A couple of weeks ago week my son asked if I had any wheels or wood which I could donate to his Scouts troop for a Go Carting event they were holding. We scraped together a few items and took them up to the Scout hut last Friday in order that the Scouts could make a couple of carts. When I collected him later that evening the pile of parts had grown slightly and a project for the remainder of the week was born.
Each evening after school the two of us worked together to make a cart. I must admit that watching him use my circular saw, and other power tools was slightly nerve-racking but also very rewarding. I watched with pride as he marked, cut and drilled the wood, and I listened as he voiced ideas and worked out what was required.
Whilst we worked I remembered a cart I made in 1974 when I was lived in Ascension Island. I built it using scraps I had salvaged from the Georgetown dump, (that dump seemed to hold everything; I even scavenged a hacksaw blade to cut the axle free from the heap of twisted metal it was entangled in). I also remember using my father’s power tools.
For me the our project took on new meaning. Here was I reliving events from my childhood through the eyes of a father, and whilst my size and weight precluded me from ever driving the finished product, somehow I knew that I was with him as he sped down the hill for the first time.
The best bit though was spending time working on the project with my son, and enjoying his company. The 2 pictures were taken 37 years apart.
The shed had been overturned,
a pile of debris sat challenging;
planks of wood, an old bike,
a length of rope a lawnmower wheel.
He remembered being ten
Sitting on the scrap heap
using scavenged tools
to create a similar pile.
Back then his mind saw the sleek lines,
could feel the wind in his hair;
the joy of being free
As he raced down the hill.
Now younger eyes looked up, pleading.
A smile cracked his face
the unspoken deal made
as father looked at son.
They toiled together
Small hands on large tools,
proud father watching on
lending power and advice.
Finally they stood together, smiling.
A cart had risen like a phoenix
from the pile of debris.
It stood awaiting its maiden run.
With foot on brake the young driver
looking eagerly down the hill.
His father proffered advice and then
They were off…..
Two hearts pound in unison
Speed picks up, corner smoothly taken.
Father remembering the childhood joy;
As they raced down the hill together.
It's been raining for most of the day in Guernsey. Having had so much sun recently I see the rain as a blessing as it will help to wash the dust off the hedgerow plants and add sparkle to the Jewel that is our Island.
One other benefit is that I have had some extra time to work on a poem I started in the Icart Garden earlier in the week. I hope you like it:
The tall Echium sways in the breeze.
A myriad of purple trumpets call
summoning the tiger striped workforce
with a silent blast of colour and scent.
Starting from the base the workers ascend,
diligently probing each nectary as they pass.
Their wings hum briefly as they move on
practicing allogamy as they go.
From the cap they drop on to the breeze
and fly onward; to the next tower.
They don’t punch in and out
the bright sun’s course tracks their day.
Elsewhere the plant’s red and black security staff,
Keep a watchful eye, removing;
'All Pubescent Hoodlums Intending Disrupting Supply’,
By eating them!
Here in nature’s factory
everyone plays their part;
and the humble poet watching
marvels at the art.
A friend posted some great pictures of shadows on Facebook. They reminded me of a poem I wrote back in December. Having re-read the poem it was interesting for me to see how far my faith has come during the intervening six months.
It stalks me,
every waking moment;
Never really lost.
climbing walls and curbs.
Just when I think it is gone
it leaps out.
This time a grotesque head
balanced on a tiny frame.
In the morning sun
it falls behind
like an anchor
to my past.
At noon it’s humble disk
flits around my feet.
In summer deepest black,
in winter failing grey.
In the evening,
under a silver moon,
it clings to my feet,
like a child begging not to sleep.
I’m told there is another
whose with me all the time.
Omnipresent but invisible
and watching over me.
Like my shadow he’s attached to me.
He holds me tight all day,
but as a shadow needs the light,
I need faith to see.
