Dimensions

A walk in St James’s park. I feel like the luckiest person in the world. At this precise moment I am so elated that I yearn to share it with the rest of the world! The duck island cottage opposite the cabinet war rooms is looking exceptionally picturesque. My hand reaches for my mobile to capture this incredible autumnal beauty in a photo to be shared. But I hesitate. I would only be able to convey part of my experience through a picture, the vibrant colours of the leaves, the bright blue sky and that the sun is shining. Although that in itself would lift anyone’s mood, it is not enough to tell my story right now. It is only a two-dimensional snapshot in time, unable to communicate the multitude of sensations I am experiencing. Would I feel the same if I was on my way to work through the same park? What if it was not early morning? How was the prospect of an exciting adventure ahead affecting me? Would I feel the same joy if I could not hear the rustle of the leaves in the wind, the moving water, the various types of birds making their very own sounds and the familiar, unmistakable sound of the drumming from the guards of Buckingham Palace? No photo of a heron could depict the thrill I got from spotting four individual herons for the first time ever! Nor would any picture of a knobbly old oak tree be able to transfer the feeling of energetic connectedness and vibration I get when I place my hand on its trunk and connect with its wisdom.

Modern, busy lives can be prone to being squashed into confined frameworks, not lived to their maximum potential. To enjoy the bliss of the simple here and now, just be fully alert and let all the senses play their part. Try to discard the burden of the past and let go of the anxiety and expectation about the future. Instead endeavour to revel in the expansive multidimensional present. A life in the two-dimensions of a photograph is boring. It is time to break free and jump out!

P.S. The photo of duck island cottage was taken on a later occasion for illustration purposes…

© Ewa Donnachie 19/11/2018

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The Accident

As a bolt from the blue I got a timely reminder of how your life can change in an instant. Fortunately this was a warning on a small scale, but it shook me up well and proper all the same.

It was a crisp but sunny morning last week, ideal for cycling. I left for work a little later than normal, following my usual route. Admittedly I took a bit of a risk continuing at a set of traffic lights when they were already changing, but I perceived no danger as the oncoming traffic was not yet in motion. In the traffic lights immediately following, I settled behind a black van since there was not enough space for me on the inside of it to move in front. As the lights changed to green, I noticed that the black van was indicating to turn left so I slowly followed with the intention to then carry on straight ahead. But to my surprise my route was blocked by a white van turning left. Where had it come from? To this day I have no idea, but can only hazard a guess that it must have been in the outside lane to my right. Against all rules it cut in front of me, forcing me to take a sharp left and slam on the breaks in order to avoid a collision. As in a slow motion video I recall the sensation of losing control of the bike and falling with the heavy bike landing on top of me. During a split second I realised there was nothing I could do but surrender to the fall.

After that it is all a bit of a blur. The white van had carried on without stopping. A kind cyclist and pedestrian (I think) stopped and helped me up and onto the pavement. I remember complaining that my leg hurt. They encouraged me to sit down and rest. I assured them I was fine (why?), composed myself and tried to continue my journey to work. How stupid, proud and obstinate can one be!?! As you might expect I was unable to operate the pedals, my throbbing leg would not move and with my tail between my legs I docked the bike across the road. Lady luck had made sure there happened to be a docking station so close, and also that the accident took place only 5 minutes from home. My left leg was bleeding as I hobbled home, sobbing. I was clearly in shock, but still all I could think about was how to get to work. My daughter had not yet left for the morning, so after a quick shower she cleansed my legs with antiseptic wipes and put plasters on the cuts. I felt better for the loving attention, got ready and took the bus to work. I was only 15 minutes late, but still visibly shook up and tearful all day. Everyone was very sweet and caring, so I managed to work despite the trauma and the swelling, painful leg. I also had a big bruise on my right leg and left palm.

Day by day the physical discomfort has subsided. Six days on I can walk normally, do most of my yoga, swim front crawl comfortably and yesterday I even tested pedalling a bike for a few minutes. However, the mental impact of the accident has been the more significant of the two. As I tried to make sense of what had happened, I discovered that the scariest thing was that the whole sequence of events was totally beyond my control. I could not even give myself a ticking off to try and be more careful next time. Yes, of course I initially felt guilt and regret about rushing through the lights at the previous crossing. Had I not been so impatient I would never have been at the traffic lights at the same time as the white van – but we cannot live our lives analysing ifs and buts in hindsight!

