I’m very excited today that my guest post on Margaret Manning’s excellent blog Sixty and Me is featured today on her regular video: How to End the Day with Positivity
The discussion of the article begins at 3minutes 30seconds.
I’m very excited today that my guest post on Margaret Manning’s excellent blog Sixty and Me is featured today on her regular video: How to End the Day with Positivity
The discussion of the article begins at 3minutes 30seconds.
That’s my question today, to you and to myself. What is the next big thing?
Early Morning Influences
I’m inspired to ask this, by two influences that have crossed my path already today, and it’s not even 11am!
First, was finishing Birdcage Walk, the final novel of that most poetic and insightful of writers, Helen Dunmore, who died earlier this year aged just 64.
The book focuses on what a person leaves behind, and asks what traces remain of an individual lifetime?
I read it, not realising that Dunmore was already ill without knowing it when she wrote the book, and afterwards thought it no coincidence that her subconscious had directed her towards this topic. A dark shadow was building in her body, that her mind was aware of before it became obvious in her body.
As a much-admired poet and novelist, Dunmore could look at her legacy of words. Yet she also knew that even the written word can fade away after time.
The book is named after Birdcage Walk, a path through a derelict cemetery in Bristol, where she lived, and where all traces of the people buried there had disappeared into clouds of wild flowers and undergrowth. And that, she suggests in the afterword of her book, is where we are all headed.
Sounds depressing perhaps, but instead I found it inspiring.
I believe that we all end up as part of the rich humus of human existence, indistinguishable from each other. But before that, there’s an opportunity, for creativity, for life – to be part of what Dunmore calls ‘the eagerly living’.
You Don’t Have to be Young!
With this at the top of my mind, I turned on the radio to find a wonderful programme called The Gamble, part of a series about risk and creativity.
The singer Laura Mvula was talking about pushing herself, feeling fear, singing at the top of her range, unaccompanied, from the balcony in the London Barbican. She spoke with beguiling honesty about her desire to extend herself, even though it can be terrifying.
She asked herself: ‘What’s the next big thing?’
As I heard the question, I felt a thrill, but then my pragmatic mind chimed in.
‘She’s young! She’s got time for lots of Big Things. You, Elizabeth, are the same age as Helen Dunmore was when she died. New Big Things are not for you.’
For a moment I believed myself. But then Older Me, who’s never far away, struck up:
‘That is ridiculous! You’re not done until you’re dead. If you want a Big Thing, or a Small one, then you go get it, you hear?’
And so I leave you with the question.
What is the next Big Thing for you? What can set your heart alight, give you a delicious thrill down the spine, make you want to leap out of bed in the morning?
I don’t know the answer to my own question just yet. I’m going to live it, and see what responses appear. This blog’s in there somewhere. It’s exciting! Thanks Helen, for inspiring me with your words. I’m grateful.
I’ve succumbed to an overwhelming yen to stretch my life coaching muscles again, having deliberately left them unexercised for a couple of years while I played around with – shall I use that difficult word ‘retirement’?
No. My ‘open-ended sabbatical’. That’s more like it.
The result, for all my lovely followers who live in Norfolk/Norwich, is a joint workshop that my friend Rachel of Calm in the City and I have hatched up for the autumn.
It’s About Time… is a 3-hour workshop taking place on Sunday 5 November from 10am – 1pm at The Yoga Tree in All Saints Green, Norwich.
All details are on the flyer above, or on Rachel’s site at Calm in the City, where you can also book.
We came up with the idea because we thought it would be really fun to work together, and combine Rachel’s expertise in yoga and meditation with my life coaching knowledge to create a relaxing and productive Sunday morning’s experience.
Come along, and explore what it is you’d love to be doing, but somehow never find time for. What’s getting in your way? What are the tiny steps you could take right now to bring more excitement, satisfaction and joy into your life?
We’ll be looking at these questions as Rachel guides us through yoga poses and meditations chosen to help with self-reflection and strengthen resolve while I set the group up with a series of thought-provoking discussion/reflection sessions in pairs and small groups. You’ll come away with a clear idea of what action you’re going to take – and you’ll have had fun along the way!
