Inspiration is Everywhere
Creative Scrapbook

Essays

Do what you can – David Long

Mindfulness and wellness champion, living in Surrey

After just two weeks in lockdown, I had to admit I was wallowing in the simplicity of it all.

For me this has become such a precious time, a time to really appreciate all that I have and what is truly important. No distractions, rushing around, traffic jams, trains, planes, meetings, lunches, dinners – now just peace and quiet, time to think, shank’s pony, home-cooking, the garden and a deep connection to my wife and home.

I quickly tired of being sheep-dipped in information. I now skim the news, just enough to stay in touch. The overload of derision, early on, was worrying me. My soul felt troubled and out of control. Now over the days, through meditation and contemplation, I find myself coming to a place of acceptance of this whole situation, it simply IS WHAT IT IS and no amount of worry on my part will change that. (My acceptance is greatly helped by some past advice from an esteemed teacher and friend who had noticed I was a worrier. He said ‘David just think of it like this, worrying is like praying for more of what you don’t want! Worry is a wasted emotion – so drop it.’  Since that time, I’ve really tried to walk this talk.)

Of course, I would change things if it were only possible. I would take away the suffering and hardship – that would be amazing – but no magic wand exists and as I can’t escape it all, I’m surrendering to an acceptance of the situation and this fills me with a deep sense of peace. I am learning to let go.

I listened to a talk by Susan David on emotional wellbeing and was struck by her words “The most effective way to transform your life is not by quitting your job and moving to an ashram, but by doing what you can with what you have, where you are”. This is exactly what I intend to continue to do; use this period of separation to rekindle those synapses of connection with those I hold dear, heighten my awareness of all that I am and to be expectant that everything will change for the better- as it was always meant to.

Isolation heightens detail – Sophie Thomas

Founding Director of Thomas Matthews, living in London

At the moment I am struggling with a desire to have some time to myself. It seems that working from home and having all my meetings online means I often miss my lunch break. I look up from my laptop and suddenly it is 6pm and I haven’t even gone outside for some air. I feel more responsible. I worry about my team who are now scattered in flats and shared houses across London and the south-east. I worry about the isolation of those that live alone. I worry about my clients continuing our contracts. So many things to grapple with when you run a small studio remotely. And that is not even taking into account the other worries about family.

My main issue is one of hyper-connectivity. Over a two-hour time period this morning I had four calls, each on different platforms: Microsoft Teams, Google hangouts, Zoom and Skype (it’s clear to see who are the winners in this lockdown!). I have communications coming in through email, teams chat, MSG, Slack and have multiple channels on WhatsApp. It’s hard to get a grip.

I have made my weekends more sacred. They need to be different and whereas before I would do work on a Sunday, now there is definitely no laptop interaction. However they too are also very busy. I have now done all my jobs around the house that I had not completed. Shelves have been put up, doors repaired and seeds are sown.

So what am I learning? 

I understand that all news is not good. My brain cannot take an overload of all the newsfeed information coming at me. It’s on  a need to know basis, I don’t need to read everything about COVID-19 on twitter, it’s not good for my mental health.

I now need to adjust and prioritise myself and my family. This time is really quite extraordinary. My kids are teenagers and so it’s possible that I will not have such concentrated time with them after this. And it is a pleasure to always eat together, we even started to do family yoga in the mornings (though my kids stopped after a few days). We all watch a movie after dinner, each person deciding on what it will be (my choice last night was Amelie) and I go for a walk with my husband to catch the end of the day, see the big sky (even in north London) and listen to the birds. The important lesson is to be calm and relaxed with each other and with the scenario.

Feeling:

I am a tactile creature and I miss touch. I like to see and hug my friends, and in business I am an enthusiastic handshaker. I am worried that once we emerge from our self-isolation and social distancing rules where contact is actively avoided, we will be too afraid to go back to this comforting tactility. 

Being:

I am empowered by community. I have become a community NHS volunteer, available to help those that cannot get their medicine or need a chat. I am deeply protective of my family and my team and worry about their mental wellbeing.

