Regaining Balance

No matter what you are healing from the path is never a straight line and believing any different is contrary to reality: We ebb, flow, rise and fall through life. When things are good it’s important to recognise that and likewise when things start to go off-piste. Personally, I struggle to find a balance between pushing myself to move forwards and remembering the small things that keep me grounded, well-balanced and healthy.

It’s a little ironic that the last post I wrote for this blog was about routine and the very things that I tend to neglect when I start to lose focus. I don’t think I’m alone in this. Most people would admit that life happens and those distractions mean they may not eat as well as usual or their sleep patterns get thrown off or they stop doing something they enjoy.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that even though it can feel like a step back, the act of noticing that you’re not looking after yourself as best you can, is in itself progress. When meditating you’re encouraged to notice when your mind wanders off on a thought trail, bringing yourself back to centre again and again.

It’s okay for things to slide a little, as long as you notice and do something about it. It’s not a failure. It doesn’t mean you have to start over again. It’s a process and every advance and every retreat is a success.

Routine

Those who have met me IRL know that not only am I likely to trip over myself at any given moment, but I am also a walking contradiction. I want to live in a hot country, but hate hot weather. I’d very much like to learn to cook but have the patience of a small child so turn everything up high and burn it. In theory, I detest routine…In life, I thrive on it. Over the years I have learned that it is a required element for my general well-being or else things tend to go awry pretty swiftly.

Coffee in my panda mug is a welcome pause at the start of the day

While I don’t want life to be boring, doing the same things day in, day out, there’s something to be said for the little things that remain steadfast in our lives. There are moments during a day which anchor you. For me, morning coffee is non-negotiable and not simply because I require a caffeine fix for my brain to function! I relish the process of brewing the coffee, pouring the milk into one of my collection of interesting cups, and sitting for 5 or 10 minutes with a fresh brew.

I once read that a wonderful way to add a little mindfulness to the working day is to own a bowl specifically for eating lunch (or dinner…or elevenses). The practice, I think, stems from the Zen monastic tradition of keeping one bowl; eating from it and then washing it. The act is about finishing the task at hand before moving on to another, a lesson I guess most of us could do with learning.

Rigid routines, while they work for some and maybe for you, have never quite made the cut with me, causing more stress than anything else when I forget to do something or I don’t just don’t feel like it. I used to write out routines by the minute, but I found it just sets you up for disappointment when life happens.

So, I do small things, little anchors of time through the day or week; morning coffee, yoga, I end the day with a good book

In all honesty, it could be better though. Shift work and the nature of my job means I often skip lunch or dinner or both and sometimes sleep is more appealing than having breakfast!

There’s lots more work to do. Perhaps a monastic bowl isn’t a bad idea?

Book Review: Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

When it comes to reading I’m quite fussy; it takes quite a lot to keep me interested. I admit I have the attention span of a small, very easily distracted child… and I’m 32… and it’s only getting worse! I’d heard great things about Celeste Ng’s second novel, Little Fires Everywhere, even memorising the cover as it flashed past my eyes in an Instagram story one day thinking to myself that I should probably read it. The book had also popped up in Youtuber’s “favourites” videos and touted as one of the best reads of 2017. Late to the party as ever I gave in to the hype which would usually put me off.

The story begins in Shaker Heights, an Ohio neighbourhood where everything is planned. The houses are built to specification, the less affluent rent flats that from the exterior are purposefully made to give the illusion that only one family lives there, community rules include fines if lawns are above regulation height, and there is a social expectation that residents of the area are happier than most, successful with idyllic family lives.

We initially meet the Richardson’s, a typical Shaker Heights family, as their expensive and beautiful house burns to the ground. The fire department tells Elena Richardson (one of our central characters and mother to the Richardson family) that the blaze didn’t start from one place, it began as per the novel’s title: Little Fires Everywhere. Here we find ourselves suddenly in the midst of a mysterious fire set alight on each bed of the Richardson home as our other central character, Mia, and her teenage daughter leave town in a hurry.

