Tag Archives: quiet

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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Slow Down

I am currently on a weeklong holiday in the west of Ireland. Each morning after breakfast, I do some work. Then, I take myself out for a walk. I rush the walk to get it out of the way so I can pop into a pub or café to use the WiFi.

Not too long ago, I felt peace. I appreciated nature. I could lie in a bubble bath and listen to music or read a novel over a frothy cappuccino.

How easily I’ve forgotten. How quickly I’ve transformed into a busy, perfection-driven woman who finds it hard to sit still.

Lately, I’ve been trying to fit as much as possible into every single day. No wonder I wasn’t glad when morning arrived.

Even the things I’d once enjoyed had become just another chore to tick off the self-renewing to-do list. Cycle – check. Meditate –check. Prepare Positive Living class – check.

Even nature, my most favourite thing in the entire world, had become an afterthought to work and exercise. When I did get out in it, I sped through it, favouring body tone over nourishment of the soul.

Today, the sun comes out and I decide to go for a walk. Alone. I leave the phone in the car. I don’t listen to music or take photographs. Today, I walk slowly. I roll up my sleeves and feel the heat on the back of my neck. I breathe. I inhale delightful fragrances that bring me back to simple childhood holidays.

I pause to take in the aqua milkiness of the ocean. I watch a man swimming. A fluffy green caterpillar inches its way along the path. Seagulls congregate on a large, flat rock. Cows graze in a field below.

A woman sits on the cliff edge, eyes closed, face tilted towards the sky. I wonder if she’s being truly present, mindfully aware of all of her senses. Or is she simply completing her daily chore of meditation?

Even though it pains me, I challenge myself to sit for a few moments. To just sit. I exhale a sigh of frustration.

Then, I gaze out at the waves as they crash upon the rocks. The waters roar mightily like the exciting take-off of an aeroplane.

The ocean speaks to me of opportunity and adventure, beauty and impermanence, creation and destruction. Tears spring to my eyes.

But even now, in this blessed moment, I am eager to get back. Because I have been mentally making note of everything I’ve experienced. This is the curse and wonder of being a writer.

I take a deep breath. I breathe in and out. I accept myself as I am in this moment. A writer who is forever composing. A human being who is doing her best. A person who is learning and growing and steeping herself in the awareness that will ultimately set her free.

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This evening, I go for a second slow-paced walk along beach, cliff and country road. I peer out at boats bobbing in the bay. I stroll past jellyfish, seaweed and salt-polished pebbles.

I sit several times along the way. I marvel at the sheer magnificence of a cliff face. Gulls soar overhead. I walk beneath a cacophony of starlings perched upon wire.

The sight of fuchsias makes me well up. The scent of cow dung and the perfume of a passing stranger make me smile.

I saunter past stone walls, a tractor and a good-looking horse. I feel my body as it moves. My hips roll and my arms sway. This evening, I do not rush or yearn for the finish line.

I stop to taste roadside blackberries. I pick a handful to take home. For the remainder of the journey, I walk palm up, my hand ink-red with an offering of sweetness.

I realise that when I’m an old lady, reflecting on the beauty of my life, I won’t be thinking about the times I power-walked up hills. I’ll remember the magical moments when I sat and witnessed the silent majesty of a gliding gull and the mesmerising movements of the ocean.

Images: Author's Own

Images: Author’s Own

Stillness: giving your iPhone the silent treatment

We are a society obsessed with doing. If we’re not constantly working, achieving, and succeeding, then we’re not happy. We believe that we only deserve to rest after a gruelling day in the office, after we’ve been to the gym, and completed our evening classes. It is not okay to be still.

An example of our fear of stillness is that much dreaded “awkward silence” that we so studiously avoid. We think it means that we’re not getting on with the person, that we’re not suited as a couple, that the other person is boring, or even worse, they’ll think we’re boring.

We stave off stillness by making sure we’re in the company of others at every possible moment. And if we’re alone when we go for a walk or jog, we have the iPod buds firmly placed in our ears. We flick radio channels as we drive. We watch television or read until our eyes are falling shut at night. Stillness makes us uncomfortable as it may lead to reflection, to feelings, to questioning and to doubt. We don’t allow ourselves to have an individual thought outside of the media’s collective mindset. We have the same opinions as Ray D’Arcy. We want to resemble the newest neighbour on “Desperate Housewives”. We fear what “RTÉ News” wants us to fear.

