Awakening

Carpe diem

Today I may die …


Quite a sobering thought isn’t it? Not in a gloom and doom “what’s the point in living” type of way. More in a pragmatic, “... let’s face it, one day my number will be up, so what’s my intention to make the most I can of THIS day“, kinda way.

Or a “Death is inevitable, for me and everyone I love, so why am I getting so worked up about so many trivial things?”

The reality is that you can put off moving out of your comfort zone and venturing into unchartered territory towards the life you want for too long. And miss the boat in the process.

Right now you’re probably thinking “But Sandra …

  • I don’t have enough money
  • I don’t have enough time, I’m so busy
  • I’m all on my own, I don’t have enough support
  • I don’t have the confidence”

Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera – as Yul Brunner said in The King and I (for those of you old enough to remember) …

Blaming others

A major component of the work I do with clients, is supporting them to identify what stories they’re holding onto from the past that limit their lives.

You may identify with such beliefs. The ones where your story backs up how you’ve been wronged by someone, something – or maybe life in general? The mother who had her own emotional issues and wasn’t as loving and caring as you wanted, or the teacher who had so many of his own issues all he could do was criticise you. As a child you couldn’t distinguish between the truth and someone else’s pain.

There’s a whole heap of ways we limit our lives, usually without even realising it. The only truth I am certain of is we’re here only once, and it’s time to make the most of it.

We’ll have periods when life seems to be swimming along quite nicely thank you. Everything goes smoothly. People smile at us. The car hums along happily. We have money in the bank, food in the cupboards, an okay social life, someone to love who loves us in return.

Then bam! Something unexpected happens. The Universe decides to turn your life upside down.

Have you garnered sufficient strength and resources during the days of plenty to keep your head up when the going gets tough?

Or do you allow it to knock you sideways and spend ages getting up, feeling sorry for yourself, getting sucked into the ‘poor me’ and ‘why me’ syndrome?

A saying you can remember at such times is ‘The sun is always shining, even when it’s above the clouds.’

That’s another truth!

Think about it. Rain or shine, the golden ball remains in the sky, we just can’t see it for a while (a long while sometimes I’m remembering now I’m living in the northern hemisphere again!).

It doesn’t take a genius to work out if we allow such things as the weather to influence our happiness, we’re letting something out of our control dictate our feelings.

Peaceful deaths

My elderly (almost 95 years young would you believe?!) father, who’s been sadly ‘gifted’ with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, had a nasty fall a few weeks before Christmas. After four weeks in hospital he was moved to a nursing home. His family have done their best to keep him at home, but his condition is such that he now requires 24/7 supervision and care.

His grandfather and only sibling, a brother, pre-deceased him, and his father died at the age of 59 when dad was just 14. Dad didn’t allow the fact that he was the only child of a single mother in the 1940s to stop him.

He travelled extensively when it wasn’t the norm to do so, and never allowed lack of money to stop him. He worked and saved hard, married the love of his life when he was 35, had four daughters, always took us on a family holiday each year, played squash and tennis to keep fit and healthy (until he was 90!), and in retirement he continued to grasp opportunities. For his 82nd birthday I took him and mum for a stream train ride while they were on a five-week holiday visiting me in New Zealand.

When the time comes, I want him to have a peaceful and pain-free death, and I’ll do my utmost to ensure this happens. However I know I can’t predict when or how his amazing life will end. Just as I can’t be certain of my own departure.

It could’ve stopped at any time I was living in abroad for eight years, but he wouldn’t have wanted me to not follow my dreams.

In fact, I could die first, in a car accident on my way to visit him …

Generally though, we have no choice as to when we’re going to die. One thing IS certain – it will happen one day, however much money, or time, or love we have or don’t have.

Choosing to live

What we DO mostly have a choice in, is how we LIVE each of the days before that inevitable moment.

If you could break down the excuses you’re using, could you see ways around any beliefs you’re allowing to limit you? Can you awaken a curiosity about potential small steps you could take each day towards making your ‘someday’ life a reality?

