“Blessed is the season which engages the whole world in a conspiracy of love.”
When I read this quote by Hamilton Wright Mabie, it made me realise that Christmas is a wonderful occasion. Without it, the winter would be long and dark and joyless. Because of it, we decorate our homes and celebrate with loved ones. We prepare delicious meals and spend time with friends and family. We organise parties and string coloured lights across our streets. We give each other gifts and take time to rest and have fun. We sing along to much-loved tunes and give more generously to those in need. And we allow ourselves a sprinkle of hope and magic as we acknowledge the birth of baby Jesus and anticipate the sound of sleigh bells for Santa’s annual visit.
Unfortunately, some people dread this time of year. The pressure of spending money on presents and getting the house ready for visitors, the long dark cold evenings and, for those who have lost a loved one, the memories of happier Christmases past, are difficult to handle. However, there are many reasons to be thankful for this beautiful season. Here are some of mine…
Nature is stunning when it dresses for winter…
Fairy lights, candles and the scent of Christmas trees…
This year, I am choosing to focus on the best qualities of Christmas – generosity, love, laughter and fun, holidays and rest, good food and movies, parties, games and warm fires, loved ones who travel home from far off lands, and Christmas songs…
So, how about connecting with the true spirit of Christmas this year? The authentic sentiments of love, hope and blessings. Give your loved ones the best present of all – the gift of your presence. Your happiness. Your joy. And spread the goodwill all around. Ho ho ho!
It’s almost the end of another year. Twelve months ago, I was upset over (you guessed it) a man, so I started this blog to make myself feel better. That man no longer has an effect on me but I’m blessed to still be able to share my passion for writing with the world.
A lot has happened in my life since then. I’ve made great new friends and discovered interesting new hobbies. During the summer, I meditated in the Scottish Highlands and hill walked in the Donegal Gaeltacht.
I spent a wonderful few months with a new guy. We camped by the shore in Kerry, chanted as we traipsed across the fields in Meath, picnicked on living room floors, and practised yoga in front of an alarmingly curious herd of cows. I learned a lot about myself and about relationships. Then, we broke up, and I learned even more.
Come to think of it, I’ve learned a lot of things these past 12 months. Here are 12 of them…
1. You don’t have to be qualified to help another human being. Don’t worry about not knowing the “right” thing to do or say. A hug, a touch, or simply sitting with someone while they talk or cry is more than enough.
2. Let your guard down. I was feeling incredibly depressed one day and instead of staying in (as I usually would) and waiting to face the world until I felt and looked good, I asked for help. As I sobbed in front of a friend, my hair unwashed and my face naked, he held my hand and told me: “It takes incredible courage to allow yourself be vulnerable.”
3. Life is all about sharing. Be open and you’ll never be alone.
4. You know you’re only human. Admit it to others. They will love you for it.
5. Allowing yourself to grieve is enabling yourself to heal.
6. The worst thing you can do is take yourself too seriously. A sense of humour is a magnificent tool. Use it as often as you can.
7. Breathe. Deep breathing creates a sense of calm and gives you energy.
8. Love. Freely and openly. Don’t hold back.
9. Alcohol is not your friend. No matter how many chances you give it, it will always let you down.
10. Don’t be afraid to give. Give love, presents, compliments… The more you give, the more you will receive. Abundance is all around us.
11. Be present in everything you do. Taste. Experience. Feel. Observe. Enjoy.
12. Honesty will set you free. Be honest with yourself and with others. You’ll be surprised at how easy life becomes.
Here’s a bonus one… It is Christmas after all…
You will never find true happiness if you seek it outside of yourself. Save yourself heartache and frustration and just stop looking.
Writing this blog has taught me a lot too. I love it and I find it therapeutic. I’ve also learned that it helps others, which makes it all the more worthwhile.
I’d like to take this opportunity to thank you for following my blog. Your comments, encouragement and support mean so much to me. A very merry Christmas to you all.
Today, I decided to have a Me-Day. This meant doing exactly as I wished for an entire day. I started with some yoga and meditation. Then, a leisurely breakfast. I chuckled as I gave myself some YouTube flute lessons and delighted in the sound of the instrument.
I browsed the internet while sipping freshly brewed coffee. I jogged in the sunshine to the beats of Robynand Yeah Yeah Yeahs, then sauntered around a vegetable shop. I was in no rush. I had nothing to do and no-one to see. Later, I did a bit of reading. I cooked a sweet potato curry for the first time and thoroughly enjoyed it. I ran a bath, lit candles and played relaxing music. I sighed with pleasure as I lowered myself into the hot water. The bubbles came up around my neck like a high-collared cloak of sparkling cloud.
