How will you be remembered when you no longer exist?
I am going to discuss what sometimes feels like the undiscussed and that is how fragile life is. This is a topic that none of us can escape and often the proof that life can be so temporary comes crashing into our lives completely out of the blue. Towards the end of this article, through existential thinking, I will suggest ways that having an awareness of our own mortality and holding an awareness of the mortality of all people and living things around us, can be useful within our life span.
What was the inspiration?
A few things have happened in recent times that have really woken up my awareness of how temporary life can be. The sad death of Keith Flint, the lead singer of The Prodigy is one of these things. His death has struck a chord in my own mortality as I will now not be able to strike something off my bucket list, to see The Prodigy live. I have recently watched a BBC documentary about Billy Connolly living with Parkinson’s disease. This really felt like Billy was winding down his life, his experiences and acknowledging what he can no longer do. This both felt like an amazing experience to see all he has done in his lifetime but also felt gut-wrenchingly sad to see this vibrant life energy winding down for the inevitable. Another thing that’s happened recently is I watched Ricky Gervais’s ‘After Life’ which is as gut-wrenchingly sad as it is brilliant!
Looking at my own mortality.
I am beginning to get signals from my body in the form of pain and restricted movement along with fatigue. This is my 30 something-year-old body telling me it cannot do what it did when it was a 20 something your old body. I play sports and sometimes go to the gym but yet I can’t do this like I could when I was younger. I can’t move like I used to and the muscle pain I experience the next day and subsequent days that follow are a suggestion my muscles now take longer to repair. Yet my experience of these things I rarely talk about and when I do it usually done through humour which is out of my attempt to cover up the brutal truth that we are in effect, to apply a metaphor (perhaps to remove the harsh edges), like a flower, we are born, we grow into a fully flourished flower, and then the petals fall off and then we die.
Why is thinking this way useful?
Sometimes we don’t get to fully flower, or we don’t get to live as long as it takes for all the petals to fall off. Sometimes tragedy strikes, and a freak accident can cut this process short. Sometimes illness or disease gets there before we either fully blossom or before our petals have fallen off. And it is because of this reality I believe holding thinking about our own death and the ultimate death of everything around us can be valuable to our living our lives more fully.
I think if we invite thinking like, what will be the legacy I leave behind? What will my mark of existence be?’ This can offer comfort in the inevitable. When we actively go about making our mark in the world this is called a Mortality Project. This could look like having children or writing a book or trying to do something that nobody has ever done, something to be remembered by.
How do the things we do have a lasting effect?
For me, there is a subtleness of existence that isn’t staring in a film or writing a number 1 hit it is more the attributes and characteristics we might learn from someone and pass these on. An example of this is when I was stroking the face of someone I cared about when she was experiencing the life-changing pain that is a loss. She experienced this stroking as nurturing. I didn’t give it too much thought at the time, but I experienced doing this small nurturing action again with one of my children which got me thinking ‘Where did I learn it?’ I know exactly where I learned it, from one of my parents. You might ask what was so individual about this type of stroking of the face? But there was a clumsiness’ that felt quite unmistakeable like a man learning to be affectionate who has been raised through a generation of thinking which didn’t teach male affection.
So now I wonder will my children caress the faces of their children with this same clumsiness? Can you see how this act has been passed on to me, I have now passed this on to my children and maybe they might pass it on to theirs. This for me is the subtle existential mark we can leave on this earth. Maybe it’s a skill we have passed on to somebody, like a certain way to tie shoelaces or knitting or how to fish. I think people often remember who taught them how to ride a bike. It is things like these that expand what our existence is and can long after we are no longer here.
Another way this connection plays out can be with our pets. If I think about all the little connections I have with mine. I have a dog that if I wink at her, her tail starts wagging excitedly. If I look away her tail stops instantly, the moment I look back at her and wink again, her tail comes back to life wagging frantically! I also have a parrot who dances with me, beatboxes like me and even swears like me!
Thinking about your own impact on the world.
It can be hard for us to establish what our impact is on others and communicating this perhaps in a way that is ‘How will you remember me when I am gone?’ can be hard and difficult to have with loved ones. It is this though, that is the very essence of life, the connection we have with others. So where is this going? for me it’s about;
Making that call to someone you have not spoken to for years,
Telling someone, something you find special and unique about them,
Inviting that someone for dinner and connecting with them,
Making that memory, doing something for someone that they will never forget,
Joke, smile, laugh, be there when someone needs you,
Because one day, a day that could be far in the future or could be tomorrow. When your petals have all fallen off, its these memories that that one day will be all that’s left of you.
An afterthought, how might I be able to help you?