I realise we are social beings. We live for the interaction, we go for a drink, meet for a coffee, watch films en masse. In London our travel and infrastructure systems are built for mass. How will we feel about this once lockdown is lifted? Will we always worry about the unseen dangers or will we go back to how it was? 

Seeing:

As a creative/magpie I am always observing the smaller and often overlooked things; unusual, quirky, beautiful things. Isolation has highlighted the importance of the detail and I revel in this. I aim to take more time to be still and find the space to just be.

Inward reflection – Letesia Gibson

Founder of New Ways, living in Ibiza

It’s Day 18 of ‘confinamiento’ or lockdown, as I write this from my home in Ibiza. I moved to Spain 6 months ago and being in a new country during a crisis brings up all kinds of reflections about what ‘home’ really means to you. I’ve realised I feel very safe here. It’s reinforced my sense of belonging, which is a wonderful confirmation in uncertain times. 

It’s interesting being two weeks ahead of the UK in this lockdown, I get to almost look back in time. Although here we don’t have permission to go out for daily exercise, which is now starting to take a toll on the community.

I’m naming this third week The Deep Week, because it feels distinctly different to those gone by. In the first week especially, there was frenetic energy and positive framing of Covid-19. We joined all the online groups, filled diaries with zoom dinners, drinks and quiz nights with family and friends. We were sharing pictures of pollution free waters in Venice. We were zealous in our plans of how we’d use the time for me, for us, for the family. There was anxiety, overwhelm but also a sense of novelty for the enforced slowing down. 

What I notice about The Deep Week is this energy is flatter and less dynamic. We’ve all gone inward. 

Some things feel harder, but you also care less, which makes things easier too. 

We’re having to surrender to what is, and there is a kind of calm in not having to live up to expectations.  

People are seeing the truths of their lives, their needs and what makes them happy.

People are really feeling the need for a space to process our feelings about what is happening in the world. 

And because we are all talking about this, there is a beautiful thing emerging – a really deep sense of connectivity.  It really moves me.

These are the conversation threads of my chats with friends today: 

“I realised I have a tendency to shut myself off from connecting to others and when this is over I am going to be more open to new things.”

“I realised that all of my happiness comes from my work and being at home with the kids has shown the cracks in home life.”

“I am finding it hard to see the inequalities in the world being under the spotlight right now. I keep crying about India.”

What’s helping me is to let myself feel all the feelings, to savour the wisdom people have to share and talk about them with my friends and family. 

I think this is a beautiful time for reconnection to who we are and to knowing what we truly value in the world.

Forget Time – Alison Chadwick

Actor and coach, living in London

I’m a flower counter. A twisted flower counter.

I become obsessed at this time of the year. I planted 20 trumpets of bright pillar box red tulips 8 years ago. This year it looks like there will be 26 red tulips. They have birthed! I have 4 rather brazen white tulips that have been showing their skirts without fail for over 10 years.

I get ridiculously upset and quite dramatic if I dream that my bearded irises might not flower at all this year. Even though they always do. And in the end I will count them as they hatch their flowers like alien pupae between their green fans. One… two… three… and so on. Nine. Nine Irises! I do like an odd number.

I think I count flowers as they hatch in order to paint in my mind’s eye a picture of what’s to come. A kind of fantasy colouring by numbers.

I love how people’s wisdom can visit me at these times. ‘A garden is an illusion. It’s the creation of a picture’ – I think that was Sarah Raven. And my sister in law, a seriously talented horticulturalist who I phone if ever I am kvetching about pulling something up or chopping something down to its ankles. She laughs at me and says “ Ali. Who’s in charge?… You are!” Like it’s a garden mantra she learned at Horticulture college. 

I have had the best advice recently: ‘ Stay cheerful, Ali.“ I think that’s wonderful advice. I have 11 weeks to go as I ‘shield’ someone very vulnerable. Finding ways to stay cheerful might be exhausting. 

