• WELLBEING

    The value of slow progress

    Slow progress can be frustrating, but it’s better than no progress at all, especially when it comes to our balance between tech and other aspects of life. For me, the balance is measured in the screen time and allotment time.  We have signed our allotment agreement in spring here in Bristol and did not do much on the plot due to a very hot weather. The soil was a way to dry to work with even just for clearing out the grass and weeds. It’s a miracle that we have managed to grow a few fruit and veg, and some flowers early in the year, because we really cannot enjoy the plot just yet. But since we came back from Moldova I feel really determined to clear out and prepare the soil for work on it. It’s really hard to work through such a large plot. A neighbour told me that he was offered our plot but did not want to take on too much. I think, however, that with a good, slow flow of steady work, we can conquer it.

    I have been visiting the allotment for the last few weeks almost daily, every day doing a little bit of hard work. I loved it. I hated it. I enjoyed it. I dreaded it. But I continued, steadily. I posted on Instagram to document the progress for myself, but also quietly hoping that our followers there would cheer me up. And so they did, oftentimes! It really helps to be supported. But as I am approaching the second phase of my work: digging up the actual beds – I am also realising that work with soil is extremely monotonous and relaxing. It gives me a lot of time to think about my therapy, therapy studies, new job, old job, new plans for an even newer job (ie. new products in my own company). On many occasions I allow myself to rest from thinking too – I rest my thoughts on the petals of our flowers or birds flying above the plot. I simply allow my subconscious to do all the work instead.

    I have a vision of the final result which really helps because with every swing of the shovel I am closer to that goal. The goal is mine, self-inflicted if you wish. In positive psychology, we learn that achieving self-prescribed goals make us happy. If someone else sets you a task and you are not empowered, nor engaged, the success rate is rather small. The feeling of accomplishment comes with choosing the level of your challenge and completing it. So I get a lot of that in the allotment nowadays and I will feel really happy when the project is complete and we can start planting fruit and veg. The slow and steady rhythm of work means that I can see some results of each chosen task – I do not have to push myself too hard – and I feel really accomplished every day.

    There is also something comforting in the regularity of the work. It does feel like a workout even though I am there for one to two hours each day. That is really not a lot of physical work to fit people, but I am a geek so this is my maximum for now. I can feel my body is getting a bit more resilient and a little bit stronger so I am starting to consider winter jogging once the allotment is finalised. I feel that the regular walk to the allotment and my routine of setting things up, working, resting, working more, resting, picking up fruit, taking photos, chatting to neighbours, walking back home, sharing photos online…all of this is a nice little relaxing routine.

    So this slow progress in the afternoon warm sun with people equally excited about re-connecting with nature really balances out all the time I spent online or in front of screens.

    I would love to hear how others manage their balance between digital tech and other areas of life?

    Photo by Emiel Molenaar on Unsplash

  • WELLBEING

    Notice the world around you, cherish and celebrate it

    I am back to my coffee blogging over at MyLittleCoffeeBlog.com. Friends ask me why? I simply feel like it. When I was busy building my consultancy I really did not have time to travel and quite frankly I was also stuck in a small, dull town. There was only so much I could do with coffee. My reason for blogging about it is simply enjoying and sharing the impressions about coffee places I get to discover, stories I get to hear, memories I share with my friends. So now that we live in Bristol I have endless opportunities to find a new coffee spot. We also have our first coffee festival this weekend so the coffee scene here in the city seems to be maturing. I think it is worth capturing my moments of coffee beyond my little Instagram account now. I need more space to share my impressions and learn more about this simple, yet such an inspiring drink.

    Because noticing coffee and coffee places is more to me than just a hobby. Hobby is really good to have – learning keeps us happy and stimulated. New discoveries keep us entertained and excited. But to me stopping for a coffee – alone, with a friend or for a work meeting means a moment of mindfulness. The realisation that we are all OK. We are all good enough. We are doing our best. We are in this life together. Coffee experiences – shared or in solitude – ground me and put life in perspective. My morning coffee is the best example of me-time and my daily self-care routine. Sharing a cuppa at work or in a meeting in the city also means I can relax, stop, have a meaningful conversation or simply time to think.