Mia, a photographer and perpetual drifter, and her daughter rent an apartment in Shaker Heights from Elena and quickly become entwined with the Richardson family. Mia takes part-time work cleaning their household while her daughter Pearl becomes firm friends with the Richardson kids. But all turns sour as a local family adopt another local mother’s child against her will and from there the many threads of this story unravel.

The book itself is elegantly written and is a fascinating exploration of class, race, culture, and what it means to be a mother. There are moments that make the reader squirm with discomfort at both intentional and unintentional ignorance of some of the characters.

Overall it is a great read; intelligently written, compelling, and thought-provoking. I spent a while after I finished the book telling everyone who would listen that they should read it, especially if, like me, they can’t bear hype. I’ll be picking up Celeste Ng’s first novel soon as I enjoyed the way she writes so much.

Slow Days: Tipsy Tea Party in Wimborne

It’s Easter and to be honest I was kind at a loss of what to do this weekend. You know when you want to do something but you know it’s going to be horrendously busy where ever you pick?!

My crocheting friend, Emma,  reminded me that there was a little craft fair in Wimborne on Saturday with some great music!

I grabbed a soy latte, danced a little and snuggled myself between Emma’s stall and Lottie who creates some beautiful floral arrangements. I even brought home a little jar of flowers to brighten my day and there may have been a little Easter treat in the form of two cups filled with pieces of cinnamon french toast…

Totally in my element.

Slow Living

I like my life. I built it this way: everything stripped back to the bare bones with only loved things allowed. I started here, in a tiny studio flat I once hated, with a cat that insisted that swinging from my arm by his teeth should be his sole method of transport, and the quietness living on my own afforded me. Sometimes it is a blessing to rebuild a life, getting to choose how, why and when you do things, and never having to explain it to a single soul.

Slow living is intentional, living moment to moment, and that isn’t always easy to follow through on, especially when you’ve got things on your mind or a job that requires all of you all of the time. But for me, part of slow living is this whole no pressure vibe that includes letting things spin out of control for a while and bringing it back again when you notice it.

Choosing a slow life is always a work in progress and filled with continual assessing of what feels good. What feels good for me isn’t necessarily how your slow life would look. Mine is filled with art, poetry, Gilmore Girls, coffee, books, a lot of designing what my home space looks like, plants (a new thing!) and all the things which just make life really cosy for me. But as I’ve kind of felt out how this lifestyle fits, I’ve learned a few key points that work really well for me…

 

  • I figured out my priorities.
  • I clear my home of clutter.
  • I recognise when I’m dwelling on the past.
  • I single-task.
  • I fill my life with things I love.
  • I started saying no and don’t over-commit.

 

Am I the Lobster in the Ballroom?

Following on from the last post I wrote about Liz Gilbert’s book, Big Magic, I’d like to share some thoughts on one of the parts of the book which really struck me. Towards the end of the book is a chapter on trust and in particular an anecdote about a costume party…

Liz writes about a guy she once met at a party, who told her a rather wonderful story about his little brother…

Little Brother, an aspiring painter, saved up all his money and went to France, to surround himself with beauty and inspiration. He lived on the cheap, painted every day, visited museums, traveled to picturesque locations, bravely spoke to everyone he met, and showed his works to anyone who would look at it. One afternoon, Little Brother struck up a conversation in a cafe with a group of charming young people, who turned out to be some species of fancy aristocrats. The charming young aristocrats took a liking to Little Brother and invited him to a party that weekend in a castle in the Loire Valley. They promised Little Brother that this was going to be the most fabulous party of the year. It would be attended by the rich, by the famous, and by several crowned heads of Europe. Best of all, it was to be a masquerade ball, where nobody skimped on the costumes. It was not to be missed. Dress up, they said, and join us!

Excited, Little Brother worked all week on a costume that he was certain would be a showstopper. He scoured Paris for materials and held back neither on the details nor the audacity of his creation. Then he rented a car and drove to the castle, three hours from Paris. He changed into his costume in the car and ascended the castle steps. He gave his name to the butler, who found him on the guest list and politely welcomed him in. Little Brother entered the ballroom, head held high.

