New Year’s Intentions


Another year been and gone – they fly by quicker and quicker, don’t they? Those of you who have followed Thrive in Chaos for some time may remember from previous New Year posts that I no longer make New Year’s resolutions – they’re too easy to give up on after week one and only become a source of guilt. I already have a tendency to finding myself getting overwhelmed, rushed by all the ‘should’s and ‘must’s that bombard us every day and New Year’s resolutions were another source of pressure. It’s tiring and distressing and unhealthy to feel so much demand from these abstract ideas and expectations. Instead, a few years ago, I began starting my New Years by choosing a word to inspire the kind of intentional living I wanted to focus on for the year. Intention over resolution.

The first year I did this, the word I chose was ‘adventure’; I wanted to overcome some of my anxiety about travel and enjoy exploring new places. The next year I chose ‘nourish’; I wanted to dedicate more time to nourishing and growing all aspects of my life to be what I wanted them to be, not what the media or society or anyone else tells me they should be. last year, my chosen word was ‘serenity’; I wanted to seek peace, acceptance, courage, and wisdom and this seemed to encompass it all.

I have found the process of choosing an intentional word an interesting one. More often than not, all it takes to find my word is a few minutes quiet reflection: What has been good in this last year that I want to carry forward? What has been missing or diminished that I want to seek more of? Where do I want to put my energy and focus? What would enrich my life? I don’t necessarily ask these questions consciously but just allowing my mind to wander and skim over the last year and glancing at what I hope for going forward usually gives me an idea of what I’m looking for. With the general idea in my mind, I’ll play around with different words related to it or summarising it, writing them down and turning them over in my head until I land upon one that feels right.

This year, that reflection led me to ‘connection’. In 2019, I hope to nurture the connections in my life. I hope to connect more with the people who matter to me; when my anxiety spikes, this is something I find difficult so in 2019 I want to find ways to maintain those connections even when I’m struggling. I also want to reconnect with my mind, my body, and my work: giving myself time to let my mind be quiet; listening to when my body needs rest or better nourishment; connecting with my work and exploring the next steps in my career.

That is the other beauty of choosing a word of intention instead of making resolutions: the right word can be used to represent many different hopes or ares of your life you want to focus on.

If you’d like to try this practice but are unsure where to start or can’t seem to find the right word for you, you could try playing around with some of the words from the wordle below:

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You can also google ‘word for the year’ and there are loads of websites and blogs with lists of words for inspiration. If you decide to choose an intention word for 2019 I’d love to know what you choose.

Hoping that 2019 brings you whatever you need.

Winter Joy

My heart is so full. It’s Christmas and my brother is – wonderfully, unexpectedly -home. There are no words for the joy this has brought me. So instead, I will simply wish you joy and peace of your own and leave you with a wintry poem about light in the darkest part of the year.

Under Earthbound Stars

Just when it seems

That the world has

Withdrawn

Into itself

And skeletal trees stand testament to a

Lifeless

Season,

We hang stars on every branch and bough

And light candles in every window,

Bringing warm hope

To the cold night.

When it seems the whole world should be

Hibernating,

Hidden away and

Waiting

In quiet solitude

For the Sun’s return,

We gather.

Stories and laughter and gifts

Of Time

Or Trinkets

Are shared

Over vats of mulled goodness

Under a man-made Milky-Way

Of Earthbound stars.

And when the sharing is done

A sleepy

Silence

Settles itself,

Like a thick, woollen throw, around our weary shoulders.

We sigh and allow our stuffed selves to

Drift

Into a contented sleep

With a wish of snow upon our lips

And,

If we’re lucky,

We wake to find the world muted and muffled

By a new kind of

Magnificence.

And we are reminded of the

Beauty

That can be found in a

Blank

Page.