This morning I was still awake when the birds started the dawn chorus, it was the third time this week and the seventh in the last ten days. Once again I’d spent most of the night using a toolbox of mental exercises to ensure that I did not descend what I call the ‘Spiral of Doom'.
In essence the spiral is a model which explores the correlation between mood and the effect pain has on an individual. It is important to stress that the correlation is not between mood and the pain itself. On the downward trend, pain leads to deteriorating mood which makes the pain more noticeable and therefore the mood worsens, at the very bottom of this spiral lives the hell in which an individual believes self-harm is preferable to living with pain. Conversely if the mood is good the effect the pain has on the individual is lessened and life can become more enjoyable.
Assuming that in this model pain is a constant, there are two variables; the effect of the pain and the mood. There are ways to reduce the effects of pain; usually these involve the use of medical intervention of some kind. But a more practical, everyday way to influencing the spiral is to change the mood; this can be done by controlling the way thoughts are handled.
A thought is simply a collection of ideas, it is not anything more or anything less and it certainly is not a fact. That said it is possible to allow thoughts to catch in the mind and develop to the point where we truly believe them to be facts. When this happens an unfortunate incident like spilling the coffee ten minutes before giving a presentation can be elevated in the mind to the point where a whole day has been a total disaster. This is achieved by unhelpful thoughts such as;
“why is it always me? – I’m going to look like an idiot – the presentation is ruined.”
It is an unfortunate fact that unhelpful thoughts left unchecked will flash in and out of the mind sowing seeds which all too often go on to become self-fulfilling prophecies.
With practice it is possible to put the brakes on this process by challenging unhelpful thoughts. In the example above I could counter with something like;
“it doesn’t always happen to me, the presentation will be just as good even if I do have a coffee stain on my tie, and the lights will be dimmed so no one will notice the stain anyway.”
At times I have even written the answers down. It’s a bit like a Chinese take away menu; unhelpful thought number 7 gets challenged by helpful thought 4, 5 and 11. This ensured that I could get my responses in before the next harmful thought arrived. The list was written during the first few bouts, I found that the act of writing thoughts down slowed the process and gave me time to come up with better counter thoughts. These were then developed when I was a better able to think straight.
Eventually it became possible to recognise that I was having an unhelpful thought and I began to thank my mind for the thought but allow it to drift on as if it were a leaf on a river, by doing this I allowed life to progress without dwelling on the unhelpful thoughts.
You may have noticed that I use the terms helpful and unhelpful thoughts and not positive and negative, this is because “thinking positive” is not always the best approach. For instance if a person was to find a lump in their body and resolved to think positively about it they might find that by the time they visit the doctor it’s too late to do anything, Helpful thinking allows the individual to remain calm and assess the situation rationally and is more likely to result in an earlier visit to the doctor.
Having said all that; as I sat there listening to the dawn chorus (and secretly hoping that all 3 cats were out) I remembered the following quote from the 1970’s film “Kelly’s Heroes”;
‘Why don't you knock it off with them negative waves? Why don't you dig how beautiful it is out here? Why don't you say something righteous and hopeful for a change?’ -Sergeant Oddball.
This morning that turned out to be the turning point I had been looking for.
I have a special toolbox,
it’s one you cannot see.
It’s full of very clever tools
that I find work for me.
The top draw holds the basics
the tools used every day
Information and knowledge
To help keep fear at bay
The bottom draw is bigger
it holds the tools I need
To keep my mind healthy
when pain my thoughts impede
Conventional ways of thinking
can cause the mind to lock
for logic and analysis
can’t every dam unblock.
I’ve tools designed to challenge
unhelpful thoughts and feelings.
These trusty friends I often use
to stimulate a healing.
A new tool that I’m learning
uses counter force to win
In theory it’s simple;
you welcome these thoughts in.
There’s the pebble in my pocket
The leaf upon a stream
the words I choose to frame it
SMART goals define a dream.
Some tools have roots in business
Whilst others are based in sport
I’ve learnt to pick and mix
to live the life I ought.
