February – A valentines message on love and relationships

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“Love is nature’s way of giving
A reason to be Living”

From the music score and film “Love  is a many splendid  thing”  by Sammy Fain and Paul Francis Webster 1955

This month of valentine’s puts the spotlight on relationships and I want to share my thoughts and mindful compassionate approaches to all our relationships-including the most important one of all-the one we have with our self.

Relationships grow and evolve and the most enduring and long lasting relationships are those filled with love and compassion, compromise, tolerance, equanimity, forgiveness, and gratitude.
A Valentine’s message and a story of re connection.
Following the holiday season and moving into the final winter month, I am reminded of the nature and importance of all our relationships. A lot of relationships end or become strained during the festive season, yet many friendships and relationships are rekindled too.
A few years back I was invited to talk on radio Derby about valentines and the impact on couples and also thinking about the wider nature of all our human relationships. It was a very special interview for me as I was able to highlight the importance of all our relationships. I told the story of an enduring friendship that had lasted almost 30 years. This was my friendship with my pen pal  from the Netherlands. At the time I was unaware she was listening in to the show and I talked about the fact that we had never met although we had kept in touch and how I would love to meet her one day. She got in touch with the radio show and we arranged to meet on air!
Aleena Naylor was the radio host and we were going to meet that summer and the meeting would be recorded and shared with the radio listeners. Sadly that meeting was not to be, my friend had become seriously ill and we lost touch- I thought I had lost her forever. I missed our connection terribly and prayed for the day we would be reconnected.
A few years past, I never gave up hope, and then one day I got an email…. after almost 40 years, the day finally arrived, and we met. The relationship is so precious to me that distance does not keep our connection apart and we are in regular contact. Why I am telling this story? Because its valentines again and a good reminder to think of all of the people we love in our lives and the very precious nature of human connection.

 I think the most important relationship we have is with our self. Mindful self-compassion practice and teaching has taught me so much about how we converse with ourselves and the impact this has on all relationships with others. So, this is a good time to revisit your new years’ resolutions and look towards being kinder to yourself.
One way to do this is by connecting with friends and family. Regularly connecting with others is proven to be beneficial to our emotional well being as we are social creatures. So why not take some time this month to get in touch with old friends or commit to meeting with friends more regularly.

A note on forgiveness
All relationships have their ups and downs as unique individuals come together to share the journey of life through friendship, partnership, family, colleague, neighbourhood, community, and throughout the world. Although we are all unique we do have much in common. Kristin Neff talks about the power of common humanity in her definition of mindful self-compassion and  its three distinct elements where she talks about common humanity versus isolation.
The mindful self compassion programme covers many aspects of human relationships, including the pain of disconnection-when we disagree or are hurt by another. Forgiveness is an important aspect of enduring friendships and relationships as none of us are perfect and we all make mistakes, and if we can make allowances for this and are able to accept ourselves and each other just as we are with as little judgement as possible, then relationships can grow stronger from disagreement and reconciliation. You can read more about forgiveness and relationships in my article ” Forgiveness -five steps through mindful self-compassion” 

A word about gratitude
One important aspect of the strongest and long lasting relationships is gratitude-appreciation for all the good things we know about others that are in our life-especially those closest to us.
It is so easy to fall into the trap of taking each other for granted. How often do we pick the phone up to call friends or family we haven’t seen in a while, or make firm arrangements to meet on a regular basis? It seems we believe they will always be there…until they are not.
Life is busy and we don’t always have as much time as we would like, and quite often it is relationships that take a back seat when we are raising  families, paying bills, and working hard. But friendship is important and connecting with others-we are social beings and flourish in relationship.

As I walked around the supermarket after work tonight , gathering my shopping and realising that I couldn’t reach the top shelves – I looked around for someone to help me – and there was my husband who I had not expected to see as he and I had travelled separately to fill up our cars with fuel for the following day. He had come to look for me and see if I needed help with reaching, carrying, and packing. Now this may not seem such a big deal, but I deeply appreciated this and, it was a very welcome gesture. If you add up all those gestures of kindness and all the things you appreciate about those who are closest to you rather than mistakes and shortcomings, you will never be disappointed and your relationship will be strong.
When we take time to appreciate even the smallest acts of kindness in a relationship and the deep connection with another, we are more resilient and flourish through the support of another.
I thought you might like to have a look at Rick Hanson’s latest offering. His  podcast is enlightening-check it out here https://www.rickhanson.net/being-well-podcast-friendly-and-fearless-in-relationships/
Finally, a note on the most important relationship-the one we have with ourselves
It is true that we are our own harshest critic and may often look for fault rather than celebrate our achievements- we tend to compare ourselves with others and most unfavourably. We judge ourselves through imperfections. However,  if we were to take away all the parts of ourselves that we didn’t like, and all the mistakes we made in our life then we would not be us- we would only be a part of who we are -not the full and whole version.
But, as Leonard Cohen said “There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in”.
Kristin Neff looked at the difference between self-compassion and self-esteem which is based on striving and comparison rather than acceptance.
If we practice self-compassion and self- care we are more able to contribute to loving relationships and are generally happier and more resilient.
An act of self-care-going on retreat
I am reminded daily of the need to take care and listen to my body as I suffer from fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue. I often go on retreat which nourishes and replenishes me.

The mindful compassion partnership
I am deeply grateful for the opportunity to attend a week long retreat this Spring 2020 with Dave Oldham and Tina Gilbert – The mindful compassion partnership has many offerings this year and I have put the link here for the retreats that are planned and I recommend booking early if you would like to attend as places get filled quickly!
Mindful compassion is also important in our working relationships as these are often the relationships we spend most of our time with, and the ones that are not of our choosing, which reminds me of the Miller Williams poem “Compassion” that I quoted in my article on “Forgiveness”
“Have compassion for everyone you meet, even if they don’t want it. What seems conceit, bad manners, or cynicism is always a sign of things no ears have heard, no eyes have seen.
You do not know what wars are going on down there where the spirit meets the bone.”