Just in Case – A Thought on Progress…

The unpredictable and erratic Irish sunshine is shining in on me this evening through a window graffitied with stubborn raindrops from earlier on. The world both inside and outside of my room seems calm, as although the weather doesn’t suggest it, it almost feels as if things might be coming to some kind of even keel as the escaped hubcap of my life spirals slower and slower to a managable pace where it finally nears stillness – still dangerously exposed and raw in the centre of the road, yet standing there strongly, and balancing alone.
The sun and rain go on around it, contrasting elements living in direct relation to one another, which have recently been spending an increasing amount of time together. It leaves me wondering are they growing apart, or growing closer together? It seems we can’t have one anymore without being half-prepared for the other, many shops in town boasting attractive stalls of both umbrellas and sunglasses side by side in displays of diversity that would leave Aldi and Lidl speechless.
But co-exist they do, and ginger hair and pale skin aside, one without the other wouldn’t be a comfortable climate to live in either. In considering my emotions and progression over the last number of weeks, I’ve come to a similar conclusion and final acceptance (after years of awareness) that the bad does not necessarily always have to be bad, and must exist in order for the good to be as rewarding as it is. Basic and elementary as this realisation may seem to some, it has only been through putting the extremes and contrasts into practice, subjecting myself to their power and destructive abilities and consciously suffering the consequences of them that I have once and for all come to accept them for what they are, and finally, finally, slowly and reluctantly come to learn from it.
I’m ready to let go now of what I know does not serve me. The length of time between acknowledging this and being ready to do so was far, far longer than even I could even have anticipated, the struggle in between proving more confusing and unpredictable than a badly-kicked rugby ball. Yet my body and my mind have suffered enough, and letting go seems easier now that I can see myself and true potential for what it is.

I don’t know what the next month holds in store for me, or where my next pay cheque is coming from. I don’t know where it is I would be now if this low had not happened or been allowed manifest it’s gripping, grumbling emptiness within me. I can’t possibly know any of this, nor change how I was before. All I can do now is keep moving forward, building on the mistakes that were made and shunning the negative tendencies that will forever remain etched as a reminder of the strength of my own human will to do whatever it is I set myself out to do. Just because I’m not certain of what I’m setting out to do yet does not mean I won’t do it well, because now, instead of worrying and jumping to conclusions I cannot possibly predict or know the outcome of, I’m progressing forwards, in the comforting knowledge that I have been able to deal with and adapt to changes I didn’t expect or plan before, and I’ve made it this far to tell the tale. The tools I’ve gained from getting here will remain with me as long as I just remain aware, and maintain a certain balance in myself which only I can maintain.
I do not, and cannot know whether a rain jacket or a bottle of Factor 50 will be necessary when I leave the house tomorrow. But I know that both are packed away safely and neatly accessible in my bag – just in case.

31 Obvious Things We All Know Are Important To Remain Balanced But Generally Tend To Ignore

Let’s face it: we all know the things that are good for us.

In some deep-rooted corner of our stomach or diaphragm, or wherever you feel your instinctive urges, we know that staying up that extra hour binge-watching Netflix is going to result in googly eyes until lunchtime tomorrow.
But still we do it, because it’s easy to give in to the urges and not think about the future in those terms—wanting to prolong the feeling of contentment as long as possible, and at whatever cost.
But balance is something that only you can find for yourself. Health service and medical advice aside, you are ultimately the only one who can know your own body and mind, feel your own emotions, hear your own thoughts, and heed what works and doesn’t for yourself.
Listening to your body’s needs and being able to heed them accordingly are two very separate things, however, and too often we let things slip purely out of laziness or for simplicity’s sake.

Sometimes it takes a subhuman strength of will to haul my mind out of the gutter of magical, idealistic thinking, and into the simple reality of what is. Because reality is simple. Here and now, right here, right now, with no thoughts preoccupied with the future or with the past, I have a sense of peace and serenity that stems only from my situation in this present moment, and only this present moment.
There are certain things and environmental factors which I’ve noticed help me to achieve this sense of self and make it more accessible in times of distress.

So, in order to further promote this balance and help myself return here when it becomes necessary again (because even the most balanced person stumbles every now and then), I’ve compiled a list of things that help me personally to maintain balance in the midst of mental, emotional, or environmental chaos.

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1. Rise early. You may not catch any worms, but you’ll certainly get a headstart to the day and a chance to spend some time with yourself and thoughts in order to properly be able to figure them out before the day begins.