Upon which he immediately realised his mistake.

This was indeed a costume party – his new found friends had not misled him there – but he had missed one detail in translation: This was a themed costume party. The theme was “a medieval court.”

And Little Brother was dressed as a lobster.

A 6-foot tall man, in a lobster red leotard and tights. With antenna… This idea that, at all times, not just when putting our creative ideas out into the world, we are baring ourselves to everyone about us and that means taking the risk that people will point and laugh at you instead of going “that’s so cool!”

I feel this way when I let others read my poetry, when I share new music I’ve discovered in the depths of the internet, when I wear the most outrageously coloured, floaty outfits in the midst of Dorset’s uniform of tweed and wellies and when I wear my hair wild and curly instead of straight.

There are those of us in life who are perpetually a big red lobster, one that lopes around the dance floor, crashing antenna into shit while everyone else, elegantly dressed, dances the pre-agreed steps. But whether those following the routine cheer in support, asking how you made the extra legs protruding from your mid-section or whisper critique to each other about the costumed crustacean in the room, makes not one smidge of difference.

We’re going to create. It’s not my job, nor yours, to be concerned over other’s opinions of what you bring to the ballroom.

Just bring it.

Reading List: Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert

Image of Big Magic Book

Liz and I have a somewhat odd relationship. We’ve never met and she has no idea who I am, yet I feel a familiarity about her. Perhaps because in all her writings as Elizabeth Gilbert, her voice seems so intrinsically “her” on the page that she could almost be sat across a table in a cafe, nursing a cup of something delightfully warm, imparting the kind of knowledge only your most trusted friend would supply.

If an audio book could show its well-thumbed, dog eared pages, you’d either be alarmed at the state of them or in complete awe of the mental notes pencilled across the margins of my copy of Eat, Pray, Love. Far behind the crowds by a long shot, I came across her years after the height of her success, during a turbulent time in my life, and that audio book played on repeat for several months, her voice the only thing that was able to soothe my mind’s darkest moments.

I’d pre ordered Big Magic with the intention of reading it as soon as the parcel dropped on my mat, but life happened (as it often does) and it became one of the few books I’d lean against the spines of the rest of my collection, as if to say “this one next…”

In the years that have passed since Liz and I last met on the pages of a book, I’d forgotten her a little, and as I read I found she was still the beautiful wordsmith I remembered; still filled with all the intelligence and wit in the world; an old friend who’d once guided me off the ledge of my own life allowing me to rebuild myself stronger yet different.

 

The important thing to remember… about that exhilarating encounter between a human being and divine creative inspiration… is that you cannot expect it to be there for you all the time. It will come and go, and you must let it come and go.

 

In Big Magic she talks about throwing all caution to the wind, taking the hand of creativity and inspiration when it appears, and skipping off down the path of an idea. It might be a dead end, none of us will know until we reach it. Maybe it will fork off into another more interesting idea or lead us to the masterpiece of our lives. Or not. Maybe. Perhaps. And if that spark of inspiration doesn’t come to play for months or years, what then? Are we destined to wait around for inspiration to rock up and present us with the best thing we’ve ever written, painted, or crocheted? Liz says it’s better for inspiration to find us working. In essence, don’t stop, even when it’s painful and everything you create feels like it’s not quite right, because eventually… inspiration will flit in through a gap in the tiles when you least expect it, and you’ve got to be ready.

The book explains the paradox of the need for creative fear: that although we shouldn’t nurture fear, it does come hand in hand with creativity, and we can’t throw a hissy fit about the fact it’s there. Nothing will change that. Fear is so instinctual in us; it’s a necessary part of human existence. The moment we stop experiencing fear is the moment we stop questioning, and those questions are as important as it is to know when to tell fear to sit down and shut up. Liz even goes as far as to prepare a welcoming speech of sorts, to both welcome and put fear in its place.

