This week I read a piece by the Henri Nouwen Society about choosing to find joy. They propose that finding joy is an act we can choose to engage in. So often it easy to think that joy is something which people have when they are in a job they love, when they have money and all is well for them. However joy can be something that we choose to engage in, this is not to negate from the feelings we have at difficult and painful times but it is to recognise that we can still find joy in moments of deep hardness. It is often so easy to get stuck focussing on negative thoughts, feelings, and actions. The challenge is to look for the joyful moments. For me, this is particularly important when we are working with children who present with challenging behaviors and lives. The children I support through my Nurture work can at times present with deeply challenging, sad stories and lives, which can lead to very challenging behavior. It is so easy to get stuck in problems, in the moments that have gone wrong and forgot or not notice the glimpses of joy. To choose to see the moments of joy takes a very purposeful and mindful decision. Choosing joy can often be about noticing and picking up on small details. One way of practicing an intentional act of finding joy is through taking time at the end of each day and asking the question, “Where did I find joy today.”
This morning I found joy while walking in the early morning, I saw a deer, rabbits and a buzzard, I found joy while picking wild garlic to put in the bread I plan to bake today. Where will you find joy today?
At times life can feel busy, fraught as if things are happening and I get caught in them rather than actively taking part in them. During this month I have been trying hard to feel present, to enjoy the moments and to practice gratitude. I have started a journal this year, a journal to write down the things I am feeling grateful for. This practice of gratitude helps me to see the good moments, even in a day which has felt very hard. This last week has had some wonderful moments to be grateful for, a walk in beautiful sunshine with my daughter, excellent feedback on Mummy’s Got Bipolar book, children joyfully engaging in an activity, attending a protest march, watching beautiful sunrises as I arrive back from my daily swim
This last week it has felt particularly important to be grateful for the life I have and the opportunities I have. Last Sunday we spent time with a close friend who is dying of cancer, the conversations were around the time she has left, the things she wants to do, her regrets about what she hasn’t done but also the joy of the life she has had. These conversations brought to the front of my mind the importance of enjoying the here and the now, the importance of embracing and loving the life I have. I am also aware as a woman in the UK I am so fortunate; I run my own business, I have the freedom to be creative and try new things, I feel safe in the area that I live and in the job that I choose to do. I don’t agree with the politics of the leaders of my country, but at least I am not hearing that our Prime Minister is advocating the groping of women and the verbal mockery of disabled people. For this reason, I took part in the women’s march in Bristol yesterday, to celebrate the fact that I am free to protest, I am a strong, healthy and able woman who can have her voice heard and I can speak out against injustices.
This poster from yesterday felt like words of truth for me, I am grateful that I am a strong woman, that I am surrounded by strong women who are my friends and that I have raised two strong daughters. For these things, I am very grateful.
This week I started back with my nurture role. January can often feel very hard, the children take a while to adjust to being back in school and the routines, staff often don’t feel hugely relaxed after the holiday and everyone is slightly niggly about being back in school. January is a time to go back to basics; I often revisit activities around emotions, this week I will be using homemade lavender play dough and emotion games and revisiting the characters from the film Inside Out.
Importantly January is also a time to see the glimmers of change, to remind staff of the positives, the good things we are seeing, the changes we have seen over the last four months. This morning I was thinking about these changes as I walked in the meadow and through my garden. My thoughts were around the changes we have seen in the children, the small glimmers of hope that remind me that the work is having a positive impact. As I walked and reflected on this I noticed some daffodil bulbs just beginning to emerge from the earth in my garden; another sign of hope that things will change, spring is not far away, hope is ahead of me.
This term is about reflecting and reviewing the nurture work over the past year. It is time to write end of year reports, remember the children as they were in September and recognise the tremendous change , they, their staff and I have seen over the year. It is about stopping and noticing the beauty in their development.
The year has at times been fraught, there have been many tears and much laughter. Some highlights for me have been seeing children who started the year very scared and frightened are now laughing, joining in, making friends. Being able to write end of year reports and describe a child as being a happy, smiling, joyful child is a wonderful achievement. Once again I have seen school staff work so hard to accept, love and support these children. Once again I have been reminded that progress for a child is not just about their academic attainment.
Throughout the year I have walked around the meadow at the back of our house, every Sunday morning, it’s a bit of ritual for me, it is a place where I can think, reflect and just be. A thought I had this morning was about the changes I see in the meadow through the year, in the Autumn it has been mown, it is short, sparse and a bit spiky, in the winter if often looks quite bleak, then in the spring it begins to develop new life, to grow and develop and in the summer it is space of beauty. This morning I noticed the butterflies and moths have returned, more of the wildflowers were there, it is back to being a space of beauty. But you only really notice the butterflies and the flowers when you slow down and notice and look. I felt this was really similar to the nurture work. There are times at the beginning of the year where it is hard and spiky work and there are many times in the year where it feels really bleak. But it does change, through the process of remembering and reviewing, of stopping and noticing the small changes that have been made, we can see the beauty that has developed and that is something to celebrate.
I am a really keen gardener, I am not very good at it, mainly because I have no spatial awareness, I can’t do straight lines and I am rubbish at following instructions. So my planting is very haphazard and I often forget how much space things need to grow. But I love it, I have realised that being a gardener, particularly my style of gardening, requires a lot of hope.
Today is the first day in my new gardening year. Today I planted broad beans and sweet pea seeds in my greenhouse. I had forgotten how exciting I found the start of a new gardening year; the anticipation, the planning, the preparing. I love the rituals involved at the start of the new gardening year, cleaning the greenhouse, sorting out pots, sorting through seeds. I had forgotten how meditative and calming I find this whole process, but also how happy it makes me. So much hope goes into the process of gardening, at the start of the new year you plan and think about what you will grow, you hope that the seeds that you carefully nurture will first of all appear and then grow and flourish. You then have the hope you experience as you put your small plants out into the garden, desperately hoping that slugs and birds wont eat them. From previous experience I know that I will lose some plants, I know that I will have another battle with slugs and birds and I know that I will probably overestimate how many plants I can grow in my veg patch, but that doesn’t matter, the hope for some good things is what I am hanging onto, because I also know some things will work.
As I was planting the seeds this morning I was thinking about how hope is an important part of my work life too. The hope as a self employed person that people will want to buy in my services of training and consultancy; the hope as a nurture worker for the small children I work with, that things will improve for them, and that I and the education staff can help them to feel safe, loved and secure. I know that there will continue to be some difficult times in my nurture work, and probably some scary times ahead being self employed, but I also know that having hope is a good thing.