017 Optimism and the Death of a good man

Did you know that today is Good Friday? Arguably the most important day in the Christian calendar! Strange then that I have found myself thinking about optimism when my faith path leads me to the crucifixion today. Perhaps this is not as strange as you might think.

Optimists get a hard time these days: we are accused of being unrealistic in our thinking; we are told that life is not ‘pollyanna’ and that optimism is a mask for what’s happening underneath (Imagine the serene swan gracefully gliding down the river, while underneath the water they are paddling like crazy!!).

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Optimism is not about denying reality – it is about believing that good can come out of our sometimes harsh realities. I am no stranger to pain, death, loss and grumpiness. In life I have experienced the good, the bad, and the ugly, and understand the showdowns of life. Optimism is about seeing past the pain to healing. It is seeing hope in helplessness. And it is believing in better and rejecting the bitter.

Which leads me to the good guy suffering a gory death on a Roman cross, naked for all to see – what good could possibly come out of that?!

There’s this little verse in a letter to some Hebrews which says,

(Jesus)…who for the joy set before him endured the cross.

It seem Jesus was looking past the pain towards the joy of possibilities. The cross was not the end – it was THE means to an end. Jesus knew and believed that his death would result in new life for the countless millions who would choose to follow him back into relationship with God the Father (Did you know that one in every three humans on the planet claim to follow Jesus today?).

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Perhaps Jesus was an optimist. Perhaps he simply had faith in God to make all things new. Perhaps he didn’t even see the whole picture, but just somehow knew it would all work out for the good.

Whatever you are going through today, may you find strength in God and your own heart to look past the pain to see the possibilities of joy that are on the other side. And may God bless you with all you need to keep stepping forward one step, and one day, at a time.

016 Litter Trays, Sand therapy & the value you give to yourself

I have had a number of conversations recently about the value of ‘things’; the value we add to those around us; and the value of learning. I love the idea of Adding Value – I first came across it in a little book by John Maxwell called 360 Leader. This book impacted me with it’s core idea of adding value wherever you are in life and work. It looks at adding value regardless (or in spite of) your position or role.

Value is important. But more importantly… YOU are important.

Why is it so hard for us to accept our own importance and value? We look at celebrities, scientists, teachers, business people, etc, and we think I’m nowhere near as cool, famous, valued, important, clever (add your own chatter-box-mind description) as they are.

The good news is this – that thought is so off the mark! We are made for so much more than being the little guy with nothing of value to give to the world. We are each here for a purpose. You have a destiny; a reason for being. You have value to add to those around you. So why do we think we do not. I think the answer is in the litter tray!

At work this week we got a small shipment of cat litter trays. A pile of blue plastic trays in which you put a load of tiny white stones in which your cat will then deposit all its crap! Do you ever feel like a litter tray? Do you ever have those days when you feel that you’re being dumped on?! Days when you feel crap. Days when you feel that no one values who you really are. Days when you don’t want to show other people who you really are. Those days can easily become weeks, months or even years. Years of being dumped on and undervalued.

So why is a therapy centre receiving a shipment of litter trays?

Our training manager runs courses on “Sand-play therapy“. Sand Play therapy aims to help people overcome life difficulties and traumas by encouraging the client to create a therapeutic world in the sand to safely explore and be in control of processing life. Our cat litter trays which are used for cat-waste are transformed into something which helps people to recover from life’s traumas – they find their true value whilst adding value to others!

They find their true value whilst adding value to others

How do you value YOU?

Life is full of ups and downs. At the moment do you feel life people just ‘dump on you’ and make you feel of little value? Are you feeling that you have value to offer and give to others (through firstly attributing value to yourself)?

Don’t let yourself be someone elses’ dumping ground – position yourself to be a person of value; be someone who adds value to those around you. Just like I need to choose how to use the blue plastic trays, each of us needs to choose how we will use our lives.

Let your true value shine out. Let your sense of purpose rise up so that others see your skills; your accumulated knowledge of the world; your experiences; your funny stories; your musical genius. Whatever it is that makes you, YOU…let it out. Unleash yourself on the world and look for opportunities to add value and to be valued.

015 Finding your purpose and some Japanese thinking (Ikigai)

I recently wrote about how knowing your purpose is a key to living in joy. But what if we don’t know our purpose? What if we’ve never been able to work it out? – Then this post will really, practically help you…

Maksud continued to wander the wilderness, the cold east wind blowing her hair across her face. Strands of her long black hair blew into her eyes as she battled against the wind and sand, still unsure of her destination. She looked up from the ground into the distance, something mystically arising within her soul: Something that felt like hope despite the harshness of her surroundings. She had heard in the distant past that sometimes hope defies reality. She stared hard into the distance, willing some glimmer to appear. Maksud reminded herself that sometimes a glimmer of hope is all you need to feed the thirsty longing of your soul. Just for a second she thought she saw a shadow through the blowing sands. 

