Category Archives: Purpose

Can any good come out of the Covid 19 pandemic?

Photo by cottonbro

By nature, I am a positive and very optimistic person. The glass half – full type. But I can’t lie to you. The Covid 19 pandemic has raised my hackles and I have reigned myself in on multiple occasions to prevent a panic attack triggered by the latest apocalypse style news. I live in the UK and have watched as the world, piece by piece is shutting down, entire countries going into lock-down with a police or military presence preventing unnecessary movement. Here, although in lock down we are told to practice social distancing keeping 2 metres apart from others when out on our assigned daily exercise and avoid unnecessary movement. Schools have closed and parents are trying to figure out how to home educate while surviving the health risks, while isolating, while trying to change their businesses into online ones, while dealing with the uncertainty and financial implications. Panic shopping has seen empty shelves worthy of war like scenarios and fights breaking out over toilet paper. Who would have thought?

It’s easy to look at all this and go into shut down mode. I worry most about people with learning difficulties that can’t understand, people with mental illness already battling to manage, at-risk children and spouses in domestic violence or abusive situations being forced to stay in with their perpetrators. Alzheimer’s patients, children and adults with conditions that make them vulnerable, the elderly (have they not been through enough?), those with underlying health conditions and hence more vulnerable. I have friends undergoing chemotherapy, one who just had open heart surgery. Our family lives in Cyprus, currently in lock down. My mother in law was discharged from hospital after a serious illness only days before Covid 19 hit. We can only hope that all will be well and soon we’ll be tasting grandmas’ delicious dolmades and playing with cousins on the beach.

In the meantime, we have to ride it out. As another friend recently reflected, her parents were teenagers during World War 2 and they spent the best parts of their youth working in ammunition factories and farms, surviving but never really living. Their answer to how they coped “We just got on with it.”

That is certainly one way to look at it, but I believe there is another. We may feel like helpless pawns in some big game orchestrated by nature or bio hacking or the 5G invasion messing with our bodies’ natural electrical current. Whatever it is, we can look at it a different way.

Photo by Korhan Erdol

We can use this crisis as a personal opportunity to reflect on how we once lived, naïve, dependant on the state or on world systems to look after us, trusting and faithfully working as cogs in someone else’s wheel. We trust a medical system that in time of crisis can’t cope, can’t help, and due to a lack of resources has to decide who it will allow to live and who must die for the benefit of the younger fitter cogs.

We trust an education system that raises cogs only to find that its perfectly designed formula is putting children at risk of infection and has washed its hands off. It has sent children back home to be cared for, protected and educated by their parents, the people it has convinced us for so long were unable to educate their children. We have been led to believe that only conventional schools, institutionalisation could achieve what no parent could. And yet, it is parents who are now expected to pick up the reigns and ride on regardless even with impossible odds and frustrating limitations.

We trust supermarkets to always provide, that they have systems in place to handle any crisis especially since warnings in the form of previous outbreaks have been around for years. We trust that we will always be fed and watered and sustained, only to find chaos, lack of management, hoarding, fighting and empty shelves.

Reflecting brings awareness, lessons learned and new realisations. Aha moments that lead to new perception, different ways of thinking and creativity unleashed. Usually it begins with looking at ourselves, how we rely on outside sources to feel safe, content, happy. When all is taken away, can we still feel safe, content, happy?

Perhaps we will start to grow our own food in pots or gardens. I saw a video the other day of a woman growing food on a tiled floor and in the crevices of the garden walls. Food scarcity may motivate us to try new recipes using leftovers or less ingredients. A friend sent me a recipe for flat bread with just 4 ingredients. Water, flour, salt and oil. We may become less wasteful, more mindful when eating. The realisation that when all is said and done, the best weapon against illness is our own body, will lead us to take better care of it. Feed it nutritiously, build its immunity, love on it more, hate on it and judge it less.

The coronavirus crisis has forced us to physically socialise less, spend more time at home, more time with our families if we live with others, more creative socialisation online or by phone.