Pressure, shoulds and musts do not exist on Me-Days. I simply did as I pleased. I had dinner at lunch time and a bath before dark. Ideally, we would all have at least one day like this each week. However, even when we do have a day off, we treat it as a to-do challenge and fill it with chores and appointments.
Here’s the good news: you don’t have to hold out until Mother’s Day or your anniversary or birthday to treat yourself and listen to your needs. Why don’t you rename one day this week Me-Day and do it your way?
Valentine’s Day is like an extreme form of Marmite. Either you can’t get enough of it or you would rather slit your throat with a rusty nail and fling yourself into shark-infested waters than deal with this sickly sweet 24 hours. Some of us can pretend the day doesn’t exist, and ignore the large red love hearts blazing out of every shop window. Others cannot banish the day from their thoughts, because their enthusiastic other half would not let them away with it, or because they feel devastated about being alone on this loved-up day.
Recently or pathologically single folk presume that everyone else is gushing with love and romance on this spring day. They imagine couples walking hand-in-hand by the water’s edge, gazing into each others’ eyes, whispering sweet nothings, sharing plates of spaghetti, and surprising their partners with enormous crimson cards, sparkling jewels, holiday plans, and maybe even a diamond ring.
The unwilling half of a couple experiences equal amounts of dread and disdain in the run-up to this marathon of mush. They know that if they don’t have something wonderful planned for their partner they are liable to lose a limb (or another highly prized body part). For the sake of their own sanity (and physical well-being), they trudge to the gift shop, buy the first card that grabs their attention, and grudgingly “surprise” their loved one with a bunch of flowers and the piece of jewellery that they were ordered to purchase.
A number of years ago, a friend and I held a quiet protest on Valentine’s Day. Instead of sobbing at Love Actually on the box and checking the post every five minutes, we decided to replace the celebration with one of our favourites- Hallowe’en. We rented horrors, munched on treats, and sipped red wine. We were screaming so much that we didn’t have time to dwell on being single. And after watching The Ring, we were just glad to be alive.
For whatever reason, I’ve been single more often than not on Valentine’s Day. And it doesn’t bother me. It’s just another day (apart from the fact that card companies, florists, restaurants and the like are a lot richer afterwards). I don’t have to think about buying presents, writing cards, or making dinner reservations. And I have more money to spend on myself.
“To love oneself is the beginning of a life-long romance.” Oscar Wilde
This year, instead of moaning about my single status, bitching about the shortage of romantic Irish men, or dissing the festival for being a “money-making racket” and an “exercise in soulless commercialism”, I am learning more about love. Recently, I have come to the delightful conclusion that I am loveable. I am getting to know myself more. I am discovering what I like in life. I have started doing the things I want to do. And I am thoroughly enjoying the process.
If you don’t know or love yourself, how can you love another, let alone believe that anyone would love you? There was a time when I looked at love dubiously. But I was confusing real love with romantic love.
"In real love, you want the other person's good. In romantic love, you want the other person." Margaret Anderson
Romantic love is often based on neediness and selfishness. You desire the person as a possession, as a tool to make you feel better about yourself. However, I’m beginning to see that there is another kind of love that speaks of balance and respect and sharing.
Once you know who you are and what you want from life, if you are fulfilled in what you are doing and treat yourself with love and respect, you are ready to move onto the next phase. And this is where love for another human being becomes possible. When you enter into a healthy relationship, you bask in the best parts of yourselves, and you accept and love the other bits too.
Relationships can be challenging. As Thomas Moore writes in his book Soul Mates, a struggle occurs between the soul’s need for attachment and the spirit’s need for freedom. When our partner seems distant, the soul becomes insecure and wants to hold on. When our partner clings, the spirit feels trapped and restless.
"A healthy relationship needs to create a balance between spirit and soul, expansion and constriction, freedom and commitment." Anodea Judith
So, this Valentine’s Day, if you’re part of a happy couple, do something nice together. Laugh and embrace. Remember the excitement of the first sparks of your romance. And celebrate the growth and intimacy that has developed since then.
And if, like me, you’re single, be thankful that you have this time and space to work on your self and your individuality. Love and accept each and every aspect of your being. Learn what makes you smile. Observe what fills you with passion. Witness the many ways in which you shine.
