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Let the tall poppies inspire your growth

Let the tall poppies inspire your growth

 The Poppy is a beautiful, wild and delicate flower that has great strength and independence. It is known for growing tall, reaching for the sky above the plants that surround it, so that it basks in the sunlight and attracts honey bees for pollination.

But there is a phenomenon that is a metaphor for their outstanding growth that is less attractive in human beings. Tall Poppy Syndrome has a varied history dating back to the Romans, but it is often referred to now as representing "the Politics of Envy".

The desire for normative society is still very strong in humans - and so is our capacity for envy. So when someone stands out, for their achievements, for their beauty, for their success, those who have yet to reach that level of growth, or do not possess the same characteristics, want to cut them down. Rather than seeing the other's achievement as inspiration for their own growth, or as an example of what might be possible, they feel a sense of inadequacy and feel bad about what they don't have. It's easier to bring the exceptional person down than to make the effort to match their success. The view is not "how can I do that too" it is "why should you have - or be - that, when I can't". Their attitude is fuelled by envy.

In some cultures, the dissatisfaction that the Tall Poppies create, is viewed as a negative issue socially and politically - they are a threat to control and so Tall Poppy Syndrome is actively encouraged; cut the poppies down rather than seek to achieve the same. But the development we need as humanity is not served by this attitude - it's a simple truth that we cannot grow by pulling things down (and I'm not talking about a bit of pruning here ;-)). Supporting the growth in those Tall Poppies and then encouraging them to promote growth amongst others is the way to evolve.

Three tall poppies side by sideThe Poppy, when it grows, is not concerned with superiority or comparison. It is not concerned with the other plants in its surrounds, it is simply growing to its potential, reaching its full height. Amongst humans, this is largely true too. Yes, there are exceptions, but for the most part high achieving people are not doing it to look down on others, but to look up at the sky. To reach for the stars. To be the best they can be.

So if you are a Tall Poppy - congratulations!! Stay tall and strong and glory in your sunlight - but also remember nature's metaphor extends to pollination - be a guide and sew the seeds that are required to help others to grow tall too.

Love is in the Air…

Love is in the Air…

… Literally.

Love is indefinable. Not in the sense that it is necessarily difficult to understand what love means to us individually, but in the sense that it is unique to everyone – and that it is boundless. How we feel love, how we give love and how we understand it ,can have a myriad of variations. If we are open to it, there is also a dimension to love that is infinite. It might be described as connection; although in a sense that word is too limited by its implication of stretching across the seabeing a linear link; this connection has no limitations in its form, it is not confined by parallel lines. It is in the light, it spreads everywhere, it is throughout the universe. And therefore it is beyond life. This is love as a soul connection.

Whether you are skin to skin or separated by oceans, the connection is there. Always. It travels through space and time, it is eternal, it is in the air.

Whatever happens in this life, or in the next, or out there in the light, soul connections never break. They are forever.

A&E, Love always…

Sant Jordi’s Day: A Celebration of Love and Life

Sant Jordi’s Day: A Celebration of Love and Life

Yesterday was Sant Jordi’s Day here in Catalunya in Spain – it’s the equivalent of our Saint Valentine’s Day in the UK, but this is an altogether different kind of celebration, one which I wish we could echo. I was lucky enough to experience my first with Anna, my partner in life and love, in the coastal town of Vilanova I La Geltru

There are many differences that make this day such a special experience, one which is far freer of the commercialism and cynicism that seems now far more obvious to me about St Valentines.

For one, here, as in so many of their traditions, it is much more of a community event. Many towns here have a Rambla (and Vilanova has one of the longest in Spain) where it is customary to wonder the street, meet friends and family, have a coffee and enjoy the sunshine and the atmosphere. It’s a fabulous vibe on most days, but on Sant Jordi’s its’ even more special. The street is lined with stalls selling roses – and books. Here, the tradition is to buy not just a rose, but also a book for your loved ones You wonder down the avenue together in the company of thousands, all celebrating each other, love and life.

