Bring me sunshine

Ahoy, wonderful readers! It’s that time of year when your faithful Happiness Experimenter must away to the sun. England has had more than its fair share of the wet stuff this summer so there’s nothing for it but to seek out some Tuscan sun! I will most likely be away for a couple of weeks (but I do have the ability to publish blogs from my phone so you never know!).

And in the spirit of bringing on the sunshine and the happiness (no matter where you are right now) here’s a wonderful clip from one of the greatest British comedy duos ever – Morecambe and Wise. This is vintage 1970s – the song they sang at the end of every show – with their guest Cilla Black wearing a frightful neck-to-floor monstrosity. Keep with it though – Ernie’s dance at the end is bound to bring a smile to your face.

Bring me sunshine….!

 

The deadly compare-and-contrast bug

It’s 5 O’clock in the morning. I’ve been awake since 3am. Seems little point in going back to sleep now so here I am confessing what’s on my mind.

The deadly compare-and-contrast bug – that’s what.

The reason I woke at 3am was because my mind suddenly went into a panic about the Artist’s Way course I’m running in September. Am I charging too much? Someone yesterday hinted they thought it was expensive. Maybe I’ve got it wrong. But I think it’s worth it. But maybe I’m wrong.

You know how it goes in your mind at this time in the morning?

So then I had the bright idea of scouring the internet for other Artist Way courses. Funny – in 2005 when I last did this search there was no evidence of Artist’s Way courses that I could find – now Google tells me there are loads. And my course is definitely one of the most expensive. Hmmm.

So is it good in this case to go with the gut that says I should value this work for what I believe it’s worth or do I follow what everyone else is doing?

 

Now a ball has started rolling. A ball with a bug in it. The compare and contrast bug.

 

 

And then it happened. In my searching I came across another UK site called thehappinessexperiment.co.uk . And what’s more she talks about the Artist’s Way in there too. What?!

The lady running the site started in May this year – after me. Now, I’m sure this is just a coincidence  – a meeting of like minds – but we all like to think we’re unique don’t we? And the thing that really p’s me off? Her site is GOOD.

Oh, god, the bug has just grown to elephant proportions! I feel like I’ve become a character in a Kafka novel.

I’m not original. I’m not any fun. My blog’s not juicy enough. Everyone out there is doing it better….. blah, boo, aggh, ugh.

OK clearly I need to pull myself together here. This is my happiness experiment after all. So what do I do?

This quote I found is a good start:

“Why compare yourself with others? No one in the entire world can do a better job of being you than you.”  ~Unknown

 

I’ve lost sight of what makes me, me. The fact that I have become the bug is really an invitation: it’s time to get re-aquainted with myself.

Hello, what’s your name?

Hi, my name is T.

Tell me about you, T.

Well – hmm, let’s see, well, I guess the best way to explain is by showing  you …

And it really helps to know that all this is just an infinitessimally small slice.

So my lesson for today?

If I get the compare and contrast bug take it as a sign that I’ve lost sight of myself. I’m not going to find myself  ‘Out There’. Even if I got all my friends now to say lovely things about me, it’s not where it’s at. The real antidote comes from me tuning again to me and all my complex, quirky, mad, sad, bad, hum-drum, curious, joyous, questing, creative, busy, apologetic, angry, blah, experimental, hopeful, grateful, (I could go on), sides of myself.

Cliche, I know, but – like a snowflake. Unique. Beautiful. One of many who are unique and beautiful. Like you.

When passion seeps out of every pore

We went to a tiny but wonderful festival of folk music over the weekend. Gossington Festival to be precise. Great bands, and so small we could chat to all the great artists and behave like groupies. The hit of the weekend for us though, despite all the big names there, was the drummer of a band called Roto-Trad (he turned up later playing for Seth Lakeman too). His name is Cormac Byrne: a young Irish man who clearly lives, breathes and joyously celebrates drumming.

I’m not a connoisseur of drumming by any stretch of the imagination but Cormac seemed really, really good. But perhaps that was because he was clearly enjoying himself so much. All the time he played he had a huge grin on his face that had you looking past the charismatic lead singer and fixating on that smile. It was the smile of someone utterly connected to his flow – to his purpose in life – and loving absolutely every millisecond of it. That kind of passion is infectious, inspiring and hard to ignore.

