Counting these 2020 blessings

As we cross the threshold into a new phase, I’m doing my gratitude appraisal of the year, as ever…but with, perhaps, even more appreciation than ever. I think we all agree, its been an “interesting” year and yet there’s part of me…and not just me but (I think its fair to observe) many of those close to me…that is more robust, self-knowing and somehow worldly-wise, in the broader sense, than ever before.

For starters, we have been encouraged to get to know, and to stand by, our authentic selves more than ever this year and that makes me sit up and take notice. As does the fact I’ve been through such physically hard times on the health front and yet, after weeks of the most difficult time eliminating certain ingredients that, I have come to understand, have been potentially causing me severe health issues for years, I seem to have turned a corner with that detox process, whilst finding it impossible to ignore the mirror factor with how we have all, in a sense, been purging ourselves from unconscious lifestyle factors which we hardly noticed were doing us all harm until now. Better still, every hard experience I have had to endure in that health regard, this year, feels like it had a point to make so I find myself more aware and much more informed and responsive to my own specific health foibles now, with a new degree of joined-up thinking, and that also feels important, going forwards. Again, I sense that collectively, for all the hardships, we have come to know ourselves and our pitfalls somewhat better out of what has felt like a dark night of the soul. One could simply call it an increase of consciousness to what was already there or going on, but perhaps unnoticed or unacknowledged until it was spotlit by the year’s events.

There is, simply, a new state of calm and a sort of “preparedness” for the next phase in me now, without having to know what exactly I am prepared for and I imagine that “not having to know” factor is key to the turning of ages, leaping into the unknown yet pristine territory of a brand new era. Why do I keep going on about new eras? For that you will have to refer back to my earlier post Preparing to Meet Earth’s Higher Self regarding the momentous astrological line-up on 21/12 and, on the premise “as above so below”, we could say we are all preparing to meet, or realise, our own higher selves in the coming phase, hence the collective if rather messy detox process.

Just a few week ago I felt almost in a panic that 21/12 was nearly upon us yet I didn’t feel in any sort of good order to make the transition. Now, in perfect timing, I feel as though I can let go of such doubts and just allow myself to be ENOUGH as I am, ready to make the transition. I feel truly calm all through my system like never before. Perhaps we have all, in our way, reached that point of enough…a sort of tipping point in which we have each played our perfectly scripted roles this year (even at times when it felt like a badly rehearsed pantomime) and now we just have to show up at the threshold of change and declare that we are ready to step through it. Even though the Aquarian age won’t drop into groove overnight, it feels like we are ready for a fresh start of sorts (in a way that couldn’t have been said 12 months ago when so many were still invested in “the way things had always been”) and, for that reason, this year, with all its ups and downs, has been so important.

In my own little world, as I said, it feels as though I have now turned a page and, though its not as though all my health ardours are over, they are calming down and I don’t feel so out of my depth. There are times when I feel so markedly better I can’t recall when I last felt that way, like a bolt of light through dark clouds. Not only on the physical health front but on the emotional side of things, including the fact that (regarding some very old baggage) certain quite interesting circumstances have come about of late to allow me to purge some of those old wounded areas like never before, bringing a degree of closure that I would never have foreseen. As a parent, with both four bonus months spent together and even more months forcibly apart due to lockdown conditions, I have never felt more fulfilled as a parent or on such an intimate wavelength with my daughter and that brings me so much heartfelt joy, I can hardly articulate.

I am daily brimful of gratitude for the handful of individuals with whom I consider myself close and who are treasures more valuable than prize-pearls to me, nestled in the ever more gold-gilded setting of my life. Golden, not because of economic riches or even idyllic circumstances (no such conditionality here…) but because of a certain quality of radiance that tinges so much of what I am able to dial into via the little-everyday moments I spend appreciating nature, interacting with a handful of others on such deep and a meaningful level and being so acutely aware of frequencies including some that are remarkably high these days (skills I have had all my life but never so profoundly owned or valued). I was born inherently optimistic, come what may, and it is serving me well.

