Do You Make Room For Gratitude in Your Life?

Do You Make Room For Gratitude in Your Life?

Photo by Rosie Kerr on Unsplash

Last week was quite a rough week in which gratitude did not readily leap into my mind. A close family member was admitted to hospital early in the week. Our car developed an ominous rattle, which turned out to signal the need for massive repairs. Various work deadlines had to be pushed back. There was plenty of worry and stress.

On Sunday evening we were due to go over to a friend’s place for dinner. We really wanted to see him but were struggling to pull our energy together and make the journey across town by public transport. My partner rang him to finalise travel instructions and our friend picked up on our exhausted state. He immediately suggested that he bring the food over to us and cook the meal for us right in our own home! 

Suddenly gratitude was a much bigger part of my world view.

Gratitude can increase your happiness

The relationship between happiness and gratitude is one that is being thoroughly researched in the field of Positive Psychology.  There is now quite a considerable body of studies and findings that show the benefits of gratitude. 

In her book, The How of HappinessSonja Lyubomirsky details research her department of psychology in the University of California has carried out on the power of gratitude. Subjects are required to keep a ‘gratitude’ journal every Sunday for six weeks in which they record five things that they could feel grateful for during the previous week. Their levels of happiness and well-being were found to have increased as a result.

The importance of noticing things you are grateful for

If I am honest, I used to find that my eyes would glaze over as I read the huge lists of ways your life can improve once you make room for gratitude. It’s probably because of my upbringing and the emphasis on always saying ‘thank you’ and having to write an endless stream of thank you letters to aunts and uncles every birthday and Christmas. I got into the way of feeling gratitude was a bit of a chore – something I was ‘supposed’ to feel.

It’s really through my meditation practice that I have found the space to allow gratitude to flourish. It’s something to do with my mind quietening down sufficiently to allow me to experience more directly. Then I can notice what I want to be grateful for. The more I allow myself to open to it, the more settled I feel, and my happiness is increased. Last week was not a very happy week and yet our friend’s kindness resulted in us both going to bed more relaxed and happier than we had been all week.

365 Thank Yous: The Year a Simple Act of Daily Gratitude Changed My Life

I particularly recommend this short, readable book  for its no-nonsense, practical approach to gratitude. The author John Kralik tells the story of how he turned his life around by focusing his attention on what he had of value in his life rather than on what was missing. 

In Kralik’s case that was no hypothetical shift. He was a middle-aged and overweight divorcé. He was estranged from his older children, on the point of losing his current girlfriend and possibly his business too. He felt things had come to such a point that he needed to make major changes in his life. 

Inspired by a thank-you note that he received himself he decided to spend the year writing at least one thank you letter a day to cover all the things in his life he could feel grateful for. The book tells the story of how this process did in fact change his life.

The gratitude story in Kralik’s book that stood out most for me

My favourite story concerns Scott, the guy who serves the author in his local Starbucks. Not only does Scott remember how Kralik likes his coffee but he greets him every day by name in a genuine and friendly way. When Kralik delivers his thank you note, Scott assumes it is a complaint letter and is momentarily dismayed only to be delighted on realizing his has received appreciation and gratitude instead.

Gratitude can help us to really see people

It made me more aware of how I interact with the ‘routine’ people in my life—cab drivers, waitresses, shop assistants—all the people it can be so easy to glaze over while my attention is focused elsewhere. Just because someone is paid to do a job or offer a service it does not mean that we no longer need to feel appreciated for what we do. Like Kralik, I also quickly saw how much better I feel in taking the time to properly acknowledge the services I receive.

A thought about gratitude in the workplace

At work it is all too easy to take our colleagues for granted, or to feel unappreciated ourselves. Lyubomirsky points out that, among other things, gratitude helps us appreciate what we have rather than yearn for what we do not have and so increases our sense of self-worth and self-esteem. When we see how much we have to be grateful for it increases our confidence and helps us to unlearn the habit of over-focusing on our weaknesses and failures. So, a work team that is able to share appreciation for each other’s work and gratitude for each individual’s contribution has to be a healthier, stronger and more effective operating force. Take a look at Kralik’s book if you need convincing.