I continued to feel shook up and incredibly vulnerable. Moving forward I needed to regain serenity. As if by magic, being forced to travel to work by bus the rest of the week gave me the opportunity to return to a book I had started but never finished. I am convinced I was meant to read this particular book right now. It has helped me to centre and see the bigger picture. Slowly but surely I had begun to slip into my old habits of routines and rigidity. The accident was a well-timed reminder that vulnerability is both beneficial and necessary. It is time for me to resume a life of flow and adaptability and avoid any kind of blocks triggered by inflexibility. The channels to new opportunities and influences must stay open for me to progress. In the bigger scheme of things none of us can control the twists and turns our lives will take. All we can do is live in the here and now, openly, honestly and without regrets or expectations.

© Ewa Donnachie 3/9/2018

The Cyclist

The Cyclist

Having successfully docked the hire bike at the end of his journey, the cyclist found himself reflecting on how far he had come since his baptism into cycling on the streets of London many years ago. Admittedly he was no stranger to cycling, but venturing out into the London traffic still seemed a very scary prospect at the time, especially since he did not drive and was unfamiliar with traffic rules and regulations. Not being a risk-taker by nature, the cyclist started off very cautiously, initially walking the route he planned to cycle, figuring out where the dangerous crossings and one-way streets lay and where the quieter streets were situated. He used maps as well as handwritten lists of street names illustrated with arrows hidden in his cycling glove to assist in navigation. A few months in, he felt confident that he would continue using the hire bike and paid for a yearly membership key which eliminated the hassle of pay-as you-go at the docking station for each journey.

In time he had a little repertoire of routes he could tackle to get to work and places he visited regularly. Whenever a new venue came to light, he would investigate the feasibility of getting there by bike. The hire bikes are only free for a 30 minute interval, so if the trip was anticipated to exceed the time frame, he would locate another nearby docking station where he after a short walk could take another bike. The rules stipulate that there has to be a 5 minute break between bikes, although experience later revealed that he could release the same bike he had just docked after about one minute – which was useful information especially when there was a shortage of bikes. When the cyclist started working further away from home he decided to make the bike his principal means of transport, getting as a bonus daily exercise and the opportunity to be outdoors. At that point he even downloaded the cycle hire app onto his phone so that he could determine availability of bikes at docking stations whilst on the move.

A certain degree of professionalism had seeped in, the cyclist thought proudly. He was no longer the novice who would dismount the bike and cross particular roads on foot, the beginner who had to concentrate so hard thinking of anything but riding the bike was impossible. However, humility was still very much needed on the road, being over-confident or in one’s own little world could easily lead to accidents. On one particular damp night when the cyclist had been to an event which left him full of awe and wonder, he did find himself coming off the bike and his helmet-clad head literally bouncing off the road. Luckily he was not hurt bar a few scrapes and scratches, but that cemented in his mind the need to always wear his helmet, however short or trivial the ride was. No helmet, no bike, simple. Being aware of everything around you does not allow for a wandering mind, on the contrary you need to be alert and in the present moment, considering all the possible dangers. Once, years ago, he was concentrating a bit too hard on making sure no car would disregard their instruction to give him way in a crossing. He failed to see a pedestrian step out on the zebra crossing which preceded the crossing and ran into her. Fortunately she was more shaken than hurt, but the cyclist was knocked for six and still to this day takes extra care to spot unpredictable pedestrians.

Having eyes at the back of your head is prerequisite for safe cycling, pondered the cyclist. Take for example a roundabout and navigating through all its stages from entering to exiting and avoiding crossing pedestrians at both ends. It requires many skills, patience in combination with confidence being an obvious one. A cyclist must be able to judge the right time to enter the roundabout, neither too early nor becoming an obstacle for others. Clarity of action, showing your intention and control of the situation creates a favourable response from fellow road users, whereas hesitation and uncertainty often lead to misunderstandings which can result in disaster. Non-verbal communication – however subtle – is key, it creates mutual trust. Clear hand signals are naturally paramount. The cyclist mulled over how frustrating it can be when any type of road user is vague about their next move. Tourists were often the worst, understandably, but nonetheless infuriating. Then there were those in a constant hurry for whatever reason who seemed to think they reign supreme, solitary and with personal privileges which did not include consideration of others. But the majority were simply ‘normal’, down-to-earth, middle-of-the road people out to get from A to B with minimum hassle who tried their best, just like him.

