Why Comparison is the Thief of Joy…

‘Come away o human child,
To the waters, and the wild,
With a faery hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping
Than you can understand”
– W. B. Yeats

 

As we grow, whether we are taught to specifically or not, we learn and become aware of the destructive, hindering, and downright ugly habit of comparison.

To compare. To contrast. To look at others in relation to ourselves.
We are placed into this cut-throat ‘race’ – even the word conjurs up a sense of competition – to appear the most ‘together’. The most ‘on-track’, the most, the best, the highest of something, or anything…The details of the path to which no one ever specifically outlines, and to those few who through some happy fortune and lucky accident have managed to avoid the now ingrained natural inclination to compare, probably seem ridiculous. But it’s everywhere. Even the most basic and first obvious step to ‘progress’ in life – the process of getting a job. The very nature of ‘jobsearching’ in it’s most basic form being an exercise in the techniques we use to compare ourselves.

Because these details remain unclear, rather a vague ideology of what ‘should be’, or what you ‘should have achieved’ by now in your life, so too remain the steps ‘required’ to achieve it; unclear, and downright confusing.

In essence, what I have just described leads to a life lived solely for the purpose of pleasing or fulfilling the presumed ‘expectations’ of others. These expectations having been sculpted from a firm base of solid fact, into pliable muscles that can be flexed and altered depending on the strengths and weaknesses of others and ourselves, and described in relation to whatever perceived ‘flaw’ or ‘issue’ a person may be preoccupied with in any given moment. Implying that the energy a person directs correctly towards any given thought or outcome, is where prevelence will occur.

What I’m trying to say is, we end up using the energy which should be expended clarifying all this uncertainty instead to fuel false and/or inaccurate beliefs about ourselves and circumstances. By the time many of us realise where this energy has gone, it is often too late to change the course in which it has been expended.

The ‘flaws’ or ‘issues’ which caused the reckless expension of this energy to occur are seen for what they really are; our natural differences, unique qualities, and irreversible traits, consequences, backgrounds and composition, which in their realisation present us with a breathtaking understanding of our own potential.

Potential being the key factor here in our contemplation of all of this.

In all of us, there lies potential. Potential to add to the world as it already exists. As it already stands. A unique offering from our unique composition and the possibilities presented by it, that only we have access to and control over.
By comparing ourselves to any existing and unchangeable (from our point of view) person, place, achievement, action, idea, whatever it may be, we are tainting already the potential which breathes originality and newness through our uniquely crafted and formulated lungs of individual DNA, and wasting what it is silently nourishing.
Similarly, by considering ourselves in context to, in comparison to, or as an extension of or addition to any other person, we immediately limit the valuable streams of energy which hold the potential to pave new and undiscovered paths to places that people may have travelled before – but probably not in quite the same way.

In all this pent up worry, these comparative and analytical thoughts and emotions being focused on why we can’t just have what someone else has, be what someone else is, or what someone else wants, for that matter, there is no room left for joy. For happiness. For contented, simple, pleasure in one’s own company. Within one’s own skin, home, environment. There is simply no place for it.
It’s only when you’ve been away from it for so long, and failed to experience the contented, relaxed and genuine oneness with yourself and your own mind and body that you realise how far away from it you once sought validation and comfort. There’s also the rather shameful realisation that this validation and comfort could not possibly ever have come from anywhere but within.

A friend asked me recently (in more colloquial terms) how my love life is at the moment. I replied saying that to be honest I kind of like just liking myself right now, and that I’d see how that goes for a while before getting too serious about anything. If I happen to make a new friend along the way who shares a similar fondness and appreciation for me, and I for him, then maybe, with a bit of luck we might bond over our mutual interests.
If I can someday appreciate someone for all they are, whilst also(and most crucially) still appreciating myself and my own body for what it is, does, and appears like, instead of trying to change it and alter it to suit misguided assumptions of what will ‘work’; then I feel I will be doing well.

