Monday, 31 March 2008

A Glorious Sunday for Golf

Well the weather yesterday here in Wiltshire was just lovely - good timing too as yesterday saw the first Junior Golf tournament of the season at Wrag Barn Golf Club near Swindon. My hubby, a keen and extremely competent golfer, organises coaching and competitions at the club for cadet level golfers - usually in the age range five to thirteen. Our son played in the tournament - and brought home the runners-up trophy, with which he was chuffed to bits!

It was really pleasant strolling around the junior "academy" course yesterday, six holes of pitch and putt length, forming with other parents the gallery around our wee golf stars of the future. The youngest to play yesterday was a four-year-old girl, who managed to play some pretty decent shots into the green. The leader in our group of Level One Cadets was a lad of six-and-a-half, he told us very deliberately, who was spanking the ball straight into the green from the tee - a good hundred yards or so. Apparently he first picked up a club at 15 months - a Tiger in the making.

I used to think golf was the most ridiculous of sports, still do sometimes, but the difference now is that I actually attempt to play it rather than being scornful from afar. I took it up so as to avoid becoming a golf widow in my hubby's growing enthusiasm for the game. Now I play regularly with the Ladies section, and, work commitments allowing, manage to get out for a game with hubby occasionally.

Like cycling, another of my must-do things to keep myself sane, golf is a great antidote to modern hectic living. Once on the course there is absolutely nothing that you can do about anything, noone can phone you, noone can interrupt you, and it is imperative, in order to play with any modicum of skill, to empty your head of absolutely everything. From the outside it looks like a slow, quiet game, but this external calm belies the battles that rage internally to stop cursing yourself for being deluded enough to want to play this stupid game in the first place. Worrying about your swing, about what you're going to feed the kids for tea, about how many tasks you've got outstanding on your to-do list, do not contribute to skilful play, so blocking all these thoughts out in order to get round the course without utter embarrassment is good practice for the rest of life. It's like meditating!

Friday, 28 March 2008

The Apprentice is back!!

Hurrah for mid-week reality shows on the BBC! My hubby and I got quite into Masterchef this year, and have been keen followers of Sir Alan's recruitment drives for the past 2 or 3 years, so we're very excited to see The Apprentice back on.

I absolutely love programmes like this, although I avoid "Pop Idol" and "Britain's got talent" like the plague. But give me Maria, Joseph, Nancy, Oliver, and "Strictly" on a Saturday night, and a couple of good quality "change your life" competitions during the week and I'm glued. It's curious why I find some types of programmes of this nature more acceptable than others. It's the public humiliation elements of some of them which I can't stomach, whereas others have a good amount of challenge and honest appraisal which makes compelling viewing. It's fascinating to watch people rise to challenges, and it's quite moving to see how much people's yearning to win affects them.

The thing that keeps me coming back to the The Apprentice though is utter incredulity at how contestants get so confused about the notion of what it takes to be an effective and impactful leader. Why is it that young people go on that programme and think that in order to come across as a strong leader they have to be the absolute personification of arrogance and agression, and completely dismiss everyone else's worth? It baffles me, and I keep watching in the hope that someone will turn up who is business-minded, pragmatic, adaptable, tolerant, curious and open-minded. Sir Alan always talks about COMMON SENSE, and yet the majority of the contestants either fail miserably to demonstrate any, or get caught in the ego race and become more and more cut-throat, belying the leadership potential that they came on with in the first place.

In the meantime, I cannot deny that all the posturing DOES make good telly - even if I do need to have a good pile of cushions next to me to keep lobbing at the set while I watch.

Wednesday, 26 March 2008

Learning to say sorry

Knowing how to give and receive apology is something I feel increasingly strongly about. What I have discovered is that to be able to give an apology which is sincere and meaningful we need to have a heightened awareness of our own state of mind, and of that of others. We need to be able to put ourselves in others' shoes, and truly attempt to see things from others' perspectives. If we don't do this then we will continually be trapped within our own outlook, continually justifying our own behaviour, to the detriment of others, and becoming increasingly isolated and ugly.

It is particularly important to show our children how to apologise. The only way to do this is to apologise to them whenever we have done something about which we feel sorry. Keeping in mind what we are teaching our children in every moment by our actions provides the measure against which we can judge whether or not an apology is necessary. For example, if I want my son to learn how to deal with bad temper in a positive way, but my own way of dealing with bad temper is to storm about the place slamming doors and yelling a lot, maybe I'm not providing him with the most desireable role model. So, I heighten my awareness of my own behaviour, reconsider it, identify an alternative way of behaving, then I say to my son, "I'm sorry for... It was wrong to ... Next time I will..."

