Tag Archives: memoir

To Let It Be

I turned to my friend and announced: “Resistance is what causes most of our suffering.”

This was off the back of a weekend spent in bed, sick and alone, while the sun shone, radio DJs played dance music to prepare us all for a fun Saturday night out, and my Facebook friends posted pictures of forest walks and ice creams in Dun Laoghaire.

I knew I was feeling sorry for myself. And I knew I had a lot to be thankful for. I wasn’t battling cancer. I hadn’t lost my home to a hurricane. And I wasn’t counting pennies to see if I’d be able to put food on the table.

But I was sick. And the weekend blazed sunnily through the windows. And there were no more dark chocolate covered rice cakes in the house.

And I was face-slappingly, heartbreakingly alone.

The thing is, I could have asked for help. In fact, one friend asked me if I needed anything. I replied honestly that I didn’t. There was nothing that I needed. And I didn’t want anyone to have to cancel their plans for me. I wanted people to be with me because they wanted to be there.

So I spent two days at home alone. Between sleeping, blowing my nose and weeping over my aloneness, I delved into Cheryl Strayed’s wonderful book Wild.

Cheryl had gone through some really tough times. Her father was abusive and her mother died of cancer. After Cheryl’s marriage broke down due to her infidelities and use of heroin, Cheryl took on an extraordinary journey in order to become the woman her mother saw in her. Cheryl hiked over a thousand miles alone on the epic Pacific Crest Trail.

“I felt more alone than anyone in the whole wide world,” Cheryl admitted. Later, she reasoned: “Maybe I was more alone than anyone in the whole wide world. Maybe that was okay.”

I lay in bed reading but it felt like I joined Cheryl as she sweated up mountains, grew blisters, lost toenails, and crossed paths with deer, bears and rattlesnakes. I walked alongside her as she raged into the wilderness, carrying a giant rucksack which she aptly named Monster. 

Before Cheryl set off on this amazing trek, somebody told her that the father’s job is to teach his children how to be warriors, “to give them the confidence to get on the horse and ride into battle when it’s necessary to do so.” She said that if you don’t get that from your father, you have to teach yourself. This woman predicted:

“There will come a time when you’ll need to get on your horse and ride into battle and you’re going to hesitate. You’re going to falter. To heal the wound your father made, you’re going to have to get on that horse and ride into battle like a warrior.”

I could relate to the burden Cheryl bent beneath. As she emptied a lifetime of sadness and anger into the wild, I too allowed myself to heal and release. And when Cheryl didn’t think she could go any further, I championed her as she walked on anyway. Her strength and determination humbled me as she completed a miraculous journey back to self. Cheryl finished her memoir with the words:

“How wild it was, to let it be.”

How wild it would be, to let everything be as it is. Without trying to change it. Without resisting what is. Without wishing things were different. Without wondering and worrying, regretting and replaying.

So this evening, I turned to my friend and said:

“Resistance is what causes most of our suffering.” 

And she retorted:

“Thinking is what causes most of our suffering.”

She went on to describe her morning. How she had spent time sweeping up leaves. My friend, like all of us, has plenty to think about, but she didn’t think. She swept.

She watched the leaves swirling in the wind. She felt the brush in her hands. And she listened to the sound of the bristles as she swept.

Tonight in bed, I notice that I am curled up tight, thinking. It hits me that I’ve probably spent most of my life thinking. Not living. Not experiencing. Not being. I’ve spent most of my life in my head. Thinking.

This is my life, I realise. And I want to be present to it. So I resolve to climb out of my head and into my heart. To be in my body. To feel. To experience. To live. To be present. To be open. To simply be.

A vision of my friend sweeping leaves floats into my consciousness. I relax into the bed. I can almost hear the bristles flicking onto the pathway, as the leaves dance in disobedience.

How wild it would be, to let it be.

weheartit.com

weheartit.com

Advertisements

Eat Pray Love?

I am hesitant about spending three days on my own in a mostly closed-down seaside village in March but I know I want to get away and I also know that I have to do it alone.

I have had a bit of a rough time of it in the last while and I need respite from the storm. As I drive from east to west Ireland, I head straight from a metaphorical storm into a real one.

