Mindfell

Dr Julie Carter

 

Writer

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“To see a World in a Grain of Sand and a Heaven in a Wild Flower, to hold Infinity in the palm of your hand and Eternity in an hour.”

William Blake

In my last blog I celebrated my return to regular running training and the camaraderie of finding a friend to train with. After years of setbacks I felt optimistic, excited and pleased to be putting in regular effort. Then I got Covid. A month later I am emerging from what was an awful illness and trying hard to recapture January’s optimism. I can now run slowly for over half an hour. So far so good. Except that there is a voice in my head that tells me it’s not good enough. I am disappointed and this feeling of disappointment turns inwards upon myself. I’m just not good enough. But difficult things can contain opportunity, and I’m beginning to realise that this convalescence is my opportunity to put away the sticks with which I beat myself, and instead of practising tough love— just do the love. And what, I ask myself, would this mean in practice?

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Catkins on my BG tree. This Hazel tree was bought for me by Mandy on the day I did my first Bob Graham Round 18 years ago. I carry a sentimental story that while the tree lives I will still be able to run. 

 

Recently our climbing club, the all-female Pinnacle Club, met for its annual dinner weekend gathering. One friend who is recovering from a hip operation was a bit down on herself about being slower than most on the group walk. Another woman, herself undergoing treatment for a serious cancer, said to the first,

“Well, let’s just celebrate what we can do.”

I have reflected on this a lot since it was related to me by the woman with the hip trouble. What would it mean to adopt this attitude in daily life? Would I become a sloth, always satisfied with minimal effort? Would life become smaller and less rewarding, always just settling for less instead of constantly striving?

As an avid gardener, this time of year is one of anticipation. I’m planting seeds and imagining what spring and summer might bring. Now the winter flowers are dying back; the witch hazel, the snowdrops and the winter jasmine have faded. This week only the hellebores remain in full bloom with a few crocuses out, and daffodils still wrapped up in green buds.  ‘Not many flowers’, I think to myself. ‘Can’t wait till it all gets going properly’. Then I stop and remember—let’s just celebrate what we have. Suddenly the hellebores turn from being insufficient to being gloriously precious.

This evening I will put on my running kit and join my friend and start the process of easing myself back into training. There will be a temptation to push too hard too soon. All my life I have tried to subjugate my needs and feelings to the will of self-discipline, believing that pandering to sensations and emotions would make me weak. I have to be determined to stay strong. Where did I learn such an attitude! I would never treat someone else so brutally—why me? I am afraid that I will never do my best if I keep ‘letting myself off the hook’. Suddenly it is plainly obvious that I will never do my best if I keep hooking up to a judgement of myself as intrinsically lacking. One flower in the garden is an abundance. One mile run while tuning into how I am feeling instead of blocking it out. Taking in the enormous beauty contained within tiny blossoms is an expansion not a belittling of my world.

Old attitudes die hard and new ones need practice. Celebrate what we can do.

It means not having a list of ten things to do and being annoyed that I have only managed two of them. It doesn’t mean not being bothered. It means being bothered enough to look after myself. It means being bothered enough to be grateful. It means cultivating the ability to savour life instead of falling prey to a gluttonous greed for more.

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Engraving by William Blake, 1793.

 

Practice. I have a lot to practice. To coach myself with kindness, and celebrate what I can do. And we will we see. Will this turn me into a lazy, can’t be bothered person. Or will I just waste a lot less energy in wielding all those sharp sticks and beating myself?