Just Breathe

I’m woken early by the gentle sounds of a housemate rising. I’m working the late shift today so I don’t have to get up. I decide to seize the day.

I’m the only person on the Curragh plains. The sun blesses me with light. Dew drops glitter in the grass.

Sheep belch and wail. A lamb lies in the crook of its mother’s wool.

Birds whistle. Yellow furze smiles coconut.

The backstory to this early morning rising and exercising is as follows:

I started practicing the Wim Hof breathing technique less than a month ago and I’m already enjoying amazing benefits.

In Charles Duhigg’s fascinating book The Power of Habit, he reports that changing one habit has a positive knock-on effect in other areas of a person’s life.

I’m doing about 10 minutes’ deep breathing per day and I’m experiencing more energy, enthusiasm, creativity and motivation.

A week into the practice, I stopped biting my lips and fingers (a habit I’ve had since I was a very small child).

I’m getting up earlier. I want to move my body more. I’m taking a cold shower a day. And I’ve started writing and running again.

I’d tried running before but it was more about weight control and I kept getting injured. I couldn’t get a handle on my breathing. And I needed music to make it bearable.

This morning, I run to the sounds of nature and my own steady breath. Instead of tensing my body and fearing injury, I do what feels good. I notice where I’m tight and I soften accordingly.

I put myself under no pressure. I alternate between walking and jogging.

When I reach the hills, I’m inspired to run up them. I want to challenge myself.

I feel that comes from the part of the Wim Hof breathing exercise where I hold my breath for longer than I think I can. And the cold showers are making me braver, stronger, more resilient.

I’m proving to myself that I can. And I want to.

I feel happy and proud. My world shimmers with flow and possibility.

Until I’m about to pay for groceries in the supermarket and realise that I’ve lost my bank card and driving license somewhere back there on the plains.

I trip into a few moments’ resistance. And I notice that.

I remember what’s important. I relax into grace.

I retrace my steps. I go to the Garda station and the bank. I cancel the bank card and order a new one. I take out cash and retrieve the shopping.

Then I treat myself to coffee and a scone, which I thoroughly enjoy.

I feel relaxed and accepting whereas before I would have become panicked and irritated.

I just breathe.

Images: Author’s Own

Advertisements

Rising

This morning, I rise at 5am. I do some breathing and get dressed in the half-light.

I shut the front door quietly and slip past blindfolded houses. I feel like I’m playing a trick on society, the only one awake.

Cars are wrapped in ice. The air is cold. I feel strong, resilient.

I walk up an empty street, flanked by glowing green traffic lights. Birdsong surrounds.

Salt and pepper clouds are bunched up in a corner of the sky. This is it, I smile excitedly.

I pass through a shuttered town then turn up a country road. Sheep graze. I wonder how long they’ve been up.

I point my camera at a lamb posing by a gate. It bolts. Good for you, I think.

Hefty cows lie across frosty fields. A blackbird balances on the branch of a tree. My gaze gives it flight.

Half-way through the walk, I realise that I don’t have much time to get ready for work. I run-walk-run-walk the rest of the way. An unintentional High Intensity Interval Training session. My chest sparks.

As I near home, the sun comes up behind me. It’s a beautiful day.

This could be where the story ends. All positivity and motivation.

But what about the other parts the writer or social-media sharer omits?

How deciding to set my alarm so early made me anxious. How I feared that not enough sleep would mess with my mood.

How I worried that I’d be attacked while solo strutting along deserted streets. How I hoped I wouldn’t injure myself when running.

The first part of the story is still true. I did marvel at the mystery of the early morning. And I was present for a lot of it.

The other part of the story can be summed up as follows: I had concerns but I didn’t let them dominate me.

I’ve been cohabiting with a scare-mongering, self-critical voice for as long as I can remember and its lyrics can convince and connive.

But there’s a flame inside me that’s growing too bright to ignore. It wants a better life and it finally believes that it’s possible.

I’ve gone from being paralysed by fear to moving forwards even as my limbs tremble.

So I walk-run-walk-run and my breath deepens. And as I fade in and out of fear and presence, the sun rises and shadows shift.

Images: Author’s own

Excavation

The cavity in my chest fizzes. Jaw is clenched.

I’m bracing against this feeling. Not accepting how I am in this moment.