Have you ever felt like Maksud? Your direction in life seems shrouded in shifting sands which blind you to the direction your life should take. It’s easy to feel like there’s no point – no purpose. It’s easy to feel that you are wandering while everyone else is ‘living a purposeful life’. Can I encourage you?

Let hope arise – sometimes hope defies (or changes) your reality

In this post I want to provide you with a practical idea based on a Japanese concept called ‘Ikigai‘ which may inspire hope to rise, and glimmers to appear in how you think about your purpose in life. You have something to offer the world that no one else can give. You are unique in the life experiences, education, skills, knowledge and ideas that fill you. No one else is like you, and no one else can give what you can give in the way that you can give it. In your life you will connect with people that others cannot connect with and you will speak into their lives in very unique ways. Understanding your sense of purpose is vital in this.

Seven Benefits of living your purpose

  1. You will be more focused – purpose directs your decisions, journey and destination because you will have a stronger sense of meaning in life
  2. You will be more passionate, with a deeper joy in living
  3. You will be more hopeful – it is a joy to know that every day you can do something (even a small thing) that is linked to your overall purpose in life
  4. Life is more straightforward – decisions are made through being purposeful
  5. You will be more motivated – you are able to move in the direction you want and will be doing what energises you
  6. You will be more resilient – having a stronger sense of purpose means that when life is tough (as it can be often!) you have strong reasons for weathering the storms and persevering to move forward
  7. Purpose has been linked with better health and stronger personal relationships

This list is not exhaustive – there are a great many benefits a purposeful life can give to you. So how can you practically work out your purpose? Here goes…

IKIGAI

In Japan there is a simple concept called Ikigai (loosely translated it means reason for being). The image below shows the 4 main parts of Ikigai. They are:

  1. What are you good at?
  2. What do you enjoy?
  3. What does the world need?
  4. What can you get paid for?

img_9767Ikigai is the place where all four ‘spheres’ connect and overlap. The original concept of Ikigai does not place importance on what you can earn because true happiness in life is not about what you accumulate in life, but rather in how you live your life. The ‘earning’ part of the model is shown because we have to consider how to survive practically in life, and there is a monetary cost to that. It’s hard to feel fulfilled when your stomach is empty!

Ikigai is also not about knowing what career to choose – a career choice should come from having a sense of purpose.

Ikigai – A Purposeful Process

Get yourself a large sheet of paper and write the 4 questions across the top of the page (see the photo below for my example)

Ikigai lists

Make Lists

Next, start listing everything you love doing under the heading “What do I love?” – be exhaustive in the list. Take your time. You might need to come back to it many times (I spent weeks reflecting on this).

It can be helpful to talk with friends or family to get their ideas (but only write down what is true for you, not them!). This list is likely to be your longest list: add sports; musical interests; work ideas; creativity pursuits; tasks; everything you can think of that makes you feel happy!

Then do the same for the next three questions. Be sure to write as many things as you can think of. Put down everything you think is relevant to each question. Remember there is no wrong thing to write – you can always cross it out again – it’s vital to the process. Allow yourself to dream, but keep it real.

Look for ‘themes’

Once you have done this, look at each list and begin to look for what words or ideas reoccur – circle these as shown on my example – you should now be seeing how some of the initial ideas on the ‘love list’ are also on your other lists (if not, should they be?) – seeing words and phrases on 3-4 of the lists will help you see the parts of a greater ‘purpose’ or sense of meaning for you.

In the lists above, the person listed things like ‘inspiring others’, ‘telling stories’ and ‘teaching stuff’ – each of these could easily join together into the role of a Teacher. They also said they were good at ‘explaining things’ – a great teaching skill! They had always seen ‘public speaking’ as a presentation skill, but never as a teaching skill – this process changed their view and allowed their mind to open to wider possibilities!

Create a Purpose Statement for your life

Take the reoccurring statements from your first three lists and try to craft them into a statement of purpose for your life – this is perhaps the hardest part of the exercise. It will take time. You will need to draft , draft and redraft until you are content with the statement you have made. This part of the process took me over a month!

Ikigai does not guarantee that you will be happy in life, but the process will lead you to a clearer idea of what your purpose in life actually is. The purpose statement that flowed from the example above ended up being…

Inspiring others to learn from life through teaching, speaking and writing

Notice that this statement doesn’t mention their career – your career choices will flow from your sense of purpose. They could be a blogger, motivational speaker, teacher, life coach, youth worker, or a travelling preacher and still live their life ‘on purpose’.

