Check me out: Who do I want to be?

© THE MINDS JOURNAL

In this post, I am using a striking info-graphic that came to me from my daughter, Jo, in Sydney. This image speaks to me. In its condensed way, it helps me to measure up to the challenges of lockdown.

To a large extent, I can choose my response to the challenge of confinement. Confinement is not easy, but I can turn the situation into a growth experience if I make the right choices. I can make considered responses if I have something or someone to inspire me. For me, my faith plays a vital role here. And as I look through the Learning Zone to the Growth Zone, each statement inspires me to change for the better. I am drawn forward.

By starting with the opening question “Who do I want to be?” I check myself, and I am inspired to reach forward. Progressing through the Zones, I quickly begin to measure the state of my attitude.

To succeed, I must face the Learning and Growth Zones and turn my back on the Fear Zone. The Fear Zone only wants to pull me backwards and make me a victim of my appetites, emotions, words, and my reactions. And that is not a good place for me to live.

Suppose I stand in the Learning Zone. If I look towards the Growth Zone and meditate on the statements there, I can create new aspirations for my attitudes and behaviour. Wanting to grow will help me to create the right conditions to help me become a bigger person on the inside.

Now, suppose that I am still standing on the Learning Zone, but this time I am facing the Fear Zone. As I focus on the Fear Zone, I begin to dwell on the five statements in that zone. If I allow my mind to be consumed by fear without any kind of critical thinking, I become a victim of the Fear Zone. In the Fear Zone, I am overwhelmed by my lurking worries

In the Fear Zone, I am dominated by what I eat, what I say, what I hear, and what I hoard. It won’t be long before our mental health is hurtling downwards to a dark place.

I have a choice; which zone should I face? By reaching towards the Learning and Growth Zones, I can stretch myself forward by taking control of my thoughts and attitudes. Each statement gives me something concrete and may form a goal for me.

I am in no way suggesting this an easy take, but I am suggesting with the help of those around us, we can move towards the Growth Zone. There is always something to learn, even in tough times. Perhaps especially in tough times.

Here’s what I need to do:

  1. I understand where I stand now;
  2. I decide I want to take control of my attitudes;
  3. I focus on the things that will improve my response;
  4. I enlist the support of those closest to me;
  5. I start right now, today;
  6. Finally, I will be kind to myself.

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COVID-19: Keep calm & carry on

At a time like this, I need some positives to keep things in perspective. As the old WW2 poster says “Keep calm and carry on.” I have decided to focus on my here and now. Here are my seven suggestions to remain calm and centred:

  1. Hold your gaze on the things that matter most. If you are a person of faith, then your faith will sustain you in times like these; I know that mine is invaluable. By recentering our lives, we allow the essential things we hold dear to have the best seat in our house.
  2. Watch enough news to be well informed but don’t keep watching every media update. While news outlets provide a valuable service to each of us, remember that the media thrive on bad news, problems, and catastrophe.
  3. Embrace technology. I have found that to stay in face-to-face contact with family and friends is essential. And, I suspect that if you are part of a community group you might well have discovered the joys of group video check-ins. Where I can, all phone calls are now video calls. Yesterday, I wished my mum a happy 91st birthday via a video call. I think she understood, though I’m not entirely sure.
  4. Rejoice in the new community that is springing up. I have noticed the kind attitudes those in my local video community. I’m not practising social distancing. I am embracing all the social support I can lay my hands on by enjoying the company of others on Zoom, Messenger, and What’s App and the like. What I am practising is physical distancing, and that is quite different from social distancing.
  5. My wife, Maggie and I sat down on Tuesday 24 March 2020 and devised a new routine. The abrupt change in our pattern of life hit us starkly as our Government instructions reordered our normal.  Suddenly there are no pegs in our lawn, and all we have left is the emptiness of where the familiar used to be. I need structure to function, and now we are finding new ways of doing things.
  6. We are all learning a new language. Our vocabulary is adjusting to words and phrases such as; Social distancing, lock-down, self-quarantine, self-isolation, super-spreader, contact tracing, community spread, herd immunity, and now physical distancing.
  7. And, finally, where will I be while you are reading my musings? Well, I will be in the greenhouse tending my seeds and plants. I all ready have the best lawn ever! In the garden, I talk to my plants; I even talk to myself to ensure that my self-talk is in good shape. If I am not in the garden, then I will be speaking with family and friends, or even a little writing. And, if I am not doing those things, then, I will be walking or lifting a few weights. Whatever your interests, now is a good time to invest in them.

