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Mouse or Lion??

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Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.” – Albert Einstein

There was a man on the side of the road hitch hiking on a very dark night in the middle of a storm. It was late at night and no cars were passing.

The storm was so strong he could hardly see a few feet ahead of him. Suddenly, he saw a car coming towards him and stop. Without further thought, he got in the back seat of the car, closed the door and, upon starting to thank the driver for stopping, realized the drivers seat was vacant.

The car began to move slowly down the road and frozen with fear the reluctant passenger sees a curve coming his way.

Scared, he closes his eyes and starts to pray for his life. Just before the car reaches the curve, a hand appears through the window and turns the steering wheel.

Overcome with fear, the passenger can do nothing but sit and watch how the hand appears every time they come to a curve in the road.

After ten minutes he gathers his strength, leaps from the car and runs to the nearest town. Wet and in shock, he goes to a cafe and asks for a cup of strong coffee.

He quickly drinks his coffee and between sobs, starts telling an attentive crowd about the horrible experience he’s just been through.

Approximately half an hour later, two guys walk into the same cafe and one says to the other, “Look Bob, there’s that guy who got in the car when we were pushing it down the road”

In this story the passenger’s perception of what was happening was not the reality.

How many times have we been in a similar situation in that what we perceive is the truth is just our senses and opinion of reality misleading and blinding us? Ever been there?? I know I have!

As a recovered anorexic and bulimic my perception of my weight and appearance over the years has not always been accurate. If I think back to the times I believed I was ‘fat’, I was in reality, no bigger than a UK size 10.

As a mother of three all of my children have at some point been vaguely to moderately unhappy about their body. For me personally, the most horrific being when my beautiful three-year-old daughter returned from preschool devastated because another toddler had told her she was too chubby to be a princess.

Despite us constantly telling her she is beautiful, her body is perfect and just the right size, whenever she needs to wear tracksuit bottoms (early morning dance lessons at her school) she is in tears as in her eyes she looks fat.

Just for the record there is not an ounce of fat on her…not that it would matter if there was because for her ‘perception is reality’.

Over the years I have had numerous home owning, car owning, designer clothes wearing, cupboard full of food eating people tell me how poor they are (fell into believing that myself a few years ago) because there house wasn’t as big as X’s, or there holiday wasn’t as exotic as Y’s…is that an accurate perception of reality?

About twenty years ago Rolling stones magazine coined the phrase ‘Perception is Reality’ as a theme for an advertising campaign. The theme was based on the perception that Rolling Stone magazine was read by druggies, hippies and rock fans, where the reality was the magazine’s readership included very affluent, well-educated readers.

But the cleverness of this was the basis of how susceptible our brain is: if you repeat a perception long enough, it can become a reality.

As humans what others say about us, or our perception of what they think, tends to act as a mirror for how we see ourselves. It is because of this we need to be so careful about what we listen to and whom we associate with.

My husband calls negative talk that is aimed at us or we overhear as ‘stinkin thinkin’. He came across this about twenty years ago and has strived to protect himself (and as much as he is able those he loves) from ‘stinkin thinkin’ exposure. The reasoning behind it being if we hear and absorb negativity, even if we then tell ourselves its not accurate and doesn’t apply to us, some of it will stay rattling around in our brain and become part of the lens through which we see ourselves and others. In short it will help form part of our worldview.

I was incredibly fortunate that I had a Dad that constantly reinforced in me ‘I could be anything I wanted to be’. I still wholeheartedly believe that, although as an adult it is now sprinkled with the reality (astronaut, ballet dancer and mermaid have been struck off the list) that anything worth having requires a measure of effort.

And I believe this is an important lesson for everyone to take on board…you can reach for the stars but in reality as our closest star is the sun and is 93 million miles away, reaching is all we’ll be able to achieve.

But then if we apply what Einstein said about reality being an illusion, and illusion being ‘something that deceives by producing a false or misleading impression of reality’ and add in to the mix the advancements that humanity has made over the last hundred or so years, lets make a choice to NOT be restrained, boxed in, cut down, sold short and restricted by our own sense of reality.

The title of this blog is Mouse or Lion?, but lets be people that shake off titles, perceptions, stereotypes, that question our own and others reality, venture where others fear to tread and view this life we have been given, as one big exciting, thrilling adventure with highs, lows and the unexpected around every bend.

I believe each persons potential is amazing, limitless, unimaginable and as my heavenly Father puts it, with Him by our side and with His Spirit living within us we ‘can do all things’ (Phil. 4:13).

