Choosing depth over width

I’m one of those people that finds meaning in just about everything. Even in the greasy pigeons outside my window who quite frequently don’t hesitate to procreate but 2 metres away from me (does this mean I’m forever alone?? Even pigeons can find love?!!) Anyway, I know that it’s just an anxious pattern to unconsciously (or consciously) seek reassurance when feeling a little on edge, but it can also be quite handy to conjure up some content – so, win win. (Thanks anxiety, for once you come in use for something!)

But alas, randy pigeons aside, I read a quote in a magazine by the Irish poet Patrick Kavanagh in which I found some actual profound meaning:

To know fully even one field or one land is a lifetime’s experience. In the world of poetic experience it is depth that counts, not width

Whether you follow this blog or know me personally, you’ll also know that I’m leaving the country soon. Like, in 9 days soon. (And before you ask, no I of course have not begun to process this in any way shape or form! Wahoo!) So this quote hit home quite a bit.

While my time has been ticking down in London, I’ve been quite flustered in trying to do all of the things, see all of the sights, spend as much time as possible with all of my friends, tick off all of the bucket list stuff, because I don’t know when I’ll be back – and I don’t think anywhere could replicate London’s unique charm, identity and of course, history.

I walked the equivalent of three half marathons in three days, around central and east London in various loops, because I believe the best way to soak up a place is to do so by foot (or by bike). I finally tried the restaurants I’d been meaning to go to for ages. I went and strolled through the Royal parks I’d been ashamed to say I’d only just been to now as I’m leaving. I took myself up to Sky Garden for an impressive panoramic view of the place I’ve lived in on and off for four years. I popped to Brighton for the day and ate vegan fish and chips on the beach in the sun. I took myself on some bike rides, had old friends stay for a long weekend and revisited streets and places that hold some nostalgia for me. But still, it didn’t feel like I’d done enough. It still feels like I haven’t made the most of the city, I still have that nagging feeling of I haven’t got enough time to see everything. What a shame.

But then I stumbled across this quote again that I’d originally read a year ago. It made me think, actually no, I can’t possibly see or do everything. That’s a ridiculous idea! I can’t expand the width of my activities and choices or things I’m doing any more. I need to focus on the depth of what I’m doing instead. I need to enrich the experiences I’m having by not needing to do more. To be fully immersed in the now, in other words, and not in a future which is not real. To make peace with that you simply cannot do everything. You can’t! And that’s ok. What’s more important is making the most of the time you do have. 

And of course – full circle – this applies to everything in life, right? Instead of constantly seeking out more, thinking about what’s lacking, worrying about what needs to be done, fixating on scarcity and that time is running out, what if you tried the inverse? What if you threw yourself into everything you did, from waking up in the morning to the big events in life? What if you absorbed every fraction of every moment so richly that you didn’t actually feel that nagging need for more? 

It might feel like a cop out, or that you are wasting time, or that you are being uninventive or lazy – trust me, your ego will stop at nothing to perpetuate these narratives. You simply have to release them knowing that they aren’t true. When it comes down to the fundamentals, there is no moment that is more important than the moments we have right now, because nothing else is as immediately real. 

So in my context, I’ve decided that I’ve done my best, I’ve probably even got to the point of semi-exhaustion from trying to fit everything in and run around like a headless chicken on speed, but ultimately, and realistically, there’s no way I could ever complete that list, which is fine. I am simply so grateful for every second I’ve been able to spend with my precious friends who I’m going to miss so badly. No other people could fill those gaps and life will certainly feel a little strangely empty without them. For every glass of wine clinked, every delicious mouthful shared, every eye-wrinkling laugh had, every crunch of the twigs from our feet walking on the forest path, every warm tear-stained goodbye hug, every moment of pure comfortable silence, for every song sung in taxi rides home, every space shared in the warmth of the spring sun, every cosy moment sat inside in awe of the ancient London pubs, every split second of joy luckily captured on camera, every spontaneous ‘Shall we order some food?’s. All of it. 

A lump has just risen in my throat thinking about the reality of leaving. Like I said earlier, I’ve barely started grasping the fact that I’ll be out on my own again soon with only the company of two rucksacks. But deciding to cherish the depth of every interaction I’m lucky to have left with the people I love, I am sure that each memory will remain as sharp as ever, if not sharper than ever.

So, I implore you to do the same in life. Don’t focus on width, focus on depth, in whatever you do. Whether this is in creative endeavours, relationships, your career, your health, your purpose, throw everything you have into whatever is important to you and I can almost guarantee that your life will become a richer picture for it. Instead of life being short, life becomes longer for all the right reasons.

Knowing

I reread Glennon Doyle’s powerful Untamed recently and something particularly stuck with me. 

In one part of her empowering memoir, she talks about her Knowing. Others may know this as intuition, gut feeling and so on. That instinctual feeling you have when you are pulled to do the thing you should do, that’s underlying all the opposing tugging feelings of what you want to do. And up until recently, I really discounted this as a general rule going through life. I thought ‘Eh, gut feeling, gut schmeeling – what is it really useful for?’

A lot, it turns out.

As I’ve been getting more in touch with my emotions and – I don’t know why I resist the word, but alas – ‘spiritual’ side, one recurring theme in the non fiction I was reading was aligning with your intuition. Coming home to your body. Connecting the mind and the gut. It wasn’t until I’d read Untamed again that I really started putting it into practice and understanding this more concretely. 

I think the word ‘intuition’ never really connected with me, but Knowing did. It implied that somewhere in my body had the best intentions for me because it just knew from previous experience – on a level I could never really put my finger on. It just knew that a choice I was about to make was not the one for me, as if it was the future coming back to say: Don’t do this, because I know that this isn’t what you really want. Every time I was about to (or am about to) do something that sabotaged my progress deliberately, I felt that tugging that said: Honey, we know how this ends, walk away. Yet the opposing, seductive force of desire was just too strong. Time and time again, I’d get swept away with it and shortly, after betraying my knowing, regret it, of course and feel deeply ashamed. 

The more I started understanding and tuning into my Knowing, though, the more I noticed it in those ‘crossroad’ moments – where I could either choose to abandon myself by way of self-sabotage or choose my authentic self by way of just listening to my gut. This could look like anything from bingeing on food right after a great gym session, or drinking the drink when I know I should sit with my feelings, isolate myself when I needed my friends or procrastinate until the very last minute, making my work a shoddy version of what it could have been. All of course ending in regret, shame and a host of other emotions that I deep down know I don’t deserve to feel anymore. It’s all ultimately rooted in self-worth, but that’s an ongoing process.

So, one day I started not only noticing the nudging of my knowing in those moments, but following it. Allowing myself to have the curiosity to think: ‘I wonder what would happen if I trusted my gut in this very moment and followed that path instead?’ And it turns out, wonderful things.

On that path is peace! On that path there’s no regret! No shame! Ahh!! Only empowerment and stillness. All things that every single human on this earth deserves. After – in the heat of the moment pre-binge – I chose to close the fridge door, breathe, calmly walk away, I felt this buzz I’d never had before: the buzz of self-generated power. I almost felt old layers shed beneath me as I stepped closer to my true self; not the version that I’d been conditioned to be since, well, forever. It sounds crazy to think that one small act can be so eye-opening, but in that moment I thought: What if I followed my knowing in each moment like this, regardless of the context? I’d be fucking unstoppable.

Of course, there are periods when all we want to do is self-destruct or self-sabotage. Sadly, it’s what feels familiar and the familiar feels safe, and the safe feels easy. We don’t have to expend as much energy concentrating on becoming anything different to what we’re used to being. We can accomplish more things, have more time to do the things we want to satisfy our desires. But, having had this conflict between resistance and surrender for so long, I decided that over my desires, my quest for pleasure, for ease, for joy, my emotional/spiritual needs just had to come first, even if they’re uncomfortable as hell to face. 

Following your Knowing isn’t easy. Choosing your gut instinct when you’re having that ever-tempting, nagging ‘but but but but but look at this shiny thing’ sensation brings up a whole host of emotions, shame included. Choosing what’s right for you rather than the thing you so desperately want (not for the right reasons) can provoke a lot of questions related to: Why can’t I/Why am I like this/Why is it so hard/Why am I here narratives. But that’s just your ego throwing a tantrum because you’re in unfamiliar territory; territory that you’re about to discover is so beautiful if you can just make it over the hill to see the view that lies beyond the discomfort.

And following your Knowing doesn’t have to always be in the heat of the moment; it can apply to anything in your life that ultimately comes down to a decision. Whenever there is conflict within you, you already know the answer. Whenever you feel stuck, you know the answer. Personally, when I am stuck, I ask myself: What is my Knowing telling me here? And the answers always reveals itself. And it’s usually doing the hard thing. But like Glennon says, We can do hard things.

The answer to whatever you’re struggling with always lies within you – you just have to notice it, get in touch with it every day, feel for it. We all know what a gut feeling sensation is like – the drop in your body as if someone is tapping at a door in the back of your mind waiting for you to answer, while your stomach grips the handle. Putting that physical feeling into the emotional context it is designed for, by connecting the mind and gut this way, is how we can start using our Knowing to come home to the best versions of ourselves: the one who wants the best for us, the one who is their true self. To me, that’s the ultimate goal in life – to break free of all of your past conditioned patterns to come back to who you are before the world got to you.

