Dialling up joy in uncertain times

Living in abundance – the practice – dialling up the joy.

So as the seasons change, the temperature is dropping, the leaves, drying and the nights darkening, the theme that’s coming up a lot for me in my coaching is how we can hold onto the good things. Especially when we are looking at parenting and teaching in anxious times, without the benefit of good weather. 

The extraordinary run of fine weather, spanning the majority of the lockdown, and summer months, is about to expire. So how can we dial up the sunshine within. Because we need it at the best of times. But right now, parents are continuing to juggle it all without the resources they once had – the generosity of grandparents diminishing in the face of increased risks… The reductions of activities, after school provisions. Who CAN you meet up with? How many people, when, and where…WHO KNOWS? We are continuing in the trenches of uncertainty and sudden change. And its so easy for the deficit mindset to take hold. 

It is easy to develop hopeless, helpless, anxious and resentful narratives and let our minds marinade in them. Last week I focused on Neuroplasticity in my newsletter for teachers. The science of which I am reprising here for both my parent readers and teacher readers. But I am going to link the theme of neuroplasticity to the magical power we have to do the following:
OBSERVE our minds and moods at work. 
REFLECT and be at CHOICE as to how well it’s serving us.
KNOW that our experiences shape the architecture, the physicality and function of our brains. 
PLAN to take ACTION to deliberately have, extend and absorb the GOOD experiences so that they land within. 

In the same way as a parent I took for granted – to an extent- the support I relied on with childcare. We all take for granted the GOOD and need to VALUE the GOOD in our lives more highly. This edition is dedicated to one way in which we can use our sensory experiences to dial up some joy in our home-lives, turn on our inner-recorder to hard-wire it into our brains. Take it in, dwell on it, so that it dwells in us. Firing those neurons together, strengthening connections with happiness and empowerment. And passing on the practice to those close to us, those around us. 

One of the antidotes to anxiety, is to ground oneself in the senses. To step out of the worry and rumination and create a circuit-breaker. 

Here I am going to think about the power of music to immerse us, engage us in heart and mind, change our mood, and bring a new energy. Not only is it something we can take in through our ears, we can move to it in our bodies – and that multi-sensory element dials up the impact. And if we can use music to connect with joy, power, zest, love, and link it with other great life experiences we have gratefully received, that’s amazing. But the trick is to extend the experience. Not just let it be like a ‘drive-by’ pleasure – but let the joy of it sit with us for a breath, or two, or three, or ten or more. 

Singers, musicians, and music lovers have been especially affected by the inability to share, experience, immerse. My not-so little-un and I stopped to belt out one of her favourite songs in a railway arch under London Bridge a few weeks ago. Of course, she’s the one with the voice, I was just on backing vocals…It was gorgeous to feel the power of the noise, the reverberations surround us and resonate in our hearts, the fibre of our being. And to see smiles from people further down the tunnel, sharing our enjoyment.

This is allowing our brain to marinade in something sweet and good, rather than in anxiety, worry and stress. And we can encourage our children, and our partners, to do the same. In fact we can do this with friends, colleagues too. When we do this we allow the state to leave behind stronger physical traces so that the state of wellbeing, happiness, connection, empowerment, can become a trait.

Now I am hopeless with music. I love it in the moment. But I am rather passive. I am terrible at holding in mind my favourites. Ask me my top 3 songs and I will freeze like a rabbit in the headlights. Unfortunately this happened on my wedding day. My wedding was a rather improvised set-up – fiercely trying too hard not to be conventional. I spent the day before it digging holes with my bare hands for a firework display at the reception, when by rights I should have been having a manicure. We ended up doing the seating plan the night before, hadn’t thought of flowers for the reception, so the hotel picked garden flowers and organised little displays for us…Anyway, I hadn’t really concentrated on the conventions, so when I was asked what I wanted for my ‘first dance’ I was completely blind-sided. 

I froze, thought of a million songs that I loved but were totally inappropriate. Searched for something romantic. Landed randomly on ‘It must be love’ by Madness. And Madness it was. Lovely song. Totally impossible to dance to. Cue completely embarrassed and half hearted po-go-ing. Not my finest hour. Thank the stars that it was pre-smartphones. 

So for me, this past week, it’s been a lovely practice to create a playlist of songs that have the capacity to move my mood, give me zest, connect me with joy. And discussing the process, reflecting, sharing ideas with my family, listening together, dancing, moving…comparing…it’s been fun. It has balanced us away from the house move that is now imminent (ie TOMORROW)…

So here’s my top tunes, to help dial up the joy in the mixing desk of my mind – engaging me in the present with the listening, and engaging my hippocampus and nucleus accumbens (the under-exercised sunny-brain circuitry) as I remember the context. I share them with you and the whys…as I do this I am marinading my mind. And like carbon dating, giving more away about my age and tastes than I should!!