Comparing with something, with someone…with an image of what I perceive to be correct or acceptable, steals away all energy which should be used to focus on developing my potential as a human being; my potential contribution to the world; my talents, loves, passions, rather than on potential that is reliant on outside factors beyond my control; like the choices, preferences or tendencies of others.

In avoiding comparison, I am avoiding any potential and useless despair. In accepting differences, and my own self the way I appear, think, and react instinctively, though it may not always be favourable, I am ridding myself of the misery and unsolvable, unavoidable reality that for so long wasted all potential energy which could have been of benefit elsewhere. The only potential created by that person, is the potential for disaster. The sensation of joy, of childish contentment and acceptance which comes with the banishment of this comparison is so powerful that the potential which has existed all along seems magnified, and powerfully exciting in it’s possibilities.
In redirecting the attention to my talents, passions, and potential contributions… they might finally receive the energy they require to come to fruition.

To conclude, I’ll merely state that comparison serves nobody, and creates nothing in it’s destructive pattern of over-analytical and negative thoughts. In order to make room for any potential joy or happiness in our lives, we must first assess what is taking up the space so cruelly witheld from this contentment, and take steps to remove it from our lives in favour of that which allows us to grow and explore our potential.

Art, Language, and Yoga as Forms of Personal Expression

 

df75fdd7-3c68-4f49-b56e-b103a56f897d

 

They say that art calms the mind, and soothes the senses.

As someone who is regularly plagued by bouts of extreme and intense anxiety, coupled with irrational responses to everyday occurrences, I have truly found solace in writing; in expressing my thoughts and worries elsewhere before they get the opportunity to take over my life.

Writing especially I have found to benefit me extremely in this sense, yet also other art forms too – singing, practicing yoga, translating, doodling, creating anything…aside from the obvious enjoyment and productivity associated with these acts themselves, it’s comforting to realise that regular practice and engagement with them have massive health benefits too.

The calmness and ease I feel after writing or praciticing yoga for a short time, or expressing myself in some other way is what I imagine most people (and by most, I mean people who aren’t prone to anxiety or extremes of thought patterns) feel on a ‘good day’. A ‘good day’ being a day where they awake feeling relatively content with their lives; their job; the balance on their latest bank statement; an upcoming night out or short holiday planned to keep them ploughing on through the next workday. A good day is all I want. A mediocre day without stressing over what to eat for breakfast, how I should break up the day ahead, whether or not I’ve had a response from the latest job application I’ve submitted…

ef42fbe1-7cb7-4ba9-83ec-a3e3de46fb04

When I was travelling I had many, many of these ‘good days’. So many in fact, that I’ve come to associate the very act of travelling with these feelings of contentment, understanding, and acceptance of the world around me. When I’m travelling, it’s not only MY world I’m accepting – the things and people I see on a day-to-day basis – it’s the ENTIRE world. It’s a level of acceptance and bliss it’s difficult to recall now as I sit alone in my parents’ house, the grey clouds of an Irish ‘Springtime’ taunting the pale skin that has only just begun to lose the thick spatter of freckles Asia provided as a thoughtful departing gift to remember her by.

unnamed-76

Language and Writing

People are quick to comment on SouthEast Asians’ calmness and politeness of character, something I have experienced first-hand and now seek to put into practice myself. Even the various languages and alphabets as they are written- the delegation of equal importance and respect to each line, component, and meaning of each letter in each and every word they speak and write is absolutely fascinating, and humbling in comparison to the almost careless way we seem to throw our words and thoughts around a lot of the time.

In taking the time to sit and write them out, we are treating our own minds with respect, our own thoughts, however frivolous they may be, are being given the time of day they deserve and not hushed away in the back of a wardrobe or the ‘junk drawer’. This can be achieved no matter what language we are writing in.

Yoga For Self-Awareness

 Sitting with a new language and attempting to fully understand new structures, words, functions, and patterns is similar to sitting with our own bodies and listening to our needs. We slowly become more and more in tune with them; understanding the unique functions, strengths, cycles, abilities and limitations, the positive and negative reactions to outside stimuli, the huge spectrum of potential and possibility for this ever-evolving life-form that we’ve been given to power through a ‘lifetime’ here.