Autumn Mornings

Last September we got a puppy. She turned our lives upside down (mostly for the better – who can resist a happy puppy face in the morning and when you get home from work?) but probably the biggest change she made is that I now actually HAVE to get up when my alarm goes off in the morning. No more snoozing. No more lying awake but savouring the warmth of my duvet. I am not a morning person but I have actually found that, once I’m up and out, I genuinely enjoy my morning walks with the pup. Hubby and I alternate the morning walk so we both get alternate days where we can be a tad more lazy/slow to wake up. But on my walking days, even when it’s raining, it’s nice to start the day with some fresh air. I can listen to my audiobook or some season or mood appropriate music to set me up for the day. Sometimes I blog as I walk (like I am now) with breaks, of course, to throw a stick or chase my playful not-quite-a-pup-anymore, or just to watch her revel in the general joy of being a dog off the lead. It’s lovely.

But…

Now we are getting into autumn proper and winter is creeping it’s way toward the northern hemisphere, our morning walks are happening in the pitch black. I’m not so much watching the pup playing as I I am watching a disembodied LED collar trace circles round the park. Now, don’t get me wrong, I LOVE this time of year – the boots! The scarves! The autumnal food and music! It’s my favourite. And I still enjoy stepping out into the crisp morning air. But, this morning, as I walked, I couldn’t help but pen a realistic portrait of how I felt…

Merry Of Soul

Sing me a song of a lass that is gone,

Say, could that lass be I?

Merry of soul she sailed on a day

Over the sea to Skye.

Billow and breeze, islands and seas,

Mountains of rain and sun,

All that was good, all that was fair,

All that was me is gone.

Sing me a song of a lass that is gone,

Say, could that lass be I?

Merry of soul she sailed on a day

Over the sea to Skye.

We’re up in Scotland for a break away from all the building and DIY chaos at home. A little cottage in a little village, nestled in the midst of the Machar peninsula is just the ticket after weeks of plaster dust and builders in the house.

I had the Skye Boat Song (specifically the Outlander theme arrangement) in my head for the whole journey up here.

Scotland and I have a long and beautiful history. Many of my childhood holidays were spent in various Scottish locales and my memories of this beautiful country are filled with joy and wonder. It has always felt like a magical place to me. Even more than that, it somehow feels like home.

I love the wildness of the landscape.

I love the Celtic history, culture and folklore.

I love that it feels like a world away and coming home at the same time.

I’m so happy to discover a new part of Scotland with my love and our happy little pup. It was a fair drive up so for now we’re curling up in our cottage with books and food and nothing to worry about.

Happy Monday and ‘merry of soul’ indeed.

x

The Sacred Everyday

Some time ago, I discovered the Harry Potter And The Sacred Text podcast. This was a wonderful discovery. HP and the Sacred Text takes one of my (and the world’s) most beloved series of books, and engaged with them in a thoughtful and inquisitive way, exploring the lessons and ideas the story has to offer us and providing tools for treating any text – and I would argue any part of life – as sacred.

Here’s how the founders and hosts, Vanessa and Casper, explain what they are trying to do with the podcast:

This podcast creates time in your week to think about life’s big questions. Because reading fiction doesn’t help us escape the world, it helps us live in it.

On this podcast, we ask: What if we read the books we love as if they were sacred texts? 

Each week, we explore a central theme through which to explore the characters and context, always grounding ourselves in the text. We’ll engage in traditional forms of sacred reading to unearth the hidden gifts within even the most mundane sentences.

Vanessa and Casper are so thoughtful and engaging in their exploration of Harry Potter and I have taken great joy and great comfort in approaching these much loved books in a new way.

I am also intrigued by the idea of viewing those things that might be considered ‘everyday’ as sacred, especially in light of my recent musings on my experience of religion and the church. When I was actively involved in the Christian church, one of the things I loved most about it was the chance to take a more considered approach to reading a text. I enjoyed the opportunity to explore deeper meanings and ideas and desperately wanted the change to question those ideas. The sacred practices shared on Harry Potter and the Sacred Text allow me to do just that.

