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Open your Heart

A dear friend sent me a link to an interesting TED talk on love and relationships given by Mandy Len Catron. The theme of love and relationships had already been playing on my mind.

After watching the clip, I confessed to my friend that I long to share intimacy and affection with someone of the male variety. I quickly added that I’m just feeling impatient and that I should simply be present.

My friend replied: “There’s nothing wrong with wanting to have a special connection with a man. What you mustn’t do is ever make yourself feel bad because that want is there. It’s human nature.” It was nice to read her words.

Mandy Len Catron’s TED talk came about because Mandy, in the midst of a breakup, turned to science to better understand love. While researching the workings of the heart, Mandy discovered a study undertaken by psychologist Arthur Aron 20 years ago.

The study involved having two strangers ask and answer a series of 36 questions designed to make the participants fall in love. Six months later, the participants were married.

One evening, Mandy described Arthur Aron’s study to a university acquaintance. He proposed that they put the questions to the test. And they promptly fell in love!

Mandy went on to write an article about her experience for The New York Times. Since then, she has received endless calls and emails from people who all want to know one thing: Are Mandy and her university acquaintance still together? And the answer is that they are.

This may seem like the happy ending that we’re all hoping for. But what Mandy learned from this incredible experience is that there is no happy ending. There is no ending.

Falling in love is the easy part. The challenge lies in the decision to continue loving each other through the good and the difficult times. The hard part is to allow yourself be vulnerable and to give your heart to someone who may or may not choose to love you back.

These are the parts of love that many single people forget about when we crave a relationship. We want the smiles and the glances, the cuddles and the kisses, the electricity of attraction and the rush of romance.

However, closeness with a partner can really trigger you and bring all your issues to the surface. The choice then is to succumb to the temptation to close your heart and retreat (or defend) or you can deal with these issues and expand, both as a human being and as a couple.

It’s exciting and scary to open your heart to another human being. Being loved can make you feel blissful and secure one moment and out of control the next.

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Today, I told another friend about all of this. She excitedly suggested that we ask one another the 36 questions. “Imagine if we fell in love,” she laughed.

My friend and I answered all 36 of Arthur Aron’s questions. The questions encouraged us to share our life stories, embarrassing incidents, favourite memories, fears, problems and dreams. We were also invited to tell each other what we liked about one another.

Did we fall in love? I can honestly say that my heart was bursting by the end of the exercise. In truth, my friend and I already love one another.

However, this exercise highlighted how much we have in common and how much we value our friendship. Being let into my friend’s life in this way deepened my love for her. Answering these questions also reminded me of how far I’ve come, how great my life is and how wonderful I am.

How do a series of questions make people fall in love? I believe that these questions inspire you to share yourself with another human being openly and honestly. This vulnerability allows someone to get to know the real you. And this can greatly speed up the falling in love process.

I’d definitely recommend completing this exercise, preferably with someone dishy. It may just make you fall in love – with your friend, your partner, or an attractive stranger. It may also make you fall in love with your journey, with your life, and with you, the real you.

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Just Because.

As you know, I recently injured myself while exercising. What I neglected to mention was that, prior to this, I’d regularly been getting sudden pains in my head.

At the time, it struck me that I probably needed to take it easy but I just couldn’t stop. I was always on the go and I was exercising more than ever. I felt tired a lot but adrenaline was fuelling me and I thought I was doing great.

When I hurt my Achilles tendon, I was forced to slow down. Interestingly, the pains in my head disappeared immediately.

I learnt a lot from the whole episode. I recognised the need for more balance in my life. It also brought home for me the fact that I had to be able to feel good about myself regardless of what I was doing or how I looked.

I realised that it’s all in my head anyway. I could feel good one day and shitty the next. Nothing external had changed, which perfectly proved my point.

However, there’s a difference between knowing something and feeling something. So when the physiotherapist gave me license to return to exercise, I did so that very evening.

The following morning, I was dismayed to discover that the Achilles on my other foot was paining me. Yet again, I had to resort to limping.

An acupuncturist advised me to lay off exercise for a week. I needed rest. My body, in all its intelligence, had created the pain that was making it impossible to do anything but rest.

Though I would never consciously ask for pain as a learning aid, I have learnt a very important lesson from all this. I’ve been doing things in order to feel good. I’ve also been doing things to avoid feeling bad.

Of course, it’s sensible to practise healthy behaviours that accentuate the good and eliminate the bad but it’s also worth remembering that it’s best not to rely too heavily on external routes to happiness.

