Tag Archives: truth

Into the Wild

“We’re supposed to be different. Thank goodness.”

I posted these words on my Facebook page yesterday evening along with a quote from Susan Cain’s insightful book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.

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In Quiet, Cain explores the differences between introverts and extroverts. In a society that seems to reward the confidence, charm and exuberant energy of extroversion, introverts often feel the need to step up, speak out and pick up the pace just so they too can succeed at life.

In the questionnaire at the beginning of the book, I scored a whopping 18 out of 20. This signifies that I’m more of an introvert. It means that I enjoy my own company. I need space and time alone. I recharge by spending evenings in with a book or a movie. I get energy from walks in nature and lying in the sun. And I like to sit in stillness and reflect on my feelings and the meaning of life.

I’m a thinker and a writer. And I’m sensitive. Sensitive to beauty, music and wonderfully worded pieces of prose. I’m sensitive to energy, people’s moods and violence on the television.

I feel deeply. I get depressed. An act of kindness can bring me to tears. I marvel at the many miracles of the universe. Spirituality is more important to me than material things. I’m passionate about life. But at times I feel like I’m drowning in it.

When I feel intimidated, I shut up. It can take me a while to feel comfortable around new people. On nights out, I’d rather not compete with the loud music and the din of chatty pub-goers. So I don’t. My voice just doesn’t seem to carry. If someone really wants to hear what I have to say, we have to lean in to one another.

However, when I’ve had a drink, none of that matters. Cain likens an alcoholic beverage to a glass of extroversion.

Most people aren’t exclusively introverts or extroverts. I love being around people and I lead a fairly busy social life. I enjoy meeting friends and trying out new hobbies but I much prefer participating in deep conversations with one or two people rather than chatting in large groups.

I recognise the benefits of team playing and brainstorming but I work best alone in a quiet room where I can retreat, silence my phone, and concentrate.

When something is bothering me, I tend to write, meditate, read and think. Then I discuss my problems, one-to-one, with someone I trust.

I end romantic relationships if they’re not right. I’d rather be alone than with someone who doesn’t help me flourish.

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Last night, I watched Into the Wild for the second time. This true story is based on American adventurer Christopher McCandless. At twenty-four, Chris has fulfilled his parents’ dream of getting good grades and going to college. Then, instead of attending Harvard, he burns the remainder of his college fund, cuts up his social security and credit cards, and disappears, without a word, into the wild.

One of the reasons I love this film is because I feel it’s quite balanced in its storytelling. The different characters have different viewpoints, personalities and lifestyles.

We learn of Chris’ perspective on life. He resents the control and expectations of society and his parents. He wants to roam free. He needs to be independent and true to himself. He’s happiest when he’s diving into lakes, climbing mountains, and living off the land.

When he enters Los Angeles, he regards the skyscrapers and city-dwellers with an expression of disappointment and despair. We can almost see his soul dimming as he trudges through the metropolis. He imagines how his life could have been and he doesn’t regret his decision to break away. He can’t even stay one night there.

We also hear his sister’s version of events. She understands Chris’ reasons for abandoning the family. Her parents desperately desire a particular way of life for their son. Their intentions are good. This is the only way they know how to guide and protect him. But they’ve also caused their children a lot of pain. Ultimately, we watch them suffer too.

This movie really got me thinking. Was Chris acting selfishly? Was he foolish and naive? Or was he right to go on his own journey, to figure out his meaning of life, to really live and experience and come to his own conclusions?

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busaff.com

I’ve often felt different. I’ve struggled to fit in. I’ve felt stifled by society and I’ve agonised over the following:

What is being true to yourself? And what is running away? When do you stop living in the clouds and finally conform? When do you “settle down”?

Then there are the shoulds and norms of society. You should be responsible. That’s what being an adult is all about. You need a good job. You can’t live without money. You need your own home. When are you going to find a husband? Will you have enough time for children? For goodness’ sake, you won’t survive without a pension.

I got 525 points in my Leaving Certificate but secondary school may as well have been a battlefield for all the anxiety I experienced. I did well at swimming and athletics but competition didn’t sit well with me. I dropped out of college twice.

Truthfully, the only reason I went back to college as a mature student was because I felt I had to. How else would I become a functioning member of society?

I obtained a First Class Honours degree and received the Sunday World Cup for Best Student of Journalism with a Language. Though proud of my achievements and happy to gain approval from the people I care about, it added to the pressure I felt to do more with my life, to live up to my potential and to succeed.

And I don’t do well under pressure. So instead of applying for jobs in journalism, I threw myself into an alternative world of acupuncture, homeopathy, personal development and spirituality. And I’ve never been happier.

Of course, I still experience paralysing moments of fear. The voices in my head go something like this: What are you doing with your life? Grow up. Be normal.

So I tentatively move forwards with one eye clamped on everybody else in the world who’s doing things the “right” way. I compare, criticise and compete. I alter my behaviour and try to change who I am in the hope that I will prosper. I worry that I’m not adult enough for this big bad world of business and mortgages.

But what does “adult” mean? How “should” a 34-year-old woman live? Why must we all melt into one right way of doing things? We’re not all the same. That much is very clear.