Perhaps you would like to figure out what your impact is on others for yourself before discussing it with your loved ones, or maybe that conversation is too hard to have with them, so you would like to explore it in counselling for yourself. Or maybe you want to ask yourself questions like how you would feel about your life if you knew it was going to end tomorrow. If you would like a non-judgemental safe space to explore this thinking through the vision of a counsellor who has had the experience of this thinking not only for myself but with others that have wanted to explore this further, then please do get in touch by telephone 07903319318 or email firstname.lastname@example.org or alternatively visit my website www.brighter-pathways.co.uk
In this article I am going to discuss possible reasons as to why being left out, not fitting in or when we experience loss of friendship groups or loving relationships feels so uncomfortable and hurts so bad. I am a counsellor working in the Bradley Stoke area of Bristol who has helped many resolve feelings of loneliness, rejection and ostracisation. If this is something you would like support with, my contact details are at the bottom of this blog.
Think of times it has happened to you
Can you remember a time where you have felt ostracised or cut out of a social situation, not invited to a social gathering or when you have been singled out by a bully? This is the feeling that people experience when they are alone at times of festive celebrations such as Christmas or the feeling of being left behind when someone closed to them has passed away. Can you get close to that emotion that arises from this rejection/ostracisation?
What does ostracise mean?
The word ‘Ostracise’ derived from ancient Greek times where voting tokens were called ostracon. There was a voting process that happened twice a year where civilisations would use ostracon voting chips. Ostracon was broken bits of pottery, the ancient Greeks used ostracon to vote whether to banish someone from their civilisation for 5 years.
A modern translation of the word ‘Ostracise is:
Why does it feel so bad?
The feeling that arises is affectively straight from your survival instinct tapping into your stress response. Big emotions around survival is the likely response, feelings of loneliness, vulnerability and a need for action. If the emotion didn’t feel big, we wouldn’t act upon it as it wouldn’t feel serious enough.
We have an internal survival instinct to connect with others, how this plays out is through the attachment to our parents or carer giver from birth. If we decided we didn’t like our parent/carer giver from an early age that would risk our survival, hence sayings like ‘don’t bite the hand that feeds you!’ We learn quite quickly that we need others to survive.
We are designed to connect with other humans, examples of what this looks like, is the contagious laugh. Those times when someone’s laughter inspires you to do the same even though you might not know what they are laughing at. Another example is when someone yawns it somehow feels contagious, this is actually ‘do I need to gasp for air too?’ So we take a gasp of air and yawn.
A key reason we need to be able to read and feel emotions is so we can read the fear in another human. This is a survival mechanism, if we see fear in another it inspires us to ask the question, do I need to be fearful also? If someone was running with the look of fear on their face, you would assess the situation to see if the fear is real for you also.
I prefer to be alone, why do I even care?
Humans have a very in-ground biological survival trait to remain connected with others due to our Hunter Gatherer days. You needed to remain part of a group because that increased your chances of survival, it meant you were more likely to feed, and less likely to get picked off by neighbouring tribes or animals that might eat you. Staying part of the group meant life or death, your survival depended on it.
Not feeling connected to groups and loneliness is at the core of a lot of the counselling work I do. If it is not genuinely feeling cut off from groups or people, I work with people that feel different from everybody else because of their experiences.
Existential loneliness, ultimately, we are all alone.
I believe another factor of loneliness is no one fully knows what it is like to be ourselves as individuals, we can get close to what that is with empathy, but we can never be fully sure. We are a guest on the earths plain, we enter the world alone and the chances are we will leave alone. We reach out to others and this connection reinforces our existence, without being able to talk to others about things you may have done in the past, our feeling of loneliness perpetuates. Think of the times you have bumped into an old friend and the enjoyment you experience talking about old times.
We learn this from a young age when we are children, we say “look at me”, “look what I have done” “watch me”. It is almost as if we are saying ‘I exist, notice me.’ The connection to others as adults is our way of soothing this wound that we exist but without others its harder to grasp what that existence looks and feels like.
Another factor in the connection we have with others is our own mortality project. Internationally famous artist Banksy says ‘I mean, they say you die twice. One time when you stop breathing and a second time, a bit later on, when somebody says your name for the last time.’ I wonder if this thinking is with us all? If we are not connected with people that somehow our existence will be shorter lived.
How can we resolve feelings we feel when we are ostracised?
When you add this thinking with ostracisation we are tapping into a wound that is as big as any we can experience in our lives. How do we heal a wound that’s so deep? I am not good enough, I don’t fit in, why don’t people like me?