 

Dear Fear: Creativity and I are about to go on a road trip together. I understand you’ll be joining us, because you always do. I acknowledge that you believe you have an important job to do in my life, and that you take your job seriously. Apparently your job is to induce complete panic whenever I’m about to do anything interesting – and, may I say, you are superb at your job. So by all means, keep doing your job, if you feel you must. But I will also be doing my job on this road trip, which is to work hard and stay focused. And Creativity will be doing its job, which is to remain stimulating and inspiring. There’s plenty of room in this vehicle for all of us, so make yourself at home, but, understand this: Creativity and I are the only ones who will be making any decisions along the way. I recognize and respect that you are part of this family, and so I will never exclude you from our activities, but still – your suggestions will never be followed. You’re allowed to have a seat, and you’re allowed to have a voice, but you are not allowed to have a vote. You’re not allowed to touch the road maps; you’re not allowed to suggest detours; you’re not allowed to fiddle with the temperature. Dude, you’re not even allowed to touch the radio. But above all else, my dear old familiar friend, you are absolutely forbidden to drive.

 

It’s also refreshing to hear the gentle, but just tough enough “Liz Gilbert Smackdown”. Yes, fear may try to hold you back, but you are also very much responsible for your ability to show up for the work. None of us should put all the blame on fear. This very week, for example, I’d cracked open the stash of Kalms I keep in the back of a kitchen cupboard in case of emergencies, to try to counteract the crippling anxiety that came over me every time I attempted to write something. I understand more than most that saying “feel the fear and do it anyway” isn’t always a feasible option when it comes to anxiety; there’s no rhyme nor reason to it, but I know where it started. FEAR.

What made me keep coming back to the keyboard this week, was the notion that I had a choice. I could choose to let fear and anxiety win or I could continue to do my part, show up, sit, even if it yielded no notable work whatsoever.

But I would show the fuck up.

And I did. And it felt good.

4 Reasons you should know your Myers Briggs Personality Type

I do this thing, which I have adorably (cough cough) termed as “Pinterest Therapy”, where I pin everything within the wormhole of Pinterest, which resonates with me on various issues I’m dealing with at that moment, and eventually, over time, I don’t feel the need to pin on that topic anymore. (I find this a really useful practice btw and hands down my favourite time waster!)

Who is INFJ? Is this the new Atticus, anonymous poet of the interwebs? I pinned it to one side and, thanks to the beauty of internet algorithms, suddenly all these other INFJ images kept floating about my feed and each and every one of them resonated with me.

Curious as ever, I came to discover via the knowledge fountain that is Google, INFJ is not, as I had previously suspected, an anonymous poet, living in abject poverty, with her windows covered in floral sheets purchased at a flea market, but, in fact, a personality type, part of the Myers Briggs Type Indicator. Oh, how my imagination had failed me… Katharine and Isobel, a mother and daughter team, built this self-questionnaire based on the psychological theories of Carl Jung. The idea is that our personalities are made up of preferences and these preferences influence how we experience the world. The test looks at 4 areas of our selves:

  • How we gain energy – Extraversion (E) or Introversion (I)
  • How we gather information – Sensing (S)or Intuition (N)
  • How you make decisions – Thinking (T) or Feeling (F)
  • How you live your life – Judging (J) or Perceiving (P)

Turns out I (or Pinterest… which ever way you want to look at it!) was right, I’m an INFJ.

But why should you be interested in your type?

Understand your strengths and weaknesses

The Myers Briggs Types are based on preferences, meaning when you understand your strengths you can get to work developing your weaknesses. Some of these things may not come naturally to you, but when you know where you need to work a little harder suddenly you are able to improve your skills across all areas. For example, as an INFJ I’m prone to burn out really easily, so I’m learning to balance my life better by not taking on extra responsibilities, which is hard because on the other hand I also want to help everyone.

Get cool with who you are

I put pressure on myself because I was one way around people and another way at home. I felt like I was a walking contradiction! Why couldn’t I be my authentic self? Well, INFJs are known for this “walking contradiction”. They are the extroverted introverts of our world. Realising this gave me the opportunity to relax into myself. Knowing how you recharge is, I think, so important because if you’re trying to force yourself into being something that doesn’t come naturally to you, you’re not going to be at ease with yourself or in your life.