2. Eat well. (An oldie, but a goodie.)

3. Drink water—this speaks for itself.

4. Get enough sleep.

5. Listen to your body.

6. Wear sunscreen.

7. Spend time with yourself.

8. Spend time in nature.

9. Breathe.

10. Read books while travelling.

11. Read books in bed.

12. Just read books.

13. Travel often. Movement is key to living—“If we were meant to stay in one place, we’d have roots instead of feet.”

14. Lock your door and dance around (bonus points if it’s in the dark).

15. Sit in a bar or restaurant alone, and enjoy your own company.

16. Drink coffee.

17. Write things down.

18. Write yourself well.

19. Stretch daily.

20. Yoga poses soothe. You know this.

21. Exercise to feel your heart beat in your chest—to feel and stay alive.

22. Indulge in chocolate.

23. Make playlists of songs that make you feel.

24. Do things that make your eyes light up when you talk about them.

25. Spend time with people with whom you can laugh and feel alive, yet who will also remain steadfast and supportive in times of need.

26. Feel your emotions. They’re there for a reason.

27. Take care of your body. You are the only one with the power to do so.

28. Wear what you’re comfortable in. Nobody (yourself included) needs or wants to see you pull up your tights again.

29. Cleanse and moisturize daily—physical freshness can help to have & fall back on in the case of an unexpected mental shift during the day.

30. Give your full attention to someone if they’re taking the time to speak to you—even if you’ve no idea or opinion on what they’re saying.

31. Wherever you are, be all there. Mindfulness and being present in the moment is one of the most straightforward ways to be at ease with yourself and situation, yet ironically is generally the last thought to occur to us in times of stress.

The ‘Hills’ of Donegal

‘The Hills of Donegal’

‘Hill’ being my mother’s maiden name, this phrase has often proven the source of some quality punnage and cheap jokes in my family, any relatives hailing from that side automatically being granted free entry into the category so often sung about towards the end of a drunken night out in Coppers.

I came to visit some of the Hills of Donegal recently for an extended long weekend, in order to escape the haste and mind-melting suffocation of the suburbs of Dublin, and hopefully find some sort of respite. What I found here I still can’t quite put my finger on, but I just know it has been good for my soul.

Home to fairy forts, ancient standing stones, a world war 2 crash site, isolated, pristine beaches and a round tower said to date back to the time of Niall of the Nine-Hostages, the area surrounding Dunree and Buncrana where my godfather lives is truly a treat to explore. Given my haste to leave the capitol, I foolishly packed an assortment of ill-suited clothing for my undefined stay, and so on my arrival I was forced to borrow a warm fleece, and buy the cheapest set of leggings I could find in the local Sainsbury’s just over the Derry border to wear under my thin Summer-dress and tights.

Once I was properly kitted out, (for though the weather was actually fine, a cool breeze cuts through most types of clothing at any time of the year around here), we headed off down the beach for a glimpse of the sunset, after one of the first days this year when the sun has been properly visible for over a couple of minutes at a time. The battery on my phone had died after a painstaking 4-hour bus journey (NEVER travel with Bus Éireann), so you’ll just have to take my word for it without pictures – but it was beautiful.

The cottage itself is exactly what you’d expect for such a rural area – a large, cosy living area with both a turf fire and a huge range that when lit provides heating for the rest of the house too, and a slanting garden home to various plant pits, a huge greenhouse, and an impressive ‘bonfire area’ as they call it, used for parties and gatherings of local musicians and other vagabonds during the summer months. The road down to the right outside the gate leads down to a beach so large and isolated that it makes the Salthill prom appear like a kindergarden’s rockpool. This (even though it’s only April) has been the hottest day of the year so far – where are all the people??

Apparantly, this is one of the Northern-most beaches in the area, and so by the time sun-soakers reach the turn to come down here, they have already passed numerous opportune locations to spend the day roaming the sands and taking ‘shellfies’ with the local marine-life, leaving local inhabitants of Dunree free to bask in the isolated beauty of their beach without having to worry about careless carts of unsupervised children and other littering tourists – it really is a special place.

When the tide is low, there are caves and rockpools to be explored that lead around the coastline to the right of the beach, continuing on jutting in and out dangerously, yet they consistently draw my gaze as I wander up and down the sands, dodging jetstreams in futile attempts to keep my pathetic Penney’s tennis shoes dry. This is what I needed. This is where I should be right now.

Whatever your understanding of or the scientific explanation behind the sensation of ‘Déja Vú’, my aunt’s continued referral to it as ‘a sign that you are in the place you are meant to be’ comes back to me even now, and I can’t deny that there is a solace and truth in her words that ring true for me when in Dunree. I experienced Déja Vú an unusual number of times this weekend, and given that I’d only ever visited here once before as a gangly, awkward teenager who complained about every last step that had to be taken outside in the rain (even if it meant a breathtaking view at the end of the road), I found it increasingly strange and began to believe her words more and more each time it occurred. I am comfortable here. I am at peace. I am not entirely warm, but nor am I cold.