Also, balance is key. Interesting how both my Achilles were acting up as, without the Achilles, it’s very hard to achieve balance.

Exercise is great. Healthy eating is wonderful. Working hard and taking action is commendable. Achieving success is admirable. But leaning too far in any one direction will upset the balance and, sooner or later, you’ll topple over and hurt yourself.

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I clearly need to listen to my body when it’s tired or sore. Replacing one gym session with a walk in nature would be a good idea. I deserve to take a rest.

And so those deeper issues of self-worth, self-love and self-acceptance make themselves known. I feel good about myself when I’m busy, when I’m doing and achieving. I feel good in my body when I’m exercising and eating healthily.

And I feel bad when I’m not doing all these things. I feel unworthy of love and care and acceptance. Or at least that’s how it’s always been. Until now.

Of course, I knew I should be confident anyway. I knew I was great. I knew I deserved love and care and acceptance. But now I feel it.

The other night, I asked for a sign in my dreams to show me what I need to see in order to heal. I dreamt that I called into my parents’ house to collect a couple of things.

Nobody was home. Minutes later, my parents returned. I overheard my father sniggering to my mother: “Sharon probably came here so she could sleep during the day.” My mother laughed and agreed.

An energy rose up in me. I was about to ignore it but I decided I wanted to stand up for myself. I told my parents that they should respect me even if I was sleeping during the day.

That afternoon, the meaning of the dream dawned on me. The dream was all about me. My body had been crying out for rest but I hadn’t respected it enough to listen to its wisdom. I had ignored it and pushed it even further.

Until it decided to give me a taste of my own medicine. It injured me so that I could finally heal a deep trauma.

In its intelligence, it had injured my Achilles heels. My weakness. How I always strive for perfection just so I can give myself permission to feel good about myself.

This morning, I told my Life Coach that I need to love myself no matter what before I attract in a partner. He said that some man will be lucky to have me. All of me.

He told me that I’m already perfect. My “imperfections” are what are making me vulnerable. My vulnerability is pushing me to grow. And that growth is leading me to greatness. Which doesn’t take away from my present greatness.

So I’m listening to my body. I’m resting. I’m taking a break from high intensity exercise. I’m acknowledging my greatness. I’m believing that I deserve love and care and acceptance. And I’m feeling good just because.

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Flaws

After posting Wednesday’s blog, two people very close to me suggested that I could be more confident. Having made a list of the qualities I’d like in a romantic partner, I’d asked myself if I possessed these desired attributes. And I’d acknowledged that there were a few things I needed to look at.

However, I’d zoned in on the fact that I could be a better communicator. I’d actually thought I was doing quite well in the confidence arena.

But in the last few days, two people have remarked on my confidence. They’ve done it because they want the best for me. They believe that I’ve a lot to offer and a lot to be proud of.

One of these people asked me if there’s a possibility that I’m going for men who are unavailable. I reflected on my most recent crushes. Perhaps she has a point. The men I fancy are usually not right for me, they wouldn’t be good for me, or they have girlfriends.

If I want to be in a relationship, why would I lust after unavailable men? Unconsciously, perhaps I don’t really want to be in a relationship. I decided to tap on the issue.

[For more on tapping (or Emotional Freedom Technique), click here: http://www.thetappingsolution.com]

As I tapped, something interesting revealed itself. I don’t allow myself to get too close to men because there are certain parts of myself that I don’t like. And there’s only so long that I can keep those parts hidden. I’d even done quite a good job of hiding them from myself.

Yes, I have a lot to be confident about. And yes, I’m much more confident than ever before. There are times when I get it, when I genuinely love life, when I have fun and I’m in the flow.

But I’m still placing conditions on my self-love. I have to look a certain way and I have to be doing certain things. I can’t just love me for me.

Usually when I feel unloving towards myself, I retreat. I don’t want to go out or see people. Yesterday, I decided to do things differently.

I opened up to a friend. I confessed that I feel sad that I’m not allowing myself to get close to a man because of these conditions. I told her that I feel upset that I’m not loving myself unconditionally.

She advised me to love myself, including the part that isn’t loving myself. But I don’t know how to do it. I don’t know if I can.

I want to. I’m sick of this issue raising its ugly head over and over again. But I still don’t know how I can love myself anyway.

I know I’m resisting reality. I am the way I am. I also know that I can’t love somebody unconditionally when I can’t do the same for me. And I know I can’t expect someone to love me unconditionally when I can’t do it for myself.

