Grounding Exercise

This grounding exercise is really helpful if you’re anxious or feeling overwhelmed by life. It can be used to keep you alert, to return to the present after some fantasy or imaging, or as a way of dealing with negative experiences.

Sit upright in a supportive chair, and take a few deep breaths.

  • Become aware of the soles of your feet in contact with the floor.
  • Guide your attention to the chair, feel it touching your body.
  • Tell yourself, ‘I am safe, and no harm is happening to me’.
  • Become aware of what you hear around you, continuing to feel your feet in contact with the floor.
  • Become aware of what you see around you that is pleasant and interesting.
  • Remind yourself that you are safe, and stay aware of your feet on the ground.

Now, move your focus to what is happening in your body. Remain aware of your feet on the ground, and remind yourself that you are safe.

  • Become aware of any tension in your body.
  • Become aware of any emotions related to that tension.
  • Still feel the soles of your feet on the ground, remember you are safe.

Finally, move your awareness to the most relaxed place in your body and remain in your chair for as long as you need. You then might like to move into a more comfortable place and listen to some relaxing music.

Note: Breathing apps can also be helpful, see here.

Peace (Henry Vaughan)

My Soul, there is a country
Afar beyond the stars,
Where stands a winged sentry
All skillful in the wars;
There, above noise and danger
Sweet Peace sits, crown’d with smiles,
And One born in a manger
Commands the beauteous files.
He is thy gracious friend
And (O my Soul awake!)
Did in pure love descend,
To die here for thy sake.
If thou canst get but thither,
There grows the flow’r of peace,
The rose that cannot wither,
Thy fortress, and thy ease.
Leave then thy foolish ranges,
For none can thee secure,
But One, who never changes,
Thy God, thy life, thy cure.

Henry Vaughan (1621-1695)

Social Distancing Reflections

There are so many health benefits of human contact and hugs, and these benefits have been denied many during the current coronavirus pandemic. In addition, dating for single people is fraught with difficulties, and it’s a total nightmare for tactile individuals.

As Virgina Satir, a respected family therapist said, “We need four hugs a day for survival. We need eight hugs a day for maintenance. We need twelve hugs a day for growth.” It concludes that hugs are having a great role in improving our life’s quality. In addition, hugs also have many health benefits you have never expected before. Source

You can easily find out more by clicking on the above link (and Google is your friend), and it’s well worth doing so. I might blog about it sometime, but it’s not the main subject of this post.

One friend commented that being safe (in lockdown) isn’t the same as being alive, because alive isn’t the same as thrive. I know that many can identify with this inability to thrive in lockdown. She also said, “I’ve never felt so alone in my entire life. I’m losing both good and bad parts of me. I’ll never be the same after this”.

Since the start of pandemic I’ve been reflecting on how social distancing might affect our long-term human interaction, especially with strangers. Initially, I discouraged handshaking in Wallsend Corps, greeting each other by touching elbows. This was met with a mixture of amusement and anxiety, the latter due to the uncertainly of what the future might hold, but it wasn’t long before the first lockdown was announced.

A phrase I coined at the start of the pandemic was: Social distance with emotional and spiritual connection. If I could go back twelve months I would change it to: Physical distance with emotional and spiritual connection, as this better reflects my considered thoughts. We need all the social connection we can get within the restrictions. But laptops, tablets and Zoom meetings have their obvious limitations, we need actual human contact to thrive. That said, video calls have been a lifesaver for many.

Another friend said, “Our [adult] son has profound and multiple learning disabilities including autism. He is in a care home. He is non-verbal and touch is how he communicates whether it’s to hug you, hit you or take you to something he wants. Needless to say social distancing hasn’t been good for him. When he sees us to wants to come over to us but can’t. Socially distanced walks with a carer bringing him in the wheelchair to make sure we don’t get close to him is the best way to deal with. Once when on the walks he tried reaching out to stroke a dog that came up to but had to be pulled away. When the dog came up it was lovely to see his smile but heart breaking to see his disappointment when he wasn’t allowed to touch the dog. I dread to think how all this is affecting him long term. However one lovely thing when we’ve done video calls with us, he will touch the screen to acknowledge us.”