For me being able to own what we are feeling is the first step to either feeling it more comfortably or choosing to respond differently. Feelings are often our bodies way of giving us the energy we need to respond to a problem. An example of this is if we feel nervous before a social situation this is actually our bodies way of giving us the energy we need to become a bit more energetic and chatty. If we reject this feeling as negative, we are fighting against our body’s responses. We then look at our responses as a negative feeling and avoid it rather than accepting and working with it.
I have on many occasions worked with people that feel socially inadequate or ostracised. By talking through the feelings one experiences, together we have been able to facilitate a more practical plan and ownership moving forward. If this is something you would like to address, then get in touch www.brighter-pathways.co.uk or contact on 07903319318.
I am putting my neck out writing this blog because as a counsellor what I think and feel ideally should be neutral to the client in order to not interest or put off certain clients. My thoughts and feelings are mostly neutral to both sides of people who voted leave or remain. However, in this blog I am going to discuss aspects that I think will impact leave or reman based on experiences of people I have encountered, my education and my experience of living in the UK all my life.
I woke up on the morning of 24th of June 2016 did my normal thing, I did nothing different. The traffic was as it always was the weather was pretty much as it always is……………
My first experience of it was when I asked a work colleague “How are you this morning?” His response was “I am really pissed off! Have you not heard?”
It then became clear. Of course the EU referendum result, I asked what the result was although I was pretty sure I knew. Which way did I want the vote to go? The truth is I was not sure. The facts and statistics from both sides sounded way to scare mongering for my liking. Things didn’t feel like they were working politically in the UK but voting for what is inside the mystery box feels pretty scary too. Of course voting in or out, probably won’t change what is not working in any case.
My first thoughts of uncertainty hit as soon as the news was told to me, my next thoughts were actually my community is made up of European people. How does this vote affect them? I experience the European people in my community to be friendlier than those that are from the UK. Of course I am not standardising the friendliness of human beings based on nationality but this is actually a true observation for me.
My Polish tattoo artist who is known across Europe for his work, told me his story in one of the 20 odd hours he was working on my tattoo. He told me that he and his girlfriend at the time had a couple of grand between them and things were not working out for them economically in Poland, so they decided to emigrate to another country and at the time his girlfriend was reading Treasure Island which features Bristol and some of its public houses. Based on this between them I quote they said, “Fuck it, let’s go there!”
I found this story inspiring, I can only imagine how adventurous their lives must have felt at that time. There is something about the free spirit of this decision based on their own ability to trust themselves and their aspirations. I also believe there is something stunning about the fact there was the opportunity to do this. I value and love the travelling I have done in this world and I can’t wait to do more.
I wonder how a voting leave affects them and other people across Europe with similar aspirations? For me, voting leave because of migration to this country is not dissimilar to those that voted for Trump in America because he was going to build a wall! And let’s be honest is that really working out for them right now!
No sooner had the votes been counted social media became the house of commons and people erupted into debate on what had just happened, some even already changing their minds on the vote they had cast. Claiming that they had voted in rebellion to the way things currently were. A predominant theme was for fear of the NHS being privatised.
I have a friend who has worked a hard-manual labour job for pretty much all his life and in his mid 30’s he had worked his back so hard it had given out completely to the point he needed surgery. He tried to obtain this surgery via the NHS, but his wait became so long he was about to lose the job that he had been in for many years. How would this man support his family with no job and no means of income due to the fact he couldn’t work because he has an injury from too much hard labour? He was fortunate enough to be able to go privately (or perhaps not so fortunate as the cost of going private was well in excess of £20000) to see the same surgeon he would via the NHS but the waiting times were non-existent because he could afford to pay.
Shortly after he had booked his private operation, his letter for his NHS consultation came through the post which came through pretty much the same service, the same surgeon, however this letter suggested his back wouldn’t need surgery and physio would do the trick, which definitely was not the case! He needed reconstructive titanium mesh spine surgery!
I wonder how a voting leave affects people in similar situations? I think the answer to that is there will be no change at all, seeing as the Brexit buses were a lie! If anything I could see the need to pay for health care increase due to selling NHS trade to privatised American companies.
My guess is, and it is a semi educated one, I have studied sociology and read much of the works of Karl Marx, nothing will change. On the one side it was suggested that we stayed in the EU for business reasons, for the economy, for security or we should vote out for the saviour of the NHS and closing of the borders. We have since learned the truth of this is, we need a certain amount of migration to do jobs that British people simply do not want too and leaving the EU will not make our NHS any better off.
The vote that would have won for me is not the one that strived for a financial driven economy. The economy is something you know is there, but you also know its exaggerated and don’t quite know how it works. It is also a measure of how the richer end of our civilisation is doing opposed to the poorer half.
