“Give Up Yer Auld Sins”…

Watching this video clip remind me of days gone by at the local Primary school, where every year we would eagerly await Christmas. There would be the customary banter, predicting and boasting about the toys and gifts, that “Santy” (as he was, referred to locally), would bring each year. You “Wish-lists” might back then, might have included anything from a football, transistor radio, Subuteo table top football or Mecano sets to the more grandiose gifts such as horses, swimming pools or your own personalised tractor with which to help daddy on the farm. This happy time gave the blaggard or dreamer within all of us “Licence to thrill” and we used it liberally. Often what was predicted never materialised and nobody seemed to really mind and sure wasn’t our dreaming all part off the fun.

Another part of our school Christmas preparation was the annual Christmas Show. Sometimes if you were lucky, this would be done over in the hall up on on the big stage and at other times it was a quiet little show in the school itself. There was always great excitement in the lead up to the show and I from an early age had my perfect role eyed out for whenever I would be one of the bigger boys in the masters side. My dream role was that of St. Joseph. In subsequent years I would learn much more about this great Saint, and “Role Model” for all fathers, but what attracted me to the role back then was the fact that you would be on stage the whole duration of the show. You also had nothing to do except lead the donkey carrying Mary, knock on a few Inn-doors whenever you got to Bethlehem and put the new born baby Jesus in the manger. There were no lines to be learned and the only thing that could essentially go wrong would be if the wheels on the donkey were splayed or not in perfect alignment. I remember one such donkey whose wheels were such that when pulled along he immediately headed for the edge of the stage and a possible drop into the unsuspecting audience. This wasn’t good for Joseph’s nerves but made for a really exciting show.

 Joseph needed then to be a strong watchful character, and needed to know his donkey’s tendencies. The prospect of this happening were thankfully greatly diminished the year  before my class would have their chance on stage. One of the many generous parents had been clearing out their children’s old toys and had donated a well aligned and fully functional donkey. Things were on the up and I was rather hopeful that I would secure the role of Joseph. In my head had in my head I was already predicting a wonderful life i would have with the perfect Mary that I had eyed out. In my childish innocence I dreamed that the  “playing out” of these roles on stage would surely lead to a similar roles in life.

However we have oft been warned not to count our chickens, so you can imagine the horror I felt when that Christmas the teachers announced, that for the first time the school production would be a puppet show. I was horrified. The weeks before the show that year, were spent making puppets of  Mary, Joseph, Shepherds, Kings (Due to a “wise man” shortage that year) and of course a host of angels, animals and of course the baby Jesus.

I remember well using wallpaper paste to monotonously stick layer upon layer of old newspaper onto half an old tennis ball In order to make the heads. After working on them we would place them on the window above the radiator to excelerate the dying out process. After a week of so, I remember finishing them off with layers of white or light coloured tissue paper readying them for painting then varnishing. I fell in love with my creation (one of the three shepherds) as it slowly began to come together. I could not wait to add a bit more to it and longed for the days we would work on our little people that slowly came to life in our hands. I  changed from disdainfully glaring at it on the window sill to glancing over at it every chance I could get, to see how it looked. I would compare it to the others and generally became very proud and protective of it. Looking back now I realise that I really enjoyed performing this “therapeutic” creative role. Just like God himself.

We busied ourselves learning the carols and songs that we would sing on the night of the puppet show. My disgust and anger at not being an “in the flesh” Joseph on stage was somewhat compensated for through the additional role as assistant narrator,  whenever I wasn’t standing with my hand up my shepherd puppet’s tiny outfit.

I still remember the buzz I got from that experience, our first and only ever Christmas Puppet show. Like every team success we have in life, this was the ultimate team performance, and perhaps  for me,  this  whole was the first time outside the family home, where my ego suffered the indignity of having its wings clipped. I laugh now to myself, as I recall the experience. It was unique to me and I know that not all my classmates at that time will remember it. This is so with so many things in life. We all treasure different things and the same things In different ways. No one, but myself alone knew the dreams and aspirations I carried in my heart as we approached that final year at primary school.

