Words of solace in hard times

The world is not the same anymore today. Illusions have been lost forever, and we are opening our eyes to a new and scary reality. Once again. As if the covid pandemic wasn’t enough to show us our vulnerability and recklessness, asking for drastic changes. No catching our breath.

For a moment I briefly hesitated if I should really write about this grave subject of war in Europe. But I cannot ignore what the events of the last days mean for us. There is so much at stake and it has the potential to scare us out of our minds, considering all possible implications. That’s the feeling when realizing you are dealing with someone completely unpredictable who is prepared to go to considerable lengths.

Suddenly, every ordinary thing I look at, every task I do has become so insignificant. It’s a wonderfully sunny day in late February, and I realize once again how many things I take for granted. Having a home, food and water, being able to sleep at night without fear. My life is not threatened. My family and friends are safe.

Starting work yesterday morning, the daily problems we had to solve appeared like petty playground games to me in comparison. Nobody is going to die at our workplace if a report is delayed. (Maybe this should be my answer  in the future in some of our conference calls.) I am thinking more and more about how scary the current situation must feel for my colleagues in Romania which is sharing a border with Ukraine.

Speaking to my parents in Germany who were teenagers during World War II, it’s really tough on them. They were both displaced back then, had to flee their homes. Having to leave behind people and places you love must be unimaginably sad. Watching the pictures on TV now brings back all those memories for them. They are devastated and frightened. 

I grew up with these war stories because they both talked openly about it, hence I had probably less illusions about peace being a given. But when something like this happens it is still a shock. So I spent today moving between crying and defiance. Staying away from the news is difficult right now as fear seems to glue us to the TV or online news, looking at the ghastly empty streets of Kyiv. Then I went for a walk seeking the soothing powers of nature.

There is still hope. There always is. 

Of course, there are chances.

Hope is the active conviction that despair will never have the last word. (Cory Booker)

  • The time is now to respond unanimously. We are stronger together, that is one of the lessons to be learned.
  • Acknowledging past mistakes made and learning from them quickly. Change has to come fast now, and it can. We’ve already seen it.
  • Making hard decisions and accept they will hurt ourselves as well to some extent. Absolute transparency of governments with their citizens about the consequences.
  • Strategically important in the long term: the willingness to deal with crises in countries outside of Europe, to prevent escalation that could otherwise, eventually fall onto our own feet some day. 
  • Another interesting and very hopeful prospect: finding a solution to the stalemate situation in the UN security council.

The time is always right to do what is right. (Martin Luther King)

After all, this is a chance to getting our priorities right. A reality check.

And let’s not forget: we are living in the digital age now, having much more transparency than there ever was before. Let’s use it to our advantage.  (The anonymous hacking group appears to be doing exactly that.)

What I say might sound like a citizens’ wish-list for our governments – and it actually is. Feeling powerless without influence on their decisions, all is left is my hope they will come to their senses, leaving their differences in opinion aside.

This situation is a crucible. It is heartbreaking and sadly, realistically, there is more heartbreak to come. How we will emerge from it remains to be seen. 

But we need to hang in there, refusing to give up. 

Because there is always a chance.

Trust the voice within and learn to let go

Focus on what you can control – what is in your own sphere of influence. Easier said than done. Although knowing it well I regularly happen to fall into the same trap again and again, getting worked up about things I simply cannot change – because I am not the decision maker. Some examples:

  • Government decisions
  • The slow pace at which much needed change happens
  • Climate change
  • Other people not doing what I would like them to do (a particularly ridiculous one)
  • Not to forget, the covid pandemic changing our lives forever

I need to remind myself from time to time that the only things I really can control is my perspective and my own behaviour. My response to the events of life – which is my choice. It always comes down to mindset, ultimately. 

Why is it so hard to let go?

It’s not as if I’d release control by letting go – because I have none in the first place. What I find so hard to bear is this helpless feeling of having to accept the inevitable: things taking a wrong turn in my opinion and me being unable to stop it. 

Take climate change for example. Knowing that decisions taken by our governments to combat it are still not sufficient, which will cause even more irreversible damage to the planet thus impacting all our lives, is a hard pill to swallow. Like a cloud casting a shadow I cannot chase away.

Often it’s not difficult to anticipate an outcome, but I simply don’t want this outcome to materialize itself. Which makes it even harder for me not to give in to despair.