So while I’m very much a novice myself at this, I implore you simply notice. Notice in those crossroad moments, the fork in the road that leads to either ‘What you want to do’ and ‘What you know you should do instead’, and listen to your Knowing: it is the kindest gift you can give to your future self. Your Knowing after all is your future self coming back to you as a messenger, telling you that this is the path that was meant for you – it’s all connected, in the end. Trust the discomfort and the rest will follow.

The Value of Space

I bought a snake plant a few years ago, which, unsurprisingly, started to look a little sad last summer. They’re very low-maintenance, yet somehow I was still draining the life out of it. Not being a huge plant expert, but committing to learning on the go (if you can even commit to that strategy), I wanted to try and make him happier without giving up and palming him off to a neighbour or… welp, the plant graveyard AKA: the bin.

I’d tried under watering it, overwatering it, sunlight, no sunlight, so I thought I’d try and do the thing I’d been putting off the most: actually touching the soil and getting my hands dirty to repot the thing. A moment of silence, please, for my nails which I’m sure still have remnants of stubborn soil still lingering under there. 

So, I uprooted him – temporarily – and decided to essentially split the plant in two, tugging hesitantly at the roots, separating him into two medium-ish pots to see if that would work. I just wanted to make the poor bugger look less droopy – and droopy is the antithesis of what this plant should be; its nickname is Mother-in-law’s tongue, for crying out loud. So, a few fresh cups of soil later, a bit of patting down and some healthy doses of water, my one plant, became two! (There’s a Spice Girls song there somewhere…)

And happily, it worked! Alice not only helped the plant survive, but helped it thrive! It didn’t take much time at all for the little snake plant babies to shoot right up and for the leaves themselves to stand to attention proudly, as they should have been doing all along. They grew so fast and filled the space of the pot so easily it was hard to think they were ever in the same pot. It was no wonder all the little individual plants and leaves were so unhappy. And then, of course, Alice had a burst of inspiration…

This is PERFECT for a blog post!

You knew it was coming. If you read my posts, you know by now I grasp for inspiration in the most tenuous of places in my life. 

So, I had a thought: space. That’s all he needed to thrive. Despite everything else I was trying to give him to fix him, that’s the only thing that worked. And sometimes, it applies to us humans too.

I won’t go down the route that obviously we need to be figuratively watered, be in the sunlight and yada yada yada, because *that* would be far too millennial of me. No, I’m just going to go down the route that humans just need repotting from time to time. (Ugh, alright fine, that’s just as bad.)

But in all seriousness, sometimes we do get stuck. Sometimes we do feel like we can’t uproot without a bit of help. Sometimes we don’t know that’s the problem ’til someone outside of ourselves gives us a helping hand or the inspiration. And no amount of ‘watering’, ‘sunlight’, ‘shade’ or ‘plant food’ can shake that feeling.

Sometimes all we need is some space to get some clarity to find out what it is that we want. And if anyone has ever told you your happiness doesn’t matter, then start ditching that belief right now. Take the space you need to figure out what makes you happy, what brings you purpose, what gives your life meaning, because we only get one chance to do it all. (This got very serious very fast.)

For me, this means making the choice to uproot once again. This means packing up and selling all my stuff, saying bye to everyone I love again and leaving London once more. I’ve always felt a bit like a balloon and everyone around me a tree; I’m never quite able to firmly set my roots down, I’m always kind of floating around, easily moving to somewhere else if I choose to do so, even if that’s the other side of the world (bearing in mind that, while this notion is all very poetic and romantic, I am also in a very privileged position to be able to do this, which not everyone is).

While I adore London, that same balloon-y sensation has been tugging me in a direction outside of the capital city, where I have so many memories. Where there’s still so much potential for my future. A plethora of different paths I could go down. Where there are so many people I love and simultaneously so many new friendships blossoming. I’m not sure why, but I know I have to honour that intuitional tugging that’s nudging me, saying: Imagine how much you could bloom here too, and for now, here is Canada.

So I’m finally doing what I’ve dreamed of doing since I was 15. I’m uprooting to somewhere that has a very special place in my heart. A place full of snow globe-like childhood memories, a place bursting with the kind of striking beauty that makes me feel at home, that makes little Alice glow. I’ve been yearning to be away from the city-life for a while; a reason I’m sure is easily if not lazily assignable to the pandemic and lockdown after lockdown. A reason I’m sure I’m not alone in feeling.

And the space. I’ve been yearning for a different kind of space to find out what it is that I want next. London gave me everything I wanted for a period and more, but as you do, you grow older and you start to want different things, which is no dig on London. I’ll be back. She’ll be waiting and I’ll be embracing her with warm arms again one day I’m sure. Apples and oranges, baby.

To give yourself the gift of space – if you have that privilege – is one of the kindest gifts of all. And it can be in whatever form. Whether you carve out alone time in your day-to-day, go on a solo holiday, take a new course, pick up a hobby just for you, or yeah, uproot and move somewhere new by yourself. Space gives you the opportunity to be your authentic self, to give yourself the time to figure out what you really want, to experiment and play with the trajectory of your life – and by the way, you’re never too old to do this. While feeling stuck seems an impossible rut from which to break free, give yourself the patience and compassion to allow yourself to have space in your life, in whatever form.

And here we go – with that space, not only could you thrive just like my little (now big) snake plant, you could give yourself the potential to bloom into the strongest, most resilient version of you. Step outside of your day-to-day, be with yourself in the silence, listen. What is your intuition telling you? In which direction is it tugging you? Follow that urge and you may find the answers you’ve been searching for. Your potential won’t just be something that’s too far out of reach. You’ll embody it. And that’s pretty bloody empowering.

Read Once for Information, Twice for Transformation

Over the festive period, I love reading. It’s a great chance to catch up and scramble to tick off all those titles you promised yourself you’d get around to reading that year. And also who doesn’t love going into the new year feeling all smug and bookish? (Cause it gives you a free pass to watch more Netflix instead of reading when the inevitable January blues come along.)

I re-read quite a few titles in 2021 (in no particular order): Glennon Doyle’s Untamed, Julian Barnes’ The Sense of an Ending, Dr. Edith Eger’s The Gift, Cheryl Strayed’s Wild, Anthony Golden’s Memoirs of a Geisha, André Aciman’s Call Me By Your Name and Massimo Pigliucci’s How to Be a Stoic.

Now you might be thinking: What a waste of time! You could have read so many other things in that time. 

You’re not wrong. But also, you’re wrong.

What I’ve found through revisiting books, particularly non-fiction, is that while I’m reading the same material again, I’m processing it in a new way. All of those ideas are absorbed by my mind in a much richer, deeper way to the extent I can begin applying those insights to my life, rather than letting them fly right over my head. This may seem like a common observation, but I really feel like the words sink into you more personally and stick. They strike a much more resonating chord. The words come back to revisit you throughout the day at moments when you need them the most. Those punchy snippets that made you think absently the first time but perhaps seeped out of your head that very same day are the same ones that are echoed through your days having read, if not studied, those books again.

It’s such a simple – and overlooked – way to deepen your knowledge on something. You may remember various passages that gripped you initially which end up hitting home even more – for me I underline/write these down and come back to them when I need them. The words feel more like a steadfast foundation of support rather than a fleeting whoosh of an idea that you may never think about again.

Some examples I had which especially resonated was one passage from Glennon Doyle’s incredible, empowering, shocking, rattling book, Untamed:

It turned out what I needed most was inside the one place I’d been running from my entire life: pain. Everything I needed to know next was inside the discomfort of now. As I practiced allowing my hard feelings to come and stay as long as they needed to, I got to know myself. The reward for enduring hard feelings was finding my potential, my purpose, and my people… I can’t imagine a greater tragedy than remaining forever unknown to myself. That would be the ultimate self-abandonment. So I have become unafraid of my own feelings. Now when hard feelings ring the bell, I put on my big-girl pants and answer the door.

Glennon Doyle, Untamed (London: Vermillion, 2020) p. 261.
Untamed: Stop Pleasing, Start Living: THE NO.1 SUNDAY TIMES BESTSELLER:  Amazon.co.uk: Doyle, Glennon: 9781785043352: Books
Read this. Then read it again. And again.
Pic from: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Untamed-Stop-pleasing-start-living/dp/1785043358

And from an equally empowering book, but perhaps more softly so, are some nuggets of gold from holocaust survivor Dr. Edith Eger’s The Gift:

The language of fear is the language of resistance. And if we’re resisting, we’re working very hard to ensure that we go nowhere. We deny growth and curiosity. We’re revolving, not evolving.

Dr. Edith Eger, The Gift (London: Rider, 2020) p. 138

When you’re free, you take responsibility for who you really are… you reconnect with the parts of yourself you had to give up… You break the habit of abandoning yourself.

P. 66/67

With feelings there’s not way out but through. We have to be with them. It takes so much courage to be, without having to do anything about anything – to just simply be.

P. 46

A feeling is just a feeling, it’s not your identity.’

P. 35

And my favourite…

‘If you sit with one butt on two chairs, you become half-assed.’