Yes, there’s a reason why most of us follow the well-trodden path in life. There’s safety and security in the tried and tested route. Most people want to see life’s landmarks so they know where they are and what to expect around the corner.

But some of us thrive on change. The unknown excites us. Newness is revitalising. It’s what keeps that spark inside of us alight.

It’s a relief to realise that we don’t have to be the same as one another. We don’t have to compete because we each have unique gifts to bring to the world.

There’s no point trying to do things his way or attempting to be as good as her because you’re not them. You’re you.

Some of us want to climb the career and property ladders all the way to the top. And some of us are quite happy to keep our feet on the ground.

Whether we’re commuting to our permanent jobs, bringing our children to school or backpacking across the globe, we can be fully alive and true to the essence of who we really are.

Whether we’re writing fantasy novels, saving lives, cleaning the streets or designing websites, we can be the people we’re meant to be.

Whether we’re introverted or extroverted or a dollop of one and two tablespoons of the other, we are unique and perfect just as we are.

We’re different and brilliant in our all of our shade and all of our colour. We blend and we clash and we all come together in this stunning masterpiece of humanity.

We may think we know who we are. We stamp ourselves with neat and convenient labels so we can understand and make sense of the world around us. But life changes. We change. We grow and develop and we dip in and out of lots of different attributes and characteristics. Every colour of the rainbow is available to us to try on and see what suits us best.

And whether we’re paying into our pensions or collecting the dole, none of us can really know what to expect next. Nothing is certain.

The weather is unpredictable. And the terrain is constantly changing. We may want to know the exact directions to a predetermined destination. But we are all, in fact, walking into the unknown. We are all on a journey into the wild.

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favim.com

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…

weheartit.com

weheartit.com

“Depression is a friend, not my enemy” by Conor Cusack

Have a look at this amazing blog on depression, written by Irishman Conor Cusack. Conor bravely, honestly and perfectly describes the pain of depression. The most amazing part of this article is when he calls depression his friend, not his enemy. He admits that:

“Once or twice a year, especially when I fall into old habits, my ‘friend’ pays me a visit. I don’t push him away or ignore him. I sit with him in a chair in a quiet room and allow him to come. I sit with the feeling. Sometimes I cry, other times I smile at how accurate his message is. He might stay for an hour, he might stay for a day. He gives his message and moves on.”

Emotion welled up in me as I read his words. Conor believes that depression is “a message from a part of your being to tell you something in your life isn’t right and you need to look at it.” I agree.

It’s so important to sit with how you’re feeling, to ask yourself what’s needed for you to be able live an authentic life, and to really listen to yourself even when all you want to do is run away.

If you would like an insight into how someone with depression is feeling or if you would like some reassurance that you’re not alone, this article is a must-read.

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crossfit707.com

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

You, Guru

Tonight I watched Kumaréa documentary about a man who impersonates an Indian guru. Having become disillusioned with religion and faith, gurus and masters, Vikram Gandhi decides to fake it. He adopts an Indian accent, grows out his hair and beard, and sports orange robes and a comical staff.

Before long, Sri Kumaré has gathered a loyal following for his self-made teachings, pushing the boundaries as far as he can. It is amazing but not all that surprising to see how readily people believe and how willingly they devote themselves to him.

It is not Vikram’s intention to fool or humiliate these people. He simply wants to demonstrate that there is a guru within each and every one of us. That we already have all the answers. That we don’t need to give our power away by looking outside of ourselves for guidance. That we shouldn’t have to follow anyone else’s orders or advice. Sri Kumaré tells his devotees: “You are all great beings and you must stop pretending that you are not.”

Interestingly, Vikram realises that his new persona is the best version of himself. He is happier and more loving and connected than he ever was as Vikram Gandhi. But he must unveil the illusion in order to teach his lesson. By revealing who he really is, he hopes to reveal the guru inside each of his followers. And speaking of revealing, don’t worry, I’m not about to give away the ending.

In India, the greeting “Namaste” is frequently used. It means “I bow to you” and it is accompanied with a slight bow made with hands pressed together in front of the chest. The gesture represents the belief that there is a divine spark within each of us. I love the idea of saluting the divinity in every person I encounter. But it must start with oneself.

An old Zen koan attributed to Linji Yixuan goes like this: “If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him.” This means that you should not worship any one person or value anyone else’s opinions over your own. Yes, it’s great to meet a wise person who shares their valuable teachings. But the smart thing to do is to take what they say and then allow it to sit with you. Is it right for you? What is your intuition or gut telling you? Give yourself time and space in silence to listen to yourself. As your own best guru, only you can lead your way. Namaste.

The Work

Today, I attended a Byron Katie workshop. Byron Katie’s work involves asking yourself four simple questions whenever you’re feeling bad. They are as follows:

  1. Is it true?
  2. Can you absolutely know that it’s true?
  3. How do you react, what happens, when you believe that thought?
  4. Who would you be without the thought?