At this point the cyclist allowed himself a little chuckle about how rigid he had been in the beginning, often in a rush and frankly not being the most sympathetic to others. Experience had taught him that however unlikely, it is possible to make a bike ride in rush hour on busy streets a pleasant experience as long as you are mindful and respectful of others. You don’t have to become an unfeeling robot to cope. On the contrary saying, miming or gesturing thank you, smiling and apologising are all ways of co-operating and communicating with those around you. It gives a sense of belonging and wellbeing which ultimately benefits everyone. If you additionally find it in your heart to forgive yourself for silly mistakes – which inevitably will creep in – by laughing, learning and letting go, then you are on the right track. But whatever you do, the cyclist was quick to remind himself, do not apologise or take on guilt from the actions or behaviour of others. So many times he had caught himself profusely apologising to oncoming traffic for e.g. overtaking a car that had inconveniently stopped in the middle of a narrow road. It was not his fault, but he was the one taking on the blame by expressing regret.

Reminiscing – or pedalling down memory lane if you like – made the cyclist aware of what a rich journey he truly had been on. The process of recognising lessons learned – some through past mistakes and others through good or bad feedback, either received or experienced – made him reflect on how interconnected the world around him really was and how much his own attitude mattered. Although the outcome of the cyclist rendering himself vulnerable in the saddle of a bike in the London traffic jungle was predominantly dependent on the external environment, constantly altering phase by phase of his ride, worrying about what junctions or dangers lay ahead was not going to serve him. Equally important as living in the moment, was his own positive input and co-operation as well as his faith in himself and others. The cyclist understood that he had learned a lot from his life on the road and equally that most life wisdoms could be translated into good cycling ethics. He had found his personal survival strategy for coping in this wilderness. His face lit up in a huge smile at an old fond memory, an overwhelming feeling of satisfaction and joy (and plain relief!) of having negotiated his first roundabout successfully plus having managed to make a right-turn into a quiet road straight after. Even today, just as he did then, he inwardly bellowed: Geronimo!!!

© Ewa Donnachie 20/08/2018

The Girl with the Short Hair

In the swinging sixties a baby girl was born. Like most babies she had a mop of black hair at birth, but before long she had lost it all. Pretty soon the hair started growing back and initially only a wisp of light hair appeared on the top of her head.  Against all odds the girl had turned blond, and her hair kept growing. By her third birthday she had long, blond locks.

The girl’s mother had been forced into having long hair when she was growing up during the war. As soon as the mother became independent of her parents, she had her hair cut short. For her own three daughters she therefore favoured a short and practical haircut. So by the time the little girl was four, her hair – which by now had started to get darker – was cut short. Until the age of about nine, the girl had short dark hair, and to be fair, was probably not overly concerned about her looks or locks. But there comes a time in every little girl’s life when she starts to have ideas about her appearance, thinking about boys and wanting to be feminine. This lucky girl managed to persuade her parents to let her grow her dark mane.

The little girl grew into a teenager. She was particularly proud of her reddish Bowie hairdo, which was principally long but with a short tuft sticking up along the top of the head. Boys came and went, but at the age of 14 one relationship became serious and lasted for two and a half years. She went into it with long hair, and came out of it with short. Somewhere in the middle a change happened to her. The little girl was growing up. She was going through a metamorphosis or sorts, and began to feel different. From a young age she had been a bit of a rebel, indulging in eating, smoking and drinking and now she noticed that it did not do her figure any good. The relationship was clearly also suffering from the influence of alcohol abuse. The girl and her boyfriend decided to stop drinking and smoking, and went on a diet. The makeover was complete when the girl decided to return to having her hair cut short. The couple was happy for a year or so, but the girl grew up faster than her five years older boyfriend and became bored. She had been tied down for too long at her tender age. They split up, and soon after the girl had started growing her hair again.