It could be argued I have no right to talk about any of this stuff, I didn’t even vote! Yes I didn’t vote. Why? Because at the time of the vote there was nothing set in stone about what impact staying in or out of the EU would have! For me that sets out a complete irresponsibility of the UK’s members of parliament and also the media. I blame them for this mess! I blame MP’s for not communicating with the British public about what the real implications of what the vote was for. I blame the media for filling that vacuum void of information, with bullshit! It is only now a few weeks before we are actually going to leave (debateable!) that we are starting to see what some of the impacts are. Although despite constant reading around the subject I am still not too much the wiser.
So what would I vote for now? I would take into consideration the impact it had on all generations. I would vote for the encouragement to connect to others, one where you are encouraged to speak to your neighbour to smile at passers-by regardless of their skin colour or nationality. That might sound like I am a remain-er but that is not necessarily the case because I believe some of the regulations to come out of the EU are bonkers! I guess the truth still strongly sits with, I do not know enough, and I think that is the same for most, and we are the ones who are graced with the responsibility which for me is unfair.
Regardless of all of the above my vote would have gone towards the side that brought people together, a vote that encouraged us to unite behind the one similarity that we all share and that is what it is to be human, instead of claiming rights to something that is completely circumstantial………….. the bit of land you were born on!
This is an article about some of the low feelings we can feel about this time of year, along with some suggestions about how we can support ourselves.
The days are greyer than any other time of the year, the wind lashes with its own arctic kiss. The light seems to never fully arrive on a day to day basis and those that work a 9-5 barely see any light at all. The shivering temperatures and the cold of the dampness seem to penetrate right to the bones. Somehow this time of year everything feels like it is done as though we are stuck in tar.
The anticipation of the festive period along with the New Year’s celebrations are now a mere memory, the high has now gone low. This can be a low time of year for reasons related to the festive period, people may be lonely or have experienced bad family relationships at a time where the television makes out, everyone’s festive period is perfect. As I have written in a previous blog, perfection is at the core of failure and feelings of inadequacy.
More people die at this time of year than at any other time of the year. Statistics have shown that in the week between Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve in some years has seen an increase of people dying rising by up to 31%. The reasons for this are unknown but it’s thought cold alone is not the defining factor.
According to the Independent the third Monday of every year is considered to be the most miserable day of the year, it is dubbed ‘Blue Monday’. Whilst some mental health organisations feel it is not helpful to have a day considered the most depressing of the year, I feel it would be hard to overlook the fact that there are factors that lead to this time of year being not the jolliest!
For example like I have said, the grey weather, a battered bank balance from Christmas, not to mention the excess pounds gained from over indulging over the festive period. Then there is the possibility that you may have failed your New Year’s Resolutions, I think you get the jest of where I am going, on top of these possibilities, there is the day to day norms which can be enough to get us down. I myself I am not immune to this, at this time of year getting out of bed and waking up feels harder somehow.
(Macmillan, 2011, p. 505) Writes in ‘The Little Book of Life’, ‘In winter everything dies back in the ground, but in spring, everything comes alive again. Year in year out. But there is nothing magical about this, nor superstitious, it is a natural process controlled by our friend in relationship, the sun.’
Some might argue about the magical and superstitious part but for me the sun is what breathes life into everything. Plants use the process of photosynthesises to turn sun light into food, the sun gives the earth energy by offering its radiant warmth to the seas which in turn determines our weather cycles. The sun gives us vitamin D which according to science is vital for our bones, immune system and our mental health. Apparently 10 million of us in the UK about 1 in 6 of us are lacking vitamin D! We live in the UK and lack vitamin D and we have very little sunshine, coincidence I think not!
So how can we get more vitamin D? Well rumour has it Portobello mushrooms are a great source of Vitamin D, I have also heard if you leave them in the sun for a couple of hours before consuming them the amount of Vitamin D is dramatically increased.
As for feeling grey and glum at this time of year? For me the key to mental well-being is holding healthy relationships with our friends, family and colleagues. I also believe being in a healthy counselling relationship can be a way to finding out what lies under our greyness and get closer to who we are.
I believe at the bottom of every Mental Well-Being Kit Bag there should be a person you can talk to, someone to be there to hear your thoughts out loud (please note this is not advice to put someone in a kit bag!!).
I also believe that internalising our unhappy feelings is the way to perpetuate them. Therefore accessing someone to hear you out in times of need is vital to mental well-being, so reach out, talk to your friends, family members, your work colleagues and where this is not possible seeking counselling could be an option. If you are affected by any of the things mentioned and would like to find out more about counselling you can find out more here www.brighter-pathways.co.uk