In times past, for many communities, life was isolating with homes miles apart and no phone or internet communication. Visitors from neighbouring villages provided a rare exciting break to the day to day life of those communities. Back then, men worked out in the fields, farms, workshops, mines, sea fishing, or running small shops while women mostly stayed at home working hard to wash by hand, clean with natural cleaners like vinegar. They may have walked miles to fetch clean water (as still happens in communities around the world), feed the animals kept for milk, eggs or food, sew clothes for the family, repair old ones, grind flour, prepare food from scratch since no convenience foods were available. They may have earned extra money sewing for others, making crafts to sell, weaving baskets, making jewellery or make- up from natural resources. They may have foraged for food or natural materials to create items for the home. There wasn’t much time to ‘socialise’.

Children would have possibly and rarely attended some sort of school or outdoor class with one teacher, or even learned at home as their ancestors would have done for hundreds of years before. They would have participated in all chores and jobs helping both parents. And then, there would have been some break, a little time to play and ‘socialise’. This may have been a kick about with a ball with a few local friends, the women would make tea or coffee and have a quick gossip between chores if they happened to live near each other. Men would converse while working or at a gathering in the village. Most socialising over the course of history was a natural part of living, while shopping, doing chores, among family and rarely with lots of people.

Today we think socialising is something that has to be forced, manipulated, facilitated. We bring about hundreds of children together in institutions and time them against the clock to play according to our rules while micromanaged by adults.

Now, we are going back to how it was. Back to using time creatively, productively in our homes, reconnecting with family members, working as a team, taking responsibilities, laughing and playing together and enjoying some safe contact with others. What we may find through this is that our conversations are longer, deeper, more meaningful. That we call people we haven’t seen for years and have those conversations we shelved due to lack of time. That we learn to enjoy our own company, and be comfortable in our own skin.

As home educators, socialisation has been a natural part of life. Of course, we haven’t been shut at home all the time, but we haven’t been mixing with lots of people in a manufactured attempt to socialise either. We have simply been doing life and learning to be content with time alone, or in small intimate gatherings.

Conversely, another benefit from this social distancing or lock-down will be the quietness. Our world had become outrageously noisy. Noise pollution is real. As someone who has battled PTSD for most of my life, noise is painful, confusing, overwhelming. There are many people with sensory issues, autism, Asperger’s, PTSD and other reasons to struggle with noise. Crowded shops and cafes, crowded playgrounds, crowded streets. I’ve given up on so many dates with my husband because I simply could not hear him over the noise of music layered on top of noise from diners. Screaming children make playcentres impossible even for my children who can’t understand why other kids need to scream to have fun. Interesting. Even drying our hands in public toilets is an assault on our hearing with incredibly loud high-pressured air forced through machines. There is scientific proof that the noise level exceeds the legal limit and is harmful to children especially those lower down and thus nearer the output of the hand dryer. Noise noise everywhere. But not anymore, at least not for a time. The world is getting quieter. And we need it. We all need it.

Gratitude and appreciation. We have taken so many luxuries for granted for far too long. History books tell us that nothing is forever, nothing is guaranteed, or secure. We have seen devastating wars, unjustified, making no sense whatsoever, turn stunning tourist hot spots into rubble and millions of people fleeing to safety only to find they are not wanted anywhere. Those that once graced their beaches, enjoyed luxury spas in their hotels, shopped from their markets and enthused in the beauty of their country, now turn their backs on the very people who once served them and made their holiday unforgettable. Now, with their status changed to refugees, they are stranded, unwanted, uncared for with nothing to help them survive harsh winters, dangerous human predators, disease, starvation. Are you safe in your home right now? Be grateful.

Photo by Kelly Lacy from Pexels

We know that in our lifetimes, in this day and age, fires can wipe out entire countries, famine and disease can wipe out entire generations. Floods, tsunamis, viruses, cancer, malnutrition, earthquakes, hurricanes, volcano eruptions. They are all real and dangerous and possible yet if we haven’t been touched by it, we don’t care. Each to their own. But now, when we are all affected, we suddenly have woken up to something that is reality for people in third world countries all the time. Lack of clean water, food, sanitation, toilet paper, medicine. Yet they get on with it. They find ways, solutions.