Lockdown Love album, 2020 (click to view)

This spring was a point in case. As the world plunged into lockdown and desperate confusion, I was one of those people who calmly chose a different path and now, I discover, there were quite a few of us (for evidence, see this recently published book The Consolation of Nature: Spring in the Time of Coronavirus, this article in Emergence Magazine from which I will insert a quote or two below, all the many nature Instagram-ers who concertedly increased their posts in 2020, the 2000% increase of people who turned their attention to nature podcasts run by the UKs 46 wildlife trusts and bigger audiences all round for nature blog and vloggers). Mark Cocker, who I follow on Twitter and Instagram (we chatted just the other day about our love of starlings!) tweeted on 18 April: “I’m posting an uplifting image each day till this thing is done. No coronas, no Covids, but possibly corvids” (hint to his books, Crow Country). Chris Packham and stepdaughter Megan, already favourites in our house, became regular personas over breakfast in the morning, breaking my no-viewing before evening rule as I tuned into their nature updates before setting off on one of my daily walks.

Lockdown Love album 2020 (click to view)

Collectively, we decided to love and appreciate life more not less and to take advantage of quieter roads and the glorious spring weather to share daily photos and insights into our beautiful natural world. What resulted, in my case, was over 30 consecutive days of photos shared on social media (and not just one picture per day…when have I ever been able to limit my enthusiasm thus!) and then a more adhoc continuation of that into what became a sizeable album Lockdown Love, now consisting of nearly 1000 photos of stunning 2020, shared on Flickr. Even after the “photos every day” urge had run its course, I continued to use my camera to dial into the appreciation vibe more often than usual, noticing things with more gratitude than ever, meaning that my camera roll now shows evidence of a TREMENDOUS year of nature engagement. Looking back, this year seems more radiant and richly-travelled than any of the years when I hopped on and off planes or travelled more often or farther afield…even though I have mostly remained within 3 miles of my home!

Lockdown Love album, 2020 (click to view)

On that topic, looking back, I do so with some personal satisfaction when I realise that, as a household, we have hit most of the criteria recommended for contributing to a greener future. No plane travel (and we intend to keep that the case for at least the next couple of years); hardly any use of a car (we have “filled up” no more than 4 or 5 times in a year!); along with eating a vegan diet, eating seasonally; shopping local and more frugally; wasting almost no edible food, composting what we can; switching to a green energy provider; carbon offsetting as many of my business practices, such as print service and delivery, as possible; wearing clothes for longer and washing on shorter, lower temperature cycles using eco products; using only eco washing and hand sanitising products; cutting free from fast fashion outlets (along with that entire “disposable” mentality!) whilst supporting well-made eco clothing options for our minimal requirements; thinking very carefully before sending things to landfill; recycling and donating so many of the things we sorted out of storage this year; line drying all our washing (we don’t even have a dryer any more!); turning the lights and heating down where possible and shifting our pensions and investments fully into the ethical market. In fact, though some of these initiatives had already been started prior to 2020, it’s been a milestone year for us on all those fronts.

These are great accomplishments but I also take seriously that they need to be a permanent way of life, so (with the help almost a year of deeply embedding them behind us like an apprenticeship) we are now thinking that way…onwards. After the hard-core trial of it all, coming to appreciate and make use of what we already have…more…including our home, when farther afield isn’t an option, it really doesn’t seem that bad, or too much to expect in return for a planet that is still here and thriving for our grandchildren!

Painting outside in 2020

On the art front, I have enjoyed a sweeping return to actual painting…with a brush!…after years where I had succumbed to the perfectionist part of me by indulging in digital art, using similar techniques as painting (yes), but always knowing that the outcome will be so much more pristine than is ever possible with paint. This year, pristine outcome seemed far less important than the process and I really NEEDED the escapism that painting can bring; knowing, of old, how it had got me through the darkest days of my health more than a decade ago, and of course I was right.