    We need time and space to notice things, to cherish life and to celebrate what we have. Coffee is a perfect opportunity to do so. So I invite you to visit My Little Coffee Blog where I begin a new phase of my coffee journey.

    Photo by Danielle MacInnes on Unsplash

  • WELLBEING

    Going back to our roots

    This week was hard. I am in pain. I spent the entire week digging in our new allotment and I cannot move without pain. I am really happy though, because it’s my own project – it’s something I have decided to do this September for myself and for my family.

    There are many aspects of hobbies like allotment gardening that improve our mental health so I think this project deserves a mention on my blog. First of all let’s think about the difference between projects we choose and projects we are given to complete: obviously the ones chosen by us make us feel more accomplished and happier to deal with it. Despite of what we think of passive entertainment, active challenges tend to make us feel more accomplished and happy. Secondly, the sense of achievement. What we hear on the news and see in advertising is not really happiness – it is the unachievable dream we are to chaise and crave, and pay for, of course. Happiness is actually free. It can be effortless, but it also might require a little bit of time and effort. They need our own vision, choice and commitment. When we choose our own tasks with the right level of effort and complete them, we feel truly accomplished.

    I chose to clear out our allotment inspired by a garden seen in Moldova. It made me realise just how much potential is in the plot we have here in Bristol. I started feeling the passion for gardening, for outdoors, for relaxing evenings on the plot. I have a vision for the final look of that plot and my family is really supportive too. There is nothing more calming and empowering than a sunset amongst flowers you have planted yourself munching on home grown fruit and veg. So every day I go to the allotment and work really hard on preparing the soil for years of gardening. It’s really hard work because the plot was given to us in a really bad state so we need to re-claim it from Mother Nature. But the soil is really good, once you get to it. And every day I get closer to our goal. I work hard, but not too hard. I have my ups and downs but I continue and slowly start to see the big results of this work too. The plot is shaping up already.

    The best element of this adventure is the balance between mind healing solitude and mind stimulating and caring socialising: both offline and online. We can all go to the allotment alone and enjoy the quiet – even in the city centre the allotment sites can be really quiet and calming! Every time we go to the allotment we meet other nature lovers, share tips, help each other, receive their crops now that we still have to do the basic work. At the same time we share our journey on Instagram where people join in, cheer us up and share additional tips. It’s really nice to be a part of a community of similarly minded people. The passion for nature, physical work, growing and enjoying results of that work, passion for nice food and time spent well together is something all alotmenteers have in common.

    For me, working and sitting in the allotment, is an important aspect of my personal self-care. It’s an area of counsellor’s work that is increasingly more and more important. One cannot support others without enough of rest and energy. But regardless of your profession, I really recommend it to everyone! Especially in times when the general definition of happiness is somewhat lost and so many people feel lonelier and lonelier (with or without friends). Nature is all around us and if we look close enough we might realise that we are really never truly alone.

  • DIGITAL,  WELLBEING

    Digital detox

    This weekend means resting after the intense holidays for my family. I don’t have problems with my tech-life balance but this quiet weekend made me think more about my personal tips for healthy, balanced weekend offline. So here are my tips:

    1. Prepare. Warn your friends that you will be mostly offline and important updates can wait till Monday. They could alos call you instead. If you work in social media or need to have content our in your branded channels, plan it in advance. Most tools allow social media scheduling. If you do not like scheduling, plan light posts – for example sharing your weekend morning reads to your social channels. It will only take you a second.
    2. Check in but don’t surf. Unless you have a specific project in mind or need to switch off and want to surf the web and social media channels on purpose, don’t allow yourself too much time online. Check in in the morning or in the evening, or as often as you think it is really necessary (if your friends or family members are travelling you might wish to follow their updates, obviously). Be strict and sensible about your screen time. Stop for a second and think very carefully about your weekend alternatives: maybe a book or just cloud gazing from your garden bench would be much more fun right now?
    3. Manage incoming messages thoughtfully. To get things done and avoid a long to-do list on Monday you might need to address some emails or messages now, on the spot. If tasks are small, do it now and forget about it. Relax. If tasks are larger, manage people’s expectations and warn them that you might need a few days. You don’t have to get everything done on Monday and you do not need to think about those tasks over the weekend.
    4. Manage notifications. Check in, untick, forget about them. If they are still bothering you, move the relevant apps with a lot of notifications to the second screen of your mobile – this way you will not see them each time you glance at your phone.
    5. Relax and have fun. Screen is just a sign of your connection. Connection is actually really good. Having a chat with an old friend can make you smile – there is nothing wrong with virtual collective happiness. As long as it works for both of you. Play games. Choosing your task and completing it means achievement – those make us happy and proud. In a good way. Choose a game, choose your level, complete it. Focus on your feelings – if you are still relaxed and a bit cheered up, it’s a sign of fun. Fun is OK. Fun can be addictive, but is that really such a bad thing? Research a new topic or a household hack. Learn something new. Brain stimulation with news and learnings is good for you. Browse friend’s travel photos not with envy but with admiration and a bit of dreaming: why not aiming to go there one day too? Dreaming is what makes us human. In all this remember that screens and Internet connection do bring us together and expand our horizons, but there are other ways to connect with the world. Use them all for your own benefit.

    Photo by Anete Lūsiņa on Unsplash

  • WELLBEING

    On anxieties

    When I moved to Bristol my anxieties were so high I could not walk over the Suspension Bridge. It’s not something I have ever experienced (my relationship with heights was ok for 40 years!) but due to ten years of cold and reserved community and few years of no travelling, a new sensory overload kicked in. I knew it will take me a bit to get back to normal. I am happy that I finally managed to cross it last weekend. Really proud of myself. And surprised how very few people accepted by new vulnerabilities. I have no problem with talking about them but many people do and they do end up suffering in silence. Whereas if we are supported by our community we’d recover so fast! Happy to live in Bristol.

  • WELLBEING

    New studies

    Today I have accepted the Certificate in Counselling offer from UWE Bristol. My application was successful and I will be studying person-centred, as well as psychodynamic counselling this year. I cannot wait to work with a new group of students on the same campus where a lot of digital-related studies tend to happen too. University studies will bring a new dimension to my life. I will have less time to rest but I am prepared: I spent the last three-year making time for those new tasks and I am confident I can work, run business, run home, raise son and study. It’s all a question of the right planning, organisation and the ability to manage self-care really well.

    I will spend a little bit less time in the allotment but I will go back to nature of as often as I can. It heals me, it slows me down and it teaches me to be humble and kind to others, but also to myself.

    I have a full support of my friends, family and co-workers so I know that if life does get busy, I won’t be on my own.

    I am prepared to push myself harder in learning and practice too. I am so much more self-aware and confident than a few years ago. The impact of living in a small and unwelcoming town is fading away really fast in here, in Bristol, which enables me to focus on helping others now.

    I am really happy and excited about this and I really cannot wait to get started. But I am also looking forward to our holidays now – with the year ahead planned, I can finally relax!

     

    Photo by Patrick Tomasso on Unsplash

  • WELLBEING

    On money and unconditional listening

    I think about money a lot these days. The value of a coin can be so confusing. On one hand, our 5K walk raised over £140 so far and the fundraising is still open. So, one event in Clifton raised £5K for OTRBristol last weekend! Just today, in her first week, on the first day of her fundraising activity, the owner of the local cupcake shop raised £100 in a single Facebook donation. So was our 5K walk even worth it, I wondered? This weekend 21 people supporting OTRBristol will be skydiving so I am sure they will raise so much more than me as well…
     
    So I am thinking about money a lot… In the UK people don’t like to talk about money especially in the context of charitable work. Yet, that’s what fundraising is all about: asking for money. Hm…
     
