Tag Archives: living

The Dancer

As part of the Life Coaching course I’m doing, I have to attend a professional Life Coach. In my most recent session, I was telling the coach about how I sometimes think unkind thoughts about myself.

He asked me to describe how I feel when I do this. I told him it was overwhelming. I moved my hands frantically in an attempt to explain. It was difficult to put into words.

He asked me where I feel it and if it has a shape. I told him that it’s in my chest, it has sharp edges and it wants to get out. He asked if it has a voice. “Yes,” I replied. “It’s saying, Let me out!”

I realised in that powerful moment that the feeling I believed to be negative is actually a part of me trying to give myself a message. It is an energy, so big and fizzing that just wants to be expressed. For as long as I can remember, I have been trying to suppress it, to abolish it. It feels so constrictive when all I want is to be free.

I sat there, full of excitement. I wanted to scream and roar and rage and beat my fists against something. I had had enough. I was like a child having been admonished by a strict parent. And this child just wanted to say Fuck off and go outside and play and sprint and front crawl through the ocean.

A recent experience came to mind. A few weekends ago, I took part in a dance workshop. As part of the day, we had to form triads. One of us took on the role of the dancer, one was the witness, while the other was the writer.

I was elected to be the dancer. The music began to play as I self-consciously walked into the centre of the room. I stood and faced my group. Then I started to move slowly. When I closed my eyes, I was able to get into the music. I could hear violins and African beats. I twirled and swayed and stamped my feet. Strong emotions moved through me and, for the first time, I understood what it was to express myself through dance.

Every so often, I’d remember that I was being watched but I was determined not to spoil my experience. I took a deep breath and gave myself the space to own this moment. I deserved it. I haven’t enjoyed something so much for a very long time.

camihlira.tumblr.com

camihlira.tumblr.com

As I relayed this story to my coach, I likened it to the times when I’ve had a few drinks. When my inhibitions relax, and I feel that lively, fun-loving spark. And right now, I was feeling a similar urgency to let go, to be free, and to embark on a wonderful new adventure.

This “bad” feeling I’ve been trying to get rid of is actually presenting me with an opportunity to transform into who I really am. It is showing me what I’m no longer willing to put up with. The feeling that once seemed anxious and overwhelming is, in fact, a taste of the magnificent burst of energy that I have been reining in with my self-criticism. This energy is full of creativity and strength and passion. And it’s there for me whenever I choose to access it.

As we finished the session, the coach suggested that the next time I think a mean thought about myself, I should tell it to “fuck off” just like the child in the image I had mentioned. I laughed and thanked him for what he had done. He told me that I had done the work, he had just been the witness. I sang the whole way home.

i-knew-youd-never-fly.tumblr.com

i-knew-youd-never-fly.tumblr.com

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Eat Pray Love?

I am hesitant about spending three days on my own in a mostly closed-down seaside village in March but I know I want to get away and I also know that I have to do it alone.

I have had a bit of a rough time of it in the last while and I need respite from the storm. As I drive from east to west Ireland, I head straight from a metaphorical storm into a real one.

I expect to feel lonely but I am quite content in my own company. Upon my arrival, I go out to the beach. I walk against high winds and watch the crashing waves. In the evening, I take my laptop to a hotel and peek out at the ocean as I sip on a glass of Guinness. That night, I nibble on chocolate as I watch a movie from beneath a mound of blankets. And I have the most wonderful sleep.

On the second day, I complete a college assignment and jog down a quiet country road. I make a “chillax” playlist, light incense and candles, and get drunk in the bath on a glass of red wine as I delightedly tuck into Elizabeth Gilbert’s endearing memoir Eat Pray Love.

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That night, the wind shakes the rafters and the rain pelts down. And it isn’t the kind of rain that appears on many a relaxation CD; it’s the kind that makes you worry for the house (and for yourself).

On the third day, the loneliness descends. I feel too depressed to make food or leave the house so I give myself permission to close the curtains, put on a movie and eat chocolate. The sun shines annoyingly from behind the blinds. I feel guilty.

Earlier in the day, I had finished Eat Pray Love. Elizabeth Gilbert had found pleasure, peace, God and love, and I am happy for her, but now I really am alone. Even the nice, fun self who got drunk with me in the bath has left and been replaced with a demanding, insatiable self who reprimands me with all the fervour and righteousness of a school-teaching nun. I haven’t signed up for this. I’m on holidays. I can do what I want.

Halfway through the movie, I decide that I’d actually quite like to spend some time in the company of the sun and the ocean so I drag myself out of bed and embark upon a cliff walk.

The wind whips me in several directions. The ocean is beautiful but frightening as its waves roar and rise higher and higher, its spray landing on my face. I wonder if it’s safe to walk so high up, to be so close to such fierce unpredictability. There is nobody around. Am I alone in my insanity?

At one point, the wind grows so strong that I have to hold on to a railing. Then, there is no more railing. I could turn back but I’ve come so far. I just have to get to the peak and turn the corner. I’m stubborn in my insanity too.

Suddenly, a stone hits me in the face. I march to the top and turn the corner. Only then do I raise my hand to my cheek. I quite enjoy the sting of it. Tears spring to my eyes. Am I a masochist? Do I think I deserve to be hurt? No. It is simply because I can understand physical pain. Physical pain allows me to lift a gentle hand to my cheek to check if I’m okay.

As I move onto safer terrain, I ask myself why I’d been scared. In case I died? With a jolt, I realise that it isn’t death I’m afraid of; it’s more suffering. If you’re so afraid of suffering, a voice from within asks, why do you keep creating more and more of it? Why not put an end to all the guilt, the shoulds and shouldn’t haves, the only ifs and whens? Why not stop the exhausting drive for perfection?

If I’m serious about ending the needless suffering, I need to peel off the “good” and “bad” labels I put on everything. I have to stop the judgements. I also have to stop being so dependent on outside events, on other people and their opinions, and on my own thoughts and feelings.

I’ve been so dependent on a variety of people, things and invisible forces that I’m like a small child perched on one end of a see-saw, always waiting to see who’ll sit on the other side, before I can know how high or low they’ll take me.

How I long to connect with that inner stillness I’ve been reading so much about. That pure, perfect, beautiful, unconditional love that’s apparently a part of me. If only I could know, really know, that the essence of who I am is like the clear blue sky, then I wouldn’t be so disturbed and even altered by the lightning and the storm clouds.

All I have to do is accept myself exactly as I am. And accept others for who they are. And accept situations and feelings just as they are too. All I have to do is accept graciously and love unconditionally. But how do I get there?

I guess the first step of all this acceptance stuff is to accept that I don’t have all the answers and that I’m just not there yet.

And so I start to run. The wind settles, the sun beams down from a clear blue sky, and, I shit you not, I run right underneath a rainbow.

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favim.com

Love, Love, Love

Lately, I’ve been feeling disappointed and annoyed by certain things people have been doing or not doing. Like when someone doesn’t reply to an email. Or when a person is quite cold in a text message or doesn’t wish you luck for a significant event or never enquires as to how your course/work/love life is going.

There are several things I can tell myself:

  • It’s their stuff so don’t take it personally.
  • There could be many reasons as to why they did or didn’t do these things so don’t assume the worst.
  • Let them know how you’re feeling, express yourself with maturity, and ask the right questions.
  • Forget about it.
  • Don’t have expectations so you won’t be let down.
  • Accept these people as they are and stop wanting things to be different.
  • Find other people who are able to give you what you’re looking for.

All of the above are valid and useful. I know all that. But my innocent inner child wants us all to get along. My soul wants to believe in a better world. I wish people could just be nice. I don’t want to feel this way.

As I get ready for bed tonight, I reflect on the type of interactions I have with people who don’t appear as loving as I would like. I realise that, when I find someone particularly cold, I withdraw. I text back without my usual cheeriness and warmth. Perhaps it’s a protective mechanism.

I think some more about the individuals who don’t tend to give out love. I wonder if these people have ever received much love in the first place. How can you give what you don’t understand? And so, all their lives, it’s possible that they never really experience love.

And if I, a mostly warm and affectionate person, withdraw my warmth and affection in reaction to their lack of love-giving, how many others do the same? Perhaps, these people don’t receive much love at all. And so the cycle continues.

I am reminded of a Swedish proverb now: “Love me when I least deserve it, because that’s when I really need it.” And suddenly I am swept back in a memory to a time many years ago…

I am in serious emotional pain. A loved one moves to embrace me. I wince and withdraw. I do not want her affection. I cannot be touched. She reaches forward anyway and holds me. And I break down.

I realise that this was exactly what I needed. I wasn’t loving myself so I believed that I wasn’t worthy of loving. This woman loved me regardless. And so began my journey of self-love.

Tonight, I am deciding not to alter the potency of my love depending on who’s the recipient. The dosage of my love shouldn’t change in correlation with the percentage of the other person’s love. Love is not a currency or a punishment or a condition. Love is free and pure and unconditional.

Dear readers, I am sending you my love tonight. My undiluted, unconditional, brimming, beaming love. I hope you know how loved you are. And I wish you a life full of the joy, comfort and belonging of love.

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This is Your Song

Last night, I went to see The National in the O2. They were amazing. Matt Berninger’s voice sounded just like it does on their albums. And he really got into the performance.

The person with me commented: “They don’t write songs for the public, they write songs for themselves.” This really rang true. The lead singer appeared to let go when he was on stage. It was like he was losing himself in his passion, exposing his darkest thoughts and deepest emotions, sharing his heart with all of us. It felt raw and honest.

We could only get seated tickets, which was fine as The National’s music is quite relaxing. But there was no dancing or jumping in our section of the arena. However, after a while, the energy of the musicians rippled into the crowd. The woman in front of us started raising her hand and standing after each song. The man beside me played air guitar. And I swayed and roared in appreciation.

I gazed at a beautiful visual behind the band of the ocean and a sun-streaked sky. I was brought back to times when I swam in the sea or bobbed on a boat. I had felt free and alive.

I thought: How often do we experience these things in our everyday lives? When do we allow ourselves to let go and become one with that joy, that aliveness?

Perhaps when we drink alcohol, take drugs, have sex or go on holidays. Or when we attend gigs like this one. We connect with that passion when we witness someone living their dream, when another human being lets us in to the honesty and depth of their authentic selves.

We become truly present. We enjoy all of our senses. And we give ourselves permission to be free, even if just for one day, one night, one moment…

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No Regrets

Shannon Kaiser asks: “If you were to die tonight, what regrets would you have?” Tonight, as part of a Positive Living class, we answered this question. I wrote:

“I would regret all the times I put myself through unnecessary suffering, when I could have been present instead, when I could have enjoyed the moment.

“I would regret playing it small, not going for the great stuff in life, not believing I deserved it all.”

My words surprised me. A smile stretched my lips as my pen scratched across the page. I found this exercise extremely insightful and motivating. Now, it’s your turn…

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Blossoming

It occurred to me this morning that so much of what we do is done out of fear rather than joy. We spend a lot of our time protecting, defending, hiding, banishing and preventing.

This is evident in so many of our actions. We try to prevent illness, protect our energy, delay ageing, cover up blemishes, shy away from challenges, defend our egos, and bolt from pain (both physical and emotional).

We stock up on multivitamins, sip on Echinacea, and get jabbed with flu vaccines. We visualise ourselves in protective bubbles, confess our sins, and make appointments with Shamanic healers. We join the gym, dye our hair, pay for our faces to be chemically peeled, and inject ourselves with Botox. We cover ourselves with makeup and fake tan, whiten our teeth, and shimmy into girdles.

We judge and criticise others so we don’t have to look at ourselves. We work longer and harder so we can be defined by our job titles. We yearn for prestige and approval so we can love and accept ourselves. And we’re terrified to slow down, to stop, in case someone takes it all away while we’re sleeping.

Fear prevents us from going on that flight or that date or initiating that career move. We don’t put ourselves out there so we can’t get hurt. We close our hearts because we think we’ll save them from breaking.

But how often do we do things for more positive reasons? For the sheer fun and enjoyment? We’ve forgotten how to live, really live, and experience all the world has to offer, which is a lot!

We could be singing in the rain, zip lining through a cloud forest, or swaying in a hammock on a Caribbean island. We could be melting into a full body massage, swimming with dolphins, or scuba diving with exotic coloured fish. We could be playing with our children, embracing our older and bolder selves, or writing our first fantasy novel.

And above all else, we could be opening our hearts to love, to possibility, to life. Because the heart can never really break, it just opens that bit wider to allow the light shine through.

poster-anais-nin

Gone fishin’

Online dating is becoming more widespread and accepted. If you’re single, you will no doubt be advised to set up an online profile. I’ve heard (and experienced) many heartwarming, hilarious and outrageous stories about the wild, weird and wonderful world of the online dater.

Online dating can be fun and exciting. But it can also be fickle and disappointing. The thing about popular dating website Plenty of Fish is that there are, quite literally, plenty of fish floating around cyberspace. And all these little fishies are hoping to fall hook, line and sinker (sorry, I couldn’t resist) in love or, for many, in lust.

The frustrating and often confusing aspect to online dating is that you could be exchanging flirty emails with a potential partner when he/she suddenly stops replying. You may have even arranged a date only to receive a last-minute cancellation text.

On the upside, there’s so much choice. The flip side is that you have no idea how many other fishies your charmer is chatting up and even simultaneously dating.

If you’re dabbling in online dating and are feeling fed up and let down, why not change tactics? Take all the good stuff on offer and use it to your advantage. Follow these seven tips to make the most of your online experience:

1. Be grateful that there are many interesting, attractive people out there who are single and oh-so-ready to mingle.

Also, give gratitude for t’internet. What a quick, easy way to meet new people. You’ll save yourself time, money and manys the hangover using this method of finding someone.

2. Have fun on your trawling expeditions. Think of your browsing sessions as shopping sprees. And if you happen to make a special connection with somebody, then happy days!

3. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. It’s not just men who feel the pressure to follow up and settle down. First dates with a stranger can be nerve-racking. Will you fancy them? If not, should you give them a chance anyway? Will they want to meet you again? What if they try to kiss you or attempt to get you into bed? How will your in-laws get on? [Yes. Your mind manages to reach crazy levels of hypothesising if left unchecked.]

Take the pressure and expectation down a notch by mailing lots of different users and going on dozens of dates. It does get easier. And, even if you do like your date, it doesn’t mean you have to marry them. Now’s the time to enjoy and get to know one another. There’ll be plenty of time to get serious.

4. Enjoy meeting new and interesting people. If you stay present on your dates, you’ll see (and enjoy) how magnificent the situation is. Regale your friends and family with hilarious stories. Heck, write a book about it and make some moolah!

5. Give yourself a good pep talk. Eleanor Roosevelt said: “What other people think of me is none of my business.” It really isn’t you, it’s all about them. It only becomes about you when you react a certain way. They don’t know you so they can’t reject you. They may have met someone else more suitable to their current taste. Or you may just not be their type. We all have different preferences, thankfully. It doesn’t mean that you’re not gorgeous, loveable or perfect for your perfect partner. Also, if you think about the big picture, this perceived rejection could have spared you a terrible date or left you open for something better to come your way.

The other day, I had to stand in a long queue. Two toddlers met for the first time. Loudly and excitedly, they shared scooters and hugs and told one another that they were best friends. When one had to part, they cried and wailed. One minute later, a new toddler joined the line. The other child stopped crying, walked right up to the new kid and asked: “Will you be my best fwend?” Moments later, they were playing and laughing enthusiastically. We could learn a lot from kids, eh?

6. And finally, keep living and looking offline too. You could still meet the love of your life in a sweaty nightclub or in the café you’d always daydreamed about. Just because he/she isn’t carrying a banner including their stats and an ‘About Me’ section doesn’t mean they’re not available. Be sociable, live life and have fun. You’re most attractive when you’re happy with your life and who you are. So keep smiling.

