One of the questions that has been dominant in my mind for a few years has been: “What am I really good at?” Yeah, sure, there are plenty of things I’m good at, but what I really mean is: “What do I excel at?” I’m a classic ‘Jill of All Trades’, and have lots of skills at my disposal, but do I actually have any God-given gifts?
The thing about having various skills is that it doesn’t allow one to master a particular skill when we’re being all “butterfly” about it, skipping here and there to enjoy the next passion. I even toyed (ever so briefly!) with the idea of going to university so I could become an expert in a particular area.
And then something happened: something that changed my perception. It was mid December last year, and as much as I’m not a fan of the British Winter, I do look forward to Christmas. I genuinely love it (my family’s version, not the commercialised one) and was savouring the sweet and gentle crescendo of having my younger daughter come home from uni, and then the three of us travelling to our other daughter and her partner, and scrumptiously gorgeous granddaughter, for some more family time.
I had an overwhelming ‘push’ to go and visit my dear friend. She’d been struggling for a long time with life, love and loss, and was the Queen of “Putting up the Drawbridge” (her words). I tried ignoring the voice telling me to visit her, thinking that if she wanted to be in touch she’d reply to one of my emails or visit or pick up the phone. We’d been friends for 18 years, and she knew that our door was always open to her, day or night, no matter what.
I followed my intuition (rather than ego), and turned up at her door unannounced. It took her a long time to answer. When she finally did, I didn’t recognise her. I cried. Had we passed on the street, I wouldn’t have known it was her. That she was standing in her doorway, was my only clue that it was with her. She was skin and bone, and her skin was shrivelled to that of someone twice her age. Hunched, with more than 50% of her vision gone, I knew there was a LOT of work to do to try and repair her health.
She was ashamed that she’d gotten to that state, and didn’t want to let me in the door. Well, I was hardly going to leave! Damn that bloody drawbridge! Her house reflected her inner and physical state. For someone who dearly loved their home, it was quite shocking to witness.
I spent a few hours with her, and promised I’d return. I then spent a whole day with her: cleaning her house, washing her hair, giving her a little foot massage, and just chit chatting all day long about this and that. The big stuff. The little stuff. I had made a couple of big pots of soup to put in her freezer so she could just take a portion out each day and heat it up. I knew my efforts were a drop in the ocean, but I’m also an optimist and truly believed that with time and love we could get her back on her feet. If I could help her get strongly physically, then we had a better chance of shifting the emotional and mental health. I begged her to come and live with us, but she wanted to stay in her own home.
Despite the grim situation, we even managed to laugh several times. It was a joy to see the light flicker in her eyes. All was not lost! We hugged for the longest time, heart to heart; and we both sobbed. We had eighteen years of friendship under our belt, and knew each other’s deepest secrets.
As I was leaving, I asked: “What can I do for you?” She replied: “Take me to the vet!”
The truth is that had any compassionate person seen an animal in that condition, they would have taken them to be ‘put to sleep’. Pain and misery is uncomfortable to witness if you have any level of empathy.
I drove away with a heavy heart, and the light bulb went flashing on! “Veronika, you are really good at looking after yourself!”
I suppose because I take my level of self-care and nurturing for granted ~ because it is so ingrained in what I do and who I am ~ I had never fully recognised it as one of my greatest gifts (even though, ironically, my friend had mentioned it many times over the years). Between her home and mine, another book was gestating inside me. The seed was planted. I would dedicate it to her, and she could use it as a workbook on self-love. The way my friend and I were mothered in childhood was completely different. My mum was the ultimate role model in self care!
That friend, who had shared many Christmases with us over the years, and joined in family meals, and talked on the phone with me for hours, and went to the movies with me, and helped me plant an orchard, is never going to read that book.
She chose to leave this earthly world at Christmas. Her pain has ended, but I feel mine has only just begun as I try and ‘process’ everything about her life, my life, our differences, and my eternal optimism that the second half of her life could be so much better than the first fifty years, and that she could have joy, pleasure and meet a true soul mate who could be fully there for her. She is never going to walk through my front door again, or sit in the garden with me sipping tea. We’ll never discuss books or philosophy again. Certainly no more shared walks through the woods when the bluebells are in flower. There are no more hugs to be shared.
