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Monday, 29 December 2008

Straight from the horses mouth

“What is the difference between youth and age?” asked the rider.

“In youth,” said the horse, “we cannot discriminate between knowledge and wisdom.

In old age we can.”“As I get older,” said the rider “I find I become less tolerant.”

“As I get older,” said the horse “I can distinguish between the things I should tolerate and the things I should not.”

For further quotes like this straight from the horses mouth, see The Museum of the Horse.

Sunday, 28 December 2008

The sound of silence

Earlier today, with nothing better to do, I picked up my copy of Eckhart Tolle's "A New Earth", and began to read, at first at random and then leafing through the index for points of interest. This led to me to the section on the pain body and its need to feed on others pain in order to replenish itself.

For the benefit of those who have not read this work, and are unfamiliar with Tolle's work, the pain body is described (page 144-145) as "a semi autonomous energy-form that lives within most human beings, an entity made up of emotion". Tolle goes on to say, "It has its own primitive intelligence, not unlike a cunning animal, and its intelligence is directed primarily at survival. Like all life-forms, it periodically needs to feed - to take in new energy - and the food it requires to replenish itself consists of energy that is compatible with its own, which is to say, energy that vibrates at a similar frequency. Any emotionally painful experience can be used as food by the pain body. That's why it thrives on negative thinking as well as drama in relationships. The pain body is an addiction to unhappiness".

This got me to thinking about the effect that the media and negative news reporting has on our pain bodies. I once heard Robert Holden, founder of the first laughter clinic in the UK comment that journalism was the most depressing occupation, since reporters spend most of their time looking for bad news. It is not just newspapers that feed the pain body, but any form of violence. It is one of life's mysteries why so many humans pay millions and millions of pounds to watch other humans kill and inflict pain on each other in the guise of entertainment.

In days gone by this 'entertainment' took place inside the Gladiatorial arena, and in modern times, within the Boxing Ring. It also though takes place on the big screen, and increasingly the smaller one, through television and video games.

The reason these films and games attract such large audiences is because they help feed the pain body's addiction to more pain, providing it with food and sustenance. Such material is written and conceived by pain bodies, as well as watched, and is becoming increasingly more violent and graphic, with a (as yet unproven) resultant increase in violent crimes.

This also got me thinking about the effect of working in an environment that sells these games, or the consoles on which they are played, or even stores that have televisions and loud music switched permanently on, which seems to be increasingly the norm.

Customers who play these games to excess, or wish to buy these consoles, are feeding not just their own addiction, but also their pain bodies. They are likely to have extremely dense and active pain bodies and are not nice people to be around. The staff who work in these outlets pick up the vibrations from these pain bodies on a very subtle level, in some cases, triggering their own pain bodies and making what must already be a stressful job even more so.

It is the same with loud music, which contrary to popular opinion, the majority of shoppers (aged 30 plus at least anyway, and don't forget that this age group do form the majority of our population) do not like. It may work in clothes shop that cater for the young, but not in supermarkets or other outlets. Research shows that where uptempo, motivational music is played, staff work faster and are more productive, but this constant noise bombardment also means that they are unable to switch off and hear themselves think.

Perhaps this is the whole idea, for this constant bombardment of external noise means that they are unable to listen to the voice within. Like the incessant music that is designed to blot this out, the voice within, which is part of the pain body, can quite literally lead us to distraction. The over active mind, so Tolle says, is the most serious illness affecting our planet.

It is ironic that those with the densest pain bodies also have the greatest potential for growth. The voice within can also set us free, when we reach the point when we can no longer live with our own unhappiness. By covering this voice up with external forms of noise, we ensure that we never reach that point, and remain trapped in the illusion that is our mind, unable to think or feel for ourselves and totally subservient to those what we serve.

The right to silence is one we must fight for at all costs, for it is also a fight to preserve our sanity and heal the world.

Saturday, 27 December 2008

Forgiveness is a switch in the heart

My good friend, astrologer extraordinaire Sarah Jane Grace visited this morning so my partner could do some work on her website. Her horoscopes for the month of January formed part of that work, and have now been uploaded. The horoscope for my sign of Cancer makes interesting reading and is as usual, spot on. It reads as follows:

"You begin 2009 a little on edge, feeling vulnerable with your emotions exposed for all to see. This is not a familiar situation for you are usually much more cautious and guarded. However, your buttons have been pressed over recent weeks and this has pushed your emotional life into the spotlight. Your sensitivities will heighten until the Full Moon on the 11th in your sign (the Moon is very important for you as she rules Cancer); so take some time to reflect on your life between now and the 11th. Your emotional life looks set to be a rocky road throughout this period, but try to channel your energy into a positive focus.

It is time to let go of those challenging emotional undercurrents (go on, admit to yourself at least that they are there). 2009 is a year of positive and rewarding change for Cancer, so try to see recent obstacles as the Fates way of helping you to clarify exactly what is important in your life. Equally as important is you proving to yourself that you are strong, and that if you put your mind to it, you can achieve just about anything in your life. Try to keep your cool as you work through this phase - explosive confrontations could throw you off track and leave you feeling exhausted."

