“We all have the gift of wonder, Phoebe. It burns bright in children, if they keep their eyes and ears open – and often in old age it shines too – but it can get a bit lost in the time between. We become busy and knowing and we forget how to take a good, long look at the miracles around us.” Abi Elphinstone, The Snow Dragon
In the tricky family battlefield of getting ready for the day and out the door, this morning I had a mini wandering minstrel following me. In the usual routine skirmishes of dressing, breakfast and teeth cleaning, I can so often bend my back and grit my teeth. This morning with my continued practice of lightening up, I stopped in this no-man’s-land, faced my minstrel and listened to him. He was singing ‘I love you. You are perfect as you are.’ He was singing with his whole heart and it was profoundly beautiful.
As you grow up, you begin to witness and experience the pain and suffering of life and it can be shocking. Very often this can precipitate a sense of despair and depression, which is immobilising, or another response is to numb ourselves to it, ignoring its existence. It can be hard to allow yourself to be joyful in a world where others are suffering. I do not want to ignore the pain; I want to be part of the solution for a better world but, to do this for the long haul I need to equip myself with the best tools, otherwise the multitude of the suffering could pull me under. I have come to the conclusion that I must be aware of the privilege of my life, of the freedoms and choices I enjoy, as well as to cultivate and nourish joy in my life.
I was told recently a story about the Dalai Lama, a man who has experienced plenty of difficulty in his life. The story was about a time he stayed with a Hollywood agent on a visit to the US, and how the Hollywood agent, after much research and gathering of ingredients, had risen early and prepared yak’s milk tea for the Dalai Lama. On reaching the Dalai Lama’s room, the Dalai Lama said, “Oh, is that yak’s milk tea I can smell?” The Hollywood agent said, “Yes, I have prepared it especially for you”, and the Dalai Lama replied, with a huge smile on his face, “Oh, yak’s milk tea is the reason why I left Tibet!” This story made me smile, and laugh too. Clearly from his life’s work he is someone who takes very seriously the occupation of Tibet by the Chinese but he also embodies the change he wishes to see in the world.
I am trying to hold both joy and sadness in my heart, they are not mutually exclusive. I laugh hard, I cry hard, sometimes both at the same time. Very often at the same time. I can run the full gamut of emotions; my work in progress is creating space with them, recognising them but not identifying with them, or reacting to them. I am trying to be, as Susan David talks about, ‘emotionally agile’. I know I absorbed the message growing up, from society around me, that there were good emotions and bad emotions. Susan David talks about the fact that all our emotions have merits and are real, but it’s whether we are in thrall to them and act unthinkingly driven by our emotions. So called 'bad' emotions such as anger, sadness and guilt, are all trying to tell us something about what we value and that which is important to us. We can tap into that and listen to it with self compassion and curiosity, creating space between the source that is triggering us and our response. By suppressing difficult emotions they do not go away, research has shown that it is quite the reverse. The example David gives, is about that delicious chocolate cake in your fridge, the more you try not to think about it the more you will actually think of it. Although, I‘m thinking now about the fact that I don’t have a chocolate cake in my fridge ... I digress.
Today, I have been to a Special Educational Needs meeting at school, alongside learning that I must cuddle my children for good mental health...this was something of a revelation as you might imagine (sometimes I feel this is the only thing I can give my children). I also learnt that 1 in 4 children in the UK suffers from some form of mental health issue, which is truly a bombshell. Building ours, and our children's, mental capacity/agility/health is paramount to our overall health and wellbeing and needs to be given the same air time as working out or exercising our bodies.
A step towards this, I would argue, is to learn from my son to come from a place of awe and wonder at the world. To play like a child, in order to become a better adult. Hold the sadness with the joy to enable us to take hopeful action.
I'd love you to comment below and share ways you cultivate joy. Clare x
Thank you to Julian Cremona for another beautiful photo. Thanks Dad, I always feel joy when I see your photos.
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