Lets be adventurers that grab life by the short and curlies and embrace it wholeheartedly!!

 

No Vampires or Incomplete Lists…

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The older I’m getting the more like my Mum I am becoming. Not only do I feel the need to visit the lavatory when I arrive and just before I leave somewhere, I am acutely aware of who hasn’t visited the bathroom and many times, obviously without engaging my brain or sense of British decency, have subtly suggested they may need to do a wee before they leave.

I love and respect my Mum a lot but one of the things she has always done, that has given me and my siblings great amusement, is make copious lists. If it is on her list she will achieve it. My Mum will even mark on her calendar when she plans to phone people! She is committed, dedicated and attached to the lifeline that is her list.

And rather annoyingly this is beginning to happen to me. I have discovered the joy of a list, the release of transferring what is swirling round my head into written form and then joy of all joys ticking it off when the task is completed. I have begun to realise my completed, newly defunct lists give me a sense of achievement, a belief (well it was written down and now ticked off) that I have in part fulfilled that day’s purpose.

So imagine my dismay when I recently came upon a To Do List written at the beginning of 2015, to be completed by the end of 2015, with no viable ticks. Two whole years and NO viable ticks!! It was an untouched, incomplete list!

I spent at least ten minutes trying to reason with each item and then eventually half ticked one before quickly disposing of it as I know from my experience of coaching, its presence on my desk would be a personal and continual Energy Drainer.

If you’ve never heard of Energy Drainer’s, they are the irritants of life…along the lines of ants at a picnic, wasps in the summer and gnats at a BBQ. They are the sideshows of existence, white noise, TV adverts, in short they are not what you’ve chosen but they are having an effect on you and your performance.

My ironing pile, when it was in a cupboard I regularly opened, was an Energy Drainer as it continually reminded me of what I needed but didn’t want to do.

For my incredibly tidy, slightly OCD husband, mess is an Energy Drainer and he finds it impossible to relax in a messy room.

Energy drainers can come in many shapes and forms. Many of us will know a work colleague, friend, family member, neighbour that we try to avoid as too long in their company can leave you feeling empty. These people have been referred to as ‘vampires’ as it feels like they’re sucking the life from you. In order to maintain a healthy relationship with that person we may need to introduce boundaries.

For others an Energy Drainer may be distractions, external pressures, unmet needs, anxiety, depression, a cluttered desk, unanswered emails/texts…

Where possible Energy Drainers need to be identified, appropriately discussed and handled or they will continue to drain, divert, undermine, frustrate and generally suck the life and energy from us!

For 2017 I have made a new list that contains specific, measurable goals (learn to drive!!) and less tangible achievements (work/life balance) that I will take great pleasure in completing. But more importantly I have made a promise to myself to include in my life regular Energy Gainers.

Energy Gainers are persons, habits, events that give me energy. They are to humanity what petrol stations are to vehicles.

As someone who lives and works in the world I can’t avoid those that after five minutes in their company leave me feeling like an empty, dry, drained orange segment, but I can readdress the balance by ensuring my diary allows time for those who give me energy.

As someone who loves cleanliness I can’t remove the dreariness of housework from my life but I can stay on top of it so it never seems like an insurmountable mountain (which my ironing pile has sometimes resembled).

Life generally requires that I ‘do’ things, meet certain obligations that for me are Energy Drainers, for some of these tasks, by mentally reframing how I approach them, it will help me keep a sense of purpose and equilibrium.

Unfortunately reframing doesn’t deal with everything, so in 2017 I will embrace the words from Proverbs 4:25 (MSG) ‘Keep your eyes straight ahead; ignore all sideshow distractions’ and for every Energy Drainer that I need to face I will fix my eyes on, and fill my diary with an Energy Gainer.

The photo above was from my first successfully completed Energy Gainer of this year: a visit to the theatre with my lovely sister and Mum…check out the smiles!!

I want to encourage you to take some time to recognise, manage and maybe even discard those aspects of your life that drain you and look at filling your days with as many energy giving activities and people as possible!

 

Three minutes of solitude…

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I am incredibly fortunate to have a job where no two days are the same. As I have the attention span of a goldfish (albeit I’d like to believe one with above average intelligence) and a constant need to be intellectually stimulated this is ideal for me.

Part of my current role means I need to travel around the London and Thames Valley area by whatever means are most cost efficient…I have been on a LOT of trains.