While Sarah was here, I sat and watched last nights EastEnders so that she and Coran had space in which to work. During the programme, one character Dot Branning, had a visit from her estranged son Nick. Nick is shady character with a less than perfect past, in whom Dot has lost all trust, for good reason. During the conversation, as Nick tried to persuade Dot that he had changed, Dot said some interesting words, which I wrote down:

"Forgiveness is just a switch in the heart. Forgetting is different. Trust is different."

This inspired me, once the programme had finished to pick up my well worn copy of A Course in Miracles. I opened it at the index and scoured the pages for words of wisdom to guide me to the most relevant section that I needed to read. My eyes alighted on a section entitled "The Acceptance of Reality", starting at page 149, and turning the pages, I began to read. Some of those words I repeat here, with my own interpretation.

"Reality cannot 'threaten' anything except illusion, since reality can only uphold truth. If you do not know what your reality is, why would be so sure that it is fearful? The only source of fear in this process is what you think you will lose".

This got me to thinking about what it is that I most fear. Having no means of support. I am not afraid of what is happening, but of what might, and am living in the future rather than the present. Why should I be afraid of something that has not yet occurred, or might not anyway, and why should I be afraid of the consequences of extracting myself from a situation that has caused such pain and distress? This is to be celebrated rather than feared. I am glad this situation has arisen, for it gives me the opportunity to not only explore these issues, but also to be heard, and hopefully, acknowledged. That is all that anyone can ask for, and no more than I deserve. It will not take away my pain, but it will go a long way towards forgiveness and will signify that my truth has been understood.

The Hall of Mirrors

When my partner mentioned to me this morning that there was a newer, longer version of Jelaila Starr's latest video on You Tube, I logged on to have another listen, and after I had done that, started to browse through some of her earlier ones. One of these is entitled "How you treat others is how you treat your inner child". My own definition of this would be the child within, the part that wants to play and has never really grown up, the primal aspect of ourself that is concerned with having its core needs met - love, warmth and basic survival.

What Jelaila had to say was as always pertinent to my own situation - that if something happens to us three times then that is a message for us to look at. The situation that I am in has been brewing for several months. I thought I was handling it the best way that I could with the resources that I had, but one resource I didn't use was looking inside myself to see how it reflected the way I treat myself.

As a spiritual being, I understand that everything has a value in showing us things about ourselves, no matter how painful that may be. I also understand that we are here to grow. In order to grow we need to transcend our core dysfunctional beliefs - the idea that we are not worthy, that we don't deserve to have good things in our life, etc. Since most of the time we cannot see these things for ourselves (who wants to look at stuff like this), others act as mirrors in order to show us. It follows that in order for them to do this, they must have the same core dysfunctional beliefs as us, for mirrors, as I said on Christmas Day, are two way. They are here to learn the same lessons as us. They are co-conspirators in order to show us that, so that we can work through those things together.

So, when others lie, cheat or generally treat us badly, we need to ask where and how we are doing this to ourselves.

The inner child, like a real child, thinks only in the moment, and believes everything it is told - if it told that it is ugly for example, or that no one will ever love it, then it believes this. Everything that it fears (and it will fear a lot of what it is told) manifests as a physical response, that we call stress - knots in the stomach, IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome - my own has been playing up of late), sleepless nights, all things that I can relate to.

The child has limited reserves of energy, which we use in order to get us through the day. As we use more and more of that energy, we end up running on empty, being what Jelaila refers to as "energetically bankrupt". Using this energy, which is essentially from someone else, constitutes theft, and if we continue to do this, we end up with chronic disease. When I was working as a healer in my own practise, and at my local church, I saw this all the time - the over worked business man (or woman) with IBS, or perhaps with ME - what about ME, when will you make time to listen to ME!

We lie to the inner child (and I have been particularly guilty of this) by saying that we will get out of the situation that is causing us distress, that we will take a break, that we will do this, that and the other, and by not doing those things. It is not always easy, as I know all too well, for if others repeatedly tell you that there will soon be an end to that situation (and remember that the inner child believes everything it is told) then you continue in that situation, thinking that another few weeks won't matter, as you can have your rest then. That rest though never comes, as you slowly realise those people have lied, or at the very least, misled you.

We can only relate to others based on what we already know - and we can only know what they tell us. So if others tell us that our situation is about to change, then we believe them and carry on in that situation. Our instincts may tell us differently (mine certainly did) but we are trained to ignore our instincts and trust our superiors, who of course, always know better than us.

Once we begin to see this pattern, then we begin to see our own part in creating the pain that we are in, and with that comes forgiveness. This takes time, as we work through the various emotions and the different layers. It is not easy when the situation is as distressing as mine is, and when that situation affects almost every aspect of your life. Once you begin to do this, and acknowledge the part that you have played, then you can release others from blame, and begin to gain insights that help you to make changes to your life so that this situation will not repeat.

