‘Do The Work’ – On Finding What Works, and Working Through Mental Illness

Sometimes I pretend that the steady stream of cars and buses on the busy, non-stop main road that runs right outside the house I’m currently living in is actually the sound of the ocean.
If I close my eyes and imagine hard enough, distance myself fully from the missing factors – salty air, a sea breeze, sand in nooks and crannies you don’t even know exist until there’s sand in them – it’s actually quite easy.

Caught between the need to create and the compulsion to propagate, sometimes these thoughts and other wild-but-tame ideas don’t go very much further than this. Imagining I’m actually in a tropical ‘paradise’ and not sitting mid-hurricane (or so they’re calling it) on a dreary day in Dublin might seem fairly fruitless, and yet to me it means that the course of inner exploration and healing work I’ve been on for the past 2 years or so now seems to be directly on course to succeed.
Depending on what ‘succeeding’ means to you.
To me, all it means is that at the moment, I’m balanced enough to allow my creativity to be put to good use instead of eating me up with incessant anxious thoughts or worries about things that happened yesterday or that might not happen tomorrow. It just means I’m pointed in the right direction for the next few hours.
And that is all I ever can hope to maintain.
(I also say ‘paradise’ in inverted commas here as I’m a firm believer that ‘paradise’ does not exist in one physical place, rather being a state of mind consisting of the right balance of factors, both internal and external, that at any given moment combine to give us an intense sensation of ease and wellbeing. But more on that later.)

What is ‘The Work”?

‘The work’, as I’ve put it here, is not merely a form of required duties, household help or course of up-skilling that most of us have come to associate with the word today.
The work can mean a variety of things to different people, and it takes a while to figure out what that is for you.
For me, ‘the work’ was the process by which I eased my anxiety for the first time. The work was that which helped me understand my own mind, helped me figure out exactly what makes me tick, why I am the way I am, why I’ve done the things I’ve done, felt the way I’ve felt and proceeded on the course I’ve taken in my 25 years up until now. The work is something which still helps me do this. Whether or not some of those decisions were good or not, the work, mywork, has just helped me understand it all. It helped me become conscious of my actions. I won’t list exactly what ‘my work’ involved, because it’s not just any one thing, and it’s not easy work either. It’s the tough stuff, it’s dealing with whatever life throws us, circumstantial or otherwise, and becoming accountable for it instead of ignoring it or hoping it will go away.
It’s a combination of things, which when engaged with over time and through the ups and downs of everyday life and work and relationships helps us to figure out how to implement them on any given day.

Simply put, I became aware of my needs, I became honest with myself about what was and wasn’t working, and then dedicated myself to slowly but surely adhering to what works as much and as frequently as I can.

Disclaimer:
Before going any further I’d like to take this opportunity to apologise to anyone I may have encountered during the course of this ‘work’ – anyone I may have misled, confused, hurt, hindered, irritated or in any way just bothered by being the way I am and neglecting social norms or expectations with this intense need to figure shit out or do things the way I needed to in whatever way it presented itself at that time. It wasn’t you. Really. It still isn’t.

It’s one of the most selfish things I’ve ever done and yet I uphold firmly that taking time for myself, not just one time that I was feeling particularly bad, but over and over again choosing to put my health first and to investigate the feelings I was having is the only way I’m still sitting here today to write this.
The terror and fluctuating levels of distress surrounding mealtimes, the general consistent low moods or occasional soaring heights of elation and 2am dance moves surpassed by none were all extremes that I was so used to inhabiting that any alternative middle ground seemed like an unattainable – for want of a better word – ‘paradise’.
For anyone who has any experience dealing with or trying to help someone with any mental illness, you’ll know that the intensity and details of these highs, lows, and panics in between can vary from person to person, and so it can be difficult to pinpoint what will or will not help in each instance.

Doing the Work

The work required to haul oneself out of said lows, down from these intense highs of bliss and misfitting euphoria, all at completely irrational things is not the kind of work you do once, and then it’s done. Oh no.
This work is something you must do Every. Single. Day. 