Everything must be fast and bright and convenient. If a webpage takes too long to load, we reach for the mobile to send a text. We run to make tea during the ad break. We do the ironing as our children tell us about their day. We eat to suppress the feared emotions that stillness might awaken.

I’m a prime example of someone who isn’t happy with myself unless I’m doing. I listen to the radio as I walk or prepare a meal. When I’m at home, I’m usually online. If my phone doesn’t beep for a while, I feel lonely. Duvet days fill me with self-loathing. I’m constantly doing, doing, doing until the moment I drop off to sleep. It’s only recently that I’ve come to this understanding, this awareness of how hard I am on myself. Yes, I still want to do. But I also want to be able to just be. And it’s how I react to myself when I’m not doing that I’m working on changing.

Why change it, you might ask? It’s good to be doing, to keep busy, to be the best you can be. But sometimes stillness forces itself upon us in the form of illness, or a traffic jam, or a snow storm. We panic. How can we survive being still? Are we no longer acceptable if we’re not doing? Are we worthless somehow? Take note of the next time you’re flung into stillness, how you react, and how much you learn from it.

As Eckhart Tolle pointed out, this fear of simply “being” instead of always “doing” is partly why we don’t want to grow older. We can’t accept ourselves as valid human beings unless we’re always “doing”. We often don’t value the wisdom of the elderly as they, deservedly, sit back and muse on life. We are called “human beings” not “human doings”. So why do we find it so hard to just be?

Stillness isn’t something to get through as quickly as possible. Stillness is something we should be seeking out regularly. Our bodies need time to rejuvenate. Our minds need time to switch off.

Here are some ways to experience the wonder of stillness:

1) Live in the present moment

Living in the past brings on feelings of regret, sadness and longing. Living in the future creates pangs of apprehension and worry. It is when you relax into the stillness of the present moment that you can truly be yourself, and be at peace. Observe what is around you, feel the warmth or coolness of the air, inhale the perfume of the present moment.

2) Meditate

Meditation is an excellent method of transporting you to the stillness within yourself. Meditation expands your mind and awakens your inner power. If meditation is too big a step for you right now, try yoga or Pilates, or simply sit and take a couple of deep breaths. Just give yourself a few moments a day to be still. Here’s a relaxing Buddhist Meditation clip… 

3) Be quiet

It’s very hard to be still when there’s constant music or radio chatter in your ear. The next time you’re going for a walk in the countryside, take out your ear phones for even just a few minutes. Listen to the sound of the running river, of the singing birds. Stop your power walk to inhale the scent of the yellow furze, to inspect the colour and shape of the berries, to look up at the amazing blue sky. Close your eyes and feel the sunbeams dance across your cheeks.

4) Change routine

Instead of watching TV, reading or listening to music any time you’re not busy with work or with other people, take a moment to be still with yourself. Ask yourself how you’re feeling instead of running from such a supposedly scary scenario. Maybe your body’s been screaming at you that it’s exhausted, stressed, or sad but you’ve been too busy doing, and life has been too loud for you to hear it. If you take time to enjoy stillness every day, you’ll prevent yourself from getting sick. From staying too long in an unhappy relationship or soul-destroying job. When you’re more in tune with your body’s needs, you’re guaranteed to experience a much happier and healthier version of yourself.

5) Go with it

The next time you’re feeling tired or unwell, go with it. Your body is very clever. If you would only listen to it once in a while, it would tell you all you need to know. “I’m tired”, “I’m hungry”, “This doesn’t feel right”. If you’re lacking motivation, don’t give out to yourself for being lazy. Your body may just need to rest. Don’t beat yourself up about going for a nap in the middle of the day or missing work or a class here and there. The sooner you embrace the stillness, the more invigorated you’ll become afterwards. You will find that you’re much more creative, energetic, and positive as a result.

Stillness is probably the least talked about self-help tool even though it brings about health, inner calm and positivity. Stillness will remove you from the madness of society and place you in a higher, more peaceful realm. Stillness will set you free.