I’m not coming to an overall conclusion, but these are personal reflections. We all know how physical distancing is affecting us and our loved ones, but we can’t be sure of the long-term effects. Will we remain ‘distant’ from others, even when we go back to some sort of normality? Reaching out to others, with its associated physical contact, is vital for us to thrive individually and collectively. May we never lose this.

Windows 10 Preview 21292.1000

I’ve just updated my Windows 10 laptop with this pre-release build of Windows 10 via the Windows Insider Program. It’s a chance to try out new features before the normal release date of significant updates to the Windows 10 operating system (see here for more information).

When it first loaded there was initially little to distinguish it from my existing version, just the information in the bottom right-hand corner of the desktop (shown above) and a weather icon and text on the taskbar. The latter expands to show various other information (which you can customise), but I like a minimalist taskbar and so I soon got rid of it. If you like these kind of features, you might find it useful.

Geeks (like me) can find more information here.

Windows Insider Program

I hope you always make sure your Windows (or other operating system) laptop or device is always up-to-date with software updates, and that you install them when prompted to do so. Yes, I know they can sometimes cause problems, but so far I’ve never had an update problem. Far better to have an up-to-date device with all the latest security updates, at least that’s what this geek believes.

I’ve recently taken it a step further, starting to live a little dangerously, although not as dangerously the options allow. I’ve joined the Windows Insider Program which gives you the option to receive preview Windows 10 builds, so you get the new features first with an opportunity to send feedback to Microsoft. Because they are pre-release builds there is more likelihood of problems, but again I haven’t had a problem yet.

I registered on the Windows website and chose the ‘recommended’ option in [Settings] which is the middle of three. Why not have a go yourself?

13/01/21 Update: I’ve switched to the ‘Dev Channel’ option in [Settings].

See also: Windows 10 Preview 21292.1000

10/05/20 Sunday Reflections

Sunrise at Llyn Padarn at Llanberis, Snowdonia National Park

Greetings on this fourth Sunday after Easter as we journey towards Pentecost at the end of this month. First of all, an opportunity to watch and listen to our Territorial Commander Commissioner Anthony Cotterill, and then some reflections on the Psalms and other Bible passages. See also: Psalm 23 (A Psalm of David).

The Book of Psalms in the Bible is the oldest hymnbook of the people of God, and it’s still going strong. I recently heard a suggestion on the radio that because the psalms are so emotionally expressive, reflecting such variety of feelings, they are useful for anyone to read in this coronavirus pandemic whether a person of faith or not. They are universally applicable.

The psalms echo down through the centuries the universal language of the human condition, resonating with the heights and depths of the human soul and experience. Whatever our emotion, there is sure to be a psalm which reflects it; whether triumph or defeat, excitement or depression, joy or sorrow, praise or penitence, wonder or anger.

But, above all, they declare the greatness of God and the wonder of his creation. We can come to know him better through the psalms, falling down at his feet and worshipping his greatness and majesty.

Here’s two short and well-known psalms to start us off, Psalm 23 and Psalm 100. Click on the links and read them now. Both have been paraphrased as hymns, and we have a number of them in the Salvation Army Songbook. Here’s one of my favourites.

Psalm 121 (click on the link) is one I especially grew to love while I live in South Wales in the midst of wonderful hills and mountains. Enjoy this video by Gaz Rose.

Psalm 46 reminds us that God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble, and it encourages us to come before him in quietness, Be still, and know that I am God.

Turning away from the psalms for a moment, Romans 8:35-39 contains some of the most comforting and profound verses in the New Testament. If we know and experience the love of God as expressed through Jesus Christ, nothing can separate us from that love. His death and resurrection is proof of his unconquerable love, and we can have his constant presence with us.

