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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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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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Music Uplift

Certain music raises your emotional vibration. So I suggested that my Positive Living group find a piece of music that uplifts them. And in time, they could put together an entire playlist, which they could listen to whenever they want to feel happy or energised.

Last night, I scrolled down my iPod to see what I would place on my uplifting playlist. My choices had me shimmying, singing along to the lyrics and smiling as I was flooded with lovely memories. Here’s what I came up with…

1. Happy Face – Destiny’s Child

This song helped me put on my happy face when I was going through a tough time in my early twenties.

2. You Make My Dreams Come True – Hall & Oates

If you’re a fan of the film (500) Days of Summeryou’ll remember the scene where Joseph Gordon-Levitt dances through the streets after a night of passion with one very lucky lady.

3. You’ve Got The Love – The Source feat. Candi Station

This track reminds me of being spun on the waltzers by a sexy carnival bad-boy, and later, the emotional final scene of hit series Sex and the City.

4. What Makes You Beautiful – One Direction

No explanations, no justifications. Now excuse me while I check out some of their newer music videos. For research purposes.

*17.32 minutes minutes later* Yep, feeling pretty good alright.

5. Intro – The XX

Cooler than a pair of Ray-Bans.

6. Drumming – Florence and the Machine

This music had me dancing with wild abandon in my bedroom.

7. Taro – Alt-J

And this gets me belly dancing round the flat.

8. Halcyon – Ellie Goulding

I recall feeling hopeful and alive as I raced through the rain while Miss Goulding belted out the lyrics: “It’s gonna be better!”

9. A Real Hero – College feat. Electric Youth

I couldn’t put the treadmill on a high enough speed when this song came on my I Work Out playlist. And anything Gosling-related is feel-good if you ask me.

10. Instant Crush – Daft Punk feat. Julian Casablancas

Cruising along the coast, windows down.

Bonus Track: Sweet Disposition – The Temper Trap

Another tune from (500) Days of Summer, this brings me back to sunny days lying on the grass and gazing at a clear blue sky…

I’d love to know what would appear on your uplifting playlist!

Tracing memories…

A few weeks ago, my aunt gave me her unused copy of Cheryl Richardson’s Turning Inward, a lovely journal of self-discovery. I’m loving this unexpected hand-me-down as it’s forced me to really reflect upon what’s important in my life, what I fear most, and what’s blocking me from unleashing my potential.

Tonight, I turn to page 22, where I’m asked about a favourite memory. I struggle against the memory that immediately pops into my head as it involves an ex, with whom things ended badly. Despite this, I start to write…

"Recalling days of sadness, memories haunt me. Recalling days of happiness, I haunt my memories.' Robert Brault

Last summer, my ex-boyfriend bundled me into his van and brought me to Ballyferriter, a small Irish-speaking town in County Kerry on the west coast of Ireland. This was where I had spent my childhood vacations. I hadn’t been there in 16 years so I was extremely excited to revisit this special place.

This impromptu trip has elbowed its way into my patchwork quilt of favourite memories because it was beautiful in its own right and because it awakened a whole landscape of wonderful older memories…

We peered into the boarded-up caravan where I’d spent summers playing heated games of cards and Scrabble, where I’d listened to the tap-dancing rain when I wasn’t warbling along to Mariah Carey on the Walkman, where my cousins and I had huddled together as we whispered ghost stories and feasted on apple drops and Dip Dabs, where my grandma had taught me how to knit a tea-cosy while my granddad completed the Irish Times’ crossword, where we’d dipped bread soldiers into runny eggs with RTÉ Radio One  playing in the background…

We visited the beach where my family and I had picnicked and ridden waves, built sand castles and squelched across seaweed, savouring the sounds and smells of the ocean. This was where I’d drunk my first can of cider and chatted up boys in my native tongue.

We pitched a tent (which was an experience in itself) and drove into the village. I pictured myself, as a child, walking into town, stopping to pick black currants and suck on fuchsias. I remembered dangling from monkey-bars in the hotel playground as I gazed out at An Fear Marbh

An Fear Marbh (the dead man)

We wandered around the village as I regaled my beau with stories of my brother, cousins and I going to the pub to drink  Coke “in a bottle, with a straw”, playing pool against the locals, then buying lollipops and turnover bread with our winnings of punts and pennies, and investing in my first pair of dangly earrings…

Having showed him all the sights, we munched on fish and chips, washed down with a pint of the black stuff. That night, we cosied up on the beach while the crashing waves serenaded us…

The following morning, we woke ourselves up with an excruciatingly refreshing swim. We warmed up by running the length of the beach, then executing a number of yoga moves while still in our bathing suits (much to the astonishment of the well-wrapped-up passers-by). Afterwards, we used a small camping stove to make the most delicious breakfast I have ever had (no exaggeration) of poached eggs and tea…

Writing about this bittersweet memory has taught me three things:

  1. The most wonderful memories are made up of the simplest scenarios.
  2. Even though life hasn’t turned out the way you expected, what happened before still counts.
  3. Just because someone is no longer in your life, doesn’t mean the memories you shared with them should be tinged with sorrow.

Last summer, I was happy and in love. Last summer, I delighted in spooning and holding hands. Last summer, the man I loved made it possible for me to rediscover some of the best moments of my life and, in the process, gave me a wonderful new memory that will stay with me forever. And for that, I will always be grateful.

Images: http://mydeardiamond.tumblr.com/; http://crunchy-little-human.deviantart.com/art/Childhood-198323794; http://inphotos.org/2006/12/21/an-fear-marbh/; neon-stories.tumblr.com; http://www.bigonbuds.com/category/uncategorized/