Not that digital art is now “dumped” but my desire to purse it is overshadowed by that familiar old fizz of excitement in my stomach, telling me its a good day to pull my chair into the light by the window and get those paint tubes out. And not that that has been much the case either since, most of the year, I was able to paint outdoors (from March until about mid September, some days shading myself from glorious sunshine and, others, wrapped up warm under cloud cover…both equally enjoyable in their way). These were some of my happiest, most contented and spiritually productive times for a LONG time. Imagine, two to three hours lost in all the nuances of colour and light on canvas, otherwise spent listening to birdsong or, sometimes with headphones playing wonderful music (which I have never appreciated more than this year, as per my last post), equally content to feel the draught of their wings as they flew right past my head to get to the feeder… there could have been no more heavenly way to spend my time and it fed deep into my psyche and dreams, my general sense of optimism and wellbeing (I am still drawing on the riches of those sensory memories from the “outdoors months”).

This was not just me being in denial or hiding from the world. While I still heard, though I tried for my own stability not to get too drawn into it, that so many people were in meltdown and strife “out there”, I chose to stick to my own lane for my own mental and physical wellbeing, knowing it to be crucial that I keep my precarious health steady and that I would be no use to anyone if I fell apart. I sent my compassionate thoughts, shopped local and independent where I could, gave away what I could in my clear-outs and played the listening ear where needed…but mostly I kept from the mainstream news headlines with their finger on the dial of everyone’s emotions, and I pursued these daily rituals of painting, walking, photography and, oh yes, dancing!

Dancing was the big promise I always made to myself, finally delivered….how many years had I told myself that I still had some dance in me left? It began the day before my birthday, way back in April, with a tentative jiggle around to a song that particularly spoke to me and, since then, it has evolved hugely and I have danced virtually every day, often twice in a day. Even at times when I have had one of my Ehlers Danlos flare-ups and been in extreme pain, even when the stability and resilience of the very joints that hold me upright was in question, I have often managed to do some sort of movement to music that helped me to process through the pain and to keep my spirits up-spiralling, my body from locking-up. It has been nothing short of tremendous, one massive affirmation of my fullest-ever commitment to keep working at BEING in this human body of mine until I am a very old woman, regardless of the daily challenges and quite undefined by them.

The Foil for High Walls, 2020 – I really wanted to allude to what it takes to soften and transform the very high walls we tend to live with and surrounded by in our world and this flamboyant, somewhat unruly, creative and colourful floral display, which still has a cohesion all of its own, really did it for me. For contrast, imagine how such a high brick wall would look without it. and now consider how this applies to our world, both literally and metaphorically. In what ways could we soften our walls?⁠

The way light tends to be so attracted to natural, organic forms and then held thus amplified by them does all of the metaphorical work for me in this painting. While there are still undeniable depths and shadows, these only contribute to the overall effect and then, of course, the door through the wall is seldom covered over; in fact the organic so often leads the way towards it.⁠

There is something of that same spirit in the reason I returned to painting over digital. That perfectionist part of me, a long-time tripping point, is (at last) more comfortable with its human imperfections and limitations because they only highlight another layer of beauty via the vulnerability that is prepared to be authentic and sincere in its expression, warts and all. No longer reaching for the pristine, I am finally prepared to accept that, though I may still possess limitations, I can always reach for the very best that I can deliver, whether in my dancing, my art, my contributions to the world or my interactions with other people…just by simply offering up my best in that very moment. The result is so often a kind of beauty that, by design, eludes perfection because it is born of the human quality, and it is just such a quality that is now coming into ripeness, ready to be taken through the portal into the new era. We were never designed to become some flawless and uniform species, like mass-produced robots, as we step into our more futuristic selves (whatever the agenda driven advertising trends may try to impart to us), but to become more accepting of and gracious in the delivery of our sincerest human individualities and quirks. Painting unleashes my quirks and speaks most authentically from my heart, which is good for me and sometimes powerful for others, which is a bonus.

Light Will Always Find You, 2020 – what I wanted to get across was that light always has this way of coming to us, wherever we happen to be. The interior is meant to look quite shadowy or gloomy, a half-light in the middle of the day, yet that only makes the window’s radiance shine out all the more.

