Tag Archives: childhood

My Song

I welcome the first day of summer by attending a yoga and music workshop with musician and yoga teacher Jack Harrison.

We lie down and begin with some breathing exercises. Jack strums his guitar, recites poetry and sings.

Then he takes us through a powerful yoga sequence. No music plays now. All we can hear are Jack’s instructions and our breath.

My breathing deepens. I feel strong, present and peaceful.

Afterwards, we sit in a circle and sing. For the most part, I close my eyes and really get into it.

Occasionally, I open my eyes and appreciate what’s in front of me. The fantastic Jack Harrison playing guitar. And a group of people joyously opening their hearts together in song.

Next, Jack suggests that we sing any tune we feel like.

“Dissonance is beautiful,” he insists.

“Some of us were told as children that we weren’t good singers. I was kicked out of the school choir when I was a boy,” he laughs.

“But singing is easy,” he says with a smile.

Many of us spend our lives trying to fit in and appear normal. We’re told how to live and what’s expected of us.

But today for a change, we’re being encouraged to be different. We’ve been given licence to sing our own song in a way that’s right for us in this special moment.

We start quietly and self-consciously. But before long, we become louder and more confident.

I realise that it’s much easier to sing in unison. It’s actually harder to be different. But I’m determined to find my own song.

I go with the feeling. I put judgment aside. I allow myself to be me.

Somewhere between dissonance, unison and harmony, I hear my own voice. Tears prickle behind my eyes. Jack’s right, it is beautiful.

bird girl

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The Judge

Yesterday, I came up with an exercise to assist people to get to the root of certain destructive behaviours or patterns. The behaviour I had in mind when I designed the exercise was that of judging or criticising.

Last night, I wondered if I could do the exercise. Who am I judging or criticising? I realised that the person I’m currently judging most is myself.

So I completed the three steps to this exercise. The first step is to ask yourself these questions:

1. When you’re judging, is there an underlying fear? If so, what is it?

My answer astounded me and brought me to tears. My fear is that I’m imperfect. I go deeper with this realisation. If I’m imperfect, I believe that I won’t be loved or accepted. I go deeper again. Then, I’ll be rejected. Cast out. Abandoned.

Suddenly my mind is flooded with snapshots of childhood, teen years and early adulthood, where I felt my imperfection brought about rejection, humiliation, anger, fear and withdrawal of love.

Messages I internalised from an early age convinced me that I had to try to be perfect in order to earn love or even just acceptance. I couldn’t be myself or feel the things I was really feeling. I had to try to be what others wanted me to be. Otherwise, I’d be left alone in this world. And to be all alone in this world means certain death.

This made perfect sense when I read Harville Hendrix’s brilliant book Getting The Love You Want. Hendrix describes the structure of the human brain.

The brain stem, which is the most primitive layer, oversees reproduction and vital functions such as breathing, blood circulation and sleep. Then there is the limbic system, which generates vivid emotions. The main concern of this portion of the brain is self-preservation. It is constantly on the alert, trying to ensure your safety. Hendrix refers to these two parts of the brain as the “old brain”.

The third part of the brain is the cerebral cortex, which is most highly developed in Homo Sapiens. This section of the brain deals with cognitive functions. It’s the part of you that makes decisions, thinks, observes, plans, organises information and creates ideas. Hendrix calls this the “new brain”.

The new brain is logical and tries to find a cause for every effect. This part of the brain can moderate some of the instinctual reactions of your old brain.

With regard to my self-judging, I believe that I need to be perfect. If I’m not perfect, I won’t be loved. I will be abandoned. This primeval fear comes from the old brain logic that tells me that the world is not safe. When love is withdrawn from me, I am filled with a fear of death.

So, in answer to the first question about the fear underneath my self-judgment, I am afraid of abandonment. I am afraid for my very survival.

This leads on to the second part of the exercise, which is to ask yourself the following:

2. When you judge, what are you hoping to achieve?

When I judge myself, I’m hoping to change aspects of myself. I’m longing to be perfect. Maybe if I criticise myself enough, I’ll change. Then I’ll be loveable. Both to others and to myself.

I am hit by another huge insight. When I see myself as imperfect, I question my right to be loved.

This makes me feel depressed. I close off a part of myself. My vital force shuts down. I no longer feel alive.

I am abandoning myself. I’m actually killing off a part of myself. Yet again, the old brain is pretty sure I’m going to die.

Having answered these questions and hopefully arrived at some interesting insights, you’re ready for the third part of the exercise, which is this:

3. For one whole day, every time you notice yourself judging, stop and ask yourself: “What would it be like to accept this?”

Yes, it’s good to be the best that you can be and to do things that make you feel good. But for so many years, the only way I could silence my inner critic was to do do do.

However, this was just a temporary fix that didn’t unearth the root cause of the problem. And so these deep-seated beliefs, fears and behaviours were repeatedly resurrected. When I got sick or tired, or when I just couldn’t do all the things that boosted my self-esteem, my superficial confidence crumbled.