I’m sneaking in the back door of my thirties, single with no kids, without mortgage or pension plan. The only thing I nurse is a weekly hang over. I have more in common with my 19-year-old sister and her friends than with some of the people my own age, who have settled down with houses and children and professional careers. I, on the other hand, spend most of my free time mooching on Facebook (how else do you think I know about my married and high-powered peers?), cracking up at FAILBlog videos, browsing Penneys and River Island for this weekend’s outfit, and watching episodes of True Blood and Glee.
I know I haven’t grown up in the conventional sense but tell that to my body. Yes, I can still climb a flight of stairs but two consecutive nights on the tiles now takes me up to four days to get over. And yesterday, I spotted an unwelcome patch of grey hair. I had prepared myself for this moment for a long time. I’d had visions of myself wailing as I yanked the wiry feckers out with break-neck speed. But I was surprisingly calm. It was an observation rather than a critical self-assessment. And there is such a thing as hair dye. This is a normal part of growing older, I thought maturely. I’ve had so many life experiences. I’ve lived, suffered, enjoyed and explored. And I’ve gathered awareness and wisdom along the way.
We can accept (or ignore) the approach of old age but, as women, it’s pretty difficult to mute the deafening ticking of that infamous biological clock. In a loud night club, an old friend informed me of her plan to bear a child when she was no older than 35 years of age. “But I want to be married when it happens. For at least a year. And I’d like to be engaged for a year before that, and with the guy for at least two years before he proposes. Which means,” she realised in panic, “I need to find my husband NOW!” Talk about taking the fun out of Copper Face Jacks!
I prefer to avoid thinking about growing older by joining randomly amusing Facebook groups like: “All my friends are getting married and having kids. I’m just getting drunk!” Hilarious, right? Until you’re the last one standing. On a lonely, dusty shelf. A single girl I know is part of a close-knit group of college friends. Everyone else in the bunch is now enjoying marital bliss. At the wedding of the last of her friends to tie the knot, an old woman asked her, “Are you married, missy?” “No,” she retorted crossly. The lady looked confused, “But you’re engaged, right?” She turned to the woman and answered sweetly: “I’m going to get married later in life. Then, at least it’ll have a chance at lasting!” Good point.
What is it with society and the pressure enforced upon us to follow a set schedule as to when we should settle down? Shouldn’t we enjoy our freedom for as long as it lasts? I’m delighted that I’m single and childless at the moment. How else could I enjoy the luxury of writing this blog every day, of heading off on a weekend away at a moment’s notice, of going back to college as a mature student, of worrying about fake eye lashes and yoga classes instead of nappies and jaundice and mortgage repayments? Opportunity and possibility presents itself at every street corner. I could backpack in Peru, spend a year in Oz, teach for a semester in Vietnam, party a long weekend away in Berlin. I can have a summer fling with a younger man, and spend an entire Sunday in bed chuckling at laughing babies on YouTube rather than crying at screaming babies in real life. I don’t doubt that the life of the settled person is extremely rewarding but I don’t have that yet so why not enjoy the liberties I do have?
Our grandparents’ and parents’ generations had to wait for all their children to grow up before they could go off and enjoy themselves. For us thirty-something single folk, why wait for retirement to live it up? Why not go travelling or take up salsa lessons now, when we’re still young, and mobile, and are the proud owners of healthy and functioning sex drives?
Getting hit by your thirties doesn’t have to hurt. Here’s how to soften the blow:
Rather than turn it into an embarrassing and clandestine affair, have a party! Rejoice in the fact that you’ve left your twenties and entered your thirties as a wise, mature, confident (wo)man. It’s not something to be ashamed of. It’s something to be embraced.
2) Look after yourself
The less pressure and stress you put yourself under, the better your body, mind and appearances will keep. Take time out of your busy schedule to relax, exercise, and have fun. Try to eat natural foods, get out in the fresh air as much as possible, take up a hobby you enjoy, and laugh long and hard and often.
3) Be childlike
Spending time with children will help you reconnect with that child inside. Even alone, you could make a jigsaw, paint a picture, take out the skipping rope, or blow bubbles. Root out your favourite childhood movie. It’s guaranteed to take you back in time.
4) Don’t worry, be happy
The less you worry about growing older, paying bills, finding “the one”, and moving up the career or property ladder, the better. Yes, you have to be responsible at times but not all the time. Let your hair down every once in a while. Go dancing. Drink cocktails with your friends. Try paint-balling. Play charades. Forget about deadlines and putting the bins out and just have fun!