Nobody is perfect. We all make mistakes all the time. We are always going to disagree about things. But if we can all agree that we can help each other by knowing how to give and receive apology in a reliable way then we can proceed with greater confidence and self-assurance.

If we never get used to hearing sincere apologies from others, then it becomes impossible for us to learn how to receive apologies when they are made with good intent. Just saying "thankyou" is the simplest way of accepting someone's apology, but we are frequently tempted to demand further contrition, further compensation for the personal slight we have suffered by another's behaviour. We might even be tempted to dismiss the humility of the person making the apology by mocking them, or by going on about how they must never do what they did again. This is extremely ungracious and is like picking a freshly healed scab, just to have it bleed again and possibly become infected. It is a dangerous way to behave.

I once had cross words with a teacher at my son's school. I felt very indignant and said some things in front of my son which were rather uncalled for. Later I felt ashamed. The only thing I could think of doing was going into school and apologising in person to the teacher. I also apolgised to my son. Unfortunately the teacher I wanted to speak to wasn't there when I went in, so I had to leave my apology by way of a message with the school receptionist. This lady was amazed, expressed deep gratitude on behalf of the absent teacher, and said there were not many people who would be big enough to apologise. The following day I bumped into the teacher in the supermarket, so I did get my chance to apologise in person. And the best way to give and receive an apology? With a hug.

Thursday, 20 March 2008

Car-free means care-free

I can't tell you how exhilerating it feels to pedal off to school, my daughter tagging along behind, her book bag and lunch box in the basket on the front of my bike, and the car resolutely left on the drive. Fresh air, exercise, and a new perspective on the world are so easily accessible on a bike, and it is infinitely pleasing to leave the car at home. I read a statistic the other day that people who cycle regularly are 50% less likely to suffer from depression. There's such a feeling of freedom, and it is so easy to connect to other people by shouting out a greeting as you shoot past. People say things like "That's lovely to see", or, commenting on my daughter's tag-along bike, "That's the way to travel"! It really brings a smile to my face.

As a result, our school run has been transformed. Rather than bundling grumpy children into the car on the last minute, angrily driving round to school cursing our constant lack of punctuality and using far more diesel and far less safety-consciousness than driving calmly, the school journey is now so much more fun: the kids can't wait to get outside and I represent far less of a threat on the road.

My son goes ahead on his scooter, and when we get to school we meet him in the playground and he gives me the scooter to bring home with me. (Unfortunately the school doesn't have enough space to store bikes and scooters during the school day.) I had to dig out a large rucksack to carry the scooter home, and the only downside is that this gives me a bit of neck and shoulder ache. But then again, so does persistent hunching over a steering wheel. I just have to choose.

SO enthusiastic am I about being on my bike that I started oggling a bike trailer somebody had the other day. Ooh - the things I could get in that and pull around with me! A little while ago I heard about a chap here in Swindon who used his bike trailer to transport his old fridge to the domestic recycling centre. I am in awe.

Tuesday, 18 March 2008

Being the change

Have you ever got to a point in your life and thought, "Hmm - not sure what to do next, not sure I want to carry on doing what I'm doing, not sure I want to go back to doing things the same way I've done them before. I want something different, something that I can feel true to, that reflects me as I am today"?

Sometimes there's a feeling of having "missed the boat", or of not being able to recognise which river the boat is on.

This is something like I'm feeling right now. It can be very unsettling, and can induce lots of uncertainty. It can even feel like a total crisis in self-confidence.

Typically our reaction is to fight it, struggle against the tide of the river that we find ourselves in, find familiar patterns in work and life which may not be ideal, but which we can at least relate to.

An alternative approach is to "go with the flow", not to fight, but to watch and wait calmly and curiously, and see what emerges next.

This approach demands a lot of patience, and not a small amount of faith in the fact that something WILL emerge, it has to, because our minds are endlessly creative and resourceful. What we've got to get good at in this circumstance is paying attention to what our minds are coming up with and turning our attention to it in moments that don't feel like struggle.

The title of this entry is "being the change". What I mean by that is to take heed of what our minds are quietly urging us to do and moving in sync with that. In order to be successful in this practise we need to have greater mindfulness, greater awareness of our thoughts, and be able to distinguish between the qualities of our thoughts. (Bizarrely, I notice that being mind-ful is actually to have our minds empty of distracting thoughts. Funny that.)

For me, when there is struggle I experience thoughts that seem to shout at me in my head. They are impatient and exasperated thoughts, with a breathless quality, over-eager in their enthusiasm and over-ambitious in their scope. It is also frequently very difficult to remember from one moment to the next what the thought was, so flimsy and unenduring are they. These are thoughts whose voice sounds like an over-bearing parent or teacher, who wants to see more achieved than they have been able to achieve for themselves. If I read these kinds of out-pourings in my journal they come across as being mildly hysterical, the hall-marks of a desperate and over-worked thinking process.

