Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Thank goodness...

© Maggie Sawkins 2014 All rights reserved
My art work on Etsy

In a lovely meeting of opportunity and effort, I’ve joined a new tribe. I applied for a third time to a course that I really wanted to do, and have been taken on. We will study, practise and stretch around the skills of entrepreneurship, along others in the creative tribe of 100 young businesses. And I feel at HOME. 

This is relevant because for so much of my life, I haven’t known where I truly am, as Ken Robinson puts it,‘in my element’. I’ve been cloudy in my awareness of what suits me or how and where can I best do my thing. No longer willing to plump for one of the many areas that I could work in, but yearning to occupy ground where I can really use myself, flourish and feel happy.

Some of us find our place in our teens on a degree course, by finding a job that works or moving from one that doesn’t. But some are quietly adrift in the world of work for years, not really finding a place that suits.  We show up (80% of success according to Woody Allen) and will be loyal, most hard-working of employees. Yet all the while, we don't know how to find our metier and natural contribution. As shape-shifters, we adapt as we go, doing our best - often doing really well - yet feeling dreadful and occasionally desperate, as we tread the rat race wheel.

I have very vivid memories of moments when I knew things were really, not good. It was not a living hell - more a slow death eating away at my life energy. Energy which had been squashed so often in order to comply, adapt and endure. 

What I needed then, when the ‘soul-destruction’ of the job I was in was dawning on me, was to stop. All I knew was how to keep going, try harder - too afraid to recognise just how much I was suffering. Eventually something stopped me. I'd submitted a paper on the risks of my current role to my new boss. Eventually when I found myself in tears for the umpteenth time, in my office, I called the employee assistance people and metaphorically held my hands up. I was done, I admitted defeat. 

I know this story (with different elements) is familiar to many. At that point, I was recently married in my 40s, sole earner with an ill husband no longer working. I'd picked up the shortfall and was existing on a cocktail of exhaustion, (steadily doing too much at home and at work), resentment (‘it shouldn't be this way 18 months after marriage…’) and bloody-mindedness: 'I have to keep going'. I started to white-knuckle it each day.

Thankfully, the endurance addiction did bottom out. I could no longer focus on a project, reading didn't make sense and all energy left me. I picked up The Joy of Burnout: read a paragraph at a time, and went to my first Workaholics Anonymous meeting. We are here to thrive not to survive, as Maya Angelou so neatly puts it. 

That was over ten years ago. Lots of interesting work has come along and I've had great opportunities. I’ve let go of bookings that repeated resulted in migraines. There were dealings with the DWP, that'll test anyone's sanity. There was a family health crisis which put us all under stress for months, with three near misses. There were gradual baby steps taken to turn the ship around, whist living on the barest minimum. It's a long story. I'm so grateful people encouraged and supported me. Picking up the paint brush helped and then I started to write... 

This is where you find me.

Through it all I've had lovely awakenings. I've finally been learning the lessons that it's never too late to learn. Life is about enjoying, living each moment. I'm now expert at having fun for free. I learnt to love the birds outside my window, relish my local park and feel each change in the seasons. As a dear friend said the other day, ‘it may not have been easy, but it will definitely be worth it'. I've found new tribes... I'm amongst people who get me. I feel at home most of the time actually. It's all worth it, nothing is wasted. 

Monday, 11 August 2014

Conversation with God (whoever you think it may be)

You may have read, what I imagine must be a great book by Neale Donald Walsch, with a title something like this. Not having read it myself, this is however what came to me this morning when I woke up feeling low. 

At one of the many times when I was needing solace after the end of my marriage; one goes on needing it over the years, as many out there will know; I went to stay with a group of nuns in Bedfordshire. Not being of a religious bent, I went for the spirit of the place, the quiet, the garden, the simple services with plainsong and the kindness. 

One of the sisters offered to be around should I want to talk or have some spiritual guidance. And that was so wonderful. To be offered the presence of a person just to be there for me. Not for payment, not for obligation, not even because they already know and love me, but just to be there and hear whatever I’d need to share and offer some thoughts. It brings tears to my eyes just telling you about it. Being heard is a true gift.
© Maggie Sawkins 2014 All rights reserved
My art work on Etsy

Thankfully this one morning it came back to me. The exercise Sister Esther I think, had suggested. To write my problems down and then answer them with my non-dominant hand as though God is speaking through it. Perhaps the closest we can get to hearing the voice of something other… in my book at least. 