Short-term relationships came and went and the girl was still yearning for true independence. Unable to decide what she wanted to become when she grew up, she decided that escaping and going abroad would give her the necessary freedom. Little did she know that getting away turned out to be a permanent arrangement – she met her husband to be within weeks of settling in her new country and married just over a year later.

Almost two years after the wedding she fell pregnant. Once again she needed to change her lifestyle. The old habits of unhealthy eating, smoking and drinking had crept back into her life, and the latter two definitely needed to be removed. In the eighties eating for two during pregnancy was still thought to be desirable, or at the very least it was commonly used as an excuse for overindulging. The young pregnant lady was especially partial to ice-creams during this unusually hot summer. She had a baby girl and her life was changed forever. She soon realised that she could not cope with her long hair anymore. The baby pulled it, and it was near impossible to wash – the little family had no bathroom of their own, but shared facilities in a separate building. Short hair once again made sense, and it was no co-incidence that the weight started falling off – not only the expected postnatal loss, but the new mother actually slimmed down to a smaller size than before the pregnancy.

Another daughter followed, happy years! The young woman felt fulfilled as a wife and mother, and lead a reasonably healthy life. That is until boredom started slipping in, the hair started growing and the harmful weaknesses started to raise their ugly heads and crept back into her life. However, the young woman was a fighter, so whilst still ‘living it up’, she stuck with her husband, brought up her daughters, studied and held a job. It was not all bad, but her marriage did start to crumble and eventually broke after close to 20 years. The hair stayed long, and the not-so-young woman got into another relationship, which turned out to be a rollercoaster of a ride for the next seven years. The unhealthy habits were definitely back on the scene and the hairstyle did not change.

This detrimental but spectacular period ended when the now middle-aged woman started growing up, and realised that she needed to change her ways. She did just that, the smoking and the drinking fell to the way-side, this time for good. The eating was more difficult to curb, it followed a yo-yo pattern for years to come. This was combatted with a lot of exercise, sometimes maybe a tad excessive? Some of the weight she had lost stayed off, but she could not find nor stick to an ideal size. Masses of self-development was also in progress at this time, and at last she was starting to believe that there might actually be light at the end of her tunnel. But still she was scared and held back, not ready to let go of the past or her ego.

Finally, after working for over 27 years for the same company she cut loose, having decided to return to her country of birth to live with her mother – who still had short hair – for six months. The stay extended to nine months, and did something to the mature woman. Another transformation had taken place during which she found herself.  She came back wiser and at peace with herself, at last. The weight started dropping off as if by itself. She felt so amazing that one morning she decided to get rid of her protective shield. She cut her hair short again, shorter than it had ever been.

© Ewa Donnachie 06/08/2018

 

 

Full Circle

For me there was a distinctly circular feel to the past year. My Finnish Adventure provided me with a pleasant detour on my life path, from which I ended up back at the beginning. After nine months in Finland I returned to my old life, but as a new me feeling rejuvenated and with fresh opportunities. Everything was the same, but changed. I literally look – as well as feel – different, and the best about it is that it has all happened quite naturally over the past six weeks. Initially I worried about how I would settle back in London and adjust to working life, but fairly soon I realised that my fears were unfounded. I soon found my feet. Admittedly I have felt vulnerable and unsure at times, but I have found reserves of strength and courage to deal with these situations.

I was thrown in at the deep end at work. My previous employer of 27 years was in need of urgent temporary administrative support and I started working on my second day back in London, four days a week. It was good to be back amongst friends and colleagues, and in a totally new location in leafy St John’s Wood. How to commute there was initially a concern that required some planning. To the previous location in Mayfair it had been easy to walk or cycle, but St John’s Wood is considerably further away. The plan was hatched whilst still in Finland. Needing to lose some weight (blame good Finnish food!) and fitting in sufficient exercise into my week, I decided to cycle. I renewed my cycle hire membership, purchased some cycling shorts (and rain gear not yet worn!), figured out the route and was brave enough to cycle on my first day, map in hand. The journey requires the use of 2 bikes due to a maximum free hire time of 30 minutes, and takes about 45 minutes door-to-door. There was a lot of new, scary right-hand turns and junctions, but with time I have become increasingly confident. The cherry on the cake came when I found out that there was a shower on the new premises! What could be better than cycling, showering and then changing to feel refreshed and ready to start the working day? Little things like this transformation can make all the difference!