It also uplifts me, I won’t deny it, to register that more people have engaged with and purchased the products of my art this year than had been the case since I took the leap to leave high street galleries and put my business online several years ago (when my one favourite gallery closed and I realised I had lost the stamina to engage with any others…they can be notoriously hard work and commercially aggressive to deal with, which is not a good fit to the way my art is inspired). I won’t deny, the interim years have been a struggle and reduced my art back down to the level of a hobby but this year has seen a slight uptick and that tells me something about where people are putting their focus now…not so much towards the “trendy” aspirational but, perhaps, considering what they really value and want to surround themselves with on a daily basis, in their homes. When I create art, the driving force is to help people see a little bit of the beauty and radiance that I see in the world and, when that intention is reciprocated, it tells me that other people are also eager to see the light-tinged edges of this reality, which is so optimistic for me to notice. Though I won’t deny that 2020 themes have coloured my painting themes, its not been in the way you might expect and my optimism, as ever, shines though as per examples here.

Golden Breakthrough, 2020 – What came through was a desire to depict a kind of crack in realities and a first glimpse of a new golden reality, as it were, spilling in over the edges of the old, like molten gold. Obviously, its a view of dramatic clouds from a high up place but there is also a sense of looking down through clouds towards a golden earth, so you can have it either way…the main premise is one of great optimism and its interesting to me now that I painted it during a time of great fear and uncertainty in the world.⁠

This has also been the year I got my act together to open a more coherent online shop for my various art-related products and prints and that has gained some steady orders…not loads, but more than I had a year ago. Whilst I don’t do this expecting to gather a fortune or huge attention, nor are those things even a top ten incentive, it helps to be validated in your efforts by some sort of positive feedback and that seems to be coming, also via the licensing sales. It always fascinates me to see which parts of the world are responding most to my art; seems Germany is a hot-spot along with the USA more so than the UK but at least it is getting out there somewhere, plus I continue to receive some heartwarming feedback, and that is all I have ever wanted to do…put my positive spin out there into the world.

I could go on; there is so much good to say about 2020 though I know its not a positive stance (though a very common one amongst introverts, autistic people and highly sensitive types, some of whom have thrived in the slowing down of pace and ability to withdraw to the much-preferred domain of home over office – see some examples below). Certainly, for me, there has been an element of remembering to “come home to oneself” more often and remaining centred, this year. The world, as it was, seemed to be so dominantly geared for spinning us off our axis with all its distractions and demands and its a timely reminder, even for those who resisted the pull-back, that it all begins and ends with ourselves, our one true home, true north, the place where we create external realities with our attitudes and preoccupations. Some of us suspected this all along and, for us, it was a chance to newly thrive, with far less pressure or expectations from the outside whilst getting to work with what we do best; creating from our hearts.

The thing is, as a time for pause and recalibration (whatever we happen to think of it) I suspect its been a necessary year and though I haven’t lived in a bubble or had head in sand, I also haven’t chosen to allow my vibe to be dragged down by the news, have kept out of other peoples’ tail-spins, knowing these are more infectious than the virus itself and I have reminded myself, often, that I can only do what I can do. This is important to know: sometimes, just being the one to hold-up the positive vibe is THE most important thing we can contribute and very highly necessary in these unstable times. All too easy to join the majority plunging down into the mosh pit of panic and negativity, but to do so is to give away all of your power whereas holding up the light helps make sure there is still a brighter world to step into when we are all ready for it. Though we are a way from things slowing down or seeming less chaotic on the world stage (I give that at least another couple of years to run its course!), I do strongly suspect we are about to get into a different groove and I’m ready and eager for it….hoping we can all join each other there.

Some quotes from other 2020 thrivers:

About The Consolation of Nature: Spring in the Time of Coronavirus – Michael McCarthy, Jeremy Mynott and Peter Marren

Nature took on a new importance for many people when the coronavirus pandemic arrived, providing solace in a time of great anxiety – not least because the crisis struck at the beginning of spring, the season of light, growth, rebirth and renewal.

Three writers, close friends but living in widely separated, contrasting parts of the country, resolved to record their experiences of this extraordinary spring in intimate detail, to share with others their sense of the wonder, inspiration and delight the natural world can offer.