I don’t pretend to claim a clear understanding of all things body and mind and language-related and the vague sort of tenacious connection that I am now more certain than ever is in existence between us all – I’m merely enjoying the process of exploring it. I’m not expecting to ever understand it all, because that would defeat the purpose of the journey and of the creative exploration of what we’ve been given to work with. I can only hope to maintain an enjoyment of this journey, to sit with it, associating words and symbols and ideologies with different concepts and ways of life and language; with physical movement and accepting my body through yoga being a medium through which this change can work – a way for me to continue exploring it.

6e3ca51d-0a5f-4b29-b5f9-961f1529d513

A Panickers’ Guide To Travelling

 

Take it from a seasoned panicker – new and unfamiliar situations are always going to pose the threat of throwing you off-balance. If you’re like me and tend to overthink every potential outcome of every hypothetical situation before it’s even had a chance to become a possibility yet, it’s time you accepted the fact that you do this, and stopped distancing yourself from trying new things in fear of it.

giphy

Once you accept the fact that certain circumstances and types of people stress you out slightly more than they do others, it becomes so much easier to take a step back and put things into perspective. Perspective in this case has a lot to do with accepting your own lack of control over certain elements of life, and embracing your vulnerability instead of running from it and pretending it’s not there.

bilbo

That’s why when I announced my plans to embark on a bit of solo travel and exploration, my close friends and family were very clearly slightly dubious of me. Even if they didn’t say it or voice their concerns, I know them well enough to recgonise their polite acceptance of what I was calling my ‘travels’, when I knew all they were thinking was ‘how the hell is she going to manage?’. It’s only been a little over a month since leaving, but several short-term trips beforehand prepared me both mentally and physically for this next step of setting out on my own and away from the safety net of an organised travel group (I’m not completely on my own just yet, but will be soon, and I find 2 or 3 is a much more managable number than a large group). But I like to think I’ve proven them wrong in how well things have gone so far…..(*touches woods apprehensively*). Here’s some advice I wrote for the benefit of others that I keep needing to remember to follow myself….

1.  It’s Natural to Anticipate

I am and have always been chronically early for absolutely every kind of appointment, meeting, flight, bus, train, or any other kind of scheduled journey I’ve ever taken. 532242_265319013590365_2114068047_nIt’s this anticipation, this un-uttered fear and apprehension that something might go wrong or somehow need to be altered at the last minute and leave me unprepared that has led me to panic as I have in the past at the mere mention of the dreaded words ‘change of plan’. I am also an earlybird. I’m up before the worms, which I figure is always better than being late. It’s ok to be early for things, in fact sometimes it even works out in your favour. The tricky part though is managing to get the balance between overpanicking about it to the extent that you arrive 3 hours before your check-in time and have to sit with your suitcase in the only café on this side of the airport, and being so relaxed that you rock up 5 minutes before boarding closes and have left no time to deal with any issues that may have arisen between the sprint from the check-in desk and the quickly downed pint of Bulmers’ in departures. The apprehension associated with pre-determining things and trying to ensure it will work out as planned is exhausting, so just be aware that only certain things are in your control when it comes to transport and travel. You can only ever hope to take care of yourself and ensure you’re there on time and with all of your belongings – there’s no point stressing over others or over conditions (weather, delays, timetable changes, etc) that are outside of your control. Going with the flow is something that is most effectively learnt by literally just taking the leap and doing it, and so there’s only so many times you can tell someone before that they must take the initiative and do it for themselves.

2. Just Go For it.

This leads me on to my next point. Just Go For It. There’s only so many times people are going to listen to the fact that your main plan and dream in life is to travel and see the world until you actually set out and DO something about it. It shouldn’t be about what other people think, but I know myself that I was getting tired of hearing myself go on about it on nights out and with various groups of friends, so much so that I eventually just went for it and booked something. I was more nervous than excited right up until the week of my departure, but by then it was too late to change anything and I’d come to terms with the fact that I was challenging myself in this way for the forseeable future, and that it would ultimately prove a positive and character-building experience for me. What have you got to lose?