BUT – I challenge YOU…as the nights draw in…to think of your sound-track for joy, zest, and power…so that you can call on this superpower at the press of a button…

So here goes. My top tunes, why, and how I will think of connecting with them at home with my peeps…

First up – Groove in the Heart – a suitable, joyous energiser for all the family! So much scope for silly dancing – playful and gorgeous. There’s a reason why athletes jump for joy after scoring a goal or smashing their personal best. The physicality of the act – the ritual celebration wires the feeling in to the brain and with repetition…makes the magic happen. When Federer wanted to stay on top of his game, he wasn’t thinking about the misses. His psychologist was teaching him to revisit the FELT experience of the ace, the win. Something good happens at home, or at work…bring it home and DANCE it in…

Side note – takes me back down memory lane to uni days and nights boogying in ridiculous heels on the dance floor with my pals…

One of my daughter’s favourites. Beautifully crazy and surreal. Multisensory delights. Lots can come out of this. Individuality, quirkiness, the silly things that can put you into joy. If there was ever a song to savour and to develop the mental habit of savouring – extending and absorbing the good things of life, this is it. Ask each other what’s in your recipe…Mellow. Super mental moat for starting the day. 

David Byrne. Talking Heads. A mainstay soundtrack of our family life. THIS MUST BE THE PLACE. Joyful and profoundly resonant for me. Bringing me into gratitude for all the great connections I have been lucky enough to have. Especially with HM (AKA His Majesty…my beloved partner of nearly 25 years who introduced me to the song and the glorious craziness of our lives together…)

What is home for you right now? What do you want it to be? Is it your safe harbour? What about it are you most grateful for….for you, for the kids, for the people you share your life with…If that’s not present now…revisit experiences of a ‘happy home’. A place you lived, or an experience of deep belonging – perhaps with colleagues, in a team that really rocked. My watch is prompting me to stand up…but I am grooving in my chair as I tune in and write with tears in my eyes. Bliss. ‘Sing into my mouth…’ ‘Feet in the ground…head in the sky…It’s OK, I know nothing’s wrong…’

Not a Manc by birth – but by adoption…8-18. I find it hard to listen to this without my heart soaring, and my body wanting to revisit the shamanic pumping of fists in the air, giving away to the almost spiritual uplifting of the arms and spirit. Back in the Hacienda…Rebellion, defiance, freedom, rebirth. It’s a good job it’s an indulgent 8 minutes long because I’m finding it hard to bring my hands back to the keyboard…What do the teens in your life listen to when they want to feel powerful, released, what gets them jumping and takes them into a powerful, transcendent mindset. 

Don’t worry, you’re going to hate each other’s music. It’s practically the job description. But get it our there, ask what it is about the song…the sound…seek first to understand, connect.

Probably not getting universal certification for the little ones in your life – but superb for older kids. But understanding Fela Kuti’s superb humour, the power of his creativity, and sheer panache in putting up two fingers to the various regimes that tried to suppress him. And just the most exquisite beats and fusion of musical influences – extended afro-beats, amazing jazz riffs and the energy of the call-and-response… Taking anger and injustice, and the precariousness of life and bringing wit, satire, humour. In paraphrase of Michelle Obama, the song goes from high to low…from the lyricism of the music to the earthy down-to-earth reality…’because the shit dey smell’ and the surreality of it becoming an ‘exhibit’ in the crazy world he was critiquing…

Digging in to the context, the story, the notion of entrapment. Fela Kuti’s compound being raided by police who try to plant marijuana. Kuti eats it and destroys the evidence. They keep him in custody in order to test his shit. The story goes that he manages to evade this by swapping the sample…

A magnificent opening into notions of the protest song, methods of defiance, non-conformity…Rich to listen to, rich to explore in theme and story.

Concluding notes…Whether you are thinking about family life, or managing your mind to dial up some much-needed joy…or you’re a teacher thinking about your work…If the latter, remember the extra super-power of differentiation. To differentiate for emotion. To bring something of the unexpected, or even slightly ritualistic. To wire in strength and empowerment… When I taught GCSE English, I remember nerves and tensions would run high with certain groups, when it came to timed work and exams, I would choose a random anthem that would fit the humour of the group. My peak experience of this was working with a rather nervous group at a very academic girls school. The anthem from Rocky, The Eye of the Tiger…And it was before the 80s became retro-chic. Before long they were filing into the classroom like champs…Hoods up, air-punching…What songs help you? What songs will help them step into their power…? What sound track for success can you create for yourself and co-create with the young people in your life…Consider, revisit, reflect, share it…send me yours! Hope you enjoyed this week’s meditation on what we can do to get ourselves through.Bring it on Autumn and Winter. We’ve got the joy. We’ve got this….Enjoyed writing this so much! Am on Little Mix – Salute…right now to sign myself out…With love, gratitude, and joy.Emma.PS. Do get in touch if you want some help via coaching to dial up engagement, fun, enjoyment, performance…Have a look at my re-vamped coaching page for more…https://emmagleadhill.com/coaching.phpPPS Consider joining me at the parenting conference I’m excited about with many of the thinkers I reference in these newsletters taking part….If you are a teacher, but want to develop your pastoral skills, even if you don’t have children yourself, some of the speakers and topics are very very worth your while. It’s FREE…https://conference.happilyfamily.com/?orid=9908&opid=21

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