On a recent episode, Vanessa beautifully broke down the elements they believe are necessary for applying this kind of sacred practice to wider contexts – not just the reading of any text but to things like writing or running – and I loved the simple clarity of it so much that I wanted to share it with you today.

  1. Faith – you must have faith that the more you do or engage with something the more gifts you will receive from it. If I persistently dedicate time to reading, writing, running, cooking or any other thing, then those things will reward me more and more.
  2. Rigour – the time you give to these things will be more rewarding still if you approach them with rigour. By ritualising the processes you use, the time you spend will be more focused and valuable. If I want to approach the reading of a text in a rigorous way, I can take notes and I can research or discuss the ideas that arise. If I want to approach my writing in a rigorous and sacred way, I can switch off my phone and focus my attention, I can carry out a mindfulness meditation before I begin.
  3. Community – find others to share the process with. By engaging in these practices alongside like-minded individuals – or even very un-like-minded individuals – you open up more opportunities for questioning, exploring and sharing ideas. If I share ideas about a text with people in my community, their ideas further enrich my own and open my mind to new perspectives. If I share my writing with other writers and readers, I will better understand the impact of my words and will be able to share the struggles and triumphs of the process.
  • I love the possibility that anything in life can be treated as sacred if we only give it the right attention and approach it with intention to do so. This is something I hope to explore and experiment with, especially with regards to writing.
  • I’d love to hear if you decide to give it a go (or decide to listen to the podcast!) too.
  • Wild & Improbable Tales -Whispers In The Dark

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    Cocooned in sleepy warmth, they lay in midnight’s silence, oblivious to the world.

    Blankets a tangle around entwined limbs; heads resting close on pillows; fingers unconsciously seeking skin, lost in wonderment, their whispered voices held the cadence of the lapping tide and the hush of a shooting star.

    What they spoke of did not matter: hopes and fears; the mundane and the magical; gods and monsters. All that mattered was that moment in which the universe belonged to them alone.

    With eyes only for each other, they saw nothing beyond their own slowly curving smiles. They did not see the words they breathed take flight in the night. Did not see their dreams light up and dance above their heads like fireflies. Did not see those little specs of luminescence weave together and hold back the shadows.

    The moon outside the window gazed down in awed affection, the tiniest hint of envy in his silvered rays. What a wondrous thing: to build a world from whispers in the dark.

     


     

    “You’re a storyteller. Dream up something wild and improbable,” she pleaded. “Something beautiful and full of monsters.”

    Strange The Dreamer by Laini Taylor

    Inspired by Erin Morgenstern’s Flax-Golden Tales, I have decided to embark on my own creative writing blog series, “Wild & Improbable Tales”, as a way to write more freely and more frequently. At least once a week, I will choose a card at random from The School Of Life‘s ‘Small Pleasures’ box and use the image and/or writing on the back to inspire a short piece of creative writing. I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

    Being Emotionally Honest

    This week was Mental Health Awareness Week and all week I’ve been wanting and meaning to write something to share with you, my lovely readers. But I’ve had a funny mental health week and have just not quite been in the right frame of mind. I’ve felt edgy, restless and anxious, as if something is bubbling just under my surface. It’s an uncomfortable feeling.

    When anxiety starts to prickle like this, I try to acknowledge the feeling. In the past, I used to work hard to ignore it, or would make myself feel guilty about it, which only made things worse. It has taken a surprising amount of effort to reach a point where I can allow myself to just feel what I feel, without judgement. Like much else in life, there always seem to be ‘should’s and ‘must’s crowding in, making me feel bad about my feelings, wants and needs. But by acknowledging the truth of what I’m feeling, without trying to tell myself I should feel something different, I’m far more able to deal with those emotions. This is true of more than just anxiety.