11363712_446951998763327_113392670_n

 

3.  Language Barriers
img-thingBe prepared to encounter some pretty incomprehensible situations and difficult people on your travels. It can get frustrating and stressful at times, especially if you’re (heaven forbid) running late for something or require certain information immediately. It’s often the hardest thing to do to take a step back and a deep breath, and use your most plainly broken down English to try and get a point across. Panicking in this situation will only make things worse, as body language becomes more important and obvious when words are no longer an option – this means that the more erratic you get, the more difficult it will be for the locals to grasp your intent. Keep a ‘cool heart’ as much as possible, and you will get by without too much anxiety or frustration bubbling over and escaping in the form of angry and accidentally offensive hand gestures (many Asian cultures do not appreciate pointing). Another thing that can help with this is to try to get a basic grasp of the local language – such things as please, thank you, how much, and the numbers 1-5 have proven especially helpful in securing directions, transport, prices, and also in cooling off situations where the language barrier has been particularly difficult to scale.

 

4. Money is Not Actually all that Important
If I had’ve known how little it is possible to get by on a day in South East Asia, I would have embarked on this trip a hell of a lot sooner. If you’re smart about it (which I’m not pretending to be always, but hear me out here), the main thing you will find yourself parting with hard-earned cash for will be transport from place to place. Food and drink is another necessity which does add up (especially given the charges to refill water bottles), but if you stock up in a supermarket and don’t mind carrying an extra ‘food bag’ around with you (beware of ants!), it is actually easy enough to avoid paying extortionate amounts. Still, it’s difficult not to let budget concerns get to you while you’re on the move and dealing with tens of thousands of a foreign currency you can’t begin to grasp the value of. This is made more difficult by the surcharges that seem to exist at every unexpected turn. A dollar here for parking a bike, 50 cent there for a water refill, which actually leaves you a couple of million Dong down, really make for a lot of confusion and stressful expenditure until you familiarise yourself with the currency, which I recommend doing as soon as you arrive. Avoiding organised tours and pushy guides who convince you their offer is best is also key, and it is often so much cheaper to rent your own bike or motorbike and go exploring by yourself. BJ7Se2rCMAAmsXR You may get lost once or twice, but there’s nothing quite like the feeling of finding your way back and grasping the geography of such a foreign place – every chance you’ll stumble across hidden gems you’d never see whilst blindly following a tour guide! The sense of independence achievable by doing this is also second to none, and even if you do go astray and feel like you’ve no idea where you are, there will always be someone willing to point you in the right direction home – humans can actually be nice, you know, and contrary to what some people think the whole world isn’t actually out to get you!

 

5. You Get What You Give
I get it. You’re a nervous person. So am I. It generally takes me a drink or two to loosen up to the stage where I’ll talk freely with a stranger for no reason other than out of politeness. But travelling has really changed the way I see this. Being forced into group situations and dorm rooms where it would be just downright rude to ignore likeminded travellers’ enquiries and lighthearted banter has really made me see that I am more than capable of socialising and holding solid conversation without the backbone or safety net of a group of friends behind me. So often I’ve heard ‘oh I’m rubbish at making friends’ or ‘I find it hard to talk to people’ – excuses I’ve made myself to avoid having to involve myself in social situations that I actually end up enjoying when I get into it. I’ve found that, simply put, to gain anything from any social situation or interaction, you must be prepared to also give an equal amount to show the person you’re engaged in conversation that yes, actually I do want to keep talking with you and stike up an impromptu friendship over how we both got ripped off by a cyclo guy in Ho Chi Minh City. 7a7ba950ff1df75bec529b7b7d867adf8db12c5d783aea2d22362b117b482a5d.jpgYou never know anything until you ask, and more often than not I’ve found you’ll be surprised with both the answer and with yourself and confidence after opening up and letting people in. After all, how can you expect anyone to want to speak to someone who sits closed off to the world? Any relationship is based on give and take – even a barman is not going to know what you want unless you tell him, this seemingly minor interaction being strengthened by the only certainty of it’s grounding, which is your order. It’s more difficult with new people, when intention may or may not be clear, but I’ve found that if you let go of this factor and accept that it really doesn’t matter WHY this person is talking to you, they just ARE, it becomes easier to lessen anxiety and enjoy just living and being in the moment of the conversation.