The original tradition springs from the legend of Sant Jordi  – and the story is similar to our own legend of Saint George, the dragon slayer. But in the case of Sant Jordi, after he has saved his Princess and slayed the dragon, a rose grows from the blood of the dragon’s heart. So on the anniversary of this day it has been the custom for a man to buy a rose for their Princess and for their Princess in return to buy a book for them.

But it has now become more of a celebration of love for everyone, not just romantic love, but of love generally. You see everyone carrying roses, men, women, children – and pets!! This is as much about expressing familial love or friendship as the love you feel for your partner. In the UK, Valentines Day has become way too much of a pressure, particularly in heterosexual relationships, to spend a fortune making grand gestures to prove the power of your love. Here, it is far more about the thought. The tradition is to buy just one rose, but to choose it carefully for its meaning. It will probably cost you no more than 3 euros.

For the flower, your choice might be about the meaning of colour, red, white, yellow, even blue!! Or you might make your selection based on the charity or foundation that the sellers are supporting; humanitarian, animals, politics, religion, education and many other causes that you and your loved ones might like to support.

And then there is the book. I absolutely love this as a way of sharing not just your love for each other, but your life. Every book, whether a fictional story or a non fiction work, offers something valuable. Whether it be a lesson, history, information or simply entertainment. Wondering by the book stalls and seeing people thinking about the books they will buy is a joyful experience.

For the whole day wondering through the city, you see everyone with roses, no age, gender, persuasion, race, relationship status or even species excepted. It is a day of celebration of love and life, it is a day in which you see and feel so much expression of it that it is literally true to say that love is in the air. And the simplicity of it is extraordinary. To enjoy it; to feel it; all you have to do is walk down the street and just breathe.

Hello Sunshine…

Hello Sunshine…

Sunset in Siruana

While you are here

And after you are gone

When your journey into light

Means your time on Earth is done

The sun rises in the East

With spectacular display

To give the glory of your life

A reminder that this day

Is one you can enjoy

The world of wonder that surrounds

Your every waking moment

Colour in touch, sight and sound

Nature’s gifts are your life lessons

They’re instilled in tiny things

They’re a beautiful reminder

Of the joy that living brings

If it’s only for a moment

If your chance is only brief

Take the time to feel its pleasure

And be safe in the belief

That the sun that woke to greet you

At the beginning of the day

Will set with equal glory

In the West, when it will say

That the night is soon upon you

Did you take the time to play?

If not, then face the dark

With the comfort of a truth

That I will rise again to greet you

With another chance to choose

And on those days when you can’t see me

I am there staying strong

Some clouds might block my rays

But they will pass before too long

Like life, the sun is constant

But its brightness has to face

The challenge of the weather

That puts darkness in its place

When you look up to the sky

And you see a bank of clouds

The sun is still behind them

Perhaps its rays are peeping out

Determined, strong and willing

It’s intent on breaking through

Because though fleeting be that moment

It’s a chance to shine on you

Whatever life throws at you

Be like the sun

Make the most of the moments

Whenever they may come

To cast the light inside you

Bask in golden rays

Enjoy your precious time

Seconds, hours, days

And remember, there’s a limit

You are here as a guest

To see the sunrise in the East

And its setting in the West

Grief is a journey into Life

Grief is a journey into Life

The last week has been a challenging one, another of those weeks in which my experiences of people and what I haveRumi - Grief and Compassion
seen published has made me grow in understanding in a meaningful way. I watched a couple of videos today that were really poignant for me. One was by Rio Ferdinand, the British footballer who has been making a TV documentary about his wife’s death. Although what I saw was brief, it echoed in some respects my own loss experience, his wife having been in hospital for three months between diagnosis of her cancer and her passing.

Rio’s wife Rebecca passed a little under 2 years ago – and I remember the place he is in now, where he is on that never ending journey through grief, the things he has felt and experienced, how far he has yet to go.

The second video was of me, in an interview with the brilliant and so supportive Alice Frick, who is helping me with a new initiative I am launching to help people experience more happiness in their lives in even the darkest of circumstances. That video in itself was painful – because it raised so many memories and churned up so many of the feelings that are so very difficult to deal with in getting your life back. Guilt, for wanting to be happy again, anxiety about whether it appears disrespectful, sadness at the acknowledgement that Maria is no longer here… so many feelings.