    I think a lot about unconditional listening too. How can one explain the value of an hour of unconditional yet caring support of a counsellor? Someone who is completely uninvolved in our lives, yet so caring, so holding and so present? I started my own therapy last week. I have to do it for my therapeutic practice but did not expect to start so early. The recent news from home triggered so much anger, sadness and grief. I have committed to the process and allowed myself to work on healing now. And so after over two years of studying therapy, I went back to a counsellor’s room myself. I valued those 50 minutes of listening, curiosity, support and unconditional respect. In today’s world, assumptions get in the way of listening. So we are hardly ever actually listened and understood. “Don’t assume, because it would make you an ass” – I learned in a training session this morning. I related to it so well (on both sides of listening). When we meet friends we focus on them or on conveying our problems in the least painful way. When we love, we often take, not give. When we care, we limit other people’s horizons. And so all that remains is a bit of a bubble of our own thoughts. It’s really difficult to be one own’s sounding board, especially if we have no one to talk to. I do, I have a few good friends and a soul mate too, but I myself have benefited from an hour of unconditional support. So I can only imagine how this experience must feel like for someone vulnerable, abused or lonely. It’s life-changing for all.
     
    So how can I quantify the money raised by me and by others? I do not think I can. I look a £10 note on my desk. I think about my usual ways of spending it. I think of all those young people out there who go to bed scared, hopeless, lonely, in pain. And I wonder… isn’t it amazing that folk like OTR Bristol counsellors can give so much for that one piece of paper? How much is that money worth to someone who has no one to talk to in such an unconditional manner? Maybe I will never know. Maybe all I have left is counting money and hours offered to those young people. That in itself fills me up with hope. 

    (Our fundraising page is live for another 2 weeks, so if you have a spare tenner or so, please donate here. Thank you!)

    Photo by Jonathan Brinkhorst on Unsplash

  • WELLBEING

    Three wise monkeys

    I think about the Three Wise Monkeys sometimes, recently a lot actually. The symbolism of those rather famous statues is the maxim “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil”, but in the modern Western society, I think it is often interpreted in terms of individualism and involvement warning us not to peak into other people’s lives, not to listen to other people’s business, not to speak up and spread lies about others. I often think that we have lost the original, other interpretation of those three Japanese characters – one which relates to lack of involvement, turning a blind eye, ear and mouth to hide evil deeds… So I had a look at the origin of this story again:

    The concept of the three monkeys originated from a simple play on words. The saying in Japanese is mizaru, kikazaru, iwazaru (見ざる, 聞かざる, 言わざる) “see not, hear not, speak not”, where the -zaru is a negative conjugation on the three verbs, matching zaru, the modified form of saru () “monkey” used in compounds. Thus the saying (which does not include any specific reference to “evil”) can also be interpreted as referring to three monkeys.

    […]

    “The Three Mystic Apes” (Sambiki Saru) were described as “the attendants of Saruta Hito no Mikoto or Kōshin, the God of the Roads”.[10] The Kōshin festival was held on the 60th day of the calendar. It has been suggested that during the Kōshin festival, according to old beliefs, one’s bad deeds might be reported to heaven “unless avoidance actions were taken…”. It has been theorized that the three Mystic Apes, Not Seeing, Hearing, or Speaking, may have been the “things that one has done wrong in the last 59 days”.

    According to other accounts, the monkeys caused the Sanshi and Ten-Tei not to see, say or hear the bad deeds of a person. The Sanshi (三尸) are the Three Corpses living in everyone’s body. The Sanshi keep track of the good deeds and particularly the bad deeds of the person they inhabit. Every 60 days, on the night called Kōshin-Machi (庚申待), if the person sleeps, the Sanshi will leave the body and go to Ten-Tei (天帝), the Heavenly God, to report about the deeds of that person. Ten-Tei will then decide to punish bad people, making them ill, shortening their time alive, and in extreme cases putting an end to their lives. Those believers of Kōshin who have reason to fear will try to stay awake during Kōshin nights. This is the only way to prevent the Sanshi from leaving their body and reporting to Ten-Tei.

    Not seeing. Not hearing. Not speaking up. Not doing (the fourth monkey included in some traditions). Not acting in the context of evil, nasty plans, the ability to stop yourself is crucial, of course. I think a lot of people underestimate the damaging power of not acting in a different context though: in the context of not helping, not speaking up, pretending not to hear, simply not getting involved. I volunteer a lot for mental health charities so I see the pain in my daily work. I see a lot of it in my daily life as well, but only small part of it comes from evil acts. The rest comes from the inconsiderate acts of silence. Sometimes I wish people could understand that not acting, not doing something kind might not be as drastic as acting against our will or invading our privacy, but it remains equally damaging. I think we have seen what liberal tolerance and not speaking up, not staying vigilant and purposefully kind, did to the world recently. So why can we not learn and apply this in our daily lives? Why can we not lean in and reach out beyond ourselves to each other? Why do we leave our society so cold and almost alien sometimes and think it is them, not us, that’s the root of the problem? Every day we wake up, go to work, rest, spend time together, count our blessings, possibly plan. But do we actually look out from our comfortable, safe place, just to check if others are safe and comfortable too? Are we actually responsible for each other? Are we willing to make effort for them?