The ironic thing is that in many ways, it was attempts to make those changes, and in the process stand up for my rights, that made my situation worse. Things had to be brought to a head in order to achieve the maximum learning, on both sides. In the end, I have to be philosophical about this, and see this as a further opportunity for growth, to look these issues square in the face and deal with them once and for all. My reticence to speak out until things got almost totally unbearable, and to also look at the way in which I chose to do this, which could have been better.

If others are mirrors for us, then I hope and pray that someday, somewhere those that conspired with me (on a higher level) to create this situation, will peer into their own looking glasses and ask themselves that same question "How do I treat myself in this way, and what can I learn from this?" I have done my part, the rest is up to them.

Friday, 26 December 2008

My Christmas presents - pain and trauma

I can't believe it is Friday already, the end of possibly the most traumatic week I have ever experienced. On Christmas Eve, after I had been on the phone for hours trying to sort this mess out, I sat on the settee and the tears started to fall. Before I knew what was happening I was shaking and crying inconsolably, I could feel the pain and the anguish in every inch of my body. The depth of my despair was such that I was contemplating just ending it all; walking to the medicine cupboard and counting out the pills. Images of loved ones flashed before my eyes - how would they feel and react, what effect would it have on them. Images of not so loved ones were also there - whom I perceived as the cause of this pain - would they regret their actions and were they already doing so? Were they sitting at home feeling as I did right now? Somehow I did not think so, for most people have no idea of the pain that they cause. How can they, for they are not you.

It was distressing and alien to feel this way - I am not used to losing control, but when I think back to events of the recent past, I have lost control on almost every level.

Slowly I began to pull myself together and the shaking ceased, to be replaced by a great sense of calm and an unshakable belief in not just myself, but also the universe. I can and will get through this. The trauma may not be over yet, as I still have to go through certain processes, but the truth is that they cannot do anything worse to me than what has already been done. If I can keep this in mind, and speak from the heart, when I do get my chance, then I can and will get through.

Last night I dreamt about being raped, which given the symbology of this crime is perhaps not surprising. Rape is nothing to do with sex, but about power and control, about being violated on every level. That is how I feel. Thankfully the dream was not that vivid, and I awoke with only vague recollections, but that is enough. I searched the Internet for ideas as to what else this may mean, and found some which were spot on. One in particular states "Rapes often are just metaphors for abuse and a sense of powerlessness. They may link to people who have lied and cheated to you and taken advantage of you." When I read this, it really said it all.

It has not then been the best Christmas all things considered, but for us, just another day of the year. We did not have the heart to even put the tree up this year, so the house is devoid of tinsel or decorations at all (apart from our cards). Yesterday morning we spent time calling various relatives - my brother and his children, plus my partner's sister, her husband and children and his Mum. It was good to catch up and see how they are doing. My eldest nephew has recently got engaged (my brother is also getting re-married, although not for a while), and my other nieces and nephews are doing well in their chosen careers - sadly the same cannot be said for my partner's sister and her family, who are really struggling.

We had our lunch around 1pm. Butternut squash and cranberry roast with potatoes, cauliflower cheese and all the trimmings. Christmas pudding with cream and custard was served later on as we watched Dr Who. Following EastEnders, it was time to catch up with various friends overseas, whom I have to say have been wonderfully supportive through recent events. It was then an early night to catch up on some very fitful sleep.

Thursday, 25 December 2008

What do I want for Christmas ?

A Christmas Wish - What do I want for Christmas?

Nothing to buy, nothing to sell.
Family gatherings. Laughter.
Multitudes of happy children, warm and fed.

An end to the current war, and to all wars.
Water in the well, food on the table.
Companionship for the lonely.
Solitude for those in search of calm.
Understanding for the prisoner.
Compassion for those who judge.
Strength for the belittled.
Comfort for the torn.

I want what everyone wants,
But believes can never happen.
Truth instead of lies.
Generosity instead of greed.
Knowledge instead of fear.
Modesty instead of arrogance.
An open heart, an open mind.
To follow Life where it leads,
With gratitude for hard times
And what they teach,
And, when good times come,
To pass them on for others to enjoy.

But if these things are too much to ask,
If I am silly or have somehow missed the point,
There is still one thing I would like to see.
A giant teddy bear for the wide-eyed world

I was sent this poem, which was written by William Michaelian, from friends who run a Counselling Forum on the Internet. It has been such a tough year for me, that I might soon be requiring their services! The rubber baseball bat that we use to vent our frustrations has been used so much that the top has fallen off, and there is a rather large dent in the settee!

Despite my troubles, Christmas is a time of good will for all, for caring and sharing and for celebrations, not for looking back and being miserable. There are many in far worse situations than I am - having lost their jobs, their homes and everything and everyone that they hold dear. I often look at the tramp who walks around my local town, day in, day out and wonder how his life came to this, and if once he may have been a successful businessman with a family. One can never tell, and in the current climate, there for the grace of God, could be any one of us.