Conversely when my thoughts are true and on target they have a quieter, more effortless and timeless quality. They have a calm, sustained endurance and a simpler message. Like a quietly insistent and uncomplicated demand. "Just write, just write, just write." When I take heed of these thoughts my journal is full of ideas, paragraphs, narratives such that I can pick and choose from to shape my stories and my work.

I know that as long as I keep believing in the resourcefulness of the human mind, keep paying attention to the quiet, enduring messages I receive, and develop my practise with conviction, commitment, discipline and rigour, then I can avoid that feeling of disorientation and lack that my busy, fearful thoughts like to grab hold of and worry like a dog with a rag.

Monday, 17 March 2008

Wasted Day?

Woking at home as I do, with only myself to answer to, it should technically be straightforward if one of my children is ill, to look after them at home without all the hassle of taking leave from the "office".

The trouble is I'm a hard task master, especially when it comes to moving my creative projects forward. At the moment I've got a short story on the go, a new assignment to tackle for my correspondance course, plus I'm working on relaunching my website for my coaching business, which involves writing content and figuring out what layout I want. So when my four-year-old daughter was groggy this weekend I had to quickly re-order my plans for the day.

There's not much I can concentrate on with CBeebies twittering on in the background. We sit and read a book together, but after a while she gets restless and tired and wants the telly on. I catch up on some chores and decide that I'll have to try and squeeze in some work this evening just to feel like progress is being made.

During the day I've battled with my own impatience, frustration, and cross feelings, all the while reminding myself that this situation can't be helped, that I need to stay calm and gentle for the sake of my daughter's recovery. But there's such a feeling of guilt, caught in between sick daughter and compelling projects.

It's the kind of day that makes me strangely envious of the unexciting office job I used to do, which I never had any qualms whatsoever of abandoning for the sake of my sick children. Yes, there might have been a tricky conversation with my boss, but not much gets in the way of a mother's sense of duty to her children, and there's usually someone else who can step into the breach.

I guess the gift of the day is in appreciating how much I love what I do, because having to abandon it, even for the sake of a child with the sniffles, is extremely difficult. Does it sound as if sometimes I'd rather be working than spending time with my kids? Well of course I would! And other times there's nothing else I want to do but sit and laugh and play and sing with them. It's all about balance after all.

Sunday, 16 March 2008

Sausages for Tea

In this day and age of local food, farmers' markets, the annually observed National Butchers' Week (just passed) and neurotic, middle-class "ethical consumerism", of course I agonise over how planet-friendly and compassionately farmed the meat I buy is. But since I also have 2 children and a husband, mostly I agonise over whether my fussy family will eat whatever I prepare with it, or whether the wretched animal gave up its cutlets or loin chops in vain, just to find themselves chucked in the bin, which now sits outside our house for two weeks before the Council empty it, as opposed to the original seven days. It's a doubly ignominious end to a life lived in organic pasture.

In our house we've got into a bit of an impasse over food on numerous occasions, largely due to the fact that my husband and my kids like eating certain things over and over again and I get bored cooking the same things over and over again, so try and experiment with something different occasionally. I'm not talking about anything too exotic, lamb shanks maybe, or duck-breast. The ox-tail I had in the freezer had to go last week, no doubt to the extreme relief of everyone else in the household, because the heating element-?!- or something in said appliance failed and all the contents defrosted. (Hmm - now I'm wondering whether there has been some sort of conspiracy...)

Thankfully the one dependable meat which I can prepare without causing ructions is sausages. Usually baked in a herby tomato sauce and served with conchiglie pasta. It HAS to be conchiglie, because then I can count on some of the tomato sauce stowing away in the centre of the shell on the perilous journey from plate to mouth, so at least the kids get a bit of their 5-a-day without even realising it. This is a meal which invariably elicits a cheer when it is announced, on the back of THE wary question from my ten-year-old: "What's for tea Mum?"

So tonight sausages are on the menu, and cheers will ring out. There shall also be a healthy serving of all kinds of veggies, which noone but myself will eat of course. If I serve up too many visible vegetables on the plates of my husband and my kids there will be "playing with food" rather than "eating" taking place at the dinner table, and usually this results in me storming sulkily out of the kitchen, feeling unappreciated and under-valued. It happened just last week, when there were too many leeks in the creamy bacon and leek sauce to accompany the spaghetti. I ended up fuming in the dark in our bedroom, and my son has been bending over backwards all week to ingratiate himself with me and put things to rights. I'm not one to bear grudges, not at all, it's just that meals can be such emotive occasions and food can be such an incendiary topic that every so often there is an explosion, only to be calmed by mutiple peace offerings and, the piece de resistance, sausages for tea.