Both the psalms and many passages in the Bible reassure us of God’s spiritual protection. We might find ourselves in challenging circumstances, as many are in the current crisis, but God promises to give us rest and peace in the midst of them.

In quietness and trust is your strength. God still speaks to those who take time to listen. He wants us to acknowledge him in our lives, and relax in his presence and care. Quietness and confidence in God brings strength and hope. As we are surrounded by God’s love, even when we are in the darkest valley, we can have hope and security. God will carry is through.

Be still, and know
Will J Brand

Only the quiet heart may know
Thy secret ways, O God;
And they that hasten to and fro
These paths have never trod,
Nor journeyed where still waters flow,
Supported by Thy staff and rod:
Only the quiet heart may know
Thy secret ways, O God.

Peace of the tranquil heart,
Fall upon me;
Gift of the Father
My sentinel be:
Guard Thou my heart
In the presence of ill,
Hold me – encompass me –
I would be still.

Only the quiet heart is strong
It’s daily load to bear;
To greet the waking morn with song
And end the day with prayer,
Glad, though the road be hard and long,
That Love has borne the larger share:
Only the quiet heart is strong
It’s daily load to bear.

Yes, but the quiet heart is sure
That God is over all;
‘Be still, and know’, His words endure
Though crowns and empires fall.
Wait thou for Him, content, secure,
He serves thy need’s unspoken call:
Rest, quiet heart, forever sure
Thy God is all-in-all.

Please Note: I’m currently preparing to retire, you can find more information here. Blessings, Major John Ager.

26/04/20 Bible Thoughts

brown book page

Just some Bible thoughts this Sunday, when we would have been uniting in worship at Wallsend with North Shields and Shiremoor Corps, rather than a full online meeting. This is neither an apology nor excuse, merely a reflection of the kind of week I’ve had in lockdown. I’m simply doing what I can and not what I can’t. My hope and prayer is that these thoughts will be an encouragement to you, as well as stimulating your own reflections and thoughts. God bless you, Major John Ager.

Bible Reading: Philippians 2:1-11

One of the corps I was appointed to in the past had the following mission statement, this was its raison d’être: To put Jesus first and grow as Christians, through Bible reading, prayer, worship and fellowship. To share God’s love and forgiveness, especially through loving service in the local community.

That was and (as far as I know) still their purpose as a church and community centre; the focus of that group of Christians, both individually and collectively. It’s important to have focus and purpose as a fellowship of God’s people. Yes, I know businesses have mission statements, and the church is not a business; but the principle still applies. Having a defined focus helps us to be better Christians.

The church is currently unable to meet because of the coronavirus pandemic lockdown, and some of the things that are essential are not able to happen in the normal way. Having said that, the church is finding new ways of doing things, although nothing can fully replace the actual meeting of people in a place of worship. Collective worship and fellowship are a vital part of the Christian life. Whilst many people say you can be a Christian without going to church, I disagree.

Watch the beautiful (although actually sad) song I Am A Rock by Paul Simon and pay particular attention to the lyrics.

A winter’s day
In a deep and dark
December
I am alone
Gazing from my window to the streets below
On a freshly fallen silent shroud of snow
I am a rock
I am an island

I’ve built walls
A fortress deep and mighty
That none may penetrate
I have no need of friendship, friendship causes pain
It’s laughter and it’s loving I disdain
I am a rock
I am an island

Don’t talk of love
But I’ve heard the words before
It’s sleeping in my memory
I won’t disturb the slumber of feelings that have died
If I never loved I never would have cried
I am a rock
I am an island

I have my books
And my poetry to protect me
I am shielded in my armor
Hiding in my room, safe within my womb
I touch no one and no one touches me
I am a rock
I am an island

And a rock feels no pain
And an island never cries

The words are very telling, we need each other. The lyrics of this wonderful song are actually the very antithesis of what it means to be a Christian. Yes, we can be hurt when we tear down the walls we build around ourselves, because we become vulnerable. But, as Christians, we follow one who became vulnerable for us, and when we open up to him we open ourselves to the love of God and others.