In the tradition of Ignatian Spirituality we are encouraged to look for “God in all things”, to look for times of growth and learning throughout our “Graced Histories”. As I look back on this experience I recall the love and tenderness I felt as I layered, moulded and painted and as I carefully, like the potter formed my new creation. How marvellous it is to create something so unique, so individual and special as a human being. In his book “Weeds Amongst The Wheat” the author, persuades that we are creatures of choice, and we do not have our lives dictated to us by God. He uses the image of the puppet. Many feel helpless and constantly at the mercy of life and what it brings, with God determining the path for us as opposed to realising that we are not puppets. We are free and have access to a full relationship with our creator. This advent let us remember that the greatest gift God gives us is the gift of choice. May we use it wisely.

Clearing The Leaves

Today after several weeks of procrastination, I finally got around the lifting the leaves from around my home. This has never been my favourite job and this year I found mysef putting it off, day after day, week after week. This need to avoid was much stronger than in previous years. I found it hard to find the motivation to get stuck in as 1 usually would. I’m not sure why this has been so, particularly when I think back to the enthusiasm with which I tackled life in the outdoors earlier this year.

The garden became my refuge after the onset of Covid 19 pandemic. I erected a new, second greenhouse, and prepared more planting space than I normally might use. The nation was in lockdown, all the talk was of the unavailability of basic medicines, cleaning products and foodstuffs, so the idea of, indeed the need to grow more, especially our own vegetables and food made so much sense. The time would also be available.

My wife has always been a keen gardener, but she concentrates more on flowers for the beautiful window boxes and hanging baskets she creates each year. These I have to admit, are always extremely colorful and eye-catching. A real labour of love for her. For days on end, after lockdown was called we were able to work alongside each other in the garden, each doing our own thing whilst producing what we knew best. We would take turns at making tea or coffee and surprising each other with the various types of sweet treats we would manage to get our hands on. Life was good and the long hot spell of good weather at the start of “Lockdown”, made this a very pleasant time indeed. Often we would sit out long into the long warm nights of early summer, chatting about life, jointly appreciating times past and relaying our fears and hopes for the times ahead.

Time stood still back then, and we embraced this new opportunity for time together and the space to value each other and our family. From all around the world, on our TV screens and social media platforms , despite all the darkness and fear, came news of joy and contentment. There were reports of people finding themselves again, connecting with life and the things they were truly grateful for. People talked of fulfilment of the peace found in a simple lifestyle and appreciating all that they had.

I, as well as losing myself in the garden used this time to reconnect with my love of cycling and also built in a couch to 10k for good measure.

As my wife and I sat in our garden we sat in silence and watched this bee, totally oblivious to the Covid Pandemic goes about its business…

After a couple of months of this though things began to change, as more and more people returned to work. Daily life in my wonderful little cocoon, a world that included only myself and my family each day soon began to disappear more and move. Firstly my wife, and then the two children at home with us returned to work. My other daughter who had married the year before remained close to her work, which was deemed “essential” in Belfast.

Schools were soon to close for the Sumner so my role as a school counsellor was shelved indefinitely. The community organisation that I work for stopped seeing clients face to face so here I was without any work or daily commitments bar the wonderful outdoor life of the garden.

Gradually the garden began to lose it’s appeal and at times became a place of solitude, and indeed a lonely place to be. Missing the fun and the loving supportive companionship I had become accustomed to, lead to long periods of over-thinking which in truth, was more negative in nature than I needed to be indulging in.

Much of the fun I had discovered and learned to value in the garden was no longer there. News of the threat and danger of Covid seemed to be closing people down again. Our language now was of a “New Normal” and the joyful times spent together in the sun and fresh air, tuned into truncated conversations as we hushed each other to hear report after news report on daily briefings on facts and figures, “Cases and deaths”.