We took a little video of him here. Unfortunately it’s a bit dark but I include it here hoping you’ll get a sense of what I’m talking about.

It is my wish for us all that we find, treasure and keep this kind of ecstatic communing with our purpose and passion. Surely this is the very definition of happiness?

Sasha and I being Cormac groupies

Happy travels

So today feels like a momentus one as I’ve just waved Julia (aged 13) off at Heathrow airport. She is flying solo for the first time – off to see her Uncle John and Aunt Berenice in Toulouse, France.

I’m so proud of my (no longer so) little girl. In so many ways I feel like I’m jogging besides her express train, trying to keep up. She is maturing fast and it’s important for me to honour that whilst at the same time making sure she has everything she needs to be safe and informed.

I love this installation I just spotted in Heathrow’s terminal 5 – a timely reminder of what Julia is doing and the whole new vistas opening up for all our family.

In praise of trees

Me at home in the 1970s. The lovely, enormous, oak tree was to the right of this photo.

I’ve long had a love of trees – ever since I could reach up and sit on the swing under a huge oak tree we had in our front garden. I would soar up into its branches singing, “I’m on top of the world” by the Carpenters. Ah memories!

When Guy and I moved to Canada we bought a house with a lone apple tree in the back garden which provided much-appreciated shade in the summer and a dramatic measure of the depth of the snow in the winter. We attached a little yellow bucket-seat swing later on, for the children to swing on.  When it was time to move back to England, I realised it was that apple tree that was the most difficult part of our home to say goodbye to.

Two years later we landed here in Nailsworth and now the tradition continues. At the bottom of our garden towers an enormous copper beech tree – so huge, it’s almost intimidating. But not to Julia, who has inherited my love of communing with something larger than herself through the simple pleasure of tree and swing. She is 13 now and still spends hours out there, lost in her own world, sheltered by the power and beauty of this magnificent expression of spririt.

As someone who is passionate about people allowing their full potential, beauty and gifts to shine out brightly, I love this quote from Baha’u’llah.  (19th Century Persian prophet). He said:

“Man is like unto a tree. If he be adorned with fruit, he hath been and will ever be worthy of  praise and commendation. Otherwise a fruitless tree is but fit for fire. The fruits of the human tree are exquisite, highly desired and dearly cherished. Among them are upright character,virtuous deeds and a goodly utterance.”
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.There’s a lot we can learn from trees.
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A collection of my favourite personal shots of trees:

The magic of teamwork and community

So I’m back from a wonderful few days on Sasha’s school camp. Along with other Class 5-ers from Steiner schools around the country they recreated the ancient Greek Olympics. It was a fabulous event and one I had the privilege to help out with. I spend a lot of time volunteering at the school – going on school trips, organising the Advent Fair, being a class rep, chairing the Parents Focus Group and generally sticking my oar in! I love it.

 

I recently watched a wonderful program charting the lives of a combined catholic and protestant boys’  football team, joined together in the time of the sectarian ‘Troubles’ by sport and by a rock-solid sense of community and place.

There is something absolutely magical that happens when a group of like-minded people get together to work towards a common end. Something way beyond the sum of the parts. It’s the power of this magic that can unite towns, cities and nations around sport for instance. It is the difference between a ballad and a symphony. It is the difference between the complaint of an individual and the righting of political and social wrongs through mass protest.

It’s this magical ‘something’  – the power of the group – that I love so much. I’ve talked about it before and no doubt I’ll keep on exploring it because I feel so compelled to be a part of my community – to experience this magic.

 

 

Sporting Love

It’s been a busy couple of days getting ready to go on a school trip with my son, Sasha. It’s a big occasion. Every year all the children from Class 5s around the UK’s Steiner schools (and some from abroad) gather at Michael Hall school in East Sussex to re-enact the ancient Greek Olympics. Of course it’s extra special this year with the London Olympics starting very soon too.

