Attitude of Gratitude

Day 5 of the Positive Affirmation Challenge from Personal Excellence ( is all about gratitude.


“I am grateful for everything in my life”.


Despite the complaining which I certainly indulge in, as do others I come across, I am conscious of just how much I have to be grateful for.


So it rains a lot in Britain.   It may throw the schedule at Wimbledon or cricket grounds.   But switch on the news to see rains which destroy homes and communities over the world.   Public transport could be better.   Try using it in many developing nations, as I have, and you begin to appreciate the comfortable conditions and relatively short journeys to get anywhere.


I’ve worked at a nursery school in Kenya where the toilet was literally a hole in the ground and visited a rural school in India where children were taught with very few resources.   Everyday I have clean water, books and access to the internet, yet I’ll still curse the connection speed.   I’ve been driven through the downtown Cairo traffic on a Saturday evening yet I complain to myself about having to wait a few minutes at traffic lights at the end of my road.


Living in the moment of complaint without taking a step back to consider the bigger picture is something I could certainly do to overcome.   I am conscious that when I complain I am reacting to the world not being quite as I would like it at that moment, when the reality is the world is mostly the way I like it, most of the time.   I have health, freedom of choice and the benefits of living in a small, caring community.


If I ditch the complaining, I can focus on what I can progress and what I can be thankful for.   I can focus on taking action against the things that are totally justified as matters of complaint-the real poverty, violence, discrimination and lack of opportunity still present throughout the world.   I can move from a negative and inward looking position, to one that is open and flexible enough to move forward.


The obstacle course…

On day 4 of Celestine’s Positive Affirmation challenge on the Personal Excellence blog, and the immediate obstacle I had to overcome was writing this post in the first place.   I had a busy day at work, I had my goddaughter’s school play to go and see, it was late before I got home…how can I possibly be inspired to write??


Simples.   Sit at the computer and start typing.   Let out the immediate worries and concerns onto the page and then more thoughts start to flow out.   I know this would happen if I just sat down but I didn’t.   Too much effort, far too big an obstacle…


“I have the power to overcome any obstacle that stands in my way”.


I’m happy to admit that my most challenging obstacles are made by me.   I decide I can’t and therefore I don’t.   Even when there is a certain amount of third party involvement, for example in trying to obtain a place to study for a PhD, if I decide I can’t and don’t make the effort, then back to the old self-fulfilling prophecies again.   If I don’t contact the academics to discuss their programmes, research funding, sit down and write a proposal then quite simply the obstacle is definitely going to remain right where it is.


I have to accept that even with the work, I may not obtain a place straightaway, due to the constraints of others, but consider the benefits of doing the work.   I have knowledge for the next application round.   I have contacts. I have ideas of how I could improve or focus my proposal.   I may have more insight into what it is I want to research and whether it’s really what I want to do.   The obstacle may move in the future or I may find my way around it, or through it.


One of the benefits I have found from following Celestine’s challenge, and blogging about it, is the opportunity it has provided for me to really examine my thoughts and behavior in response to each day’s affirmation.   Yes, rather than decide I was far to busy to think about these things and therefore contemplate what I might rather ignore, I sit myself down and type away.   Progress isn’t made without a plan and insight, and this has been a useful way of focusing on how I would like to develop in terms of my learning and skills, and what I need to do to move in that direction.


This is an interesting article on a similar theme by Laura Vanderkam, which appeared on her website yesterday.


Also, Tiny Buddha published this article by Deborah Shelby today.


From Believing It To Achieving It

This is day 3 of Celestine’s Positive Affirmation Challenge ( and today’s affirmation is a variant on one I’ve always had some difficulty with.


Can I really achieve anything I want if I set my heart on it?   How about my childhood dream of being an astronaut?   The reality is-no!   Britain does not have a manned space programme, I’m over 40 years of age and I don’t have the many skills or qualifications that those fortunate enough and brave enough to have made the journey into space possess.