This year, I have food on the table, money (albeit not very much) in the bank, and a partner who loves me. That in the scheme of life is all that matters. Yes it has been a tough year, and 2009 will get tougher yet, but on a personal level I have learnt so much. I have shed enough tears to fill a river (especially yesterday) for reasons that I can't go into to, and my partner has been there through all of it, holding my hand, soothing my brow and listening without judgment. I have done the same for him though, many times during our 11 years together.

That is why to me at least, this poem is so appropriate, for it mirrors my own situation, and those of so many that I see around me. The second verse is particularly poignant if you read it again - the importance of truth and knowledge instead of fear. This goes back to the three words that I posted a few days ago. In the end, truth is all that matters. We cannot allow the fears of others or ourselves in get in the way of that truth, for that same truth shall set us free. They may not see it now - we may not see it now, for the truth is painful, and sometimes embarrassing, as we are confronted with the fact that we were wrong, but that is the lesson for all. We have to follow life wherever it leads us - into our darkness and despair, confronting our fears and insecurities along the way, and knowing that other people's are mirrors for our own, but also knowing that mirrors are two way. When we come through the other side and into the light, we can acknowledge the learning that has brought us, and pass that learning onto to others. Like I say, the truth shall set us all free.

Now that we have passed the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year, the light is beginning to return in more ways than one. The winter months mirror our own dark night of the soul, and this year, that of humanity as a whole. Yesterday I listened to Jelaila Starr's latest video, which was on this very same subject. Jelaila says that the purpose of the dark night of the soul is to go through a lesson, the purpose of which is to reclaim the power that we have relinquished into the hands of others because of some deep held beliefs.

When systems fall apart, as they have done this year, it feels as if all our foundations are crumbling. We feel vulnerable and exposed, as our safety net slips away. This precipitates our own dark night of the soul (sometimes it feels like a dark life), as we realise that we can no longer invest our power in things outside of ourself - financial systems, our jobs, the Governments and even religions. These are all things that we use in order to feel safe.

The old has to fall in order to give birth to the new, as you cannot build a new reality on old systems, systems that no longer work to serve the masses. When these systems collapse, as they have done this year with banks crashing, companies going into administration, and in some cases whole countries having to be baled out (I am talking about Iceland here), then we know that things are serious and there is no going back. We have given our power away to all of these things, and we have to claim it back.

Safety does not come from any of these things - the false gods outside of ourself, but it comes from our own inner God - the sense of power within. As people begin to realise this, this too will trigger fears from those at the top, those that head these corporations, as they will realise that they can no longer control the masses - through advertising, or through any other means, and there are plenty of them. We are no one's to control, but human beings in our right, with feelings and voices that deserve to be heard and listened to. No one can take away that one fundamental right.
The relationship between all these systems and us, the people that use them needs to change to one of equality and true democracy, and change it will over the next three years as 2012 approaches. It will be an interesting ride with worse to come, but from the ashes a phoenix will emerge, and we will go on to bigger and better things.

Monday, 22 December 2008

Words of Wisdom

The Three Most Important Words in Anyone’s Life:
Communication, Understanding and Freedom

Communication forms
the basis of understanding.
With this understanding
freedom can be achieved,
as we realise our true selves.

If communication is lacking,
then understanding does not occur.
Misinterpretations of words are the result.

With this lack of understanding,
we can only do our best
in interpreting other people’s words
from our own perception.
This gives rise to false assumptions.

To assume anything
makes an ASS out of U and ME.

Coran Foddering

Write your story as it needs to be written. Write it honestly, and tell it as best you can. I'm not sure that there are any other rules. Not ones that matter.

Neil Gaiman

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

The s*** is about to hit the fan

I have just been on the phone to Payroll to check everything out, and need to write about this while it is all fresh in my mind.

Basically the person I spoke to (who admittedly was not an expert in employee relations) said that staff in stores are paid for 15 minutes before and after, meaning that I should still get 32 hours a week and am owed those 10 hours from my old store. She also said that she knew nothing about a second review in order to qualify for the second installment in our pay rise.

She advised me to put all this in writing to Employee Relations at Head Office who will look into things on my behalf. I have drafted a letter which will need some work, but before I sent this (with copies of the relevant correspondence relating to these rises from Head Office - thank goodness I kept them), spoke to my Manager to let her know. It seemed only fair after all. She said that she would speak to her own boss, and the Store Liaison for the area who did the presentation to other Managers on the new pay structure and from whom she got this information re the second review. I will not see her until Saturday, as I have 2 days off now (thank goodness), and she is off on Friday, so we will talk more on the weekend.

Since it is only a week until Christmas, nothing will get resolved before then anyway, even if I do get Head Office involved, so I will hold off sending that letter until I have spoken to her. I have to give her a chance to resolve this after all. If it is confirmed that I am definitely right about those 15 minutes before and after then I have a legitimate claim for 10 hours from my old store, which I will deal with. The hours from the new store will just be paid to me as overtime, which she has the budget for anyway (so I am told). Either way, this will get sorted and I am not going to take this lying down.