I’ve experienced a glimpse of the balance, calmness, and joy there is to be gotten out of life, if you just stop to recognise it. Because I must leave soon and return to normal life at home (if you can call it normal), I know that it won’t last. But then, I am also aware that nothing lasts. Nothing stays the same, and while I enjoy the peace and collectiveness there is to be found in this place, my sense of self and purpose being more pronounced than they have been in ages, I know I must return. I must go back, and face the inevitable shift into another reality that I may or may not be comortable with. I’ll have to wait and see.

So Much Left To Do.

There are so many things I want to do.

I want to read. Books from long ago. Books from last week. Books that mean things and books that don’t.

I want to travel everywhere and SEE as much as I can while I am young and my body is able.

I want to write songs and stories and translate what’s inside my head into something solid or audible and beautiful.

I want to take care of my body and ensure that it will last long enough to do everything I want it to do, and take me where I want to go.

I want to experience life in places I haven’t yet been able to. There is so much more to the world outside of Dublin.  I have been on top of mountains in the Alps, and seen the sunrise from an island in Lake Victoria. There is so much more.

I want to love and be loved, but do so without losing myself in the process.

I want to strengthen this new-found courage, this sense of self that has begun to appear, and use it to help others who are disappearing.

I want to work and live for ME, instead of for somebody else.

I want to let myself take opportunities that are presented to me, and give myself a chance to make something out of them, even if it seems at first that I won’t.

I want to be able to do the difficult lifting poses in yoga.

I want to learn to speak French and Italian.

I want to sleep.

Stay Focused…Are you with me!?

Stay Focused…  Are you with me?!

Mindfulness, and putting it into practice

On a recent trip with a charity organization to a school in Uganda, one of the things that struck me most about the interaction between the teachers and their pupils was the way in which they addressed one another. On our first day, a middle aged male teacher attempted to get the attention of a group of around seventy or eighty students, in an outdoor area which did not allow his voice to travel far. Instead of shouting at them to be quiet, or indeed angrily threatening extra homework or detention, he questioned, loudly and clearly;

“Are you with me? Are we here??”

To which the students replied in bored tones, after a few moments of fading chatter that suggested they were used to answering this question:

“Yes, we are here.”

This direction of the students’ attention to the present moment, as opposed to calling incessantly for attention and giving them a reason to deflect it from him, succeeded in affirming to the students simply that someone in their midst wished to speak to them, and wanted to ensure they could all hear. Whether a colloquialization of the English language or not, both the effectiveness and accuracy of the phrase stuck in my head. It was accurate in that it succeeded in bringing not just the students’ attention to the forefront of the gathering, but the mindsets of all those within range, to the present moment. There was no room left for daydreaming, for worrying about things that didn’t matter right at that minute. We were there. It didn’t matter that the topic of discussion was merely a description of the events that would be taking place that afternoon – everybody heard it.

The practice of mindfulness aims for the same thing – awareness. It is a complete awareness and acceptance of yourself and your mind in a certain moment, at a certain time. Being aware of what is happening around you, and able to notice the individual thought processes that only you can recognise in yourself. If something happens, something unexpected – how do you react? How does your brain automatically respond? How often have we later regretted irrational responses, saying things like “I didn’t really think that through”, or “I probably shouldn’t have reacted like that”?

The process of training your brain to think rationally is not something you can achieve overnight. It takes a long, long time; some longer than others, and any number of mistakes and badly thought-out responses before you finally figure out what works and what doesn’t work for you. It’s an extremely personal and internal thing, and everyone is different. To even think to force your thoughts out of your head and into your present surroundings is an achievement, because it means you’ve become aware of the futility and silence of the thoughts being all mushed up in your brain. Think of this – right now, you’re sitting (or standing) wherever you are, reading these words off a screen, maybe scrolling the side bar to go down further, or maybe glancing up at someone who’s sitting or walking by you, and ultimately you’re expecting to finish this article soon, maybe unsure of how to react to it, or already trying to figure out why your thoughts are racing ahead to what you’re going to have for dinner or what to wear tonight, and then kicking yourself for realizing the lapse of attention to the present. It’s that simple. You are here right now. Nowhere else.

The awareness is only half the battle, however. The most challenging aspect is to actually implement the rational thinking into your everyday thoughts, and to build a steady practice of routinely checking back with that part of your brain to ensure you’re still here. It’s an ongoing process, and one that I don’t believe can ever be truly perfected- even by those who are practiced in mindfulness.

Because life throws things at us that we do not expect.

Things happen; things that no amount of judging or guesswork could ever predict. If you’re prone to let your thoughts wander irrationally through everyday problems, then who’s going to be surprised when you lose control in a moment of crisis? It is so important to be aware of yourself and of the way your mind and body work, because you are ultimately the only one who has control over them. Being mindful is a skill that everybody should be able to tap into in a moment of need, and even if you do slip up occasionally, to be able to drag yourself back reluctantly to the present moment, is an achievement, and another obstacle overcome. Now, I’m going to get a hot chocolate in the café outside.

“Are you with me?”