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My Song

I welcome the first day of summer by attending a yoga and music workshop with musician and yoga teacher Jack Harrison.

We lie down and begin with some breathing exercises. Jack strums his guitar, recites poetry and sings.

Then he takes us through a powerful yoga sequence. No music plays now. All we can hear are Jack’s instructions and our breath.

My breathing deepens. I feel strong, present and peaceful.

Afterwards, we sit in a circle and sing. For the most part, I close my eyes and really get into it.

Occasionally, I open my eyes and appreciate what’s in front of me. The fantastic Jack Harrison playing guitar. And a group of people joyously opening their hearts together in song.

Next, Jack suggests that we sing any tune we feel like.

“Dissonance is beautiful,” he insists.

“Some of us were told as children that we weren’t good singers. I was kicked out of the school choir when I was a boy,” he laughs.

“But singing is easy,” he says with a smile.

Many of us spend our lives trying to fit in and appear normal. We’re told how to live and what’s expected of us.

But today for a change, we’re being encouraged to be different. We’ve been given licence to sing our own song in a way that’s right for us in this special moment.

We start quietly and self-consciously. But before long, we become louder and more confident.

I realise that it’s much easier to sing in unison. It’s actually harder to be different. But I’m determined to find my own song.

I go with the feeling. I put judgment aside. I allow myself to be me.

Somewhere between dissonance, unison and harmony, I hear my own voice. Tears prickle behind my eyes. Jack’s right, it is beautiful.

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Little Camino

The past month has been weighed down with money worries, career anxiety, fear for the future and feelings of insecurity. This in turn has had an effect on my self-esteem; how I see myself and how I feel when I’m with others.

The main outcome of a much-needed business coaching session this week was that I need to love myself. And yesterday, I had another revelation.

I’ve been depending on external factors to make me feel okay. I’ll be good enough if and when… I’ll relax when I’m earning more money. I’ll be worthy when I have a flourishing business. I’ll feel secure when my boyfriend does and says all the right things.

However, the reverse should be true. I need to feel good first, anyway, irrespective of anything or anyone.

I have to love myself just because. I must stop placing conditions on my self-acceptance.

And I definitely need to stop waiting for someone else to make me feel good. Because that strategy is destined to fail. Catastrophically.

It’s guaranteed to foster pressure, disappointment and resentment. Feelings become extremely precarious. One action, one word, one thought has the power to tear everything asunder.

What I want to do now is come back to me. That creative, happy individual who knows herself, and who has a full and balanced life with work and friends and hobbies. Who now also has a boyfriend who’s gorgeous and good and full of love and enthusiasm.

But just because I’m now in a relationship doesn’t mean I should lose myself in it. An intimate relationship is actually an opportunity to find myself more deeply than ever before.

I need to live my life. Do the things that give me energy and inspiration. Be there for myself.

I have to stop abandoning myself whenever things go “wrong”. I must remember my worth, see my light, and know that I’m deserving of love and all the good things in life. I need to focus on all the positives that are right there in front of me.

Today is Thursday and I have the day off. Part of me feels ashamed that I’m not busier, that I’m not a part of “normal” working society. Then I remember that I have to stop rejecting myself.

“What’s the most loving thing I could do for myself today,” I ask.

An image of walking in nature flashes before me.

“The sea,” I think excitedly.

“Healthy, delicious food and coffee. And a good book,” I add.

I’ve come up with the perfect recipe: I’ll hike along the coastline from Bray to Greystones, have lunch in one of my favourite restaurants The Happy Pear, then wander back to Bray.

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Most “normal” people work on a Thursday so I go alone. And that’s kind of perfect. My very own mini-Camino.

I don’t listen to music and I put my phone on silent. The weather goes from windy to sunny to rainy.

As I walk, I start thinking. Then I realise that I’m feeling bad. I observe this with interest.