Make choices based on your Purpose Statement

By the time you are reflecting on ‘What can I get paid for?’ you should have a ‘glimmer’ (or a clear insight) of what your purpose looks like. The person above knew before this point that they needed to work with young people and that they needed to be doing public speaking because it gave them a massive sense of happiness and energy.

If your purpose statement was about being fabulous in finances and impacting the banking world, you would not then choose a career path as a train driver. You would make choices that facilitate the fulfilling of your purpose. You would aim to work in finance, and to grow in depth of knowledge and experience with which you might make an impact. Growing in your purpose requires narrowing down your options – this is one of the ways you will become more focused.

Moving forward on Purpose

It is important to point out that purpose is not always about what career you have (although it can be). Purpose is about what gives your life meaning and this differs for each of us. Our situation in life can deeply influence our sense of purpose. A Japanese lady who was struggling with her purpose came to the conclusion that her purpose was to be the best mother to her children possible.

The key thing in finding purpose is about happiness – what will give you joy while you are giving yourself to the world around you? As you move forward keep on reflecting on your purpose – continue to draw on it in your life choices as you aim to live it out with passion, energy and meaning.

Mark Twain

I must point out that knowing your purpose does not make your life easier (it might make it harder!) – it makes it more fulfilled (but only when you life according to your purpose. Living out your purpose will require grit, determination and a lot of perseverance. Other people will always try to get you to live according to their purpose for your life – stay focused and stay on your track – it will be worth it in the end.

May you know an ever deepening sense of happiness as you  uncover your sense of purpose and give back to the world around you.

If you have found this article helpful please leave me a comment below, or drop me an email to let me know how it has helped you. You might also wish to share it with your friends, or on social media – this would be kind, and appreciated.  With warm regards, Stuart.

 

 

 

014 Knowing your purpose is a key to living in joy

Maksud wanders as if blown by the wind, from one experience to the next. Her mind always drawn by the desires of childhood hidden deep within her soul. She pushes them down and carries on. Recalling them cuts her heart and causes regret to spill like blood around her mind. But those dreams and those desires still linger, as if they have a life of their own, longing and striving to break free. 

Purpose

It was eight years ago when I met with Paul. Paul was helping me to understand myself better in order to support me in making some choice changes to what my career looked like. At the end of the process he gave me a warning: make sure you choose roles that fit your sense of purpose. His reason was this: when you do not live out your purpose something within you either dies or struggles to get out

I believe firmly that we are all made for a purpose. Deep within each of us there are dreams and desires related to purpose that we need to be living. I don’t mean the desire for another human being. I don’t mean the desire to go on holiday to Italy.

The desires we are talking about are a deep rooted sense of why we are here.

Many of us lose these early on. As a youth worker in my former life I observed young people losing their dreams and hope. Each year older they get, the more serious they become about ‘real’ careers and ambitions. Each year natural thinking and creativity gets reduced until it becomes nothing more than a distant memory. Each year older we get the deeper our true selves can be buried in the mess of just getting through the days – can you relate to this?

Children have no problem saying when I get older I’m gonna be an astronaut, ballerina and record-breaking banana eater!!! As we get older we are less likely to share our deep dreams with others – this is a truth that swirls the sadness within me – we were made to dream, dare and do according to our sense of deep purpose. Mark Twain says the following:

Mark Twain

There’s a nugget of golden truth in this statement: it implies that we must dig out our purpose. We must endeavour to work our purpose out. I believe this is one of our key tasks of life: we are to find our purpose and to live it out

we are to find our purpose and to live it out

Yet many of us are just like Maksud: we wander through life wrestling with the thought that our dreams and desires are childish and foolish, but we cannot escape from them. We have negative voices in our heads telling us we could never do that thing we dream of. So we bury our desires. We walk through life according to someone else’s plans and expectations. We often also walk through life with the cacophonous noise of our critics (inner and actual) clanging in our minds – you may need to silence your critics to follow your purpose and seek out joy in life.

It is time to break free from the drudge that hinders and holds you back from the hope and joy of living your purpose! It’s time to dream. It’s time to step up and move forward.

How do I know this?

Because it is always time to start doing the right thing, and finding your purpose is definitely the right thing!

The word Maksud is Indonesian and means purpose, intent, point, intention, view, meaning.

Purpose requires us to intentionally find it. It gives us meaning and intention to our lives and it opens up that well of joy within you. Seek out your purpose.

When I began exploring why I am on this beautiful planet and then living on purpose it released me to be who I am. It releases joy within us and that keeps us persevering and moving forward even when it’s difficult.

I realised a few years ago that my overarching purpose is Inspiring others to learn from life through teaching, speaking and writing. I don’t need to be famous or rich to do this. I can do it in my everyday job. I can do it in conversations, blogs, Facebook posts, etc.

