Period covered: 2010 to 2020
Location: Brazil, UK and Portugal
When I hear my husband Albert and my friend Beth Lima talk animatedly about the numerous people they knew in the city of Belo Horizonte, it makes me realise that I knew very few people, and I recall the fact that we were shunned there because people did not like my father. Beth and Albert do not know what happened to us and they often irritate me when they ask if I also know the people they are talking about.
As I grew up, I continued to be maligned, but I started not to notice being shunned. Maybe it no longer made much difference to me, for I could still go to parties that took place in clubs, but always with my mother in tow. People of subsequent generations do not realise that the world was different then; young girls remained virgins until they married, and to behave otherwise was very serious indeed. Moreover, to imply to a girl who followed these rules that she was behaving otherwise was very hurtful, not to say offensive.
Even now when I am in Belo Horizonte, I notice the not so subtle signs that I am not respected, that my word is doubted and that something inappropriate is expected of me. At a recent dinner party my husband and I told someone about our platonic love when we were still in our teens, and back came the exclaimation, “That is surely not true!” On another occasion a doctor paid us a visit to examine my little son who was ill. At the end of the consultation he asked me how I was. I told him that I was fine and was following his advice about doing exercise. Pointing to another room, I invited him to see what I had installed in it. He looked at me as if he was wary of going in there, but when he did summon up the courage, I showed him the treadmill I had bought.
After the torturous years of having to listen to solicitors expound on the legal consequences of my father’s extramarital life, as well as having to survive various degrees of unpleasantness such as personal threats, false accusations and defamation of character, I have learned to deal with stress in a way that does not cause me to lose my strength.
The most important technique I avail myself of is to take advantage of the curative powers of sleep. When I hear very bad news, I start to feel tired almost immediately, and I retreat into solitude as soon as possible. In a silent and darkened room, I lie down in a comfortable bed until the sleep of traumatised exhaustion takes hold. There is nothing like long hours of uninterrupted slumber, preferably more than eight, to restore the body and mind.
Reading is another healthy form of escape from which I have benefited for most of my life. Deep concentration on the story being read brings relief to the mind by allowing it to forget personal torment for a while. In the last few years I have found one more way of changing my mental focus. I can write for hours on end, not only in order to understand the sequence of events that caused me distress, but also to reinforce the conviction that my writing will one day assist me in my defence.
To be effective, these three techniques must be applied in a pleasant environment to achieve a level of relaxation akin to meditation. For the sleep technique my room has to be not only comfortable and organised but also beautiful. In the case of reading the book being read has to be interesting, and in the case of writing, it must be satisfactory to me if I am to maintain a constant state of enthusiasm. When I was small, I remember my grandmother Teresa telling me that sleep was the best thing in the world. At the time I could not understand this and told her that I thought too much sleep was a waste of time. Though I am still not as old as she was then, I now believe she was right.
When I was married to Hades, sleep became a bone of contention. Being who he was, Hades did not require much sleep, and his Persephone did not take kindly to having her rest disturbed. Consequently, we had endless and pointless arguments about the correct amount sleep needed for a normal person. After all these years I still think that happiness largely depends on a good and long night’s sleep, after which the problems of the previous day are compartmentalised and ordered in the mind, thus becoming clearer. Poor Hades! I wonder if he is still assailed by tormented, sleepless nights.
The Gautama Buddha, who lived in eastern India in about the 5th century BC, taught his followers that unhappiness derives from the incessant habit of judging every experience as pleasant or unpleasant, and being too concerned about this classification. Epictetus, a Greek speaking Stoic philosopher (c. AD 55 – 135) who was born a slave in an area which is now part of Turkey, taught that external events are determined by fate and are thus beyond our control. He also said, however, that we are responsible for our own actions, which must be guided by rigorous self-discipline; He wrote: Make the best use of what is in your power and take the rest as it happens.
Much later, in 1801, Friedrich Schiller advocated: Blessed is he who has learned to bear what he cannot change, and to give up with dignity what he cannot save. Nonetheless, it is hard indeed to learn from such great masters. Since 2010 I have taken a series of poetry courses at a school in London called the Citi-Lit. In one of these classes we were asked to compose instant short verses on various subjects. Some of the suggested themes were:
Black and grey stretch distant hills
On the skyline, while clouds hide the sun
From view, as dark shadows tint the colours
Of the horizon threatening peace,
Heralded by loud and discordant sounds.