Soon after this time, l found myself needing to escape the news and all things and people “negative “. All the soothsayers of doom and gloom were beginning to get to me. I became somewhat disillusioned in my mew lifestyle and began to see no point in maintaining that recently renewed relationship with life in the garden.

In truth i had lost my motivation and as the summer began to draw to a close news came that the schools would re-open in September. Almost immediately, just like that almost, I seemed to lose complete interest in the garden and even in harvesting the crops that I had derived so much satisfaction from planting.

Then the rain come, the weather broke and the gate remained unopened… unopened that was …until yesterday..

For the past few weeks I was beginning to feel rather guilty about the state of the outside of my home. My father was very “house proud”and liked to keep our family home looking clean and tidy, (on the outside anyway) . This is something I have inherited and carried into married life with me. Despite regarding this as something I needed to do too, I never really enjoyed this “self-adopted” role.

In order to make the “leaf gathering task” that little bit easier, I used a tip I once heard my father share with a neighbour some years ago.

One chilly autumn morning, through my open bedroom window, I heard my father jokingly poke fun at a new neighbor for being constantly busy, always being outside sweeping or blowing up the leaves around his home. “Why don’t you do as I do?” my father chided. “I let nature take it’s course, and I know that if I wait long enough, the wind and mother nature will do it all for me”. Instead of going out each weekend to clear up that week’s leaf deposits, my father would wait the few weeks it took for all the leaves to come of the trees and then clean the yard.

Often after a particularly windy night he would go out in the morning and find that the “Leaf fairy” had blown the leaves into neat, ready-made little piles here and there around the family home. All he had to do then, was lift the little piles of leaves from the front door, the back porch and all the other little nooks and recesses around the house. This would take him about half an hour or so, all thanks to patience and the kind intervention of mother nature….

Yesterday I had reached the point where could no longer Look the mini piles of leaves that had formed here and there about my home and garden. My “self-imposed exile” from the garden and working in nature would have to end. So I searched out my old gardening clothes, opened the gate to the garden and form the shed took my rake, gloves, garden sacks and wheelbarrow. After an hour or so i was joined by my married daughter who had returned home for the weekend. As we lifted pile after pile of leaves into the giant sack, I smiled inside and joked once again with her. This was like the old days, here she was to help me, and my aging joints and limbs very much appreciated her help. In August 2019, I had walked her up the aisle of our local church to give her away in marriage. I felt that day my life would never be the same again, yet here we were over a year later. A different sort of relationship perhaps but a stronger and better one than ever before. It served to remind me that times our thinking does jump to conclusions and at times, if we let it loose, to run wild like a wild horse on the open prairies it will drag us to places we do not need to go.

If we let them run wild our thoughts can be hard, almost impossible to rein in again…

Nature has a wonderful way of taking over if we don’t take action. The longer l would put this task off, the greater would be the possibility of the leaves decaying into mulch and muck all around me. The choice was mine and only I could make it.

Just like the leaves I had allowed the wild horse of my negative thoughts, my fears and frustrations to pile up around me and burst through the stable door. My thoughts like the leaves too, had begun to decay and rot away my ability to rationalise and propensity for joy and happiness.

The time had come to act and act I did. I set about my task with gusto,. Strangely at the end of the day I felt I was blessed once more with a clear yard and a clear mind. Thank you mother nature.

Sail Away..

I sat down with a coffee at 5.00am this morning fearing that I would struggle to select a topic to write about on my blog today. Maybe deciding to join the 30 day “Blog like Crazy” gang wasn’t such a good idea after all. So I began to think that it might be helpful to look to some of the other sites I follow, for some seeds of inspiration.

As I scanned down this list of sites, a picture of Irish singer “Enya” caught my attention. After examining this more closely, I clicked on the link to the song “Orinoco Flow”, quite possibly the only Enya song I had ever really been familiar with. Listening to it once again, stirred a mixture of emotions within. I recalled the times, many years ago now, when as a young man l would sit and try and decipher the words from the lively and cheery melody. The only words that I could ever manage to gleen were the two words repeated almost continuously in the song “Sail Away, sail away, sail away.”

