How to be happy even if you're English

what is happiness and how to get it


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reviewing the curriculum

 

 

 

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I didn’t get the job because I wasn’t tough enough.  I came across as being very student centred (tick) very approachable (tick) with excellent ideas about well-being and aspiration (tick) but just not tough enough in the discipline department. I concur. Fair cop. In my world, a good mentor doesn’t need a whip.  They inspire.

What’s interesting is that this was advertised as a mentoring post, in a UK secondary school.  They were clearly making good progress in student support – but as they said, they were fire-fighting. And as the appointed mentor in the sister post confided, they don’t do much mentoring.  It’s disciplining.

That’s what we do, it seems.  In crude terms, we sit on students to get them through to the end.  In this case what the school wanted was someone who could do that with a friendly face.  Someone to sit on the students whilst smiling.

Is it me, or is there something missing?

The Donaldson report on education in Wales wants to see six areas of learning and experience embedded into the curriculum: expressive arts and health and well-being are two of them.  Funny that; I seem to remember Sir Ken Robinson’s report on the Arts in Schools, when I was training way back in the late 80s, recommended much the same thing. Round and round we go.

At least there’s a recognition out there.  At least schools and heads want to see student welfare being prioritised.  But we’re not there yet on the implementation front. Nearly, but not quite.


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A beautiful story about love, time, and spoons

In Africa I learnt how ancestors live on until their name is forgotten, which resonated with me.  This story is by Philippa Perry, with a similar theme.  I’ve lifted it word for word from her gorgeous book ‘How to Stay Sane’ published as part of a series by the School of Life.  It’s my kind of story, now shared 🙂 I hope you like it.

My Wooden Spoon

I sometimes look at a busy street and think: in a hundred years, we will all be dead.  On this same street a hundred years ago, perhaps another woman thought the same thing.  Perhaps, however, like me, she consoled herself with the thought that love is generative and lives on in the next generation, passed on in the habits of love we inculcate in our pupils, children and friends.  I have my late aunt’s paintings around me, my late mother’s ring on my finger and her words inside me still urging me to tell my daughter to ‘be careful’ every time she leaves the house.  My grandfather’s gruff sarcasm lives on in my father and in me, so he is not really dead.  When my daughter lays out a sewing pattern, my fondness for needlework lives on in her.

This deeply moving process, that connects human to human in a cascade of memory passing through generations, can be symbolised by particular objects that are passed down along with the knowledge of our ancestors.  I am the proud owner of a wooden spoon that is worn into an un-spoonlike stump.  In the pre-electric whisk days of the 1960s, my aunt taught me to cream the butter and sugar for a cake mixture; we always used the same spoon.  Even then the spoon was worn out.  My aunt had, in her turn, used it as a child.  I use a whisk now; but the sight of that spoon in the drawer brings tears to my eyes if it catches me unawares on an hormonal day.  My aunt will be forgotten eventually; my daughter will teach her own children to make cakes.  Along with cake recipes she will pass down the love I received first from my aunt.  Oh yes, my aunt will live on, even if her name gets mentioned less and less and her spoon is thrown away.

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How to respond nicely to an aggressive encounter (forgive me, I couldn’t help it)

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Dear _____

It was good to see you in the corridor the other day. Sorry I didn’t have chance to say hello before you shouted at me.

I do appreciate just how cross you were that my eleven year old son and his friends woke you when they came up the stairs at 5 30 from their camping expedition in the garden. It is a shame that the sun rises so early in the summer and they felt compelled to get up and dressed.  When I offered advance warning of his birthday party and said they might come upstairs in the night for the toilet, or if they were scared, I hadn’t considered this scenario.  I do apologise.

When I said they were nice boys (all five of them) I sincerely believed it. I fully understand from your comments that this is not the case. Clearly nice 11 year olds do not jump on stairways. However I am immensely relieved that no other residents heard this atrocious behaviour.  Again, please accept my apologies.

It was lovely how so many residents (some I’d never met before) expressed how delighted they were to see the little camp hidden under the willow tree.  One even said how relieved he was, as he felt he’d made the wrong move coming here. I felt truly welcomed by this and other positive responses. It was encouraging that others share my belief that children should enjoy the freedom of a night in the garden.  It is such a dream spot, under the willow tree by the brook.  I had it in mind that all the boys would treasure such an experience. Especially being woken by a snuffling badger – how rare that must be these days!  Perhaps it was selfish of me.

On a minor note, I hope you will not be offended by a positive suggestion.  I generally find it helpful, in unexpected meetings, to offer a positive greeting before any grievances are unleashed to those clearly unknowing of a situation. Luckily I am fairly perceptive and was able to perceive how aggrieved you were by your face and gesticulations.  Not everyone is so fortunate, and others less sensitive might have felt threatened by the unusual volume .  I do apologise for my response, but I was caught off-guard by your assertion that placing a tyre swing under the tree has brought ‘undersirables’ to the area.

I’m relieved that, like me, other residents haven’t noticed any such types around.  This is puzzling as unlike you my balcony overlooks the tree.  I have been pleased on 3 occasions to see families on the swing (once with the grandparents taking photos) and I did once see two men who I mistook for the tree surgeons. It turned out one had brought his friend to see the spot, as he had fished there frequently as a boy and loved it so much, which was nice. I am sure you were trying not to worry me but If you do see more ‘undesirable’ types, I would consider it a neighbourly gesture if you could warn me.  Meanwhile I am sure you are right that they are being drawn by the swing, although it’s not visible until you’re under the canopy, and so I will of course remove it.