The Consolation of Nature is the story of what they discovered by literally walking out from their front doors.

The Coronavirus Pandemic and the Invisibility of Nature – Michael McCarthy

“Yet perhaps the most significant way of all in which nature has come back to us during the pandemic is that people have turned to it themselves. This was very noticeable in Britain, where, in a remarkable conjunction, the first lockdown coincided with the loveliest spring that has ever been recorded in the UK. The British spring of 2020 had more hours of sunshine, by a very substantial margin, than any previous recorded spring; indeed, it was sunnier than any previously recorded British summer except for three. It meant that, just as working life in the human world was hitting the buffers, life in the natural world was flourishing as never before, and this almost certainly intensified the renewed interest in nature from people seeking lockdown diversions. Their numbers, it is clear, were substantial.

The gift of lockdown for introverts:

For some of us, nearing half the population, we really do “do better” when we have more peace and quiet around us, less outside interference or demands and the chance to follow our own musings, from which we often do our best work.

Why lockdown is a gift for introverts like me, Jim Duffy:

Having spent decades having to put up with noisy people, this period of confinement is absolute heaven. I don’t believe that being an introvert is a handicap or ailment. No, it’s just a different way that we are wired up that leads us to seek the shelter of our own space and our own heads. And noisy, loud and extroverted folks cause us great pain. Not in a toothache way or slip and hurt a knee fashion. No, it’s more like a teacher scrapping her long nails slowly and deliberately down an old style blackboard that screeches at high pitch. This noise creates a judder right down the spine and almost makes one shiver. That is what it is like being on a train with loud and extroverted people. Excruciating.

There is method in the madness to how an introvert seeks solace in public spaces. They will of course be quiet and observe people or read or quietly listen to private music. No loud conservations on mobile phones like extroverts do, chewing the fat with people who are not even in the coffee shop.

Lockdown gift for people with autism:

I was overjoyed to shelter at home – Danielle Sullivan:

The pandemic has certainly been stressful for my family in a lot of ways, but it has completely reinvigorated me personally. I spend less time worrying about everyone else and more time on a schedule that I like…How could I fail to be grateful for such an opportunity?

…The world has slowed down to a pace we finally feel we can manage, after lifetimes of constant overwhelm….But before the virus, before isolation, I spent so much energy trying not to drown in a world that isn’t built for my energy style, and my sensory needs. There were so many obligations to other people that there wasn’t enough time for me.

Lockdown gift to HSPs:

Thriving during a pandemic as an HSP can be frought with challenges and may depend on whether you have family or trusted ones close to you and/or whether you get caught up in feeling all the increased agro and fear of uncertainties that is going on in the world outside your immediate surroundings. I have at least one HSP city-dwelling friend who felt overwhelmed and quite paranoid about going outside her door, even for walks, due to her sensitivities to all the negative vibes unleashed this year. However, in similar ways to the introverted personality type, there can be huge benefits to pulling back in to the home, as described by the HSP parent in this post An HSP mom turns covid surviving into covid surviving:

Being a Highly Sensitive mom can be overwhelming and exhausting when I have to be mentally available all the time. But this period that I’m able to spend with my family at home is allowing me to take a breath of fresh air and bring our lives down to a slower pace. Although we are not perfect at sticking to these new routines, it is so nice not having to be rushing out to soccer practise, or swimming, or any other of the commitments we all fill out lives with.  We get to just be home, play games, blow bubbles, and watch the sun go across the sky, and best of all we get to enjoying being a family.

The gift of lockdown to creatives:

The legibility of loneliness: Why the lockdown has been a gift to this designer of book covers. Describing his process, book cover designer Ahlawat Gunjan could equally be describing a truism of all of life’s dilemmas; they all come back to the subjective push pull and for that we really need valuable time alone, whether we are an artist or someone who would benefit from time spent getting to know themselves and their true purpose and priorities in life:

I realised that whether it’s work or real life, the real battle during designing a cover is the one you fight with yourself. And you have to do it, all alone. Every time I sit down to start a new project, the real dilemma that I face while designing is totally mine. There is a lot of internal push and pull between the variables.

