Lent

I’m not religious. But I’m going to use Lent as an excuse to challenge myself.

I considered giving up rubbish (as I’m eating more since I moved in with my sweet-toothed boyfriend). Then, I remembered what I heard in my Non-duality class last night.

Most of us spend our lives trying to increase pleasure and avoid pain. We’re constantly distracting ourselves.

We lie back on the couch and switch on Netflix. Then we get up to make ourselves a cup of tea before pulling open the biscuits. Then we pick up our phone.

This all keeps us from getting to know who we really are.

Yesterday evening, I was feeling anxious. I silenced my phone and sat in stillness for twenty minutes.

As I sat, many things passed through my mind – to do lists, memories, imaginations. My leg became uncomfortable.

Eventually all of that, including the anxiety, softened, melted. I don’t know if it went away or if I just dropped deeper. To a place within where none of it mattered.

So I’ve decided, instead of denying myself lots of things, I’m going to give myself something much greater. The gift of my presence.

If I choose to eat something, I’ll eat it. I won’t stuff it in my gob while numbing out in front of the TV.

I’ll take up the phone when I want to do something with it. Not out of habit. Not just to have something, anything, to do.

In between appointments this morning, I take myself for coffee and a scone. I leave the book I’m reading in my handbag. My phone lies idle on the table.

I notice as I’m eating that I’m lifting more scone to my face before I’ve finished chewing the last mouthful. I think about texting my parents.

I start composing an Instastory in my mind. I have the urge to leave the café and share all of this with my followers.

I am aware of this need to speed up, to get to the next thing and the next and the next. So I remain where I am.

I finish the scone slowly. I look at fellow customers as they pass by. A few of them smile at me.

I decide to write all this down instead of trying to squash my musings into a story. I don’t want to speak rapidly to fit it all in before Instagram cuts me off. Social media forces us to be quick and then wipes it all away.

I realise that if I live this way, one thing at a time, pausing, breathing, aware- that is meditation. It’s a learning of who I am.

Initially, that includes my thoughts and fears, my issues and insecurities. My ego.

And then comes a stillness. Or the I comes to stillness.

Nowhere else to go. Nothing to do.

Nothing I have to fix, change or get. I already am everything.

Image: Etsy

I Am

She kneels then gazes at me. “See through your eyes and feel with your heart,” she instructs.

Nervousness churns in my stomach. I want to do it right.

“You’re in your mind,” she observes. “You don’t have to be perfect.”

“I know I’m trying too hard and I’m feeling anxious,” I admit.

“How long have you felt like this,” she asks.

“All day,” I respond. Then, “All my life.”

She prods me in the chest and says, “Think with the heart.”

I start to cry. It catches my breath.

I snot up and I’ve no tissues. Definitely not perfect now.

We continue gazing into each other’s eyes. It feels like something drops inside of me.

It takes me by surprise. I sit in calm for the rest of the workshop.

On the drive home, I experience chest pains. I know what it must be – a cracking open.

The following morning, I give myself time to feel my feelings. I let it all in and in doing so, I let it all out. I sob.

That evening, I write again for the first time in ten months.

The workshop was called Opening the Flow of Love with healer Elena Lisnic. As soon as I reach my house afterwards, I send Elena a message and book a session with her for a couple of days’ time.

This afternoon, I attend (partly to see how she works as a fellow practitioner and partly for my own healing). We talk.

I fill her on a current dilemma. She gets me to do some visualisation.

Again, she observes how active my mind is. I recognise the ego in this particular situation.

One option I could give my energy to feels exciting. But I’m also anxious, dreaming and lacking presence.

The other option is easy, relaxed and feels like love. Unless I begin thinking again.

Elena tells me to listen to my heart. The heart speaks softly, gently and it speaks the truth.

Any situation that brings anxiety and constriction is not for my highest good. Hard for someone who’s lived with fear for so long to recognise which is an egoic fear keeping me separate and stuck and which is a genuine guidance system illuminating the right path.

I guess practice listening to the heart and distinguishing between the two will build my self-trust.

Elena reminds me that I don’t need to go seeking outside of myself. I have everything within.

It’s so simple. Not enough drama for the ego.

However, when I’m living in the flow of love, everything is awe-inspiringly beautiful. The world and the spaces between are pregnant with energy. And I am full and whole.