When I started thinking of it more in terms of an actual responsibility, rather than a chore or something to be rewarded for, only then did I started noticing results.
I was responsible for my own mind, my own body, where it went and what it did and what it ate, who it interacted with, and how. On no one else’s shoulders was it if I did or said something I’d regret, ate something that didn’t agree with me or damaged myself in any way.
The work I was doing was keeping this all in check, staying hyper-aware of everything, editing and refining and re-routing whenever something felt off or when I noticed the sly familiar onset of bad thoughts and sneaky triggers that used to go unnoticed. It was so particular that I almost went to the extreme of over-doing the work, which I guess is not necessarily a bad thing, it’s just in my nature – the blessing being that I realised and pulled myself up on this when it happened.

Results???

Because the results were not spectacular – they weren’t jump-in-the-air, high-five oh-my-god-look-at-me kind of results – I didn’t initially pay much heed. Because I was used to this immediate and intense end-result, the balance I was feeling honestly felt…boring.
Gradually I began to notice however that the middle ground, this place of feeling ‘actually kind of alright’ instead of ‘omfg I’m fucking DELIRAH’ or ‘I want to disappear’ kind of shite, was so much more sustainable. Not only that, but noticing that when I was in this state, everything seemed to just fall into place and work so much easier – work, friends, family, creative stuff, fun – whatever it was, everything responded positively to this balanced frame of mind, instead of the irrational, eccentric and anxious me that nobody really knew what to do with except hug and pour tea for and promise everything would be fine.

Try. Fail. Edit. Fine-Tune. Repeat.

Editing and fine-tuning your life, mind and environment to fit whatever works for you is the only advice I have to anyone currently attempting to overcome any kind of mental illness or maintain positive mental health in the face of life’s challenges.
Thinking of yourself independently of anyone else – taking advice and help, definitely – but not assuming it as fact or convincing yourself of its truth until you’ve proven it works for your unique set of circumstances.
Know yourself. Figure out what you like, what makes you feel GOOD, what makes you THRIVE.
Take a day, take a week, take a month. Try things, fail spectacularly. Try something else, maybe don’t fail so badly. Keep trying until something clicks – and I promise you, if you’re self-aware enough to know and follow up on something big needing to change – something will.
This process, these trial and error and ups and downs and pushing through pain and confusion and trusting that something positive is at the end of it all – this is the work.

This is what it means to be trying, to be living, to be constantly editing and refining our lives and thoughts like we redirect unpredictable and mischievous kids away from dangerous river banks or running out on the road.
It’s a constant, unwavering necessity that we must remain on top of even at the best of times, and it all boils down to self-awareness and knowing yourself, recognising triggers or runaway thoughts when they start to play mental movies or imagine unlikely scenarios or pretend that the cars you’re hearing are actually waves on a beach a thousand miles away…you get what I’m trying to say.
Pull yourself up on it.

Self-Awareness

My particular combination of ‘work’ (even a glance at this blog might give you an inkling as to some of what it involved for me *cough* yoga *cough* writing *cough*) will more than likely not suit anyone else exactly. Just as someone else’s course of action wouldn’t have worked for me. I just followed the positive stuff, whatever that was, wherever I could, and did it as much and as often as it felt right to.  I still do. Staying aware, staying alert, re-routing whenever signs of the ‘fuzzy head stuff’ (as I like to call it) surface and just knowing that all it takes is a little bit of concentration, time and awareness ’til the next move or feeling becomes clear.