This is such a lovely secluded spot and my boys regularly remark on how lucky we are.  I had thought it a positive thing to encourage my children to enjoy the tree and the wildlife it brings.  We all share such a delight when the heron visits.  I hadn’t considered that locating a swing wouldn’t be a good idea, but perhaps they should just watch the squirrels from the balcony in future.

I do hope we can continue to maintain a good relationship and put this behind us.  Do feel free to say ‘hello’ any time.

Warm regards, Jane

PS I had considered putting a table and chairs under the tree for residents to share tea and a chat.  Would this be a bad idea, do you think?

 

Grrrrr 🙂


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Poetry in motion

 

 

 

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Remember the end of Thelma and Louise?  When they drove off the cliff?

It was gut-wrenching tragedy, understated glory, hand-on-heart, of-the-moment completion.  That final scene left them, and the viewer, suspended over a chasm.

There was no right way, but there was a way that felt right.  However hard.

 

I wouldn’t advocate anything quite as bleak (it still haunts me now).  I’m more of a Waltons girl;  give me an all-rounded happy ending any day, all cornfields and turquoise dragonflies.  But there’s nothing as achingly, hauntingly satisfying as a space, or an action, created in honour of a truth.

Truth might not be comfortable, like an episode of the Waltons.  But it lasts. It hangs in the air.  I’d be pushed to justify two women driving off a cliff, or even to explain how it was a fitting ending for a film. It wasn’t an ending.  It was an open space.

There aren’t many open spaces in our culture.  We have right actions and wrong actions.  Correct and incorrect answers.  We’re not comfortable with the unresolvable.  We don’t chew much.  We want an answer, and to be the first one with our hand up.  We even try hard to meditate correctly.

Perhaps that’s why Thelma and Louise resonated.  Because that space we were left with, that openness, left a big wide space where we could suspend what we think we know.  A space where our assumptions, our beliefs, our cause-and-effect, our moral high-ground, all got scattered about a bit.  A space for review.  For looking afresh.  For revisiting truth.

That’s a lot of long-winded thinking.  The Dalai Lama says something more simple here:

 

 

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But be prepared.  It can feel like this:

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this is a truth

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All my life I’ve had the uncomfortable feeling that I never really knew what was going on.

Instead of  dissipating, (which I hoped/ expected to be the case), the further I progress along the mortal coil, the more this observation holds.  In fact there’s a recognition of such massive complexities around me that any given situation seems so far beyond comprehension or opinion as to be almost out the other side.

The enormities of my un-knowing have reached so far that I stopped watching the news several years ago.  Now it seems radio too is so steeped in judgement that all I pick up is the judgement itself, and not the content.  So again, I reach for the ‘off’ button.

Conversation on current affairs sees me backing into corners.  Asked for an opinion, all I can offer is ‘it’s more complicated than that’.  Because I know it is.  There are truths, more truths, individual and collective truths.  And all the feeding and steering in between, that we participate in and strengthen with each opinion voiced.

I’m conscious that this could sound like an anti-propaganda rant; an anti-them, us-against-the-state stream of bitterness.  But it’s not that.

I’m looking at the judgement we seem to enjoy so greatly.

How would it look if our urgency to express an opinion, to belong in a camp of thought, to be on this side or that, wasn’t such a driving force?  I’ll bet the content of articles on our news programmes would change.  It seems to me that each news article exists primarily to create judgement, to generate strong feeling.  And I suspect that without this driving force, the programmes might disappear altogether.  I wonder.

My son is saturating himself with history.  He knows so much about world war 2.  More, and differently, I suspect, than those who participated in much of it.  How confusing that must be to them.  We talk about war crimes.  We discuss judgement, and punishment.  The need people have to punish for a crime committed in a different time, a different place, an altogether different set up, that we really can’t comprehend, in the here and now.

I wonder about that.

I wonder if the reason we object so strongly call so vehemently, isn’t purely the fight to have one’s opinions venerated and accepted.  And if it has anything at all to do with the crime itself.

I hear there’s a Buddhist philosophy of ‘no blame’.

I like that.  No blame.  If we removed blame, what are we left with?  A little empathy, perhaps, some compassion, an effort to understand, to deal with, to mend, learn, and grow?  Is that really so scary?

I don’t know.  I know less and less.  But it’s worth considering.

Namaste.


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More ‘out’ than ‘in’

Some days things hurt a bit.

On those days it’s good to look out the window , beyond yourself.

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Knowing yourself is a really good thing. If you don’t know and accept who you are, you can’t move forward. Knowing yourself is one of the key things needed to be happy. you can’t be authentic if you don’t know who you are.

That doesn’t mean you have to stay being that definition. We’re not static beings, and we need to grow. Personal growth is a key element of happiness too.

But just as it’s good to know yourself, too much looking inward can tie us in knots. In can isolate us, and we’re social beings. It can distort our perspective. Writers and musicians are highly prone to depression, and it’s easy to see why. We need to watch out.

Watch out, not in.

When we’re preoccupied with not receiving enough, we need to exercise our own giving. When we’re focussed on being poor, we could be grateful for what we have. You know the story. Turn it round. Get outside. See real people around you. Let the grumpy faces be a lesson and the smiling ones inspiration. Exercise your own smile. Practice your outness.

You’ll be glad you did.