Nothing has actually happened in the here and now and I’ve still managed to make myself feel bad. When instead I could be enjoying the beautiful views of aquamarine waters leaning into the horizon, mountain and birds and yellow furze. I could be breathing in the fresh air. Appreciating this time, this peace, this space…

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So today I choose to come back to me, to stay with me, to love myself and to make myself happy. Because when I’m present to myself in this moment all is right in my world.

Today I take this big lesson from my little Camino back to my working life and to my romantic relationship but most importantly to my relationship with myself.

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Images: Author’s Own

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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Fairy Story

Last night, as I flicked through an old copy book in search of an empty page, I stumbled upon a Fairy Story that I’d been asked to write as part of an Inner Child workshop I’d taken part in a while back. Here it is…

Once upon a time, there was a beautiful, perfect little princess called Sharabella. There was something about this girl that shone brilliantly from within. You could see it in the sparkle of her eyes and her fun-loving laugh.

People loved to be around Sharabella. She didn’t even have to do anything. People just felt better after having been in her presence.

This was Princess Sharabella’s magic gift. She simply had to be herself and others were healed. All was well in this magical kingdom.

However, there came a time when Princess Sharabella was needed in a very different kingdom. A kingdom that was full of pain, sadness and suffering. The Powers That Be decided that Princess Sharabella could help transform this kingdom’s pain into love and beauty. 

Sharabella landed on this kingdom filled with peace and optimism. What Princess Sharabella hadn’t counted on was how much skepticism and resistance she’d face. 

Slowly over time, poor Sharabella began to doubt her magic powers. She started to wonder if she really was as perfect and beautiful as she’d once believed. 

It was such a struggle trying to change these people’s way of looking at things so Sharabella began to shut up and shut down.

Her beautiful light dimmed more and more over the years until one day, when The Powers That Be paid this dark, gloomy kingdom a visit, they no longer recognised beautiful Princess Sharabella. 

Sharabella was tired, grey and depressed. When The Powers That Be finally realised who she was, they asked her what had happened. 

At first, Princess Sharabella didn’t know what they were talking about. “This is who I am now,” she stated gruffly. “I’m ugly and useless and this kingdom would be better off without me.”

“But once upon a time, you were Princess Sharabella – the most beautiful, luminous, perfect creature, with the gift of healing others with your mere presence,” The Powers That Be exclaimed.

Nobody realised that an outsider had overheard their conversation. A crippled old lady had witnessed the whole exchange. She was moved to tears by Sharabella’s despondence. If a Princess despised herself so much, what hope did the rest of them have?

The old lady couldn’t help but speak out. “Excuse me,” she interrupted as she leaned on her walking cane. “I’m confused. I have to ask: What is a Princess doing in this horrible kingdom? This place is filled with hate and destruction. Us citizens know no different. We’re used to this life. But you? I urge you to get out. Save yourself, while you still can!”

The lady trembled with urgency while The Powers That Be stood there, uncertain as to how to proceed.

Slowly, Sharabella looked up, her eyes brimming with tears. She started to sob – loud, uncontrollable gulps of emotion.

As she cried, her cloudy, grey eyes turned to bright blue. Her ashen complexion became rosy pink. A brilliant light flickered, then started to beam out with such magnificence that everybody dropped to their knees in awe.

In this moment, Sharabella realised that she was not the ugly, depressed woman she had grown to believe she was. She remembered that she was the beautiful, perfect Princess that was her birthright. It had simply become unclear and difficult to express in a kingdom that had never accepted such perfection.

If she could heal people in her old kingdom, she knew she could do it here too. But not if she continued believing that she was ugly and worthless.

Suddenly the old lady, inspired by what she had just witnessed, ran away, excited to tell her friends and family what had just happened. 

“She forgot her walking cane,” Sharabella said. And Princess Sharabella and The Powers That Be laughed and laughed.

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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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Love, Love, Love

Lately, I’ve been feeling disappointed and annoyed by certain things people have been doing or not doing. Like when someone doesn’t reply to an email. Or when a person is quite cold in a text message or doesn’t wish you luck for a significant event or never enquires as to how your course/work/love life is going.