I expect to feel lonely but I am quite content in my own company. Upon my arrival, I go out to the beach. I walk against high winds and watch the crashing waves. In the evening, I take my laptop to a hotel and peek out at the ocean as I sip on a glass of Guinness. That night, I nibble on chocolate as I watch a movie from beneath a mound of blankets. And I have the most wonderful sleep.

On the second day, I complete a college assignment and jog down a quiet country road. I make a “chillax” playlist, light incense and candles, and get drunk in the bath on a glass of red wine as I delightedly tuck into Elizabeth Gilbert’s endearing memoir Eat Pray Love.

weheartit.com

weheartit.com

That night, the wind shakes the rafters and the rain pelts down. And it isn’t the kind of rain that appears on many a relaxation CD; it’s the kind that makes you worry for the house (and for yourself).

On the third day, the loneliness descends. I feel too depressed to make food or leave the house so I give myself permission to close the curtains, put on a movie and eat chocolate. The sun shines annoyingly from behind the blinds. I feel guilty.

Earlier in the day, I had finished Eat Pray Love. Elizabeth Gilbert had found pleasure, peace, God and love, and I am happy for her, but now I really am alone. Even the nice, fun self who got drunk with me in the bath has left and been replaced with a demanding, insatiable self who reprimands me with all the fervour and righteousness of a school-teaching nun. I haven’t signed up for this. I’m on holidays. I can do what I want.

Halfway through the movie, I decide that I’d actually quite like to spend some time in the company of the sun and the ocean so I drag myself out of bed and embark upon a cliff walk.

The wind whips me in several directions. The ocean is beautiful but frightening as its waves roar and rise higher and higher, its spray landing on my face. I wonder if it’s safe to walk so high up, to be so close to such fierce unpredictability. There is nobody around. Am I alone in my insanity?

At one point, the wind grows so strong that I have to hold on to a railing. Then, there is no more railing. I could turn back but I’ve come so far. I just have to get to the peak and turn the corner. I’m stubborn in my insanity too.

Suddenly, a stone hits me in the face. I march to the top and turn the corner. Only then do I raise my hand to my cheek. I quite enjoy the sting of it. Tears spring to my eyes. Am I a masochist? Do I think I deserve to be hurt? No. It is simply because I can understand physical pain. Physical pain allows me to lift a gentle hand to my cheek to check if I’m okay.

As I move onto safer terrain, I ask myself why I’d been scared. In case I died? With a jolt, I realise that it isn’t death I’m afraid of; it’s more suffering. If you’re so afraid of suffering, a voice from within asks, why do you keep creating more and more of it? Why not put an end to all the guilt, the shoulds and shouldn’t haves, the only ifs and whens? Why not stop the exhausting drive for perfection?

If I’m serious about ending the needless suffering, I need to peel off the “good” and “bad” labels I put on everything. I have to stop the judgements. I also have to stop being so dependent on outside events, on other people and their opinions, and on my own thoughts and feelings.

I’ve been so dependent on a variety of people, things and invisible forces that I’m like a small child perched on one end of a see-saw, always waiting to see who’ll sit on the other side, before I can know how high or low they’ll take me.

How I long to connect with that inner stillness I’ve been reading so much about. That pure, perfect, beautiful, unconditional love that’s apparently a part of me. If only I could know, really know, that the essence of who I am is like the clear blue sky, then I wouldn’t be so disturbed and even altered by the lightning and the storm clouds.

All I have to do is accept myself exactly as I am. And accept others for who they are. And accept situations and feelings just as they are too. All I have to do is accept graciously and love unconditionally. But how do I get there?

I guess the first step of all this acceptance stuff is to accept that I don’t have all the answers and that I’m just not there yet.

And so I start to run. The wind settles, the sun beams down from a clear blue sky, and, I shit you not, I run right underneath a rainbow.

favim.com

favim.com

Life is short. Live it.

The other night, I watched The Diving Bell and the Butterfly – a film based on a memoir written by a man suffering from Locked-in syndrome. Locked-in syndrome is a condition in which a patient has full awareness but cannot move due to complete paralysis of all voluntary muscles in the body except for the eyes.

At the age of 43, Jean-Dominique Bauby, editor of fashion magazine Elle, had a massive stroke. He woke up 20 days later to discover that he was almost completely paralysed. The determined French journalist wrote his memoir by memorising what he wanted to say then dictating the text to a transcriber by blinking his one functioning eyelid (a system known as partner assisted scanning). It took him 10 months (at an average of four hours a day). He died two days after its publication.

