Tag Archives: islam

Moving On

I walk out of the Life Coaching session beaming. There is something about saying things aloud to someone I trust that shows me how strong I am and how well I’m doing. I see myself as he seems to see me – competent, insightful, brave and proactive.

So much has happened in the two weeks since I’ve last been with him. I’m leaving unhealthy situations. I found a beautiful house to move in to. I started a new course. And I’ve taken a few steps to further my career.

The Life Coach points out that I’m starting to have a healthy sense of entitlement. This means that I know that I’m entitled to have my needs met, in my living environment and in my relationships. I’m thinking more of myself now. And I’m believing that I deserve good things in my life.

I tell the Life Coach that I can really appreciate how I am now because I used to feel so bad. I was anxious. I worried that I wasn’t good enough. I compared myself unfavourably to others and beat myself up on a fairly constant basis.

I also landed myself in less than ideal conditions. And I didn’t even question them. Because I didn’t realise that I deserved better.


Up until very recently, when I spotted a good-looking guy, I’d immediately think: He’d never look at me. Talk about placing huge invisible walls around myself. Invisible but impenetrable nonetheless.

I’d feel intimidated if a man seemed to have it all together. The men I did feel comfortable with often had so much baggage that it was no wonder the relationship couldn’t go far. Slap my baggage on top of that and we couldn’t move at all.

At twenty-three, I married a man who tried to change me completely. When I first started seeing him, he lived in a rough part of Bilbao. Prostitutes and drug dealers hung out on the street corners. My ex’s flat had mice and boarded up windows.

But I was in love. And nothing else matters when you have love, right? I was defiant in my love for him. Who needed money or common beliefs or a partner who thought you were lovely just as you were?

I didn’t think enough of myself to expect nice dates and holidays with my boyfriend. I didn’t even think enough of myself to expect to be treated with respect and acceptance.

What did it matter if he was pressuring me to change, pressuring me to marry him? I had such a low sense of self that I was okay to bend to his will. Until one day I wasn’t.

So I left him but I went on to date addicts and emotionally unavailable men. Why? They say like attracts like. It was all I knew.

Recently, something big happened in one of my closest relationships. I had to make a tough decision to change my behaviour. I had to break free.

This comfort zone was no longer comfortable. Although it felt impossible to cut the ties of this codependent relationship, not doing it was a scarier option. So I did it.

The guilt and fear threatened to push me backwards but I forged forwards anyway. In order to do that, I had to let go of some of that baggage.

And now I’m moving into a gorgeous house in a lovely little village. I’m surrounding myself with people who think that I’m awesome. I’m doing things that nourish me. I’m meditating, exercising, reading and writing. I’m stepping out of that comfort zone and I’m proud of myself for it.

This morning, after the Life Coaching session, I decide to treat myself to a soya latte and a gluten-free scone with strawberry jam and cream.

I walk into the café where an attractive man catches my eye. Out of habit, I duck my head. Then I remember who I am. How amazing I am.

The smile comes from deep inside. I raise my chin. It doesn’t matter whether he likes me or not. Because I like me.

And my healthy sense of entitlement is telling me that I want to be open to all the wonderful possibilities that are staring me right in the face.


Images: favim.com


Faith in More

I’ve been learning a lot about religion lately. I’ve been pondering questions and ideas and philosophies about what to believe and how to live my life. I was raised a Catholic and my father is Greek Orthodox. I married a Muslim. I spent a week in a Buddhist centre in the Scottish Highlands. I’m currently preparing to give a lecture on Hinduism in my meditation class. And this week, I’ll be learning about Judaism from a couple of other students.

Faith is something that gives people hope and direction. It enables them to look to the bigger picture when crawling through dark and difficult times. It offers them comfort when they face illness and death, be it of a loved one or of themselves.

Nowadays, many people have moved away from religion and towards what they call spirituality. Spirituality is a belief in the spirit or the soul. New Agers talk about energy and chakras, synchronicity and meditation. Without a specific religion to practise, it is important for spiritual people to have a discipline and a network of people with a similar mindset to their own. But what a spiritual person does is not so dissimilar from what a religious person does. Prayer is a form of meditation, after all. A way to connect with God or nature or the oneness of the Universe.

I’m constantly searching and questioning and wondering. Some people might accuse me of being lost or easily led or of turning my back on the religion I was baptised into. I disagree. I find other cultures and their beliefs fascinating. I love to learn new things, to consider different ideas, and to understand where everybody is coming from. I think there is value and beauty in all faiths. We are, every one of us, a human being, whether we wear a burqa or drink the blood of Christ or circumcise our children.

In my early twenties, I read the Quran, completed Ramadan twice, and spent a month in Morocco, where I spoke to many Muslim men and women, attended a Mosque, witnessed the slaughtering of lambs for the festival of Eid al-Adha, and even wore a headscarf. It appealed to me that the focus of Muslim life points far away from that of body image, which many Westerners obsess about. However, that reason alone is not reason enough to dive into a religion.