So, whenever such inner dialogue starts to take up too much space in my head, I try to actively stop myself and re-direct my thoughts. Merely hoping for a twist of fate in form of a nice surprise which will prove me wrong in the end, because the human factor in the equation is never predictable (which of course, could be a blessing or a curse either way). 

Until then I talk myself into having trust that things will work out somehow, and not worry too much in the process. 

I don’t always succeed though.

There are two ways to be. One is at war with reality and the other is at peace. (Byron Katie)

And so, I experience a recurring pattern of complaining and worrying about something I have no influence on. Maybe I should rather be happy about becoming aware of this behaviour much earlier now than I did decades ago. My “worrying turnaround cycle” indeed got faster which is one small success after all. 

Probably, that’s all I can expect? Is this a lifetime exercise about strengthening my awareness, achieving patience and some sort of equanimity? Learning to encounter the events of life with a little more assuredness, confidence and trust? 

Don’t get me wrong – I am not advocating to stay indifferent in the face of the many, many problems life shoves into our path. We certainly can and should take responsibility to do something – but it needs to be a contribution which we can control and is worth our time. 

For all else beyond our control we do not have a magic wand to prevent or reverse events – however unfortunate that might feel sometimes. Accepting this is really hard. Some days it feels like advancing on a thin wire while struggling to keep my balance. 

It takes trust – especially in people who have not given up yet holding all of us in balance – like a net supporting us. But first and foremost, we need to have trust in ourselves, because we are a part of this support net. 

Learning from the pandemic situation

Think about how the pandemic has pushed us violently out of our comfort zone since it started to change our lives forever. Suddenly, there was a lot more to worry about than usual, and far more uncertainty. And nobody could escape it. The situation asked a lot of us. Flexibility, trust, perseverance to name but a few – and that certainly is not easy to muster for everyone. 

It is tiring to hang in there for such a long time, in this rollercoaster of emotions, hopes and fears. What fascinates me: there is still hope. We still do not give up. We might be angry, frustrated and sad, but we still hope for the return of some form of normal life which will give us back at least some sort of control. 

Surely, we cannot expect everything going according to plan because it never does anyway. But giving up planning for the most part of the last two years was a surrender to reality for me. And a big test of (not only my) patience. Being so used to planning ahead and looking for solutions I felt stuck. 

Don’t hope that events will turn out the way you want, welcome events in whichever way they happen: this is the path to peace. (Epictetus)

Then I decided to take it as an exercise in letting go. Allowing myself more room than ever before. “Leaning into discomfort” (Brené Brown) is essential in a challenging situation, but we often don’t dare to go down that road. To try it out lets us grow, however scary it feels. And it’s totally ok to be scared when doing hard things.

I was not alone in this. The many conversations with friends and colleagues who were struggling themselves while moving along, the mutual encouragement, all these little signs of support and understanding did and still do help. 

To move forward trusting my voice within. Hesitating, stumbling, sometimes falling – and then getting back up.

Sometimes letting things go is an act of far greater power than defending or hanging on. (Eckhart Tolle)

Now things do start to look better, even with a bumpy road ahead. Finally, there is light at the end of the tunnel. And once again we see that life takes unexpected turns, and not necessarily always bad ones.

My best piece of news I found last week: two Texas scientists developed a cheaper, easier to make and to distribute anti-covid vaccine which they do not intend to patent, so anyone could reproduce it. Thus enabling low-income countries to make it available faster to far larger parts of their population. 

It means we are coming closer now to global vaccine equity because two people did the right thing without hesitation, hoping others will follow their example.

If we ever needed proof that not all is lost, here you go.

The past two years have put a spotlight on many things. Not only on what does not work well and where our priorities should lie, but also on what we are capable of. 

What we can control – and what we need to live with.

Where we should take action – and where we need to let go.

Finding yourself and your very own way

It has taken me ages to feel in sync with myself. I wish someone had told me when I was young how important it actually is to follow my heart and my dreams. To move forward regardlessly. To learn and develop, to try out things without being afraid to make a mistake, certainly not striving to be perfect. Life is about the journey – not about making the “right” decision each time.

Today I know that life is a journey and not a destination, the purpose being to learn as much as you can and then refine and fine-tune your path, finding your way, going left or right without being afraid. When I am looking at young girls today I feel the need to tell them exactly that. 