Some ways to cultivate gratitude

1. Keep your own gratitude journal

You could try keeping your own gratitude journal. This does not need to be anything fancy. A simple notebook that you use to jot down things that happened to you during the day which inspired gratitude. It helps us to notice things we are grateful for and to remember them.

2. Start a gratitude ritual

I have some friends who have a family ritual. Over dinner at the weekend each member of the family gets to share something that happened to them during the week that they are grateful for. They say it really brings the family together and everyone enjoys hearing the other people’s stories.

3. Try writing your own thank you notes

Of course, you could always try your own version of John Kralik’s thank you letters.

As I write this post ……

I am working on a tight schedule today and my partner just offered to cover my share of the morning chores so I could get started. It’s quite amazing how such a simple gesture can help me to settle so much more deeply. Feeling gratitude certainly can lead to a greater feeling of contentment. We just need to be open to noticing it and letting it nourish us.

Awareness in Action is dedicated to building a community of people interested in living a life of meaning and purpose based on sustainable wellbeing. If you would like to join with us, you could make a start by sharing and commenting on the ideas you find in the blogs on these pages. Your story is part of our journey.

How to Overcome your After-the-Holidays Blues?

How to Overcome your After-the-Holidays Blues?

Nearly everyone I know is back from their holiday now. There’s a big sign up in our street warning drivers that schools are open again and children will be crossing the road. Autumn is already nibbling around the edges, with a definite chill in the air. It’s certainly getting dark earlier.

It seems only a few weeks ago that people were talking about where they were going on holiday, or where they had just come back from. Now today, our local supermarket has started selling Speculaas, a cookie traditionally eaten on St. Nicholas’s Dayon 5 December. The summer holidays are definitely over.

Personally, I love autumn but many people I know are suffering from post-holiday blues. They feel back in the normal round and the next holiday feels too far away.

What makes the holidays special?

1. We try new things

Don’t you love the feeling of exploration and adventure during the holidays?

My brother-in-law was recently photographed entering a 5,500-year-old long barrow in the Cotswoldson a weekend away. Not everyone’s cup of tea but he is a history enthusiast and sites like this are his passion. My partner and I were recently in Drenthe,a northern province in Holland where there are ancient Hunebedden sites.No-one is sure what these sites were used for but they could have been used for burials. We were enchanted by the ancient majesty of these places and spent ages looking at as many different sites as we could.

Different food, new customs, trying out summer sports are all wonderfully freeing and engaging. Trying new things opens up new possibilities and helps us to break out of our shell.

2. A holiday can mean time with friends and family

Unless you’ve chosen to go on a solo holiday, time away usually means that we have a chance to interact with friends, partners, family members with more freedom. So much of our everyday life we are juggling too many things– family, work, leisure. It can be hard to feel any of it is proper quality time.

The holidays are times when you can play, chat and catch up with your family without always looking at the clock. Many of us have fond childhood memories of getting to hang out more with our parents because we were all on holiday together.

3. There is freedom from routine

On our holidays we suddenly find ourselves transported away from our usual routine. We can get up when we want, go to bed when we want – the day is ours’ to spend as we wish. The stress of keeping up and managing it all can start to fade away.

There is a wonderful feeling of freedom in this. We can be spontaneous because there is no schedule to keep to. If we are having an important conversation or reading a great book, we can just stay with it. Everything feels possible.

4. It’s possible to relax on your holidays

Freedom like this helps us to finally unwind. It seems that for most people we need at least 8 daysbefore we can feel that we have actually arrived on holiday. We’re stressed from work and the rush to get things ready for our holiday. There’s the journey to recover from. We need to get used to our new surroundings and find our way around.

Once this has all settled, we can truly begin to let ourselves relax.

5. The space during the holidays feels endless

Then there is really a sense of space opening up. Space for ourselves, space to rest, space to play. This is the real reason why holidays are so important. We need this connection to a different part of ourselves, with different possibilities.

So, how do we overcome our after-the-holidays blues?

The main there here is to look at what our holiday is telling us about the rest of our life. Many of us are experiencing so much stress that we don’t know how life can be without it. Too much of the time we are so caught up in everyday life that we don’t take proper care of ourselves. Let’s look again and what really makes a holiday special.