Creating my own sense of rational ‘paradise’ in every day is how I see the balancing out of this tendency of mine to overthink, to worry, and to believe the negatives. Maintaining balance and using it as a foundation to move forwards and continue building on what I’ve already worked for is how I see myself now, and I just wanted to share a little bit about what worked for me to help anyone struggling to see past what might seem like a mountainous road of ‘work’ ahead – baby steps.
Start by just turning inwards. Forget about the external stuff – other people, expectations, comparisons and past events – even this is part of the work. Everything is part of it. Everything is important, and don’t ignore or belittle any aspect of what you have to bring to the table because I promise you – the world needs it. The world needs all the self-awareness and positivity it can get right now, and that boils down to each individual playing their part right, using their unique talents and passions and more importantly, believing in them.
Focus inward, focus on you, and the rest has a funny way of falling into place.

Do the work. It’s worth it.

batur

Claiming Authentic Power – How Yoga Helps Us To Harness the Power Within

Claiming Authentic Power – How Yoga Helps Us To Harness the Power Within

“To the degree that we do not fully claim our own power to transform, we are more likely to be possessed by this energy in it’s shadow form” – Carol S. Pearson

I have not resonated with a quote on such an intense level for quite a while.
I’m also a firm believer that each one of us has the power to direct and redirect our energy in order for it to manifest itself wherever we desire in our lives – whether we realise it or not.
If we think about our energy in terms of both a negative and a positive force, the positive stream functioning as a catalyst for growth and progression, and the negative as a hindering and damaging force, we can begin to see how the expansion and contraction of the channels down which this power flows results in certain manifestations of said energies. While this is constantly occurring on both a conscious and subconscious level, there are certain things which can help us harness the power necessary to direct the energy where we want it to go, instead of letting it flail around excitedly from brainwave to brainfart.
Yoga encourages the expansion of these channels (or nadis, in the yogic tradition) in the right direction, opening up and creating space for the positive to flourish, while attempting to block the negative.
And so in simple terms, yoga gives us the awareness to pursue, direct and encourage the good power to succeed over the bad. With me so far?

Negative Cycles

When I first started doing yoga consistently, I was, for want of a better phrase, ‘in a bad place in my life’. To keep the anecdotal personal sob-story short, I was living at home, had no job, no clear direction where I wanted my life to go, weighed a hollowing and bone-shatteringly cold 6 stone and lacked the energy and concentration necessary to complete even the most basic of tasks, let alone care about them. I would wake with spasms of fright and anxiety at 3am. I would get brief bouts of inspiration mixed with terrifying insight that my worsening situation needed to change…and then the difficulty of doing so would ultimately prove too extensive and straight away I’d be lost again to the numbing blanket of fuzzy and fatigued negative thoughts, so ingrained as they were in my mind that any feeble form of resistance against them was immediately silenced with disturbing ease and logic;
“You’re full of shit. It’s not worth it. Don’t bother.”
In short, things were dark.

Wasting Energy

The energy required to process all of these thoughts and worries at such a startling speed and damaging ferocity was ultimately leaving me both mentally and physically drained, not to mention the preoccupation with ensuring I adhered to strict ‘rules’ which I wasn’t permitted to break – just in case a sandwich or fleeting social interaction would spark off another ricocheting thought-firework and disable me from leaving the house for the rest of the day. I was, as the above quote describes, possessed by my own energy ‘in it’s shadow form’. It was being directed towards the wrong things, and to be honest it’s exhausting just writing about it.

No Alternative

When we’re deep in the grips of a negative cycle, be it a habit, a thought pattern, or simply a way of being or conducting ourselves that we’ve gradually grown accustomed to, it can seem like the most alien thing in the world to even consider existing any other way.
The power which is being permitted to flow full-force towards supporting the negative spirals is just too overwhelming to be redirected elsewhere. It takes extraordinary force of will and repetitive, conscious, and ongoing effort to haul our minds (and bodies) out of the downward-flow of this toxic power, a fact made lighter only by the knowledge that this force is contained within us at all times, its incessant nature meaning it simply can’t sit still and watch the world go by
– it has to go somewhere.