Twelve months ago, Beyond 60 was born. What an interesting year it’s been.
Who knew, that blogging changes your mind, and your life, in such subtle and delightful ways? Not me.
All small happenings and observations suddenly become potential blog posts.
A happy interlude in the garden, 10 minutes spent gazing into the cat’s luminous green eyes, frustration at the never-ending To Do list, a chance remark heard on the radio – it’s fodder.
I can while away hours composing trenchant and witty posts in my head (where, where?) – ah well, most of them don’t quite get written, but they do hang around, and gently nudge my thoughts and actions in refreshing new directions.
As far as numbers go, think small. A couple of posts a month. A handful of followers (not just my kith and kin). A few thrilling upward blips in the traffic stats, when a post was shared on Facebook and the hordes arrived…and left again.
It’s all good. I know that people read, because people comment. I have a feeling of an embryonic community.
Choosing topics has turned out to be a gut thing. On a day when there’s a chance to write, it’s whichever nebulous idea floats to the forefront that makes it to the page.
Oddly, when I look back it’s as if someone else wrote the posts. A wise person, who does interesting things and seldom upsets anyone, or herself. I’d like to be her, but it’ll take a while.
The most fun and the least predicted bit has been gravitating from pretty photos, to illustrating with a pin woman who lives in a collaged house. For someone who failed O-level Art at school, this is truly wonderful. Pin lady is out of proportion, wonky and hard to fathom, but she does the job and I just love spending time on her.
What do people think of my blog? Immodestly, I might quote some praise (hell, why not): Love this gentle, beautiful and vivid description of your day. Thank you, kind reader.
Ruefully, let me share the views of the thumbs-downers: I don’t like this kind of thing and I probably won’t read it again. That is telling me. How about this: It’s very ‘I-orientated’ isn’t it…?
Yes, it is. But if I can’t write as ‘I’ at 60+ then when, oh when?
My gremlins have enjoyed inflicting massive attacks of self-doubt ‘Joan Bakewell wouldn’t like your blog, it isn’t political enough. Do you know nothing of current affairs, Lightweight?’ ‘Virginia Woolf would be underwhelmed.’ ‘The woman over the road will think you’re daft.’ And so on. Fortunately, I am going deaf.
It has taken TIME in shedloads and has been a work in itself to stay clear of the ‘Should’s’ – you should post weekly, ok fortnightly, monthly, regularly. Fact is, I can’t. Posting whenever has to be good enough.
Though it hasn’t turned out like I thought, it has brought me a whole lot of satisfaction and great new people, not just those who follow Beyond 60, but those who’ve read and commented on my guest posts for Margaret Manning’s remarkable Sixty and Me.
A blog is a project, and a baby, and a creative work. It needs time, thought, polish, love. And more time.
I’m setting a few birthday desires for Year 2 of Beyond 60.
Keep on with pin lady
No self-flagellation please
Remember poet Mary Oliver’s profound advice: Things take the time they take. Don’t worry.
Don’t you just love that?
It’s in that spirit I wish my beauteous blog, Beyond 60, a very Happy Birthday, and offer it the gift of doing the best I can do to help it grow, using whatever time and energy I have available, no more, no less.
Dear blog, continue to flourish.
Since teenagerdom I’ve been accumulating an enormous pile of books filled with agonisings, musings and outpourings about my life.
They inhabit the carrier bags of doom, stuffed in the back of a dark cupboard, cowering as the great de-clutter moves ever nearer.
All that scribbling has served me well over the years. The solitary pleasure of sitting up in bed writing frantically, getting it all out of my head and on to the page, has helped stop the merry-go-round of obsessive thoughts and even prompted the occasional decision.
This year though, the cerise felt-covered book has lost its allure. What is the purpose of all this navel-gazing? Is there a better way to spend my time than writing it all down?
Lately I’ve realised that one reason I write is to put the brakes on time, to preserve experiences by writing them down, and keep them so my life won’t disappear behind me like a vapour trail. It doesn’t really work. Like old photo albums, diaries of the past can only represent a one-dimensional portrait of a moment long-gone.