Ask yourself these questions—then try out the suggestions:

When did you last try something new?

New experiences help to inspire us and keep us fresh. They expose us to new ideas and give us the opportunity to learn more about ourselves. If you have not tried anything new for more than a month maybe this is something for you to look at. It can be small – trying a new café or restaurant, changing your hair style, wearing that scarf your sister-in-law bought you and you’ve never worn. 

It helps us not to feel that we are caught in a repeating loop that just goes from day to day.

Do you prioritise spending time with friends and family?

During a nine year study, researchers found that people who lack social ties were about three times more likely to die during those nine years than those who have strong relationships with their friends and family.Research also indicates that even people with unhealthy lifestyles that are able to maintain strong relationships are more likely to live longer than those without social connections. Spending time with your family and friends can help lead you to a longer life.

Yet somehow, we too often push our time with friends and family to the bottom of our to do list. There is always this idea that we’ll get to it later, or when things are less busy. Before we know where we are 6 months have gone by and we have not had an evening with our best friend.

Take a look at your agenda and make a date with a friend or family member right away.

Are you trapped in your routine?

Perhaps you never really saw yourself as a person who would set up and follow strict routines? For many of us, part of growing up is finding the capacity to organise our time in the most creative way. The trouble is we are juggling so many different parts of ourselves – worker, parent, friend, lover, … and yes, yourself! It’s easy to become stressed and let our routine begin to squeeze us, instead of being something useful.

Something that I find helpful is at least once a week change something in your routine. Again, it does not need to be a big thing. You can do something in a different order. Try cycling instead of taking a bus. Drink tea instead of coffee. Decide to have lunch out in a café. See if you can do without some of your normal activities – are they necessary, or just a habit.

You can also use routines like getting dressed or making breakfast as opportunities to reflect on how connected we are to everyone else on the planet.Just think of all the people involved in getting your muesli to your table!

Changing your routine helps you to feel in control, and less like a victim of your daily round. It’s refreshing!

What is your average stress level?

If it takes us up to eight days to unwind on your holidays what is that telling us about our stress level day to day? When was the last time you took a long hard look at how much stress you are dealing with?

In my experience, meditation is the best way I know of to work with stress and to understand something about how my mind works. Have you ever given it a try?

How much space do you have?

A helpful trick is to learn how to find and use small moments of space that open up even in the busiest days. Bringing ourselves into the present moment and dropping whatever is on our mind just for a while can have a powerful effect in opening up space. It cuts through worry and busyness and allows a moment to refresh. So, don’t cover up the small free moments in your day but enjoy them to the full.

Holidays are very special time with lots of opportunities to enhance our wellbeing. We can also use them as a mirror to check out and see how we handle the ordinary day-to-day events of our lives. If we take seriously what we discover then we can bring a holiday spirit into every day.

How to Keep a Good Meditation Routine this Holiday

How to Keep a Good Meditation Routine this Holiday

Photo by Vicko Mozara on Unsplash

Many of us in the northern hemisphere are heading off for our summer holidays about now. It’s a time of excitement and anticipation. The rest and relaxation you have been longing for is finally here. It’s been a busy time getting everything in place so you can go away and maybe your meditation routine has slipped a bit in all the rush.

Do you have the idea that while you are on holiday, with all that free time, you can catch up and fit in lots of extra meditation sessions? Sadly, things rarely turn out that way. All the new impressions, the lack of your usual routine and with so many fun things to try out it’s hard to find the time.

However, if you are relaxed about it, it is possible to establish a good meditation routine for your holiday. You just need to be flexible and open to trying some new things.

Take time to just relax and unwind

Here is a shocking statistic I came across recently. Brits take an average of 46 hours and 42 minutes to feel relaxed on holiday, according to a survey of 2,000 people from travel experts Tots to Travel A lot of this must be to do with our ‘always on’ culture. It can be hard to adjust to have lots of free time with no deadlines and demands

So, first of all, give yourself some time to simply unwind, arrive where you are and enjoy the space. Relax.