My Manager also said that if she were to be brutally honest I would not have got a good score from her anyway, since my figures were below standard, but a review is, or should not be just about sales, but a review of your overall performance for the whole year. When I think back to where I was a year ago, and everything I have learnt and achieved, not to mention the shit I had to put up with at the old store (sometimes without lunch breaks at all), I think I have done a pretty damned good job and I have earned this rise 10 times over.

The decision is though out of my hands, and I will have to wait to see what her boss says on Saturday once she has spoken to him. None of this is her fault (although she should have made sure I knew about the changes to my contract and not relied on my old Manager to inform me), and I have to give her a chance to resolve this in her own way.

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Taking the rise part two

After everything that has happened at work these past six months, I didn't think there was much that would surprise me, but how wrong I was. Just as I thought things were beginning to settle down - wham, the universe has dealt me another blow.

This time it is concerning my wages and changes to the amount of hours I am paid that I was not informed about. At my old store I worked four full days a week from 9am to 5.30pm with up until the last month, an hours unpaid lunch break. This equated to a 7 1/2 hour day or a 30 hour week. Since I was paid for 32 hours and we were asked to be in for 8.45am each morning for a team briefing, I always believed that the extra 2 hours (1/2 hour per day) were for 15 minutes before and after closing.

During the last month at that store, when things got really bad with our staffing problems and we were forced to close for lunch, my Manager informed me that he had been over paying me for months, and that from now on I would get just half an hour for lunch. He insisted that I was wrong in believing that we were paid for those extra 15 minutes at the beginning and end of the day. Like the fool I was, and being thoroughly worn down by everything that happened, I rolled over and accepted this situation and now it looks like it was returned to bite me on the bum.

When I transferred to the new store, I understood that my hours and the way in which I was paid would not change. When I was paid at the end of last week, I noticed that they had paid me for just 30 hours a week from the date of my transfer. I had to wait for almost a week to query this, since I had the weekend off and my Manager was not in yesterday.

She informed me that my old Manager had told her that at his store we were paid until 6pm, whereas at the new store we are only paid until 5.30 and that she had asked him to make sure I was aware of this. He did not. To add to my confusion, when I commented to my new Assistant Manager the other day about being out late, he informed me that we are paid until 5.45, technically 6pm! I am being told different things by different people, and to be quite honest, don't know what to think.

These missing 2 hours are not the only issue concerning my pay, since I was also told, or led to believe, that I would get a second pay rise, once the minimum wage increased on 1st October. This has not been forthcoming. When I queried this I was told the reason I did not get it was because I had not had another review. The reason I didn't have that was because the store I worked in was closing. At the time none of us knew what our future would be, and whether we would be staying with the company or not, so there seemed little point. Because of this I have lost out yet again, and basically been conned out of an extra 17 pence an hour and the 3 percent pay rise I was awarded.

My wages did go up by 3 percent in August, but this increase turned out to be pretty meaningless, since the minimum wage increased to the same level just 2 months later, meaning that I would have got that rise anyway regardless of all my hard work. You can see then why I feel so cheated and conned.

I spoke to my Manager again about this today and she assured me that she would find the time for us to sit down and have a proper talk, but it did not happen, so I have gone home with nothing having been resolved. What I should do is ring our Area Manager and have it out with him, since I don't see why I should be penalised for things beyond my control. It is not my fault if a) my store shuts and b) someone can't be bothered to inform me about changes to the way in which I am paid. I am not talking about a few pence here, but over £70 a month, which would make a considerable difference to my finances.

I know very little about employment law, but enough to know that before changes like this can be implemented you have to be consulted and agree to these changes. If I do nothing about this, then they can turn around and say that the fact I have done nothing means that I have accepted these changes, when I do not. I will not though ring the Area Manager until after I have spoken to the HR Department at Head Office, as it hinges on exactly what hours we are paid for, and whether I am right in thinking we are paid for those extra 15 minutes before and after the doors close. If we are then they have to start paying me for those hours, and owe me 12 hours wages which were wrongly deducted.

If I am right then I have a good mind to also press for the 10 hours I consider I am owed for those shortened lunch breaks during the last 5 weeks at my old store.

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

We may be serving, but are not servants

The BBC reports today that High Street sales will fall by more than 4 percent in 2009, the largest drop in more than 40 years. Verdict Research claim that declining sales will lead to billions wiped off retail profits. The research predicts that the only sectors to be unaffected will be Internet sales and groceries (at times like this I almost wish I had stayed at the supermarket I used to work for).

According to Verdict, over the past ten years consumers have consistently spent more than they have earned: income growth has run at an average of 2.4 percent per year, while spending has increased by 3.3 percent.

The British Retail Consortium retail survey shows that sales in November were down 0.4 percent compared to last year. On a like-for-like basis, which removes the impact of new store openings and closures, the survey found that sales in November were down 2.6 percent. This was the sixth month in a row to see a like-for-like sales decline. Despite this, total sales were up 2 percent in November when the figures are measured on a 12-month moving average.

