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Soothing Vibes for Hectic Living

by Simon Cole(more info)

listed in mind body, originally published in issue 227 - January 2016

… looking behind the image for the subtleties which calm

“In your face” is how life seems to be so much of the time these days.

And in so many ways… banner headlines, sound-bites, bright lights, advertising… high speed, high volume, high energy.

It’s thrilling, stimulating, invigorating, sometimes scary… full on or full off, and blinding in its impact.




Yes - blinding. A world of primary colours with none of the pinks and lavenders and water-colour blue. Without the comfort of soft edges and gentle gestures. No nuancing of texture or meaning - Read the headline, never mind the rest! - 140 characters for everything that needs to be said!

Not all bad obviously - loud, fast and furious is great for the adrenalin rush. After all, life could never have been meant to be a flatline. But after the rush comes the downer; eventually we pay a price. How? Adrenalin’s a drug. True, it’s one the body makes itself. But it still acts like a drug, it’s still addictive. Addictive means you crave more and if you can’t get more you have a reaction. To be addicted to adrenalin means you need life to be ever faster, louder, more intense. Or you need the highs to go on longer while you drive yourself to keep up. And if you can’t keep up, or the stimulant isn’t available more and more to keep you high, you sink… into boredom, into depression, into anger.

You start to take it out on yourself or others or the world, or all three; and now you have no way out, because these are extremes too and you’ve lost touch with the subtleties which can give you a rest from all the hyperactivity and hypertension on the one hand and the lethargy on the other. You’ve become de-sensitized and soon you’ll be demoralized.

So here’s an Idea: Look for what you’re not Seeing

One of the things that happens with life thrusting everything in our faces is that we lose the ability to look for ourselves. I heard about a little boy of one or two, whose grandfather used to come on Skype to talk to him. He would say ‘hello’ to the face on the screen and then he’d be off round the back to find his grandfather. That could be a lesson for us, because mostly we’ve stopped looking round the back. We take what we see on the screen or read in the headline as all there is. Life’s story reduced to a single layer. WYSIWYG - ‘what you see is what you get’. Sometimes I think it should have been WYSIAYG - ‘what you see is all you get’. And then it would be up to us - if we want to get more we have to see more. Which means we have to look more, like the little boy looking for his grandfather behind the computer.

A story is told about John Ruskin, social thinker, philanthropist, art critic and water-colourist of the nineteenth century, that when he was asked why he was bothering to teach boys in the east end of London how to paint, “because they will never have any idea about art”, he replied that he wasn’t teaching them to create art, he was teaching them to notice.

You are More than just This…

As a counsellor I see many people who are locked into a fixed idea of how they are in their lives at the time; or, worse, they have completely defined themselves with a particular issue or characteristic. In other words, they’ve let their condition define them, whether that’s being stressed, or anxious, or abused, or depressed, or even simply ‘not very bright’. I always want to say to them - but really I want them to discover they can say to themselves - “But I’m not just that, I’m this and this and this as well”… whether it’s mother, or friend, or someone who listens to music or likes gardening, or even, someone who’s managing to survive.

If we’re not careful, it’s not just the headlines and the sound-bites we take as being all there is, without detail, without subtlety; it’s ourselves as well.



You are More than what Others think Too…

Next time you get the third email from your boss chasing the sales figures you still haven’t finalized, don’t mutter your usual expletives, don’t panic because you haven’t even started them, don’t beat yourself up because you’re always late; just remember you’re not just a pen-pusher or a number-cruncher - there’s more about you than that, and right now you are important because you are the one they need to give them the answer!

And when the slogan in the advert reads, “All you ever wanted to get you ahead”, don’t get fixated on what it’s trying to sell you. In fact whenever you see the words “all” or “always” or “ever” or “never”, the monochrome words, remember the world isn’t monochrome - and neither are you.

When we’ve learnt to look behind - or underneath, or inside, or anywhere except at what hits us first - then we discover the subtleties. The best thing about 50 Shades of Grey was the title. Grey isn’t just monochrome. Nor is brown or red or green or blue. You don’t have to be an artist to notice that the sea stretching towards the horizon isn’t just one shade of blue and the sky which meets it, a different shade again. Or a musician to hear that the wind in the oak tree sounds different to the ash which sounds different to the pine.

So when you’re sitting in your garden or out in the park and you’re thinking that all you can hear is traffic, traffic, traffic… stay with the noise, however tiresome it is, and gradually you will notice that it isn’t just a wall of a single sound, that other sounds are there too - even if you can't actually hear the nightingale singing in Berkeley Square! Life isn’t a solo, it’s a symphony.

Hidden depths? No, not really, not hidden, we just aren’t noticing. Living has many layers. It can arouse us, but with its subtleties it can also soothe and calm and reassure us. We just have to know how to look.


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About Simon Cole

Simon Cole BA(Econ) MA(Counselling) and long-time senior-accredited psychological therapist and trainer has worked in the UK, France and online. Today he runs a retreat centre in south-west France, where he leads individual and group meditation retreats and therapeutic stays. “just BE here - the Guide to Musicking Mindfulness”, and his other books can be found on Amazon and also downloaded from

He may be contacted via


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