Don’t set unrealistic goals

It’s very easy to compensate for the lack of a work routine by starting your holiday with a long to-do list for your meditation practice. Maybe you have brought s bunch of books you want to read up on meditation. Or you have decided to do so much meditation every day come what may. With all that free time, it should be easy right?

The trouble is with this kind of goal-setting there is a big chance you will finish up your holiday feeling disappointed that you didn’t accomplish enough. You are really just taking your everyday work attitude to getting things done and applying it to your meditation practice while on holiday. 

Instead, try to set small, attainable goals for your meditation and then keep to them. It will be nourishing and encouraging to build on when you get home.

Use any odd moment for your meditation routine

Because you are on holiday and everything is fresh and new, don’t feel you can only meditate sitting on your cushion.Whenever you have a couple of quiet moments, do a short session of meditation.  Perhaps you are on the beach looking at the ocean—take a moment to sit. Pause before taking your first sip of your drink, or bite of your ice-cream. If you have the intention it is possible to meditate anytime, anywhere.

Just sit upright, connect with your breathing and then maintain awareness of your breath for a few moments. If you do that several times in a day, you are collecting quite a lot of meditation time. You are also building a new habit which will enable you to be more flexible with your meditation routine when you return home.

Be present for new things

Anyone who practices meditation knows that being present and mindful of where you are and what you are doing is of fundamental importance. Generally being on holiday means experiencing lots of new things. Notice all these new things. Try to be mindful of what is happening in your day. As you see something for the first time, take a moment to really experience it. Don’t just hurry on to the next thing but let yourself be present with it.

Maybe you visit a museum, an historic building, or a local market. Let yourself be there, without thinking about what comes next, or what you might do this evening. Notice the sky above your head, and the people around you. You can use all of your senses to be mindful—so notice the smells, the different languages being spoken and the touch of the ground beneath your feet.

Connect with the people around you

If you are trying to use more of your daily life for your meditation practice, you might like to try connecting with the people around you. This is one of my favourite meditations. 

Bring to mind how all the person that you meet during the day want to be happy and to live good lives. They may have different lifestyles to you, but you have this fundamental point in common. Even though we all want happiness, we know that life can be very tricky and challenging things can happen. It’s inevitable that some of the people you meet will be dealing with these challenges right now. Thinking like this can touch our hearts and allow us to empathize with them. Notice how you are drawn to some people but pull away from others. Then remember that we are all in the same boat in terms of dealing with the challenges of life.

Practice gratitude as part of your meditation routine

With all the fun, opportunities and experiences of being on holiday there is plenty of reason to be grateful for being there. Research is showing that actively practicing gratitudehas all kinds of benefits for the person doing it! Generally, people who take time to reflect on what they are grateful for are happier, feel more alive, sleep better and experience more positive emotions.

So, as you go through your day take time to pause and look at what is happening for you. Remember that each experience is a unique moment in your life.

Something that I enjoy doing is reviewing with my partner what we have found special during our day. Maybe over dinner, or before going to bed you can make a cozy time to share with your family and friends.

Use nature 

The chances are that you will spend long stretches of your vacation in nature. That gives you plenty of opportunity for short meditation sessions. 

We already mentioned watching the ocean. Considering how the waves rise and fall across the surface of the ocean is a good reminder of how thoughts and emotions rise in our minds. 

Looking into the sky helps to bring to mind the unlimited scope and potential of our natural mind. Noticing how the clouds come and go across the sky is just how our thoughts move across our mind if we don’t grasp hold of them.

When you are in place of natural beauty, let the awe and grandeur of what you are seeing bring space into your mind.

Bringing your meditation routine together on holiday

If you can keep your meditation practice at the centre of your attention you can still manage to keep up a strong routine on holiday. By being flexible and allowing yourself to do some different kinds of meditation you will find that there is plenty of time available. Having this kind of ease and flexibility is also a good investment for your meditation routine when you get home.  It will help to build the confidence in your practice that will make it reliable.

busy life

How to Make Time for Meditation in a Busy Life

If you are interested in developing your meditation practice to really be integrated into your everyday life you might like to try this online course. You can read about it here

Things To Keep In Mind Before You Quit Your Job

Things To Keep In Mind Before You Quit Your Job

I am delighted to welcome back Bhavna Vaish with another guest blog. When people get into meditation, and a different way of approaching life, they often want to quit their job and work for themselves. Hey—it’s what I did! Bhavna runs through some important practical advice about how to make this transition in the best possible way. If you missed her previous post, then check it out, How to Fund an Alternative Lifestyle.