    Emotions are human. And as humans we experience a full spectrum. It’s no good trying to repress what might be seen as ‘negative’ emotions. If you feel angry, be angry; if you feel resentful, be resentful; if you feel sad, be sad. These aren’t necessarily pleasant things to feel but feel them we do. If, when one of these emotions crops up, we tell ourselves we shouldn’t be angry, or we should be grateful, or we have no right to be sad, we are denying some of the truth of ourselves. And the real truth is that you can’t force an emotion away. You can pretend. You can try to bury it in falsehood. But that emotion will still be there and, if you let it, it will fester.

    Like a festering wound, a festering emotion can make you very ill indeed. You have to let the ‘bad’ stuff out if you ever want to heal. One of the things that I used to worry about a lot was how my emotions might make other people feel. When something or someone made me angry, I didn’t want to be angry with them in case it upset them, especially if that person was someone I loved, who loved me, and who I knew probably didn’t mean to make me angry. When something or someone made me resentful, I didn’t want to behave resentfully towards them, and when something or someone (or often nothing) made me sad, I didn’t want to show that sadness because I thought my privileged life meant I had no right to be sad. But by being so focused on what other people might feel in response I put myself in some really dark and painful places. And the thing is, allowing yourself to feel what you feel isn’t about rubbing it in someone’s face. You don’t have to take the festering wound and smear it on the person who accidentally gave you a paper cut, or whose success distracted you from what you were doing so you accidentally gave yourself one.

    It takes a conscious effort but I will now (most of the time) deal with those emotions in one of two ways: I will acknowledge it out loud or in writing, just to myself; or if it’s really eating at me, I will speak to a friend or family member who is outside the situation and, as honestly as I can, explain what I’m feeling. These acknowledgements are usually prefaced with lots of ‘I know I’m really lucky to have X, Y and Z, BUT…’ or ‘I feel like I’m being a bitch/ungrateful/overreacting, BUT…’. With the effort of being honest about my feelings, to someone else in particular, comes the need to qualify that I know I speak from a place of privilege. The process at the moment is still partly one if seeking approval for what I’m feeling, which I hope to move beyond eventually. But this has been a huge step forward for me because I used to keep everything I considered vaguely negative bottled up inside. I would not allow myself to be imperfect in my emotions. I would not allow myself to be human.

    What I have found is that once I have acknowledged whatever it is out loud, I either feel better immediately and am able to move on, or it gets me to a place where I can then address the person/situation with a greater degree of honesty and clarity. My feelings will usually have subsided to a point where I can express them in what feels like a reasonable and healthy way. It’s a work in progress and sometimes it still takes me a while to realise I’m letting something fester, but I can feel the difference this has made to my emotional life.

    I’m also getting much better at self-care and making time every most days to check in with myself and have a moment of honesty. Some of my favourite ways to do this are by reading, listening to a podcast, taking photographs, writing and journaling. Here’s what that looks like currently:

    Reading:

    The Self Care Project by Jayne Hardy

    Reasons To Stay Alive by Matt Haig

    Red Clocks by Leni Zumas

    Circe by Madeline Millar

    (I know, I know, four books at once seems a lot. I always tend to have a lot of books on the go because I’m such a mood reader!)

    Listening To:

    The Happy Place

    The Guilty Feminist

    Harry Potter and The Sacred Text

    The Quibbler

    Made of Human

    Photographing:

    Books

    Nature

    My dog!

    Writing:

    Poetry

    Blog posts

    A young adult fantasy novel…

    Journaling:

    Quotes

    Doodles

    Tracking sleep, mood, steps

    Daily gratitude

    This Mental Health Awareness Week, and beyond, I encourage you to be emotionally honest with yourself, make the time for self care, and help continue the conversation about mental health, whether online, with friends and family, or even with strangers.

    What do you think is important for maintaining mental health?