There are several things I can tell myself:

  • It’s their stuff so don’t take it personally.
  • There could be many reasons as to why they did or didn’t do these things so don’t assume the worst.
  • Let them know how you’re feeling, express yourself with maturity, and ask the right questions.
  • Forget about it.
  • Don’t have expectations so you won’t be let down.
  • Accept these people as they are and stop wanting things to be different.
  • Find other people who are able to give you what you’re looking for.

All of the above are valid and useful. I know all that. But my innocent inner child wants us all to get along. My soul wants to believe in a better world. I wish people could just be nice. I don’t want to feel this way.

As I get ready for bed tonight, I reflect on the type of interactions I have with people who don’t appear as loving as I would like. I realise that, when I find someone particularly cold, I withdraw. I text back without my usual cheeriness and warmth. Perhaps it’s a protective mechanism.

I think some more about the individuals who don’t tend to give out love. I wonder if these people have ever received much love in the first place. How can you give what you don’t understand? And so, all their lives, it’s possible that they never really experience love.

And if I, a mostly warm and affectionate person, withdraw my warmth and affection in reaction to their lack of love-giving, how many others do the same? Perhaps, these people don’t receive much love at all. And so the cycle continues.

I am reminded of a Swedish proverb now: “Love me when I least deserve it, because that’s when I really need it.” And suddenly I am swept back in a memory to a time many years ago…

I am in serious emotional pain. A loved one moves to embrace me. I wince and withdraw. I do not want her affection. I cannot be touched. She reaches forward anyway and holds me. And I break down.

I realise that this was exactly what I needed. I wasn’t loving myself so I believed that I wasn’t worthy of loving. This woman loved me regardless. And so began my journey of self-love.

Tonight, I am deciding not to alter the potency of my love depending on who’s the recipient. The dosage of my love shouldn’t change in correlation with the percentage of the other person’s love. Love is not a currency or a punishment or a condition. Love is free and pure and unconditional.

Dear readers, I am sending you my love tonight. My undiluted, unconditional, brimming, beaming love. I hope you know how loved you are. And I wish you a life full of the joy, comfort and belonging of love.

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Make Friends With Yourself

I’ve been pretty tired lately as I’ve been really busy and noisy neighbours have been robbing me of my precious sleep. I noticed that I’ve started feeling anxious, rushed, under pressure and annoyed.

Little things that wouldn’t usually bother me were playing on my mind. My thoughts were ceaseless and I found it difficult to wind down.

I longed for a holiday far away from it all, where I could enjoy a complete lack of work, deadlines, meetings and boisterous children next door. I would sleep and walk in nature and breathe…

However, right now, I can’t just take off. Well, I could if I really wanted to as I always have a choice. So right now, I’m saying yes to the assignments and visits, dates and appointments.

But I still need to take a moment in between. I need to create space for myself amongst all the busyness so that I can hear what’s going on for me.

But wasn’t that the last thing I wanted to do? I was fed up of hearing myself think. I slouched off into the dark bedroom and flung myself on the bed. I was full to the brim with my own thoughts.

Last night, I gave my Positive Living group the homework of recording their self-talk for one day. The purpose of this is to monitor how many negatives and positives you’re telling yourself and to see what negative issues are most common.

I decided to take on this task today and what a day it was to complete such an exercise. My self-talk was predominantly negative, full of doubt and criticism, perfectionism and irritation. And when I realised how negative I’d been, I felt even more negative. I really was sick of the sound of my inner critic.

So instead of trying to analyse or reason with myself, I wondered: What would a friend say if they overheard my self-talk?

Instantly, my inner voice became encouraging and supportive, gentle and complimentary. My inner-friend was understanding and compassionate and even offered some useful advice.

She told me to always listen to what I needed, to prioritise and to take enough time to rest and have fun. She insisted that my health and happiness were of utmost importance and whatever I needed to do to conserve both of those things was absolutely worth doing.

And you know what, she was right. I must listen to her more often.

What’s your inner friend telling you?

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