I can't comment of course on other industries, but my own store has seen a sharp decline in footfall - the good news is that our conversion rate has steadily improved - those customers who do walk through the door are not leaving empty handed. I was surprised the other day to be told the proportion of business that comes from the peak trading period from the end of November through to mid January. At this time of year, staff are under considerable pressure to perform.

It is not easy when the stakes are so high, and you are selling dreams in the form of high cost products, as I do on a daily basis. It is important to make sure that the customer gets the right product at a price they can afford, but equally important that we don't forget the essentials. Margins are tight - an average of maybe 8 or 10 percent - it is therefore essential that we sell at least 2 add-ons with each larger item - otherwise it is hardly worth selling them at all, for the time and effort it entails. Selling such essentials with these products can triple our margin.

Many customers come into our shop to view the products and pick our brains and then buy online from other companies at lower prices. I admit that I am sometimes guilty of this myself, so cannot blame them for doing so, but these same customers are the first to complain at store closures. What goes around comes around, and if you don't support your local stores, then what do you expect?

When you go shopping this Christmas therefore spare a thought for the staff, who work long hours in stressful conditions for low pay. Conditions are tough, and many face uncertainty as to their future. It takes one bad Christmas (and over extended borrowing) to bring a company down.

Do not get angry or upset when they try to sell you these add-ons or extended warranties but understand they do this in order to save their own jobs. Don't dismiss their suggestions out of hand, as many customers do, doing so would have saved them another journey (and travel costs) as they inevitably return to buy these things. Buying these essentials at the same time can also save you money, since there are package deals when bought at the same time. Shop staff may be serving, but they are not servants!

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

The eternal traveller that needs to let go

Tonight was the monthly Astrodynamics meeting with my good friend, Sarah Jane Grace. Since the Sun has recently moved into the sign of Sagittarius, this was the theme for the evening. We started off as per usual by meditating on the Sabian symbol for the day, which changed literally as our meeting began (there are different symbols for each astrological minute of each sign). This was as follows:

"An ugly old human figure is the carved representation of a God. Near the left side is an ever burning lamp."

It was not specified whether God in this case was upper or lower case, but my own interpretation was upper. There is a difference. What immediately sprang to mind was the passage from the book of Genesis where it states that God created man in his own image. I have always thought that it was much more the other way around - that it was man that created God in his own image, this being the only way that we can relate to anything - this helps to explain why the God in the Bible has human traits such as jealousy, anger and the need to be worshipped and acknowledged. The God that I believe in has no such traits, as he knows who he is and does not need any of these things. That though is my own belief, and others will doubtless feel different.

It also brought to mind the idea that in our own way we too are Gods, since many ancient belief systems teach that when God created the universe, he split off various parts of himself that were placed inside the other beings that populate this universe - plants, animals and humans. Each of us contains a fragment of that God energy that is known as the Christ spark, that helps us to stay anchored and connected, and when we leave our bodies, find our way home. I see the lamp in this symbol as representative of the human heart, where the light is said to be anchored. The heart in some cultures such as ancient Egyptian (it was the only organ to be left intact and not removed during the mummification process) was also seen as the seat of the soul.

Sagittarius is one of four fire signs. It is seen as the force of spirit, filled with raw creative energy and desire for life. Sagittarians are full of colour, drama and intensity and do not do things by halves. They are on a constant quest for aspiration, filled with energy, enthusiasm and a great zest for life. They are the spiritual warriors of the zodiac. Planets within fire signs tend to be expressed with great colour, drama and intensity.

At this time of year, as the nights draw in and winter approaches, there is an increase in darkness, as we withdraw into ourselves, reflecting the changes in nature. It is at this time that the imagination comes to life, as we reflect on the year that is about to end and look forward to the New Year which is fast approaching. This is the time when we begin to think about our goals and aspirations, about what we would like to change. It is also the time to think about how we can achieve those goals, and if they are realistic.

The symbol of Sagittarius is the Centaur - half man, half beast. This combines the raw energy and power of the horse with the aspiring vision of man. The arrow that the Centaur fires is set on a distant goal - the quest for understanding of the universe and how it all works.

Sagittarius is the eternal traveller - restless and always looking for the next big thing. The journey is infinitely more important than the destination, as this is how we learn. Once that goal is reached, we strive for the next big thing, achieving greater and greater visions of ourselves.

Sagittarians hate confinement of any kind - they have to be free to pursue their goals and be themselves. This sign is about bringing life to the inner world of dreams and aspirations, so that when spring returns, we are ready to let go and let our arrows fly.