It feels good to be part of a team again, I had missed that in Finland. Work also gives me much needed intellectual stimulation. Although I definitely aim to carry on writing, it has become apparent that I have not missed it as much as I had anticipated during these beautifully sunny (hot!) summer months, when catching up with friends has taken priority. Everything has obviously not been completely plain sailing. There was a wobbly moment a few weeks ago when I was reminded of my temporary status at work and felt very vulnerable in terms of my future prospects. However, with my newfound mental reserve I managed to look on the other, brighter side of the coin and appreciate how fortunate I was to have a job in the first place and one so enjoyable at that. I trust that this is the right thing for me at this particular moment in time. A small dose of vulnerability is good for my soul just now, teaching me to be humble and open to every new opportunity and not get stuck in a rut.

To remain on the move requires letting go. Two weeks ago I woke up to a drastic decision which had been ripening very slowly but surely in my mind over the past few years, but still took me by surprise just as much as everyone around me. My hair had been long for the past 30 years, but now it was time to go short again. By lunchtime I had a new look. On the previous day I had collected my new varifocals and this inevitably influenced my decision. Not only did I instantaneously perceive the world around me more clearly, but my appearance was going to change anyway, so why not? Add some new earrings and the transformation was complete. It feels liberating! On reflection I had perceived my hair as some sort of protection to hide behind. The new, shortest ever hairstyle initially made me feel vulnerable, but as I get used to it, it actually adds to my confidence – just as my cycling on the busy streets of London has done.  Not to forget the practicality of a pixie hairstyle when you do yoga, swimming, cycling and just plain surviving in a heatwave! A little confession, I have not been able to let go completely yet, I still have my plait in a plastic bag…

Fortunately the extra weight I was carrying has started to drop off as well, without too much conscious effort. I believe that my transformation is due to my newfound acceptance of life as it is and not having any regrets. My confidence in the here and now, acting on instinct of what feels right as well as taking risks is paying dividends.  I have come full circle, but I don’t worry about where my journey will take me next. Instead I can simply enjoy the ride, because I have returned a little more refined and matured – just like an old cheese or wine…

© Ewa Donnachie 28/07/2018

 

Homecoming

My Finnish Adventure came to an end two weeks ago. Like the migrating birds I observed leaving in the autumn and flying back in the spring, I needed to return to London. Even if I always knew this was going to happen, the reality of it truly dawned on me when I bought my one-way ticket home at the beginning of May. Around that time I gave the little birds that had kept me company in the garden over the winter their last feed. Sad to see them go, but the right thing to do for the summer months. Similarly it was time to let Mum manage on her own for a while. Compared to letting go of the birds, the preparations for leaving Mum alone required much more of an effort on my part!

In a nutshell, I made the arrangements for carers to come and help Mum on a daily basis, mainly with her medication. Her physical health is currently stable and managed with drugs. Regrettably nothing seems to help against the insomnia she has suffered from for the best part of a year, but our main concern lies in her deteriorating memory. She was recently diagnosed with a combination of Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia. Her ability to look after herself has progressively diminished and we are fortunate to have the carers, but also all the support of friends and neighbours who look in on her, as well as family members who continue to phone, visit and stay with Mum for varying lengths of time over the summer months. For me this is now a true test of releasing control of the provisions set up, and trusting in the fruits of my labour with regard to Mum’s well-being.

Letting go is what I will do right now, and instead briefly reflect on what the past year has given me. Has it changed me in any way? I am probably not the best person to answer that given the difficulty in detecting gradual transformation, especially in oneself, but I will make an attempt. Glancing over my previous blogs reveals that I tried not to have too many specific expectations when I set off on my adventure. I suppose reconnecting to my roots, being close to nature, slowing down and experiencing some sort of healing was broadly speaking what I hoped to achieve. So how did I get on? Overall my time in Finland could be split into two main categories, caring for Mum and then trying to counteract the effects of that. Let me explain. In order to give of myself to my ‘energy vampire’ Mum, it was vital for me to replenish my own power supplies in order to maintain a healthy balance.