But it also made me think, with huge gratitude, about the lessons I have learned during this journey.

I have had to learn a lot about myself and my weaknesses, my damage, my issues. The things about me that have made me behave the way I behave - and the way I approach my relationships and life itself. Grief is an intensely personal experience, but for many, two of the major things that can happen when you experience this kind of devastating loss are:

  1. Your defences are shattered and you become totally exposed, pure involuntary vulnerability.

That openness, that raw vulnerability, means you have the opportunity to face into everything that has made you into the person you are today. And to address and strip away all of things that you no longer believe or need, it offers you the chance to go back to what is your true nature and to be who you truly are without the fears and barriers that are created by the influence of others and the insecurity of caring about what others think

  1. You get to understand more about life

My specific experience of Maria’s passing was devastating, but death gave me the chance to understand more about life. That might sound cruel, because it was Maria who lost her life – and why should I gain from that experience? Well you can believe me when I say that I have beaten myself up about that one for years. But ultimately life is a precious gift that we need to appreciate and make the most of. And the point of life is to enjoy it – to be happy. Maria knew that more than most.

Those two opportunities are astoundingly powerful; should you choose to take them. They also require a huge amount of bravery to embrace. Because in rebuilding yourself you must explore, admit to and own your weaknesses, your mistakes and the behaviours you do not like. You must confront and go through the dark emotions… depression, sadness, guilt, anger, shame… and you have to acknowledge and accept them.

It is a painful part of life’s journey.

But the ultimate reward is a kind of freedom that most never get to experience. An understanding of life, purpose and what’s important that allows you to make more of your time on Earth. More than most even start to comprehend. It gives you greater compassion and understanding, yet also gives you the strength to set the boundaries that can stop you being abused and exploited by the agendas of others. Above all, it lets you know that it is not only ok, but essential to be happy, without guilt or shame for being so. Because in this World, where what we see seems to be so dominated by hatred, anger, fear and ignorance, taking personal responsibility and – yes – delight in your own happiness, is the most powerful way you have, not only to take full advantage of this precious gift called life, but also to have a positive impact on the collective happiness of the World.

More people than not, will read this and regard it as selfish, naïve, unrealistic and all other manner of negative things. They are the ones who have not seen or embraced death or life. The majority of people pass through life with no understanding of its purpose, they are like computer processors, passing each day with no appreciation of the gift they have been given and the endless potential it has to bring them happiness. If only they could see it. This is not to say I do not understand the hardships of life – again, you can believe me when I say I have experienced many. More than some, less than others. But the point is, there is always something to be grateful for, to enjoy. The simple pleasures of life are the most profound. I have been to the edge and back. To the few who understand and appreciate this message, congratulations – I know, like Maria and me, despite the challenges that may confront you, the choice will ultimately be, to make sure for at least part of every day, you are dancing in the light.

Think Less, Feel More

Think Less, Feel More

The Medina, Marrakech, Morocco

“Relationships are laboratories of the spirit” – Marianne Williamson

Visiting Marrakech recently was an extraordinary sensory experience, for many reasons. It is a hypnotic place. Every one of your senses is consumed by the surroundings, the smells, sounds, sights, tastes, sensations of touch… but there is also a profound feeling that seeps into your soul that extends beyond the perceptual reality of human sensory limitation.

That feeling of being there - and the feelings that have permeated since, have been almost impossible to define. But perhaps that is the point. There are some feelings that are beyond definition. Or perhaps more accurately put, those feelings are not meant to be defined, they are meant just to be felt.

Medina Pharmacy, Marrakech, MoroccoJust as the natural pharmacies of the Medina offer a myriad of ingredients almost too bewildering to choose from and for which the possible combinations are beyond our ability to calculate, so the feelings that we experience from some moments in our life are a complex, intricate and delicately balanced mix of emotions that stretch beyond our capacity for understanding. It is that which makes them so intoxicating.