P. 71
The Gift: 12 Lessons to Save Your Life: Amazon.co.uk: Eger, Edith:  9781846046278: Books
Then read this. And read it again.
Pic: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Gift-Edith-Eger/dp/1846046270

I mean… take a moment to let all of that sink in. The more you read this kind of stuff, the more likely you will start to live by the same things and your lens through which you view life will shift. We’re humans. We love repetition, we love patterns – they’re predictable. And what’s better than making empowering, healing knowledge part of your day-to-day thought patterns?

Most of the books I revisited that shook me the most were non-fiction. But the fiction books I reread had the opposite effect. They softened me. The nostalgia of coming back to a place you’ve been already, but perhaps a year or so later when you yourself have grown and changed, makes you reflect on just that. How you perceive certain ideas or characters or events now, a kind of soft grief unravelling for who you used to be; how you used to think, what might have happened to be the catalyst of that change, no matter how subtle or obvious. It’s why I always reread Memoirs of a Geisha every summer – it’s a reminder of not just how beautiful the story and prose is, but how my perspective has evolved over the last year, how my curiosity has deepened. And loads of other mushy shit, as you can imagine.

So if you have *those* books that you absolutely adored or inhaled in a day or two, I encourage you to read them again! And again! See! It’s even there in the word – a gain!!! There really is nothing to lose but the time you spend dawdling on whether or not you should read it again. If you think it would be boring because you already know what happens, trust me, it will be the opposite.

And with all of the above, I really do stand by that we read once for information, twice for transformation. (And might I suggest one could lightly skim over something for inspiration!) There will always be new layers to peel back as you grow older and experience new things. And it will amaze you at how you can learn new tricks from an old dog (or book, in this case). Read something once and it will catch your attention. Read it again and it will give that same attention the momentum to change you.

An Equation for Life

Before I started university my social anxiety was probably at its peak. I was overplanning, overpreparing and catastrophising every little thing, worrying I wouldn’t make friends and/or that I’d have a lonely time. Before moving into my halls of residence, I remember cursing the fact there was no Facebook group setup so we, the flatmates to be, could start chatting and getting to know one another, like a friend had had when she’d started a few weeks earlier elsewhere. (Little did I know that that would be a blessing in disguise.) 

The day before, I felt like a bag of worms; nerves, excitement, anticipation all squiggling around inside my stomach and from my head to my toes. The buildup was quite excruciating – after the rollercoaster that high school was*, I couldn’t wait to move away. Then the ‘Day Of’ came and I felt something alien and unfamiliar. 

(*that would have been nowhere near as bearable had I not had my core group of best friends – you know who you are.)

I thought to myself: I don’t know anyone I’m about to meet. I have absolutely nothing to lose. I can just be completely myself. No masks. No weird awkwardness. No anxiety. It all just melted away. I woke up that morning and it all dissolved, like the moment you drop a bath bomb into the water. That feeling of surrender felt like the explosion of colour and wild fizzing as it bursts into a beautiful unique marbled painting on the water’s surface, the end result you can’t possibly predict. Anyway, I’m getting sidetracked by flowery metaphors.

So I got into the car that morning with my dad, buzzing with this sense of anticipation, but this on this occasion it was expectation-less. I didn’t know what was going to happen and I was completely ok with it. I felt like for the first time in so many years, I’d returned to my body, my authentic Self. I was open to receiving fun, joy and newness without the need to defend myself, by chronically living in a threatened state of ‘survival mode’. I felt lighter. I felt taller. (It’s difficult to describe without sounding like you’ve taken a dose of hallucinogenics, but I can confirm that was not the case.)

After a last minute dash to Tesco to grab some pots and pans I was missing (that sadly were probably never used, sorry dad), we finally arrived on campus. You probably could have charged your phone from the amount of electricity bouncing off me at that point. But that evening, after dad left me to my own devices with a teary goodbye, I met the people who would become some of my closest friends to this day, over 8 years later. I met the bunch who I’d have the time of my life with during one of the most pivotal periods of my youth away from home. I met the group of friends I never saw coming, that I never knew I needed. You guessed it: by expecting nothing, I actually received everything.

It’s hard to describe the amount of luck we had in those halls, if not impossible. The odds of you ending up with two or three friends in your corridor are probably the most likely. But to end up with having a circle you’re still close to now that made up the majority of your floor; there’s some kind of alchemy involved somewhere there. Without getting too mushy here, we had the most insane luck and have friendships for life borne from the legendary top floor of block 3E/4E (and beyond) and I’m still so grateful to this day for whatever forces brought us all together. No forms of distance, time or events have seemed to separate us yet – and since the science says once you’re friends with someone for 7 years, it’s for life, it looks like we’re happily stuck with each other!

What I’m saying here is that strange, weird, beautiful things happen when you release all forms of expectation. When you let go of the anxiety of what might happen, when you stop living in the land of What If and emigrate to the planet of The Beautiful Unknown. You aren’t ruled by the restricting forces of anxiety or fear; you are open to anything could happen and are far better equipped to live life as it was designed to be lived: freely! Once you release yourself from that cage of projected worry that’s mistakenly trying to keep you safe, you are much less a canary in the coal mine (if that’s not too dramatic an idiom) but better yet, a duck to the water, or as free as a bird – take your pick (there are actually so many bird idioms/metaphor/visual-language-related-things out there, guys).

So especially now while life is all things unpredictable and unknown, try letting go of all said things. They’re too heavy to carry around constantly and you deserve a break. It’s much easier said than done, but what happens if you’re curious about it to begin with? What happens if you decide to try letting the restrictive forces of control fade away like that bath bomb? You may find that life becomes less like a relentless march but more of a gentle, easeful flow. Think about the soundtrack to your life being more Enya, less My Chemical Romance. And then go from there… 

Expect nothing = receive everything.

Love is not a transaction

Whenever I’ve made a cup of tea, I always refill the kettle. That means the next person who comes to use it won’t have to; they can get their cuppa quicker. Now, I’m the furthest thing from a martyr, but to me, there’s nothing more annoying than when you’re gasping for a brew but the bloody kettle is empty, so you have to stand there for an eternity filling it up, waiting for it to boil, slowly descending into madness throughout the whole process.*

*Alright, perhaps having to do tax returns is a bit more annoying

But what prompted me to make this small gesture a daily habit was something I’d read about in relation to the purest form of love and kindness, that neither of them are a transaction. Love is not a transaction. And kindness is not a transaction. I’ll let you chew on that for a bit.

That statement made me think; of course we know that love and kindness are generally selfless concepts, but if we could cultivate a more conscious practice of this in our lives, how much fuller would said lives be? How many times have we experienced a random act of kindness from a stranger and felt so warmed from it? Even random acts of kindness from those we love? What if we could return that every day, stripped of any entitlement?

When we give love so openly, so freely, not thinking of it as a transaction, not expecting something in return, it makes the act of giving so much richer; you realise that you have such an abundance of it that you actually don’t need it at all – your ‘supply’ of love, as it were, becomes bottomless – and with that you start to see life with far fewer harsher corners and more softer edges. When you see life as an opportunity to give love and kindness rather than a rolling event where you are always waiting on the next moment love will come to you (or perhaps giving love only as an attempt to have it mirrored back), your ability to love and expand your kindness will become effortless. And then sneakily, you’ll find that love and kindness will appear in your life more and more. When you aren’t always seeking more, but giving more, there won’t be any scarcity of love; only a juicy abundance of it, wherever you go.

My mum and dad came to visit me this weekend and when they’d left, I discovered dad had rearranged my hideous Tupperware cupboard. He’d put all the lids together in one place and all the boxes stacked together adjacently, all in the right sizes, whereas before it looked like a scrambled mess of chaos. He hadn’t told me, he just did it knowing it would make life a little easier, even if the gesture was small on the surface. It made my heart smile.

My yoga teacher, a beautiful, kind, warm person, saw that I’d rushed into class one evening in shorts on a day which was definitely not built for shorts. Right before class as everyone was getting into their zone, I was just sitting with my eyes closed, tuning in, defrosting. I opened my eyes as the flow began and saw she’d brought a blanket and put it by my feet. Call me soppy, but this almost brought a tear to my eye. I made sure to thank her afterwards and the small act of kindness made me feel all fluffy for the rest of the week.

As I was frantically trying to make the last train home from London before lockdown was announced, I came downstairs to the foyer in my flat, where all the mail is stored and sometimes people in the building write post-it notes to one another. Someone had left some food with a note saying ‘For those isolating, please take!’ And I thought – what a huge difference this seemingly small gesture would make to someone’s life right now. Again, that feeling of warmth spread through me.

Stripped back of mushiness, what I’m trying to say is that: what if we told someone close I love you or I’m thinking of you for the sake of it? Or put someone’s washing away because we knew they’d had a bad day? Or gave a seat to someone on the tube because you didn’t need it? Or offered someone your umbrella at the bus stop on a rainy day? Or baked bread for an ill neighbour? Or wrote a letter to a friend you’ve been thinking about for a while? Or bought a sandwich and coffee for a homeless person? Or helped someone up the stairs with their pram? All without needing to receive anything back?

