Was I deceived or did a sable cloud turn forth her silver lining on the night?
John Milton, Comus, 1634
Gently, Jolene posed a series of questions for us to consider privately, in silence, before we split into smaller groups to discuss our responses.
“How are you being challenged or stretched by your current circumstances? What moments of hope and joy do they nevertheless contain? What silver linings can you see? What about any past circumstances that you have been through? What silver linings were there? How can you bring self-compassion and kindness to your current experience of the challenges we collectively, and you individually, are facing?”
The meeting today was powerful. It felt slightly more serious than usual, in a very lovely way. People shared the ups and downs of their lives with trust and openness. Listening to everyone made me appreciate (once again) what a wonderful connection we have formed as a group.
For me, this year of the virus, the restrictions, a cancer diagnosis I received in September and then a major operation have made me see and appreciate the things I value in greater detail and depth. With every moment of fear and uncertainty, the support and kindness of friendship has been highlighted, with every bodily discomfort, moments of physical comfort and pleasure have been brighter. I have laughed from the belly and loved with more intensity these last few months than I can remember ever doing before, bringing me to more of an understanding of how interconnected the rough is with the smooth, (seemingly almost by design?) I wrote this to express that thought more:
Clouds may obscure sunlight partially yet always the brightness rebels breaks through as laughter in a darkly forbidding silence. Silver linings are threads woven into each multicoloured moment.
There is a patch of earth outside my back door, which an enterprising estate agent might describe as a garden. Until a few months ago it lay under a foot of concrete. It hadn’t felt the sun or breathed the air for years. Now it is scarred, rippled with fragments of concrete like shrapnel. It is a wasteland. And today, when I stuck my head out the door for a lungful of air, there were ten or twelve little green shoots poking up through it all and reaching towards the sky.
At the edges, grass and moss and wild flowers are creeping in, inch by inch. Something has burrowed a nest beneath the protection of an old plant-pot. Runners criss-cross from all directions, smelling opportunity in the destruction. Squirrels scratch around in the bare dirt for long-buried acorns; insects make homes in the shattered concrete; birds drink from the puddles. Seeds are blowing in on the wind and falling out of the sky. If I fell down dead out there and the place was left, it would be a beautiful wilderness in fifty years.
You can’t stamp every bit of life out of the earth. Not through effort, not through hardship, and certainly not through neglect. There is just too much, under and in and around it. The smallest fragment of life can grow thousands more; can feed insects and birds to spread pollen and seeds; can build shelter and turn soil and fix water and nourishment into dead ground. In the sunlight, life turns back the clock on destruction and makes the world new again.
So it is with the human heart. The smallest fragment of hope, or love, or joy, or compassion, however deeply buried, can grow back all the rest in time. All that’s needed is the sunlight.
In these uncertain times. Fear not said I inside my head For you have strength that shines From deep within you find the core The silver linings mine In these uncertain times we hold Our candles burning bright These present times that whisper Way down into the night In these uncertain times we hold A flicker for all to see From inside out we brightly shine the candle being me So, with hands that reach out to nature's call And friends that ease the pain It’s through this lockdown nation Our friendships will remain So many things I thought I knew After 25 years I was sure I knew my partner inside out But COVID’s shown me more So, as we reach for silver linings They’re out there waiting to come in Just hold your hands out grasp it And let the silver in. (c) P. Omoboye
It’s been almost a year, time to count blessings and silver linings. Since Lockdown I am/we are:
Alive – more alive than ever; and Appreciative of those who make our lives possible, from binmen to vets.
Bouncy – able to bounce back from difficulties
Connected – much closer to friends, families, especially those far away; and
Creative – taking part in groups like this, writing and reading more poetry
Dirty – nobody visiting, why bother to clean the house?
Eager – to help others where we can
Fitter – all the walking in our wonderful parks and open spaces that I never knew before
Greyer – don’t have to dye my hair a; and Grateful: for everything, including my hair
Hairier – don’t shave my legs
Involved – in groups like this, local gardening groups, community hubs, FB groups
Jokier – watching loads of classic comedy on Netflix
Kinder – I feel we’ve all become more openhearted and loving this year
Learned – I’ve done lots of online courses, watched films and live streamed concerts, plays, operas and ballets, art shows and talks that I’d never get a chance to see otherwise
Mindful – listening to the birdsong, the sound of the rain; doing a breathing/ meditation practice every day and at least one mindfulness class a week
Neighbourly – I know my neighbours better than I did and our neighbourhood groups have been amazing; and New friends – I’ve met some incredible people this year that I think will be lifelong friends
Organised – I stick rigidly to my morning routines for fear of falling apart; I’ve done a lot of decluttering this year, too
Prepared – not hoarding toilet paper, but making sure there’s enough food in case I can’t go out
Quieter – hardly anyone in the streets, less traffic; living in a terraced house with neighbours working from home makes you keep your own noise down
Resilient – digging deep in hard times has uncovered inner resources we didn’t know existed. Particularly in children and young people who haven’t had the time to develop it yet
Savvy – everyone’s become more techno savvy. The technology has been fantastic
Talkative – can’t stop talking when I get the chance, even to recording machines!