Who could you can ask for help? How can you save money if you need it, rather than spending it on ‘stuff’ that isn’t serving you or taking you closer to the place you want to be?

Maybe you could engage a coach to help you find achievable ways to make different choices?

Four ways to awaken to life today

I want to share with you four ways you could consider to wake up to appreciating life today:

  • You’re given six months to live – what would you do? Write it down.
  • It’s your 70th birthday party and you’re giving a speech to your guests. You have time to do the things you’ve always wanted to do. Imagine what that speech would say? Write it down.
  • You die suddenly and unexpectedly. What would people say about you at your eulogy? Write it down.
  • You have no idea when you’re going to die, you just know it could be today. What intention will you set to make the most of it?

If you’re still not convinced, ex palliative care nurse Bronnie Ware used her experience of spending time with people during their last days, in ‘The Top Five Regrets of the Dying: A Life Transformed by the Dearly Departing’

5 – I wish that I had let myself be happier.

“This is a surprisingly common one. Many did not realise until the end that happiness is a choice. They had stayed stuck in old patterns and habits. The so-called ‘comfort’ of familiarity overflowed into their emotions, as well as their physical lives. Fear of change had them pretending to others, and to their selves, that they were content, when deep within, they longed to laugh properly and have silliness in their life again.”

Remember that your thoughts shape your life. By setting an intention each morning for the day ahead, you can help discover your best self, even during challenging times.

What would be your wildest intention today, if it turned out to be your last?

Image by Gary Blakely/Shutterstock.com

How to push past fear to awaken and liberate your life


IMG_1561

“We awaken in others the same attitude of mind we hold toward them.” Elbert Hubbard

How many times do you catch yourself saying “If only he/she/they would change, life would be so much better.”? Or, “I’d love to do …. (fill in the blank) but I’m too scared.”

It’s something I often hear clients verbalise,  and I’m aware it’s been something I’ve succumbed to at various times.

Liberation comes when we wake up to the fact that we can’t force someone else to change, as much as we feel what we’re seeking to change could be of benefit to them.

However, by changing ourselves, we discover that magically those around us begin to change too.

Or do they?

Could it just be the way we see things that changes? And when we react and respond differently to events, and life in general, due to the changes we’ve personally instigated, then our perception of others alters accordingly.

Take an example of changing the way you look at things to face your fears …

Facing fear

Can you think of any fears you’ve faced and overcome, by changing the way you see them? Maybe it’s happened by talking yourself through them, and seeing a new perspective, with a cleaner, sharper and brighter lens?

I can recall a few from the past twenty years or so of my life:

  • Arrivals at Auckland Airport

    Arrivals at Auckland Airport

    Fear of flying – In the 1990s, I had an irrational fear of flying – nothing major, it didn’t stop me from holidaying in Europe, but I hadn’t ventured further than that. I recall during those short flights, breaking out into a cold sweat during take off and landing.

  • However, in 2001 I flew all the way to New Zealand, literally to the furthest point you can go from England without being on your way back again.

I’ve repeated the journey south or north 24 times since then!  I can’t recall how I changed my mind, only that my desire to go was greater than my fear of flying. Once there, my need to remain in contact with my family and visit them frequently, enabled me to maintain my mindset. I told my mind a different story to the one it had previously pictured.

I read about the risks of flying and informed myself that there was more risk crossing the road than flying in the twenty first century. I discovered that long haul flights are so much nicer than short ones. And I chose to see the journey as a part of the ‘holiday’, the joy of time to sit still and eat, drink, read, sleep, watch movies, chat.  Visiting different airports became a delight too, so I added that into the reasoning.

  • Fear of enclosed spaces – I have no idea where or when this originated, but I had a fear of being buried alive. I remember watching a film where it happened (thankfully she escaped at the last minute – I held my breath and could hardly watch!). The absurdness of my fear brings to mind the YouTube video ‘Stop It’, by Bob Newhart – if you haven’t watched it yet I recommend it. You can’t fail to laugh out loud at his direct coaching style.

