‘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

Malas and 108 – What Does it Mean?

 

Malas and 108 – What Does it Mean?

 

Malas and the number 108 have long both mystified and intrigued yogis, geometrists, architects, astrologists, musicians and artists alike.
Indeed anyone who deals with any kind of numbers, sequences, patterns or formations on a daily basis or as part of their work will be sure to have come across the number 108 on numerous occasions – even if they weren’t aware of it at the time.

For yogis, the most noticable appearance of the ‘sacred’ number 108 is on the colourful strings of mala beads that have become common to wear around our necks, wrists, and anywhere else they can be worked into everyday outfits without looking overly pretentious. 108 beads represent this number which has been found throughout the history of yogic philosophy and practice in relation to the earth, the universe, our physical bodies, our energetic pathways, and countless other areas in the geographical and architectural worlds too.
It seems the number 108 connects and aligns us to the universe in ways we’re still learning about. Here are just some of the countless examples of 108 that have been observed in the physical, geographical and architectural world throughout history:

  • Sun Salutations – The Surya Namaskar is traditionally completed in rounds of 9, as the 12 movements in the sequence multiplied by 9 equals – you guessed it – 108!
  • The stones at Stone Henge (dating back to the neolithic era) were placed in a circular formation which is 108 feet in diameter.
  • Most Buddhist traditions follow the belief that there are 108 steps to enlightenment.
  • Hindu deities have 108 names
  • India is said to have 108 sacred sites
  • The Mayan High Temple of Lamanai in Belize was erected at 108 feet high

Physical Condition

Delving deeper into the physiological side of things, 108 degrees (Farenheit) is also the number at which the vital organs of the human body begin to overheat and fail. This, coupled with the existence of 108 energetic pathways (or Nadis, in the yogic tradition) stemming to and from the heart chakra leads us to believe that 108 physically provides a bridge which connects the internal to the external world. Pressure points, or “Marmas” as they are known in ayurvedic medicine, also are found in 108 separate locations around the human body, and are thought to connect directly to the energetic pathways which flow within.

Beyond Yoga

Even beyond the traditional yogic texts we are constantly reminded of this number from many of those who have searched in depth for freedom, happiness and meaning in life. Many branches of Chinese Tai Chi have 108 moves. Most Buddhist temples have 108 steps, with Tibetan Buddhism believing in the existence of 108 delusions. Zen Buddhists in Japan also ring a bell 108 times at the start of each new year to remind us of the 108 human temptations which must be avoided in order to achieve Nirvana.

All of these examples, and more, symbolise the depth to which ancient practitioners and yogis have gone to in order to hopefully gain some clarity or understanding into life. Whether it’s through physical practice, mindful walking meditation through a temple, or constructing sacred dwellings to honour the unknown origins of the number 108, seekers the world over have proven that there is definitely some sort of connection between the number 108 and our human condition.

Significance of Mala Beads

Yogis use mala beads to connect with the vast expanse and universal oneness this condition is a part of. As energy-beings we are one and the same as those 108 steps to the temple, the 108 gongs signalling the new year, and the 108 movements of daily practice that heighten our spiritual completion and aid us to sail through our daily work.

Although I hate to admit it, it’s similar to the significance of the rosary in Catholicism, the mala beads being used to keep count during deep meditation and chanting. Each round of completed meditation, pranyama, or chanting ends when the last bead has been reached. Yogis believe that this mysterious number will allow us to further align ourselves with the rhythm of the universe, and that through regular contact will maybe someday expose us to answers to questions thousands of years old.

If nothing else, by aligning ourselves as often and consistently as possible with the energetic fields we aim to embody, it allows us to be as close as possible to them at all times.

What Solo Travel (and Yoga) Has Taught Me

What Solo Travel (and Yoga) Has Taught Me

To thrive. To flourish.

To take all that I am, and everything I’ve encountered, and to blend them into something new. To use what I’ve been given, and to nourish it so it reaches its highest and furthest potential.
This is what I’m taking away from my current travel experiences coming to a brief hiatus as I return home slightly earlier than planned for Christmas.

‘We are the sum of all of our past experiences“, they say and so, I am a unique blend of everything and everywhere I have been. Everyone I’ve encountered. And all that currently surrounds me.

These past 5 months have been an incredible journey. A journey through some of the most beautifully stunning and culturally rich places I’ve ever been. A journey through some of the most difficult emotions and mental limitations I’ve grown accustomed to placing on myself. A journey out of my comfort zone, out of my perception of comfort zones…
A journey with myself, by myself, to myself.

To Open Up

Everyone I’ve encountered along the way has shaped me somehow, just as I have (however minutely) impacted their journey. I’ve opened up in ways I was barely even aware was possible – I’ve learnt that remaining open is to become malleable to new experiences. My journey with yoga has allowed me to open. Open up the channels of energy I had allowed anxiety to close. Engage in open communication. Open and honest interactions, softly allowing the essence of myself I lost somewhere along the way between puberty and the end of my college years to return, frightened as it was of what others would think, what they would see….
I now know how little any of that matters. I not only know it, but I live it.
Because here’s the thing.

Travelling can be difficult, but it’s even more fucking difficult if you hate yourself.

Nobody wants to talk to the frowning weirdo in the corner who glances at herself in the reflection of every shiny surface and glares jealously at the big groups of new travel-friends all having fun at the bar. Sure, they might have issues, but nobody on a trip is going to want to be bogged down with some stranger’s lack of self-esteem, lack of balance and life lived in fear of the world around them.
We’re all here to see as much as we can, mate, it’s up to you to hold yourself together long enough to get there.