My toolbox is a treasure trove
it draws on my whole life
to furnish me with techniques
that help reduce my strife.
As we grow older we experience change in almost all areas of our lives. Many are relatively insignificant and most of us learn to roll with the flow. We call the additional lines on our faces laughter lines or the grey hairs amassing on our heads silver, (that’s assuming we are lucky and they have not simply abandoned ship!) I have even heard tell; that a keg is better than a six-pack!
Perhaps the one change that is hardest to adapt to is loss, particularly of a friend. Richard Bach, a man who, through his books, helped shaped my childhood mind, once wrote;
"Don't be dismayed by good-byes. A farewell is necessary before you can meet again. And meeting again, after moments or lifetimes, is certain for those who are friends."
I was thinking about loss as I sat in the cliff top tea garden at Icart eating a rum and raisin ice cream. In my mind’s eye I saw the faces of a number of friends whom I have lost over the years. The first being a friend at school who I can still see doing beautiful somersaults from the school diving board. Then there were the images of Service friends lost both in the UK and overseas. I realised that I really do believe that I will meet with them again and that whilst I really miss their camaraderie, I am able to look back on the times we shared with joy.
I then took to thinking about the loss of mobility I have suffered during the last three years. I realised that this dominates almost every waking moment of my life. At first the comparison between loss of life and the loss of mobility, made me feel extremely selfish. Here was I eating rum and raisin ice cream in a beautiful garden feeling self-pity when others had lost their lives, what sort of person was I?
After a short bout of self-flagellation I realised that the loss I feel most is the loss of freedom. Naturally this made me think of people like Nelson Mandela, John McCarthy and Chris Moon. Each of these men had faced loss of freedom and come through it seemingly stronger.
I remembered reading that while incarcerated on Robben Island prison Nelson Mandela was empowered by the message of self-mastery contained in the poem ""Invictus"" written by the English poet William Ernest Henley. The last two lines of this poem are;
“I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.”
John McCarthey wrote that during his captivity he benefitted from coming to terms with the fact that he had entered a world where the past didn’t exist. As a professional speaker he also identifies the importance of standing up to a foe and keeping the mind alert.
Chris Moon a friend of mine at Sandhurst, was kidnapped by the Khmer Rouge and later, in a separate incident in Mozambique, lost his right lower leg and right hand when he trod on a land mine. A motivational speaker now he stresses the importance of; not becoming a victim, maintaining the ability to reason, focusing on the positives and opportunities and perhaps most importantly not being beaten by the limits we put on ourselves.
The ice cream was now long gone, my way forward has been made clearer; summed up by wisdom of three incredible men. Don’t be a victim, don’t dwell on the past, I am the master of my fate and the captain of my soul and look for and make the most of opportunities.
I then thought of my own poem ‘Where The Sea Meets The Clouds (Turmoil)’ which I wrote in 2003 and blogged only 2 weeks ago. The final line of which is;
“and beyond it, the horizon is clear, for those who wish to see it.”
I guess having taken the first step the challenge now is to put my foot on the second rung of the ladder.
My poem for today is about the loss of Otto, our Bernese Mountain dog, a close friend whom I look forward to meeting again.
There’s a hole at my feet,
It used to be filled by my friend
He’d lie there and wait ‘til I tried to step over,
Then stand and watch me contend.
There’s a hole at my feet where he should be.
There’s a hole at my elbow,
It used to be filled by his nose
He’d wait and he’d wait then just as I ate
He’d knock me and soil my clothes
There’s a hole at my elbow where he should be.
There’s a hole in my heart,
It used to be filled with his love
He’d lie down beside me just for a hug
And cover me up like some black furry rug
There’s a hole in my heart where he should be.
There’s a hole in my mind,
Which is filled with my friend
He lies there and waits ‘til I step over,
And then we’ll be whole and happy and free
And roam in the heavens just him and me.