We see now. We truly see and as such we may no longer take for granted our freedom of movement, social gatherings, material possessions, abundance of food in our shops, concerts, cinemas, theatres, shopping malls, central heating, air conditioning, safe homes, cars, fuel, technology, free healthcare (in the UK).

We may now be more conscious of our temporary state of existing, our mortality, our fragility and how we are all in this together not apart. Distance is no longer relevant. We haven’t avoided this crisis, it has come to find us in every country, every community no matter how much we tried to get on with our lives. We are all part of the bigger picture, each of us relevant and connected. We are suddenly seeing this connection and cultivating empathy, compassion.

The uncertainty is also turning our attention to the higher power, our spirit nature, the rest of the story when this chapter is over. Whatever it is, the universe, God, our inner being, we know there is more, this can’t be it. We are too amazing, intricate, extraordinary for this life to be it. No, there’s so much more. This experience has purpose and we are now considering it, ruminating on it, gleaning wisdom from it, faith growing stronger.

We are finding meaning. What once seemed important, critical, worrying, challenging may have paled into insignificance as bigger and more worrying things have taken their place. Just weeks ago we stressed over meeting deadlines, that promotion, paying for the holiday, what to do with the kids during Spring break, why little Jimmy didn’t get invited to the class birthday party, why little Annie didn’t get picked for the team again. Now, we watch as the world is getting infected with an unknown virus and we are herded and prodded and investigated, quarantined and scared for our lives and those of our loved ones, not least because the healthcare system can’t cope. A scenario worthy of a Hollywood blockbuster, in fact it won’t be long before one is out.

Photo by Anna Shvets

What once felt like a breaking point, showed us that we are stronger and more resilient when bigger threats are on the horizon.  In ‘Man’s search for meaning’ Viktor Frankl documents his experience as a psychiatrist sent to Auschwitz concentration camp. He describes the challenges and how differently prisoners tried to survive. The conspiracies, betrayals for a piece of bread, the fights but also the hope, the faith, the instinct to survive, the compassion, camaraderie and sacrifice. In a place where they had no freedom, no food, no warm clothing, no medicine and were beaten, tortured and degraded constantly, those who focused on positive thinking, on loved ones, on dreams, on their faith, on the future, on those they cared about in that place, had the best chance of survival.

At one point in the book Viktor describes how he felt the presence of his wife. He had no idea if she had died or was still alive (she was in fact dead), but he felt her presence powerfully and would speak with her all the time while labouring away on the railway tracks in the snow. At night he would dream, and his dreams provided an escape from the reality of daytime suffering. In fact, he looked forward to sleep so that he could escape through his dreams. Humour existed even in those dire circumstances. No one could take those things from him. No one can take that from us now.

Recently in the documentary ‘The story of us’ with Morgan Freeman, I watched Albert Woodfox who was convicted to solitary confinement, describe the moment he decided he was free. He spent 23 hours of each day in a 6×9 cell alone for 43 years. He watched men he had become close friends with, go insane in their cells. And yet for him it all changed when he simply made a decision that no one could take away the freedom of his mind. His body may have been imprisoned but his mind and spirit were free. With that knowledge, he passed the hours and years until his release. The remainder of his life is being invested in teaching others, inspiring younger generations to be a force for good. Would he have dedicated these years to such an important purpose had it not been for his experience? I doubt it. Something took place in the confinement, a transformation.

How will you use your time in self-isolation or social distancing or quarantine?

“I realized that, even in prison, my schedule and time were in my control. Unlike my fellow inmates who spent their time playing cards, watching TV and “shucking and jiving” all day, I focused on training my mind. In those two years: I read 197 books. I wrote two books. I learned a new language (Korean). I taught my fellow inmates all about business and start-ups. I studied physics and history. I wrote every single day for two years straight. I incessantly trained and disciplined my mind. My routine became the saving grace that allowed me to relentlessly train my mind.” Andrew Medal (www.entrepreneur.com)

So, in summary these are the key take – away’s for this season we are in. My own reflections, conclusions, tools. Add your own. Edit mine. Go deep. Don’t be afraid.

