The Resistance

Today things feel a little bleak. On a global level, in five days of office Trump the Tyrant has ridden roughshod over the environment, women’s rights, freedom of speech and now refugees, ushering in a new era of legitimised fascism along the way. On a personal level, my spirit is feeling dampened not only by the events in the US, but also by the plummeting temperatures across Europe which signal further devastation for homeless refugees, the crazy levels of air pollution in my old home town of London where many of my friends still live, and the fact I am under too much pressure at work and don’t know how I’m going to juggle it with the masters degree I’m starting next week (next week!!). In short, I feel helpless, and also a little hopeless.

But – as life sometimes has a way of doing to drag us out of our despair – a chance encounter with my local florist this afternoon when I stopped by for tulips for our cleaning lady (whose brother recently passed away) reminded me why it’s so important to have hope. We got chatting about how beautiful the flowers were, and she told me she had quit her office job some years ago for a simpler life. Despite earning less money now, she told me she is far happier. She then asked about me, and, when I told her I was soon to start an MSc in Positive Psychology and Coaching Psychology and had aspirations to be a freelance wellbeing coach she said “the world needs people like that more than ever now.” I felt a surge of optimism at that, and a renewed sense of purpose. And to remind myself of that I bought this beautiful pink orchid.

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Hope springs eternal

When I got home I was delighted to see that Greenpeace had unfurled a ‘Resist’ banner right outside the White House, and to read that a group of scientists are coming together to march on Washington in protest against Trump’s gagging order against employees of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Also heartening was the Badlands National Park Twitter account which sent out three messages on Tuesday promoting climate science despite the Trump administration crackdown on agencies communicating on social media. Since then they have been forced to delete the tweets, but an alternative Twitter account has sprung up which already has 575,000 followers.

This growing groundswell of angry defiance in response to people like Trump must spur us all into immediate action, because action is all there is now if we are to stand up to what is so patently wrong – to save ourselves and our planet.

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New Endings

Today I am tired: dog-tired. Lately I’ve been burning the candle at both ends and the outcome is not pretty – bad skin, concentration span of a gnat (not intimately knowing their cognitive capabilities, I acknowledge this may be unfair to gnats) and the general feeling that I am clinging to my raft on the fast-flowing river of life by the tips of my fingers, with only moments to spare before I fall off and am pulled beneath the murky depths (that last bit was the hungover melodrama speaking, best to ignore it).

But today four things happened that snapped me out of the downward-spiralling torrrent of my own selfish emotions:

  1. I read the news from Calais, where fire is ravaging through the Jungle camp as I type this, and, at the very same time, unaccompanied minors are being sent back there to wait until they can be processed.
  2. I heard a piece of  news from England, which nearly made my heart burst with happiness and joy.
  3. I received my fourth book through the Facebook book exchange I signed up to a couple of weeks ago, which has gone some way towards restoring my faith in humanity.
  4. I watched this video by Prince Ea, which made me realise that those of us who are lucky enough to live in relative freedom are the masters of our own destiny. We can make as many excuses as we like for why we don’t put ourselves out there, but in the end all that will come of our procrastination is regret.

Too often we let our minds wander, thinking of all the paths we could go down but failing to take even the first step along one of them. Fear is a paralysing force, and a toxic one. So many of us stay in the trap our fearful minds have set for us, instead of facing our fear head on and saying, you know what? I’m not falling for this. Not again.

Collectively, as Sapiens (I urge you to read that, by the way, it will change your perspective on everything), we’re not doing that great a job of things: segregating ourselves by our countries of origin and religious beliefs, killing our planet, killing one another. But individually we can still make a difference. For all our faults, we humans have such capacity for kindness, for love, for hope. Even in the Jungle, where those awful fires are burning and people’s future is so uncertain, people are dancing. I’m sure those very people could teach the rest of us a lot about what it means to be happy, and how little we really need to find happiness, and peace in our hearts.

As Prince Ea says in his video, you cannot go back and make a new beginning. But you can start now, and make a brand new ending. It’s not too late to change ourselves, or to change the world. All it takes is courage: to feel our fear and do it anyway. I don’t know about you, but I plan to do exactly that.

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Happy Birthday to my Spiritual Twin

Today is a very special person’s 27th birthday, and as I can’t think of a better way to mark this most auspicious of occasions (plus I’ve only just learned of the occasion and therefore haven’t time to do anything else), I thought a blog post in her honour might just fit the birthday bill. Because, you see, this person is special for a number of reasons, and one of those reasons is writing.