All I want is to be better. If I allow it, I’ll feel it. And I’ve been telling myself that this is not okay.

With a jolt of insight, I realise that I can be present to this. Witnessing it will enable whatever this is to pass through.

I’ll finally see it, know what it is.

I won’t have to unwittingly hold on to it or store it for a later date like a saved Facebook video. I could free up that space.

Regurgitate. Spit. It. Out.

Tongue out. Shout. Punching. Screaming. Tears.

Let it rise. Mouth widens as cobwebs stretch.

Something is forming. It’s dark. It’s panic. It’s feathers and claws.

I dislike how messy it is. It’s unclear and I don’t understand it.

It sticks to my throat and cuts me as it flaps and it scraws.

I cough and choke and splutter until it emerges.

Its feathers are slick. It’s still, frozen, wide-eyed.

Then it shakes its head, ruffles its feathers, spreads its wings and flies. It soars.

It spikes into the night, claiming its space in the sky.

Now there’s an empty place in the cage of my chest. This is an unfamiliar feeling.

I’m pale and I’m shook and I’m lighter than before. But I know that there are more birds and reptiles lurking.

They’re hidden, afraid to venture forwards. It will have to be me to have the courage to give birth to these twisted, deformed thoughts and beliefs.

Animals of suppression, being held captive by the expectations of others. Ones that I willingly purchased and am now the shamefaced owner.

I’ve paid the highest price- my freedom, my peace, my happiness. My true beaming authentic self.

But if I can release one ebony, hard-beaked entity, I can growl out more.

I breathe. I open. I’m ready.

 

The Demon

Yesterday was World Mental Health Day. I considered posting on social media about my own mental health journey. But I decided against it. What if my housemates/family/extended family read it? 

Revealing my deepest darkest demons could work against me, I feared. So I kept silent, ashamed of what I’ve been through.

But today, a sadness overwhelms me. So many gorgeous, creative, fun people come to the conclusion that the only solution is to die.

I pause in remembrance of these people and all they had to offer the world. And this blog post starts bubbling up inside me. And when that happens, I have to stop everything and write.

I was a sensitive child, one who thought and felt deeply. I still do. I grew up to be extremely insecure- lacking confidence and filled with fear.

I had my good times of course, periods when I felt and looked good. When I excelled at school and college and when I was prolific in my writing. When I enjoyed hanging out and partying with friends, flirting with men, holidaying on Greek islands and adventuring across continents.

But the demon was always lurking, only a scratch beneath the surface. Ready to remind me that I wasn’t good enough, that I’d fail, that there was something wrong with me. That I’d never be fixed.

Brainwashed by this beast, I hated myself and wished I were different. I’d try to be normal but my version of normal was an unattainable, unsustainable perfection. I’d push and compare and question myself so much that I’d eventually be spent, both physically and mentally.

Devoid of energy, I’d withdraw. Afraid to show my face. Feeling as ugly on the outside as the inner voices that belittled me and held me back.

In my teens, I developed an eating disorder and in my late teens, I was put on antidepressants. I stayed on medication for years, hoping to feel better, do better, be better.

But my low self-esteem brought me to people and situations that reinforced my opinion of myself. I gave up hobbies, left jobs, dropped out of college and went on the dole. I didn’t believe myself capable of anything more.

depression

At 22 years of age, I met the man who would become my husband. He begged me to stop smoking and drinking alcohol. He asked me to dress differently and not have male friends. He convinced me to start practising Islam. He wanted me to change my name and wear a headscarf.

I knew I couldn’t succeed at my own life so why not take on a new identity? Losing myself in baggy robes was a relief. Maybe I could be saved.

The relationship was tumultuous. He wanted a completely different wife. Here was yet another example of my inadequacy.

After we got married, I hit a really low point. I was so agitated, I wanted to bounce my head off the walls.

I took a few days off work and when I admitted to my boss that I suffered from depression, she fired me on the spot. I didn’t contest it. I wasn’t able for anything. I wasn’t able for life.

Family and friends marvelled at how I wasn’t fulfilling my potential. I was academically clever and I won awards for my writing. I was attractive, articulate and athletic. Yet I consistently doubted myself and gave in to the negative self-talk.