Just to get my facts right, I googled the song and discovered that the song was released on “15 October 1988 on WEA Records in Europe and 10 January 1989 by Geffen Records in the United States.” This confirmed that I was correct in associating the song with the end of my student days and my entry into adulthood. Listening to this haunting song, one is almost hypnotised by the constant repetitive mantra of “Sail away, sail away, sail away.” Whatever it was about the song, it certainly stuck in my mind as I approached the end of my days at college. Many’s a pint of Guinness l sat over, contemplating the meaning of life, my world and my future.

From this time I can also recall the strong desire within me to “Sail Away” from my own life. The need to discover new places, new people and friends and perhaps a new and more acceptable version of myself. My crazy days of confusion at university were now over and it was time for me to “Sail Away” and leave all that behind me. If Enya had decided to call the song “Run Away”, it would have been every bit as applicable to me, if not even more so.

I’m very privileged to work nowadays as a counsellor in a school over-looking the sea near Belfast. Sometmes between clients, I stand at the top of the stairs outside my room, and look out of the large window down onto the port of Belfast below me. I watch the many different types of boats and ships making their way into and out of the port. I wonder about those on board. Where are they’ going ? Why they are going? Is their journey for pleasure or out of necessity? Are they leaving loved ones behind? Or might they, full of excitement and dreams, be off on their adventures to discover the world?

Recalling this episode from my own life, invites me to refocus, and quite possibly engenders a deeper level of empathy and appreciation within me. Today as I stand and look over the sea before me, I will no doubt, rewind and replay that haunting mantra, that had managed to covertly lock itself away in my mind and my soul.

“Sail away, sail away, sail away.”

From my perch, high up on the top floor of the school, I will take a moment, as I often do, to watch the pupils “Toing and froing” below me. I will step back in contemplative mood, speaking less and wondering more.

As l sit with those I work with, I will be more aware that I hold the hopes, the dreams, aspirations and all too often, the worries of these young people. I will be that bit more mindful of their needs and difficulties. The need for them to escape from their dark places and “Run away” or perhaps their desire for challenge, excitement and new adventures as they get ready to “Sail Away, Sail Away, Sail away”… Bon Voyage…

SAD- Blog The Blues Away

I’m probably way too late with this post for many, but it still might be useful for some. By now the impact of “Winter time-saving”and the annual “Putting back ” of our clocks and time pieces will have become very real and possibly challenging for some of us. SAD or Seasonal Affective Disorder, is a major issue for some folks at this time of year. For a long time people were dubious and questioned its very existence. For those whose attitude to mental health is as dated as Still “believing the world to flat”, it has become an opportunity to label SAD sufferers as “Malingerers” or “Softees.”

Add in the complication and complexities of the Covid Pandemic and its no surprise that many are already beginning to feel the stress and hardship of living with this condition. 

In the latter yeas of her life, l recall my mother looking out the window of her home and lamenting the forthcoming “long dark days of winter”. Perhaps she knew that the colder damper weather world reduce the number of callers or visitors to her door. She had attached her own ominous beliefs to the phrase “Winter as coming”, long before the epic TV show “Game of Thrones ” immortalised it.

It might have been a case of classical conditioning or perhaps the DNA I inherited, but over the last few years I too have found my own mood changing as the winter approaches. It generally would begin for me in mid-summer, perhaps even as I sat out on a sun-drenched patio. (Wishful thinking I know in Ireland) Usually there was some sort of realisation that it was the 21st July (The shortest day of the year) or that, that date was close at hand. And that was enough to do it for me.

The negative thinking wouild take over. All of a sudden the glass would become half empty and I found myself fighting despair,grief or feelings of another year gone, or worse still, another year lost. My Addictive mindset (that I like to generally offer as an excuse for my faults and failings) would trigger wave after wave of “Black and White” thinking and I find myself abandoning all of the wonderful projects and plans I had made for that summer …. So who says SAD is a winter thing?

