stuck.

Please bear with me. And you? What do you do when you need to shake things up? Have you a cure I need to know?

Sunday Siesta

Two bodies curved together in the half-light of curtains drawn against a sunny afternoon

Children rattle round the yard noisily

Parents ignore doggedly

Snatched moment of much-needed repose

Rare pleasure of skin-on-skin with no small body wedged between

10 minutes respite off which a solid week can be built

Sunday siesta

IMG_7611

Anger Management

I can be a *tad* moody sometimes. (Read: I have been known to scream in a Basil Fawlty-esque manner and kick inanimate objects over what might seem minor irritations to more zen-like beings.) Not all the time, but some times. And it’s never nice. Not for me or for those around me.

The problem is that once you find yourself in that wound up state it’s very hard to get yourself out of it. At least that’s my experience. And the truth is that the kicking and screaming doesn’t help. You think it will be a release, and it may be for a micro-second, but then the anger bounces back and winds you even tighter.

Tonight I found myself escalating into one such mood. I caught myself tossing toys into their boxes with increasing force as I tidied up the play room. I was snappy and belligerent with my other half. I made more noise doing the dishes than a jumbo jet on take off.

Luckily for me my other half isn’t one to let me get away with it. He challenged me to explain my mood. I couldn’t at first. I really didn’t know why I was feeling so goddamned grumpy but I was. As he probed further and I got rattier, eventually it sprang to the surface. I was actually feeling hurt and left out by a friend. I blurted out my grievances in a rush, surprising even myself with the source. I cried a little. (Well, quite a lot actually.)

I got it off my chest. And then I felt better.

The key is finding the source. Generally speaking it’s not actually the thing at which we are throwing the shoe and mostly it’s not even the person at whom we are snapping. More often than not it’s some hurt within ourselves. Looking in and asking the question can really take the wind out of the gale of anger that is blowing.

Once my brave other half had helped me to identify the source he went so far as to propose a solution. If I’m feeling left out then I need to make the effort to reach out. Instead of feeling angry with people for not calling me or including me in their plans I need to be the one making the calls and the plans. Taking control of my life and my moods.

Simples eh? Like all the best things in life, it’s magnificent simplicity and profound complexity all rolled into one. Now there’s something to meditate on.

 

One Simple Technique That Will Change Your Life

It’s true. Slightly hyperbolic but true nonetheless. And, what’s better, it’s not even a technique that you need to learn. It’s something we all do, all of the time. You just need to become aware of it and choose to focus it positively.

Visualization.

It’s as simple as that. Visualizing a positive outcome. Picturing what you want to happen. Keeping your eye on the prize.

It really works. You do move towards what you focus on. It’s like riding a bike. Look where you want to go. Don’t look down, or you’ll have a wobble. Don’t look back or you may take a tumble – you’ll certainly slow down.

I don’t know about you but sometimes I can be pretty good at catastrophizing. Particularly on those nights when I wake in the wee small hours, mind churning with work undone, bills unpaid, forms unfilled. I can quickly work myself up into a sitting-bolt-upright state of sleeplessness. That’s me scuppered. It’s entirely counter-productive.

Keeping my eyes on the prize....climbing onwards and upwards

Keeping my eyes on the prize….climbing onwards and upwards

So, recently I have decided to stop it. Now I know from bitter experience that when you’re lying awake in the dark busily catastrophizing it can be far from simple to just stop. The secret is not aiming to just quiet and still the anxieties that are pressing in but instead to replace them. By visualizing positive outcomes I leave no space in my head for the niggling anxieties. I busy my mind with lovely stuff, with dreams and fantasies and ideals. With what I want to happen.

And soon enough, I fall asleep with a smile on my face and wake the next morning to face the day refreshed and raring to go, ready to make those dreams a reality.

Try it – you might just surprise yourself with how easy it is and what a big difference it can make to your life! And if you do, please come by and tell me how it worked out for you.

 

Quick Fix Tips for When You’re Feeling Stuck

Somebody said something really insightful to me today. Something that struck a chord. In fact, it felt more like a clunk settling down within me as a giant piece of a jigsaw fell into place.