I might be a lot better off putting my focus on the present moment.
Sometimes I do want to look back, and sometimes it’s valuable. Other times it’s sad, like picking at an old wound. And often I end up berating myself, ‘…you really didn’t have a clue in those days, did you…’. Not kind, nor helpful.
I do sometimes imagine Older Me, arriving at a time when nothing new and noteworthy is happening in her life, so she actually wants to curl up with a pile of old diaries and leaf through – ‘Hmm, so I made a beef stew when Jenny and Sean came round in 1978 – no idea who they were…’
Maybe I’m writing them for my children. Ah yes, the heritage. But a lot of it is such cringeworthy stuff, I’d far rather they burned the lot unopened. They might enjoy the childhood memories, such gems as my daughter’s comment, aged 2, hearing noises off in the supermarket loo saying loudly, ‘I think someone just done a big crap in there…’ – (where did she learn such vulgar language?).
But no. The diaries are crammed with the stuff of a life, large and small, and of interest only to me. And a lot of it not even that interesting.
Despite this, I still feel an urge to keep a lighter record, so I’ve been trying a few things instead of the screed.
These are fun, quick and say a lot without the need for three pages of handwriting. If you’re an inveterate diarist, give them a go yourself.
Do you keep a diary? What is its underlying purpose – or does it even need one? Have you tried other ways of recording events in your life? Please share your thoughts below.
I’m not going to tell you that I play the flute to stave off dementia, keep my brain cells alive, or because I was inspired by some internet list of Things to do when you’re over 60 which always seem to feature ’Play a musical instrument’.
No, I choose to grapple with a 2-foot long tube of metal equipped with a lot of holes and a mouthpiece so badly designed it takes a week before a beginner can get a single note out of it, because of the amazing feelings I get from playing it.
There’s a delicious excitement, which starts in the pit of the stomach, and tingles down the spine. It’s usually momentary, and doesn’t happen that often, but it is just delightful. I call it ‘that feeling’ to myself, and I’m always hoping for it in any rehearsal. It’s most likely to hit me when I’m playing in an orchestra for a bar or two everything comes together and my puny effort becomes part of something much, much bigger. That’s making music.
Then there’s the adrenalin-boosting thrill where I actually feel my heart beating faster in a section where I’m waiting to put in a flutey ‘peep’, off the beat, one note repeated, getting louder and louder as the orchestra build up to some kind of orgasm underneath me – whoa, steady on, but it really does have that quality of growing excitement, being swept along and just having to do that peep, peep, peep in the right place, with more and more urgency…
Add to this the sense of disbelieving satisfaction that I can actually DO IT. On the odd occasions when a swift string of notes comes out at the right speed, in the right order, and with my fingers apparently acting independently from the rest of my body, just instinctively knowing what to do. If only I could apply that in other areas of life!
Another feeling to treasure is the sound a flute makes, the way it resonates right through my body, when all I did was put my lips together… There’s a deep, woody, richly vibrating tone that the flute can make in its lower register. It’s gorgeous. And amazingly, I can produce that sound.
Those are the feelings I get from the playing of the instrument, but along with those are the fun of mixing with other amateur musicians. The laughter – I have been doubled over and speechless with mirth because my duet pal and I were playing so magnificently, appallingly badly! And there’s also the shared endeavour, the sense that ‘we will get this right, if it kills us!’ Working together, trying to play a tricky passage, taking it over and over again until suddenly, Hey – we did it!
There’s a meditative benefit from flute-playing as well. On my own, when I’m a bit tired, or bored, or sad, I can take the flute out of its box and give it a polish, and tootle through some simple little tunes and magically remove myself from the here and now and give my brain a place to rest and concentrate which doesn’t allow for anxieties or sorrows.
Yes, all of that is why I play the flute. I don’t do it because it’s good for me, I do it because I love it, and even when it’s been so hard to master that I could have cried or snapped it in two across my knee, I still have never wanted to give up.
Clear a bit of room, physical and mental, and see what flows in. After all, if you can’t take a bit of time out once you’ve hit 60, then when will you ever, this side of the grave?