My experience with trains over the years has been varied and I have had my fair share of being stuck under sweaty armpits, prodded by umbrellas, trodden on, endured smelly food (sushi on a packed train…really!!!), had various parts of my anatomy caught in the doors, have been offered a seat (very kind but I’m ONLY 40!!), stood for so long I thought I’d collapse, been almost vomited on, had dirt from under a finger nail flicked at me, given money to the homeless, watched and enjoyed enthusiastic buskers, chatted up and aggressively chatted down, have shared life stories, fallen asleep on strangers shoulders, met old school friends, been dribbled on and (rather scarily) recently was told by a stranger he was going to ‘f***ing kill me’.

However during all of this I have taken comfort in the camaraderie and closeness of my fellow human beings. I have never been alone and everything I have endured or enjoyed has been done with the knowledge that at least one other person has been a participant or witness.

Last week (hot on the heels of my public transport death threat and with a few niggles of uncertainty still clinging on) I found myself, in the middle of a week day afternoon, on a completely empty central London train station.

In all my twenty odd years of travel I’m not too sure this has ever happened before…there was not a single soul present apart from me. As this was an underground train station the emptiness seemed more noticeable, especially as there was no inter-net or phone signal available.

It was three long minutes until the next train was due which gave me three minutes of being on my own in almost complete silence. I wouldn’t say I was uncomfortable although I was acutely aware that should something happen or someone with bad intentions approach me I was completely vulnerable.

Which made me realise I am almost never (if ever) in silence and alone. I am often alone but with the television, radio or laptop on, all of which gives me an immediate connection with others. Or with one of my two mobile phones at hand and usually pinging!

As a Reverend and therefore regular church attender I occasionally have moments of silent contemplation but either with the company of others or ‘meditative’ music playing gently as an aid.

Motherhood started twenty-three years ago for me which means I have been the answer, cause and ‘go to person’ for almost everything for a long while…even the bathroom on occasion has seemed as busy as Oxford Street at Christmas! (This is NOT a moan as if this ever changes I will be devastated!)

I try to have fairly regular massages as they help me relax and reduce the stress knots in my back but even on the massage table silence is elusive as regardless of the masseuse questions are asked or whale noises piped.

I am never silent and alone for any period of time…not even when I am asleep as at least two members of my family snore!

The author Richard Foster is quoted as saying “Solitude doesn’t give us the power to win the rat race, but to ignore it all together”.

I came across another quote recently that stated “It is in the desert that the dew falls freshest and the air is purest”.

Maybe time on our own, without the interruption and opinions of others, allows us the freedom, the space, the time to think for ourselves or to just not think at all.

To relax and switch off, free from the constant bombardment of noise, even seemly insignificant white noise, and just let our body rest and mind roam…who knows where our thoughts, unfettered and unguided, may end up!

Imagine the possibilities of our amazingly creative brain should we give it unrestricted, uninterrupted, unburdened free rein. Our own capability and potential may surprise us!

I challenge you to think back to the last time you were alone in the truest sense, without the physical or verbal intrusion of another human being.

Maybe you found it easy to remember such a time, beside my three minutes on a London train station, I couldn’t think of the last time this happened to me.

As a result of my ‘three minutes of solitude’ I now have a time booked in my diary where I will turn off my television, radio, laptop(s), phone(s) and walk somewhere, anywhere where the only sound will be my inner voice and the only person who will be determining the pace and direction I go in will be me.

Do’ya wanna build a snow person?

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This week we had a short flurry of snow! Despite the fact it appeared and disappeared within the space of ten hours and barely covered the grass my daughter was beside herself with excitement.

She continually kept on running up to the window to see how much of the white stuff had settled. She began to plan, in detail, how she would build a politically correctly titled snowperson (“I don’t think its fair they are called snowman”) and made a mental list of what ‘equipment’ she would need.

My reaction was at the other end of the emotional spectrum.

Whilst I can remember LOVING snow as a child, enjoying family skiing holidays and having snowball fights with friends until I could no longer feel my fingers and occasionally my toes, the sight of it now fills me with dread.

When my daughter was standing at the window reciting songs from the movie Frozen (‘Do ya wanna build a snowman…’) outwardly I was smiling but my inner voice was screaming “Noooooooo!!’

And I began to wonder what has changed in me and when did this change occur?Almost immediately I remembered the winter of 2009/10 and it all became icicle clear.