It’s also something upon which I’ve read some criticism.   Just telling yourself you are rich, you are thin, you are successful does not make it so, however much you decide to believe it in your heart.   This, as Celestine points out, is not the purpose of affirmations.   Just saying words isn’t enough, I would have the same results as if I were to recite nursery rhymes to myself (although I have been known to recite the Rudyard Kipling poem “If” to myself when facing a difficult situation, to help me focus- ).   You also have to do the work-set your goal, believe in your own mind that you can achieve it and then do something about it.   Make a plan and actually implement it, facing the difficulties and carrying on even when all you want to do is give up.


Where this affirmation helps however is reminding me to tell myself the truth.   I am someone who values integrity and that should include what I tell myself.   The example I gave yesterday of my desire to learn a language, quite simply I have told myself that I can’t.   Is that true?   No.   I have not been prepared to spend the time and effort needed to learn, to keep going in the face of difficulty and to keep practicing.   I won’t, rather than I can’t.


When I say “I am going to be an astronaut” I know I am lying to myself.   But when I say “I am able to learn French by studying a little every day, even when I find it hard I will remind myself that I have done and learnt many difficult things in the past”, that is both true and positive.


Setting your heart on something means also setting your brain, your hands and your efforts onto the work involved.   It means honesty with yourself.   This is perhaps why I find this affirmation so difficult, I know in my own mind what is possible and also how much work and effort it will take to bring that possibility to fruition.   But I also know how much it would mean to me and the worth of that goal to me, and only I can decide if that is worth the work involved.


I read the following insightful piece by Dr Suzanne Gelb, which was published today on the Tiny Buddha website, she makes the point about honesty with ourselves far better than I ever could.

Celestine’s Personal Excellence site has a lot of useful material on setting and achieving goals, and getting past our limiting beliefs about our abilities, worth having a read.

Unconditional Love

In the C.S. Lewis book, “Voyage of the Dawn Treader”, Lucy uses a magic spell to look like her older sister, Susan, Lucy’s idea of the epitome of beauty.   But when shown the vision of her life under the spell, Lucy has ceased to exist for her family.   The sage lion Aslan explains to her that in trying to be someone other than herself, she ceases to exist.


To be someone other than yourself has a long history, whether through art or through more modern desires to change appearance or thoughts.   Greater consciousness of who “we” are and why we are here is a laudable goal, attempting to totally change the “who” and “why” for external reasons takes us right back to the consequences of Lucy’s spell, as well as being unlikely to lead to a healthy outcome.


Spending time in galleries, looking at the paintings of the royal and wealthy going back over the centuries, they clearly did not show up for the sittings in “this old thing”.   There was probably also some degree of artistic licence to improve the appearance of the sitters-Tudor and Elizabethan Britain was a time of widespread disease, poor quality food and water, and even poorer medicine.   The sitters more manifest imperfections could be smoothed over.   It is said that Henry VIII rejected his fourth wife, Anne of Cleves, when he finally met her in person, having been given a somewhat unrealistic impression of her beauty from a portrait sent to him.


Why?   Because the portrait was the sitter’s statement to the world.   I am wealthy enough to have these clothes and possessions, and to be well-nourished.   I am powerful enough to have these chains of office and this jewelry.   I am blessed and I meet the conventions of appearance for my era.   Is this actually any different from now?   Except we can capture an image at the click of a button and circulate it around the world in a moment.   But still, feeling we have to change to measure up doesn’t seem to have gone away.


Day 2 of Celestine’s Affirmations Challenge is “I love myself unconditionally”.   I find it heartbreaking to see and read of those who cannot accept themselves as they are because an external voice or movement or belief tells them they cannot, should not, must not.   Yet how many succumb to these thoughts?


A slower start to the day makes me lazy and unproductive.   A school career spent struggling with French grammar means that I am absolutely never going to be able to learn another language.   Yet as soon as I tell myself this, it’s immediately a self-fulfilling prophecy.   I am lazy and unproductive-so pass me the biscuits and kittens on Youtube, here I come.   I will never learn a foreign language, so as soon as an irregular verb rears its head, put the Rosetta Stone book down and retreat.