Finally, I was no longer prepared to continue running on this ridiculous treadmill of turmoil. I kidded myself that it made me feel good to be doing something but it got me nowhere and, every so often, I’d slip off and smack myself in the face.

So, I’ve stepped off and decided to look deeper. And this exercise has facilitated the process.

Now that I have an understanding about why I’m so self-critical and why these judgements make me feel so bad, my behaviour ceases to be unconscious. I’m now conscious of my seemingly destructive patterns. I understand what’s happening and why it’s happening.

Therefore, I can consciously introduce a new way of thinking and behaving. A way that’s healthier and more beneficial than my previously misguided, outdated attempts at self-protection.

The next time I call myself fat or wince at my grey hairs, I’ll remember that what I’m really experiencing is fear. My critical voice is just trying to prevent me from dying. It wants me to be loved.

As an adult, am my primary care-giver. am responsible for caring for me. I have a choice to love and accept all of me as I am. I’m not going to abandon myself any more. I am safe.

This exercise can be applied to any thought process or pattern of behaviour that is causing you to suffer. Remember, the old brain got its name because it’s been here for a long, long time. So be patient with yourself as you recondition your thinking. And know that you are safe.

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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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Laugh Yer Ass Off

Yesterday, I took part in teaching a class. I prepared what I would speak about, dressed up for the occasion, and delivered my presentation. I received excellent feedback and felt I was behaving quite professionally.

After the lunch break, everybody was sitting and waiting for class to resume. I sat down and, right in front of everyone, I fell right through the chair, landing on my ass. We all laughed, my cheeks reddened (the ones on my face!) and we continued on.

As I sat there, trying not to guffaw, I realised that this was a hilarious lesson on not taking myself too seriously. I’d had an emotional week and I’d been feeling tired and fed up. It all felt like hard work. But I was proud of myself for getting through it and doing my best. And then I fell, bum in the air, in front of a room full of people.

Last night, I drank a glass of wine with my mother, watched ridiculous YouTube clips with my sister, and smashed open a coconut like I used to as a child on Hallowe’en. I slept in my childhood bed and didn’t get up until almost midday, skipping an all-day workshop that I could have attended.

If yesterday’s incident has taught me anything, it’s that I need to lighten up, have fun and enjoy life for what it is, instead of attempting to control everything and be perfect.

The funny thing is that, even if I do wind up bum in the air in front of everyone, we can all laugh about it, and the show still goes on.

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keepcalm-o-matic.co.uk

Jigsaw Girl

What does the little girl do

when she’s broken

How does the little girl learn

who to be

Why does the little girl choose

all the wrong things

When will the little girl know

that she’s free?

                

Who does the little girl love

and feel loved by

Where does the little girl go

when she cries

Why does the little girl keep

seeing monsters

Because this little girl doesn’t

know how to fly.

                

Once

upon a day

in a rainbow

the little girl opens her heart

All the sparkle and colour

the sun and the moon

light her up

as it was from the start.

                

This time, this last time, this good time

the little girl sees and she knows

She feels and she is and she dances

and everything in her

it glows.

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Instalove

I was describing my new Christmas pyjamas to someone recently when she asked if I’d taken a photo of myself in said pyjamas and posted it on Instagram or Facebook because, she continued: “So-and-so* tells me you’ve been taking a lot of photos of yourself lately.” *Name has been changed to protect anonymity.

I felt annoyed and embarrassed. Because (a): People were talking about me behind my back. And (b): If they were saying it, how many others were? I worried that I’d appear vain or insecure or both.

I chided myself for getting upset over such a trivial matter. Then, I remembered that I don’t give out to myself any more. I reminded myself that I’m human and I still care what others think of me, though less so than before. Thankfully!

I realised that I don’t have to take the comment in a negative way. It doesn’t mean that these people don’t like me. It was a simple observation. Like: “Sheesh Sharon, you’ve been going on a lot of cycles lately!” or “Wow, you drank a lot of water today.”

Clearly, this has stirred something in me. Something that was already there. It just took this comment to shine a light on it. So I hacked into my two earlier points and came up with the following:

(a) I don’t want people to speak about me behind my back. Is that true? Well, I’d quite like it actually if they were talking about how talented and gorgeous I am. And if they’re saying something negative, would I rather they say it to my face? Not really.

(b) I was worrying about people thinking I was vain or insecure. The irony is that I was being vain and insecure by worrying about being seen as vain and insecure.

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weheartit.com

These days, many girls (and guys for that matter) are taking selfies with their cellphones. And with the prevalence of amazing App Instagram, we can paint ourselves in fantastically forgiving filters.

The thing is, I love beautiful things. I enjoy taking pictures of them and I delight in Instagramming them, then sharing them via social media. I actually take plenty more pictures of nature than I do of myself. So why is it more acceptable to upload shots of flowers and trees than profiles of your fabulous self?