Find a better-suited career

Do you ever feel like you hate your job? Is it draining? Maybe it’s because it’s at odds with who you are… Just something to think about.

Understand other people better.

Have you ever thought that someone was trying their best to annoy you on purpose? They might very well have been doing all they could to drive you up the wall, but the likelihood is that they are experiencing the world from a different angle.

I’m interested to know what your type is! Hit the link in the Blog Notes below and leave me a comment, drop me a text (if you have my number ;P), DM me on Instagram… Seriously, I want to know.

Blog Notes:

  1. Myers Briggs Personality Test
  2. What’s Your Type? – TED Talk by Jean Kummerow
  3. Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

Being OK with a Calm Life

On the wall of my studio, is a small quote pinned by the place where I make my morning coffee and nowadays I often come to rest on these words.

It’s okay to be happy with a calm life

And, boy, I haven’t always believed that. There’s always been a battle to fight when it comes to reaching my potential. I always held myself to, what most thought was, an impossible standard. Perfection is unattainable, a bar set so high it is impossible to reach. The struggle and continuous push of yourself to be the best is draining and while it works for some, is not a guaranteed winning strategy for success.

And what is a success? A million pounds in the bank; a large house by the sea; a job so stressful it causes you to have a heart attack at 30 or 40?

None of those are prerequisites for happiness or able to protect you from the inevitable hurt or sadness that life will throw our way.

Someone wise once said that the darkest hour is right before the dawn and what a dawn this has been. Slow, like the pace I want my life to tread, one that’s focused on living creatively, happily and simply. One where my worth isn’t measured by how much money I make or what clothes I wear. A life away from in-authenticity. Quiet. Small. Curious. Relishing in all the little things which bring joy and fulfillment.

To be ok with a calm life. What a rebellious notion in today’s world.

On Minimalism for the Soul

Life is full of stuff we don’t need, want or even realise is there until it falls out of a cupboard while you’re trying to remove a blockage from the u-bend of your bathroom sink. Ok. So it wasn’t just anything that (persistently) fell on me, it was one of those Wii boards we all had to have a few years back because it would make us a better, fitter person. Yes, I admit, I rarely used it. Is it sitting in a cupboard unused and unloved? No. It’s on the floor of my bathroom covered in gross u-bend water after it tried to viciously attack me!

What I’m trying to say is whether it’s a physical object, emotional baggage, or mental clutter, we’ve all got old stuff lingering around where it needs not be.

Recently, I’ve been doing regular minimalism sweeps of my home, removing objects that hold no value to me anymore. It’s a process, as I’m sure you can gather from the anecdote about the feral board of fitness, but I’ve found the act of keeping my space clean and free of clutter super helpful in attempting to keep my mind the same way.

I’ve known for years that the space I live in is a direct reflection of my state of mind, but I’ve never looked at it the other way round. I’ve always figured all that nasty crap was a required fixture in the corner of my mind and I’d just spend the rest of my days skirting around it, trying not to upset the pile when I reached for something good hidden in the centre of it all, only for it to come careering down on me eventually.

Could it be that all this time, as I was purging items, I could also have been taking a good look at what thoughts, ideas, emotional hurt, and mindsets just don’t serve me anymore? Talk about an EPIPHANY!

I’m a habitual dweller: I’ll pick out the biggest hurt and sit on it for a few hours until suitably miserable, but lately, a few of the old favourites don’t do the trick and couple of times I’ve even caught myself thinking… “Maybe I can let go of this now.”

May I can let go of this now. Maybe all the things that are superfluous to my well-being can piss off. Maybe I am in control of what goes on in my own mind. Maybe I need to take ownership of that fact instead of refusing to acknowledge it.

So, over the next few months, I’ll be working on removing physical, emotional, and mental clutter from my life and I invite you to join me. Let’s get together at the end of it all, have a big “release party” and move forward.Save

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