During the meditation with the sign of Sagittarius I received the following message:

"We create our own reality, and that can be whatever we want it to be. We are in a continual state of creation - every thought, word and deed counts, and we need to learn to harness that power and use it constructively rather than destructively, as many are presently choosing to do. The choice is mine whether to look for another job, but if I am honest, despite the challenges, I find this one quite stimulating, as it is those very challenges that help me to learn and grow. When I think about the learning and growing I have done since starting this job, just over a year ago, it has presented me with unrivalled opportunities that I have not had anywhere else. It is also about proving to myself how strong and resilient I can be, as if I can sell these products during times of recession, I can sell pretty much anything else - including myself."

That is the gist of what I received, and I have to say that to me, it makes perfect sense.

The only Planet that I have in the sign of Sagittarius is my Dragon's Tail, which represents my past lives and how those lives affect the present. I felt the Tail to be very heavy - it was attached to me at the base of the spine via a long metal chain which seemed to weigh me down. I saw this too as a symbol of being chained to my past.

This was particularly pertinent to me, since earlier today, I received an email from the past - from a girl that I went to school with almost 30 years ago. I had a rough time at school, as one within the first year of intake of girls at a previously all boys school. Because I was sensitive and clever and not good at sport, I was bullied mercilessly, and this girl was one of the worst. She was one of the popular ones - a rich kid who owned her own pony, and whose parents ran a pub. I remember her asking me why I could not be normal like the rest of the kids, and me thinking that if that was normal, I wanted no part of it.

From that point onwards I made every effort to be different, withdrawing more and more into my shell. When I stop to think back on it, those words affected me deeply and continue to affect me today. It is time though to leave the past where it is, and forget about what has been - all of this happened 30 years ago and we have both moved on. I do now know what was happening in her home life to make her say these things, and it may have been worse than I knew.

I will sleep on things tonight and then start afresh in the morning. You never know, this could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Is Gordon Brown the new Robin Hood?

My partner and I were talking this morning about a television programme he watched last night entitled Catastrophe. This is a five part series, presented by Tony Robinson on Channel Four, which investigates the history of natural disasters, from the birth of our planet through to the present day, which puts a new perspective on our existence – namely, that we are the product of catastrophe.

The second episode which my partner watched last night entitled "Snowball Earth", was about the greatest climatic disaster that affected Earth - around 650 million years ago (a little bit older than me then!). At this time, Earth was entombed in sheets of ice many miles deep, yet somehow in the depths of the ocean, life survived. The exploration of Alaska, where life has developed strategies to survive in extreme cold, without light, revealed strategies that scientists believe may have helped life survive in these extreme conditions.

The Australian outback provides clues to another part of the story - life didn't just survive, it flourished. The rocks in this region show signs of multi-cellular organisms that evolved after snowball Earth. All animals on the planet, including us, are descended from creatures like this.

This deep freeze (like our own recession) would have continued indefinitely were there not a catalyst for change (yes, we can!). With snowball Earth, that catalyst was a series of violent volcanic eruptions that began to dislodge the ice. The force of these eruptions must have been tremendous and unlike practically anything in living history, to begin to melt these miles and miles of ice, and I hope I never witness anything on this scale. I have been in Iceland when minor tremors have occurred (as they do on a daily basis), but have not seen anything major.

My point is, that despite the criticism of Gordon Brown's VAT reduction, this too could be seen as a catalyst to help pull us out of the recession. It may not seem like a lot, but from little acorns mighty oaks do grow, and as I say to my own customers, "Look after the pennies and the pounds look after themselves". He cannot reduce things any further than this, since like the rest of us, he also has debts to pay, national debts which are owed to the ever greedy and money grabbing banks (something which most of us know all about).

Financial systems, like everything else go through cycles, so in some ways this recession is to be expected, as part of that cycle. If anyone is to blame, it is the rich at the top of the pile, who through their greed and "have more" attitude have showed a breathtaking arrogance and unwillingness to share with others. Many of these people have learnt a hard lesson - as even they are not immune, and the higher you are the further you have to fall. I speak here as someone who is essentially on minimum wage (okay I get London weighting on top of this, or will do as soon as our Payroll Dept sort out the mess that was my last pay slip), but it is still minimum wage, and I would like to see these city whizz kids try living on this - it wouldn't keep them in champagne for even five minutes.

The VAT reduction is an attempt to help not just the rich business owners and their Directors, but also those at the bottom - the consumers who keep those businesses afloat and also those who work for them. Cynics have been saying that the results will be short lived, as VAT will increase again in 13 months - and it is not enough to make a difference, but if you had worked in my store last weekend, there was a marked difference in spending. It is true that other factors (like Christmas and the fact that everyone had just been paid) may have helped, but the comments that customers made indicated that a lot of it was also due to this reduction.

Of course it is not all good for business - retailers will be particularly badly hit - we spent most of yesterday changing price tickets for the whole store, at a time when we should have been selling. From our point of view, it could not have come at a worse time - but it is all in a days work.

It is estimated that this move will cost the Treasury around £12.5 billion, while it will save the average earner (who earns about twice what I do) around £170 a year. Retailers have been landed with an estimated £300 million bill over the coming two years, since they have to change price tickets and in some cases, accountancy systems.