When you see love not as a transaction, but more as an opportunity to encourage warmth and kindness, you will find that the love in your life is more profound, infinite, even. Eventually you’ll see the love you’re giving out there being returned to you without even trying – and with that, completing the cycle. Until the next opportunity, and the next, and the next – because Lord knows we need more love and kindness on this planet, eh? And that’s what life should be about – spreading love and kindness as much as we can with our limited time here.

Romanticising the Ordinary

Last week I was fortunate enough to go back to Sweden to stay with my grandma, who I haven’t seen for about 2 years because of – you guessed it. Normally, it’s a week spent seeing family over there (and I’m lucky to have a lot of it), spending afternoons in the nearby woods, by the lake, going into the local town some days and then just *being* at home with Mormor (the Swedish name for grandma). Though we did all of the regular cosy things we normally do, something about this time was different.

I know a lot of people have had some inevitable personal shifts because of the trauma (micro and macro) that the pandemic has caused and I’ve definitely felt that effect too. If being forced to move back home and spend every waking minute with your family without anywhere else to go for an extended period isn’t somewhat stressful and/or challenging, hats off to you. Being stuck inside with anyone without anywhere to go is, needless to say, stressful in itself. But over that cooped up period, it gave me – as well as everyone else – so much time. Time to stop, to think (not always a good thing), time to really look at myself and what’s around me. Time to really bloody appreciate all the blessings I have in my life and in fact: how my life is made up of an abundance of them (thank you, whoever’s/whatever’s up there).

In that chapter, I learned about what this wishy-washy term of ‘presence’ really means. And the role of gratitude in someone’s life, when it doesn’t feel like a suffocating shame-inspiring mechanism. And when those two are put together, it gave me the opportunity to see life in a stripped back way I’d never seen before – most likely because my vision was clouded with heavy layers of unresolved trauma/personal issues (I’m by no means anything special BTW, everyone has some levels of trauma whether they know it or not).

But as I said, that time over lockdown gave me the space to stop resisting the discomfort of facing my shadows and look them directly in the eye. It was liberating, having moments of realisation where I’d think: ‘Oh! I don’t actually need anyone to validate me at all to feel worthy’, or ‘Oh! I’m not actually the victim of anything unless I choose to be’, or ‘Oh! It was actually me in the wrong the entire time!’ Hilarious little nuggets like that, yeah.

Anyway, to get back to the point, shedding these layers, slowly but surely, eventually gave me clarity. That clarity came in the form of simplicity, which brings me back to the title of this piece. When the mental chatter died down a little as I tuned into the present moment more and more often, the inner chaos was replaced with quiet. The constant narrative of thought/judgement in my mind was replaced with stillness. While I was out and about on my daily walks, noticing the marbling colours of the sky, or the elegant swooping of a wagtail or even occasionally the bounding motion of a deer in the distance – as cheesy as ALL of that shite is (and inevitably what’s still to come will be) – everything else abstract didn’t matter. Nothing mattered right then apart from the beauty that was around me. And it felt ridiculous and wasteful to be anywhere else but right there at that moment. Sometimes you’ve gotta give into the cheesiness and just choose peace, bro.

I felt this same feeling when I was in Sweden recently, which I now realise is because I was actually present – not only physically, but mentally. I was nowhere else, not planning the distant future or worrying about what was coming next. I was completely absorbed in the environment in which I was. I soaked up every moment – from the feeling of standing barefoot on her linoleum kitchen floor, to noticing the tiny rose motifs on her wallpaper, the pile of sudoku resting on the midnight blue table mats, her ‘90s style cooker with small framed photos of her every grandchild sitting on the shelf above it, the little seal sticker stuck to her radio that she’d turn on every Saturday morning. My days were filled with rich moments of noticing all the beauty in these details, all of which represented something of my grandmother – what she likes, where she’s been, what she’s seen, who she is, how those things are also in me somehow. And I really think this is why I remember this particular trip so vividly, as if it were barely a few moments ago. Every second was rich with my feeling of being completely there and when I say completely, I really mean it in the literal sense.  As a whole, grounded person; not someone who is half there and half in a future universe that doesn’t exist yet.

In learning to romanticise the ordinary, the previously mundane and even boring, that instilled not only an intense, electric presence, but a full sense of gratitude and love within me. Gratitude for having the ability to see and feel and hear these things, to even be there in the same room as my grandmother whom I adore so much. I think now, ‘Why wouldn’t you romanticise the ordinary?’ Because once you do, you realise just how ephemeral life is and how special everything in it is – and brace yourself for some more cheese, here – from the bricks that make up the building in which you live, to the hug from a friend after a tough week, from the smell of a vanilla-scented candle to the unexpected smile from a stranger. All of it is beautiful, simply because you’re alive to witness it.

Well, ahem, after all that mumbo-jumbo nonsense, I reckon it’s time for a stiff drink and a pack of Doritos, don’t you?

Life is Long, if you Know How to Use It

A good travel buddy of mine introduced me to Stoicism a few years ago and ever since I’ve started dipping my toe into various other philosophers’ writings. Lately, I’ve been reading Seneca’s On the Shortness of Life: Life Is Long if You Know How to Use It. The title itself was enough to rattle me, let alone the content inside. It’s a tiny book small enough to fit in your back pocket, yet it’s filled with punchy observations that splash yo ur face with a proverbial bucket of icy water and make you think: Thank God I picked this up now, before it’s too late.

Like most stoic philosophers, Seneca cuts to the chase. He doesn’t sugarcoat any aspect of how we humans take our liberties with this gift most of the time. The Stoics think very pragmatically, logically, in a detached fashion, which is perhaps how they’ve gained a pejorative reputation of being emotionless – when in reality emotions don’t have anything to do with their beliefs at all. In this book in particular, Seneca asks the difficult questions of why we waste so much of our time, knowing that we really are only here for a brief moment, because it could end at any second. And stripped of semantics, it is as simple as that.

One quote which inspired me to write this was: Learning how to live takes a whole life, and, which may surprise you more, it takes a whole life to learn how to die’ (p. 10).

At one point, he uses the adjective ‘arrogant’, which threw me too. But I found that I agreed: We really are a bunch of arrogant humans to believe that we are all going to live ’til our mid-80s. When Seneca attaches the ego to our mortality in this context, it is very sobering indeed. Because supposing that you’re going to live to see your old age as a given is actually a very bold claim, isn’t it? Assuming that you are going to Iive out a long life with your family and friends is quite ridiculous, and yes, arrogant isn’t it? What Seneca is saying with this particular adjective is that no one on this planet is guaranteed anything, so how egotistical is it to assume that you will live out a long, full life? That you or one of your loved ones, may not die tomorrow or next week? This isn’t a dig on anyone’s sense of morality, but an earnest observation.

To live in such an abstract future so as to miss your entire life because you believe that your life will last forever – you will end up missing out on all of the truly beautiful moments: talking on the phone to your Grandpa, cooking with your mother, conversations in the car after your dad’s picked you up from the station, listening to the radio with your grandmother. All of those precious moments – because your loved ones are here and still alive – seem meaningless and even boring when we think everyone we love is immortal.

Seneca, like the above thought, is quite a savage, but to sum this up:

You are living as if destined to live for ever; your own frailty never occurs to you; you don’t notice how much time has already passed, but squander it as though you had a full and overflowing supply – though all the while that very day which you are devoting to somebody or something may be your last… You will hear many people saying: ‘When I am fifty I shall retire into leisure; when I am sixty I shall give up public duties.’ And what guarantee do you have of a longer life?”

This is the chief point he is getting at here: we are so attached to the idea that  – unconsciously – we believe that and behave as if we exist in the future, that the present is worthless. We are so preoccupied with the longevity of life that we forget completely that we could die at any given moment. Someone you love could drop dead of a freak aneurysm in the next five minutes; a close friend could be hit by a drunk driver next week; maybe a colleague is suffering from a fatal heart attack right this second – and the list goes on. It’s a terrible tragedy that we humans don’t realise is a tragedy until it’s too late – and ain’t that just the way of human nature? Seneca couldn’t have said it any better when he notes that ‘the preoccupied become aware of it only when it is over’ (p. 14).

The main problem here is that we do this unconsciously – we assume, we bank on, we rely on, we believe that our life will last ‘forever’. But while this is an arrogant act, we don’t consciously attach this ego to our mortality; we don’t maliciously live our lives with this recklessness because we can (although, some do). We are just naive to the shortness of life and indeed, to the simplicity of it all. We want to protect ourselves by believing that we are safe, because we have so much time. But once that lightbulb pings on, we realise that actually, we have no time at all – it isn’t possible. As a classic example of irony, it’s at that moment when your days and moments begin to expand, each second becoming richer than the last, when you realise the gravity of your mortality. 

This idea links to another stoic mantra Memento Mori – which roughly translates to ‘meditate on your mortality’ – remember that you or any of your loved ones will eventually die. As morbid as it sounds, it is sobering as hell. It may sound depressing, but meditating on this fact every day instils a great load of gratitude. Said phone calls with your grandpa are suddenly worth more than any nugget of gold on this planet; those interactions with your grandma on Facebook are one of the most precious things on earth; a simple text message from your mother asking what you’d like for dinner is enough to burst your heart. Because you know that they – including you – could go at any moment. And thus, you take none of it – the previously mundane, even annoying things – for granted.