It’s because you’ll be seen as “up yourself” or “too big for your boots”. The confidence of the Americans is often perceived as brash and annoying across the Atlantic. It’s a rather Irish trait to not want to be seen as “getting ahead of yourself”. Modesty is our currency. No wonder we’re broke.

All the personal development books tell us to love ourselves but sure that’s a daft notion to us Irish. “That wan really loves herself” is a horrific insult round these parts. And we’d feel mad foolish speaking affirmations into a mirror!

I distinctly remember, as a very small child, being read a lovely fairy-tale. The heroine of the story was a beautiful young thing who didn’t know how beautiful she was. This only made her more beautiful to all who witnessed her shy beauty. However, she believed she was a dreadful, lowly creature. She lived her life this way until, one day, a dashing prince set his eyes on her and fell head over heels in love, much to her total astonishment. And, of course, they lived happily ever after. The end.

At the tender age of five years, I decided that I would be just like that fictional doormat of a character. To think of myself as less than was surely the right way to do it. I can’t logic this out for you now as I can’t quite get back into the mindset of that tiny child. But it’s no wonder it’s been a long, challenging process turning it all around.

The fact that I now see myself or my new haircut or the bright orange of the scarf I’m wearing in the same admiring light as the autumn leaves or the ocean or that delicious cupcake I’m about to scoff is wonderful.

I don’t think these people did anything wrong for making such a comment. A comment is just a comment. It is my reaction to it that matters. I looked at my reaction, thanks to the light that was shone upon it, and accepted it.

I’m delighted I’ve come this far. And for me, social media is all about sharing. One day, I’ll want to share with you my latest blog or a stunning piece of music. The next, I’ll post an inspirational quote or a picture I just took of a woman who loves herself.

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Slow Down

I am currently on a weeklong holiday in the west of Ireland. Each morning after breakfast, I do some work. Then, I take myself out for a walk. I rush the walk to get it out of the way so I can pop into a pub or café to use the WiFi.

Not too long ago, I felt peace. I appreciated nature. I could lie in a bubble bath and listen to music or read a novel over a frothy cappuccino.

How easily I’ve forgotten. How quickly I’ve transformed into a busy, perfection-driven woman who finds it hard to sit still.

Lately, I’ve been trying to fit as much as possible into every single day. No wonder I wasn’t glad when morning arrived.

Even the things I’d once enjoyed had become just another chore to tick off the self-renewing to-do list. Cycle – check. Meditate –check. Prepare Positive Living class – check.

Even nature, my most favourite thing in the entire world, had become an afterthought to work and exercise. When I did get out in it, I sped through it, favouring body tone over nourishment of the soul.

Today, the sun comes out and I decide to go for a walk. Alone. I leave the phone in the car. I don’t listen to music or take photographs. Today, I walk slowly. I roll up my sleeves and feel the heat on the back of my neck. I breathe. I inhale delightful fragrances that bring me back to simple childhood holidays.

I pause to take in the aqua milkiness of the ocean. I watch a man swimming. A fluffy green caterpillar inches its way along the path. Seagulls congregate on a large, flat rock. Cows graze in a field below.

A woman sits on the cliff edge, eyes closed, face tilted towards the sky. I wonder if she’s being truly present, mindfully aware of all of her senses. Or is she simply completing her daily chore of meditation?

Even though it pains me, I challenge myself to sit for a few moments. To just sit. I exhale a sigh of frustration.

Then, I gaze out at the waves as they crash upon the rocks. The waters roar mightily like the exciting take-off of an aeroplane.

The ocean speaks to me of opportunity and adventure, beauty and impermanence, creation and destruction. Tears spring to my eyes.

But even now, in this blessed moment, I am eager to get back. Because I have been mentally making note of everything I’ve experienced. This is the curse and wonder of being a writer.

I take a deep breath. I breathe in and out. I accept myself as I am in this moment. A writer who is forever composing. A human being who is doing her best. A person who is learning and growing and steeping herself in the awareness that will ultimately set her free.

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This evening, I go for a second slow-paced walk along beach, cliff and country road. I peer out at boats bobbing in the bay. I stroll past jellyfish, seaweed and salt-polished pebbles.

I sit several times along the way. I marvel at the sheer magnificence of a cliff face. Gulls soar overhead. I walk beneath a cacophony of starlings perched upon wire.

The sight of fuchsias makes me well up. The scent of cow dung and the perfume of a passing stranger make me smile.

I saunter past stone walls, a tractor and a good-looking horse. I feel my body as it moves. My hips roll and my arms sway. This evening, I do not rush or yearn for the finish line.

I stop to taste roadside blackberries. I pick a handful to take home. For the remainder of the journey, I walk palm up, my hand ink-red with an offering of sweetness.

I realise that when I’m an old lady, reflecting on the beauty of my life, I won’t be thinking about the times I power-walked up hills. I’ll remember the magical moments when I sat and witnessed the silent majesty of a gliding gull and the mesmerising movements of the ocean.

Images: Author's Own

Images: Author’s Own