We get caught up so easily in what others might think of us, keeping up appearances or putting on a show, hiding who we really are. Afraid of showing our true self, being afraid of rejection and ridicule – of which we get a lot at school, which often shapes us impacting out adult lives. We all long for acceptance and belonging. 

And today, with all the social media circus around us, it is even harder to be yourself, especially when you are a girl. It takes courage, and a good backup at home from parents who acknowledge the importance of encouraging their children. Knowing that strength is about being true to yourself. That showing vulnerability is essential in finding your way forward into this very difficult and complex world. 

Life is hard in the face of adversity, but it is possible to get through it. Knowing the tools to use while being in the middle of the storm helps a lot. Thankfully, there are parents who have a lot of awareness about this, raising their children carefully and mindfully into strong, responsible, kind adults who are not afraid to speak their minds and stand up for themselves.

Example is not the main thing in influencing others. It is the only thing. (Albert Schweitzer)

My late aunt – my father’s sister who was my godmother – encouraged me a lot when I was a child, in a rather indirect way. She reassured me, offering me a safe place where I felt I could be myself from a very young age onwards, like a safe haven. She never said anything directly to me about what she perceived until when I was an adult, was never judgemental in any way. She just gave me her unconditional love and understanding, her support and kindness. She was a good role-model, patient and good-humoured. 

Looking back I understand more now. She was the good spirit in my life and she did a great job in raising me – albeit from a distance as we did not have the chance to meet very often. But spending time with her was always pleasant, it felt like an oasis of well-being. We were one of a kind and I felt very close to her. She inspired me in many ways. I owe to her my creativity, a lot of my interests, among them my love for nature. And above all, I owe to her the assuredness that I am me and have the right to be myself and to be accepted as I am. Whatever other people might think or say. 

That’s why I feel the need to give back, particularly to young girls and to younger colleagues. To tell them – in my own rather direct and straightforward manner – how important it is to be in sync with yourself, to find your own way and not to shy back from going wherever you feel the need to go because your heart tells you so. 

To experiment and not being scared of failure. To realize that making mistakes is part of the deal and not something to punish yourself for. To listen more to your heart than to other people’s opinions.That life is about a life-long learning process. Getting impulses fosters understanding and growth. I have learnt the same way and that helped me become who I am today.

Do what your feel in your heart is right. You’ll get criticized for it anyway.(Eleanor Roosevelt)

Everyone has to gain their very own experiences in life, of course. And some of us tend to make it harder on ourselves as it should be, but that is also a way of learning. 

Life is constantly changing. We have to walk our own path, not somebody else’s. Nothing is carved out for us – we have to go where no-one else did go before, step by step. When I was young, I did not think about that. I wanted to do what was “right”. Not straying left or right. 

Little did I know. That’s not what you learn at school – sadly, because that is what actually matters. It could help to push our boundaries, and to save young people from a lot of heartache and insecurities. A lot what we are suffering from is based on our own exaggerated expectations, something which we even might have taken over from our parents, without questioning. It’s pressure we needlessly put on ourselves. It is – as so often – the thoughts in our heads that are the root cause of our misery.

Eventually all things fall into place. Until then, laugh at the confusion, live for the moment, and know EVERYTHING HAPPENS FOR A REASON. (Albert Schweitzer)

The first time I really felt in sync with myself was at the age of 53. Well. You are never too old and it’s never too late. That I know for sure. Meanwhile.

Things take as long as they take and it’s different for everyone. No need to be sad or upset about it. There is always a reason why things take time, like a seed that needs to grow. Like we need to be ready for the next step. Let’s not forget: the grass does not grow faster because you pull at it, right?

For me, it translates directly into the question: what is our purpose in life – why are we here?

  • To learn – about ourselves.
  • To find freedom – to free our minds from the expectation of others. From our own notions of how we are supposed to be. 
  • To get clarity about what really matters and where our priorities need to be.

Isn’t it a fascinating journey we are on? We can grow as old as we want to – we are still learning, developing, changing our preferences and interests, discovering new insights and understanding more and more how it is all connected. 

I am waiting for the moment when I will realize how everything falls into place. Sometimes I feel like getting a hint of it, as if the clouds are lifting for a brief moment to show the sun or a small piece of blue sky. 

I have the feeling it will be amazing. 

%d bloggers like this: