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Leaping into the unknown

My heart leaps at the unmistakable sound of your presence in my inbox. I stare at my phone screen in perpetual disappointment as I realise it is just another email about one more Amazon purchase by the kids. I take the dog for a walk and let the gentle chords of my ‘Hot Acoustic’ playlist transport my mind out of my hopeless impatience, but the phone is playing games with my head once again. I hear the little sound, the eagerly awaited sound that enthuses my spirit at the thought of it being you, letting me know that you remember I exist; that you care and fear for the precipice I find myself standing on the edge of; that you are grateful for my words, my thoughts, my prayers at the news of your own precipice; that you are fully conscious of the fact that thousands of miles cannot keep us apart because I now carry you in my heart and you walk with mine.

I place my phone back in my pocket, disheartened, disillusioned at my own naivety for thinking that I would rate that high on your list of priorities; rank that privileged a position in your affections.  Did I read your words right or was it wishful thinking? Did our souls supernaturally connect and instantly fuse like timber and flame? Did you sense it too, that familiarity of total strangers as if we had shared a lifetime in a different life?

Words are like missiles that perforate the heart irreparably, beyond recognition. The moment they hit you, everything changes and no matter how one tries to retain the old self, it is not there. The metamorphosis has taken place. It is impossible to pick up where you left off because that person has vanished, gone up in the smoke of impact between two souls that though foreign to each other, have entered a perfect dance of seamless intuition, empathy and telepathy. The harmony is such; the comfort in each other’s presence so undeniable, it proves impossible to let go even when the music stops playing. I hang on for dear life, because I know this encounter is extraordinary, perhaps unique. If I cannot hold on to you, let me at least hold on to the memory of you; to your spirit which is more present within me than the words you wrote to me.

I am struggling to get on with my daily grind because I am addicted to that dance; that harmonious exchange of non-judgemental, undiluted goodness and understanding. It is so rare to find a person today with enough humility that all they see is the good in you; they only see the intention, never the mistake. There is such purity, such integrity in a heart like that, hardly seen these dark days of social media frenzy and perpetual witch-hunts. Is it possible to trust someone you barely know more fully than someone you have known most of your life? What is there in that dimension we do not see that can feel so much more real than the things and the people we can hear, see and touch? Is it an illusion of the needy mind or a golden snippet of what we are capable of when we believe there is more to life than this?

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A case of vanity or self-love?

When you get to my age you finally learn that whilst certain external agents are necessary, vital at times, to lift us out of anxiety, depression, loss or any other soul-destroying circumstance, in the end the only thing that can rescue us from the darkness is truly ourselves.

If there is one lesson I have tried to teach my kids time and time again is this one, because I know that the biggest battles we fight in our life are always the ones we win within, wrestling with ourselves.

I have fought many of these internal battles over the years. When I was young and easily influenced, I relied on other people’s opinion of me to give me a sense of worth and confidence. As an adult, I learnt that even the closest of friends can one day become enemies and that many people who come into your life dressed as sheep are in fact foe; that there are individuals who come into your life for a season to gain something from you and then move on when they got what they wanted. There are others who also identify themselves as friends and are so for a time, but then just like the wind blows in one direction one moment and then in another the next, they change alliance with the blink of an eye and once again, you get put on the shelf or back in the shadows as they move on to the next fool who cannot see them coming. And then there are the kind of friends who genuinely see the best in you, want the best for you and would drop everything to help you out when you need it. And yet, not even those can save you from yourself.

I have learnt that what I thought was vanity is in many instances self-love. When I was younger, I was judgemental, proud, arrogant. Now I know that we all have our own reasons for behaving the way we do. I am not seeking to justify any particular behaviour. I am simply saying that in the later part of my life I have learnt to respect other people’s space and freedom to do as they please. I guess when I was younger my outlook was limited, full of prejudice and blind spots. Now, at 51 I myself have been driven to tight spots I did not know existed, and I have had to alter my behaviour in order to survive, to move forward; a behaviour that my younger, naïve self would have considered totally inappropriate or undignified perhaps. It’s funny how life teaches us time and time again to never judge a book by its cover, and time and time again we ignore that advice and we fall into judgement and rejection of others based on our own prejudices and narrow-mindedness.

I have learnt that it is not worth giving of myself to those who have no empathy, interest or kindness to open the book of my life and read through the pages of the highs and the lows that have led me to be who I am today, before they pass judgement or give their opinion.

I have learnt that the only opinion I should trust when it comes to who I am and where I am going is my own, because even when given with the best of intentions, others’ counsel or guidance is based on their own convictions and experiences, and so what may suit them, does not necessarily suit me.