And when you are that present, not stuck in the future, your life becomes the beautiful 3-dimensional piece of art it has always been. Seneca says that we are too busy ‘arranging what lies in Fortune’s control, and abandoning what lies in ours. What are you looking at? To what goal are you straining? The whole future lies in uncertainty: live immediately’ (p.13). As soon as you abandon the anxiety attached to living in the future, you will start living: really living.

So (within reason) live as if you may die tomorrow, love as if you may lose your close ones at any moment – because life is long, if you know how to use it and as Seneca says: ‘our lifetime extends amply if you manage it properly’. 

Ditching Planxiety or: How to Start Living

Sometimes I have moments where an idea will pop into my head out of nowhere and on the train the other day, that happened to my pleasant surprise. Catching myself getting stuck in the future, as I often do, the term ‘Planxiety’ came to me and I laughed to myself and thought: Is that ridiculous? But then I thought, actually, maybe not. 

How often have you found yourself daydreaming or worrying about what might happen, making plans, finding yourself anxious about not knowing what’s going to happen and getting lost in endless hypothetical situations? (No? Just me? Kay.)

The answer for me is countless times. While some people find themselves deeply entrenched in their past decisions and experiences (a place I can often find myself too), I find myself unconsciously floating off into another dimension of possibility which isn’t even real. When you think about that, it’s a bit mad isn’t it? Why am I spending so much time and expending so much mental energy on something abstract that isn’t even real yet? Even the past isn’t technically real anymore, it’s been and gone. Nevertheless, I realise now that this being stuck in the future is fundamentally a self-soothing tactic. It’s our overprotective brains trying to ready ourselves for any potential threats by predicting potential scenarios or outcomes, but man, it’s exhausting being stuck in the land of ‘What If?’. And on the flip-side, as the great John Mayer says: “I can’t keep running after yesterday.” 

After having read and studied Eckhart Tolle’s massively acclaimed book The Power of Now, it blew my mind how he was able to simplify our anxieties as humans in such a stripped-back way. He discusses the present moment and how if we can tune into it more and more, it will change our lives. And his viewpoints on this certainly shook up my own perspectives and allowed me to feel more grounded by the day, rather than floating up with the clouds of the past or the future. 

The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment | Eckhart Tolle |  9780340733509 | agreatread.co.uk
This book may change your life. No pressure tho.

He explains how all of our anxieties that we feel or create live either in the past or the future, what he calls ‘psychological time’ as opposed to ‘real time’. If you are completely connected to the present moment – that is, really feeling where you are right now, being so aware that you almost feel electric, really seeing your surroundings – all of those anxieties will simply dissolve. There have been a few clashes with Tolle’s logic, which I can understand – obviously this doesn’t apply to you if you’re in the middle of a car crash or something else immediately traumatic; any anxiety experienced in that particular present moment isn’t going to dissolve, quite the opposite, so you have to take his thoughts with a handful of salt (especially the spiritual jargon). But the premise of his theory is quite hard-hitting like a splash of cold water to the face:

“Time isn’t precious at all, because it is an illusion. What you perceive as precious is not time but the one point that is out of time: the Now. That is precious indeed. The more you are focused on time—past and future—the more you miss the Now, the most precious thing there is.”

When I read this quote for the first time, I had to reread it several times. Time… is an illusion? Time is an illusion. Damn. It’s something we’ve entirely made up as a species. The only that really exists is what’s here right now. So why should anything else (future anxieties, past regrets, anything keeping us stuck) even matter?

Once I’d digested this idea, I went for a walk to chew on it even more, putting his words into practice. To really feel what it was like to ‘be’ present or to just ‘be’. Leading up to that point, I thought it was just a load of self-help nonsense and didn’t really understand the concept at all, in fact, I resisted it entirely. 

But then I absorbed this book so much that what I’m about to say will actually sound a bit bonkers, so perhaps take it with a wheelbarrow of salt: I felt like I could actually see for the first time. When I immersed myself in the present on this walk, I noticed the detail of the leaves on the trees, the grooves in the buildings, the textures of the brick houses, the curves of the roads; I felt that electric feeling of being ‘alive’ – and yes, I was completely sober. Perhaps that was my first taste of transcendental meditation? Or freedom from tired, old thought loops? Or perhaps someone slipped something into my vegan sausage roll that morning? Who knows. 

That feeling was calming and grounding, so I tried to do this more and more every day – which is not as easy as it seems. But lo and behold, my Planxiety did begin to subside and it really did dissolve when I tuned into where I was at that moment, when I realised the distant future didn’t matter, because it simply wasn’t real. And what can be more important, more precious, more real than what is right here in front of us, right now? We could be wiped out by a comet in the next ten minutes and we’d never know, so what a tragedy it would be to know that we’ve wasted our lives in a universe that doesn’t even exist yet. Indeed, Eckhart writes:

“It is not uncommon for people to spend their whole life waiting to start living.”

So whenever I catch myself with classic symptoms of Planxiety – worrying, mostly, about future plans, events, relationships, life path, career stuff, read: ANYTHING – I pull myself back down to earth like a humble helium balloon by just looking around me, noticing what’s happening, or not, and in truth, getting a little spaced out by it. But once you find that space, you will realise how ridiculous the human condition is and how much joy and freedom exists in the here and now. As soon as you can make that distinction, it’ll lighten the load of whatever you’ve been fretting about, because most likely, while it may have been once or may potentially be in the future, it isn’t even real! *Insert mind-blown emoji here*

Detaching from Goals: If you want Something, Let it Go

If you want something, let it go. How many times have we heard iterations of that phrase in modern rom-coms? Too many. Turns out, I discovered recently, that it applies to life as well. Once more, I am unashamedly applying trashy movie premises to my life and just as unashamedly benefitting from them. And I’d like to share my latest nugget of rose-tinted wisdom that I stumbled upon the other day with you. After all, I’m just a girl standing in front of an abstract audience asking for them to get on board with my cheesy logic.

Many, if not all, of us have goals in life. No matter where on the spectrum they lie, we generally want to achieve something, whether that’s acquiring a new job, losing a stone, obtaining your driving licence or simply getting out of bed in the morning. Some people amble through life without having a specific purpose and that’s totally ok, too.

As a society, we’ve been prescribed with the notion that goals come with intense hard work. Constant focus. No distractions. A path that is saturated with black and white absolutes. If we swerve off that path, because, life happens, then we suck. We’re not that committed, we’re worthless, why did we even bother trying in the first place? We have been led to believe, through consuming whatever countless mediums exist, that attaching to a goal in this way is the only way to achieve relative success. 

But what if this same attachment is the very reason we are failing and stumbling all those countless times? I’m gonna come at you with a quote from the great Buddha himself, which you totally knew was coming…

The root of all attachment is suffering.”

Now I’m closer to being a stack of pancakes than a Buddhist, but I know something that makes sense when I see it. This is taken from the second of the four Noble Truths, which he came upon after meditating under a tree for a long ass time – all four Noble Truths form the essence that is Buddhism and for now we’ll stick with this one. 

What is attachment? Why is it so bad? It’s probably only something you’d associate with an infant and their mother, when in reality many adults are sleepwalking around on this planet attached to all kinds of things that aren’t necessarily good for them. Many of us are attached to toxic relationships, destructive routines, old tired habits, limiting beliefs and a consequently low self-esteem, religion, politics, drugs/food/alcohol – basically all of the stuff that keeps us stuck in dissatisfaction in our lives. And yes, that list includes goals! 

Attachment in its rawest form is the identification with something, something that you tie your self-worth to, that serves what you believe to be your purpose, even if, and especially if it’s not good for you. If you attach yourself to the idea that you’re just a lazy person and you won’t achieve anything in life, then you have identified with being a sluggish underachiever. You have accepted that’s who you are, when that may not be the case at all. Under that attachment may lie a whole host of ambitions that you can’t access because you’re so identified with being a couch potato. But even if that attachment is toxic, it feels secure, it feels safe, it feels predictable. And thus, those old patterns and routines persist, because you’re more attached to them than the unfamiliarity of being free of who you have believed yourself to be til now.

So what happens when you detach? How does one even do this ‘detachment’?

Take for instance an example from yours truly. I’d quit my job in June to go freelance and had that rough goal in mind. I didn’t necessarily have any plans to get any gigs, I just gave myself the month off before I planned to start the dreaded application process. In that month, I’d landed myself not one, but two, incredible gigs for someone starting out as a freelancer. I hadn’t sent in a single job application anywhere and somehow they landed right in my lap. I’d detached from the goal of getting some, if any, work at all and in the process just let life happen – and what d’you know, I got more than I originally bargained for. Previously, when looking for work, I’d get up at ridiculous hours in the morning, spend so much time on job applications, fret over the status of them, be let down when I’d get rejected and continue that lethal loop of application overload. I was too attached to the idea of getting a specific role and with that, probably ruining my chances of getting to the next stage at all.

With attachment comes so much pressure that we put on ourselves. We rely on said attachments (to jobs, to people, to habits, to things) because they provide a false sense of security. But when we detach, though it’s scary not having that concrete/abstract ‘thing’ to identify with, even if the outcome isn’t as desired, we can make peace with that because our worth wasn’t in any way tied to it. Now I’m not saying forget your ambitions, goals or intentions completely, by detaching this doesn’t mean you are abandoning your precious mission – on the contrary. By detaching, you still have a rough manifestation of what you want – it’s simply more abstract, more futuristic than immediate, but very much still there. But rather than pinning all of your hopes and dreams on said goal(s), you instead surrender to letting the process happen and all those doubts and inner criticisms suddenly become white noise. All you have to do is get comfortable with not knowing the outcomes of something, but that’s a post for another day. 