Elena asks me who I am then hands me a blank page. I hesitate then put pen to paper:

Sharon, who are you?

I am.

I am brilliance. Shining light.

Love. Connection. Peace. Presence. Infinity.

God is in me.

Flow. Open heart. Abundance. Joy. Laughter.

Hugs. Flowers. The ocean.

Immersion. Space. Expansion. Floating. Flying.

Electricity. Energy.

Nothing as everything.

I am.

Image: lovethispic.com

Anon

I’ve been shaken up. The way I’m relating to the world has shifted. I’m excited and I’m resisting.

I’m almost half-way through a Non-Duality course with Mark Molumby and I’m doing lots of research on the subject as well as exploring the topics of psychology, spirituality and psychedelics.

As we debate in class, a nervousness bubbles. My identity and attachments are challenged. The ego mutters Uh-oh!

During a class meditation, I go from living in a head of rapid-fire thoughts, predictions and analysis to a melting relaxation to energy whooshing up the front and down the back of the body to a vision of a spiral then a single eye.

As is customary for me, I go from experiencing to thinking about the experience, wanting to describe it and squeeze out meaning. But I’m noticing this habit so my direct experiences are becoming more intense.

I’m having terrifying and wonderfully vivid dreams- a terror of falling backwards from an extreme height then deciding to do a skydive to face the fear and be reborn; a river of colours flanked by ancient trees; and communicating with my boyfriend without words.

I’ve lost interest in Netflix and Love Island, novels and too-sweet biscuits. The humdrum of dramas and complaining seems redundant.

I don’t need to switch off anymore. I’m turned on.

I’m hungry for more- more newness in a return home. I crave sitting in stillness.

For too many years, I struggled to cope with the norms of growing up- exams, holding down a job, finding someone to love me, earning enough money, getting a “normal”, pensionable career, and buying a house (I still haven’t done some of the above, probably never will).

Every so often, I believed myself to be such a failure that I thought I’d be better off dead.

So I worked on myself- I went for counselling, inhaled self-help books, and chanted. I sucked on homeopathic remedies, exercised daily, and ate healthily.

I completed several courses, set up a well-being business, and created Mindfulness, meditation and Positive Living classes, which I myself benefit from immensely.

I’m seeing that we all struggle. And in that struggle, we grow, we redirect and we connect.

Over four years ago, I entered into a relationship with a man who, without years of trying and deconditioning, is naturally in the flow of giving and receiving love. I watched and I learned.

In the process of feeling vulnerable, loving him and accepting his adoration, I slowly started to accept myself.

In the early days, I admitted to a Life Coach that losing Luis would be the worst thing that could happen to me. I now trust myself (and life) enough to see that I am enough.

A possible separation is just an experience. An imagination. An illusion. I don’t have to make it who I am.

I’ve also come to realise that, instead of rejecting myself by judging my feelings, I can feel my feelings and be okay. Better than okay.

I can allow my emotions to split me open in a tear-soaked surrender. An abandon. A scream: “Fuck it, I’m ready!” then “Please help me!”

And in the aftermath of the cracking and the softening, everything feels like it’s inside me- the passionate singer, the rain-streaked wind, a mug of tea, a warm embrace, my body moving, embers of laughter.

I’m energised and enthused. The world is throbbing with beauty and adventure.

My mind still questions, wants to understand the meaning of all of this- the universe and why we are here, how it all began.

But I’m willing to let go of the need to know and control everything. I can’t control anything anyway. What a relief and a blessed reclamation of energy.

Maybe there’s nothing to figure out after all. It simply is. I am. So enjoy the ride.

Now I’m detaching from all that I think I know, from my judgments, conditioning and expectations, from my loved ones, and from what I believe myself to be. And in the detaching, I set myself free. I set everyone free.

And that’s a scary place too. I worry about the ripple effects on my relationship.

But that’s me jumping back into the head. So I stay present to the present, to my feelings, to what life is offering me.

I open my heart and come alive.

In my honest reflections, I’ve observed a desire to cling to Mark and all that he can offer. I could do so many things with him, learn so much, become different, feel better, and travel to fascinating places.

But nobody can take me anywhere. It’s all within me. I have the power to take myself there. And there is nowhere to go.

So I unhook an attachment to Mark also. I’m floating solo yet more connected than ever.

Images: Google & Tinybuddha.com

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

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