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Activating the Activist

The last few courses I’ve done have included the four different styles of learners. While reading through the descriptions, I learned that I am an Activist. I don’t think any of us fits perfectly into just one type of learning style. I am also a bit of a Reflector, even a Pragmatist, and less so of a Theorist. But I am mostly an Activist. 

Activists are all about experiencing life and immersing themselves fully in activities. They enjoy trying new things and they move enthusiastically from one project to the next. I embrace this aspect of my personality. And I regularly encourage the students of my Positive Living classes to really live and enjoy life too.

So this morning, as I drive home to do some class preparation, I spot a sign for Donadea Forest and decide, on a whim, to go there. It is a clear, crisp October day and I, as the Activist, seize this opportunity.

However, there is a traffic diversion along the way and I become quite lost. Suddenly, I see a sign for Ballinafagh Lake. I’ve never been there before. The adventurer inside me whoops with excitement.

I pull into a small car park in the middle of nowhere. I get out of the car and start walking through the dew-drenched grass. My feet get wet but this doesn’t stop me from exploring this new landscape.

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It looks like Hallowe’en, smells like Christmas, and reminds me of primary school nature tables. The lake is still and oh so tranquil. I place my ear against the bark of a tree and am amazed at the sounds of its inner stirrings.

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The sight of red berries delights me. I tread upon a boggy carpet of autumn leaves. Deceased but still so beautiful. The constant cycle of nature is both thought-provoking and comforting.

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This walk has nourished the Activist within me. I return to the car feeling energised and inspired.

What type of learner are you? (Click here to find out.) And what can you do today to honour that part of you?

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Images: Author’s Own

You’re Alive: So Feel It!

Have you ever read something that’s changed your life? I have. After bawling my eyes out at Tuesdays With Morrie, a moving memoir about a dying professor and the important life lessons he shares with author Mitch Albom, I vowed to do one thing each day that makes me feel alive. I even purchased a colourful journal that I have dedicated to writing about all the wonderful things that fill me with energy and enthusiasm.

This doesn’t mean that I complete daily bungee jumps or declare my lust for every passing handsome stranger. But what it has done is push me to seize new opportunities, try different and exciting things, and appreciate the present moment. It has also made me more aware of the things, places and people that spark something electric inside of me as I go about my day-to-day activities.

Today, I flick through my handwritten recordings. Here is a sample of the delights that have jazzed up my days so far:

  • The sounds and smells of the countryside as I freewheel past giant trees.
  • How my entire body tingles as I speak to my Positive Living group about something particularly inspiring.
  • That pleasant surprise when a random man tells me how gorgeous I am.
  • Driving in the sunshine, windows down, stereo turned up loud.
  • A sudden, heavy downpour as I race home, feeling fit and strong (and completely drenched!)
  • Roaring laughing when a friend or family member says something that really tickles me.
  • Ducking head first into a crashing wave.
  • A procession of ants. Butterflies. Grazing sheep. Gangly calves. And how my heart melts when a dog looks up at me with his hopeful, brown eyes.
  • Twin babies chuckling and gurgling in a language only they understand.

Reading back on these entries, I realise that nature features strongly. There is just something about the miracle of nature that stirs the life force that inhabits my body. Physical activity also plays a huge part in what makes me feel alive. And connecting with animals and other human beings reminds me that I am alive and part of something bigger. Something incredible.

Another thing I observe is that I struggle to come up with reasons to feel super charged on the days when I’m tired. This has shown me the importance of rest so that I can enjoy life to the fullest.

I set down the journal. The sun is shining so I lie on the grass, amongst daisies and buttercups, and gaze up at the sky. The clouds sail swiftly towards one another, joining to blot out the sun. Instead of cursing them, I am amazed at this spectacle that I am privileged to witness.

Recently, I came across the Rocking Chair Test. I remember it now as I stretch beneath the clouds… Imagine that you’re old and frail. You’re sitting on your well-worn rocking chair, pondering the span of your long life. Are you happy with all that you’ve experienced? Or are there still things you wish you had done? The beauty of this exercise is that you still have time. Time to really live. Time to fulfil your potential and follow your dreams. Time to live each moment in gratitude and aliveness.