So whether you’re trying to master a yoga pose, learn a new language, try a new sport, cook somebody a new recipe, foster better habits in your life, buy a house, drink more water every day, whatever it is – try detaching from that goal and watch as that resistance dissolves, as the pressure is taken off you and then how those results will flow to you as organically as water does down a stream.

Mindset over Matter

Our brains are weird spongey machines that are capable of so much (arguably too much). While we know so much about how they work, there is still so much we don’t know about their potential. What blows me away the most is their malleability; how we actually aren’t confined to a terminal state of mind. How we can change it over time, with creating new habits, learning new things and going out of our way to encourage what the scientists have called neuroplasticity.

This word means exactly how it sounds – we can mould our brain into different ‘shapes’, like play-doh! Almost. So we are in fact capable of change, as easy as it is to say that people can’t or won’t – it’s a matter of whether you are open to the discomfort of the process: reframing our perspectives, changing our behaviour and ultimately, our lives (and more often than not, admitting that we are wrong sometimes!)

Sadly, there’s the darker side to this malleability as well, where unfortunate individuals are subject to the traumatic experience of brainwashing/negative conditioning. But most of us luckily have the freedom of conscious choosing and can decide whether to change our lives for the better and make that commitment. 

There are many ways you can encourage your mindset to shift, whether you find that through reading books, learning new skills, moving to a new country and picking up the language/culture, meeting new people, but mostly it’s picked up in the every day small things: we are after all creatures of habit and we are what we repeatedly do. Those small habits that we choose to change and consistently practice – it might be exercising before work, meditating in the mornings, journalling every evening, eating healthier, reducing consumption of X, Y or Z – are the ones that eventually mould our brain into the better version of ourselves. All of the above, amongst many other little microhabits, are what we can pick up incrementally to shift our mindsets, perspectives and motivation to – long story short – get unstuck from our habits that we previously believed defined who we are. 

For me, I’ve found that journalling, being more creative, exercising more, reading more and generally having more personal boundaries with myself and others has absolutely helped me reach a certain level of emotional maturity I didn’t previously have access to. But, until recently, I still felt stuck; unable to break free of the one self-sabotaging habit that had its hooks in me pretty deep, my drug of choice: food! 

While I read all the books about health, knew all the risks about eating junk and yo-yoing between good and bad (and not having a generally stable, balanced diet), I couldn’t get unhooked from this habit of essentially feeding my emotions with food, whether that was anxiety, fear, doubt, boredom, you name it. My mindset was fixed on the fact that “This is just my identity, I’ve been this way since I can remember, better just surrender to it.” I knew it was all just a chemical reaction in my brain that helped calm and self-soothe and that I could make better choices, but but but! My brain was holding onto this habit and stubborn mindset pretty hard. UNTIL. 

Until I came across an article in Mark Manson’s newsletter, the author of the awesome bestselling no-nonsense The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck. (If you haven’t read it yet, what are you waiting for? Literally drop everything you are doing and go and buy it.)

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a  Good Life: Amazon.co.uk: Manson, Mark: 9780062457714: Books
This badboy will change your life if not make your ancestors cringe at the use of expletives.

His ‘Mindfuck Monday’ emails do prompt a bit of a chuckle but the ‘How to Reinvent Yourself’ snippet (below) has actually been the one thing I needed to know this *whole* time. What I took from it isn’t quite as dramatic as reinventing myself, but instead ‘Trying on an Identity.’

Manson writes: 

Often when we want to change, we focus on the individual behavior and then work up the nerve or willpower to do it. As you’ve probably learned, this rarely goes well. 

Part of the reason it goes poorly is that by “forcing” yourself to do X, you are simply reinforcing to yourself that you are the type of person who doesn’t do X. 

Simple example: For years and years, I struggled to not drink at parties. I could abstain if I really put my mind to it, but it was always in the form of the thought, “Man, I love drinking at parties, it’s going to suck to not have a drink, but I’ll do it anyway.” 

This was setting myself up for failure. I’m already deciding that it’s going to suck before I’ve even done it. 

A way to make this much easier is to think of change on an identity level. For example, “What if I was the type of person who hates drinking at parties? What would that feel like?” 

And so the proverbial penny dropped. I thought: What if I chose to be an athlete? To have the mindset of an athlete? What if I thought/lived like an athlete? 

Now, don’t get me wrong, I am closer to being an elephant seal than an athlete, but the reason I chose to ‘try on’ this identity is because I actually want to prioritise health and take it seriously. Maybe it’s the pandemic or the general state of the planet, but I’ve realised that actually I won’t be this young again. And why wouldn’t I want to remain in this healthy state for as long as possible? So then I started reframing my thoughts and urges in those wobbly moments pre-self sabotage: What would an athlete do right now? Would they scoff down this extra portion they don’t need? No, they would eat just enough to fuel their bodies. Would they buy this cookie for the sake of it? No, because that would impede their progress. Would they make this unhealthy dish for dinner? No, they would choose something that would nourish and energise them. And right before I knew it, I broke free of those proverbial chains, giving myself solid hard proof that it was possible! Man it felt good.

And finally, after trying so many (SO MANY) keys in the lock, as it were, I felt like this nugget of mindset-shifting advice has actually worked. I think we humans tend to doubt ourselves by proxy and especially today, it’s so common to be running stories in our minds that make us believe our abilities our limited. But this ‘Trying on an Identity [of your choice]’ tool eliminates all of that – for now – until we begin to believe in ourselves more and more and build that integral level of self trust that will carry us through in life to giving ourselves everything we’ve ever wanted. 

What’s holding you back? Probably yourself. So why not try on an identity? Someone you admire or look up to? See how that shifts your state of mind into going from limited to limitless. Told you: our brains are pretty incredible.

Still not convinced? Give this a read.

Life is a Squiggle

Life is not a line, but a squiggle.

Ah yes, that famous quote from that influential Greek philosopher. 

I’ve had a setback recently due to a shoulder injury, which has definitely stymied me somewhat. Not being able to do yoga (when I was finally on a damn roll), not being able to go to dance classes I *just* signed up to and all the rest of my millennial melodrama. Being the weirdly flexible, double-jointed praying mantis that I am, I recently discovered my joints are prone to popping out of themselves if they happen to be worked at a certain angle, resulting in some soreness and moreover, an annoying inability to do certain things til that pain goes away. In the words of Elton himself, it’s a sad, sad situation and pity is very much welcome, but it got me thinking about how precious our bodies actually are and how much we take them for granted. And also how life has that tendency to screw you over literally at any point it feels like it (which is not always a bad thing).

Doing things as simple as putting on a jumper or pouring a cup of tea nags at my tendon, which is all fine and I know that (all being well) this is temporary – but what about people who suffer with chronic pain, who have to live with this terminally, as it were? Day in, day out, not being able to do the most basic of things? Athletes, even, who may be desperate to do the one thing that makes them feel most alive, but it’s been taken away from them? It really is the classic human tragedy that is experienced in many facets that we just don’t know what we have until it’s gone.  So ultimately, we should be treating our bodies like absolute princesses, because that’s what they are – think about EVERYTHING they do for us, without us even having to ask. It’s incredible, in the most literal sense of the word.

Ranting aside, I’ll come back to my very intellectual squiggle theory. We all suffer setbacks in many ways, with whatever we are trying to improve, whether it’s a project at work, your career in general, a relationship, a physical endeavour, personal/spiritual growth, or indeed, even vegetable growth in your very own humble allotment patch! Those metaphorical and very real slugs can eat away at your months, or even years, of hard work and sometimes yank you right back to square one, cause, Sod’s Law. Sometimes, it’s not even a matter of buying all the pesticide in the world; it’s on a much more complex scale that’s totally out of your hands.

Related to this theme of setbacks and overcoming them, my friend introduced me to the artist Henri Matisse who has an inspiring story. Matisse was a French artist and painter known for his pioneering use of bold colour in his print works and art, one of the few leaders in the ‘Fauvism’ movement. He died in 1954 of a heart attack, but before that became bed-bound due to developing necrosis from a surgical wound, that disabled him from being able to stand and paint. Nevertheless, he kept making art and original art even still, known for his ‘Painting with scissors’ technique, from his bedside.

So to put it mildly, he’s a pretty badass example of not letting life screw you over, even if you are an artistic icon. With this in mind, though, if you view life spanned out on a very basic graph, it isn’t supposed to be linear or easy. We aren’t supposed to shoot for the stars like a rocket in one straight line, as much as we are told to aim for said proverbial stars in our youth. For one, that would make life increasingly boring and – you know what’s coming – you wouldn’t ever learn or grow.