Choose a day when you can be alone, plan nothing, and let the events of that day unfold.
I tried it on a showery Friday. At first, it was pleasant. Waking luxuriously, without any alarms. Turning off laptop and phone – Take that! We’ll have no more from you for a while.
A gentle meditation. A slow breakfast of oats, coconut milk and fresh raspberries, savouring the mix of texture and flavour.
A walk around the garden in a light rain, something which I would never usually do, preferring to glance at the garden through a window rather than get up close.
Looking back, this was the highlight. Seeing the plants up close, touching cool leaves, soft petals, catching wafts of sweetness from the rambling roses, seeing the glisten of raindrops on leaves and watching tiny insects scurrying about their business.
Without expecting it I dropped into the zone, only noticing where I’d been as I stepped back into the house. What a restful and restorative place the zone is, and available right there, any time. That was worth learning.
And so the morning continued. Picking and arranging a few flowers. Communing with the cat. Quietly tidying and cleaning the bedroom. Experiencing the zen of polishing. At this rate I could become a domestic goddess without even trying.
But then, like water seeping out from beneath a leaking washing machine, desire started to creep into awareness. I’d just like to send my daughter a photo of the polished wood…ring that friend I’m thinking about…go to John Lewis and look for some shoes to wear to a wedding…
As the weather brightened, so did the mood, from inward-looking and contemplative to ‘ooh, let’s go out!’ At 2pm I declared the spacious day done and went out, though the phone stayed off until evening.
The feelings, though – they’ve lingered. The sense of having infinite time, the stepping away from the ‘to-do’s’ into the ‘to be’s’, those were refreshing and brought a sense of possibility and calm. And oddly, since taking that time out, I seem to have found a bit more time, to work on projects that were stuck.
Try it. Even for an hour. Simply sit, or walk. Breathe. Notice. See what happens. Let us know!
‘Doctor, Doctor, I’m addicted.’
‘Yes, to this little white device that fits in my pocket…’
It’s true. I frown on those who text at the dinner table or gaze at the little screen as they would into their lover’s eyes, but it’s no secret that I belong to the clan.
How to wean myself off?
I’ve tried setting targets: no emailing before breakfast, silencing text alerts, ignoring the ‘Ooh, I’ll just look that up…’ impulse.
Nothing works. Ah, I am weak, where my phone is concerned. Its pull is irresistible.
Put a chocolate bar in my cupboard and three weeks later it’ll still be there, unnibbled. Offer me a glass of wine before 6pm – alright, 5pm – and I can say ‘No’. Honestly, I can.
But ping me a text and I have the devil’s own job not to read it instantly.
Is it about wanting to feel loved and needed? A desperate desire for connection?
I don’t really care why I do it. I just know I want to do it rather less.
I thought I’d keep a little log of how much time I spend fiddling about on the net.
And then I’d ask myself a burning question, like might I not develop my blog mightily, or write a play, or learn to play a piano sonata, or make a velvet cushion, or all the above, in the time that I currently spend tinkering with my phone?
I learned quite a bit from that exercise. First, it’s impossible to chart accurately how many hours disappear down the Internet plug hole because it’s happening constantly, in fragments.
Second, I am more than a little terrified of that blog-development idea. Having far too little time lets me off the hook nicely.
Have a think. What are you not risking, in all that time you’re spending on your phone?
As for how to loosen the grip, try this, I dare you. Turn off the phone – there’s a button for that, you know. Open a drawer. Drop phone in drawer. Close drawer. Lock, if possible. Go do something exciting or lovely for a while, and forget all about phones.
Let me know what happens. Meanwhile, I’m off to read up on WordPress. Over and out.
Ah! My old friend, Travel Angst!
A few days before any trip I get a familiar frisson in my gut, and my mind starts working overtime.
‘Something could go wrong,’ it tells me. ‘You might miss the flight/lose your luggage/get blown up by terrorists/die of food poisoning’… on and on it goes. Sometimes my mind shouts so loud, I can’t hear myself thinking!
Why this fear? It’s not based on reason, or fact. And therein lies the key to wrestling myself out of its tentacles.