These feelings are a product of nature’s force, a recipe that is created by our spirit and kept secret from the analytical filter of our minds so that it can flow with purity to our hearts. Right now, it is an important lesson the world seems to struggle to learn. That we should think less, feel more and trust that nature offers us those experiences because it’s what we individually need – what humanity needs - more than anything.

It is not without irony that in a sweet moment of childhood memory, it was the words of Winnie The Pooh, written by A A Milne, that expressed this for me today with such profound simplicity:

Piglet: “How do you spell love?”  

Winnie the Pooh: “You don’t spell it, you feel it.”

The field of all possibilities

The field of all possibilities

Field of all possibilities

One of the biggest realisations for me in recent years, is how I have limited the possibilities that I have in my life – and that it’s a common trait that affects many people.

The World is literally our oyster, but many of us cannot see it. We have blinkers on. And ironically, it’s the world around us that provides the blinkers. Society, education, peers, our experiences, family even.

Imagine you are standing at the edge of a field. Perhaps the wheat field in the video below. You cannot see the other side, but your goal is to get there. What is the best route? The answer is that you do not know. But you might think the best route is to walk in as straight a direction as you can. After all, it’s just a wheat field right? You might as well just head right across.

But actually you can’t see what might be in that wheat field. There are so many possibilities, both obstacles and delights.

Direction signpostsThe analogy with life is that we so often get caught up in where we are heading, believing that the specific destination we have decided on is the best place for us to head for, that we lose sight of the value of the journey – and most importantly, the other opportunities that might open up for us along the way.

That’s how I used to be. I was so focused on the future – so intent on reaching a particular place or goal - that I forgot to enjoy the journey.  And so confined by the path and determined to stay on course that I did not necessarily see the wonderful things that were there around me. The other options I could explore.

One of my very recent learnings has been about how, in the context of this journey, making choices in the present moment and doing so wisely and with presence, has a huge impact on the direction of our lives. The decisions we make right now will affect our future with enormous significance and yet, we often make our choices for so many of the wrong reasons or in a careless way. We often do so flippantly, or based on the advice of others rather than what we intrinsically feel to be right, or with the benefit of others in mind instead of ourselves. We allow our minds to over think based on our conditioning and override the basic instincts that would often serve us better.

And we so often make a choice either consciously or subconsciously, that keeps us in a position that is safe for us, even if it causes us pain. It is a familiar place and change is far more daunting to deal with than the pain of staying the course that we are on. We fear the winds of change, as if they might blow us off course or even knock us off our feet, but actually that flowing movement might just be shifting us a new direction which ultimately we will find to be a breeze, a blast, a breath of fresh air. We also tend to perceive “changing our minds” as a negative thing, as if we may have made the wrong decision in the first place. But this is a misconception too, we just made the choice that we were best able to do at the time. Changing is not a weakness, it is a strength.

We each have the right to make choices about our direction – and if we see each choice as a unique opportunity to take a step forward in life (regardless of which direction it is in), if we make each choice open to all the circumstances that surround us and listening to our own voice, if we do so courageously and openly knowing that we can deal with the consequences, good or bad, because we can make the next choice more wisely, then we will always be open to the field of all possibilities. Which makes our opportunities endless and always positive regardless of what we have to deal with along the way.

A step backward is the way forward

A step backward is the way forward

“The Obstacle is the Path” – Zen Proverb

There are many times in life when we are confronted with a difficult process of dealing with a situation that takes time and during which we may experience a great deal of pain. Emotional pain.

Reading recently about the art of meditation and how it relates to physical exercise, I started to contemplate how we separate emotional and physical pain and treat them in different ways – and realised that if we start to look at similarities between them there may be ways in which we can shift our attitude and deal with emotional pain from a different perspective.

I’ve talked before about metaphors and how they can negatively impact our perceptions – and how reframing them can have a significant effect on our ability to deal with difficult or challenging situations. Earlier this week I experienced a deep sense of being “lost”. It was a feeling I know very well from the stages of grief – it isn’t just a simple feeling of losing touch with where you are, it is a sudden and desperate disconnection with who you are and life itself. Like being adrift in a huge ocean with no sense of where they might be any land and therefore with complete disorientation. I felt bereft. And in the moment I was in it, there temporarily felt like no way out.

