Fearing Fear Itself

Lately, the world seems to have shifted slightly on its axis. It appears many people are now leaning toward prejudice, hatred, bigotry and oppression. I don’t believe this is a sudden movement, nor do I believe it is a contemporary development. There is always some place on earth where someone is oppressed, or hated, or flung into battle against someone else. But at this point in time, it feels as if there is a gathering cloud of fear descending among all of us.

The more our world bleeds from the effects of war, terror, natural disasters and epidemics; the more fear rises around us, threatening to take over. Some of us fear the floods of refugees who in turn fear the horror of conflict. Some of us fear the terrorists, who say they fear nothing but I doubt that is true. There are those who live near fault lines or active volcanoes or in areas prone to earthquakes, who fear the loss of their homes and perhaps loved ones. Epidemics cause fear to flourish. The AIDs epidemic saw millions of people turn against their own. The ICE epidemic attacks family and friends alike.

In the middle of fear, there is still hope. There are still enough of us around who believe we can set the world back to a position of strength. Some of us protest, some of us donate time or money to causes which we feel strongly about. Some of us write to our politicians, or become involved in politics at all levels. Some of us preach, some of us pray. There isn’t one right way to dispense with fear but I believe we can all lead by example, being inclusive and loving. The least we can do is offer assistance to those who need and remember to smile at everyone.

And there are programs out there which really do make a difference. We just have to work out how to bring them to the attention of those who can implement them.

Recently I’ve begun to meditate daily. While researching different methods of meditation, I came across the Maharishi Effect http://bit.ly/2jzsuzp which in effect has shown that, if just one percent of the community’s population practice group Transcendental Meditation, the calming energy generated would influence the entire community, increasing peace and harmony. It has even been found to reduce crime rates. There have been many studies and lots of research which proves this effect. So, why aren’t there more communities practicing TM? It seems to me a harmless way to reduce fear.

Another article which caught my eye described programs put in place by Iceland to reduce teen substance abuse http://ab.co/2jhaFnB These programs don’t appear to be too difficult to put into place. Yes, they would need Government money, but surely it would be a better thing to put money behind preventative programs than to pour money into band aid solutions?

There are a whole lot of people out there who are hurting and afraid. There are so many ways we can make a difference. Let’s choose to reduce fear.

A Good Time to Reorganise

January, being the first month of the year, seems to me an appropriate time to reorganise. Reorganise is defined by the online Cambridge Dictionary as “to organise something again in order to improve it”. And there are a few things in my life which need improving! I’m not limiting myself to material things either, everything will be looked at with a view to changing it to improve it.

So, let’s see what I’ve done already.

Health: I’ve had a couple of issues lately, nothing too serious yet but, if I don’t do anything about them, they could grow into significant problems. Changing my diet to support my immune system and ensure my body is getting the best nutrients is not rocket science. I have been gluten free, apart from oats, for a long time now and have definitely felt the benefits. I don’t feel as bloated and am far less gassy than I used to be. For the past few months I’ve ditched the oats as well. Since December I’ve cut most dairy products out of my diet. I still use butter but I no longer have milk, yoghurt or cheese. Staying away from cheese has required a huge effort as I love cheese, but I have far less mucus dripping down the back of my throat and I’m coughing less. The few times I’ve been unable to resist food with dairy I have noticed the difference!

I’ve also started meditating every morning and practicing yoga when I can. I still have to find a yoga instructor – it’s on my list!

Budget: Toward the end of last year I sat down with calculator, pen, paper, bills and my bank account to work out where my money was going. The result shocked me. So, I’ve changed a couple of utility suppliers and reworked a few plans for internet, etc. I spent quite a long time comparing suppliers and looking at different health insurance companies. I know there are comparison websites out there but they didn’t compare some of the companies I was interested in. I’m not sure if I got the best deals, but I have saved a few dollars. I also turn lights off if I’m not in the room, switch off the TV at the power point when I’m not watching it and turn off chargers at the power point when nothing is being charged.

I’ve also changed my shopping habits, I now decide on the recipes I’m going to cook first and then shop, instead of grabbing what I can and then throwing it out the next week. I find I cook more vegetarian meals and I try to cook enough on a weekend for work lunches the next week.

So, what is left for me to do? Unfortunately, quite a bit! I still must reorganise my study at home. There are tubs and boxes filled with things I brought back from my father’s house after he died. I need a new filing system (not to mention the motivation to file), I need to throw out a lot of things I don’t need. I still need to go through my clothes, shoes and jewellery and throw out anything I haven’t worn for at least a year. Anything still in good condition will be donated. Similarly, in my kitchen I need to throw out pots and pans which are worse for wear and never used. There is still much to do, but at least I’ve made a start!