Getting to Know It

As an alternative to other forms of physical or mental exercise which may encourage thoughts and awareness away from this authentic energy which resides within each of us – literally doing what we Irish people have done for years and just not talking about it – yoga requires us to sit with this energy and examine it in all its beauty and terrifying power. We learn how to move with it, allowing it to channel through the positive streams and manifest itself in actions, talents, skills, character, originality, and most importantly; authenticity. Our yoga practice requires us to listen to our bodies and the energies which reside within. After a while we realise that most, if not all of our negative tendencies and habits result from a subconscious lapse or disregard for the direction of the positive energy, allowing the negative to swoop in and take over.
They say that everyone’s struggle is different. This means that every individual’s ‘flourishing’ will appear slightly different too. This is why it is so important to know ourselves.

Harnessing Power

Each and every one of us possess the power within us to manifest our ideas – to create, to bring to the world something new; a new view or perspective; a new manifestation of human energy which has been harnessed to reflect the intellect alongside which it resides. Learning how to harness it is much easier said than done however, and while some people naturally excel with the self-awareness and realization necessary to project it into the world, the vast majority of us just don’t.
It’s through practices such as yoga and meditation that I have been able to finally access some of that authentic potential, allowing for the transformation of my energy down a more fruitful and fulfilling path than the one which worries how many crackers I’ve eaten or about a passing remark made by a colleague two weeks ago. Brief and miniscule slices of this potential have managed to slip through over the years, manifesting as specific achievements or the success of artistic endeavours, but it was only when I began to consistently engage with yoga and meditation that I finally felt the sensation of actually having some sort of understanding of and power over my capacity to engage with it.

Imbalances

Misunderstanding or neglecting the force of our authentic power can so easily result in dangerous imbalances of energies, along with distorted visions and versions of ourselves; our intellect, our talent, our potential. It can so easily get lost. I feel one of the great tragedies of our time is simply wasted potential.

This has led me to conclude that by helping us to carefully observe our energy’s expenditure, origins, and direction, yoga can help us gain a dimension of insight into our own potential, allowing us to live and cultivate a more empowered life rather than shying away from it.
We all have this power, and are entitled to exercise and manifest it into the world.
We just need to learn how to use it.

The Samskaras in Yoga

(originally written for Zuna Yoga)

 

The Samskaras in Yoga

The relationship between the mind, energy, and actions has always been an area of particular interest for me, and to learn about it in the context of samskaras in yoga has proven a fascinating way to relate them to one another. As it is often difficult to pinpoint exactly how or why the practice of yoga is beneficial to us – ask any new yogi, it sometimes takes a while to figure out just why it makes us feel so good (and it’s different for everyone!) – the description of samskaras and our neurological tendencies in T.K.V. Desikachar’s ‘The Heart of Yoga’, succeeded in explaining a sensation which for so long I had failed to correctly define.

What are Samskaras?

The Sanskrit term refers to the conditioning of the mind to act or direct itself in a certain way on a regular basis. It also refers to those paths or patterns along which these thoughts or behaviours travel. It’s similar in concept to the neuroscientific model of how our thoughts and behaviours, whether positive or negative, become more deeply engrained in neural pathways in our brain with each repetition. The meaning of samskara is reflected in the very word itself, with “sam” meaning “well thought out” or “to accomplish” while “kara” means “the action undertaken.”

But how do Samskaras work?

We must first practice awareness and understanding of self. By understanding our individual habitual expenditure of energy, recognising our tendencies and bringing awareness to those behaviours that are undesired or against our greatest good, we can slowly and gradually learn to redirect our prana, our life force, to where it needs to go. This process is a lot easier said than done, however, and awareness is the first step towards achieving this balance.

Purusha and Energy Flow

Encouraging new behavioural patterns and discarding old ones enlists the use of purusha, the all-seeing force of energy within us; a higher consciousness which witnesses our actions from a distance and observes possibilities and potential directions without engaging. Purusha’s powers of observation are best when the mind is clear, and as such it’s vital that we obtain clarity before attempting to redirect or encourage samskaras along an alternate route. It’s through our practice of yoga that we cultivate and maintain the mental ability and clarity with which to do this.

Why Yoga?

Yoga and meditation aid with the reconditioning of the mind to continually and repeatedly redirect itself away from harmful patterns to which it has become accustomed. Yoga helps encourage the positive flow of energy away from any limiting or restrictive tendencies. This is why we find our practice to be so effective in dealing with mental or emotional struggles. It literally helps us create the space necessary to form pathways out of these negative cycles.

Our beliefs and lifestyles, even when we engage in them unconsciously—especially when we engage in them unconsciously!—can result in imbalances and undesired manifestations of our energy. We must remain attentive and aware as we determine which route we take. The goal is to consciously redirect our prana towards positive and fulfilling actions until it becomes habitual.
“Where the mind goes, energy follows”, and so when this is done continually and repetitively and with conviction, we call it a samskara. And that is when we avoid further suffering.

The Importance of Establishing Trust Whilst Travelling

The Importance of Establishing Trust Whilst Travelling

 

 ‘If fear is holding you back just remember that in general, places are safer and people are kinder than you may expect. Discovering this is one of the beautiful benefits of travelling’ – Justin Alexander

“Be careful. Mind yourself. Take care. Be safe.”
Anyone who’s embarked on a journey further than the corner shop or into town for the day has heard the warnings.
What if you get robbed? Knocked down? Attacked? What if you don’t understand what they’re saying?

Travelling places you directly in the firing line to be stifled and stagnated by these often irrational fears – yet also to conquer them. To experience humanity in all it’s confusing and miscommunicative glory, and for once, to let go and trust it.

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Finding and attending sunrise yoga sessions overlooking the Himalayas, meditating on the mountaintop at Tushita, jamming with local and Israeli musicians at Jolly’s and in tiny cafés and bars hidden away down windy paths in the mountains, and some of the best and cheapest monk-made vegetarian food at Tibetan and Indian restaurants where nobody actually speaks any English….2 years ago these things would have seemed impossible and terrifying for me.

I’ve experienced the anxieties, and I’ve now learned to surrender to the language barriers and embrace my fellow humans as the kindred souls they are. As a solo female traveller in particular, the warnings I received about India were enough to make me doubt my decision the entire flight over here. While an element of common sense is required in navigating unfamiliar soil and encountering cultures and people unaccustomed to communicating with pale-skinned, ginger women, in general, my experience here has been altogether more comfortable than the warnings had led me to expect – something which has left me ashamed of my paranoid actions (or lack thereof) on more than one occasion.

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Building bridges

Having become so used to this typically Irish paranoia, self-consciousness, and disinclination to trust ourselves or others we have come to adopt as the norm, I only realise now how much I was limiting myself in denying the natural inclination and need all humans possess to communicate and be open with one another. Given that communication leads to understanding, and understanding lies at the root of any harmonious relationship – be it mind and body, our relationship with ourselves, with friends, family, food – every aspect of our lives, it follows that the initial first step to reach out and interact with another human is often the most daunting, yet rewarding action we can take.
In the travelling/backpacking scene (in Asia, anyway) it may seem easier to speak to and make new acquaintances as everyone seems in the same boat – all secretly sipping beers or coffees in the underlying hope that the attractive guy across the bar will make the first move and ask you to accompany him to see the temple tomorrow (*swoon*).
We need to stop assuming.
We need to take action for ourselves, be more assertive and attentive to our own needs in the moment, and trust whatever natural direction we receive, be it from the kind stranger who just returned a 10 rupee note you dropped by accident, or the vague gestures of locals towards a forest path with not a word of English to accompany their directions. 9 times out of ten you will find their intentions to be genuine and heartfelt, even if their initial scowls or frowny faces may suggest otherwise. Some cultural differences will never change. It’s a shame that I still sometimes feel the apprehension before trusting the directions or unprovoked aid of a local on the street, but I’ve learned finally to open up and trust their lack of agenda for what it is – honesty.