'So what I need to do today...', I thought, 'is write to God and see what he says'. Here is how it went:

Me: God, I woke up dejected, I’m thinking about A and how she has made a success of HER artistic talent - could I have done that…? And she’s created a beautiful home, has a lovely man gorgeous kid…  could I have done differently if I’d done what she did…? Then God, there is all this mental clutter that comes in: ‘its all too late’, ‘I’m never going to work out how to get my art off the ground’, and ‘is that the thing I need to do anyway?’ And ‘how come I can’t kept the flat tidier?’ and ‘what about all the plans I keep forgetting that I made on paper for my business?’ and ‘I’ve forgotten about doing everything'  and then ‘I had yet another migraine at the weekend, post-training what a mess I am ’, and ‘should I go to this event on crowd-funding or am I kidding myself… ?’ God, why am I so self-critical? 'I should stop being so self critical', 'I should have stopped that by now, having worked on all my unhelpful character traits in such detail…' then 'was it all a waste of time, why hasn’t it worked?' And finally ‘Oh, maybe I need to talk to God…’ 

God: For goodness sake, shut the F up and get on with something you enjoy… you have a lovely flexible life and there is no big boss making it hell - except YOU! 

Me: Gosh, I didn’t expect you to be quite so blunt. I thought you were all loving and kind… no need to be RUDE! I feel a bit sorry for myself now… Even God is being nasty to me. 

God: Oh well, take what you like and leave the rest. I’m off to sort out Syria, Gaza, Nigerian emailers pretending to be the UN. That and mulling on how to get democracy to work everywhere… and finding a way to help those deluded militant boys who think killing will create a wonderful world… If only they could regain the ability they were born with to see this truth: that peace is the answer. That and anything we can do to help everyone accept themselves and find a way to accept others. And you can help with that… 

Me: Yes, I can help others and I need the help too. I teach what I most need to learn, no doubt about it. Try softer. Take risks. Be who you are. Start with the end in mind I do know that I have something to offer. No use fighting when life can be wonderful. I can appreciate all I have in this moment. Thanks for the help God. Take it easy. Speak again soon, have a good day. 

God: You too all you need is love. Go well. 

Me: How did the Beatles know that so young? Well here I go… Good Morning God x

Monday, 7 July 2014

Do your thing

For nearly thirty years, I’ve had this quote to memory: ‘Whatever you can do, or think you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it. Begin it now.’ Thanks to Goethe for that one (and to JB who alerted me to it). It’s pertinent on so many levels. 

For most of my life, despite any and all appearances to the contrary, I’ve not been conscious or clear what ‘my thing’ is. I’ve been running around in a fog (never a great idea, you get all sorts of knocks), trying to fathom what I’m ‘supposed to be doing with my life’. I have been seeking answers. Where does that ‘supposed’ come from…? It's a horrid word - lives on the same shelf as 'should' and can be very confusing. It prevents my cells connecting to the essence of being alive. 

© Maggie Sawkins 2014 All rights reserved
My art work on Etsy
Early on in my journey, I truly felt I was ‘damaged goods’ and therefore needed a great deal of mending. No fun. On one of the workshops I undertook in my search, we were invited to ‘go and be with a tree’. This was not any hippie, new-age session but instead a lesson on registering what it means to be here… what purpose do we have as souls on this earth at this point?

I recall that it was a challenge to do this… to sit and ‘be’ with a tree. I knew of tree-hugging and to this day I touch them as I go past, especially the saplings, encouraging them on their way. I got from taking part in that exercise, this truth: that the tree (to the best of our knowledge) doesn’t spend its day worrying about the what, how, when and more importantly why, it is growing and changing. 

It just exists, following its nature to be it's particular species of tree and undergo the cycles of the seasons; not to question 'am I doing it properly, maybe I should be a rosebush or a pigeon…' It simply embodies its essence: juices, cells and the potential to become tall or have blossom, conkers or berries as its DNA dictates. And as far as I’m aware, it doesn’t ever ‘try’ to do any of it at any other speed than the organism that it is, allows. It is pre-programmed with this unfolding, flowering, developing  roots and branches all in good time. And it bends and sometimes breaks with the weather, the seasons and with any kid that jumps on its branches before they are strong enough to bear that kind of thing. 

So in sitting with myself and being, I begin to find a more mindful way of living, moment at a time. I develop discernment about what makes my heart sing, where I am in my element (Thanks Ken Robinson). This activity (of lack of), helps me to desist from questioning. I resign repeatedly from 'Figuring-it-out-Anonymous'. In the simplicity I look to do what I can do, to be who I truly am. That seems to me the boldest, most powerful thing I can begin to do. The genius of being who you are x

Friday, 25 April 2014

Speak Up

They say that, ‘we teach what we need to learn’. As a recovering shy person, shyness being one of many traits that have no doubt blocked me from achieving, it was no accident that I ended up in a speaking club one night with a good friend. 