The gift of lockdown for nature:

How lockdown as been a gift for Ganga (and there are many such stories):

The coronavirus lockdown may have forced us to stay indoors, but it’s been a boon for the environment. With industries shut and people staying indoors, nature seems to be in rejuvenation mode. Studies show how air qualities have improved and rivers are cleaner.

Nature got us through lockdown. Here’s how it can get us through the next one:

The natural world was available to us, even at such a traumatic time. It had not been thrown off course, it had not been knocked out by the pandemic, by this great world-historical event that was making 2020 a lost year in human affairs. At this time of chaos in the world of people, nature was a constant. The Covid-19 virus had wrecked, if only temporarily, so many human artefacts; it had stopped business, trade, travel, sport, education, entertainment and social gatherings of all kinds – but it hadn’t stopped the spring. In nature, 2020 was not a lost year. Just the opposite.

The lockdown gift of letting go of FOMO (fear of missing out):

This is a uniquely modern source of stress that my daughter mentioned to me during the time she locked down with us. She observed that she felt calmer and even happier because not only was she leading her chosen introvert lifestyle but she no longer felt subliminally anxious that her peers were doing things without her and that she was somehow out of the loop. During her school years, when she also preferred to be at home studying, pursuing her hobbies etc rather than endlessly out on the town with all the other girls her age, she had been plagued with dread that she was the odd one out but now she was able to relax that she was really no different to everyone else, for once.

Had things really got that superficial in the pre-lockdown world? Well, yes and the endless social media hosted comparison games of projecting yourselves “living your best life” to all and sundry had only fed the fire of it. Described in this article ‘Lockdown Relief’: Why some people are thriving during the pandemic:

There is also a group of people who are just feeling what experts have labelled “lockdown relief”. These are people who, pre-COVID, felt they had to constantly keep up appearances, demonstrate productivity, they had to be at every event, it was necessary for them to be seen, and found themselves feeling relieved that their internal need to perform was now moot.

Because they have been given permission to do what they want to do, they’ve discovered that this way of life was exhausting and unnecessary.

So many younger professionals who have been feeling happier during the pandemic say they have way less FOMO (fear of missing out), which is making it easier to focus on their own happiness and prioritizing their own interests.

Some families who lived an extremely busy and complex life before COVID found that the reduction in running around to various extra-curriculars was a major relief.

If all of those people who have felt, in various ways, some degree of relief in 2020 are to be accounted for, the world as it was clearly did not offer a true reflection of…or a place for…all these people, many of whom felt pressured into faking it in order to get on with their lives, but at what cost to their wellbeing and long-term health. As for nature, the very fact that human beings’ loss has been nature’s gain speaks volumes!

One feels there is so very much to learn from all of these “other sides of the coin” and, if we can all do that, pooling the information and building new methods and priorities from it as we reconstruct our post covid world, we will have gained very much indeed from what has been such an unforgettable year.

About Helen White

Helen White is a professional artist and published writer with two primary blogs to her name. Her themes pivot around health and wellbeing, expanded consciousness and ways of noticing how life is a constant dance between the deeply subjective and the collective-universal, all of which she explores with a daily hunger to get to know herself better. Her blog Living Whole shines a light on living with high sensitivity, dealing with trauma and healing from chronic health issues. Spinning the Light is an extremely broad-based platform where she elucidates the everyday alchemy of relentless self-exploration. A lifetime of "feeling like an outsider" slowly emerged as neurodivergence (being a Highly Sensitive Person with ADHD, synaesthesia, sensory processing challenges and other defecits overlapping with giftedness). All of these topics are covered in her blogs, written from two distinct vantage points so, if you have enjoyed one of them, you may wish to explore the other for a different, yet entirely complimentary, perspective.
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4 Responses to Counting these 2020 blessings

  1. cathytea says:

    Wishing you well in 2021!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Ashley says:

    Keep well and safe in the new year!

    Liked by 1 person

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