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New friends and good food…

Travelling has helped me see that people aren’t so bad, really.
Discovering the kindness and hospitality of the Indian and Tibetan people I’ve encountered during my short time here has been fulfilling and heartwarming, and part of the reason I’m so reluctant to leave. While I have been careful not to walk too far alone at night or to concern myself with any ‘dodgy’ looking characters, I’ve found it’s the times when I’ve opened my mouth and made the first greeting, comment, or question to a fellow traveller or local that I have been rewarded with a flicker or flame or warmth and friendship – sometimes lasting no longer than a cup of chai, sometimes a whole week of meeting up for yoga classes, activities, or meals. Climbing mountains with new acquaintances and not being afraid to show your true self or embrace your lack of umbrella in a downpour at the Taj Mahal during monsoon season is about as freeing and grounding an experience as any I can hope to ever have again.

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An Irish & an Indian climb a mountain…

After all, aren’t we all just doing our best to keep going? Keep meeting, discovering, and moving onwards to the next destination, even if it’s just down the road? In my experience you are 10 times more likely to encounter kindness than nasty or dangerous behaviour whilst on the road, and discovering the importance of trust and my capacity to remain calm in these situations has already led me to several places and friendships with people and places I never would have experienced had I remained in my ‘safe’ bubble of a hostel room. While an element of self-awareness and common sense is also necessary, the key is to find a balance between overly-analysing the outcome of potential interactions and ultimately ruining them for yourself before they ever happen, and just going with them without thinking. I’ve come to a peaceful middleground where both sides are now available to me, and now just appreciate that I have the opportunity to experience it all.

 

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Bhagsu Waterfall, Dharamsala

 

 

 

Why I’m Going to Keep Writing Even If I Never Get a Job Doing It

I don’t need to make brilliant art.
But I need to make art.
I don’t need to write award-winning novels, or groundbreaking, academically praised and published articles.
But I need to write.
I don’t need to write stories that will be remembered, passed down from generation to generation like engagement rings or other binding pieces of jewellery until the weight of a headstone of ancestors hangs around my neck, God forbid I should ever misplace it at the swimming pool.
But I need to write stories.
Even in my head. Even for nobody. Even if the only tangible form they ever embody is a whispy squiggle on a page as I doodle, coaxing ideas and the crazy knot of Christmas lights out until they all sparkle beautifully in alignment together.

Words are like that.
Alone, in the right context, they can shock. Enthrall. Bamboozle.

But the longer and more complex the cable of thoughts or ideas wishing to be expressed and made sense of, the more difficult it becomes to correctly put them into any sort of order to experience the dazzling after-effect of a well-structured sentence.
That’s why I find words so fascinating.
What numbers are to mathematicians, words are to me. I find solace in many art forms – music, singing, drawing, and yoga (I’m labelling it an art form for this articles’ sake). Yet words remain some of the most versatile and all-encompassing notes to the tune and harmonious chorus I hear when I have effectively teased out a quick sequence of words that actually makes some sort of sense.

Structuring sentences, making fleeting ideas tangible by sticking with them even just long enough to assign them a context, surname and postal address, gives me a sense of satisfaction I have yet to find elsewhere.

That is why I’m going to keep writing. Even if it never pays for more than a yoga class and some vegetables.
I’ll write about that yoga class and those vegetables.

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

 

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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…

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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.

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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.

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On Perspective…Embracing the Power in Powerlessness

Your 2016 is within your power.