I have learnt that whilst friends and family are a really important part of a person’s life, the one constant we need to thrive during our time on earth is self-love. The advice given during the safety briefing on a flight to put on your own life jacket or oxygen mask before helping others is for me one of the essential keys to safe living. Sometimes we can be so caught up in looking after others, trying to help others or gaining direction or seeking validation from others that we forget to listen to what our own judgement and gut instinct is telling us; we forget to extend that lifeline to ourselves and in doing so we spend our life wrestling, perpetuating our predicament of a square peg in a round hole.

Today I am practising self-love or vanity, call it what you will. I don’t really care. It helps me to appreciate who I am and how far I’ve come. It reminds me that I am not who or what others may think of me, but I am the truth I see in the mirror every day, warts and all! I am imperfect, unfinished, scarred, blemished and very flawed, but I am authentic and beat only to my own drum.

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Acceptance and Rebellion

With every day that goes by I am learning that a successful life is one where we learn to live each day on the assumption, the knowledge that acceptance and rebellion are two sides of the very same process of existence. Suffering as a result of our limitations and triumph based on our unique potential go hand in hand. When Acceptance’s work is done in us, it gives way to the unimaginable possibilities of Rebellion, and on and on the cycle goes until we come to the end of our beating heart. It is hard for me to imagine however, or even accept that there can be so many visible and invisible mighty forces that come into place whilst we live, but it all ends when we die. Surely when the limitations of our finite body get the better of us, all the other forces which we can clearly sense but cannot see whilst alive, come into the fore. Indeed, it is our finite nature that dictates in us we choose acceptance, so once our fleshly bodies are no longer holding us back, what is stopping our spirit from literally soaring?

Amazing image captured 10m from our house by my talented budding photographer son.

Living is like a game of tug of war, a perpetual tension of pulling and simultaneously letting go almost involuntarily, because we subconsciously know that in order to gather the strength to keep going, we have to ease off every now and then; we have to pace ourselves and put the emphasis and energy in all the right places or else we burn out before we even get a chance to discover why we are here; we have to accept that we cannot control everything and that we have certainly no power or rule over the outcome of most unexpected challenges thrown our way.

And yet, there lies the glorious part of this journey: we know we have no choice but to succumb to the inevitability of our sorrow predicament, but it is in the very act of surrendering our will that we become unstoppable forces for change, for altering the very course of events we feared were already written in the stars. The blessing comes when we come to the end of ourselves; when we recognise our insignificance; when we know our place in the infinite scheme of reality. Even though we all know where there is a beginning there most certainly is an end, our end, with every passing moment we become more present, more fully aware of the importance of rebelling against that final chapter; of making our time here count; of sieving the clatter that blinds us and deters us from being the best we can be; of getting the furthest we possibly can in our gifting, our dreams, our humanity and above all our spirituality, that dimension none of us can see but we all know deep in our soul, is what underpins everything we are and do.  

I have had to confront some tough shit this week. My initial and immediate reaction was to panic, to crumble under the pressure, to be suffocated by negativity. Like I said, it is a process of pulling and tugging, of wanting to control what is way beyond our control, but then comes acceptance, surrender. Sometimes we get too big for our own shoes. We convince ourselves we are superheroes, mini Gods that go around solving every problem, creating magic for ourselves and others. In reality, we are weak, flawed, and far, far from supernatural.

Days passed and I began to pull myself together again. When acceptance comes, a huge weight is instantly removed from our shoulders. So much so, that the coin is at that very moment flipped and rebellion begins to dominate the picture. And by rebellion I mean, the fire in our belly, the ability to remind ourselves that though there is much adversity over which we have no power, the key to living is simply shifting the focus to the things we can actually do and then we move forward one step at a time, never paying attention to our limitations on any given adverse circumstance but only to our strengths or gifting, or in other words, take the good and run. Run and never look back.

Life is all about choices. It is foolish of us to choose to feel defeated about those things over which we have no real say or power. Instead, there is immense potential in positioning ourselves in such a place where our attention is only given to the things we can actually change and improve around us. At the same time, ugly stuff, evil, decay, pain and sorrow are all of our companions on this journey. We may travel together but that does not mean we have to hold hands for the duration. Rebellion is all about the fighting spirit in us, having the humility to know who we are and who we are not, but accepting the challenge and growing the courage to be of use and a catalyst for transformation in the things and areas we have been gifted with. I think each of us knows deep down what those areas are, because it is precisely when we exercise them that we feel most alive, most fulfilled and at peace with ourselves and the world.

This morning I went on my daily walk with Jakey, our gorgeous black Labrador. I flipped the coin and instead of using that time to sink further into my problems and limitations, I homed in on the goodness that flows from acceptance and surrender. I became a rebel and drew incredible positive energy from the equilibrium, vibrancy and sheer extravagance of nature. Lord knows, I am no super-hero, but I sure felt like one by the time I got back home filled with hope and the loud echoes of the still small voice quietening my soul. There are so many forces at play in the universe. Some we see, some we don’t, but the greatest strength of all will never be dwelling in our limitations, but rather in knowing exactly where our transformative power lies and owning it fiercely and unashamedly.