I got the idea from Meryl Runion, ‘Speak Strong’whose book, 'Power Phrases', I discovered on a training at work. I was inspired and decided to visit my local Toastmasters group. Long story short, I worked on my own 'public' speaking and have gone on to train thousands of adults and teenagers, passing on simple tools and ideas. Tools that can help all of us overcome the psychological and practical challenges of being ourselves in front of others. Whether it is speaking up in meetings or standing up at a family wedding, we all have important stuff we can say, if we are willing. 

© Maggie Sawkins 2014 All Rights Reserved
My work on Etsy
It is a thing of beauty to see a person who is painfully conscious that every time they walk up to speak they are very hot, flushed and mind fretting. Then to witness by the end of a simple but nonetheless effortful, day - they are capable of standing and speaking without notes, on a subject close to their heart.  All because a few things have been put in place, with some encouragement from me, that now make it manageable.
I’ve done it myself: I’ve opened events and spoken in front of large groups. I’ve trained and spoken to delegates on hundreds of courses. I've been a teacher of teenagers in Tottenham and trained my fellow trainers. Yet when the moment comes when I need to put myself on the line - not as a trainer or professional of any kind - but just as myself, that moment is the hardest test of all. For all of us. The one where the ego comes in and sets us up by bragging a bit about what we do. Or the opposite: the shame-based voice that shuts us up and acts as the brake that will stop us from speaking and saying what actually might be (as I know) a very valuable thing to air. 

Case in point: I was an audience member for Radio 4’s Four Thought last week. I heard thought-provoking and heartfelt speeches. First from Benet Brandreth, on a revolutionary proposal for a ‘third house’ of 600 citizens, chosen by lottery to make decisions for the country. Then Phillipa Perry, on how our stories can define us, acting as lenses through which we interpret the world. 

But it was the third speaker that got me in the gut. Rebecca Mott spoke of her experience and subsequent exit from the violence, unnamed torture and slavery of being prostituted at 14. I felt the stillness and quiet horror in the room as she surely broke new ground, speaking about this stuff on Radio 4. And alongside the subsequent fourteen years of living hell, R4 had been her comfort and consistent support. It had reassured her. 

Then after her talk, the questions. The first was a simplistic one about equality and offered no acknowledgment to Rebecca. I knew what we had witnessed had taken courage and integrity and felt to me, radical. 

Too late, I tentatively put up half a hand but the session was wrapped up. So I didn’t speak. Too late to say it in the room, I did go and talk to her in person. And I realise I’d allowed my own fear of ‘what will they think?’ or ‘I’m not as bright as all these intellectuals…’ and ‘but he’s really well known…’, to block me. I stayed silent when I was inching towards saying something valuable. I judged at the time, that maybe it was ‘better to stay quiet’. That my thing was not vital. As the intensity of the experience stayed with me, when I got home, I made a voice recording what I had wanted to say at the time. 

Here is the transcript: "…I felt like was in a room where you (Rebecca) are breaking new ground talking about this in public, on Radio 4, and in fact it was spellbinding to listen to you and we were all very still I noticed at one point.

And - what I wanted to say was that no doubt there are people listening to this - perhaps in the room and definitely at home, who have experience that relates to what you are saying and maybe they haven’t been violent, maybe they haven’t been creating torture for someone, but they have and they do, continue to maintain this belief in this arty-fairytale or whatever it is that things (prostitution) are dressed up with… 

I know there is this argument about choice… but I don’t see any or hear any teenagers, having worked with a lot of them, wanting to go into prostitution as a career… and I don’t think its something people go in their mid-life-crisis career changes either… ‘I think I’ve missed my calling, I’m going to be a prostitute after all and exploit myself that way’…  

I can’t even begin to imagine what would take somebody to do it… so  almost feels like a spurious point really… I want to say sorry, that I haven’t spoken up sooner… and didn’t get heard in the room because the first question you had about 'don’t things need to be fairer' (for women and men) and you answered with ‘we don’t wait’ (for black and white to be equal before we abolish slavery) and of course we don’t wait. I wish that I had spoken up just to acknowledge you and thank you for your courage - in saying something so cogently about what is actually, for me, a frightening truth that is mostly hidden and you brought it out of the shadows…  and I hope that people will stop and think… and that we can make some of the changes that you are proposing. Thank you.”

So learning from my own challenges and willingness to be seen and heard: better late than never at all. Never too late to take risks. 'Do something that scares you every day', said Eleanor Roosevelt. I’ve now sent it to the producer of Four Thought: better to speak up and speak out in whatever form, than to stay hidden. 

I know that so many of us have wonderful messages which the world needs. ‘It’s never too late to be what you might have been’, George Eliot. We need to hear all voices. Thanks to all those that speak up. Thanks Rebecca.

Friday, 21 February 2014

Simply does it

As a beginning blogger (though I’ve been writing for over a year & stashing it on my computer), I’m visiting other blogs that speak to me. The theme that seems to link them all is simplicity. If there is anything I truly need with my complicating head, it is simplicity. I need simple ideas and I love those put forward by Joshua Becker at Becoming Minimalist for starters.