The children spend 3 days preparing for the big day which will be this Saturday. Then all the parents arrive and witness what I can only describe as a truly ‘goosebump’ moment. To the beat of an enormous drum hundreds of 11/12 year olds enter the arena in white togas led by teachers bearing huge flames. The atmosphere is electric. Silence reigns. For every one of us in that field at that moment it feels like a historic moment – cetainly it will be one that we will never forget.

I know all this in advance because I was there two years ago when it was my elder daughter’s turn. Wonderful, wonderful stuff.

It got me thinking tonight of all the amazing moments that sport has produced. Heroic times. Magical times. Miraculous times. Think English football in 1966. Think Jesse Owens. Think hundreds of moments like this happening every day around the world:

 

And here’s my favourite sporting heart-warmer of all time. The extraordinary story of a young man with autism – the team waterboy – being given a chance to play in the last match of the season.

 

It’s moments like these – highlighted so wonderfully by sport – that makes you realise we humans are, at heart, loving, generous and in this together.

 

 

 

 

OK, I admit it, I’m happy!

I’ve said it before, but isn’t it funny that it often feels very difficult to admit that we’re genuinely happy? Especially in front of anyone we might perceive as having a hard time at the moment. There’s a compulsion, I notice, to temper any statement of happiness with at least one thing that’s ‘up’. It seems there’s far more kudos in struggle (and the overcoming of it) than in just ticking along contentedly. Borrr-inggggg!

But this, is what this blog is all about, of course – my journey to having the courage to see and admit just how happy I am!

In the US they talk about Pollyanna-ism – after a children’s book character who was persistently and blindly optimistic. In the UK in particular, I think, we have a deep mistrust of happy people. They must be hiding something. And while it is true in my experience that excessively cheerful people are often using a chipper demeanour to cover up internal hurt, it IS also possible for someone to be deeply and genuinely content and sane at the same time. The difference between the former and the latter is that the deeply content ones don’t feel the need to have their happiness dial on loud.

Happiness isn’t a popularity contest, it’s a question of “do I feel aligned with my truth?” That makes it a very personal thing – not something we can really explain. And nor should we. (Yes, I do see the irony!). If you are truly content it will radiate from you – communicating energetically.

Anyway, I’m saying all this because, I admit it, I am very happy right now and have been for quite a few weeks now.

“What? Weeks?”

“Yes, weeks!”

Now my internal voices are saying – “Oh god, they’re going to think I’m smug, in denial or plain batty!” Wow – those voices really are an automatic reflex!

Oh well. It’s fine. I’m loving it. Quite apart from anything else I notice I’m expending far less energy because I’m not in any state of resistance. And the advantage, I know, is that when my energy is ‘clean’ like this I’m far more open to and concious of all the riches the Universe wants to send my way.

Long may it last. But let’s hope my posts don’t lose any of their ‘juiciness’ because of it. (Whoops, was that my internal voice again?!)

 

It don’t mean a thing if it aint got that swing

Another song, another post! (If you want to listen while you read, here it is – sung by Rosemary Clooney):

https://rd.io/i/QUCFXzeASns

What got me thinking about this today was the realisation that things feel a lot sweeter when we’ve experienced the opposite emotion. For instance, doesn’t a windfall feel better when we’ve been short of money for a while? Isn’t a kind word or laughter all the more precious when we’ve been feeling blue?

Life would be pretty flat if we were to be on an even keel all the time. It’s through the swings that we get a sense of ourselves. Like a pendulum we get to experience our furthest reaches and explore what works for us and what doesn’t. It’s a constant state of refinement and fine-tuning. Each time we reach an extreme and feel discomfort, we learn that that is our boundary and we adjust. Coming back to centre gives relief – joy even – but it’s not long before we want to test our boundaries again. Because that is the essence of being human – expansion. All living things have the innate and automatic urge to grow. It’s not something we can fight for long. If we do fight our own growth then eventually Nature will force us to expand, even despite ourselves. For me this is what illness is – we resist and Nature says, “Right – off to bed with you until you get that something has to shift here”.

So don’t fight the ups and downs, the to-ing and fro-ing. Instead I suggest we welcome the swings and congratulate ourselves for being active in our own evolution – this delicious journey of human-being-ness.