    I could leave this post at this, but I do not want to leave you with that drowning negative sense of hopelessness. I am simply asking those questions. I do not have the answers. But I do know that people can be and oftentimes are different – they do get involved, they do speak up and do stand up for others. They offer help even if you don’t ask for it. I see this every week at the OTR when every little problem is addressed. Where saying “if you ever need a coffee and chat, I am here” really does not cost much. Where stopping and asking “how are you?” is actually a question that requires a mindful response and results in a short moment of active listening. That also does not cost much at all. And the stakes are really high here for all of us. We need to get our act together fast to help our young people who are only entering this world and will come across a lot of ignorance and a lot of wise or not too wise monkeys.

    I am glad that I can be where the change and action are happening. But you can be too: right here, right now, in your life. Give someone a smile or thanks in the street. Complement them at work. Check-in when you get back home. Make time for them after dinner. Listen to them hearing what they have to say – without judgement. Look at them with attention, look into their eyes (did you know that if people smile and we look into their eyes our mirror neurons fire and we automatically smile as well?). Speak up and say something nice, anything really. Every little moment of connection counts and leads to a long-lasting resilience and togetherness which is not intrusive but actually quite comforting and safe. Do it now!

    (This post is prompted by my preparations for a 5K walk for OTR Bristol. If you want to help young people’s mental health and act this way, please donate here. As I am writing this I am £5 short of our goal so you might just be able to help us reach it. Thank you!)

    Photo by:

    Joao Tzanno

  • DIGITAL,  WELLBEING

    Social isolation is a bitch

    I find it difficult to talk about social isolation but I think my current fundraising challenge and new work at OTR Bristol is a good opportunity to start this topic on my blog. It’s also prompted by a comment I have posted two days ago in response to the new Facebook “WhatWeDoTogether” video served to some of us about the value of Facebook community. (Which is positioned to support your sense of community but really links to setting up new groups – Facebook’s attempt to take over the market of LinkedIn groups).
    I am a tech enthusiast and I believe in the power of positive psychology even though many therapists still cringe and dismiss this fairly new field. I agree that our positive outlook on life defines just how easy it is to cope with challenges. I just worry about the automated algorithmic solutions that most of the time get us but now and again simply hurt.
    I personally found the Facebook’s community video really painful to watch. Instead of featuring my friends it featured my selfies surrounded by stock photography. It reminded me of my long period of social isolation which I really don’t like to go back too. It triggered the memories of a small conservative town I lived in for ten years with hardly any friends there, and mostly very shallow, artificial friendships. Also a controlling friendship too, which did not help. (I also must add a bit of context: when I saw the comment about the Facebook video I was thinking about grief that day, which made matters worse, I might have overreacted a bit). But the responses and follow up discussion was very meaningful and bonding. Showed just how meaningful and supportive Facebook friend can be. They reminded me that beyond my town I really had a lot of valuable relationships that took me through that dark time, saved my sanity.
    But I still worry about social isolation. One can be ever so lonely in a large group of people, in the crowds even. We talk so much about the need to disconnect when what we really need is re-connecting: to ourselves, to each other and to our communities. I moved away from talking about politics but that does not mean that I have no political views anymore. I come from a childhood under Communism and lived a few changes of systems so I see and feel the times when the leading, privileged group of people aim to manipulate and control the “poor folk” (i.e. us) simply by turning us against each other, by making us feel less and weak and lonely. Because in a thriving community we feel empowered to ask, question and demand. Communities increase civic engagement and that’s not exactly what a leading party or any individual country leader would like to see. I just don’t think Facebook is here to solve that, we need to do it offline.
    But here’s the thing: social isolation only hurts if you are truly on your own. A fellow blogger posted a response to my comment which was kind, supportive but also firmly reminding me of other aspects of online social networks: by doing that she actually proved me wrong and reminded me about the power of validation. When we hurt and others listen, respond and act – it makes all the difference. We had an interesting training at OTR Bristol this week on why we do what we do and why we are a social movement not just a charity. I think new times are coming because people are getting fed up with being expected to solve all their problems on their own. I think social media contributed to isolation but also the realisation that individualism has its benefits but also pitfalls. We need to have time for ourselves, but we also need strong, supportive groups and communities. We need to thrive and remember about self-care, but we also need to allow others to take a good care of us when we are in need. We cannot and should not live in complete isolation.
    This is something that is most painful when you are young, so if you agree with the sentiment please support my 5K walk in support of @OTRBristol who tackle it already. Thank you!
  • DIGITAL,  WELLBEING