As much as I loathe the idiom What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger it applies to this context (even if my personal example is just another episode of Alice’s Pity Party). Without setbacks or stumbling blocks, we wouldn’t be forced to question our strength, our morals, our intentions or our purpose on this planet; we would become very two dimensional human beings and we have so much more potential to be more than that. Despite considerable, painful physical setbacks, Matisse found a way around them and moreover, didn’t let them stop him from creating. Life presented a tangled disarray of a squiggle to him, which is an understatement to say the least, but let Matisse, and many, many other resilient human beings throughout history, be examples as to how, hardships mostly are mind over matter. And that life’s just a squiggle. Sometimes a stupid annoying one. Sometimes one that leads you to previously unimaginable places. Enjoy the unpredictable messiness of it all.

Waking up

The past few months for me have been kind of testing, because of what I can now identify as a big ass period of realisation. Which is what’s brought me back to the keyboard. It’s all been a time for unlearning, learning and processing, all coming from the catalyst that was myself and my past behaviour/trauma. What’s a better wakeup call than you getting sick of your own shit/old patterns? 

Just to clarify, I haven’t partaken in any kind of arson, or general illegal shenanigans. This is all just a product of a rapid period of growing up. And don’t cringe away from the ‘T’ word – trauma. We have all, to some extent, experienced it one way or another, whether as a kid, adolescent or adult; it’s a non-discriminatory spectrum.

Right, enough with the ambiguity and onto the juicy stuff: said ‘Waking Up’.

Call it what you will: ‘Realisation’, ‘Awakening’, ‘Waking up’ or quite simply: the ‘Holy Shit’ moment. Capital H, capital S. It’s all a part of the same thing and in a nutshell, encapsulates the one thing that most of us humans neglect on the daily: consciousness. But the thing is, most of us unconsciously neglect this. Oh, the irony. Can’t deal.

A couple months ago, I stumbled upon Dr. Nicole Le Pera and started looking into her more. She’s a PhD-educated clinical psychologist from Philadelphia, who, by observing traditional methods of psychotherapy decided it did not serve her own desired approach, which was namely a holistic approach. 

As well as going by some traditional psychology, she would moreover take into account everything in the body to help heal the mind; starting from gut health, incorporating breathwork (admittedly, I’m yet to be convinced by this) and encouraging mindfulness as the main triangulation of her practise. Having suffered from chronic anxiety her whole life, she now claims she is mostly anxiety-free and has all of the tools to manage it more effectively because of said holistic approach. May I emphasise here that we are not disregarding psychology as a science completely here, but rather, supplementing the practise with holistic work. Focusing on past behaviour and analysing thought processes is just as important as flexing the human consciousness muscle. 

Le Pera breaks down the mammoth concept of the consciousness into bitesize pieces which in turn helps you understand it further. The main gist is that we have two parts to our ‘self’/individuality/character, whatever you want to call it: The Ego and the Authentic Self: Who we think we are (who we’ve been conditioned to be) and who we actually are. If you want to read/learn more about the science (in a way that has not been severely butchered by myself), she explains it so well both on her YouTube and website:

https://yourholisticpsychologist.com/how-to-do-ego-work/

When we separate ourselves like so, we come to realise just how conditioned we have been; sometimes in extreme ways, like being raised in a Satanic cult believing that we are all doomed to perish in a pit of burning flames peppered with the ashes of our enemies* .. and then sometimes in more subtler ways… like being told that crying is bad and we should always hide our feelings. 

*Just to be clear, I am not in a Satanic cult; I just have a rather overactive imagination.

As kids, we are such tiny impressionable sponges and we soak up every ounce of what happens to us, which paves the way for our emotional responses, our attachments, our understanding of relationship dynamics and even the understanding of the world around us to this very day. We simply wouldn’t have known any different and some still don’t also, to this very day, in some cases. When we realise this or ‘wake up’ to this fact, we come to understand that we are not our past; we are not defined by what has happened to us. Whether that’s being bullied, abused, excluded or made to feel anything under the umbrella of ‘bad’.

As the consciousness grows, we equally grow to recognise which thoughts are driven by the ego; the proverbial devil on our shoulder, if you will – (bit of theme going on here isn’t there? Concerning.) And then there are the thoughts which are our authentic (real, ‘actual’) self. It takes a lot of work to divide these conflicting thought processes. Once we notice this, we can respond accordingly and ultimately, choose to respond (not react) in a way which is more sustainable, for example: calmly responding with an objective mind rather than mindlessly lashing out; it all depends on how you’ve been made to believe is the ‘correct’ way to react. Some believe yelling is the only answer, some believe avoiding the situation and withdrawing entirely is the solution.

Certain things trigger certain people and we then react the way we’ve always known to be appropriate. It could be something as simple as someone taking longer to reply to your text message than usual. ‘Ego’ tells you what Le Pera terms as ‘false narratives’, namely: ‘This person doesn’t want to talk to you and actually hates you’. Which is (generally) not the case. Unless maybe your friends have recently discovered that you are, in fact, part of a Satanic cult. Sorry. I digress.

When we step outside of our subconscious, we realise that actually instead: ‘They are busier than usual and will respond when they have the time because we are all leading busy lifestyles right now’. A typical ego response would be to fixate on this all day and even feel feelings of resentment toward that person. A conscious response would be to stay objective, depersonalising the situation and sitting in that initial discomfort until the consciousness eventually becomes second nature. 

Putting the separation of yourself and your ego into practice on a regular, consistent basis helps us continue to ‘Do the Work’ – because this isn’t just a one time lightbulb moment (as the featured image otherwise suggests). This is forming new neural pathways into more sustainable thinking and essentially, a mind free from constant negative, triggering thoughts that simply aren’t true.

I’m very aware that your attention is probably waning at this point, so to sum up: this concept is what’s helped me wake up to the proverbial sleepwalking I’d being doing hitherto and how radical this new way of thinking can be, which is why I’ve wanted to share it.

Now, rather than blindly jumping to conclusions and back down the self-destructive rabbit hole, I’m mindful of my thoughts and stand as an objective witness and try to understand those negative thoughts, then adjust my responses accordingly. It’s no quick fix but it’s a start and I truly believe that it’s helped me become more emotionally independent and a more compassionate person.

There’s so much to unpack in this whole ‘waking up’ process, but this is just the beginning, the actual becoming aware – becoming aware that ultimately, everyone is a walking product of their own conditioning – and whether they’re aware of it or not, we must be compassionate and understand that there is always a reason why people behave the way they do, whether they’re your mother, your sibling, your grandparent, your great aunt Dora, or a complete stranger.

We should all be more gentle with each other and remember that, while some people will never be aware of how to grow past their conditioning, everyone has experienced pain at some point in their life. 

Dopamine – the drug we’re all taking

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via pixabay.com

I watched an interesting video recently and its rhetoric has, although taken a backseat in my mind, still nonetheless been stewing in my thoughts. I’ll walk around and bumble through life but see it through Dopamine-tinted lenses.

Having been in London for a month or so now, I’ve noticed it so much more than at home. I’ll see people on the tube, on the street, in cafés, at restaurants, their necks craned down at an awkward angle, staring into their screens as if they were having a casual hypnosis session as part of their daily routine. Nope, just playing Angry Birds or mindlessly scrolling… And don’t get me wrong; I’m guilty of this myself, however, I’m far more aware I’m doing it after having seen the video (below), which I’ll get to.

Being glued to your phone isn’t an abnormal thing these days; most people retreat to their devices almost as a reflex or response to any kind of emotion – bored? Phone. Sad? Phone. Just found out your house is being repossessed? Phone. And so on. I know this behaviour has gradually filtered itself into a ‘normal’ category in our society (even our grandparents have smartphones now, people), but it was only recently that I realised, although it might be normal, it’s also really sad. Here’s the science:

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that is released in response to something that ultimately makes us feel loved – a kiss, a cuddle or, yep, getting a few likes on your latest Insta. A reward chemical, if you will. That winning makes you feel good (personally I’m still not over the fact I came first in the egg and spoon race in year 4). But, without getting all scrambled by horrendous puns, that same winning feeling is pretty addictive – hence why social media has pretty much taken over most of our lives. We’re addicted to ‘winning’ and winning, in this context, is ‘who can showcase their highlights reel in the best possible way’. Here is the video for reference (which I’m sure many of you have seen, anyway) and apologies if I’ve paraphrased anything – Simon Sinek hits the nail on the head of everything that is wrong with our generation and as you’ll be aware, his words have been all but branded into my brain:

 

If you’re anything like me, you came away from this video feeling pretty ashamed and deflated that our lives have become so reductive and reclusive. What is life without an iPhone now? But it’s not even the technology that is the issue; on the contrary, it makes the fast pace of life today far easier to keep up with. It’s the media that manipulates around the technology that’s the problem. I mean, it’s nothing less than a painfully obvious observation to say that we’re steered by likes, thumbs-ups, pings, messages and memes. But what is this doing to our minds?

As discussed in the video, it’s the constant fuelling-for-validation that we thrive off now, whether we like to admit it or not and that’s nothing but destructive. If we’re constantly trying to find value in ourselves through what it is we claim to be our lives, then how long will it take before we just fall apart? Living for likes is like running on fumes – you’re gonna burn out soon enough and it’s no coincidence stats of mental illnesses such as anxiety and depression have sky-rocketed since we were all swept away by the cult-like influence of social media.