My grief is raw, deep, harrowing. I can only hope that I emerge as the Wounded Healer, and do for others what I couldn’t do for my dear friend: help them love themselves so much that they thrive in this world. That they recognise that self-love is priceless, and the fuller we are with a high-level of nurture, the more we can give to the world around us.
Last weekend, I posted some pictures on Instagram of what I’d been doing. I’d gone for a run in the lovely countryside around my village. There was a pear and vanilla gluten-free vegan cake on the bench that I’d baked. Snuggled on the sofa by the woodstove, I immersed myself in a fabulous book. When the Sun beckoned me outside, I did my first spot of gardening for the year. I was in a state of joy and peace.
I started receiving messages from people saying things along the lines of: I want your life.
I guess what they were witnessing through my photos was a sense of contentment. And that is (grief aside!), how I feel about my blessed life. I’ve had more than my share of ups and downs over the years, but through it all I have always honoured my fundamental need for pleasure (and every human is born with that need).
My senses are nourished on an hour-by-hour basis, through beauty, integrity and simplicity: love, flowers, wholesome food, my husband’s gorgeous coffee, music, friendship, water, solitude, lovemaking, nature, hot showers, essential oils, touch, laughter, and so the list goes on. It never occurs to me to deny myself the joy of pleasant scents in my home, or to not take advantage of gorgeous rays of sunshine. Whenever I can, I make time to meet with friends for a cuppa or a walk. I exercise most days of the week, whether that’s walking, running, gym or aquafit. Meals are made from scratch, and with love. I cherish the hours I spend with Mr Sweetheart. The key to my lovely life is that I don’t assume I’m going to be here in a year, though I most definitely plan ahead! I adore my diary!
My joy for life comes from today: here. Right now. And with that, is always the intuitive pull towards what I enjoy. Rainbows on my walls from the sunshine going through the window crystal. Yep. Fresh fruit in various hand-carved wooden or glass bowls. Yep. Flowers here, there, and everywhere. Yep. Beautiful music in the background. Yep. Jasmine essential oil infusing the air. Yep. Woodstove on. Yep. Cuddle with my darling. All day long! Company. Yep. Solitude. Yep. Reading. Yep. Walking. Yep. Time for a run? Yep. An urge to be creative? Yep. Doing work I love. Yep.
Creating the life you want is about listening, and saying yes. It’s what I call the Sacred Yes.
There are times when I’m faced with something I don’t enjoy, like annual accounts or washing the mud off my car because it’s always getting filthy with living rurally. And grief isn’t one of my favourite things, either. But when I’m faced with such things, big or small, I find cushions to bring me comfort. I can do the BORING accounts with coffee in my favourite mug, and a candle burning. I can rest my eyes on beautiful flowers in between inputting figures into a database. Music can soothe my soul while the maths part of my brain is being tortured.
When washing the car, I tell myself I’m getting strong leg muscles each time I squat! I fill the bucket with warm water and a hint of lemongrass oil (for my pleasure, not the car’s!). I let the piano music CD nourish me while I rub that pesky mud off.
And as for grief: if it flows through me, it helps. I give myself permission to hibernate and just be with the tears. I allow myself to snuggle into bed that bit longer, or allow the shower to get that bit hotter so I’m warmed down to my bones. The dawn chorus makes my heart lighter, so I listen for as long as I can before the rest of the day beckons.
Creating a beautiful life doesn’t grant you immunity from the shitty times, but it does offer you the grace to humbly see just how much there is in life to be truly grateful for. Even the hurt offers up beauty, if only we can see it.
We are humans incarnated on this Earth to experience BEING HUMAN. We have this idea that we do all our growing through pain, but I don’t believe it has to be that way. Why can’t we grow through joy? Love? Passion? Contentment? Satisfaction?
I start and end each day with the affirmation: I am so grateful for my beautiful life. I repeat it in my mind throughout the day, too, whenever I’m not having to think about anything else.
Gratitude is life changing.
My guiding purpose in life, and for the rest of my days (and maybe years, if I’m around that long), is to create as much pleasure, love and beauty as is humanly possible. Like the flowers that grow in my garden, I want to hold my head to the sunshine and sigh with nothing but bliss. To melt into the warmth and light. That’s the life I want. That’s the life I have.