And, would you believe it? I can’t actually remember exactly what it was that they said. How dumb is that?

I do know that it was something to do with letting go of fear and allowing yourself to go with the flow. But much more elegantly and cogently put.

I feel a little like words are escaping me right now. I am tongue tied. I can’t express myself how I’d like. But I still have all these amazing thoughts spinning around inside. Moments of recognition and understanding. How do I best express and share them? Is that in fact what I should be doing?

Some things I know for definite. Small things, easy to encapsulate. These can be my jumping off point. My base list.

1. Drinking less alcohol is better for me. For my health, my productivity, my energy and my mood. It is totally worth cutting out alcohol midweek and keeping it to a two drink maximum at the weekend. This more than any other one change can make the single biggest and easiest to achieve difference. I need to remember this. I need to remind myself regularly until it becomes easy, comfortable habit.

2. Exercise. I’ve known for ages that exercise is a fantastic mood and energy mover for me. But try fantasize as I might I have yet to turn myself into a hungry running machine who pounds the tracks come rain or hail and regardless of whether my son wants to go to the park or not. Again, the getting started is so hard. The getting to a point where you’re hooked on the healthy behavior and will move heaven and earth to do it. Which is why the seven minute workout and five minute abs apps are so great. There can be no chance of wriggling out of doing them. Jeez, even the Pope could find seven spare minutes in his day.

3. Writing and Blogging. I’m desperate to get back into my blogging. I love it. Although you would be forgiven for imagining this was not the case given my recent blogging output or rather lack thereof. I need to start again, posting and publishing. Oiling the creaky joints of my writing skeleton. A post a day, come what may. Here or there or anywhere. As long as I write and commit to paper the thoughts and analysis that constantly whirr in my head begging for expression I know that, once again, it will get easier. I will hit my stride, find my flow and the inspiration will come again.

That’ll do for now. A three point plan to start me on the way to happiness, to shake me out of my stupor. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not unhappy and I have every reason to be content. But there is a little niggle of dissatisfaction, of stuckness, of unfulfilled potential that, if left untended, could prove dangerous. Time to shake things up.

How about you? What quick fix tips work for you when you find yourself stagnating or lacking inspiration?

Good Days, Bad Days

Yesterday was a good day. So good it felt like nothing could ever dent my deep-seated contentment. So good it felt like there was a universal truth dangling just millimeters beyond my reach. Like maybe I was on the verge of distilling happiness and bottling it for mass consumption.

Today I woke up tired, after DIY-ing late into the night. My hands were stained black with wood tint, my hair was full of dust and my head too. I had a meeting with clients scheduled for first thing, so when I turned the tap to discover there was no water I was not best pleased. No shower to wake and cleanse me, to soak the stain from my hands, to make me fit for human contact. Grrr.

I stomped and banged about the house as I (drily) prepared myself for work. I had my meeting and it went okay but by the time I made it back home I was in a foul mood.

The dishes were stacked high on every available surface, unwashed and unwashable. Still no water. The day was hot an sweaty and I had still not fully awoken. I was tired and sleepy and couldn’t face tackling the tidying up, let alone the intimidatingly epic to-do list that awaits me in my work agenda.
So I superficially ignored the mess around me and stared at my computer screen awhile. Facebook, Twitter, news sites. Endlessly scanning, my chewing gum of the mind. Letting it all stream across my consciousness, a constant passive input.

Somehow, with a mammoth effort of will, at about six pm I forced myself to do a seven minute workout. I know, seven minutes right? A perfectly undeniably tiny amount of time that even in your busiest or tiredest moments you can squeeze in and grit your teeth through.

And grit my teeth I did. And once that was done I took the dog for a short walk and did a little training at our mini climbing gym in our garage. A minimal training session but a session nonetheless. And by the time I got home I felt better and more energized. There was still no water but at least I managed to stack the dishes neatly, clear some space and cook a healthy dinner.

And now I’m in bed, tapping out this blog on my phone. Already I feel better. Tomorrow I may just edge a little closer to that tantalizing, dangling truth. Here’s hoping.🙂