Your purpose may be something that integrates well with the life you live already – it’s not always a cataclysmic change (although for some it will be).

Throeau

What one thing  can you do this week to uncover your purpose? Leave a comment to cement that thought? Or write it in your journal, phone, or task list.

Have you got ideas on how other readers can uncover their purpose? – please leave some comments and encourage others to boldly go into a life of purpose and joy. Purpose releases life and hope within us. It dwells beside the well of joy I mentioned in a previous post.

I hope that you will rediscover and share your sense of purpose regardless of how old or young you are.

May you dare to dream and live according to your personal purpose today and every day with passion, and hope

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013 Joy can be found intentionally

As I walked my girls to school this morning I posed the question to my oldest (whose smile was upside down):

“What is the one thing you can do today that will make you feel joy?”

pexels-photo-618669.jpegShe pondered the thought and smiled as she said slowly “I don’t know”. I could see a few things happening within her.

  1. She began to think about it.
  2. As she began to think about what might make her happy something on the inside released a smile on the outside!

As we think about things that make us happy or give us joy it releases something within us that can lead us to a more joyful place. I don’t understand the psychology of this, but I do understand that when we think about the stuff that makes us happy, or we consider how we can be more intentionally happy, it leads us closer to being happy of experiencing moments of joy.

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So for you today, will you intentionally step into a joyful moment or a happy space and answer…

“What is the one thing you can do today that will make you feel joy?”

As you seek joy in your life may you experience happiness in abundance and joy in all its fullness.

This blog is part of a series of blogs called #101joys. I aim to eventually write 101 short pieces related to seeking joy in our lives. Look for the others using the #101joys hashtag

012 Coffee Creativity: The Case of the Nude Barista

The sun is shining on Harrogate today and I can hear the morning coffee call. Responding to the call I step into my local independent coffee shop. I’m greeted by the owner and the barista, both of whom are bright and cheery. The welcome is warm and authentic.

This place is a little treasure trove of coffee in the centre of Harrogate. The vibe is relaxed, and every time I walk through the door I have the urge to be creative – it’s the leaidback inspiring conversations and vibe that does it for me. I can imagine John Keats travelling here from Hampstead Heath just to sit and write great poetry. If I had the time that’s what I would do, but I need to move on to work most days.

barista

I order a skinny latte with an extra shot, asking about the beans on offer today. The barista passionately describes the Nude and Volcano beans, describing them with such detail that I can almost smell and taste them! I opt for the Nude (The Volcano is an excellent choice if you prefer an espresso).

As he makes my latte the barista continues to talk about the coffee (he loves this job!) and before I know it I’m talking about how my love for coffee was birthed: Writing regularly in a coffee shop that didn’t mind me sitting for a few hours with a notebook, pencil and coffee. We wax lyrical about how much better paper is to screen reading and writing, and about how pen on paper is becoming a lost art and habit. And then my latte is ready.

I thank him for the coffee and fine conversation and I walk out feeling inspired. Walking round the corner I take the lid off the coffee, stop and inhale deeply. The scent drifts up, filling neural pathways with positive thoughts and messages: I feel happy, and the coffee smells like heaven. I am drawn back into memories of quiet afternoons writing with a coffee and I have this sudden impulse to write. Ironically, I have no notebook with me today!

creative mind

As I reflect on this morning’s experience it struck me that I had entered a highly creative environment: the barista is a creator, forming a unique coffee with each cup crafted. Creativity (like the scent of good coffee) permeates an environment and has a viral affect upon us. In short when we see creativity it sparks the desire to be creative within us. I’m reminded that we were born Nude and made by a creative God. With his thumb-print on our souls his creativity permeates us and allows us the ability and opportunity to unleash our creativity. Perhaps all we need to unleash creativity is a creative barista and the viral effect of a good coffee.

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011 Shine: Handling your Critics

Abe lincoln

No person in American history was so respected and yet so hated as Abraham Lincoln. Thousands opposed him in his views on war and slavery, as well as his attempts to keep America united.

One day a friend pulled Lincoln aside and told him that his critics were speaking so negatively about him.

Lincoln responded, Every time there is a full moon dogs will bark and bark at the moon for as long as it is clearly visible in the sky.” 

Puzzled by Lincoln’s response, the friend asked, “What are you driving at? What’s the rest of the story?”

moon barking

Lincoln answered, “There is nothing more to tell. The moon keeps right on shining.”

There are always ‘dogs barking’ around us.

There are always the voices of negativity around us, as well as the negative voices looping their insidious messages in our minds.

We can listen to them and allow our lives, our vision and our hearts to grow dark…

…or we can choose to keep on shining.

Whatever you are going through today, please do not give up – you were truly made to let your light shine.

light shine