I would then regale myself with further shameful thughts. Working as a Counsellor, I shouldn’t have such thoughts and my life should be trouble free. After all what was I trained for? “Physician heal thyself” springs to mind surely? Fear not, I’m not going to go on a guilt trip here, but I do feel the need to share the fact that in my mind the greatest asset any of the human speccies possesses is the gift of self-awareness. If this means having to admit to a frailty or weakness or two then so be it. We are all after all “Perfect in our imperfections.”

In years gone by, I employed various, wide-ranging approaches to counteract the “SAD Virus” that could reap havoc in my world if I allowed it. My “Vaccine” involved trying out various methods of distracting myself from thev torment of SAD.

It might take some time to explore these methods so I would like to discuss them in more detail in my next blog offering. You might actually find some of the ideas useful if you too, need to distract or occupy yourself and your mind, until the days begin to lengthen once more.

So hence this Blog. …

The idea of blogging has always appealed to me so with very little else on offer this winter due to restricted socialisation, I thought I would sign up for the 30 day “#Blog like Crazy” challenge. All I know about this at this stage is that I am required to make a post (Minimum 300 words) to my pre-existing blog “Life Well NI”, for the month of November. Considering this is now the 11th November, I guess I’m doing the “Blog like Crazy – Lite Version”. But as they say, better late than never. There are many free Blog Apps and Sites out there which make this such an incredibly easy thing to do.

Blogging is something I’ve dabbled with in the past, but I have to admit that I’m not in any way experienced or especially talented in this field. However, its new, its creative, its fun and gets you thinking, meeting new challenges and new people.

So as “Winter is Coming”, once again, why not dip a toe into the world of the Blog yourself if you like the idea? To counteract the current restrictions in our lives I am nominating this as my very own “Personal Coping- Method” of choice for this winter.

Please, feel free to comment, share, re-post, join in or interact in whatever you are comfortable with. I’ll be happy to share the journey.

The Tides of Mental Health

I often compare mental health, and anxiety in particular, to walking along a beach. At times we are soothed and comforted by the sight and sound of the waves as they gently wash onto the shore. All is good and we could stay there indulging ourselves forever… At other times perhaps, we are caught off guard, freak waves wash in, and the waters rise above our ankles and knees to a level we are uncomfortable with. We can become overwhelmed and struggle to reach safety, longing to escape to the freedom of the dry, solid ground we are accustomed to.. In our panic and anxiety we tell ourselves we are trapped, this is unbearable and it is never going to end… The truth is, just as in all aspects of our lives, each wave that reaches the shore eventually loses energy, loses its power to frighten us and finally recedes….. “This too shall pass” …. A simple concept, that through time has been central to many cultures and traditions, crossing over the boundaries all many faiths and beliefs. Remembering this as we face each day, could make life much different for many of us…

Finding our Truth…

Has the Lockdown helped us find our our Truth?….

This video clip reminds me of this day, last year, 6th June 2019, a day that saw me make it as far as the City of Burgos, (The resting place of El Cid), early in my Camino Pilgrimage to Santiago De Compostela. I had been walking just over a week. Being lost in the silence, the isolation and the wide expansive, yet beautiful countryside was something I yearned for on this break, as I sought to find my truth. The steady rhythmic crunch of the gravel beneath my feet at times seemed almost hypnotic. Carrying all I had on my back, stripped me of all pretence and exposed me as I am. I was always drawn to the words from John’s Gospel stating “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free”. Presenting genuinely as I am, has become of great importance to me in life, but is something we all find difficult at times. I do think however, there comes a time in all our lives when we are called to stop “pretending”, mainly to ourselves, and start living. This call comes in many different forms.

Following a road traffic accident back in 2006, I decided to leave my original vocation in life as a teacher and move into the world of Counselling. My shift in path, reminded me often of the legendary Irish Sports Commentator Michael O’Heir’s humorous reference to Dublin’s Dr Pat O’Neill, an energetic and tough wing back, as he commentated on a rip-roaring all-Ireland final between Dublin and Kerry. As an enthusiastic O’Neill broke up a Kerry attack and cleared the ball with his usual “no nonsense” style, O’Heir could be heard to say, “Dr Pat O’Neill, breaks them up on Sunday and makes them up on Monday”. The classic poacher turned game-keeper scenario.