  • Keep positive and focus on your mindset. Catch negative thoughts before they take root and replace them with positive ones.
  • Reflect and learn the lessons. What do you need to change going forward?
  • Use the opportunity. What new ideas can you develop? What old ones can you pick back up? What new skills can you learn?
  • Slow down. Take longer over tasks you used to rush through and become present, living in the moment, connecting deeper.
  • Practice gratitude and forgiveness. This is the perfect time to develop a gratitude habit. Journal it, write things you are grateful each day and place them in a jar. Consider people in your life that you need to forgive and cleanse your soul. This will benefit your health and boost your immunity too.
  • Dream, visualise, plan for the future. Make a vision board, write it on a piece of paper, visualise it daily in your mind and walk through it as if you were doing it. Amazingly, your brain can’t tell the difference, it believes you are actually doing it and will set in motion the means by which to make it reality.
  • Find meaning even in the smallest things. I once read a book called ‘one thousand gifts’. A journey of gratitude. The author even listed being grateful for the soap suds on her hands as she washed dishes and the rainbow colours reflected in it from the sunlight through the window. The soap suds represented all that she had in her life, children to wash dishes for, food to cook and plates to clean, their farm. The simplest things can speak volumes to our hearts. Don’t miss them.

Its OK to worry and be afraid but don’t stay there. I go through those moments too. We are human. Right now, many hospitals are filled with Covid 19 patients fighting for their lives. I am not being naive or trying to be insensitive. But if anything, the traumatic experiences of my past have taught me to always look for the bigger picture, to look for the good in every situation, to do what is within my ability, to trust for what I cannot understand and to believe that there is more to this life, more to this situation and that I don’t have to have every detail resolved. To see each day for the gift it is and to focus on the now while trusting for the tomorrow.

Planting hope

Me at Yeri primary school maybe around 1983-84

I haven’t always celebrated my birthday. While there have been occasional candlelit meals with my husband or outings with my children, many birthdays have come and gone with only a passing acknowledgment thanks to matters more pressing to deal with – such as loss, pain, debt, survival.

Today is an exception.

As I begin the 45th year of my life, I feel ready to celebrate. It’s a special date after all – 19.9.19. So, this year marks a new chapter for me. This is the year I step into my writing career, which I hope will be the catalyst for so much more.

Already I am working on a children’s book and a memoir, but it seems fitting to celebrate all that is to come with the ‘formal’ launch of my blog.

When I began the blog, not so long ago, I thought it would be a travel blog, detailing all the places I love in Cyprus and Wales – the countries of my birth and my second home. But as the weeks passed and the words flowed from my keyboard, I noticed a trend in my writing. I wasn’t writing about my travels, but rather my journey. I was travelling through my life stories, remembering the places that had left their mark, breathing new life into past moments that had inspired, motivated and left me with a desire to make a difference.

Having decided to embrace this new path, I am now finding ‘my voice’ as a writer. This remains a work in progress involving a daily battle with the shouts of doubt and disbelief. But at least I am on my way. I celebrate that. This the end of contemplating, desiring, wishing, dreaming and 35 years of procrastination.

For many years I have written, on and off, caught in a cycle of starting and giving up, daring to submit a piece and dealing with rejection, but this year I shall not be deterred because this journey is not only about the writing, but about me and my calling.

The destination of this blog is self-discovery through stories that capture my attention and captivate my heart. Through this journey, I am fulfilling a calling to write stories that make a difference, bring transformation, awareness and change. I am walking towards a bigger vision.

Many years ago, when I was 10 or 11 years old, I was lucky enough to come across someone who planted hope in my heart – the hope that I could be more than the village gossip allowed me to be, that I had a gift, an ability and that I could dare to dream. Over the years, that hope has nourished me through many periods of doubt, rejection, criticism and ridicule. And the person who gifted me that hope was Mrs Nitsa.

