Friday, 13 January 2017

The courage required

Do nothing for 15 minutes: nothing. Not listening, not reading, not thinking. Just sit. 

© Maggie Sawkins, 2016
All rights reserved
This is step one of The Joy Diet by Martha Beck. I loved her North Star book but this one gave me the gem of sitting and doing nothing; notice what you notice. Feel the feelings. Have the thoughts and look around and just be. 

How much does our culture suggest this? Not much. It's growing now, this awareness that mindful anything is better that automatic pilot. How many of us are still running on adrenaline, habit or expectation? 

Thank goodness, the crisis in the neglect of mental health services here in the UK, may help nudge our growing awareness: how do we neglect our own mental health? 

In my case, I took on the pressures until they squeezed the life out of me. I did so much from duty; I learnt to de-press. And to repress and restrain any instinct and desire towards self expression. I learnt to do the right thing, do what was expected, keep up with the programme. Yes, I did lovely stuff along the way - but the altered self was still mostly running the show. The paradox of doing too much.

Turning this ship around is a delicate, one-degree-at-a-time process, not a sudden overnight success. Even the notion of having preferences, discernment or goals for my life has been SO uncomfortable. Don't ask me what I want, I don't know! 

I know what I think I should want, or what makes me feel safe. Having big dreams and goals is distinctly uncomfortable. But somehow, the process is bringing me towards and into my true self. I am beginning to have a simpler life, a business that brings me more income doing things I love. I'm making a difference doing what I'm good at

The paradox is that any of this will not be changed by frantic or urgent activity. That is how I used to do it and look where that got me. Now I follow courage to do less, and sometimes, nothing. To know that today is all there is; that waiting is also an action. 

When I hear of a vibrant 30-something, dying suddenly of a brain haemorrhage at her desk, it wakes me up again. My job is to enjoy my life: TODAY. I do know that I feel better when I slow down. Or under-schedule. Or plan a lovely treat that is close to my heart.

I’m heading out to join the other freelance laptops in the cafe on the green, when "Hah! I haven't meditated today." (I’m a very imperfect meditator.) So I allow myself 5 minutes of meditation. Then another stretch; I can follow my own advice, and find the courage to just look at the trees for another wee while before starting work.

As they say, 'don't just do something, sit there!'. This moment is all we have - the birds just twittered to remind me. x

Wednesday, 6 July 2016

When I believe it...

Work in progress July 2016
© Maggie Sawkins All rights reserved

For reasons too many to describe, along the way and from a very young age, I picked up a belief that I was broken, abnormal and most likely, 'unstable'. Today whilst painting this, I had a moment, a lovely, fleeting 'hope is like the thing with feathers' type moment: a thought, 'maybe I could live a positive life'

What if it were also possible to be relationship material, a successful sole trader, to live without the decades-long-in-my-bones-belief, that I am strange or weird or wrong. What if I could spend the rest of my life however long it is, led by the fact it is my one and only life and really love it.

I revert daily to a sense that there is a debt or dues that need paying, before I am allowed to have 'my' life. I grew up with the sense that my time is not mine to spend how I choose (that might well of course be contributing to others) but there are things I 'should be doing'. Sometimes I slip into this agenda, feel 'off the hook' for a bit and ‘free’ until the next time.

I want to build on this possibility that I could be happy - Facebook tells me 'happy is the new rich' and spend my time wisely. Like the precious-never-to-be-repeated commodity that it is. Really? What if that were possible.  Of course it could be and it is a lot more that way than it used to be. With lots of obstacles and diversions along the way, of course. How well do we encourage our kids to do this? Or are they too, on a fast track of exam taking and deciding what they want to 'be'.

Jo Cox, inspiring in her life-affirming modelling of passion and belief, knew why she was here: we are in her debt. Her life has been witness, as John Sentanu said in the days following her murder. It is heartbreaking. And yet you Jo, have helped to give me some increased hope. Your life looked like it was well lived.

I am doing the work to sweep my side of the street: to clear the psychological blocks that are interfering with me having a wonderful life. I'm paying attention and doing more of the things that give me joy. Of course, I get sidetracked into trying to figure it out, following other peoples suggestions… and wondering yet again what I 'should be doing' next. I recently heard Deepak Chopra"Rather than, 'I’ll believe it when I see it', try, 'I'll see it when I believe it'..." And so I feel now, that the faith needs to come first. 

If I do what I believe in, and listen to my heart, I will write and paint and visualise the beautiful website I want. I will continue to do my thing. I will contribute my skills at encouraging others to live through fear and learn to speak in front of people, tell their story or develop the art of truly listening. I will keep encouraging people to be themselves, me included. I will take my time, appreciate each new day, smell the roses. This life is mine, and I'm beginning to believe it.

Wednesday, 11 November 2015


© Maggie Sawkins 2014 All rights reserved 

The thing I really love about living on the city's edge… is hearing the birds in the morning. They've made a home here too. We have ivy growing profusely, some overgrown shrubs and a few trees. I love the fact that they live here and are around to greet me every day, sometimes also with our own Mr Fox. It is a very precious thing. 

Even when three fully-grown trees were chopped after causing problems for the building. Even after the shrubs next door which were home to lots of little tweeters, were razed to the ground bringing a tears to my eyes when I discovered it, the birds remain. We (my neighbour and I), can't fill the bird feeders up quickly enough. They are resilient, ever present and life-affirming. 

Just stepping onto the balcony and sitting for a few minutes, can change my state of mind. I watch them, I listen and I'm so grateful for them. They remind me of my mum, who fed and watered the garden birds with love. They inspire and uplift and help me be ready for another, never-to-be-repeated day. 

The sound of the city in the background is always there, traffic rumbling before rush hour, and a siren of course periodically, but a morning in Hackney with the birds waking up, is precious indeed. x