I took steps to overcome this fear during my 2001 to 2002 sabbatical to New Zealand. On a solo road trip , I visited ‘Waiotomo Caves’ in the west of the North Island and went ‘Black Water rafting‘. This entailed crawling into a hole in the ground, sitting in a cave, then walking, jumping and swimming underground in a wetsuit and hard hat with light, before finally sitting in the rubber tyre we carried, leaning back, holding the feet of the person behind, turning off our lights and watching glow worms illuminating the cave roof – resembling hundreds of brightly twinkling stars.

It was one of the most magical experiences of my life, and one I repeated three years later with my younger daughter – just to prove I could! But it took some self-talk initially to persuade myself I could do it and enjoy it.

  • Fear of drowning – I suspect this is similar to my being buried alive challenge. I’ve tried scuba diving in a swimming pool twice, but each time my fear overwhelmed me after only a short time. Then in 2005,  on my aforementioned daughter’s NZ visit, she asked to experience white water rafting.

Buoyed by the black water rafting experiences, and feeling I’d taken myself way out of my comfort zone a number of times, I imagined I’d accomplish a change in view once more. Unknowingly, I chose to book us onto an adventure that would heighten my fear rather than diminish it. We rafted on the Kaituna River near Rotorua in the North Island of NZ.

At the bottom of the Tutea Falls, which, unbeknown to me at the time is the world’s highest commercially rafted waterfall with a 21 foot drop, our raft overturned (you can watch a clip of a raft descending it successfully here). I woke up underneath the boat, due to thankfully still holding tightly onto a rope, in an air pocket only slightly higher than my head, and managed to scream and hyperventilate simultaneously. 

I don’t dwell on the possibilities had I not held on, though did initially imagine the scene of me waking up at the bottom of the waterfall, panicking and completely forgetting the instructions to curl into a ball and allow the water to lift me up should such an event occur. The outcome of a black eye and a few tears was minor considering the potential alternative of something far more sinister.

React, respond or retreat?

Throughout our lives we’ve been watching and listening to events that occur around us – and even those we have no personal experience of through the media’s portrayal and more recently the Internet.

We make assumptions and form beliefs about the world and others, from the knowledge we gain daily. The interesting thing is that we all do this differently. If four people watched the same film simultaneously, in the same room, and then were interviewed, they’d each recall parts that resonated with them and spoke to their particular beliefs – and they’re unlikely to be the same ones.

So when we’re faced with a situation that daunts, scares, enrages or confuses us – take a step back. Consider what story is being brought to the forefront of your mind. Then consciously choose to look at it from other angles, not just the first reaction. Respond thoughtfully, rather than reactively. See if you can find an alternative tale to tell your brain.

Or retreat. Walk away. Be ok with it not being ok. We don’t succeed at everything, and if we can be open and honest with ourselves, we’ll learn a great deal when we ‘fail’ – it doesn’t make us a ‘failure’.

Know that most of the time, you CAN push past your fears and change your self.

Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgement that something else is more important than fear.”~Ambrose Redmoon 

Did you notice how my last two posts have had quite a focus on the importance of breathing? More about that next time …

If today was the last day of your life, would you be doing what you’re doing?


Death - the only certainty of life

Death – the only certainty of life

“Fear not that life shall come to an end, but rather fear that it shall never have a beginning.” ~John Henry Cardinal Newman

“I wish I could stand on a busy corner, hat in hand, and beg people to throw me all their wasted hours.” ~Bernard Berenson

There’s an abundance of quotes available about making the most of life.

I often wonder what it would take for some people to realise that the choice to live it fully everyday is primarily theirs.

Granted, our circumstances and upbringing will have an affect on our choices, but at the end of the day, we can choose to be limited by them, or we can discover the gifts we’ve gained on our journeys, and use them wisely.

Death as an agent of change 

I’m extremely fortunate in that I’ve only ‘lost’ my grandparents – no-one else in my immediate family has had any serious illnesses or died.

I have however, had the experience of friends dying.

One in particular, in her 40th year, had a huge impact on me. I remember the shock that someone I’d only recently spent time with, could suddenly be gone, never to be seen again. Her death was one of the decision makers in my choice of travel to New Zealand initially in 2001.

