Tag Archives: regret

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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favim.com

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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busaff.com

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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favim.com

No Regrets

Shannon Kaiser asks: “If you were to die tonight, what regrets would you have?” Tonight, as part of a Positive Living class, we answered this question. I wrote:

“I would regret all the times I put myself through unnecessary suffering, when I could have been present instead, when I could have enjoyed the moment.

“I would regret playing it small, not going for the great stuff in life, not believing I deserved it all.”

My words surprised me. A smile stretched my lips as my pen scratched across the page. I found this exercise extremely insightful and motivating. Now, it’s your turn…

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Building Blocks

Today, I overheard a man ask a woman a rather unusual question: “What would you do if you had a big bag of feathers and the wind caught it and blew the feathers all over the place?” I couldn’t hear the woman’s response but she looked indignant. The man considered his companion’s answer before saying: “You should see it as a challenge. You should look at what kind of day it is and enjoy picking up each and every feather.”

I felt like I needed to hear this strange conversation. Just earlier, I had read an article that caught my attention because its title was “Having a Low Point is Actually a Good Thing”. And tonight, a friend was texting me about living in the present moment. Yet again, life was waving a giant banner in my line of sight until I could ignore it no longer.

I’ve written a lot about acceptance and being present yet I still struggle when I trip up. It was only a few days ago when I stumbled upon (excuse the pun) this quote: “The difference between stumbling blocks and stepping-stones is how you use them.” Even though I believe that everything happens for a reason, I grow impatient every once in a while. I curse my “bad luck”. I wonder if I’ll ever have all the things I want to have. I try to control when things happen and what they’re going to look like. I know it’s foolish. And I know it’s impossible to forecast the outcome of every situation. Woody Allen once said: If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.” 

I realise that what I think would be best for me may in fact limit me in the long run. This is why, when people ask God or The Universe for something, they add: “This or something better.” I can’t tell what wonderful things are waiting for me in the wings. But I do know that worrying about the future or feeling lack instead of abundance is not helping me get where I want to get or, more importantly, enjoy where I am right now.

Tonight, as I flicked through Thich Nhat Hanh’s Anger, I came across a simple meditation. It involves silently saying these words: “Breathing in, I know I am breathing in. Breathing out, I know I am breathing out. In, out.” Now, that is taking life moment by moment. It may appear boring or tedious or frustrating but it is simple. And simple is exactly what I need. In, out. Here, now. Feather by beautiful feather.

Happiness is a Choice

Palliative nurse Bronnie Ware recorded The Top Five Regrets of the Dying. Number five is: “I wish that I had let myself be happier.” This signifies that the dying patients Bronnie spoke with had come to the realisation that happiness is a choice.

Choose happiness now. When you wake, visualise yourself being happy throughout the day. Louise L. Hay asks herself: “What thoughts can I think right now that will make me feel better?” Choose happy thoughts. Thoughts that will make you smile and glow from the inside.

Go by how you are feeling. If you are feeling bad, this is a clear indication that your most recent thoughts are doing you no good. Rather than bogging yourself down with monitoring your negative thinking and giving out to yourself (which will only make you feel worse) and instead of trying to reverse the thought, think of something else entirely. Something that brings you joy, enthusiasm or excitement. Something funny, inspirational or beautiful. Observe how your mood lifts and your day gets better.

Here are the top four regrets of the dying:

  1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me. (This one is so important and I wrote more about being yourself in Happiness Now!)
  2. I wish I didn’t work so hard.
  3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
  4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.

Once you acknowledge that happiness is a choice, I know you’ll be happy to choose happiness.

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facebook.com

I think, therefore I am.

As I tucked into a pita bread heaped with feta cheese, olives, tomato, cucumber, olive oil and oregano, I imagined that I was lounging on a sunny balcony overlooking the Mediterranean. A smile crept across my face as I soaked in the beauty of the scene that I had created. I instantly relaxed.

But it’s not as good as it would be if I were really there, I thought. The image (and the feeling) disappeared. Then, I realised that I could just as easily be on holidays and be so caught up in thought that I wouldn’t even see the white strand or the sun-kissed flowers. The worry, fear, disappointment or anger would smother the sounds of the ocean and the trilling of the birds.

It doesn’t matter where you are when you are not present. When you become lost in thought, you flee from the now. You are not accepting of what is. You tell yourself that you should achieve more and look better, that he should have done this, and she shouldn’t have done that. You long for the past and you wish for the future. You regret yesterday and dread tomorrow. You don’t recognise that you are in the company of another wonderful human being or that your eyes can witness the light in the sky. You forget to use your hands to touch, to feel, to embrace. You don’t appreciate the perfume of the sea air or the grass and trees after a sudden rainfall. You close yourself off to the peals of joy and the miracle of music. You don’t even notice that you are breathing, that you are alive.

Many people think that they are controlled by their thoughts. But you can decide what to focus on. Allow your thoughts to occur, then let them drift on by, like ripples in a stream. You don’t have to attach to or identify with them. Because these thoughts have the power to create your reality. What you think, you feel. And what you feel, you experience.

What reality shall you manifest today?

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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.

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