Today I witnessed an Asian lady purposely buy a tin of a now-familiar brand of instant-coffee that was sold by the mugful in cafés across Vietnam and Cambodia when I was there, instead of a regular cup of what we’d consider “normal” coffee. It was the very brand that only a few weeks ago I myself spent many trips into foreign supermarkets attempting to avoid, searching in vain for a familiar jar of Nescafé to mask the flavour and intensity of this special unique Vietnamese coffee that I just could not get used to. I could just imagine this woman’s face on discovering how different the coffee tastes over here, and I empathized wholeheartedly with the sense of loss and desperation that such a simple comfort as a cup of coffee not being easily attained when one strays so far away from home can bring.
I came home and poured myself a cup of my favourite coffee, or at least, what I’ve become accustomed to; an Italian blend of instant that may not be as good as the real thing, but which has become a staple part of my day and a relief after some of the frantic coffee-searches and disappointments in SouthEast Asia. I thanked my parents subconsciously for sticking with the same old, predictable and reliable brands, something I had recently become extremely frustrated with at having returned to a house that has remained relatively unchanged since I left.

Perspective is a funny thing, as it allows us not only to see others in a different light, but to see ourselves in ways we never thought we could imagine or be comfortable observing. Things that we may once have been afraid to try, or seemed impossible for us to embody purely because we said they must be so are all of a sudden as accessible for us as a cup of tea or coffee in the morning (this is provided you’re currently staying somewhere with a kitchen facilities of some sort!).
As we get older and look back on things we may have done or said in years gone by, it becomes easier to let them go, and to let go of the worry they may have induced at the time and anxiety they may have brought about since then. Letting go and embracing where we are right now becomes so much easier when you realise how powerless you are to change any previous actions; You can apologise. You can regret. You can remind and berate yourself again and again, over and over until you are consumed and defined by the very fact of this one occurance or circumstance. Or you can choose to accept it, and let go of the fact that it happened, that it was – for you cannot change it anymore. Only in the heat of the moment was it in any way changeable, and it was that very heat and urge to act which made it happen in the first place.

An effective exercise I have used to help myself rationalise things in the past can really aid in ascertaining your perspective on particular aspects of or current issues in your life which may be bothering you. It sounds simple (and it is), but even just taking the time it takes to complete it to be with yourself and acknowledge your thoughts and emotions can be of enormous help to someone struggling to escape a muddle of thoughts knotted up like Christmas tree lights after a year of being ignored in the attic.

 If we take a simple circle; the circumference of a cup of coffee, for example. Beside it, make a list of every important thing which affects your life or has significance to you right now, be it work; family; boyfriend; girlfriend; house; car; money; a certain aspect of each of these which may be suffering or proving particularly difficult at the moment, or elements of your own internal struggles which may not be obvious on the outside. Simply write them down; in bullet points, sentences, picture sequences – whatever suits you best. Make a list, and then inside the circle, place all of the things from this list that are within your control to change, help, fix, or solve in any way. Outside of the circle, list the things that are outside of your control. Be honest with yourself, and with the things themselves. Make a note of how it feels to place each thing in it’s position within or outside of the circle, and adjust yourself to accept that they have been placed there.

Above all what I realised from completing this task is that the things I was anxious about and spent most of my time concerned with solving or changing were just that; things. There were things that no amount of anxiety or worry was ever going to get rid of or solve, things seperate to my mind and body, and outside of any kind of emotional or physical control I could ever assert over them. Why on earth was I expending so much energy in thinking about them??
This made the things within the circle seem so much more managable and simple in comparison, and it meant I was able to direct a more intent and full attention toward improving them or ensuring their continued success. The things outside of the circle I was forced to accept my ignorance of and inability to change, and this in turn allowed me a sense of relief and power over my own life that I never could have imagined possible. They may have posed as issues in my life or things that I wasn’t particularly happy about, but they were not mine (and still are not) to change. I was powerless to change them, and so I began to let them go one by one each time I was faced with things, thoughts or people that called them into question. From this acceptance of powerlessness stemmed an almost ironic sense of actual power, that I now had the ability to let things go, to ignore that which does not serve me, and that which I am powerless to influence.