A few years ago I quit working a full-time day job

The reasons are many. But to be completely honest about it – that day had been a long time coming.

Heck, I was ready to stop working even at the age of 25. I wanted to do ‘my own thing’.  I dreamed of the freedom it afforded, of being accountable to myself. But it took me a whole bunch of years before I could actually quit. 

Today my blog is my work and my job. Though it doesn’t quite yet, I am hoping that one day it will graduate from being my passion project to also being my main source of income. 

Do you want to quit your job?

Are you getting ready to quit your workplace and start your own enterprise? If you are looking to replace a salary with income from your own venture then welcome to the tribe of people who have chosen to lead a life outside the cube. 

Also, you need to read this. 

Think you have saved enough to stop working. Think again. 

Did you know that as your own boss you are likely to be paying more bills than when you were employed

In other words, YOU need to plan for higher monthly expenses and hence more income to cover these expenses.

As your own boss, you are responsible for certain costs that earlier your company would incur. There was stuff that your company would provide for when you worked as an employee. In addition, workers like you also get plenty of non-monetary perks and benefits that help you to achieve the lifestyle you have today. 

Just make sure you are cognisant of these and have built them in your calculations before you take that key next step – to quit your job. Budget for these expenses if you want to become a successful solopreneur, a blogger or a freelancer.

(p.s. Here are some financial habits of a successful woman.)

Medical and Health Insurance

Many companies provide health and medical insurance for their employees. Not just that, they also incentivise their employees to conduct medical check-ups especially if they are above a certain age. As your own boss, your insurance costs are going to come out of your paycheque. 

Health and medical insurance can cost a bomb. But being without them is not an option, really. So unless you live in a country where the government sponsors or subsidises your healthcare costs, you need to budget in this cost.

P.S. – My company also provided life insurance coverage for all its employees. If yours did it too then another cost that you will need to bear on your own account.

Funding Your Future

One way to plan for your retirement is through employer-sponsored savings plans such as the 401(k) or the Roth 401(k). The advantages of such plans are that they provide an automatic way of saving for retirement, there are tax benefits associated with these investments, but most importantly employers offer matching contributions which essentially means free money for employees.

If you are self-employed, not only would you have to actively plan and save for your future you also miss out on the employer’s contribution which can be a lot of money that you have to work for yourself.

Continued Education, Training, and Conferences

All companies have a budget for the skill enhancement of their employees. But guess what, once you are on your own, you will need to pay for that training you want to go for. 

As a solopreneur, you will need to know about the different aspects of running a business – marketing, accounting, taxes, the technological aspects about which you probably know little to nothing about. 

Add in the networking conferences that you want to attend – all costs that you did not have to pay for as an employee.

Holidays and Time Off

Leave policies vary across companies but there is one thing common – employees are allowed paid leave each year. Not so when you are a freelancer or a solopreneur.

While you will have lots more flexibility in deciding your work hours and choosing your days-off, chances are that you will also feel compelled to not take any time off, at least initially. Yes, you could write a book, run ads on your blog and have a course set-up. But setting up passive income streams take time. 

And if you are a freelancer, then you earn when you work. 

Workplace at Home?

One of the many perks of being a blogger or a freelancer is getting to work from your own home. You can be with your children, oversee your home while you earn your living. 

This does not come for free. You have to buy your own equipment – laptops, printers, cameras, pay for their running costs. Utility bills will inch up. 

Other Perks

Does your job provide you with accommodation or a car? Does it reimburse your phone bills? How about your family – what are the benefits they enjoy as a result of your employment? 

You need to think of how you will replace these in order to maintain your lifestyle and the cost of replacing them.

Non-Financial Benefits

Working in an office environment along with other colleagues has its own charm. The social aspect is important for mental health. You learn from your colleagues and bosses which you will miss out on when you work as a freelancer or a solopreneur.