I’m only one week in and I am searching for a structure, but perhaps that’s the very thing I need to let go of. When I used to travel I loved losing count of the days. I loved losing a sense of North, south, east or west. It felt like the mark of relaxation to me. Dare I use this time to forget time? To stop counting. I’m hoping that in 11 weeks I won’t know what week it is. And that I will indeed be cheerfully smelling the roses

Structure can help – John Almond

Creative consultant, trainer and coach, living in Exeter

I live in a flat. A small flat. Not tiny, but small.

To help alleviate any sense of being trapped, I’ve divided my flat into six zones and created a distinct mood for each.

Space 1 is my work zone – clean, tidy and purposeful whilst being surrounded by appropriate stimulus. Space 2 is my relaxation zone – an entertainment centre full of books – not forgetting my chess board. I now play online with some guy who lives in Vietnam. Space 3 is my exercise zone. I’ve created a home gym made out of washing up liquid bottles, cereal packets and loo rolls (only joking regarding loo rolls). Online sessions with my PT are incorporated. Space 4 is my cooking and eating zone. I’ve given my microwave away to someone more in need. Space 5 is my body zone (I’m suddenly thinking that this should  appear in Private Eye’s Pseuds Corner!). Space 6 is the sleeping zone.

I’ve made the zones more distinctive by only playing particular types of music in each zone. Chemical Brothers in the exercise zone works for me. I’m also experimenting with different scents and lighting.

Another thing. To stop any sense of self pity I watch a nature programme every evening. Last night was an episode of Blue Planet 2. If a penguin has to swim 80 km every day to get food for its chicks whilst avoiding getting gobbled up by a seal, I can manage to restrict my hitherto selfish food shopping habits.

Solitude can fire the imagination – Rut Blees Luxemburg

Photographer, Senior Research Fellow at the RCA, living in London

Incarcerated, during the bloody upheavals of the French Revolution, the architect Nicolas Ledoux, was forced to abandon the completion of his manifold building projects for the Ancien Régime. Seemingly forlorn, he created on paper some of the most visionary and fantastical buildings of architectural history. Captivity inspired the architect to even more utopian solutions for his half-built city of Chaux, where his completed factory Saline Royale was now rounded off with imaginary designs including a cemetery resembling a celestial sphere, secluded wooden orbs for the local foresters and a gigantic ‘house of pleasure’, the floor-plan based on the shape of a phallus.

Although these outwardly outlandish and precise designs – birthed from enforced solitude and a fertile mind – were never physically realised,  they continue to occupy architects, writers and artists: as visionary models for thinking about space – external and internal.

Panoptical Sublime, Ledoux, Saline Royale, Rut Blees Luxemburg, 2019

Reframe adversity – Marion Nancarrow

Drama director and producer, living in Sheffield

When I was small and anxious about my father, who’d fought in Burma during World War II, he used to say that as the bullets parted his hair he’d think “Is this better than Redruth on a wet Saturday night?” And it nearly always was. Of course, this made us laugh, as he’d intended, but what a great life lesson in reframing adversity.  In seeing the good when things seem so bleak. The global deaths and sacrifices in this pandemic are incalculable. But at a micro level there seems to have been a sea-change, where my dreams of what a future world might hold have already taken flight:

Goats are ignoring traffic signs in Llandudno, Venice canals rejuvenate, people sing & play from balconies, orchestras form on Zoom, cards land on lonely neighbours’ doormats, food parcels materialise, dark streets echo with applause for the NHS, city dwellers breathe fresh air, free courses emerge, performances and lessons appear, the show goes on – online; a man dresses as Spiderman to entertain bored kids on his daily walk, people talk to each other, collaborative ways of working blossom overnight, the elderly lose their cloak of invisibility.

This isn’t the same as war, but perhaps the threat of death, a sense of something bigger than ourselves, has produced a kind of muscle memory of how we could live: more simply, with greater kindness, needing less, sharing more, richer in time, more connected. Remembering, when we need it, what the past has to offer us.

Who knows, at a macro level, next the UN Secretary General may call for a global ceasefire….. 

Take care of existing resources – Paul Preston

Chairman of Stufish, co-founder of Eyes Wide Opened, living in Portugal

None of us have ever faced a situation like this. Our parents/grandparents fought for our freedom of thought, freedom of action and movement and within a few short weeks, many of these are under severe threat. 