Time and time again, I’d make a decent stab at living in the real world. But before long, I’d wear myself out, self-sabotage then crawl into a hole for another while. I simply couldn’t handle grappling with the monster in my mind AND being a functioning member of society.

In those moments, I honestly believed that I’d be better off dead. I felt lost, alone and so broken that nobody could get through to me. Nobody could love me out of the chasm.

It’s taken me many years of highs and lows, hard work and self-care to get to where I am now. I’m proud to say that I’m doing well.

I’m living on purpose and helping others to do the same by sharing what I’ve learned. I’m showing people that they’re not alone, that we all go through hard times and that there is a way (there are many ways) out of the demon’s stranglehold.

The monster is still only a scratch beneath the surface. When I don’t practice self-care, when I’m not true to myself or when I have a few too many drinks, I tunnel under to where he’s waiting for me. And then, despite all the personal development I’ve undertaken, I can still be hypnotised.

Thankfully, I always catch a glimmer of light and I pull myself back out again. Then I shine that light on the monster and ask him what he wants. I understand where he’s come from and I listen to what he tells me. He’s not as scary as I once believed.

The purpose of this blog post is to tell you that I know how it feels – I’ve experienced the craziness and the desperation to make it stop.

What I’m trying to say is that you’re not alone. How you’re feeling right now won’t last. Nothing does. You will feel better. You’re worth fighting for. Look for the light because it is there.

hand-reaching-up-to-light

Images: Google

Instamoment

I wake in the early hours of the morning. Unable to fall back to sleep, I creep to the other room to meditate.

The curtains are pulled wide. The sky is decorated with layers of cloud, dusky and white. The wind mewls, causing the ebony trees to arch and bounce.

My first instinct is to capture this experience for an Instastory. But having already committed to a social media-free Sunday, I don’t do this.

I’m forced to be in the moment, to really see and hear and feel what’s right in front of me. I look out and I breathe. My senses are heightened.

Most people are sleeping at this mysterious hour. I’m in the privileged position of being a lone observer, from this vantage point, of nature in all of its mind-blowing glory.

I marvel at the lightness and flexibility of the branches as they sway and back-bend.

The clouds move across the heavens. I make out a seahorse, which transforms into a chimpanzee. I can’t remember when I’ve been quiet and undistracted long enough to look for shapes in the clouds.

Every so often, a single star is revealed. And the pinprick of an aeroplane travels through the night.

If it hadn’t been for social media-free Sunday, I’d have taken a brief impression of this spectacular moment, then immediately pointed my phone at it.

I’d eye it through a screen, then frame or alter it before sharing it online. How it looked onscreen would be more important than the reality, which I’d barely give a second glance.

Nature is bestowing me with miracles. The least I can do is give it all of my attention and appreciation.

And so I sit at that window, a different screen altogether, and connect in a way that only time and pure presence allows.

girl window night sky

I didn’t point my phone at this special moment so this is an image I lifted from Google.

Fulfilled

I’ve made a pleasing decision to treat myself to (at least) one thing per month that will make me feel good. I never question handing over large sums for rent, insurance and petrol, so why not do the same with things that will uplift me?

Investing in myself will increase my value, both to myself and to the world, because it will make me relaxed, energised, creative, motivated and inspired.

Examples of things I’m now unafraid to pay for are:

  • Attending interesting workshops and courses
  • Enjoying delicious yoga classes
  • Receiving massages, facials and manicures
  • Buying tickets for concerts, festivals and trips away.

At first, I considered cutting down on my monthly Life Coaching sessions. I could replace them with some of the other activities I mentioned.

But these sessions are benefiting me hugely. I’m delving deeper and shedding baggage that I no longer need or desire. Ditching them would be done out of a scarcity mentality. If I spend on this, I won’t have enough for that.

So in addition to my regular Life Coaching, I shall courageously shower myself with even more wonderful experiences that will promote learning, spiritual growth, personal development, fun, dancing, travel, stretching and beautifying.

And I’m ready and willing to pay for these pleasures. Why? Because I’m worth it. I deserve it.

AND because I believe that you need to give in order to receive. And that abundance is all around. I just need to trust and it will be revealed to me.

A few days ago, I worried that I hadn’t enough money to get me through the month. I was also doubting my career choices and wondering if I should succumb to a more traditional approach to employment.