What makes you feel alive? Could you commit to doing one thing each day that gives you that feeling? Try it for a week. I’d be delighted to hear how you get on.

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Tuesdays with Morrie

I pick up a little book called Tuesdays with Morrie while on holidays in Spain. I saw it years ago but avoided it because the blurb on the back made me worry that it’d be a depressing read. It is about a dying professor (Morrie Schwartz) and his younger student (Mitch Albom). This time, I am ready. I devour it in two sittings. And I cry and cry and cry.

It isn’t that it’s unbearably sad. It’s just so touching, it moves me like nothing else has for a long time. I can feel Morrie’s energy with me as I finish the memoir. I love him. I can honestly say that he (and the endearingly honest Mitch) has changed my life. The gradual shift in Mitch’s attitude inspires me almost as much as Morrie’s wisdom.

Morrie allowed himself to let go, to be vulnerable, and to ask for help. He observed that, when you’re an infant, you need help from others and, when you grow old, you require their assistance also. However, what we fail to acknowledge is that we need other people in between times too.

Morrie told the tale of the little wave that witnessed other waves crashing against the shore. The wave wailed, fearfully: “Oh no, look! This is the fate that awaits us. How horrible!” Another wave reassured him: “Don’t fret, little one, for you are not a wave, you are part of the ocean.” As Rumi wrote: “You are not a drop in the ocean. You are the entire ocean, in a drop.”

Morrie’s message has made me realise how closed off I’d become. I’d tell myself that “I like my own space”. I’d go home while co-workers would sit and have tea, a chat and a laugh. I’d stay alone in the flat watching episode after episode of The Good Wife. I’d spend weekends preparing classes instead of exploring the countryside with loved ones. I’d retire early rather than spend time with friends.

I still believe that there should be a balance between rest, work and play and between stillness, silence and moments of noise and interaction. But Morrie’s story has shown me that the most important thing in life is to love. To share what you have with others. To give another human being the gift of your time. Morrie said that he was always 100 per cent present with whomever he was speaking. When he was talking with Mitch, he thought only of Mitch. This resonates with me as I am often in the company of others when I’m not really there. I’m thinking of what needs to be done, or how I shouldn’t have eaten that or I might even be putting a photo through Instagram while somebody attempts to converse with me.

Morrie’s big, brave, generous heart has made me resolve to really live life, to connect with people, to appreciate nature, to question the values we’ve been brainwashed into adopting, to understand that love and peace are what’s true and priceless compared with ever-changing, unreliable material and physical possessions. One of my new goals is to do something that makes me feel alive every single day. I also promise to be present with people, as if each encounter were our last, and to ask, in the words of Robert Holden in his book Loveability: “How can I love you more?”

I have a couple of hours before I have to head for the airport. I could go for a last swim at what the locals call the “healing beach”. But it’s a bit of a walk, I mentally argue. And it’d mean packing a wet bikini. Then, I remember that I’m living life. So I set off in my flip-flops, carrying a pink towel. A line of ants and a yellow butterfly cross my path. A lone purple wildflower on this dry dirt track reduces me to tears. I offer an Hola and a smile to an old man sitting alone. He returns my smile, its corners clipped with surprise. An elderly couple stroll ahead, hand-in-hand. Yet again, my eyes mist. I beam as I spot a set of keys a stranger has carefully balanced atop a bollard.

My breasts bob and sway as my feet flap upon the sand. I feel like an ancient elephant striding across the desert. I inhale the scent of my sweat that has collected in cracks and creases. A homeless man sits on a wall behind the beach. I abandon my beach bag and strip. I don’t suck in my stomach. Not today. I duck my head into the ocean even though my hair was freshly washed this morning. I am alive.

Mitch and Morrie used to say, “We’re Tuesday people” because they usually met on Tuesdays. And I am writing this piece on a Tuesday, watching the waves surge and retreat, with tears in my eyes and a heart that’s breaking… wide open.

Image: Author's own

Image: Author’s own