It’s scary and it’s tedious to talk about. But why? Because we’ve either all just accepted the fact we’re bound by the proverbial shackles of social pressure or don’t want to admit we’ve inadvertently bought into the ‘cult’ (I’ll say that loosely) – even me, I’m far from innocent. Though I’m certainly not impartial to an Instagram filter and love a good location sticker, I can appreciate that real life isn’t that superficial. Alas – that’s just the way life is now.

But to divert away from the lecturing tedium of my recent contemplations, I’ll end on why I think being mindful is more important than ever. Mindfulness, sure, the practice is only going to help you be sharper and more in touch with yourself (and kinder to say the least) – but it’s not something everyone can take seriously.

Being mindful, however, just being aware of more things; putting down that damn phone, taking in the views around you, noticing the different smells in the air, appreciating what is in your life, that, anyone can do. And I can guarantee since I’ve started to try looking down at my phone less and start looking up around me more, I’m far more grateful for the things in my life – the real, raw, things, even (if not, especially) the darker days – more than ever. So next time you go to reach for your phone, just don’t. See what happens. Or what doesn’t happen. Just see more.

Dude, chill.

“Mum, I’m so old. I’m 22! How can I get this to slow down?” I asked, with a waiver in my voice. Her reply was something I always come back to when I’m having a millennial-inspired mini breakdown about how fast I’m growing old:

“Look back to when you were 18,” she said, “would you want to do all that all over again?”

“No.” I said, which sent my brain into a whirlwind of all the prospects that the future held.

Us 20-somethings are constantly worrying about two things: not being adequate and growing old. One thing we should be worrying about most, ironically, is the fact that this is actually suffocating our ability to do anything.

We’ve been there (at least some of us), feeling utterly useless and empty: ‘why should I bother? This person (let’s call them Bob) already achieved x, y and z by the time they were my age, so it’s far too late for me to get started.’

You may want to look at it that way, but may I interest you in an alternative perspective?

A) You’ve no idea what Bob’s circumstances were like.

B) It is completely arbitrary to compare your journey to Bob’s.

C) And finally, turning a certain age does not debilitate you from pursuing what you want to do with your life.

Basically, fuck Bob.

It’s hard to ingrain this message into your brain when you’re constantly looking at others, admiring their motivation, their energy and their drive. Sadly, this just makes you want to do anything but related to your future or your personal growth. Whether it’s down to a lack of confidence/self-belief, I don’t think it’s wholly down to laziness. That is optional, but not believing that you are able to do what you are meant to do is a whole other kettle of fish.

Sharing these seemingly meaningless anxieties may help others who are doubting themselves, too. I’m sure it’s incredibly common for people to question their abilities and their purpose, but it’s nowhere near as common for people to actually air out this issue and express this anticipatory fear that feels like it’s drowning your brain and putting a gun to the head of your creativity simultaneously. Big sentence, but then again a big old weight off the chest.

So, whenever you find yourself thinking about your looming mid-20s and the impending despair of underachievement, just remember about that smug bastard Bob. Bob has no influence over your life, and even if he is more successful than you, does that mean he’s happy? No. Bob’s life will probably come crashing down around him sooner rather than later, not that we’ve had time to fantasise over that..

ANYWAY, without getting too distracted over Bob (who may well be a very real person), just take your time, keep going and remember if you never questioned anything about your life, you wouldn’t be evolving.

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via popsugar.com

How to not hate HIIT

Well that title was a bit of a mouthful.

As many people increasingly vow to change their lifestyles for the better, the most common denominator of all goals is of course, losing weight. Now I’ve been back and forth with this love/hate relationship with exercise; I’ve spent literally years figuring out how to shed those kilos and the research has somewhat paid off. At the end of the day, there are no shortcuts when it comes to this.

With one of the (albeit most hated) most effective ways to burn fat, HIIT has become rather popular over recent years, and I myself can see why. If you’ve not fallen asleep yet do read on as I’m going to share my tips with how to make a seemingly unbearable form of weight-loss training be actually bearable (and why it’s so bloody effective):

I guess we’ll start with ‘why it’s so bloody effective’

Type in the key words ‘weight loss’ anywhere these days and you’re guaranteed to stumble across the term HIIT, which stands for High Intensity Interval Training. And yep, it’s almost as awful as it sounds. ALMOST. But we’ll get to that later. This form of exercise has been proven to be highly successful as it revs up your fat-burning system to the nines, both during and after your workout. Through having short bursts of high-intensity cardio training (running/cycling/rowing/cross-training etc.), it basically makes your body go ‘whoah’ (or for a more technical term, the constant back-and-forth speeds shakes up your metabolism to burn even more than if you were doing cardio at a regular pace).*

*Disclaimer: I know there are many more fancier technical terms for this actual process but I’m not about to claim I’m a fully-qualified fitness trainer, I’m just spewing out what my tiny brain has managed to actually absorb.

It’s not as hellish as it seems

I’m not really selling this very well, but hold that thought. There are plenty of ways you can fit this into your routine if your goal is to ultimately lose weight. The main focus is that with HIIT, you don’t need to spend nearly as much time as you would normally during cardio. Of course it varies from person to person, but for me 20 minutes and I’m done (and see results if I’m not also eating like a starving pig). So, with that, if you try just a little bit harder for a little less time – you’re actually gaining so much more time, and actually losing weight. Oh the irony.

Don’t be afraid to start out small

That phrase probably made better sense in my head, but the main thing is to not jump in headfirst. When I started, I remember only being able to do 3 interval sprints in 20 minutes. After doing HIIT running for easily over a year now, I can do 5 interval sprints in 10 minutes. That may not be much for some, but it’s progress nonetheless.

Keep it simple

Don’t burn out too quickly. On the non-interval periods, keep the pace steady but don’t push yourself too hard. You’ll need that energy for the 30 second intervals, where you need to push yourself as hard as you can.

A fire playlist is EVERYTHING

Honestly, I swear by this. By updating my ‘Gym Playlist’ every time I go (or at least not playing songs I know inside out), this helps me focus on the harder parts so much more. You can’t sing along and you’re more distracted  and therefore forget you’ve just completed your 4th interval already. Genius. And nothing pumps a mood up better than a banging tune (I literally couldn’t think of a better/worse phrase, sorry).

Mix it up

Although you may get used to HIIT and may actually start liking it, sticking to one exercise on one machine won’t be effective in the long run, cause, Sod’s Law. Your body simply gets lazy and can’t be arsed to work hard cause it’s gotten comfortable. If you use a different machine every time you go to the gym, however, your body won’t be able to keep up and it’ll automatically work harder. And then you’ll be able to say you can boss 3 different types of HIIT training. Goooooooals.

So there you have it. If you stick with it, it can become your best friend. It’s gruelling at first, but you’ll be amazed how your body can adapt and how GOOD it feels to be able to feel your fitness progressing. And unfortunately, I can’t come up with a HIIT-related pun, so I’ll just leave this here:

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via thetylt.com

Girl, give yourself some credit!

It’s 2016, and the pressure for our generation to be the best is at an all time high. Thanks to the various platforms of social media, constant reminders of people’s achievements and goal-busting moments (how authentic they are, we’ll never know..) don’t really make our immediate lives any easier. Though it’s nice to sit back and dream, it also makes it so much harder to actually achieve said dreams, be it washboard abs, a holiday or simply trying out a new recipe.

The main problem here? It’s not social media, it’s the fear instilled by social media. The mountains of pressure we keep relentlessly piling onto our backs and where we direct our focus is one of the main reasons the fear sticks. And fear, well, that’s just not a good enough reason to not be your absolute best.

One of the things we need to start doing is giving ourselves more credit. For anything and everything. As long as you’re not giving yourself credit for eating 3 whole pizzas in a day. Think about it: how easy is it to tell yourself that you’re stupid, incapable and not worth it? It’s extremely easy. But learning to grow and help yourself is never an easy journey, especially if it’s one you’re very unfamiliar with. So take the leap (or baby steps) and do it, watch yourself grow.Whether they’re tiny steps or a massive improvement, arguably, the smaller steps deserve more of your recognition and encouragement.

For example, I had a bad week, or shall I say months, food wise. It’s been peak work time university-wise, and honestly, I’ve neither had the energy nor time to be making decent food regularly. Admittedly, yes, I’ve been diving headfirst into packs of biscuits and eating pizzas almost on the daily, and have been equally as horrified and proud of myself – if that’s at all possible.

But it gets to a point where you are ready for change, you just know. And so, after work is officially all completed, I’ve no excuse. But I’ve given myself the recognition no less for acknowledging that I need to change – and ladies and gents, that’s where it all begins. Baby steps.

In the gym, I managed to complete 6 intervals rather than the standard 3 today. Pat on the back, job done. For breakfast, I managed to turn down a load of biscuits, and there we go, pat on the back once again.

Call that the dullest anecdote you’ve ever heard, but the morals are there. There are significant stages that you simply must push past in order to banish any fear from stopping you getting what you want. And in that process, it’s crucial to keep giving yourself lil pats on the back, because, well, self-improvement must of course be partnered with the recognition that you deserve, even if it’s choosing the ‘skinny’ fries, it’s a step, and that’s all that matters. The speed at which you get where you want to be is nothing you should ever consider as defining.

So, just keep going – you are awesome! 

(don’t ask)