That winter I was approximately five months pregnant (although to give you an idea of my size at that time, others constantly commented that I must be due any day now), we lived at the top of the Malvern Hill’s and owned a rear wheel drive car which refused to be controlled at the sight of snow therefore making it useless in such conditions.

If that wasn’t bad enough in order to access the nearest supermarket (which ironically was Iceland) we had to walk for approximately four hours down and then up a very steep, icy hill carrying heavy bags.

This continued for about three weeks and with my newly found insight this experience has obviously emotionally scarred me! What a revelation…it is not actual snow that I’m adverse to just the memories it uncovers!

Just like the little boy who when asked by his teacher “Can people predict the future with cards?” responded, “My mother can because when she takes one look at my report card she’ll tells me exactly what will happen when my father gets home”, our experiences if we allow them, can act as self fulfilling prophecies.

The memories we have, based on the experiences we’ve been through, can affect the future we embrace.

Experience is the nurture counterpoint to design’s nature. It is the wisdom, learned skills and other assets that we acquire along the way in life that can help or hinder us.

What experiences have you had within your lifetime that you need to take control of? What memories do you need to relinquish?

I have decided I will not let one bad experience impact my enjoyment of the white stuff and the next time it falls from the sky I’ll pop on my snow Uggs (no numb toes for me anymore!!) and build a snowperson!

 

Meaning of Life

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Recently I came across this story and it made me stop and think about my life. I tend to be someone who likes to have several projects on the go at once, can easily manage to be active in more than one conversation and whose mind and life seems to run at 100 miles per hour…and I like being like that.

Whilst this means that I manage to achieve a significant amount (if I set my mind to it and don’t get sidetracked by friends, family, TV or food!), it also means that I don’t always have time to sit back and reflect, to delve deeper than surface emotions.

This story prompted me to do just that.

At the last session on the last morning of a two week seminar on Greek culture the professor turned and made the ritual gesture: “Are there any questions?”

He was greeted with silence. These two weeks had generated enough questions for a lifetime, but for now, there was only silence.

“No questions?” The professor swept the room with his eyes. Alas from the back row, “Professor, what is the meaning of life?”

The usual laughter followed, and people stirred to go.

The professor held up his hand and stilled the room and looked at the gentleman who asked the question for a long period of time, asking with his eyes if indeed the question was serious or in jest.

“I will answer your question.”

Taking his wallet out of his hip pocket, he fished into the leather billfold and brought out a very small round mirror, about the size of a quarter. And what he said went something like this:

“When I was a small child, during the war, we were very poor and we lived in a remote village.

One day, on the road, I found broken pieces of a mirror.

A German motorcycle had been wrecked in that place.

“I tried to find all the pieces and put them together, but it was not possible, so I kept only the largest piece; This one.

And by scratching it on a stone, I made it round. I began to play with it as a toy and became fascinated by the fact that I could reflect light into dark places where the sun would never shine in deep holes and crevices and dark closets.

It became a game for me to get light into the most inaccessible places I could find.

“I kept the little mirror, and as I went through life, I would take it out in idle moments and continue the challenge of the game.

As I became a man, I grew to understand that this was not just a child’s game but a metaphor for what I might do with my life. I came to understand that I am not the light or the source of light.

“I am a fragment of a mirror whose whole design and shape I do not know.

Nevertheless, with what I have I can reflect light into the dark places of this world into black places in the hearts of men and change some things in some people. Perhaps others may see and do likewise.

This is what I am about. This is the meaning of life.”

And then he took his small mirror and, holding it carefully, caught the bright rays of daylight streaming through the window and slowly reflected them onto all that were in the room.

If you were to objectively ask yourself what is the meaning of your life how would you answer? Would you even know where to begin?

For many years I felt like I was emotionally wandering in a dry, dusty desert. I didn’t seem to ‘fit’ with my immediate peers and I wasn’t too sure what I wanted from life. To fill this void I shopped and shopped and shopped!

My revelation moment came upon accepting Jesus as my Saviour although I’m aware that this may be a thought that repels rather than attracts you! If that’s where you’re at I completely understand as I was once in your shoes! Conversely you may be wearing Jesus sandals, want to give me a big holy high five and a rollicking ‘Amen!’.

Whatever shoes you’re metaphorically wearing over the next few blogs we’ll work through several steps that will help you to discover the meaning of your life.

Get your shoes on and prepare yourself for the journey!!

New Year, New Mountains to Climb

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Optimist On Board

In Ecclesiastes 7:10 King Solomon writes Do not say, “Why were the old days better than these?” For it is not wise to ask such questions.