I don’t know whether I felt depressed or inspired after watching the movie. This man had everything taken from him – his career, his partner (who abandoned him after the stroke), his health, his speech, and his independence. Understandably, he expressed his desire to die. But then he realised that, apart from his left eye, two other things were not paralysed – his memory and his imagination. He went on to write a bestseller and set up a Locked-in syndrome association. He had lost so much but the spirit within him was still able to create something extraordinary. And then he passed away.

Our mortality is something we are born with. Sometimes, I think we ignore the fact that this lifetime will not last forever. We get so caught up in routine and obligation that we are often oblivious to the beauty and wonder of the world around us. We become disheartened and apathetic, or frustrated and angry, so gratitude and appreciation seem irrelevant.

Life is short. So, we should do the things that make us feel thankful to be alive. Last week, I took my mother to see the New York Spirit of Gospel. The vocalists astounded us with their talent. They encouraged us to shake off our self-consciousness, get up off our seats and dance, clap and sing along. The performance was all the better because we joined in.

We spend so much time passively watching the world do its thing. But it’s only when we actively participate that we come alive. So, get out there and really live. Life is a gift if that’s how you choose to see it.

The world is full of miracles and adventure, blessings and delight. And there are so many ways to acknowledge this. Money or mobility don’t have to be an issue. You can travel to foreign lands or visit spectacular spots within your own country. You could walk through whispering forests and across the backs of ancient mountains. Or simply allow the deep tones of a cello to awaken your senses.

Embrace life and each other. Laugh long and hard and often. Learn how to surf or bake or speak Spanish. Tell someone you love them. Admit to your fears and share your passions. Swim in lakes and oceans. Feel the earth’s water on your naked skin. Dance. Cry. Sing. Love. Live.

Images: http://favim.com/image/31398/; http://xaxor.com/photography/25467-appreciating-life-photography.html

From black and white to technicolour

Good fucken fuqballs, I’m writing at 5am again! I blame Jeannette Walls’ gripping account of her exciting, albeit difficult, childhood in The Glass Castle. Only moments earlier, I had to hold the book away for a good five minutes as I sobbed.

Walls’ honest depiction of life as the resilient daughter of an irresponsible but irresistible drunkard, and a refreshingly free-spirited but inexcusably selfish artist, is as heart-warming as it is heart-breaking.

This captivating memoir teaches us that we mustn’t view things, or people, in black and white. Jeannette paints her unique story, mixing muted shades of sepia and charcoal with delightful streaks of vibrant colour.

Everybody is doing the best they can with what they’ve got. We are all simply trying to survive. Even the most despicable of villains have another (better, softer, more vulnerable) side. Lord Voldemort lived a loveless childhood and suffered a pathological fear of death. The Joker was grieving the loss of his wife and unborn child. In 102 Dalmations, Cruella de Vil dedicates her life to saving animals. And Simon Cowell still goes to bed with his blankie. (Poetic license here, folks. Work with me.)

So, the next time you want to curse (or plot the untimely demise of) your unreasonable boss or critical co-worker, take a deep breath. Recognise that they wouldn’t be behaving this way if they were content with their lot.

On his days off, that bad-tempered librarian volunteers to help children with special needs. The self-centred ladies’ man cries himself to sleep each night. The rude motorist who cut in front of you this morning was preoccupied with meeting his new-born son for the first time. The irritable shop keeper doesn’t hate you. She hates her job. Or her husband. Or herself. The town drunk you cross the road to avoid tried to clean himself up several times before he lost his wife, his kids, and his battle with this unrelenting illness.

Insert gratuitous Leo pic here.

I’m not advocating that you accept bad behaviour. I just want to promote compassion and understanding. Everyone has their story, their baggage, their reasons. Everybody longs for happiness. For love. Everyone breathes the same breath of life and dreams of a better future.

Somewhere between the stormy blacks and calm whites of judgement and acceptance appears an uncontrollable rainbow of regret and determination, sorrow and hope, anger and forgiveness. Because that is what it is to be human.

Images: http://www.thew2o.net/; http://favim.com/image/125933/;

http://kairaa.tumblr.com/