5) Accept that you are exactly where you’re supposed to be
You may think that, at this age, you should be five years married with three kids and a beautiful home but that’s not the case. Life has other plans for you right now. That’s not to say you’ll never have a family but there’s a reason you’re unattached at the moment. Accept it and recognise that everything is in perfect order. Sit back and enjoy how it all unfolds.
6) Be a trailblazer
Why listen to society, follow tradition, and listen to “shoulds” and “musts”? Be the renegade who does things different. Do exactly what you want when you want. Leave your job as an accountant and set up your own business. Take a class in cocktail making. Give stand-up comedy a shot. Date somebody totally unsuitable. Move to Buenos Aires. Others will be relieved that someone else isn’t conforming and will be dying to follow in your adventurous footsteps.
7) Update your CV
I’m not talking about the CV you type up for a potential employer, I’m talking about the CV of your life. Curriculum vitae is a Latin expression meaning “course of life”. You have over 30 years experience in dealing with this life. Use it to your advantage. You now know a lot more about what you want and don’t want, what works for you and what doesn’t. Use this know-how to make your life more positive and manageable. Your age is a sign that you’ve lived and learned. So, don’t look on it as a bad thing. Once, I overheard a man in his sixties being asked his age. He replied proudly: “I’m 21. With 45 years experience.”
8. Do it all!
Now is the time to grab on to life and do all the things you’ve ever wanted. Turning 30 is an inevitable milestone and it makes you think about your life, what you’ve done with it, and what you’d still like to do. You’ve probably come to a lot of realisations and are living in a place of more awareness. Wonderful! When better to appreciate experiencing all life has to offer than right now? However small or monumental the step, just do it. So, take a year out and experience a new culture. Write a novel. Audition for a musical. Learn how to play the guitar. Write a song. Study Italian. Go skiing for the first time. Tell your crush how you feel. Have a dinner party. Take up belly dancing. Go scuba diving. You owe it yourself to live life. Really live it. Because that’s what it’s there for.
Living life: Backpacking in South America. Ipanema Beach, Rio de Janeiro.
New Year’s is supposed to be a time of celebration, new beginnings, and good intentions. It’s when we all sit down and ponder the past 365 days; the highs, the lows, and what we’ve achieved (or not). Many of us write a list of new year’s resolutions, certain that this year will be our year. We will do that triathlon, lose two and a half stone, learn Chinese, persevere with those didgeridoo lessons, cook more, eat healthily, start belly dancing classes, study more, stop skipping classes, yadda yadda yadda.
If, however, you don’t have that special someone to smooch when the clock strikes midnight, you know in your heart and soul that you’ll never stop visiting Abrakebabra once you’ve had more than five pints, you’ve spent the last couple of weeks indulging in rich food, alcohol and cigarettes, and you’re peeling yourself out of bed at 2pm on the first day of the new year, with booze leaking from every pore, you may argue that there’s little to feel enthusiastic about.
First of all, let’s deal with New Year’s Eve. This glittering, expensive event masquerades itself as “The Night of Most Promise”. To avoid disappointment, it should be renamed “The Biggest Let Down of the Year”. If you accept this, anything remotely fun that happens will be a welcome shock. People plan for this event ages in advance, they squeeze themselves into their best attire, and pay a fortune to ring in the new year surrounded by other desperate revellers.
Here are some tips on how to survive this bittersweet evening…
1. Do something different
Go somewhere you’ve never been. I don’t know about you but spending New Year’s in the same club you’ve been throwing money at since you were 17 is hardly going to make you feel positive about how far you’ve come in life. Ring in the new year in a coastal country pub, singing along to “Raglan Road” and cheersing the intoxicated locals. Or venture further afield. Visit a cool European city. Go for a week’s skiing in Austria. There’s nothing like falling on your ass in the snow, then boozing it up in your thermals for the après–ski with your fit instructors to give you a good laugh as the new year makes it entrance. Alternatively, spend it in a developing country where Christmas and New Year’s aren’t heavily marketed and this time is more about family, hard work and survival. Or go to a Muslim land where New Year’s doesn’t even fall on the same day. You needn’t worry about suffering an anti-climax there.
2. Don’t beat yourself up
Yes, you promised yourself that you’d welcome the new year in a sober and non-hungover state. But if there’s ever a night to let the hair down, it’s this one. It’d be rude not to cheers the new year with that double vodka and Red Bull and then toast it again with a Flaming Lamborghini just to be sure. Tell yourself that the new year only commences when you’re back in work so you’re allowed to spend the first of January dragging yourself from the bed to the newsagent’s deli to the couch.