To Be Steady

And what is travelling, when you do it right, but living your life and moving, discovering, remaining and being yourself somewhere other than in your own home? Changing surroundings beg the need for a constant and steady spirit to successfully move through them, and so I’ve found a kind of satisfactory balance here somewhere in the midst of all this movement.

To Take Things Less Seriously

Taking yourself too seriously is not an option when every unknown turn in a new city could lead you into anxiety-inducing situations. Trusting yourself becomes the number one priority, and your own judgement becomes the only thing that really leads the way when you leave home with no particular direction or plan – you learn to just go with it. Taking things less seriously, but ensuring you remain steady within it. Humbly balancing out what we have, moving through it with grace and ease, going where we can and taking our bodies and minds on a modest journey through the bigger picture.

Because the bigger picture will always be the bigger picture, and we will always be just one little pixel in that grand tapestry that creates our perception of the images around us.

Our job is simply to ensure that our pixel shines as bright, as clear and as strong as it possibly can be. That’s all we can ever hope to achieve. In surrendering to the powerlessness and lack of control, we ironically gain it for ourselves.

That Comfort Zones Don’t Exist

Allowing that little dot to thrive and really believing in its’ worth is vital if we want to progress anywhere in life. For some people, this comes naturally to them. For others, we must assert ourselves and realign with these beliefs time and time again, repeatedly acknowledging our sense of worth and maintaining a persistent awareness of the things that put this balance at risk. Travelling through uncertain areas, with unknown associates and changeable destinations requires a certain sense of self and strength that I never ever believed possible for me, and yet here I am. I’ve met some incredible people, seen beautiful places, experienced lifestyles and norms so contrasting to my own comfort zone and everyday life that I’ve come to realise ‘comfort zone’ is just a label we put on ourselves to justify staying still.

Through yoga, through solo travel, and through combining them both, I have come to see movement as the one key aspect of life that helps us maintain a balanced and healthy mindset, and I’m excited to see how I will progress forwards with this newfound understanding. Moving on, moving away from damaging behaviours, moving ever onwards and avoiding stagnancy at all costs – this journey has really only begun.

On Finding Calm in the Chaos – How Yoga Can Help in Managing Anxiety

 

A sweeping, dangerously powerful wind.
Big waves in the sea so strong they steal the sunglasses from your head.
Very loud, thumping music.
Crowded Saturday-streets, and flashing lights everywhere as night falls and you suddenly find yourself alone in your head; alone with your thoughts.

 Quick! Run! The bar! The fridge! The gym! ANYWHERE to escape spending time with this egotistical and self-centered, ugly body I’ve found myself inhabiting.

 Hold it right there. Breathe.
Look around.
Sure, it’s chaotic. The outside; everyone rushing to be here or there, meet so and so for dinner or drinks to discuss where they went for dinner and drinks with him or her or what’s the latest on THAT guy and how’s your mother doing and what about those politicians, eh? Sorry I have to dash I’m not too drunk I just can’t be around all these people and all the thoughts in my head at the same time because I end up spinning around before we even start to dance and then I look in the mirror and remember what I should have worn instead and also have to do tomorrow and where the hell is my purse and what is that guy staring at my hair must be a mess and dear GOD please just get me out of here.

So leave.
It’s ok to leave. It’s ok to stay. It’s ok to think these things, and feel that way.

I’ve been on both sides of this situation – I’ve been the one to leave and run away from my problems, finding other ways to forget about and ignore them, and, more recently, I’ve been the one to stay and push through. To remain where I am, and work through the unbalancing extremes of thoughts and emotions that send my head reeling and wobbling on a regular basis.

In yoga, what do you do if a pose makes you wobble?

You do your best to straighten the hell back up, is what you do. You push down through your feet, and certify your stance; your position; your space in the world.
Because it is yours.
It’s about the only thing we don’t have to pay for in this world – our bodies. It’s an involuntary, but rent-free location, that we somehow have to figure out how to stand up straight in, and learn to navigate through whatever environment we find ourselves.
It’s not an easy task. Don’t listen to anyone who pretends it is, or who pretends they’ve never struggled. Because every single person does.

 The asanas in yoga are merely a physical manifestation of our mental state – I know if I’ve had a particularly off-day or feel unusually anxious about something, my yoga practice is weaker than normal and I tend to wobble and lean and shake quite a bit more than usual. Because I have succumbed to the external chaos. I have assimilated it into my body, a place that has been created and cultivated for singular, simpler, and more straightforward thoughts, with no consideration for the external chaos that may or may not happen on any given day. I’ve let it in.

When we consider how many things in life are uncontrollable by our own bodies and minds – the weather, the financial state of the country, the popularity of a bar or restaurant or public place from which we suddenly want to hide, to list but a few, it’s remarkable how blurred the lines can become when we start thinking we have influence over more than just ourselves.

In taking control of our own inner situation, we are taking responsibility for the little space we inhabit on earth. Sure, we may not have asked for it, but we are here now regardless, and may as well make the most of it.

 My yoga mat has travelled with me, and shown me that it doesn’t matter where I find myself; chaotic, over-populated, noise-polluted city, or tranquil, isolated and balmy beach miles from anywhere – I am always, always within myself, and returning there is the only way to truly find this ‘peace of mind’ or satisfaction we so often seek in all the wrong places. Yoga serves as a reminder of this. A healthy, lighthearted little poke in the back that injects a sense of calmness into even the most uncontrollable and chaotic situations.

 Things don’t have to be so complicated.
Breathe. Just breathe. And Be. Even just that is more than anybody has ever asked of you.