Help is at hand when I start to notice what’s going on. I’m simply caught up in thoughts, fears and feelings, totally enmeshed as if they were reality, when in fact they’re simply the product of my mind, and I can watch them wander in, and and float away again, as long as I’m aware of what’s going on.
One way to tame the travel terrors, is to welcome them in. Yes – open your arms as if to an old friend. ‘Hello Travel Angst. Fancy seeing you again! Come on in, settle down and let’s have a good old chat about all the dastardly things that might happen when I leave home.’
As soon as I take that approach, the fears shrink. They don’t like being under the spotlight, because they’re quickly shown up for what they are – just thoughts, nothing more.
Try this approach with anything that scares you. Keep a watch on your thoughts, and when they start to shriek their way to a climax, call them out. Say to yourself: ‘Just thoughts’. Name them: ‘I’m having thoughts about fear.’ Open up to them by stopping what you’re doing and taking a few deep breaths. Make space for them, and see if they don’t start to evaporate.
Give this fear-taming technique a try, and let me know how you get on. You can leave a comment below.
I never used to think about gratitude, but now, Beyond 60, I find it comes more and more to the front of my mind.
Big gratitudes, for simply being alive, and well, and warm. For living in a country that isn’t threatened by war or famine.
And smaller, more personal gratitudes, for the little pleasures that enrich every day life.
It’s good to notice these. Right now, the flame-orange of parrot tulips in the garden, the unfurling of fresh green leaves, the black furry aura of my cat’s sweetly curved haunch as she nestles down beside me.
I’m grateful for these, and when I notice myself noticing them, it enhances the feeling.
Keep a Visible Gratitude Record
Maybe you’ve tried keeping a gratitude journal? It’s something that happiness gurus often suggest. And it’s not without worth. I have a little notebook tucked away with sporadic entries.
But keeping it in a drawer means I forget about it for months at a time. So I decided to make something that I can see, to remind me of how much there is to be grateful for, and how powerful it is to mark that gratitude.
Above, you can see my Joy Jar. How corny, eh?
But I don’t care. I love my Gratitude Boot, and it stands on the shelf I see when I open my eyes every morning.
It’s made in a beer glass which I stole from my daughter’s room – apparently her mates pinched it from a bar in Portugal. You could make one in any container that takes your fancy.
I love cutting up images and using them, in the way that some people love to draw or paint. Snipping and shaping and sorting and choosing puts me in the zone, and that’s a good place to be.
I hoard cards I’ve been sent, fragments of coloured paper, and other bits and pieces. When a gratitude moment comes upon me I cut bits out and write my gratitude message on the back, and drop them into the jar.
Every so often, I give it a shake to rearrange it. When I see it, I remember just how many things there are to be grateful for.
Looking for Light in a World that’s often Dark
Maybe it’s cheesy, or trite. Or maybe that’s my self-judgement gremlin at work. All I know is, when life takes a bleak turn, if I’ve had sad or bad news, or an overdose of harrowing stories via internet or TV bulletins and am left anxious, helpless or even despairing of the darkness of the world, I can turn to my little collection of joyful moments and find a spark of hope.
Just dipping in, and pulling out a few is enough. Now and then I even tip the whole lot out and read them. Where is gratitude to be found?
The memories fill me with warmth and pleasure all over again. I can travel back through time just by reading them: ‘ping pong with Clara’…’gorgeous spring sunshine’…’a day with Louise’…’looking forward to meeting J for dinner tonight’…’Sangha’…’Blogging Excitement!’…’photos sent by G’…’talking at the table with N until late’…’builder fixed the broken door’…’at least I didn’t break my right hand’…’Laughing with BB cos she overheard someone describe her as a lively-minded old bird’…’snow’…’beach walk’…’a warm cheese scone eaten outdoors’.
Tiny pleasures, and significant. They signal the joys of connecting with others, of love, of nature, of engagement with life. Good things to remember.
These are the fabric of which life is made. It’s good to see how many gratitude moments arise in any day, and it’s fun and rewarding to keep them in my jar of joy.
How do you remember moments that you’re grateful for? Please share your thoughts below.