Life is about connecting. From the moment we open our eyes we are programmed to connect with the people who bring us into this world, and to the places in which we find ourselves. To feel disconnected makes us feel unsettled, anxious and stressed.
The Appreciating Windowsills game, soon to be released as an App, was something that I designed for myself, to help me cope after I was diagnosed with cancer. In fact most of it was written in my hospital bed in the burns unit of Wythenshawe Hospital in Manchester, where I spent 13 days recovering from the 28 sessions of radiotherapy and 2 rounds of chemotherapy that ultimately saved me, and in Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy Tanks in Manchester and Leeds that I used 5 days a week for the subsequent 6 weeks in order to support my healing.
At the time I felt as though my whole life had been knocked out from under me. I was totally unable to control what was happening to my body, and the pain meant that I often couldn’t think straight. I was frightened about what the future might hold for me, and sometimes haunted by traumatic memories of my past.
So I started to focus on everything that I appreciated in life, in order to find some solid stepping stones of happiness in the midst of all the madness. This began with the obvious connections, like how lucky I am to have an incredible family and a huge network of friends who reached out in so many vital ways to pull me through, hence playing an undeniably crucial part in my recovery.
However it was the small acts of kindness by strangers that initially inspired some of the words that appear in the game. Many of these wonderful people were the health professionals and hospital staff who stepped out of their official roles to connect with me as another human being, who held me whilst I cried, talked to me through the darkest moments, made me laugh, and kept my breakfast warm for me on days when everything else seemed to be falling apart.
Coming home, I was traumatised and disorientated. I found that making a game out of appreciation helped me to reconnect with the details of life that we normally take for granted. It helped me to focus on the positive experiences of cancer instead of dwelling on the distressing aspects of what had happened.
It even helped to reduce my perceptions of pain and build my confidence, which had taken a severe knock that sometimes threatened to impose self directed limitations on my life, as I became anxious about what I might or might not be able to do each day. So as I gradually became able to walk to the first lamppost on my street, I wondered what three things I appreciated about lampposts, about pavements, about trees, the sky…. and of course about my feet, my ankles, my knees and every part of me that didn’t hurt!
I continue to use this strategy to lift my spirits and make me feel lighter yet more secure, and I hope that it can help you too. It is of course also a wonderful step into mindfulness, and an example of “watering the seeds of happiness” as Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh would encourage us to do. To interrupt our normally incessant stream of habitual thoughts and connect with what we sense around us in the present moment is a wonderful, joyful habit.
It can liberate us from dwelling amidst memories from the past or on worries about the future, and enable us to experience moments of happiness in the midst of what could be the darkest days of our lives. It also deepens our enjoyment of the most wonderful days, as we pause to become truly present to the happiness that overflows from our senses on such occasions.
This liberating habit of bringing our awareness to the present moment and appreciating what is currently in our lives also enables us to think and act differently, as it breaks our habitual and sometimes negative thought patterns, thereby creating space in which insight and inspiration can light up new pathways of responses that we can then choose to adopt.
This means that we can act positively to create an environment that cares for us as we care for others, whilst drawing our attention away from things that we cannot change and could potentially dominate our lives, such as chronic pain, a life limiting illness or traumatic memories. To wish that things were different takes a lot of energy, and so to accept the things that really cannot be changed and to focus on appreciating and connecting with life despite them can be a very empowering and reassuring experience.
I wish you countless moments of happiness.
Founder & Director of Soul Nutrition
To be notified when the Appreciating Windowsills App is ready for download, please email [email protected]
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