Tag Archives: growing up

Other People

Yesterday, I texted a few of my like-minded friends to share my most recent awareness. The importance of other people.

Relationships (with a partner, friends, family, co-workers, acquaintances) accelerate our growth and teach us more about ourselves than all the spiritual retreats, self-help books, and hours of meditation and counselling ever could.

Other people serve as mirrors. They reflect back to us how we feel about ourselves and the beliefs we’re holding about life.

Every single person who enters our lives is there for a reason – to show us all the barriers we’ve placed around ourselves. Once we become aware of these barriers, we can remove them and open ourselves to love.

In Marianne Williamson’s book A Return to Loveshe writes about the two main emotions we experience – love and fear. Fear closes our hearts. Love opens us up to an easier, brighter, more wonderful world.

Up until recently, I had assumed that I preferred to be alone. I’d spend most evenings on my own, reading, writing, and watching TV. I walked alone, jogged alone, cycled alone. I meditated and did yoga alone. I took myself for coffee. I wandered alone in nature and took pictures. I holidayed in the west of Ireland. Alone.

I’m proud of my independence and I’m content in my own company but sometimes a stray pang of loneliness manages to slip through my carefully constructed armour. I realise now that I was confusing strength with a refusal to budge out of my comfort zone.

I really believed that I did better at life when I was single. Romantic relationships seemed to blaze into my world. They were quick and exciting and dangerous.

They were so out of my control that I feared I’d be engulfed in their flames. Then they died out, leaving me to tend to my burns.

I missed the warmth and beauty of relationships but I also felt blessedly relieved to be alone again. Alone, I was in control.

My longest romantic relationship was with my now ex-husband. Everything since then has never made it past the four-month mark.

I led what I thought was a balanced life. I had oceans of time to work on myself. I grow more when I’m single, I convinced myself.

And I’m glad of the time and space I’ve had to heal and to flourish. I agree that one must love oneself and have a full and happy life before one is ready to enter into a healthy relationship.

The thing is, I kept waiting for one (i.e. little old me) to become perfect, conscious and enlightened. I forgot that this life is a journey. And on this arduous yet rewarding adventure, we’re constantly learning, evolving and recalibrating.

It’s nice to share some of that journey with our fellow travellers who can also feel lost and who are also searching for meaning. And there’s more laughter and intimacy to be had on a path walked with more than one set of feet.

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After living alone for four years, I now have two housemates. I’m also spending more time with my fabulous friends. And I love meeting new people. How different we are fascinates me. How similar we are humbles me.

I understand now that living involves other people. For what is a life without company, support, affection and passion?

Other people highlight the areas we need to work on so that we can peel off yet another bullet-proof layer. It’s so much lighter and freer to let go of these heavy burdens that weigh us down and close us off. But it’s scary to be so exposed, so vulnerable.

I know that I have difficulty letting people in. Asking for help and believing I deserve to have my needs met is a challenge. But it’s a challenge I’m willing to accept.

Communication is also an area I’m working on. Recently, I detected a pattern of mine. When the going gets tough, my instinct is to bolt. To get out that door and never come back. But where’s the maturity in that? Where’s the learning, the growing, the compassion? Where is the love?

Other people have an amazingly frustrating knack of triggering the emotional reactions that I used to resist and get angry about. Now, when someone does or says something that provokes me to feel hurt, annoyed or defensive, I remember to breathe into it.

I feel grateful for this issue that I need to deal with. I look at my feelings about the incident, which leads to an understanding of why I’m feeling the way I do. Then, I let go and bring myself back to the present moment.

This is a very new practise for me, by the way, but it’s a revelation! I highly recommend it.

Today, I’m more open than ever before. This translates into a heightened enjoyment of life, a deeper appreciation of beauty, and more fun, peace and connection.

I am, thankfully and in Melody Beattie’s words, codependent no more. Nor am I locked in a distant land of me, myself and I.

I’m travelling on this awe-inspiring path called life. And it’s rich with billions of souls from whom I can learn so much, and with whom I can share a luminous journey.

hammock

Images: Favim.com

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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.

favim.com

favim.com

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?

busaff.com

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.

favim.com

favim.com

Broken Windows

Since injuring my back at the gym on Sunday, I’ve had to take it easy. This means not doing my usual workout routine. And it’s been hard. I joined the gym in January and, while I signed up because I enjoy exercising and sweating and being healthy, I’ve also delighted in toning up, wearing tighter outfits and having people tell me that I look amazing. Who wouldn’t, right?

Part of me knew that I shouldn’t put too much value on my physical appearance. It’s dangerous attaching how good you’re feeling to something so transient. And another part of me told myself to relish it while it lasted. Which may also be saying something about an unconscious belief that good things don’t last very long. But that’s another day’s work (or blog post).

So, I haven’t been able to hit the gym this week and I noticed my mood dipping a little. I started wearing looser clothing as though I’d gained weight in just a few days. Another reason for feeling out of sorts was that I’d been, quite literally, stopped in my tracks. I had to accept the situation and understand that these things happen for a reason. There was a learning here somewhere (lots of lessons, in fact) if I were to cease feeling sorry for myself long enough to go looking.

Gretchen Rubin writes about the “broken windows theory” of policing, which holds that when a society tolerates minor crimes such as broken windows, graffiti and drinking in public, people are more likely to commit more serious crimes. Rubin suggests that this can also be true on a personal level. These are the signs of disorder that make you feel out of control and overwhelmed. For me, they are not leaving the house all day, not getting my class preparation done and not exercising. Rubin says that enforcing small signs of order makes us feel more in control and happier.

The theory makes sense and it’s great to get things done and to look after yourself. However, this does not mean being rigid. Sometimes, we have to let go of control or we’ll end up miserable. Life happens. We cannot base our happiness on how we think we should look or on how much exercise we feel we should be getting. If we have too many “broken windows” and those shattered panes are destroying our inner peace, we need to look at building the inner peace and self-love and to hell with the windows for a while.

This week, I’ve been watching TV series GirlsThe main character is a 24-year-old writer who’s carrying a bit of extra weight. She gets lots of men and struts around naked. The more I’m watching, the more I’m used to seeing a fleshier actress. This goes to show that the more exposed we are to skinny celebrities, the more we believe that this is the way we all should look. It’s refreshing to watch a show where the characters’ appearances are a little more normal. Even the sexiest female character has a bit of belly and often doesn’t wear a scrap of makeup. And she’s still a beauty. A natural one.

In one of the episodes, leading lady Hannah admits that she’s just like everyone else, that she wants to be happy. That she feels alone. And that she’d been trying to control the way things happened and how she was feeling. Isn’t that why we do what we do in life? To feel happier, less alone and more in control? Why we diet and exercise? Why we purchase new clothes and cut our hair? Why we study for exams and work? Why we save money and buy houses? Why we search for partners and start families?

But beneath the need for happiness, connection and control is a longing for love. And where better to begin than with yourself? Just because. No only-whens and only-ifs. Unconditional love. If you had that, you wouldn’t need to do anything, have anything or control anything. It wouldn’t disappear as soon as your job or relationship ended. It wouldn’t crumble when you gained weight or grew older. It wouldn’t elude you until you had a house and a successful career. It would be a part of you always. It is you. You’ve just forgotten. It’s already there. And it strengthens with use. Today, instead of going to the gym, I choose to exercise my unconditional love. It’s tougher than any workout but the reward makes it so worthwhile.

im not beautiful like you

Single and turning thirty: grey hairs and living your life in colour

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:

1) Celebrate!

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.

And if it’s your birthday, this one’s for you…