The Bottom Line

Nearly all young and middle-aged workers ask themselves if they are ready to quit their day job in order to do something on their own. It is an exciting prospect. 

However, there are additional costs you have to incur when you work for your own self. The best way to ensure that life does not have any surprises hidden is to be prepared. Know the costs and advantages of what you are planning so you can make an informed decision. 
—————


Bhavna Vaish is a blogger who loves the world of finance. She writes about being wise with your money so you can live a life you love on a budget you can afford.  Her blog Pennies For Cents has more useful articles for you. She has been a banker and a finance professional for many years before choosing early retirement.

7 Ways to Benefit from Nature in the City

7 Ways to Benefit from Nature in the City

My partner and I have just got back from a short break in Drenthe, a province in the NE of the Netherlands. It’s a beautiful area and we got to spend lots of time in nature. We were both struck by how relaxed we were when we came home and how well we slept. It reminded me of a recent article reporting on research carried out by researchers at Exeter University in the UK and Uppsala University in Sweden. The study found that people who spend 2 hours a week in nature were ‘significantly more likely’ to report good health and psychological wellbeing.

Perhaps it comes as no surprise that spending time in nature is beneficial for us. The thing is, what about all of us who live in cities and don’t get the chance to be out in nature every weekend? The study points out that you don’t need to get your two hours all in one go. Shorter, frequent doses of nature are also beneficial. It got me thinking about how to maximise the nature we have in the city, so we can really feel the benefit. 

1. Start your day with a moment outside 

Take a look at your morning routine. Do you have time for a cup of coffee in the garden before you start your day? Where I live in Amsterdam, most people in the city don’t have a garden but they do have a balcony. Dutch people are great balcony gardeners. It can be just wonderful to step out on to your balcony while the city is waking up. The birds make more noise than the traffic and the flowers are fresh from the cool of the morning.

2. Make sure to go out for a bit at lunch-time

Are you caught up with working through your lunch break? Maybe think about taking a short break outside. You don’t have to go far. Just find a spot under a tree, or maybe find an office window with a view. Just a few moments in the calming atmosphere of nature, outside of the busyness of your workplace will be nourishing.

A psychologist colleague of mine recently messaged me to share that she was making time to sit out in the garden in between seeing clients. What a great way to settle and prepare for a session.

3. Look at the stars

For a few years, my partner and I used to go regularly to a small cottage in rural southern France in the summer. The cottage was in a tiny village and by 10 pm most people were in bed. My partner would finish each day with some time on the terrace, just looking at the sky and the stars. He said it was a wonderful thing to just be with the night sky in the quiet.

4. Use the city parks and squares

Although I live in Amsterdam now, I am a Londoner by birth. Both cities have plenty of green areas. London is well-known for its green city squares with lovely, old trees. In Amsterdam there is a deliberate policy of planting as many trees along the streets as possible. I can stand on my balcony and look along a long street of beautiful trees. The Japanese favour forest bathing as a way of increasing your wellbeing. Even if you do not have regular access to a forest, you can get a lot of nourishment from the trees in a city. I find quite joyful to watch the birds flying in and out of the trees. The patterns of the branches against the sky can be dramatic. It helps me keep things in proportion.

5. Bring nature into your home

I came across a lovely article the other day. One of the universities in Amsterdam is opening a plant hotel. The idea is to provide a place where students can leave their plants to be cared for while they are away from the university for the summer. The university recognises the benefit to students’ wellbeing of keeping plants in their rooms and wants to support it. 

We have window boxes on every window ledge in our apartment. It feels as if we are surrounded by flowers. When we look outside, we are immediately connected with nature.

Another good idea is to have a bird box by a window to encourage birds to visit. You have the benefit of watching them throughout the year.

If you do have a garden, you might consider re-wilding your lawn. By stopping regular mowing and trimming you can encourage the growth of wild flowers. This in turn will encourage bees. This is already happening along some motorways, where road side meadows are springing up. 