Allow me, if you will, the luxury of a nostalgic trip into the past – May 2011, to be precise, on a lazy backwater tour of Cochin in India. That day I met a girl called Jen who hailed from Brisbane and was five years my junior, and with whom I instantly got on. We were both travelling alone, and it was most enjoyable to share our experiences as our guide negotiated the labyrinthine maze of aquatic waterways.

As fate would have it when I arrived at the Sivananda ashram in southern Kerala a couple of days later who should be there but Jen? It turned out we had both booked onto the two week ‘yoga vacation,’ although it quickly became apparent this would be about as far removed from a holiday as could be. Five am starts, ‘karma yoga’ duties and four gruelling hours of yoga a day was an exhausting regime, and if Jen hadn’t been there to laugh with in the moments when it all got too much I’m not sure I’d have lasted the two weeks.

Fast forward to January 2013, by which time Jen had moved to New York after her travels to start a new life, and was making ends meet by waitressing, spending her free time working on her novel. When I sensed from her messages that she was feeling a little flat I felt a strong urge to visit her, and before I knew it April had come around and I was on my way to New York City.

The six days we spent together were amazing, especially considering we didn’t really know each other that well, and almost two years had passed since our last face to face meeting. We were laughing from the second Jen met me at the airport, and we didn’t stop until it was time to say goodbye. We walked sixty blocks in an afternoon, searched for mystical horses in Grand Central station, ate pizza, burgers and cupcakes like they were going out of fashion and painted New Jersey and downtown Manhattan entirely new shades of red. We also discovered a shared passion for cheese, and whiled away a perfect afternoon in Murray’s Cheese Bar over a bottle of quality red.

Leaving NYC was a wrench, because I knew I’d found in Jen something so very rare – a spiritual soul mate, if you believe in such a thing, someone who is so much like yourself you could actually be related. We both love to write, we’re both utterly neurotic (!) and we share an interest in spirituality.

Since New York we’ve kept in touch via a series of endlessly entertaining Whatsapp messages, which often leave me giggling aloud in public (not a good look). And now as Jen prepares to leave the city she has come to love for pastures new (Hawaii, as it happens – not a bad choice of destination), I find myself wishing I could join her on her next adventure, and in ways I can’t explain feeling that in some way I am.

So, on your 27th birthday, here’s to you, my Spiritual Twin. Thank you for the laughs your friendship over the past two and a half years has given me, and here’s to the future and all it brings. Remember that no decision we make is ever wrong – because each one gives us so much new material to enrich our writing and our lives. Love you x

Bon voyage to a friend x

This post is to wish my beautiful friend Sarah the very best of everything as she prepares to fly back to Australia tomorrow to resume the life she and her wonderful late boyfriend Paul had made together. I know she hates to be called ‘brave,’ and feels she has dealt with all that has happened over the past weeks and months as anyone would in the same circumstance, but nonetheless she has been an inspiration to me. Her warmth and humour have been a shining light in what has been an utterly dark time, not only for her but for her family, Paul’s family and all of their friends.  Paul’s passing was grossly unfair, an utter tragedy whose sadness knows no bounds. And yet as is always the case, out of this most horrendous of tragedies have sprung some small green shoots of hope. The outpouring of love for Paul has shown his beautiful spirit will live on forever, and I sincerely hope that Sarah feels the warmth of everyone’s affection shining on her every day of her life, as she most truly deserves. I wish you all the luck and love and happiness in the world gorgeous girl. Have a safe journey and soak up that Sydney sunshine for those of us you’re leaving behind. And always remember, physical distance is nothing, it’s what’s in your heart that counts. Which means wherever you are, Paul and all of us will be there too. xxxx

Why I will (sadly) never play the Dane

This may well be my time of the month talking (they don’t call it ‘The Curse’ for nothing, boys. Sorry, too much information), but over the past couple of days I’ve found myself musing on the nature of ambition and, well, wondering how it is that somewhere along the way I managed to lose mine. Don’t get me wrong, I still have crazy dreams of writing a best-selling novel and retiring by the age of forty (forty five at a push) with millions in the bank. But back in the real world – the one where I have to work to earn money to put a roof over my head, avoid starvation and so forth – as my best friends forge ahead with their careers, so my drive to excel in the field in which I work has all but dried up.