“The more side roads you stop to explore, the less likely that life will pass you by”. ~Robert Brault

In 2005, I met the man I would marry in 2009. His first wife had sadly died in 2003, also at the age of 40 (ironically isn’t that when life is supposed to begin?). It took a long time after we got together for him to commit to me, he’d never imagined a life without her. Once he did make the choice, he opened up to so many opportunities to make the most of life, knowing from personal experience how suddenly it could all end.

“The fear of death follows from the fear of life. A man who lives fully is prepared to die at any time.” ~Mark Twain

Living before you die

In June 2005, at a Stanford University commencement speech, Steve Jobs, CEO and co-founder of Apple and Pixar, talked about pursuing our dreams and being open to the opportunities in life’s setbacks. It’s an amazingly inspiring presentation,  titled ‘How to live before you die‘.

The part that really resonated with me, was that he looked in the mirror every day, and asked himself “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?’  If the answer was ‘No’ too many times in a row, he knew it was time to change something.

“Begin doing what you want to do now. We have only this moment, sparkling like a star in our hand, and melting like a snowflake.” ~Marie Ray

Writing your eulogy

If you could write our own eulogy, what would it say?

I was recently touched by another untimely death. A midwifery colleague who’d been instrumental in bringing the option of water births to the West Midlands area, and possibly to the UK and elsewhere, through her unwavering passion and purpose.

She’d heard about the concept at a study day, and from that had made it her mission to find out more and introduce it to the Trust she worked at. The results of her three-year audit ‘The Tide Has Turned‘, was published in The British Journal of Midwifery in 1998.

Sadly I didn’t get to see her before she died, but I did send a letter to the Hospice which was read to her on the eve of her death. I told her what an inspiration she was, how she’d made an indelible difference to the lives of so many midwives and childbearing women and their families. Her daughter phoned me the next day to tell me she’d passed away, and that they’d all been touched and comforted by the words I’d written.

Why had I waited so long? Why hadn’t I made more effort to contact her while she was alive when I’d heard she was unwell in April? I guess my own life took over, with the huge changes I was making this year, and the priority of spending time with my family. So that’s ok. But it did motivate me to set up a Facebook Group for people who had worked in the maternity department at the Trust, and many people from that wrote heartwarming tributes too.  Now we can keep in touch, rather than wait until someone else dies before telling them how amazing they are.

Talking about death

I’m intrigued about the ways we talk of death, if we even venture to do so.

I have a fascination with graveyards, and reading headstones. People ‘pass away’, are ‘lost’, they ‘go to sleep’, rarely do they ‘die’. Why is that? I’m a member of an organisation called Dying Matters , which helps to get the concept of embracing our own mortality out into the world. Death seems to have overtaken sex as the taboo subject.

Delving into the book ‘The Five People You Meet in Heaven‘, you can explore how things you do or say, actions you take or neglect, can potentially have a life-chaging effect on others, even though you may not be aware of it at the time.

“Minutes are worth more than money. Spend them wisely.” ~Thomas P. Murphy

Points to consider

  1. Don’t wait until you’re dying before you start living – be wary of delaying your ‘bucket list’ until that ‘magical age’ of retirement (the one governments and employers keep changing!). Many people don’t make it that far.
  2. How frequently do you tell the people who are important to you, how much they mean to you – and why.
  3. Are there people who’ve made a positive impact on your life, that you can talk to and tell them – now, before it’s too late?
  4. How will you be remembered? What would you like your eulogy to say?
  5. If you’re not living the life of your dreams, what steps can you take towards that path, and who can support you along the way?

Live each day fully

“Many people die with their music still in them. Why is this so? Too often it is because they are always getting ready to live. Before they know it, time runs out.” ~Oliver Wendell Holmes

Don't delay - live today!

Don’t delay – live today!

My daughter recently sent this image and caption to me – that’s how I plan to grow older, and just in case I don’t make it that far, I love surprising people frequently.

If you want a supportive coach to challenge you to change and awaken to living each day fully, please get in touch and see if I can walk alongside you (go to my contact me page to book a suitable time and day).