Upbeat – making deliberate efforts to be positive. Easier when you stop listening to the news
Verbose – see above, I’ll say no more
Well-off – saving money on petrol, going out, holidays. I finally got my pension!
Xtremely grateful for all I have, extremely aware how lucky I am
Yin – channelling the feminine energies of the universe to be more loving, nurturing
ZZZ – sleeping better!
Silver linings: a topic which covered so much and about which a whole book could be written. In the breakout group Linda and I thought of the silver linings of the current time and situation as well as the more general silver linings we felt we had in our lives.
One of the important things for me is that while feeling gratitude for all the silver linings in my life, I don’t become complacent, smug or thoughtless that for many people for many reasons, financial, emotional or social, they are not able to find any silver linings of their own. So, with that thought here we go.
In the current times one of the best silver lining has been Zoom! Before the pandemic I had never heard of it, and I certainly wouldn’t have thought of using it. But now it has allowed me to be in contact with family and friends and take part in many groups, like our storytellers’ blog to name but one! I have a zoom meeting every Sunday morning with my son and daughter, and as he lives in Cambridge, I think I have spoken to my son more than ever before!
Another of my own silver linings at this time, is that whilst living on one’s own can be difficult, on the other hand all I have to think about is keeping myself fed and well! Many younger people are trying to work from home while home schooling their children. Thankfully too no-one in my family has to worry about not being able to feed their children, as too many parents are having to do now. No silver linings for them.
In general, I think one of life’s silver linings is to get to an age when you can look back on all the serious times in your life, health problems, losses, work pressures and family upsets and be able to have a sense of perspective that you might not have had when you were younger. You know that you have come through difficult situations and have developed a resilience you did not think you would have.
To wake up and be able to get out of bed every day is definitely a silver lining!
In this week’s breakout room Lucy, Margaret and myself all agreed that we had each received some major silver linings after some devastating events had occurred in our lives. Most too painful for open discussion. We chatted a lot about compassion and self-compassion, both very much needed at all times but even more so during this pandemic and our current lockdown. I am passionate about self-compassion, and would love to see it taught everywhere.
In the general meeting poetry came up a lot and this sent my mind off down another track. The more I thought about it, the more I realised it tied in beautifully with our “silver linings” topic. I attend Sunday Assembly meetings via Zoom on a weekly basis. Each week we have a poet and a speaker. Because we can no longer meet in person, it has enabled the organisers to be able to reach far and wide for people to join us and recite their poetry or speak about the chosen topic. It’s been a fab opportunity to connect with others who wouldn’t normally have attended in person because of proximity. One such poet is Miko Berry who is the Scottish Slam Champion and 4th in the world. He is totally amazing. By some miracle he agreed to run a workshop for us, free or on a donation basis for anyone who could. What a Silver Lining of 2020 he was to me!
To cut a long story short, he gave us a choice of titles and said just write. Don’t censor, just let it flow. I chose…. I Can’t Tell You What It Looked Like Outside…
This is what I wrote. Admittedly not there and then but over the next few weeks, I thought about it, lost sleep over it, cried a lot, then just sat down and out it came.
I can't tell you what it looked like outside On that fateful day when my husband died I can tell you my heart broke wide I can tell you of the tears I cried I can tell you how my world ended. I can tell you that it eventually mended I can tell I was lost and alone I can tell you how my cover was blown I can tell you Babs and Stan no longer existed I can tell you how much I resisted I can tell you of my year in bed I can tell you how it messed with my head I can tell you how the simple word could Replaced the savage, cruel, word … Should I can tell you how this simple change Saved my Life…… But I can’t tell you what it looked like outside On that fateful day when my husband died
Last March, piano playing was on the list I made of all the things I’d have more time to do during lockdown, to cheer myself up. It was amongst several pleasurable activities which have helped me to get through previous difficult and stressful times, as advised by a counsellor I once saw. You could call them silver linings.