I felt like I had taken a huge step backwards.

Of course as in all states it was temporary. Everything is temporary and holding on to that simple understanding now helps me get through it – I use another metaphor as a mantra. Clouds pass. Holding on to that single thought gets me to a point where I can deal with the feelings that have caused me to land in that space.

And then I started to think about the term taking a huge step backwards and relating it to exercise. If I am walking over tough terrain and meet an obstacle, I may need to move backwards to find an alternative path. In that scenario, would I literally take a step backwards? Well unless there were circumstances that absolutely prevented it, the answer would be no. Because if I did that, I would not be able to see where I was going. I would be placing my feet behind me without being sure of where I was placing them. The likelihood is, I would turn around and face the direction I now need to head in. And in that case I wouldn’t be taking a step backwards, I would actually be heading forwards to the new place I needed to be in order to change direction and make progress in a different way.

So often, we are not taking a step backwards at all, we are actually just being made aware of an obstacle that awakens us to the fact that we need to move in a different direction. And that is progress. So the next time you feel that you have taken a step backwards, perhaps a way to perceive the situation differently, would be to mentally visualise yourself turning round to face the step that you need to take. In that way you can see it from a new perspective - and not only can you see it as taking a step forward to finding your new way along the path, by facing into it, you will deal with it more sure-footedly and with greater conviction and clarity.

Losing our senses: the devolution of touch

Losing our senses: the devolution of touch

Anna Garcia Cuartero - exquisite touch

Our five senses are obviously the miraculous ways in which we experience the wonder of our world. They offer us the awe inspiring ability to create a sensual understanding of what is happening around us and to us – they feed our mind, body, heart and spirit.

My own awareness of the world around me has been heightened in the last few years and I totally delight in enjoying its wonders with every ounce of the senses I can apply to my experiences. But developing a better appreciation has led me to believe that we might be in danger of losing one of our senses – touch. And I mean that seriously. The expansion of non physical communication really does have the potential to affect our human evolution.

And I think we’re losing it not just in its physical form but in its definition as the ability to touch in a wider sense, as an emotional connection.

With online and mobile communication ever dominating our lives, the need for the physical presence of other people is rapidly diminishing. We don’t need meetings when we have google hangouts and skype. Social lives can be largely fulfilled with texting, Whatsapp and social media. And who needs a date when you can exchange words, pictures and videos online? It’s extraordinary how many relationships start and end now with a fast and furious exchange of sexts. I find it a huge irony that is is the expansion of touch based technology that is largely leading to the erosion of our human experience of physical connection.

Camille - the exquisite art of touch
Camille - the exquisite art of touch

And of course there’s the knock on effect in the context of touching each other emotionally. Relationships are becoming more a function of practical necessity, more about exchange of information and the sharing of resources than of emotion, more disposable, more easily swapped in for the next option because people perceive they might find a better, newer model on the market. Like the latest phone or the latest car. Why bother to take the time to attach to what you have when you might want the next upgrade? Even procreation is becoming less reliant on physical interaction.

Touch is the most critical of the five senses in connecting us, in establishing our collective humanity. The closest to our spirit. And perhaps it’s the diminishing of that physical and emotional connection that’s one of the factors in the growing violence and tragedy we are seeing. If we do not touch each other, we do not feel for each other. We are removed emotionally, we lack compassion for others because they do not touch us, nor we them.

Touch is an essential part of existence. It’s also a huge pleasure in life. In a physical sense the experience of texture, the flow of feeling that is generated from contact, is joyful, sensuous, it feeds our souls. Form the perspective of connection, it is vital. It is a fundamental expression of love.

If we’re going to evolve, we had better start to understand that we need to touch, be touched, be in touch with each other. To connect. At the risk of being over cheesy in what I think is a serious issue, maybe we could all be a bit more Diana Ross and reach out and touch every day, it really could make the world a better place.

For interesting reading on the nature of relationships and love, take a look at Liquid Love by Zigmunt Bauman, frightening and enlightening at the same time.