    There is Help and Hope

    I have started writing this post several times and don’t quite know how to say what I want to say. I have heard and seen too many stories of people struggling with their mental health and not being able to find a way out; too many stories of people for whom the only escape they could see was through taking their own life. My heart breaks and bleeds for these people and their families and friends. I want to help. I’m not sure how. So for now I just want to say if you are suffering you need not suffer alone. If you are hurting there are people who want to try and help you heal. If you are struggling to see any light in the dark, please, please, call out and let someone – anyone, friend or family or stranger or professional – try to help light your way. Even if you feel totally alone, know that there are people who care.

    Please don’t suffer in silence. Let in help. Let in hope.

    If you’re unsure how or who to ask for help the resources and websites below might be a good place to start. Take care of yourselves and each other, lovely people. 💛

    The Blurt Foundation – https://www.blurtitout.org

    The Samaritans – http://www.samaritans.org

    Mind – http://www.mind.org.uk

    Young Minds – http://www.youngminds.org.uk

    Papyrus (prevention of young suicide) – https://www.papyrus-uk.org

    Self Harm UK – https://www.selfharm.co.uk

    Time to Change – http://www.time-to-change.org.uk

    Rethink Mental Illness – http://www.rethink.org

    American Foundation for Suicide Prevention – https://www.afsp.org

    Reach Out

    It’s so close you can taste it. You can see the possibility solidifying into a reality, just a little way ahead, but it’s fragile: fuzzy and fluctuating like a mirage in the desert heat. But it’s there. You could make it real. You have to reach out and grasp hold of that dream. You have to pull it from that sacred space of imagination and daydreaming into the clear light of day. It may not materialise with one tug. It may take dozens. Hundreds. It may take all your strength and discipline not to let go. Not to give up and let it drift back into that distant and untouchable plain. It may not look exactly how you imagined if you manage to wrench it forth into the world. But you may also find that you can shape it and grow into it. If you want to make it real you’ll have to hold to it with everything you can. Breathe life into it.

    Whatever you do, don’t be afraid if it. It’s your dream. Reach out and make it real.

    Finding Happiness

    Today is International Happiness Day. I have been thinking a lot about happiness recently; I think I am generally a happy sort of person. I have a wonderful life and there are many things in my everyday that make me very happy indeed. I also sometimes feel profoundly unhappy, for no discernible reason, and subsequently make myself feel even more unhappy by berating myself for feeling unhappy in the first place. I am surrounded by happy people, but I am struck by the fluctuations in their happiness too: one of my very dearest friends has recently suffered a blow which is causing her deep unhappiness, whilst another has just experienced what will probably be one of the happiest moments of her life. Happiness is a strange and intangible thing which can both live inside the darkest of times and can dominate whilst unhappiness resides within it.

    I wanted to take a moment to reflect on some of the many small things that can be little happinesses in themselves and that can contribute to a bigger happiness. I believe these little everyday happinesses are fundamental to our ability to cope when we are faced with unhappy events and moments. I believe that everyday happinesses are different for everyone but that they DO exist for everyone. I encourage you to create a ‘happy list’ of your own, to help you find comfort when it seems there is none. For now, I’ll leave you with a snippet of mine:

    – Watching a puppy chase it’s tail or run to its hearts content.

    – Laughing until you cry and your sides hurt – especially if the thing that made you laugh wasn’t actually that funny…

    – Reading something that speaks directly to your soul.

    – Receiving one of those really great hugs that feels like it’s squeezed all of your brokenness back together and finding that afterwards you feel just a bit stronger than before.

    – Seeing spring flowers begin to emerge.

    – Hearing a certain song that you just can’t stop yourself from singing and dancing along to.

    – Dancing.

    – Singing songs from musicals at the top of your voice.

    – The smell of that particular moisturiser that reminds you of mum and makes you feel like a child again.

    – The taste of risotto that reminds you of dad and makes you feel like a child again.

    – Toast with lots of lurpak, cut up into small squares, because that’s how gran used to make it.

    – Knowing there are people who love you no matter what.

    What are some of your everyday happinesses?