 

6. Push Your Limits
You’re already doing this by taking the step outside your comfort zone to go travelling, so why not try and push a little more? I’ve surprised myself in many ways since leaving home; I’ve held tarantulas, tried streetfood I wouldn’t touch in a million years were it made at home, ridden motorbikes up mountains and around streets where the only observed rule of the road is ‘biggest vehicle goes first’, and put my life and valuables in the hands of bus and tuk-tuk drivers who swear they knew where my requested destination was, but have actually embarked on wild goose chases searching and asking others they see along the way. It’s only natural to be slightly on edge when trying to progress in such a foreign and alien society, but there is definitely a balance to be struck between letting the anxiety take over, and accepting that certain things here are just done differently, and that it’s kind of in the unwritten travellers’ handbook that visitors to any city or new town adapt to the local ways instead of resisting and causing negative and problematic interactions – there’s a reason many locals in tourist areas dislike foreigners!

 

7. Enjoy, don’t Endure
This is possibly the most important piece of advice I have ever received. I guarantee you, if you fill the time you have out travelling and exploring a new country with worrying and anticipating everything up until you arrive on time for your flight home, you will return with nothing but regret that you fret over such trivial issues instead of enjoying your surroundings while you were there. Living in the moment is advice we all hear on a regular basis, and I feel that escaping to a new country, a new place, with new people and new experiences is one of the best ways to put this way of living into practice. In shifting your mindset to enjoyment, focusing on the new and exciting things that surround you on all sides instead of merely existing and not fully appreciating things, you will gradually come to be aware of how easy it is to confuse enjoyment with endurance.images-1 I’ve lost count of how many family holidays or group trips away that I’ve merely endured purely to satisfy others, and I regret hugely not enjoying them and making more of them whilst I was there. It had gotten to the point where I confused the boundaries between what was endurance and what wasn’t, and I’d almost forgotten what it was to enjoy new experiences, instead focusing always on the negative – the long journeys, the heat, the lack of available peanut butter….the list of trivialities goes on. I’m now lucky in that even though I’m often naturally inclined to the negative, I have the ability to pull myself up on it and stop the spiralling thoughts before I lose control of them.

8. Learn From Mistakes
Finally, you wouldn’t have reason to panic or be anxious at all if it weren’t for past mistakes you’ve made, or the potential disastrous consequences leaving your home and comfort zone can present to you. Be aware only that things will go wrong, and you will make mistakes, but it’s so important not to view these mistakes as failures, and merely to accept them as they happen and try to learn from them. Admit to yourself that no, it probably wasn’t the best idea to agree to a city tour without fully understanding how much they charged first, but it happened, I was naive, and I won’t do it again. It’s the only way to deal with the unexpected blows to the bank balance, dignity or confidence that come naturally with travel. If nothing else so far it has taught me to take myself less seriously, and to see that literally everyone in the world is in the best way possible just out for themselves in the hope of progressing forwards. Rarely have I encountered a situation where people are genuinely nasty or mean in their intentions, and even the most stingy shop assistant will at the end of a tough haggling session sigh and take what little amount of money you have resigned them to accepting. If you’re assertive enough and aware of the potentiality of being ripped off and taken advantage of, but possess the ability to still function somewhat normally and enjoy your new surroundings despite this awareness, a good balance can eventually be struck between awareness and fear. It’s not exactly an easy ask, but it gets easier the more you remember it in tough situations, and gradually becomes second nature to take things in your stride instead of letting the anxiety win over and needing to ask for directions home to the hostel you’ve returned to without an issue for the past 4 nights already. Learning curve. Baby steps. All that jazz. Worst comes to the worst, at least you’ll have the comfort of knowing you had the confidence to give it a shot!

8301c2ebcbd6d40d78082b0254fee71a

 

If I can do it, anyone can!