Hinduism teaches about karma and reincarnation. This religion is about overcoming maya, the delusion of separateness; and accepting that this world, which we believe to be reality, is in fact an illusion. Every time we suffer or feel depressed or alone, every time we have a problem with money or with a co-worker, we must realise that this is all a dream, a test. Nothing is as important as it seems. What a relief.

Buddhism is an offshoot of Hinduism. Buddhists don’t believe in a God and they don’t worship a particular prophet. They believe that God is everywhere. God is within all of us. They don’t believe in souls either. They believe in energy and, when we die, our vibration simply joins the vibration of the Universe. The end goal of a Buddhist is to achieve enlightenment, which like Hinduism, is to lift the veil of maya, and become one with the world. I also welcome this concept of feeling at one with everyone and everything. When I have a negative thought about someone, I should just remind myself that I am them and they are me. Not so easy to get the head around that one.

Last weekend, I paid a visit to Glenstal Abbey, a beautiful Benedictine monastery in Limerick. I participated in a Chant Day, attended mass and Vespers in the evening. I even had an interesting chat with a lovely priest. I put my questions to him about different religions and spirituality and the idea that God is a part of us all. He answered in a non-judgemental fashion and presented me with quotes from The Bible.

He told me the story of the thief who was nailed to a cross beside Jesus Christ. He turned to Jesus and said: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” The priest elaborated: “This man had sinned all his life but, at the last minute, he asked to be pardoned. Don’t forget to ask.” This reflects the New Agers’ thinking on the power of intention and of “putting it out there to the Universe”. If you don’t ask, you won’t receive.

The priest also told me about the importance of gratitude. And of helping others. And of positivity. And when I spoke about us all being part of the same family, he answered: “You are not just one piece of the whole, you are irreplaceable. God loves you very much.” Always nice to hear.

The following morning, as I waited for the gift shop to open, I decided to attend 10 am mass. The ceremony was beautiful. I felt like I was at the theatre. The monks gave readings and chanted and sang to the tunes pounded out on the organ. They bowed and swung smoking incense in every direction and held the priest’s robes as they moved across the altar. I felt happy to be able to participate in this celebration of faith and togetherness.

I don’t have any more answers now than when I started writing this blog post. In fact, I probably have more questions. But I’m curious and open-minded and full of faith. Faith in God. In love. And in the bigger picture. Faith is “belief that is not based on proof” (dictionary.reference.com). I don’t have proof. But I know that I believe in something higher, something more important, something more real than this body, this pain, this life. I also believe that we can learn so much from all traditions. My eyes and ears are open. And, more importantly, so is my heart.

How different my life is…

I was watching an episode of Downton Abbey recently when I was struck by how different life was in the early 1900s. Any expression of emotion was frowned upon; the working class was forbidden from befriending the upper class and vice versa; and unwed mothers were cast into disrepute.

As the drama onscreen drew to a close, I began to give gratitude for all the freedoms I possess but usually take for granted. For example, how different my life is from that of a woman 200 years ago. I can vote in the elections during the day and read about how to bag a lover in a glossy magazine by night. I can attend university and choose how to make a living from any number of possible occupations.

How different my life is… from that of a strict Muslim. I can style my hair whichever way I please (and show it off as I strut down the street in a short skirt and stilettos). I can order a steak and sip on a Mojito, while holding hands with my latest fancy-man across the table.

How different my life is… from that of a prison inmate. I can leave my room whenever I choose. I can breathe in all the fresh air I need and stare up at the open sky for as long as I like… I can jump in the car and drive to whatever destination attracts me. I can live with love and determination and hope instead of fear and frustration and longing…

"Man is free at the moment he wishes to be." Voltaire

How different my life is… from that of a single parent. I can go away for a weekend at a moment’s notice. I can stay in bed all day when I’m under the weather… I can decide not to cook when I’m feeling lazy. I can read romance novels or watch soppy movies for hours on end… I can sleep through the night, without being woken up by a screaming infant or a mischievous teen.

How different my life is… from that of a person who’s confined to a wheelchair. I can walk and run and skip and cart-wheel. I can go on bike rides to the beach and roller blade in the park. I can dance with my future husband and play Tip the Can with my prospective children.

How different my life is… from that of an impoverished child in a forgotten third world country. I can afford to complain about eating too much and putting on weight. I can make myself a double-decker sandwich at 3am, after a night on the beer. I can stuff myself with smoked salmon and roast turkey and airport-sized Toblerones every Christmas. I can kiss my family good night without worrying that they’ll have starved to death before dawn.

