Good enough

view from my study

Today, I have been mostly grateful for just being good enough.

Now, that is not a statement I could have made a few years ago.  You see, I am – no, I used to be – one of life’s perfectionists.  Let me tell you two things that happened this week.

I have to go back a bit. In January, I started two things.  I joined a choir, and I gave up alcohol.  I wasn’t sure how long I wanted to give up alcohol for, but I joined Dry January to begin with.  I had done it before, but this time I had a different mind-set from the start.  I had been reading more about how there is no safe level of alcohol, now that the World Health Organisation has acknowledged it is a carcinogen (cancer-forming). For anyone who wants to read up about this, there is a recent article here:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alcohol_and_cancer.  True, people usually under-report their drinking, making most of the epidemiological research flawed, but I was uneasy about taking that risk.  Then, I was aware that by drinking (and I only drank at week-ends mostly, but then I went over the ‘recommended’ limit), I was peeing out calcium and other nutrients, which is not good for my osteoporosis.

During Dry January, which is supported in the UK by the charity Alcohol Concern, I realised I would like to go on further this year. By chance, I saw a posting in the DJ Facebook group that mentioned another group called One Year No Beer.  And so, in February, I joined that, started their 90 day challenge, and have not looked back.  They have a Facebook group (https://www.facebook.com/Oneyearnobeer/?fref=nf), and run challenges for which a charge is made but other resources are available to assist you in making the change.

I was, frankly, amazed at what changed for me.  I could list everything, and certainly while my health has steadily improved in ways I could not envisage, I think the most surprising changes have been in me, and in my relationships.  My husband says I am much nicer to him, for a start!

As I said, the other thing I did in January was to join a choir; the Hallé Choral Academy.  The Hallé choir is a highly respected amateur choir (http://www.halle.co.uk/the-halle-family/halle-choir/), but that was not the one I was singing with!  As a rusty older woman, I joined the Academy, which ran for the first time this year from January to June, culminating in a performance at the amazing Bridgewater Hall in Manchester, which was a week ago today (June 23rd, 2017).  It was the most amazing feeling, to be standing up singing in the choir stalls, behind the orchestra, to about a thousand people; an experience I would not have dreamed was possible until I heard of the Academy and joined it.

Which leads me on to this week.  Or rather, first of all this month.  As part of On Year No Beer, a wonderful participant called Sally Wilkinson, who runs her own juicing and fitness business (https://www.facebook.com/getfitterwithsally), very generously took those of us who committed to do so through an amazing process, building up to a five minute ‘plank’ over the whole month.  I completed that today, with much huffing and puffing and going to my knees and what-not, but I did it.  One might say, I did it my way!

The other thing I did this week was to audition for the Hallé choir.  Some might say I was mad, and I might have been, given that I don’t have to put myself through stressful auditions at my time of life, but I realised that if I did not have a go I might always wonder if I could have done it.  To cut a long story short, my nerves got the better of me, and I was turned down.  It felt like a blow to my ego, but my lovely hubby was proud of me for trying, and he was right.  I had a go.

What both of these experiences reinforce for me, is that whilst I do not actually believe the rubbish spouted about anything being possible (we all have limitations), I do know that if you do nothing, nothing happens – or rather, what happens is not within your control.  I had a go.  I didn’t get into the choir, but that means I am not over-filling my time even more than I already do.  And I probably will never again do a five minute plank, but at least now I know I can do a minute.  I couldn’t have done that before.

And I’m still not drinking.  And do you know what?  I don’t miss it.  I am living life, with bells and whistles.  And I am not peeing out my calcium.

Light in the darkness

SONY DSC

I have been troubled of late.  Recently, there have been terrorist attacks in my home city of Manchester (on May 22nd 2017), and then when I was in London recently there was another one on June 3rd – in an area where I had been walking only the day before, and through which I had travelled by train just earlier that day.  Both were horrific attacks, condemned by all decent people.  Both cities responded with strength, love and determination to overcome the trauma that had hit them, but the attacks have left their scars.

I also have been troubled for much longer however, by what I see as a creeping move towards an ‘I’m alright Jack, pull up the ladder’ kind of mentality.  Interestingly, this is in contrast to the outpourings of love I have seen in Manchester since the attack.  But I can’t ignore it, and I can’t ignore the creeping racism that comes after each such attack.  It seems that we can only love each other if we hate someone else.

Recently, I decided that I need to get up earlier, in order to develop a morning routine for myself that allows for me to engage in my spiritual practice, as well as some morning exercise and some chance to get some writing done (I am writing a novel as well as this blog).  The first day did not go well.  I was dizzy all day, and seriously wondered if I was doing the right thing.  But it was great to be able to meditate early in the day, for twenty full minutes.  Today is day four of my new routine, and in my meditation this morning I found as usual that my mind wandered.  Today, it is hard not to be pre-occupied as Britain goes to the polls.  I found myself feeling uneasy.  Being interested in the mind-body connection I decided to follow the feeling that had developed in my stomach, to see what it was telling me.  I quickly recognised the familiar feeling of not getting it ‘right’, not being good enough, and wanting so much to be good enough.  Sigh.  I often say that one of the benefits of getting older is that I no longer feel the need to please and impress – but this is only partially true.  I am much, much better at being honest about my own needs than I used to, but I have a long way to go.  For example, yesterday when I was in a Nordic walking group for the first time (they had all been doing it for years) I was at great pains to do it properly, to keep up, and not to complain about my hip hurting.

Once I recognised this old familiar pattern today in my meditation, I could let it go.  Immediately, I felt easier, and the tension in my stomach disappeared.  I found myself smiling serenely as I went deeper into my meditation.  I was just enjoying the bliss when two things happened:  my husband called up urgently, reminding me that we needed to vote before I went off to my clinical supervision; and the phone went very soon after this, offering me a place in today’s beginners’ Pilates class.  And so, I only got 15 minutes in, instead of 20.  But 15 minutes well spent.

Perhaps I will eventually learn to be more loving and kind to myself.  I know full well that I need it.  Someone recently wondered aloud on Facebook how to foster resilience in the face of these terror attacks.  I responded from what I know, as a Quaker:  Be open to the Light, in both yourself and others.  So what does this mean?  Well for me, if I take this intention seriously I have to look for what is good in life, and welcome it with gratitude – not ignoring the pain and suffering of others, but doing what I can and not getting caught up in suffering along with everyone. That is hard for me.  I tend to feel others’ pain, perhaps a bit too much.  But if I don’t heal my own spirit, how can I be there for others?  And how can I bear witness to the Light within each and every person I meet?  That Light might seem pretty small and distant in some people who are intent on hate, but I do believe it is there somewhere, if only as a potential.  Some people have been so badly hurt that they find it hard to reconnect with the place in themselves that was once there as a baby, when they first learned to smile at a smiling face – the place of recognition that can blossom into love.  We all had that innocence once.

And so, I will stay connected, if falteringly, to the Light within, the Light around us, the Light in others I meet – the Light that connects and binds us to each other, in love.  And I will keep on working on not needing to please.  There has to be some advantage to getting older, right?