© A.L.P. Gouthier, 2010
Day dawns as light comes into sight,
Declaring new cycles, beginning a future,
Fresh and full of hope, with peaceful thoughts
It irradiates consciousness and guides.
Following the path projected in dreams,
The prevalent colours will not let me down,
A blue sky, or favourite shades of green,
Will help me find my way through life.
© A.L.P. Gouthier, 2010
Now we must dwell on the subject of happiness. This has been defined as a passing state of mind associated mostly with positive and pleasant emotions. A number of biological, psychological, philosophical or even spiritual approaches have tried to explain happiness, or to identify its sources. There is, however, that aspect of happiness that depends only upon us to keep it alive and that retains our spirits in an elevated state of enthusiasm.
On another day I wrote:
When I feel positive, I try so hard
To keep the mood and make it add
Strength to colour grief, turn doubts
Into certainties and fears into valour.
Storing life-force on good-days,
And on others hiding away,
Not to allow the darkness to grow
And sadness thus to possess the soul.
On days guided by what is false,
I exist in limbo without thoughts,
Avoiding choices and all actions,
No decisions or reactions.
But when the sun newly shines,
Its aura illuminates the mind
Reflecting colours of the rainbow,
Allowing life´s river once more to flow.
© A.L.P. Gouthier, 2010
Dr Amit Sood, who is the author of the book 'The Mayo Clinic Handbook for Happiness: A Four-Step Plan for Resilient Living’, led research on how to increase positive moods and make the most of our strengths. He says 40 to 50 per cent of our happiness depends on the choices we make, and on where we place the emphasis of each day. “You can choose to live, focussing on what is right and beautiful in your life,” says Dr Sood, “as happiness is a habit. For some of us that habit is a natural inclination; for others it is a learned behaviour.”
The same can be said for peacefulness. We must determine what brings us peace of mind, and as much as possible we must live in an environment that helps us to achieve our peacefulness. Consequently, it is imperative that we studiously avoid people or situations likely to cause tension. Just as a cocoon is necessary for the caterpillar to turn into a butterfly and a cosy lair helps bears to survive the frozen winters, I need to surround myself with order, beauty and silence to maintain my equilibrium. I give great attention to the décor of my homes in a way that pleases me, with no concern for fashion, and I keep them in the most perfect order. Thus, especially when silence reigns, I am at peace.
Our personality is the combination and organisation of the behavioural or emotional tendencies and attitudes that form our specific character and make us who we are. It has been said that most people’s minds tend to dwell mainly on negative experiences, whereas true optimists tend to see a glass as half full rather than half empty. This is a characteristic that surely affects mental and physical health.
I am not sure whether I am often fortunate or an inveterate optimist, but for me things always turn out for the best. I can think of so many occasions when I was fortuitously saved from adversity by some unexpected event. I am always able to make the most favourable choice at hand, convincing myself that it is the best for me. The latest research shows that optimism, with a dose of realism, is the best way to promote resilience and to realise one's goals. Consequently, even though I am always on my guard against people’s bad intentions, and habitually try to read their minds through the strict observation of body language, I invariably find something positive in the end, even in the most difficult situations.
I had to learn to live with all the overt unpleasantness that surrounded my family so as not to allow it to dampen my spirits and destroy my life, but I also took definite steps towards finding an environment where anonymity facilitated my contentment.
If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:
If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!
Rudyard Kipling, 1865–1936
In the southern hemisphere the yearly cycle starts in March, when the summer holidays end, carnival is past, and a new school year is beginning. In the northern hemisphere it is September that marks the beginning of the yearly cycle, when people come back from their holidays and school starts, the tourists go home and life returns to its normal pace. Soon the leaves will start to change colour to the yellows and reds of autumn. I have loved this season best since I went to university in Pennsylvania and then Massachusetts.
What better place than New England could there be to fall in love with the colours of nature? Nowhere! There, when winter came, heavy snowflakes danced down my windowpanes or swirled over the Charles River as tugboats chugged past carrying their loads. At that time my life was happy and enthused by achievement, despite a heavy volume of work which never diminished week after week.
Some years later, in Olde England, I learned to love the spring flowers that lasted into the mellow summer days, and then the cycle began all over again in the autumn. This part of me that fell in love with the northern seasons still thinks in English, and now has few people with whom to converse each day in the language of my mind. Therefore, I silently talk in English throughout the original composition of my books. Although I have chosen Lisbon as my second European home where I can revel in the warm springs, torrid summers and colourful autumns in my lovely house by the mulberry trees, every year when winter comes I return to London where my heart lives.
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