As we gather together again for worship and fellowship, at some yet unknown date in the future, we may have to reassess our overall vision.

As Salvationist poet Will J. Brand once wrote:
…so much we deemed essential is forever left behind.

See also: No man is an island (John Donne)

Sunday (David Bowie)

Nothing remains
We could run
when the rain slows
Look for the cars or signs of life
Where the heat goes
Look for the drifters
We should crawl under the bracken
Look for the shafts of light on the road
Where the heat goes

Everything has changed
For in truth, it’s the beginning of nothing
And nothing has changed
Everything has changed
For in truth, it’s the beginning of an end
And nothing has changed
And everything has changed

[first voice]
In your fear
Of what we have become
Take to the fire
Now we must burn
All that we are
Rise together
Through these clouds
As on wings

[2nd voice]
In your fear, seek only peace
In you fear, seek only love
In your fear, seek only peace
In you fear, seek only love
In your fear, in your fear

As on wings
This is the trip
And this is the business we take
This is our number
All my trials, Lord
Will be remembered
Everything has changed

This is the opening track of the Heathen album.

Avira Free Antivirus Software

2020-02-22_232114

I wrote about Windows Defender in 2017, suggesting that you didn’t need to pay for anti-virus software because the one bundled with Windows 10 does a good job and integrates perfectly with the OS. Since then Windows Defender has been improved* and does a really good job of keeping you safe online; so there’s really no need look for an alternative, and especially no need to pay good money for protection.

I know many of you remain unconvinced about free anti-virus software, and so even this post won’t convince you. But for the rest of you, please trust me when I tell you that free software really does do the business!

However, you might say that you really don’t trust Microsoft (despite the fact that you trust them with Windows 10 on your computer in the first place), in that case here’s a great free alternative.

I haven’t used Avira, but I have it on good authority that it’s the best free alternative to Windows Defender. It blocks all kinds of threats (including spyware, adware and the like), offers real-time protection and updates, and can repair infected files. It doesn’t hog system resources (unlike some paid-for products) and is speedy and efficient. There are even free add-ons that can boost your protection.

So my advice, for what it’s worth, is to stick with the free Windows Defender that comes bundled with Windows 10, and certainly don’t pay good money for what can actually be inferior. But if you must have something else, you can’t go far wrong with Avira!

* I think Windows Defender is called Windows Security now. That’s the label on the settings window and taskbar icon anyway. It was the anti-virus software recommended by WebUser magazine in 2019.

Security for Facebook

41281337841_e46d304fc8_k

My observation of comments on Facebook (and other social media sites) suggest that there is considerable confusion between cloning and hacking.

Cloning does NOT involve someone getting into your account, so your password isn’t compromised. Hacking (on the other hand) DOES mean that someone has gained unauthorised access to your account, and you will need to regain control and change your password.

So cloning a Facebook account is NOT hacking; it’s when someone copies your personal details and tricks your friends and others into thinking it’s you. It can happen because your security settings allow the general public to see your friends list. Cloning can’t be prevented, but it’s less likely if you set the visibility of your friends list to [Friends only].

You can prevent hacking (when your account IS compromised) by setting up two-step verification; this simply involves a verification code being sent to a previously nominated mobile phone when there’s a login attempt from any new browser or device. This way, you are alerted to someone attempting to hack your account before it happens, and can deal with it.

Two-step verification is widely available for many websites.

People often complain about Facebook (and rightly so sometimes), but the tools needed to limit cloning or prevent hacking are already available, and have been for a considerable time. They take very little effort to set up, but may prevent big problems later on.

Spend a few minutes every so often to review your security settings on Facebook and other websites, you know it makes sense.

See also: Spotting Hoaxes and Scams Online