Despite the negativity, I personally think it a bold step to take - and I sincerely hope that it won't backfire. We sell mostly large items in the market that I work in, and it is here that the savings can really be seen. Despite the extra work, hopefully this Christmas the retailers will be cracking open the champagne. We have some good incentives for the staff this year so the signs are good.

For the moment though, there is a heavy frost in the air, and I am waiting for the man to come and fix my windscreen. There goes the doorbell.

Monday, 1 December 2008

Roll on 2009

Although Karen Bishop is no longer issuing her regular energy alerts for those on the spiritual path, she continues to post answers to commonly asked questions via her website, What's up on Planet Earth, for which I receive updates.

One of the most recent questions was particularly pertinent for me, since it seemed to address many of the issues that have concerned me of late; stomach problems, anxiety, feeling disconnected and unseen. Those on the path have been reading for months of how things would start to improve, yet the opposite seems to be true, as everywhere I look there is nothing but bad news. I know that I am not the only one to be feeling this, as friends both on and off the Internet tell me the exact same thing.

As Karen explains, anxiety occurs when we are no longer in the higher vibration on the outside that we are on the inside. In other words, when we move from an area of high vibrational frequency into one that is lower. Depression can also occur, and is in fact to be expected. As I have discovered, with the move from the old store to the new (the old store being on a much higher frequency) this mis-match of energies can be horrendous and throw us totally off balance, leaving us rudderless and with no direction at all.

The store closure and the events that led up to it, thrust me into a new and alien space, which to begin with at least, felt very uncomfortable indeed. I experienced this as feelings of worthlessness and confusion, feeling lost, invalidated, unappreciated, and downright useless, as there was so much that was new and unknown. This is not surprising when you consider the momentous shift that had occurred, not just for me, but for the planet as a whole, as there was a major energy shift for the whole planet at that time. It is no coincidence that the closure happened when it did. Others felt this too, in their own way, and it helps to know that I was and am not alone.

It felt as if all my foundations were crumbling and I had lost everything I knew. I found myself asking what in the world was happening, was I in the right place, did anyone even care what I thought and felt and what difference did it make? The visit from our Area Manager last week, who did not even look my way, only served to highlight this. There was no respect and no acknowledgement for the work I have put in and what I had to go through. I felt invisible, as if I did not matter at all, to him or the company as a whole.

Karen says that during the most recent shift, which occured when my store closed, we had to reclaim any parts of ourselves that we had put “out there” and begin to pull back. The old roles of assisting and placing our energy there to support others are over and no longer needed.

So now what? Is there anywhere left to go? Thankfully yes. We (meaning those who read Karen's alerts or are otherwise "on the path") were the first to begin the ascension process, and are the forerunners who held that space for others who were yet to catch up. It is like the parable in The Bible where the workers who did half an hours work earned the same as those who worked all day. They reap the benefits of our hard work. While they caught up, we had to stay still holding that space and waiting for them. Now they have caught up and we have not moved on, we are still in the same space. We feel like there is nowhere left to go, that we are boxed in on all sides by lower vibrating energies, that everything out there is ugly and dark; repulsive to all that we know and represent (this is a perfect description of what I have been feeling at work for months). The analogy that Karen uses is like a reformed smoker having to stay in a room full of people smoking for 24 hours.

I have evolved way beyond that point and want to move on - now! It feels like I am hemmed in on all sides and have nowhere to turn. No wonder I feel depressed and anxious and no wonder I spend my time looking back to the old store and everything that happened there, as it is tempting to see this as the cause of my anxiety. It is in part, but only one part.

When you are surrounded by what feels like darkness, it is very difficult to see your way through, in fact it is difficult to see at all. We do not see what is right in front of us. I was thinking the other day about what happened with my windscreen and the fact that the rear view mirror fell off. The rear view mirror represents the past and what is behind us, while the windscreen is our view of the world, representing our future. The fact that both cracked signifies that I need to stop worrying about my past and future, and look to the present, for this is where true happiness lies, it is after all the only moment we have. Once I do this, I will see a world of infinite possibilities begin to unfold.

My endurance (and patience) have been tested to the limit this year and it is time I had some good news. Despite it all, I am still here kicking over the anthills and plodding along. The next few months will be equally challenging, and slowly but surely things will reconnect. Karen says that 2009 will be the year of new beginnings, when we begin to turn the corner and reap the rewards of all our hard work.

Our new roles will involve what comes naturally to all of us. They will be easy and effortless and what we know the most about - what then do I know the most about - many things, but most of all looking after people. This role is no longer needed, since we have moved beyond to the point where we no longer need to serve. Those who need our help will arrive and simply ask, so I can rest assured that if I do remain in my current role, I will get the customers I need, and the sales, without having to try; they will be there at the right time for me, and I at the right time for them, helping each other. Because of this, and because I am more centred and grounded, I will be seen and respected for the person that I am. I will be free to create a new reality, any reality that I choose, including a new job.

Roll on 2009!