Thinking back I’m not sure I ever was enormously ambitious in a wanting-to-set-up-my-own-company-and-be-a-CEO sort of way. I just had a quiet confidence that I would eventually establish a niche for myself and be happy. And, after a few blips along the way, I’m glad to report the happiness part is very much a feature of my life as it is today. The niche, however, has very much still to be carved and, much as I try to deny it, this is much to my chagrin.

There was, a few years back, a moment when I stood (metaphorically speaking) at a fork in the road and surveyed my options. The road on the left would take me further along the corporate path I was treading, with higher financial rewards but, in return, higher personal sacrifice. The road on the right would see me take an altogether more altruistic journey. Of course my moral compass won out and, on the whole, I don’t regret my decision. Working in the charity sector has its rewards – how many people can honestly say they care about what they do? – but it’s not without its limitations.

Next week I’ll turn thirty two – gulp – and yet I still have no idea what I want to be when I grow up, not really. What I do know, with depressing clarity, is how Montague Withnail felt when he said the following:

“It is the most shattering experience of a young man’s life, when one morning he awakes, and quite reasonably says to himself: I will never play the Dane.”

Dilemma

I’m currently struggling with a dilemma. It’s of both a personal and financial nature, because I’m trying to decide whether to spend money that I don’t currently have on my personal development. In other words, the big question is whether it’s worth getting further into debt for.

There are pros and cons to both of the options on the table, and I intend to weigh them up very carefully. For the first time in my life – rather embarrassingly, given I’m now 31 years of age – I’m starting to think about my financial future. I have no savings to speak of but am fortunate not to be in an unmanageable amount of debt either.

If I don’t take the plunge with the personal development option I’ll be out of debt and saving for my future within a year (providing I buck the longstanding trend of frittering money away on holidays as soon as my finances are looking vaguely under control). But I will always wonder if I should have gone down that route, and where it might have led me.

If I do take the plunge, the goal of saving within a year will be pushed back. Realistically it could be quite some time (and by this I mean a very long time) before I’m in a position to put down a deposit on a house anyway, but in doing this I’ll have to accept it will be even longer. And yet…I might have gained something that money can’t buy which will help me for the rest of my life.

I don’t believe that money can buy happiness, which is really just as well considering the sector I work in and the salary I’m currently on. That said, I’m fully aware what money can buy is security – and the ability to splurge on the occasional weekend away, which those who know me will attest to my being rather partial to.

I’ve always struggled to balance my desire to ‘make a difference’ with my desire to enjoy life to the full and it’s a struggle that’s getting harder as time passes. But something’s telling me that now’s the time to take responsibility for my actions, to make a plan and stick to it, whatever sacrifices that entails. Because there will be sacrifice with either option, of that I’m sure.

I’ve always gone with my heart over my head but now I have to decide whether to keep doing that or buck the trend and be ‘sensible’ to the detriment of my own personal development. It’s a quandary, but one I am determined to solve, and which I’m certain I’ll come out the other side of stronger.

Doldrums

Today the carefully arranged mask of Zen which I discovered in my course last week and had actually started to believe could be my true and serene self spectacularly slipped aside to reveal a considerably less calm interior. Unsurprisingly this has led to an upsurge of those familiar feelings of failure and frustration I’d hitherto been doing an impressive job of burying somewhere in the back of my unconscious (along with jealousy, bitterness, anger, rage and all the other unwanted emotions that reside there – although those ones I have at least managed to batten down the hatches on again).

The most frustrating thing is that I know the way I’m feeling is in almost entirely self-inflicted. I spent the weekend over indulging, entirely neglecting my body and mind’s requirements for healthy food, sleep and nurturing (and, let’s face it, this body and mind aren’t getting any younger). As a result both body and mind became unbalanced, and it’s only now as I begin to recognise this and pay some recompense to both that the situation can begin to be resolved. It’s hardly rocket science – disrespect your body and it will disrespect you back (or something to that effect) – though it seems I’m failing in this most rudimentary of comprehensions.

But you know what? It may be how the day began but wallowing is most certainly not how I want this day to end. The plethora of ‘problems’ I perceive when I’m tired and emotional are First World problems; none have serious repercussions. Instead of letting my brain dwell on negative thoughts I shall, for the remainder of this day, embrace the positive ones – of which there are so many – and be glad. So what if I’m tired and a bit out of sorts? I had a great weekend with my friends – and it was worth every minute. Now if somebody could just pass the Berocca…