6. Look for 5 beautiful things each day

You might like to get into the habit of looking for five beautiful things you can find in nature in your city each day. When we are busy and caught in our routine it is all too easy to miss them. Keep an eye open for a new window box in your neighbourhood, or a newly planted tree. 

7. Stay mindful so you don’t miss it

In fact, a key to finding our 2 hours of nature when we live in a city is to be mindful. If we are continuously checking our phone, or always hurrying we will miss a lot. If we can be present to where we are and what we are doing, we will notice so much more. When we notice, it will help us to quieten down. So much of the beauty of nature is in its deep quietness and unhurried rhythms. We will be more deeply nourished by tuning into that.

4 types of people I met during my time in a wheelchair

4 types of people I met during my time in a wheelchair

A while back I was having quite a bit of knee trouble and it was hard to get around. I fly a lot for my work and so I needed to rely on airport assistance for a couple of trips.

 

Basically, you get put into a wheelchair, or on to a buggy and are zipped through passport control and security at top speed with minimum inconvenience. Unless you feel being delivered like a package to your plane counts as an inconvenience.

Like most of us, I value my independence and was not too keen on having to ask for help. Added to that was the worry that this temporary situation might turn out to be longer lasting than I wanted. All in all, it was a vulnerable time.

Meeting the people whose job is as to provide me with assistance was an eye opener. I came to sort them into one of four groups.

  1. The young people who don’t relate to what is going on with you.

These are generally young people on the first rung of the ladder who just wants to get the job done. They absolutely do not want to spend their time imagining what it must be like to spend any time at all in a wheel chair. It has nothing to do with them and the prospect seems too remote from their own experience.

With this group you just feel vaguely irrelevant.

 

  1. The more experienced worker who has been assigned to airport assistance temporarily and is enjoying the novelty.

At one point, I spent the half an hour waiting for my gate to come up and my ‘carer’ had to wait with me. She spent the time telling me about the problems she was having with another member of staff making unwanted advances to her. There was an underlying subtle message that  I was expected to give back something for the privilege of being driven around the airport. My assistance provider had a captive audience and wanted to make the most of it. I played my part and did my best to listen and give whatever advice I could.

At least I felt like a human being, even if one that was supposed to work for their care.

  1. The expert carer with pride in their work.

Make no mistake, once you sit in the wheelchair you are a captive audience for whatever comes to you. One of my most unnerving encounters was with an airport assistance person who actually took immense pride in his work and tried his very best to give top quality support.

He explained that he preferred to do without the lifts and pulleys that can be used to get people on and off planes and resort to the strength of his own arms.  This sounds good but it meant that as we transferred to the airport bus to take us from the ‘plane to the terminal, he tipped my wheelchair almost on its back to get me on to the bus—without using the lift.

At one point I felt quite worried. I could imagine him lifting me bodily into the car that my friend had waiting for me at the airport. In spite of his enthusiasm, or perhaps because of it, I felt like a project rather than a person.

  1. The over-concerned

I have met people so solicitous of my feelings that I have felt concerned to reassure them that I am all right and do not expect to have to do this procedure more than a few times.

In some ways, this was the  most difficult group to handle. They were so sorry for me and so anxious to get things right. I felt burdened by their concern.

What did I learn from my wheelchair experience?

Overall, the whole experience touched me very much in seeing how natural it is for us to wish to help others. Everyone who helped me as part of this service was kind and polite and many have done more than was asked of them. Happily, I did just need the help for a limited period of time, but it has changed the way I look at other people in similar situations. I hope I can see a bit more deeply.

The main thing that I learnt was  that wanting to be a help is not enough. To really help, with no fuss, you need to have the extraordinary skill of being able to put yourself in another person’s shoes—or in this case, wheelchair. It is possible to tell instinctively if someone has cared for a friend or relative with mobility problems because they know how to do this.  People with this experience know you have to drop you own ideas of how you think the job needs to be done.  Instead you try to  imagine what you would need if you were in that position. It’s not easy but those who can do it stand out a mile from the rest.

Mindfulness training

It’s a pity that the people who do this work do not receive some basic training on mindfulness and empathy skills. They give so much already it would be great for them to have support to know how to do it even more effectively.

Photo by AbsolutVision on Unsplash

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