You then turn the thought around. I’ll give you the example I used when filling out the “Judge-Your-Neighbor” worksheet. We were instructed to go back to a time when we felt hurt. I remembered being dumped by a boyfriend. Katie asked us to go back to the centre of the most painful moment of that episode. I was lying on my bed, roaring crying. I felt shocked, upset, disappointed and rejected. I was also angry because I felt that he had disrespected me.

Here are a couple of the questions from the worksheet: In this situation, what advice would you offer to that person? You should be honest and true to yourself. What do you think of this person in this situation? I think ______ is asleep, unfair, dishonest, cowardly and immature. 

I asked myself the four questions, which I understood and which rang true for me. But it was the turnaround that really blew me away. Turn the thought around: should be honest and true to myself. Yes, without a doubt. ______ is honest and true to himself. He is awake, fair, honest, brave and mature. Of course he is. He was awake enough to know that he didn’t want to be with me any longer. He was honest with himself and with me. He was brave enough to end it. He was mature enough to do the right thing. was asleep, unfair, dishonest, cowardly and immature. Right again! I was willing to stay in a relationship that wasn’t working. I was being dishonest with myself and with him. I was wailing like an abandoned infant. Wow!

There were a number of other Aha moments as the day progressed. I’ll mention a few of them. One man stated: “_____ should be more open-minded.” Katie asked, “Can someone be more open-minded than they are in that moment?” The answer is no. This really got me thinking. Imagine if we stopped trying to control how others behaved? If we stopped judging them, criticising them, feeling superior to them, feeling hurt by them? The other person is not hurting us. It is our thought, our reaction that hurts us. And we have the power to change that thought. What a liberating realisation!

Byron Katie spoke about relationships. She suggested: “Your partner is your teacher. He / she is working on you as he / she is always showing you what you need to learn. This makes it much easier for you as it cuts your work in half.” I had never thought of it that way before. So, it’d be in my interest to find myself a “teacher”… Must put in a request…

Finally, one woman told us that she hates her belly because it’s too fat. Byron Katie picked up a little flower and said (in the type of voice a flower might have): “I’m so beautiful!” She then pointed the flower in the direction of a vase filled with different flowers. She / the flower said: “There must be something wrong with me… I’m not yellow. I don’t have as many leaves as that flower, I’m not as open as that other one, and I think I’m too short.” We laughed at how ridiculous it sounded. She then turned to the woman and asked, “Your belly is too fat for what?” The woman answered, “To be sexy and attractive.” Katie said: “So, you see your body as collateral. You think – I’m not going to get much with this body.” Again, we laughed. The woman admitted that sometimes her boyfriend tells her that he doesn’t like her belly. Byron Katie said: “You be your boyfriend and tell me that you don’t like my belly. I’ll be somebody who loves my belly. I’ll be you.” When the woman told Katie that she had a problem with her belly, Katie responded: “Oh my God, I hope you get over that! That must be awful for you. Whose problem is that? It’s certainly not mine.” She added: “If your mind cannot compare, is it possible to see yourself as anything other than perfect?” She concluded: “Your ego doesn’t want you to become enlightened. Your attachment to the thought that you are fat is not allowing you to wake up.” Sit with that one for a moment…

Who would you be without the thoughts that are terrorising you? Relaxed? At peace? Happy? Present? Become aware of the thoughts that are making you feel bad. Develop an inquiring mind. Question your beliefs. And turn them around. As Byron Katie says: “Change your thoughts. Change the world.”

Which of these poppies is not perfect?

Image: incrediblesnaps.com/60-beautiful-flower-pictures

The Dark Side of the Moon

Today, I had a very interesting conversation about good and evil. One woman stated: “Of course evil exists if good exists. Everything has its polarity.”

I’ve been told before that I only see the good in people and that I need to live in the “real” world. Despite this, I said: “I realise that without darkness, there can be no light. But ultimately, and beyond all that, I feel that love and light prevail. And everything is part of that Divine Oneness.” Somebody else piped up: “Yes, duality only comes into play when the human mind perceives it.”

Deep, I know! I went home in a bit of a daze. I knew I had to sit with this and feel what was right for me. I went to bed with a copy of the Tao Te Ching and randomly opened a page. I was amazed to read the following words:

“Recognise beauty and ugliness is born. Recognise good and evil is born. Is and isn’t produce each other. Hard depends on easy, Long is tested by short, High is determined by low, Sound is harmonised by voice, After is followed by before.”

It is only in defining something that its opposite arises. I felt very tired. I switched off the light, pulled back the curtains and gazed up at the night. “What is the truth,” I asked the crescent-shaped moon. The clouds moved across the sky, part shadow, part light. Suddenly, a large black cloud completely covered the moon. It was as though the darkness had banished the light.

The truth, according to my human eye, was that the shadow had overridden the light. Yet I knew that the moon had not gone anywhere. It still was. I also knew that, although it only appeared to be a sliver of its full self, the moon never actually diminished in size. It was always there in its entirety. And I knew that it was the brightest object in the sky, after the sun, even though its surface was actually very dark, with a similar reflectance to coal.

The dark cloud moved on and the light shone down. The moon said nothing. It simply was. And I no longer needed to be answered.

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