Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Evenings in England in spring

There is a special feeling to an evening walk which is quite different to a walk in the morning. 

The birds are settling down.

Linnets and goldfinches call from the highest branches. Blackcaps start up and are visible before the leaves fully open out. Perhaps they have eaten well and can ease off before settling down to roost. 

Startled birds call out.

Birds are sometimes startled as you walk by because they have already 'come home to roost'. Blackbirds commonly strike up collective alarm calls in the undergrowth, warning of an owl or a crow in the ivy close to their nests.

There is less noise from humans. 

Many people are having tea, there are few walkers and the tree cutting is over, though the tractors and ploughs may still be in the fields. Woods have a special quality of silence.

Sound carries further on a still evening. 

You can sense the shape of the valleys from the resonating calls and sounds which echo across a wooded valley. Later in the season, the leaves will block more of the sounds. 

Birds are paired up.

If you see one green woodpecker you are likely to see two. Jackdaws fly in pairs, yellowhammers retreat along hedgerows in pairs.

The colours are intense

Blue sky takes on pastel shades and deepens the blues. Fresh leaves are bright green. Yellows stand out in the setting sun.

Most of all there is a mood.

It may reflect what has happened to you during the day, you may pick up sadness in the fluty song of a blackbird, or hope in the chortling song of a pair of linnets.
I'll be exploring a mindful evening walk on Saturday starting at 6pm.

Thursday, 16 March 2017

Natural Mindfulness

Natural Mindfulness is 'letting Nature in' 
but what does this mean exactly?

  To me, it means look, listen and feel. It's March so we're used to looking out for the first flowers that appear in spring: lesser celandines:

and Coltsfoot

I can't switch off my thinking but I can direct it to the spontaneous events that are happening all around me while walking in nature. Like the emergence of a Comma butterfly from hibernation.

I find listening especially helpful. So I walk slowly, I pause but not in a self-conscious way; I listen for ten seconds and I'm constantly asking myself: 
    "What's special and different today?"
I can't see them but I can hear nuthatches and jackdaws, a buzzard flies overhead. These are the kind of things that make me glad to be alive.
Seasons change imperceptibly but every day reveals more preparations for the season ahead.
Today I heard fieldfares and song thrushes together. These two members of the thrush family overlap but soon the fieldfares will be migrating back to Norway and Sweden to nest.

  So today I heard woodpeckers drumming, a typical sound that belongs to British springtime:

That greater spotted woodpecker has found a particularly resonant tree which he's using to announce his presence to females and other males.
Look, listen and feel and it's different every day.


Sunday, 25 September 2016

Communicating mindfully in dementia

Talking to a friend or relative with dementia can be frustrating:
are there any tips that help?
My comments on ideas from the 'a place for mom' website
  1. Recognize what you’re up against. Dementia advances gradually, strategies may need to change with time
  2. Avoid distractions. If talking is effortful, find a quiet time and place to communicate.
  3. Speak clearly and naturally in a warm and calm voice. Avoid patronising tones as if you were talking to a child.
  4. Refer to people by their names. Use their name and your own name, be prepared to recap.
  5. Talk about one thing at a time. Keep the conversation simple.
  6. Use nonverbal cues. Look at the person while you're talking and use gestures if needed.
  7. Listen actively. Try not to agree with what they say if you haven't understood; though asking for clarification can be hard.
  8. Don’t quibble. Let delusions and missatatments go; constantly challenging can shift the mood.
  9. Have patience. Be calm, keep a warm tone when you repeat things.
  10. Understand there will be good days and bad days. Tiredness, anxiety and discomfort can all disrupt concentration.
I have sometimes noticed people looking bored or embarrassed when visiting an elderly relative. For that reason, I would add four more rules:
  1. Make statements whenever you can: 'You look well today' may be more useful than 'How are you today?' Give the person time to qualify a statement.
  2. Leave pauses: the spontaneous words may be much more valuable than responses to questions or statements.
  3. Try reading aloud: poems, stories or novels. Even people with incoherent speech may respond.
  4. Keep a communication book which any visitors or staff can write in so information is shared.

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

1984 the stage play: Angst und Zeitgeist

1984 presents a vivid, scary, dystopian view of the present. 

The Party sees, hears and knows everything people do through a system of screens, cameras and paid informers. People willingly submit to this invasion of privacy because of Project Fear: 

the country is at war
 terrorism threatens 
the collapse of civilisation is imminent

  'There is no alternative'  

Michael Billington's review 
The illusion is maintained through constant repetition and sinks into the world view of everyone. Though I found the play melodramatic and the scenes of torture unbearable, it did make me think about the narrative that national governments like to foster.

There is the narrative of Great Britain: the 'golden years' of a benevolent empire founded on profits from slavery and naval aggression. A transient lead in technology has endowed Brits with the illusion of supremacy, hints of which were heard in the run-up to the Brexit vote. 

It's convenient to forget that Britain is sinking into a morass of corruption and inequality; taking its place as a small nation on the edge of Europe.
In a way, our present state resembles the book group who debate Winston Smith's diary: the myths and illusions of our present day Zeitgeist are invisible to us because we all want to believe a cosy narrative.