Maybe bringing this to the surface will help. I did feel better for having shared my deepest darkness with someone who sees and encourages my light.

I know I’ll get there eventually. I’ll be okay. I’ll be more than okay. One day, I’ll break down those barriers and love myself unconditionally. Imagine how life will be then…

But for now, I give up. Not in a feeling-sorry-for-myself, life-isn’t-worth-it kind of way. But in a I-just-don’t-have-the-solution-right-now kind of way.

Today, I walk alone down a beautiful country road. I put my iPod into shuffle and enjoy the music.

The warmth of the sun settles on my skin like the softest blanket. Field chamomile makes me smile. Lush leaves reach out to something that I can’t yet see. And this song starts to play at just the right moment.

Stepping into 2015

Over the past few days, there’s been a lot of talk about the coming year. I’ve been asked about my new year’s resolutions, I chose my Word for 2015 (Free), and yesterday, my friend and I played a thought-provoking game which highlighted our fears and desires.

My new year’s resolutions are to be present, to be brave, and to love. Last night in the pub, a friend asked me if I had any more concrete goals, things that I could tick off my list with satisfaction. She mentioned wanting to read and go to the theatre more. Another friend would like to participate in a project that excites her and to find a new hobby that raises her adrenaline. Somebody else listed off the countries she wants to visit.

I paused. The other evening, my mother had asked me about romantic relationships. “I have to sort my life out first mam,” I declared. It’s difficult to think about hobbies, classes, holidays and dating when I feel like I’m currently in limbo. I need to figure out my career and where I’m living.

So I’ve set up a session with a great Life Coach for next week. I finally feel ready to be completely honest about myself, and about the fears, issues, blocks and beliefs that are limiting me. It’s my life and I deserve to live it to my full potential. I want to grow and move forwards. I’m also going to exercise more.

Yesterday evening, I called over to a friend. I asked her what her Word for 2015 is. She decided on PeaceShe explained that there is no greater thing than Peace. In Peace, you are present. You can be more creative and efficient. In Peace, you break through fear. “Yes,” I say excitedly. “You can’t feel fear and Peace at the same time. What a great Word!”

Then, my friend suggested a wonderful exercise. She took out a page and divided it into 16 pieces. On each slip of paper, we wrote things like: I desire. I fear. I need. I am. 

We took turns in finishing these sentences. It was interesting to see what came up for us and how much everything overlapped. It enabled us to become really clear on what we need to focus on (and let go of) for the coming year. I realised that I have to love and accept myself no matter what.

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Many people use this time of year to reflect, plan and motivate themselves. The way things have worked in my life has been quite synchronistic. I’m starting afresh right at the beginning of a new year. I’m releasing old patterns that are no longer serving me. I’m willing to change.  And I’m open to new opportunities.

And despite the fear, negativity, confusion and over thinking that I’ve fallen into over the past month, I have also really enjoyed the holidays. And I’m so grateful for the lovely people I surround myself with.

I’ve appreciated and been present to the simple things in life like laughter, music, movies, nights out, sleeping, eating, exercising, reading, writing, being in nature, and spending time with friends and family.

The other night, I caught the end of a documentary called Unhung HeroThe documentary-maker was struggling with insecurity and he considered giving up on the film altogether. His mother gave him the following advice: “With growth there’s pain.”

I feel that I am on the cusp of something great. I’m about to take a massive leap forwards. And it’s natural to experience fear when you’re challenging yourself to step into the unknown.

And so I step into 2015, a never-before-seen year, with freedom, presence, courage, love and peace. I wish the same for all of you. Thank you for reading. You make this labour of love all the more worthwhile.

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Word.

For Christmas, a dear friend gave me Susannah Conway‘s wonderful workbook called Unravelling the Year Ahead: 2015. I spend the evening hunched over the book, thinking and writing.

One of the questions that I’d like to share with you is: What is your Word for 2015? Susannah suggests choosing a word that will guide you through the year, a word that makes you feel expanded and inspired.

I scribble options in the margins. Words like Courage and Love, Peace, Presence and Abundance.

But the word that’s right for my coming year is FreeI feel light and optimistic as I scrawl these four letters onto the page.

Recently, I was in a situation where I felt trapped. I wanted out. I wanted to scream and rebel. But I struggled against guilt and obligation. I longed to flee the person, the place, and most importantly, the emotions that arose in me.