This new reality brings out the best and the worst in people. Watch banks and football clubs! However, I’m focussed on a better, cleaner, less wasteful, more understanding world and I dream that the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals to transform our world have a better chance of getting traction and delivery. My personal contribution is on the “waste” goal.

I dream that we will all learn to use products more frugally and take real care of how we use resources. Each of us can make a difference.

I wonder what people use toilet rolls for? I’m not suggesting going back to a stick with a sponge on it, but!

People and businesses need to rethink, think the unthinkable, about how they do things. Rethinking the way we manufacture and distribute products. Smaller, flexible production  units, closer to the customer and point of need.

Relearning the art of walking, breathing and really taking in and caring for our environment and accepting that David Attenborough might have a point! Listen to birdsong, watch and hear the ants scuttle along, marvel at the wild flowers, the magnificence of trees and bushes.

I dream that recent examples of re-energising our communities, offering help and care to people who live close by, will continue. Brits are great givers of money to charity. Whilst this will hopefully continue, the value of giving time, showing more tolerance, listening intently, valuing and learning from what people say, the value of a smile, saying hello, saying thank you, will endure long after the crisis is over!

I dream that what we have learned about ourselves and our relationships will also endure.

These small actions will make a great difference. 

The next months will be super testing and we will encounter visible shifts in everyone’s mental and physical shape. 

Be tolerant and get comfortable with all this and demand of yourself that you ask “What have I done today to make this world, our world, a better place?”. It’s not difficult, try it.

There is much to accomplish – Alastair Creamer

Founder of Creamer & Co, living in East Sussex

Wednesday 1st April: I paint monthly calendars which go on the wall at home.  It’s where we put birthdays, concerts, theatre, holidays, visits etc. As I passed them this morning, it was time to take March down.  April is already up so I need to paint May and June. A 3 month run seems to suit us.  

Then I slumped – ‘What’s the point?  There’s no need for a calendar to remind us what’s coming up – NOTHING IS COMING UP!  Weekdays are the same as weekends. It’ll be depressing seeing all those empty boxes.’ (my mind rambled on in this vein for another minute.)  

And then something flipped.  

Sod it!  I’m going to paint the most beautiful, colourful calendars I can.  They’ll be glowing beacons of days, all 91 of them. They will be unmarked in the usual way but I’m going to find another use for them.  Imagine what I can do in that time – the books, the films, the songs, the conversations, the meals, the thoughts I’m going to have. These calendars could become a record of things done rather than things to come.   

I dig into the days themselves.  We have a pink Full Moon on Tuesday 7th April and a flower Full Moon on Thursday 7th May.  Friday 1st May (May Day) is also International Dawn Chorus Day.  I’ll be out there. Father’s Day on Sunday 21st June also happens to be International Day of Yoga.  A double celebration. I believe there’s such richness to come.  

There will be days and days and days like this.”  (David Hare, Plenty)

Play has the power to heal – Katie Best

Leadership trainer and coach, living in London

I am coming out of this knowing how to play. It’s only taken me a week to realise that before all of this, I had forgotten how to play. It terrified me. The first few days of lockdown, I didn’t sleep. I felt confident in the role of teacher and parent, but not playmate. How could I keep my only child happy in the absence of her friends? I can organise; I can do arts and crafts; I can have structured fun; I can furnish the dolls house. But playing? Mums and dads, dolls, pirates, Sylvanians? Not so much.  

But I’m already getting better. My daughter calls me up to her bedroom to play, and rather than making an excuse, I go. We play with her Lottie dolls. I’m the mum and little brother, she’s the strong older sister and the toddler girl.

I resist the urge to turn it into a lesson (2 dolls x 2 = ?) and instead start making the little brother really naughty. I worry I’m hamming it up too much. I ask her how I’m doing. A pause. And then she turns, beaming: “You’re doing great. This is great. Really excellent,” she tells me. And she sits closer. Playing makes us laugh and helps us to forget things. We leave the game stronger, happier and more resilient. She is reminding me of the value of play for healing and self-defence. When she’s older, I’ll have to remember to thank her.