3. Stay in
Okay, this sounds terribly depressing but if this dreaded night has been a major let down for at least three years in a row, then cut your losses and sit in. At least you’re saving money and you won’t smell like the inside of a beer barrel for the premiere of the new year. I spent two New Year’s Eves on my own. Yes, when the clock chimed midnight, I did feel like I was missing out, and I did feel more alone than ever, but that lasted all of a minute and then I was back to the salt and vinegar Pringles and whatever movie had taken my fancy.
If you have no major plans, you could welcome the new year with some extra cash in the bank. Many employers offer extra pay and brownie points for knuckling down on this much-celebrated evening. Plus, your co-workers will thank you for allowing them to spend it with their loved ones. They can suck it up and work for you when you actually get a life.
5. House party
Have or attend a house party. It’ll be less expensive and you won’t have to battle crowds to get to the bar/loo/dance floor. Just make sure the other guests are a bit of craic. You don’t want to spend the night with a bunch of negative whingers. Check out this clip for what not to do.
6. Don’t get too drunk
I spent one New Year’s Eve at a concert in The Point. I had clearly drank too much as I spent the latter part of the evening with my head over a toilet bowl. Being confronted by a reflection of yourself in the shimmering loo water with mascara running down your face, as you hear your friends gleefully count down to midnight, is enough to make you swear off liquor for life.
And once you’ve gotten over the night of drunken fights and tears, emotional embraces and tonsil tennis, you can get around to making that shining list of New Year’s Resolutions. Writing down one’s intentions is a lovely way to feel positive about your life in the new year. Some believe that we can create our own reality by the power of positive thinking so why not put it out to the Universe?! If you don’t ask, you don’t get. Think of it as a Santa list you send up the chimney. For adults. Here’s how to go about it:
1. Don’t do it
If you’re the type who constantly bitches and moans at oneself for not doing stuff, then simply don’t make a list. It’ll be just another reason to beat yourself up for not jogging three miles a day or learning how to bone a duck.
2. Be realistic
Don’t promise to save more than you can afford. Because either you’ll get evicted from your rented accommodation or you’ll feel bad for not fulfilling your resolution. I’m the very one who’ll decide to exercise, study, write, cook, read, and meditate every single day of the week, and then realise there aren’t enough hours in the day to do all this, unless I skip work, stay up all night, and avoid friends and family, so I end up doing none of the above and feeling rotten about myself.
3. Make it positive
Don’t make it a list of hard rules, “don’ts” and “shoulds”. This list can be inspiring and fun. If it’s all about denying and pushing yourself, you’ll be exhausted before you even tackle resolution number one. Add nice resolutions like “I will have fun and enjoy myself this year” or “I will not take life so seriously”. Decide to try something new and exciting like a class in carpentry or dance, or plan a trip to some far-flung, exotic destination.
4. Give yourself a get-out clause
If you’re finding something too tough or time-consuming, allow yourself to be the editor of your own list. You have the authority to chop and change it. Feel free to add new things throughout the year. The first of January isn’t the absolute only day you can begin a new regime. You might be too tired after all the Christmas celebrations to come up with a great list. Once the days start expanding and the sunshine favours our little island again, our energy increases, and this might be a more ideal time to create that list of good intentions.
Don’t just write the list, enjoy a week-long burst of good work, and then lose the piece of paper and your will to continue. Re-read the list every so often and monitor your progress. Don’t be afraid to pat yourself on the back for what you’ve achieved so far. Revise it and don’t get angry with yourself for not being the star pupil of new year’s resolutions. Be aware that it’s pretty impossible to follow up on every single pointer on the list. You probably had a fair idea you wouldn’t be able to master the imperfect tense in modern Arabic, let alone read the Qur’an in its original form.
My advice is to just have fun. Many of us take everything way too seriously. Life is about enjoying yourself as much as possible and being the best you can be. So, enjoy your New Year’s Eve, even if you do snog the village idiot just so you can have someone at midnight. And be thankful that a new year is commencing and the road ahead is full of possibility. This year can be the best one yet. You’re the one who can make it happen. So do.
Being outdoors in nature, personal development, spirituality, teaching, yoga, friends & family, sunshine, good conversation, writing, a good cuppa, swimming in the sea, books, adventure, travel, learning, laughter, fun, good food, bear hugs…
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