Mrs Nitsa was my primary school language teacher when I lived in the village of Yeri, on the outskirts of Nicosia, the capital of Cyprus.

Mrs Nitsa ( Nitsa Anastasiou) with our class at Yeri Primary School, Cyprus.

At the time, Nicosia was still finding its way following the disastrous Greek coup that triggered the Turkish invasion of the north of the island leaving the capital divided. In 1984, half of the city was wrecked, naked and groaning from the pain of death while the other half was fast developing into a modern, cosmopolitan city. Half an hour away, my village had expanded overnight with the influx of refugees from the north and our little primary school perched on a hill was subsequently a mish mash of kids trying to understand the world, claiming our bits of territory and establishing hierarchies like every other school in the world, but with the added aftermath of war bringing a deeper layer of confusion to events.

Mrs Nitsa came from the city. Slim, tall, eloquent, even in 30C+ her make up remained intact and her blonde hair backcombed into a perfect bouffant style that was fashionable in the 80s. With a long thin stick, she would tap words written on the blackboard for us to repeat and I would marvel at her ability to walk on such high heels. I can remember the scent of her skin moisturiser when she walked by, blended with foundation and perfume. It took me to memories I could not see, but recognised. It was the scent of my mother. By then six years had passed since her death and I grasped every opportunity to feel her presence.

Back in that school in 1984, I didn’t know then that I was dyslexic or that I had AD or PTSD or hypervigilance or any of those labels we like to attach in order to understand. I knew I could read and that I loved stories, but everything else was a blur and day in, day out I would gaze absentmindedly out of the window oblivious to the lessons. Except for language class.

Mrs Nitsa knew. She saw what others missed – a child hurting from the loss of her parents, lost in a world of structure, judgement, conformity, ridicule, religious rituals and gossip. A child whose coping mechanism was to write stories. So, write I did. Mrs Nitsa would give me a word or a subject and leave me to it, letting me lose myself in my imagination and the pages I created. Today, I am still writing like that, but I’m learning to edit, to cut and crop instead of letting the rant flow because I want to share this journey.

When the final term came and it was time for us students to move on to high school, Mrs Nitsa knelt in front of me, coming to my level, casting off the towering presence that had so intimidated much of the class. She took hold of my hands and looked me in the eyes. Hers – sparkly blue, fierce and soft at the same time – were that day wet and red. She trembled as she spoke.

“Michelle, I have no idea where you will go. You have been through much, God only knows. I don’t know if I will see you again, but I want to tell you something and ask you a favour. I want you to know that you have a gift for writing. I want you to write, keep journals and no matter what is happening through your life, write it all. Then one day you will write your memoir, your story and I want to read it. OK?”

I nodded, not understanding, embarrassed by the attention, yet not wanting to let go of her hands and watching heartbroken as she walked back to her desk.

And that was it.

The years passed with all their seasons, and I didn’t keep my promise to write a journal, not until seven or eight years ago. Each time I visited Cyprus, I asked about Mrs Nitsa. I heard she had lost her husband and was living in Nicosia. Then three years ago, I met her again. I found her number and when I called she recognised my voice. I could see her tears in the quickness of her breath over the telephone line. “Are you writing?” were the first words she said to me.

After the call, we met for a coffee, she gave me copies of her own published books and she made me renew my promise to write. She also asked to be the one to edit the Greek language version of my memoir.

Mrs Nitsa and I at our meeting in 2016

So, here I am; another three years have passed and I am working on that memoir, hoping one day to hand over the gift I promised 35 years ago.

And that’s why today, as I ‘officially’ launch my blog, I celebrate this woman who planted hope in my heart and soul, who saw a way to connect with me, who recognised something good in me when no one else did and who spoke words of life into the broken 10-year-old child that stood before her.

Perhaps I can use this blog to plant hope in the hearts of my own readers one day and, in turn, maybe those readers will go on to plant hope in the hearts of others. Every life needs a purpose and what greater purpose can we live for than to walk with the hurt, inspire the desolate, believe in the forgotten, bring joy to the sad and plant hope in the hopeless.

Photo by Suzy Hazelwood from Pexels