But what about those with bigger yet unfounded beliefs about their worth, their skills, their looks?   Their own fears and loathing magnified through comparison, retreating from opportunity, fulfillment and the rich tapestry of life.   Heartbreaking.


My own response to day 2 is relatively straightforward.  I can choose my pace for my own day, I am not scared to persevere in learning anything I choose.   Like any human being, my value and dignity are innate, not something to be given from outside, depending on my view of how I’ve spent my time or whether I can negotiate a discount in Russian.


But isn’t it also important to offer encouragement to those who struggle, who can’t see their own worth and dignity?   Human to human, it’s both decent behavior and an uplifting thing.



Barbara Hepworth

Barbara Hepworth (1903-1975) is a British artist best known for her abstract, modernist sculptures.   Born in Yorkshire and later making her home in St Ives, Cornwall, she spoke of her inspiration from the land around her and from human reactions to the landscape.


“..there is the human figure which in the country becomes a free and moving part of a greater whole.   This relationship between figure and landscape becomes vitally important to me”.

‘The Studio 132:643, 1946’.


I cannot write anything about landscape without writing about the human form and the human spirit inhabiting the landscape

‘Studio International 171, June 1966’


For her, we were not “on” the landscape, we were within it, part of it and reacting differently to its differing forms.   Being in the mountains is more than looking at a place, it does also influence how you view yourself in the world and as part of the world.


To find out more:   Barbara Hepworth-Within the Landscape exhibition at Abbot Hall Gallery, Kendal until 28th September 2014

The past does not define me, the future is mine to create…

Learning from the past is good.   Letting the past define you, not so good.

The title of this post is taken from day 1 of the Affirmation Challenge from Celestine’s website, Personal Excellence,   Wherever you are in life, or wherever you want to be, it’s a website worth visiting for inspiration and motivation.

I’m all too aware that on many occasions I’ve allowed something that happened in the past to persuade me that, no matter what, it couldn’t be different in the future so there was no point in trying to make it so.   As I don’t have a crystal ball or any skill in reading tarot cards or tea leaves, this was purely assumption on my part.   But it was an assumption I lived by and only on reflection did I realize how many opportunities I missed out on.

I’m just going to write about one little example from my life.   Swimming.   If you’ve read the poetry post about my school swimming hat, you will have probably deduced that I took to swimming like a duck takes to quantum physics.

Even now, I only swim breast stroke and very slowly.   I tried on a couple of occasions as an adult to learn the front crawl.   However, a combination of learning the breathing, putting my face in the water and getting the limb coordination required made it a struggle for me.   I’ve therefore never persisted and decided I was not someone who could learn front crawl.

But triathlon looked like fun.   And yes, I did the swim section by breast stroke.   500 metres in around 25 minutes-some of my fellow competitors were well into the bike leg while I was still gulping on chlorinated water.

Triathlon still looks fun and, of course I am not someone who can’t learn front crawl.   I am someone who has decided that she won’t learn due to her beliefs about swimming and the skill required, and therefore hasn’t made the effort to learn and practice the skills.   Big difference.

So in that little way, my past is not going to define my future and I’ve signed up for more swimming lessons in August.   Once that defining belief is exposed for what it is-just my belief, no more, no less-it’s an incentive to explore and examine other similar beliefs.

Start small and grow.


If you want to join about (at the moment) 300 others worldwide and take Celestine’s challenge, visit the website personal


On another topic, some good news locally from a charity I volunteer with, Lakeland Wildlife Oasis.   WWF-UK estimate that there are only 6,000 snow leopards left in the wild worldwide. Lakeland Wildlife Oasis is part of the international breeding programme for these gorgeous creatures.   Their snow leopards Tara and Pavan became the parents of these 2 little ones in May of this year.


The cubs are a boy and a girl, and haven’t been named yet, but they are part of the future survival of their species.   If you want to follow their progress, visit the website or “Like” their Facebook page.