“I should play the piano more”, I said, during the warm, supportive conversation with Lucy and Babs in the breakout room. “Lose the should, change it to could!” came Babs’ reply, and that really helped. Yes, I could play the piano. The music lifts my spirits, and concentrating on reading the notes stops me from worrying. It’s good to have something I know I can turn to, but it’s equally OK if it’s not right for me just now. Playing the piano can bring back sad memories too.
My “to do” list is still there, blue-tacked on my p.c. tower, but conversely, instead of some of those solitary activities, my locked down 2020 has been mostly about communication and “being” with others virtually when we couldn’t be together. The discussions and memories we’ve shared in the Stories of our Lives group were stimulating, it’s been a pleasure to reflect on them afterwards and to be motivated to write regularly. I’m also pleased to have been able to transfer skills from my working life to help others, e.g., learning WordPress to compile the blog posts. Through Zoom, I’ve made new friends, deepened long-standing friendships and shared more frequent connections with all members of my loving family. Silver linings to the dark clouds of Covid-19.
I’m so lucky not to be at home alone, I really feel for those who are. On these cold, short Winter days, my partner and I are finding pleasure in small things. We’re appreciating our evenings together: watching more TV than usual, playing Scrabble, cooking special meals for each other. In the past, we’ve supported each other through some very hard and deeply sad times, and will no doubt do so again, but living through these challenging times together is not only a silver lining, it’s pure gold.
Talking about silver linings brought up a lot of experiences I had mainly to do with work and romantic relationships. Some of them too personal to share, but I think this was a common theme! Break ups and job losses are hard for us to deal with, but the more life experience I have, the more I know that things always work out better in the end. Such as the time I was sacked for no good reason from an awful job in Ancoats and frogmarched down the stairs in front of the whole team. It was horrendously humiliating, but after that I started temping at the council and then ended up working for Manchester Advice, where it was amazing to be part of such a wonderful team making a difference to the residents in Manchester. I worked there for a fulfilling four years until I became a teacher.
In October 2020 I knew what I would do when I was made redundant as I was already working hard on plans to set up an online school with an ex-colleague. We’re currently in the process of writing business plans for potential funding opportunities and this is not my area of expertise in the slightest!
I’m employing lots of self-compassion in any doubts, stress or hair tearing moments I’m having. I may have mentioned this before, but a wonderful friend gave me a book called Self Compassion by Kristin Neff during the first lockdown. It’s one of those books that changed my life for the better. One of the key points of self-compassion is that we are only human and that humans make mistakes. Rather than employing the negative self-talk I so often have in the past, I’m taking a moment, rubbing my chest and telling myself that it is OK to mess up. It might sound a bit unusual to some, but it has such a good effect. If we were all as kind to ourselves as we were to our best friends or children, the world would be a much easier place. Try whatever works for you, whether it’s stroking your arm, holding your hand or hugging yourself. In this more isolated world, I really believe it’s important to soothe yourself. Be kind to yourself always.
Lots of love and compassion, Lucy.
Silver linings (hope)
This week’s session was perhaps the cause of a deeper reflection than usual in that we were asked to recall a darker time and any saving grace which arose from it.
The concept of a silver lining as in the saying “Every cloud has a silver lining” is inextricably linked to the emotion of hope. It was a marked feature of the conversations how many instances of poetical references there were. These reveal the power of this emotion throughout history and across cultures. As Alexander Pope wrote in his 1732 Essay on Man, “Hope springs eternal in the human breast”
The mention of hope always tends me think of the Pandora’s Box of Greek mythology in which hope is all that remains after all the other contents of the box have been released. The meaning of this story has been debated by philosophers for centuries.
Personally, my own silver linings are related to adversity also providing both an opportunity to learn and a chance to take a fresh look at life. One silver lining is always “experience” which, if allied to wisdom, can prove very beneficial in avoiding similar trouble in the future. One’s experience can also be an aid to help others as is the basis of a multitude of self-help groups.
The silver linings for me in this present hard time are:
- The chance to realise how much I value my friendships; as they say “absence makes the heart grow fonder”.
- The sight of some bulbs I planted in November, which were a donation from a local community group, starting to grow outside my front door. They symbolise the sentiment behind another of my favourite poetic quotes:
“If Winter comes can Spring be far behind?”Percy Bysshe Shelley, Ode to the West wind, 1819