If you are a writer, like me, I consider it an exciting privilege to write in my Commentarium my everyday observations. Each month I will typically write 12,000 words, and in the present emergency, I feel as if I am writing the first draft of history as seen through my eyes.

These are my musings in these unprecedented days. I would love to hear your thoughts and observations. Stay safe and take hold of our new reality. Now, whatever happened to Brexit?

Father with son: Building together (part 2)

In the second of two posts about learning from my father, Derreck Parkes, I retell a piece of family folk-lore concerning the building of his garage in the 1960s. This post is taken from my tribute to my Dad at his Celebration of Life, following his death in January 2020.

Ever the engineer, Dad decided to install a rolled steel joist, just in case he needed to lift an engine, as engineers do. In those days, one did all the jobs yourself, and when necessary, one conscripted one’s son, aged 14.  

And so it came to pass, that the said steel joist was delivered; to the driveway, some 25 yards away from the construction site. The duly conscripted son, obedient to the last, together with his visionary father embarked upon re-siting the vast chunk of metal to where it could be inserted into the brickwork, lining it up at right angles to the wall. 

We were about to start the lift when Mum called us for lunch, but Dad, ever the optimist said, “We’ll just pop it in now then it’s done before we eat”. 

Fair enough, I thought having caught his easy pragmatism. And so we started to lift the wall end of the beam, a few inches at a time. Once lodged at the opening in the wall, I thought it was just a matter of levelling the joist and pushing it into place. 

However, as we pushed, it began to slide at first but then got stuck. So Dad said, “You hold it there, and I’ll nip round to the other side to free it”. Now the only problem was that with both arms aloft I now bore the full weight of the beam and I began to sink into the lawn. 

Seared in my memory to this day is the vision that before lunch, I was 6 foot 4 and slim; after lunch, I was 6 foot and obese. I’ve never recovered, which is why I am as I am to this day!

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Father with son: Building together (part 1)

The sins of the son shall be upon his father?

In January 2020, my Dad died at the ripe age of 93. In this two-part blog, I write about my vivid memories of helping him build his garage in the 1960s.

My dad built his brick-built garage, one small piece at a time. Back in the mid-1960s, he could not afford to buy the concrete for the base in one purchase, but he could buy and persuade others for oversupply. Perhaps four or five such pourings made the garage base complete; bricks came in small batches too, as money allowed. Dad was not a builder, but he was an engineer and knew how to make accurate measurements, except for one unforgettable incident.

Frugality was the dominant theme of British civilian life from the war period until the mid-sixties, though many of the “veterans”, that is those born between the two world wars, never quite broke free from the constrictions it placed on every area of life. For that generation, thrift was in their psyche from birth. Dad did eventually break free of its stifling power in the second half of his life.

Brick-work starts with the corners. Get the corners right, and all else follows. As Dad laid bricks, I would stand with him and watch. To me, he seemed like a proper brickie. The corners came along well; the rows followed.

Everything was going well until Dad told me off one day. I don’t remember what it was about, but I felt angry. Revenge was on my ten-year-old mind. In a quiet moment, I slipped out of the house and moved his line up a row of bricks at one end so that the string now sloped. The gentle upward slope of the line was not apparent to a casual glance. Having done my deed of sabotage, I forgot all about it. Why shouldn’t I? I felt better now.

Later, to my horror, Dad was laying more bricks. It is clear that the row started well, level to the undiscerning eye, but I could see that the mortar gradually became thicker. That is until the middle of the row when Dad discovered his mistake. I say “his mistake” because that is how he relayed the error to my Mum. As he told my Mum of “his mistake”, I froze with a mixture of horror and fear. Suddenly my small act of rebellion escalated to fear as I wrestled with “Should I tell him?” and “What would happen if he suspected me?” I decided to tough it out and hope that he never suspected me of ruining his work.

Evidence thwarts toughing it out. A recently discovered photo shows the thickening mortar as the row progressed. It also shows the point at which Dad got some revelation and realised that the line was not level. From the point of realisation the cement joints then gradually returned to the usual thickness.

I wanted to vent my anger; not to create a monument to it. Consequences of our actions are sometimes more abiding than we intend.  To this day, I feel mildly guilty that my act of rebellion remains evident in his mistake.

Some years later, I confessed to my Dad, and he saw the funny side of it, but my act of sabotage has left evidence. I never understood why when discovering his mistake that he did not redo the row. Mystery.

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