JUST for financial reasons. Or more accurately, out of fear and lack of self-belief.

I tested out the scenario by visualising myself in one such job (a technique I learned from Steve Pavlina). I could see myself walking along a corridor in a pencil skirt, tights and low-heeled black shoes.

I felt constricted and had a knowing that if I was an employee in a place like this, I would have to work doubly hard on maintaining a balanced, happy life. I’d survive but I’d be wasting my time because I wouldn’t be living on purpose.

After that experiment, I acknowledged that I am on the right path. I finally agreed to own who I am and what I have to offer. Having come to terms with this, I needed to bargain with the Universe.

Hey Universe, if you want me to live the lifestyle I really wish to live, if you think I should shine my light and empower others to do the same, you’re gonna have to help me out!

I couldn’t imagine how I’d manage to pay the bills but I had a knowing that money would come to me in an unexpected way.

Yesterday, my boss (from a part-time job) contacted me to inform me that I’m due holiday pay. AND I received a belated birthday card (three months late) with money stuffed inside and scratch cards, upon which I won two euro.

This week, I was charged less than I’d anticipated for a bill, gained a few new clients, earned more money than I’d figured I would, and got shouted lunch twice!

I’m seeing (and appreciating) abundance in all its forms – financially, gifts, compliments and encouragement, great conversations, friendships, love, affection and insights.

I’m lapping up an abundance of talent, passion, zest and ideas in other people. And I’m lucky enough to be experiencing an abundance of time so that I can work, meet loved ones, read, write, do yoga, meditate and dance around my bedroom.

I’ve realised that I haven’t been trusting the Universe and that mistrust made me (unconsciously) retreat and shield myself from all the bad things that were likely to happen while I stayed stuck in that mindset.

Now however, my intention is to trust that I’m being looked after and that everything I need is already provided. I believe that everything that’s occurring is for my benefit, for my growth, so that I can be the hero in MY story.

Today, I got my nails done. I rarely allow myself such “unnecessary luxuries”. Yet gazing at my sparkly purple fingernails is filling me up.

This trip to the beautician is sending an important message to me and to the Universe (or is it one and the same?) The message reads as follows:

I am beautiful. I believe in my worthiness. I trust that there’s a well of abundance that I can dip into whenever I choose.

And the more I fill myself with things that light me up, the more I replenish the well of abundance, and the more others benefit too.

I turn on my light and the the rays, they stretch up and beyond…

self-love lamp

Image: https://positivepsychologyprogram.com/self-love-common-mistakes/

Moment’s Passed?

I meet singer-songwriter Dermot Kennedy this morning. Afterwards, I type his name into Spotify and admire his voice, lyrics, and most of all, his passion.

Listening to his music ignites something deep inside of me. I have the urge to dance. To write. To spill technicolour all over a blank canvass.

I need to give birth to this swirling energy inside my chest. To express this sensation that rises and fizzes.

I want to throw my arms wide and look the beast straight in the eye as lightning spikes into puddles and sheets of rain encapsulate me.

I long to roar so fiercely that my throat tears open and nightingales spring skyward.

I want to race across fields where thistles prickle and lash me with their giant purple heads.

I wish to tap-dance along the hide of the earth. My diamond heels working up a fever. Sparks bursting. The planet thrums.

I yearn to drink in the incredible beauty of this whole miraculous universe.

I feel an urgency so strong that normal life moves too slowly for me. My desperation lies shallow in my belly.

But I’m in work. I can’t unleash the dragon right now, despite my impulses.

I remember that I have to breathe.

Inhale. Life. Exhale. Let go.

The fear is that this wild abandon will dissolve like a unicorn’s wing behind the charcoal clouds.

But if I sit still and silent, I can just about hear the sun creaking above the horizon and the applause of wave after wave after wave upon the shore.

I know that if I breathe, I’ll always be present for another song, another flame, another mouthwatering moment of life being really lived.

And if I am, if I really am who I truly am, I’ll shine and I’ll keep on shining. I’ll shoot rainbows from my fingertips.

I’ll fling my heart open. I’ll bellow until the beast lifts his sleepy lids.

And he and I, we’ll jive.

Dermot-Kennedy-770x773.png

Watch Dermot Kennedy’s Moments Passed here