The British Empire gave a lift-up to nations that hadn't experienced bureaucracy or prejudice on the grounds of sexual orientation. Missionaries civilised primitive peoples and their illegitimate children, rebellions, torture and starvation are not a part of this story.

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

How do you cope when someone lets you down: a natural mindful approach

How do you cope when someone lets you down?

This happened to me today so I'm trying to think of mindful things I can do.

1. "There will be better days":

I like this long-suffering phrase, it reminds me that even when I'm beset by lots of problems it won't be the same tomorrow. Also that however great my angst it is, I'm not dead yet. I can always find a few tiny things I've been putting off so tomorrow really will be better, pay for the central heating, book the bike in to be serviced.

2. Tell people 
Email friends. They won't necessarily respond but some may notice and sympathise. Even more important, tell people you meet. Otherwise they might think you're being antisocial. Ask for what you need: a hug or a talk, text people, phone people, arrange to meet, light up the network of people you know.

3. Walk in Nature
Nothing works as well to restore a mindful state of mind for me as a walk outside. Watching chance happenings, birds soaring, colours in people's gardens, birdsong and the feeling of climbing a hill all help me to feel myself, maybe sad, maybe distracted. So I'm going out walking now... Nature always seems to surprise me with colours, sounds and smells, 

which brings me to:

4. Variety
More variety in food, avoid the cheapest supermarket, have regular drinks and meals, if you don't feel like baking go out and buy a treat. Beware of silently or noisily singing the same old songs, you could be wallowing in morose thoughts ie Leonard Cohen, think of different tunes. Read a poetry book like Staying Alive, mark the poems you'd choose to read aloud to someone. Baking usually helps me but today feels like a day to knit or draw. Any activities that are calming, creative or automatic, colourful. Music too, listening or playing helps me. This is a great opportunity to do things differently.

5. Notice when you forget why you're feeling sad.

This will happen increasingly as time passes but you might even notice it on the first day. It's encouraging to notice how feelings change constantly, sadness to anger, anger to fear. And even a surprising moment of humour or joy. If someone's let me down I can sometimes smile when I remember that I've let people down too. This time the boot's on the other foot.

Sunday, 19 June 2016

Just cause and terrorism

People associate religious violence with Islam but the notion of fighting a 'just war' dates back a long way. 

When Rome was sacked  the Visigoths in AD 410 ...

The Sack of Rome by the Barbarians in 410 by Joseph-Noël Sylvestre

Many Romans attributed the Fall of Rome to the tolerance and later adoption of a pacifist religion: Christianity. 
But the shift towards Christianity began with a war:  
According to tradition, Emperor Constantine faced Maxentius, a serious rival to the throne, on a bridge across the Tiber in AD 312.

Constantine looked up at the sun and saw a Christian symbol, a cross of light above it. 
He ordered his soldiers to write Chi-Rho, the first two letters of Christ's name on their shields
Chi-Rho the first 2 letters of Christ in Greek
. Constantine's army won the battle and he attributed his success to divine intervention, refusing to honour the Roman gods on his return. 

A year later, in AD 313, Emperors Constantine and Licinius issued the the Edict of Milan, granting tolerance to all religions, including Christianity. 

Later, Constantine's new Eastern capital, Constantinople had Christian churches built within the city walls, paid for by taxes on non-Christians. 
Ultimately this shift in attitude led to the adoption of Christianity as the state church of the Roman empire, declared by edict in AD 380

Then in AD 410 Rome was invaded and people blamed religion. But St Augustine wrote City of God 
in AD 426 to counter the belief that Christianity had been the cause of the Fall of Rome and to put the case for a ' just war'. To be continued...

Wednesday, 13 April 2016

O, to be in England... Robert Browning

Robert Browning, like Charles Dickens, was in Italy in the spring of 1845 when he wrote this poem

Home-thoughts, from Abroad

In 1845 Robert met the love of his life: Elizabeth Barrett Browning [EBB] 
But he had admired EBB from afar after reading her newly-published poems and had written his first letter to her on 10th January 1845 which began: 

'I love your verses with all my heart, dear Miss Barrett' 

So he must surely have been thinking of Elizabeth, immobilised as she was by an unexplained illness when he wrote these lines. But he didn't meet EBB until May 1845. You can see how he imagines a person being in England and seeing and hearing the spring developing and growing. His verse in May is loaded with sensual imagery:

O, to be in England
Now that April's there,
And whoever wakes in England
Sees, some morning, unaware,
That the lowest boughs and the brushwood sheaf
Round the Elm-tree bole are in tiny leaf,
While the chaffinch sings on the orchard bough
In England-now!

And after April, when May follows,
And the whitethroat builds, and all the swallows!
Hark, where my blossom'd pear-tree in the hedge
Leans to the field and scatters the clover
Blossoms and dewdrops - at the bent spray's edge-
That's the wise thrush; he sings his song twice over,
Lest you should think he never could recapture
The first fine careless rapture
And though the fields look rough with hoary dew,
All will be gay when noontide wakes anew
The buttercups, the little children's dower
-Far brighter than this gaudy melon-flower!