If only I could do fewer projects, refrain from leaving things out, (creating  clutter), banish stuffed files from the filing cabinet – it would ease the pressure. My natural default is complication. Yet when working with others, whether it’s as a mediator of conflict: ‘what’s the one thing that you would like from your aggravating colleague?’ or in teaching public speaking ‘keep your key message as one clear idea’, I know about simplicity. When however, it comes to managing myself, I get a bit A.D.D. as Alanis Morrisette says in her song. 

© Maggie Sawkins 2014 All Rights Reserved
My work on Etsy

So on this one day, I started off to write a bit, got waylaid by ‘I'll just check interesting Facebook posts’, looked at email, set an alarm to buy some newly released theatre tickets then took a couple of calls. One was from a client so I needed to focus on that & building the relationship. Then off I diverted into looking for paid opportunities and applying for possible outlets for both my art work or some employed work in the Arts… which involved uploading photos etc…so in the end the blogging focus goes and it's couple of hours later. You know the score Bless me, my butterfly brain skips about. Yet what it truly needs at every moment are fewer distractions. 

Today after a similarly scattered hour at the beginning of my work day, I’ve started putting pen to paper (so to speak) and writing this post. Meanwhile, I'm happily looking out the window at the spring sun on a half-term Friday - observing the people with their kids enjoying the swings and skatepark. It's lovely.

At home, I’m following the energy I now have to chuck stuff out. Do less, be more. I love hearing from The Minimalists (they're coming to London in October) and Be More With Less. I read other posts that remind me to stop and connect. 

I aim to do stuff for 30mins at a time, intervening with a twinkling timer on my phone. I now register that I do achieve (there is great evidence to this end) and I do things more than well-enough. I'm less frustrated on a regular basis by the belief that the multiplicity of activities is scattered and confused. But variety is great for me. Paradoxically I have the erroneous belief, whatever I do, it’s never enough’ The mating call of the active and perfectionist workaholic… 

Ah well. Do less, be more, relax and enjoy life. Do more of what makes your heart sing. Keep on keeping it simple. Today I will dash off the work requirements and take the afternoon off. More time with trees or the movies beckon. Maybe everything is alright. x

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Have Faith

As I walked along with the birds tweeting away in the trees this morning, I realised that my faith is building. 

Believe it or not, I've lived a life without it. I didn’t know about hope -  or trust - that things could work out. Though they often have, I have always felt a sense of negativity. That my destiny is 'failure'. It’s been sometimes a background quiet knowing, at others a full blown ‘there’s no point to my life’ depression. 

© Maggie Sawkins All rights reserved
My art work on Etsy
I'm counselled, workshopped and therap-ed enough to know that my existence (life) has been based on and driven by shame. I won't go into the why's and wherefore's here, but it's helpful enough to know this.  Shame was picked up as a frightened child and then compounded throughout college choices, work and grew into the shame of the invisible person who doesn't know who she is. 

Driven to spend all my time trying to be someone or do the things (the only things) I thought I should do. Living to some internalised expectations. Should Have Already Mastered Everything. 

Along this process of recovery (coming back to myself or discovering afresh,) I've been finding out who I am. Along the way I’ve had a couple of years of living hand-to-mouth and finding that in fact, it did all work out if I only focussed on the day I’m in. What else can we do? I found that my 'poverty' (by western standards - luxurious living by many others) did not define me. 

I've became less attached to things and to needing new stuff. 
I have gradually felt the shame lifting. Paradoxically it seemed, as I wasn't doing a lot of things that money can bring. I found free things to do and focussed on people and things I enjoy. I've not gone into hibernation by a long stretch. As I mended my jeans once again last night, I felt abundantly creative & it was so satisfying. I felt the love of life as it is. They are a great make and I don’t want to throw them. 

This burden of ‘nothing I do will ever make any difference’ is lifting off me. I can sense that things are gradually more in line with who I am and the ways I wish to spend my time. After all, it's all we have.

So now I have this simpler life and no longer feel I must be on the racetrack in order to qualify. Thank you God-of-no-particular-denomination. Thank you Bill W. and fellows. Thank you Joshua Becker and all the minimalism bloggers out there. Thank you Clissold Park for all your simple beauty. 

The days have become more mine and the fear is gradually lifting. I'm sure it will pop back for a visit at some time soon but just for today, I trust.

When things crash and burn and we take it personally, it is so hard to come back. I think I have had a series of crashes and getting back on my feet. And I'm writing these words. No longer telling people 'I want to write about my art work' but not doing so. And here I am showing my work to you. The way to do a life that suits us is in our gift. HAVE FAITH x