This last year has been widely named, on social media and in comparison to previous years, as the worst twelve months in history. Personally I disagree with this but I think we could all agree that 2016 has been an eventful year for many reasons.

For example Len Goodman is no longer on Strictly Come Dancing, the Great British Bake Off has changed channels, it was the hottest global year on record, a new word ‘Brexit’ and all it entailed emerged, more than 20 countries pledged billions for ocean conservation, Andy Murray won at Wimbledon, the threat of terrorism became widespread, Liberia was officially cleared of Ebola meaning there are now no known cases of the deadly virus left in West Africa, Tim Peake returned to earth, US politics became ‘dirty’, the Queen celebrated her 90th birthday, world hunger reached its lowest point in 25 years, Costa Rica ran solely on renewable energy for 100 days, many well known baby boomer celebrities died, the Calais jungle was destroyed, Pokemon returned and became an evangelistic tool and giant pandas were taken off the endangered species list.

If we make the focus smaller for many of us we would have experienced intense moments of sadness, frustration, anger, joy, laughter and happiness in 2016 and I’m sure we will again in 2017!

As we enter the New Year, which will undoubtedly bring exciting, sometimes scary opportunities I urge you to bear in mind these words of Nelson Mandela ‘May your choices reflect your hopes not your fears’.

Take some time to reflect on your hopes for the future, what steps need to be taken in order to realise these hopes and what fears may be holding you back.

Be specific, ask yourself these questions;

What are my aspirations for 2017? What do these aspirations look like? How will they make me feel?

To achieve these aspirations do I need to change my situation or the way I respond to it?

What time limit have I set myself? What are the first steps I have to take?

What obstacles will I need to overcome? Who do I know that could help and support me?

What impact will achieving this aspiration make to my life?

Wishing you every success as you begin your journey in to 2017!

The Futures So Bright You Gotta Wear Shades!

 

img_0830It is the end of the most contagious season of the year, we enjoyed time with loved ones but now its time to move on and embrace what comes next. To look forward to all 2017 has in store for us.

For those in employment you may have had numerous meetings regarding strategy, action plans, reviews of 2016, new KPI’s etc. For those that are retired or between jobs you may be considering what new courses to undertake, voluntary work to pour your skills and talents into, friends to visit etc.

For most of us our Christmas decorations have just been taken down and we’re looking at the rooms in our homes in a brand new light…they may seem a bit shabby, a bit dull a bit in need of decoration or if we are of a minimalist persuasion we might be thinking “that’s much better, what else can I remove?”

Maybe it’s holiday’s that tick your box and you’ve already scanned the brochures, the websites looking for somewhere to escape to, experience and explore.

Possibly for you 2017 is the year you will finally complete X. For me its finally learning how to drive!

I have to admit I’ve done all of the above as for me each new year is exciting, its an adventure, a chance to learn more, do more and see more.

It’s another opportunity and I’m grateful for every day I have. We only have one earthly life and I want to cram in and experience as much as I can.

There was a song that came out a few years ago and one of the lines is ‘The futures so bright I gotta wear shades.’

There are several interesting things people have said about the future, Russell Brand is credited with saying ‘People don’t realize that the future is just now, but later.’

Some people, probably all of us at some point in our life, struggle to imagine and see past their own limitations of what the future can hold. If this is you, then you’re in good company!

Here are some examples of short sighted imagination.

“I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.” — Thomas Watson, chairman of IBM, 1943

“I’m just glad it’ll be Clark Gable who’s falling on his face and not Gary Cooper.” — Gary Cooper on his decision not to take the leading role in “Gone With The Wind.”

“Everything that can be invented has been invented.” — Charles H. Duell, Commissioner, U.S. Office of Patents, 1899.

“The abdomen, the chest, and the brain will forever be shut from the intrusion of the wise and humane surgeon.” — Sir John Eric Ericksen, British surgeon, appointed Surgeon-Extraordinary to Queen Victoria 1873.

and last but not least…

“There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home.” — Ken Olson, president, chairman and founder of Digital Equipment Corp., 1977.

Incredibly great and gifted men who have to different degrees impacted the world we live in today but in the quotes listed above they were somewhat lacking in vision.

Ask yourself what would you attempt if you knew it was impossible for you to fail?

Dare to have Big Hairy Audacious Goals, let your imagination roam free and grasp everything life brings your way!

Enjoy!