Taking care of Mum obviously taught me a lot. Not only purely practical skills, but living with her also gave me a deeper understanding of myself and relationships in general. Occasionally I would notice how she mirrored back to me habits I don’t particularly like about myself, thus giving me a chance to adjust my own behaviour. One of my biggest lessons turned out to be that you cannot – and should not even try to –mould or change another person. Transformation must come from within each individual. Accepting people as who they really are can be incredibly hard, but is the only way forward in building fruitful, lasting relationships.

As well as being essential for my survival, replenishing my positive energy gave me immense pleasure. Being close to nature was perhaps the most important asset I had – along with my good friends – and I made full use of it! The universe was generous enough to give me all four seasons in nine months and there was hardly a cloud in the sky during my last six weeks in Finland. It was Mother Nature who showed me how to slow down, how to be totally present and appreciate my surroundings. Full consciousness is required for ones portals to be open and receive the energy flow. You can only experience the magic of the woods if all your senses are open to the varying light and shadow, sounds, smells and unexpected turns. Similarly life becomes more thrilling when you expose yourself to its unpredictability!

During one of my last cycle rides on a sunny summery morning I suddenly burst into tears when I reached the point from where the above photo is taken. I had exited a meadow and was on the verge of moving into the woodland. The emotion that came over me was incredibly powerful. It felt like all the anxiety I had harboured about leaving behind the neighbourhood – which in my eyes is the most beautiful in the world – was released. At that moment I was given permission to move on, to go home and start a new adventure – with some useful tools in my nap sack!

© Ewa Donnachie 25/06/2018

New Beginnings

Spring has sprung. The last of the snow is melting here in Helsinki. At night the temperature still dips below zero, but we have been lucky to enjoy a whole week of brilliant, warming sunshine. There is a musty, earthy smell around and from amongst the brown, wilted autumn leaves new life appears in the form of a bright yellow coltsfoot.  Some migrating birds have returned and others have changed their tune, altering my morning yoga sound track. For a while the gurgling, bubbling sound of the melting snow added drama to the choir of bird song. That has now been replaced by the thumping background drumming noise coming from a nearby building site. The tune and ensemble is fresh each new day.

I feel the need to apologise for my extended silence. First it was deliberate. In a book about being an author the successful Japanese writer Haruki Murakami recommends that when writing a book you should concentrate on that effort alone and not write anything else. Sound advice I thought, and I kept writing my book regularly for a few months. However, I had another relaxing respite holiday to London which broke the creative rhythm, and despite having returned almost two weeks ago I have not for various reasons been able to regain my writing pattern.  Thus I decided this was the perfect opportunity to connect with you again through a post, before getting started again.

We have a brand new member in our family, the cutest, most perfect and delightful little baby boy. Having two sisters, all of us in turn having two daughters, this little prince born to my niece just over six weeks ago has come as a blessing to break the female domination. He is very calm, doesn’t cry but makes a lot of little funny noises. I held him for hours yesterday, and there is something very special about a new little life with all its future still ahead, all that potential. It got me thinking about my own life. How did I end up where I am? What were the hopes, dreams and expectations of my family all those years ago when I was a baby? Have I fulfilled them?

These are big, huge, gigantic questions I could not begin to attempt to answer in a blog post, but they tie in nicely with a book I was given last week for my birthday. In short it encourages you to fulfil your purpose and live your dream. My attention was caught by a statement that if you don’t feel rearing to go, ready and excited about the day ahead of you when you get up in the morning, then you are most probably not enacting your personal dream. This is an easy check for us all to do. Do you feel passionate about what your day will bring first thing in the morning?  I can’t say I do, at least not every morning. But this is something concrete I can work on. Identify what stirs me and makes me excited and incorporate that in my day. Writing gives me enormous delight, it fulfils a deep need in me. This is a sure sign that I should soonest return to my book and hope you will excuse my forthcoming silence – it means all is well!

The passage of time always seems to bring out food for thought in one way or another. As winter turns to spring in the revolving doors of the seasons and new life surrounds us everywhere, we are reminded that life is full of new beginnings. These openings occur all the time, each season, every month, at the beginning of the week, when you awake to a new day, hour by hour, this minute – the moment is NOW. Be sure to focus on what makes your heart sing, join the spring concert!

© Ewa Donnachie 15/04/2018