Teaching was something I had greatly enjoyed, but exposure to trauma and loss, some “20 plus” years into my career had a much greater impact on me than I could ever have predicted or understood. A part of me was glad to go, taking many happy memories with me. But I do reflect, and wish, sometimes regretfully, that as a teacher back then, I might have had the experience, skills and knowledge that is available to me now. Some lives might have been different.

During my recovery, I worked briefly as an “Entertainment’s Officer” in a nearby nursing home. It was whilst working there I had a chance meeting with a retiring priest, experienced in psychotherapy, counselling and in leading Spiritual Retreats. He explained to me the value of the truth and how I could find and become more comfortable with my own truth.

As I was embarking on a “difficult and lonely journey” he advised I develop the practice of “Sitting with myself”, a skill I would need before I could ever sit with others and their pain. I could he said begin to develop this practice, by sitting alone in a room (for ideally one hour), without any distractions, no music, TV, books or reading material, nothing only me, myself and my thoughts. Of course I would have to start off slowly, begin with 10,15 or 20 minute sessions, until I became accustomed to the silence, the emotions and sensations that might emerge, perhaps even prompting me to run away from any discomfort I might experience. I have by now, many times offered this same advice myself to clients in the course of my work in Counselling and Spiritual Direction. It has assisted me and a lot of them greatly learn, process and accept the truth about ourselves.

In recent weeks during the “Covid Lockdown”, I have once again been seeing this as one of the greatest gifts we as human beings can give ourselves. Many of us have found the world’s “New rules”, the call for greater self- discipline, isolation and loneliness and having to live a life, of loss and uncertainty as too much, too challenging. Some have struggled with this new “truth” and pine for a return to what they had known as normal. Others however have rejoiced the fact that the world and others whose “Perfect Lives” have been put on hold, now have to live as they have had to live their lives, year upon year, struggling, curtailed by limiting self-beliefs and unable to live with their truth.

Our adaption to this new normal, whatever this may be is going to be interesting to say the least…

Living with Anxiety

Anxiety has to be one of the top “Presenting Issues” for Counsellors in modern times. The short clip below from the movie “Inside Out” helps us understand this most incapacitating of difficulties. You might think this was a kids movie,but there’s so much we adults can learn from it.

“Inside Out” – Anxiety.

The Sheet below gives some good tips on the benefits of accepting anxiety instead of exhausting ourselves by constantly fighting against it.

acceptinganxiety

New Company Logo.

image 

Well there you have it. Life Well N.I. Ltd’s new company logo.We chose this name, as we see ourselves as a “Well” or pool of resources, that all are welcome to employ in order to enrich their lives.We look forward to helping you put the “Life back into your Life.”

“Triangle Training” Ballymoney

Spent a very enjoyable and productive daytoday, (8th Dec 2015) in Ballymoney, with the Triangle “Progression to Employment Team” form the Northern Ireland Triangle Housing Association .
Those in attendance completed Dare to Stretch’s “Connections” and “Safe TALK” Suicide Awareness Training. A great group to work with, Caring Empathic and well “Clued In.”
Triangle’s supported living services enable people with learning disabilities, mental ill–health or complex needs, realise their potential as valued citizens. Tenants and service users are involved in the way their services are provided, where they live, who they live with and who supports them.
Triangle provides a range of initiative services which include: Community Outreach, Floating Support, Progression towards Employment Services and accredited vocational training, including Independent Travel training.

“We are committed to social inclusion and involvement of our tenants and service–users in key decision making. Our ‘added–value’ activities enhance the richness and quality of peoples lives through Tenant Involvement and Social Inclusion”.  

Extract taken from:-

http://www.trianglehousing.org.uk/section.php?section=4