Reading to Write

“Writing comes from reading, and reading is the finest teacher of how to write” once said Annie Proulx, author of the Pulitzer Prize winning novel The Shipping News.

As writers and wannabe writers and anyone who has ever contemplated putting pen to paper or tapping frantically on their keyboard knows, in order to write one must read. And one must read widely, or so we are told. Be adventurous with your genres of choice. Read classics and contemporary, read short and long, read prose and poetry, just read. For a very long time I did not heed this advice.

The best thing to come out of studying for my arts degree was an exposure to genres I would never have willingly picked off the shelf. I was forced to read Franz Kafka, whose imagination bewildered me, what sort of person would even think of a human becoming a bug? I had to read Paul Auster and then I read him again and again just for fun, determined to follow him through his language maze and sometimes, just for a moment, understanding him before I realised I didn’t. Why had I never read Bill Bryson prior to having to study him? I wish someone had mentioned him earlier. I feel the same about Marguerite Duras. Why did no one ever say to me, “hey, have you read The Lovers yet?”.

Sometimes I do find favourite authors and books through recommendations. Like Karl Ove Knausgaard, who manages to break every rule of writing but still seductively draws the reader deeper and deeper into his world until it is incredibly difficult to swap his books for real life duties like making dinner or sleeping. Clarissa Pinkola Estés’ work “Women who run with the Wolves” both inspired and educated me with the stories, myths and fairytales from different cultures. Endorsements of authors also often come to me by way of writers’ festivals, which is exactly how I found Geoff Dyer. Not only was he hilarious to listen to, his books are good reads, especially for the late afternoon commute home on the train.

When I was writing the first and subsequent drafts of my memoir about my father and our relationship, I read other memoirs around the same subject; WW II. Books like A Fifty-Year Silence by Miranda Richmond Mouillot, Dancing on One Foot, Growing up in Nazi Germany by Shanti Elke Bannwart and Letters from Berlin by Kerstin Lieff, helped me understand the times my father had lived in. Now I am attempting to write a short story, I am drawing on authors such as Joan Didion and Helen Garner to assist.

What are you reading? Do you challenge yourself by reading different genres, or do you stick to a few authors who you are comfortable with? Do you, as a writer, read for purpose? Or do you read to get away from whatever you are writing? How do you find the next book to read – recommendation, referral or Google?

Happy New Year! Welcome 2017

Day one of 2017. So far, I’ve cleaned the house, done the laundry and made time for meditation and yoga and now I’m writing. Less stress and more creativity – they are my resolutions. Making time for myself and my writing. Taking time out from the world. Not running to the phone every time someone calls or messages. Turning the phone off. Gratitude.

I have so much to be grateful for.

I am grateful for my three boys, who have grown into delightful young men. I am grateful for my eldest son’s partner and my adorable grandson. I am grateful for my family, widespread across the world, but brought closer by social media. I am grateful for my friends. I am grateful for my apartment. I am even grateful for my job which, despite its propensity to create stress in my life, pays for me to live. I am grateful for the ability to research ways to lessen the stress in my life and I am grateful for the motivation to put those strategies into place. I am grateful for my health which, even when I don’t feel wonderful, is still far better than the suffering of other people. I am grateful for being born the person I am, in the country I was and I am grateful for where I live now and the life I have.

Strategies to reduce stress are definitely my priority this year. Stress is not beneficial for health and I would choose health over stress any day. So, making time to meditate every day is very important. Even five minutes a day helps me. Techniques for breathing, ways to stay calm, learning not to take on too much, keeping my distance from negativity; I strive to remember these. Setting aside time for yoga each week. Daily yoga would be optimal, but at least twice a week is a good start for me.

Creativity. My writing is so important to me. I resolve to make time for writing every day. I won’t set word limits or time limits, but I will make sure to put even 10 minutes a day aside for writing. I didn’t do this last year and I suffered. More self-discipline is required in order to allow more time for creativity.

2017 will be the year I look after myself. I am determined to be kinder to myself. Healthy food, walks around the park, quiet times to read, maybe a massage or two along the way. Compatible times with good friends with or without a meal or a nice glass of wine. Less of the news – just watching the world disintegrate is stressful, more comedy and things which make me laugh, as it is supposed to be the best medicine!

So, here’s to a happy new year, a joyful, harmonious, stress free and abundantly creative 2017 for everyone. I can’t give you joy, harmony, stress free living or creativity but you can all take it for yourselves. Make this year your year too.