The availability of my favourite coffee in Asia is just a minor example of something which I had to place outside of the radius of my own influence, and adopt the perspective I’ve attempted to outline above. Once you stop forcing yourself and expecting too much of yourself, (in this sense, expecting and pressurizing myself anxiously to go and find the coffee somewhere, anywhere), it’s a relief to just sit back and relax, and let these things pass you by. They’re not going to disappear completely – far from it- but even just the ability to observe them as seperate things and thoughts instead of getting yourself wrapped up in solving them is an extremely empowering sensation. I’d recommend taking the time to do the circle exercise – it doesn’t take long. At the very least paint a mental picture of it and slot your various anxieties and issues into it accordingly, and who knows? You may surprise yourself with how much you’ve been hoarding in a worry-bank that doesn’t actually cater for some of the things you’ve forced inside it!!

Happy 2016!

‘Vietnamasté’ – On Why We All Need to Slow Down …

Why We All Need to Slow Down

Life today is so fast-paced and hurried that it’s easy to lose sight of yourself and what you really need in favour of what ‘seems right’ or what ‘everyone is doing’. If it means the next step from A to B will be easier, the majority of people will generally take the easy option and ensure the quickest escape and fix for what’s currently bothering them.

I’m not just talking from a backpackers’/travellers’ perspective, yet seeing as that’s the lifestyle I’m currently engaged with it makes sense to speak from this point of view at this present moment in time. This is another thing humans are guilty of – thinking that it’s not okay to change your lifestyle and habits to suit where you currently find yourself. Seeing as change is the one constant we seem to ever have in life, it makes no sense to cling to ‘the way you used to be’ or anything that ‘used to’ be a part of your life in general. Because of the familiarity, it’s often the easiest and most obvious thing to do to resort to it, yet we rarely stop to think actually, maybe this is not the most beneficial thing for me right now.

By practicing mindfulness, yoga, meditation, or even just taking a few minutes at the beginning of each day to reconsider, re-adjust, and observe your situation, it becomes easier to fully immerse yourself in the moment and your current state of being, instead of merely trying maintain something that worked in the past for the sake of convenience.

I regularly have to mentally remind myself to slow down, to not rush ahead to achieve things or arrive to places before it’s necessary. I’m a chronically early person, and this I feel reflects my tendency to anticipate and become apprehensive about things that don’t really matter all that much.

I feel a lot of what has been going on in the world recently reflects this exact inclination of humankind to rush ahead and try to solve issues without really taking any time to properly understand them or consider what options would most benefit them. Surely we are aware by now that violence only leads to further violence, the harshness and extremity of one groups’ actions generating a need and expectance almost for an equal reaction?? Why is it still happening that people are using violence to combat hate, hate as an excuse for lack of understanding, and premature movement and immediate responsiveness in a rush to solve issues that have taken time and many wrong turns to form into the catastrophic difficulties they have only now manifested as? Surely they will also take a similar amount of time to rectify?

While I don’t pretend to understand everything about the goings on of various political, paramilitary or otherwise groups who have been the subject of a lot of attention of late, I do understand that beneath all the violence, hate and unneccessary suffering there is an underlying confusion and general lack of understanding as to how this can all be allowed to happen. It’s easy to brush it off as something that doesn’t concern us when it’s not immediately phsyically affecting us, but the images, new stories, and panic of safety ‘check-in’ buttons being used online are enough to send even to most balanced and steady mind reeling and rushing ahead to assume the worst.

By slowing down and assessing the situation at hand and our own position to rectify or change anything about it, we remove the ‘panic’ element of things. It’s the same process I’ve employed since coming out travelling. If things have gone slightly wrong or awry in any way, which given the nomadic and changeable nature of just about everything in my life at the moment, I’d be stupid to not be prepared for, I now have comfort in the knowledge that I can deal with it, take a step back, and figure out another way around the issues that present themselves.

It’s a work in progress, and something that’s only ever going to be attainable by making a conscious decision to set a new and realistic pace for ourselves and our thoughts – one that doesn’t rush ahead, or assume too much, because in the end the only things we can ever actually know for sure are already here right now.