How different my life is from that of an unemployed father… A victim of domestic abuse… An addict… A criminal… A widow… Somebody suffering from mental illness… A blind person… Somebody who’s just been told they have a terminal disease…

Most of the time, we’re too busy to give thanks for all that we’re fortunate enough to have. To a certain extent, we’re all afflicted with problems and difficulties. But do we ever stop to think about how lucky we really are? Why not pause for a moment to consider the other tree-lined avenues or dark alleyways our life journeys could have taken us down… Some of them appear to be fuller and richer and more exciting. But others are sad and horrid and painful.

Wherever you are right now, that is where you’re meant to be. Give thanks for that. And make the most of it. I know I will.

"As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them." John F. Kennedy

Images: http://www.fotolog.com.br/meninadetpm_s2/99789618; http://mrbiswinning.tumblr.com/; www.flickr.com; http://weheartit.com/entry/18528887;  http://youaretherhythm.tumblr.com/page/11

Dreaded Drug of Approval

I was out for dinner the other night when I spotted the waitress approaching a family at the next table. She asked one of the children, “Have you made your Santa list yet?” The little girl responded in a giggling baby voice, “I want a supwise.” Her mother patted her on the head approvingly. I had heard the child speak earlier and she hadn’t sounded like that. Already, at such a young age, this girl was changing herself and the way she behaved in order to gain approval.

This simple scenario reminded me of a number of similar moments throughout my life…

At five years of age, talking to the insects in the back garden, then hearing my parents say: “Wow, look at her! She’s so into nature!” I stayed out there for much longer than I wanted to because I was sure my parents would like me more if I did… Pretending to be into a certain genre of music as a teenager just so I’d fit in… Pushing myself in school and college so I could be the perfect student and daughter… Hanging around a guy I liked and hiding parts of myself because I thought it would make me more desirable… Losing weight because that’s how “beautiful” was sold to me… Pretending to know the politician/author/website my co-workers were talking about so they wouldn’t think I was stupid… Feeling I didn’t belong in an expensive boutique because surely the sales assistants would stare at me for not being skinny/fashionable/rich enough… Marrying a Muslim, changing pretty much everything about myself, and still feeling crushed every time he criticised me… Only enjoying the hobbies I was good at because I couldn’t stand being anything less than perfect…

Most of us are unfortunate enough to care about what others think. Add that on top of a cruel addiction to the drug of approval and you’re guaranteed a hellish existence. How many of you have turned vegetarian just because your boyfriend turned up his nose every time you scoffed a burger? Would you be brave enough to leave your iPod playing in shuffle mode when other people are around even though you have a seriously embarrassing secret penchant for The Backstreet Boys? Do you squeeze yourself into skinny jeans because that’s what all your style crushes/college friends are wearing? Do you observe yourself behaving differently around different sets of people? You don’t curse and you use words like “potentially” and “ostentatious” when you’re around Group A. You laugh uproariously at dirty jokes and innuendo (“In YOUR endo!”) when you’re with Group B. You discuss politics and current affairs/spirituality and health/psychology and literature/celebrity gossip and makeup tips with Group C, D, E and F, while sipping on a skinny latte/shot of wheatgrass/large glass of merlot/Flaming Sambuca.

"Lean too much on the approval of people, and it becomes a bed of thorns." Teysi Hsieh

These days, I kind of hope I’m not good at stuff because maintaining perfection is a lot of pressure. It’s exhausting trying to keep up the facade. I just want to do things because they’re fun and I enjoy them. From now on, I’m going to leave excellence to the experts. I’m delighted that I’m not going to live like that any more. It’s a relief to finally let go and just be. Yes, sometimes my reactions are automatic (it’s hard to break the habits of a lifetime) but when I stop and ask myself, Do you really care what they think?, the answer is a resounding NO!

It’s about time you found out who the real you really is. Get to know yourself and discover what it is that you want and like and need. It is a thoroughly enjoyable and rewarding process. However, I’ll bet that most people are too afraid to even ask themselves the question Am I being true to myself? because they’re terrified of the answer. Change is scary and a hell of a lot of hard work.

I don’t know about you but I don’t want to waste my life pretending to be somebody else, putting myself under constant pressure, striving for perfection, caring what others think, and giving my power away to everybody else. This drug of approval has lost its appeal. Yes, it will try to claw its way back in. And I will be sorely tempted to give in, just to avoid the crippling withdrawal symptoms. But I am determined to finally kick the habit.

Featured Image: http://www.graphicshunt.com/search/6/butterflies.htm

Images: http://www.imageblogs.org/fabulous-child-photography-to-remember-childhood/fabulous-child-photography-to-remember-childhood-9; http://trendland.net/julia-fullerton-batten-photography/#; http://www.flickr.com/photos/19722425@N02/3890967883/; http://novacaine-kills.xanga.com/?uni33319937-direction=n