    Walking, catching, supporting

    It’s been over a month now that I have joined the OTR Bristol. Time flies! I still feel very overwhelmed with the kindness of people in the office and I still catch myself thinking: I wish I had this support when I was young.

    I set up my own fundraiser page about a week ago and I was aiming to promote it, push it, ask for money and talk about OTR work a lot on my blog too. But life got in the way in a most ridiculous way and made this fundraiser truly relevant to me: I have received bad family news. I started grieving. Not really grieving for the people who are slowly slipping away, but for myself – for the childhood, I had or did not have. And so I have stopped my bereavement volunteering for now (I am obligated and quite frankly too close to the topic at the moment) but I know I can go back anytime.  Things got a bit emotional in my private life and I started to think a lot about the reality of my childhood. I stopped posting and took time to rest and think. I spent a lot of time with my friends and family reminding myself who I am today and how I got here, but also where exactly I have started from.

    We all have stories, you see, stories we do not want to talk about. I am always open about my controlling mother, ex, past friends and I am not worried about the current contacts assuming the role of an abuser – because a long time ago I have learned that I was never really a victim. E. Rosevelt said once: “One cannot humiliate you without your consent” and I think she was right, but there is more to power in a family set up. People who are close to us tend to assume they know us and can or would take advantage of our weaknesses. However it is their version of our relationship and we can still have our take on it, and that take can be very different. We can stop the power game simply by not getting involved. We can define our own boundaries and lines of safety with or without the involvement of the abuser. We just need to be clear on our self-worth and our own goals. This way, instead of hardening, we become even kinder and more empathic. It works. But we also have to keep our darker stories in mind and must never forget – because there are other people, young people, out there who need help today.

    I did not have OTR, but I had teachers, priests, literary role models, friends and positive outlook on my future. There was always a part of me that knew my worth. I have experienced a kind, bonding fatherly love and I have received a great compass of values (not always applied, I’m not perfect, but at least known!). So after a week of contemplating my own, complicated childhood and a week of grieving the one I did not get to have, I have also realised just how far I have come thanks to all those good people in my past life. I wish I had a space and people like the OTR folk back when I was a young person – my own battles would have been much faster, stronger, more – but I had others who were there for me in smaller, slower experiences. I had hope and I knew kindness.

    So today I have just one message to my readers: let’s stop for a moment and think of all those young people who need help, but also those who do not even understand the idea of hope, love and kindness. Let’s just for a second imagine how their reality must feel like.

    .

    And let’s have a very good look at our life, count our blessings and convert our experiences into hopefulness. I took my new Canon camera out and treated myself to time for photography. I took a few photo walks in this amazing sunshine and streets of Bristol, admiring street art and warm, friendly people. I planned another two walks with friends this week. I made time for art which always makes me feel a bit better. But here is the thing: I can do it because I spent 40 years of my life coming to this point, fighting and constructively converting my hate and pain into work and action. Which is why I love OTR so much.

    So this is my first ask – I kindly ask you, if you are able to do so today, to donate to our 5K walk to help OTR teams help those who might just be young and hopeless now. Thank you!

     

    Here is the full link: https://mydonate.bt.com/fundraisers/5kpokemonday – I will be walking, catching Pokemon and supporting an amazing organization! 🙂