However I realised that, instead of complaining, blaming and running, I had to look at myself. These terrifying feelings were hiding in my inner shadows and this event simply shone a light on them so that I could examine them. And rather than resist these feelings, I had to accept them and love myself (and the other person) anyway. I understood that if I didn’t deal with my own issues, the same experience would repeat itself again and again.

So this coming year, my word is Free. It doesn’t matter where I am, what I’m doing, or who I’m with. I can choose to feel free in any given moment.

The following question is: If you lived and breathed your Word every day in 2015, what would be different for you?

If I lived and breathed FREE every single day, I would be doing things out of choice, enjoyment, love and independence. There would be no need or attachment, resentment or fear. I would stop labelling and limiting, blocking and restricting. I would be happier. I would live in the flow. I could do anything. I could be anything.

What is your Word for 2015? Then ask yourself these four questions:

  1. If you lived and breathed your Word every day in 2015, what would be different for you?
  2. List some ways you are already being/experiencing this Word.
  3. What can you do this year to bring more of your Word into your world?
  4. Choose four more words to support your Word this year. They could be anything from inspiring words to names of people to things you want to invest in…
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Being Negative For A Change

All day, I’ve had an anxious feeling in my chest. I haven’t been able to take deep, satisfying breaths. I had a busy day so I just pushed on through, hoping it would pass.

Tonight, I was about to watch television and simply ignore how I was feeling. I realised that I didn’t want to do that. I’m an advocate of sitting with your emotions and listening to what they have to tell you. So I sat. I slumped into the armchair, feeling down, frustrated, angry and fearful all at once.

Then, like the good writer and avid list-maker that I am, I reached for a notepad and pen. I decided, rather than run from the things that were annoying me, I’d write them all down. I don’t usually give so much energy to the negatives but, this time, I felt it would be therapeutic to have a look at what had been festering.

As synchronicity would have it, I came across this quote by Jill Bolte Taylor today: “Just like children, emotions heal when they are heard and validated.”

And so I moaned and doubted, raged and self-victimised all over two sides of an A4 sheet. I tore out the page and turned to a new one. Here, I wrote how all of my grievances were making me feel. Let’s just say that I don’t know if many other negative emotions even exist because I was feeling all of them.

Although I don’t believe in focussing on the negatives in life (and who’s to say what’s “negative” anyway?), it became clear to me that this was a really beneficial exercise.

I had been feeling this way for no apparent reason. However, when I asked myself what had been upsetting me, I was able to fill two entire pages with reasons.

I also realised that some of the things that were irritating me were things that don’t usually annoy me when I’m feeling good and energised. All of the small stuff was mounting up and creating a massive lump in my chest. It was robbing me of my peace. Or rather, I was allowing it to. But how was I to know what I was allowing when I hadn’t even given any of it my attention?

As I worked my way down the list of feelings that had arisen from all of my perceived problems, I recognised that there was one thing that would set me free. Acceptance.

I could accept the situation. I could accept other people as they are. I could accept what they had done and hadn’t done. I could accept that the past is the past (even if it only happened yesterday, it’s still old news). I could accept how I’m feeling right now. And most importantly, I could accept myself exactly as I am.

Acceptance melts resistance. Acceptance and struggle cannot coexist. Neither can acceptance and anger. Or acceptance and judgement.

When you accept something, you let go of the desire for things to be different. And with that, you become truly present. With that, you can breathe again…

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My Dream Man

It is a late autumnal afternoon and I am walking with an attractive man. We arrive at the canal. I stop at a railing and gush, “I love it!”

I continue: “I know I can get very enthusiastic but there’s something about the water and nature and this time of year and the red-brick buildings. I love beautiful things.”

He faces me. The railing is between us. He states: “Nothing is perfect, Sharon.” I look at him and answer: “I didn’t say perfect, I said beautiful.” He leans in to kiss me.

A moment later, I move in to kiss him. He would need to inch a little more forward. He doesn’t. He turns and keeps walking.

I awaken. It is very early and the wind is howling outside. I fumble for a pen and paper. I feel this dream contains an important message. Something that’s come up a few times recently about how I still think I have to be perfect in order to be accepted and loved. And more importantly, in order to accept and love myself. I’ve also just realised that I place the same ridiculously high standards on any potential partners and on the relationship we may have.

Thankfully, the last couple of times I’ve become aware of this, I’ve recognised that there is beauty in imperfection. There’s honesty, truth and authenticity. There’s humanity and openness and connection.

Maybe next time, I’ll have that kiss.

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