Here are some of the moments I fed on during my walk.

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Diana Krall is just what the Dr ordered!

Listening to the velvety tones of Diana Krall’s suggestive voice is most certainly the tonic I need today to rescue me from the mundanity of family life.

Covid seems to be gathering strength for round two of contagion and devastation, at least in Europe, and because of it, we are all battening down the hatches, regrouping and stocking up for what is promising to be a very interesting or rather challenging Autumn and Winter.

Despite governments trying their best efforts to reassure the population about the measures in place to prevent the chaos that ensued the first time round, there is a real sense in the air of the despair that comes when you realise you are about to fall into a deep hole. No one really knows what is coming, but everyone agrees that the next few months are going to be incredibly difficult.

New rules of social distancing, new curfews in bars and pubs, new limits about who you can meet up with, where and when. The prospect of having to wait endlessly for medical appointments, the loneliness, the anxiety about businesses closing down for good, but above all, the fear and suspicion abounding wherever you go; the restlessness and gloominess that is depleting the air we breathe from oxygen, and turning it instead into a poisonous dread that will get to us even if Covid doesn’t.

It is so damn easy to get caught up in all this darkness. I am not perfect. God no. I am as wretched as the next person, but the Leo spirit definitely bursts out alive within me every time adversity swallows me up like sand does water. Like a lioness, I instinctively put on my invisible armour and I fight; I fight to the death whatever is coming against me. I sometimes surprise myself about some of the ways in which I have coped with some very challenging circumstances; how I have fought to give the best I can to those whom I love when they themselves have come under attack, scrutiny or discrimination of any kind.

I feel we are about to enter one of those big black clouds of adversity. I am all geared up for the fight. I am standing at the gate doing my watch night and day waiting for that enemy to approach. I remain fully aware however that the biggest enemy I will ever have to face and have already faced on many occasions is despair, fear, negativity. There are many ways one could define life but right now for me life is that overrated journey everyone keeps raving about but most forget to mention about the amount of unimaginable shit that you have to face along the way.

All that said, it is down to each of us how we navigate those turbulent waters, and turbulent they will become more often than we care to endure. So as for me and my house, we will sail through it with perspective, taking one day at a time, not focusing on the unknowns of the future or becoming bitter for the resentments of our past. We will live in the moment, glad that we are alive for as long as we are.

Well, that and for me personally, a big dose of soul-builders like Diana Krall and heart warmers like this delicious glass of Tempranillo Tinto I am having with my dinner tonight.

If you are reading this, I send you my warmest wishes for the part of the journey we are all about to embark on. From the greatest adversity births and flourishes the most beautiful refinement that makes us shine and stand out; that makes us be of good use and support to someone else. Here’s to us all embracing what is yet to come; here’s to us all looking out for that one person nobody sees who needs protecting, encouraging or helping along the way.

As a side note, my 19-year-old just stepped into the kitchen as I am writing this and asked what I was doing. I told him I am writing on my blog. He asked what about. So I told him the gist of it to which he replied: ‘God mum, you sound like Winston Churchill’. I’ll take it!

Here I am, for a lifetime!

Nobody tells you this, because getting older is not the kind of subject most people find all that interesting or engaging, but I wish somebody had spoken to me about the pluses of ageing, and trust me, there are a few and they are not to be underestimated.

Yes, it is quite depressing to see one’s body becoming less able, less willing, easing off into the undignified deterioration that silently takes place each day and creeps up on you all of a sudden one fine morning when you look in the mirror. Yes, it is also rather demoralising to lose intellectual ability, concentration skills and that eagerness of your youth to absorb all the knowledge at your reach. Gosh, I remember how in my teens I used to be able to memorise entire books of subjects I was not even that much into, like History of Art. My goal was to get the best grades and apart from the sacrifice of endless hours invested, intellectually my learning was seamless, thriving, limitless. Now, my willingness to learn, my thirst for keeping up with the world is just as eager and sharp, but the in-built tools to do so are somewhat rusty and worn out, saturated from so much use in the past; from firing all cylinders as if my ability to make any kind of impact, to matter would expire by the age of 30.

The pain of feeling the younger generation ‘pushing you aside’ to make way for their own discoveries, trends, ethos, and understanding of how to navigate relationships, the economy, professional pursuits and the meaning of life in general, also rubs salt in the wound of the ageing process. Lord knows, for those of us who have children, the older they become, the more redundant we begin to feel both to them and to the world in general. Their confidence, know-how and freshness is enough to make one forget how much we have achieved in our own life and the fact that like them, we were once young too, full of light, hope, energy, influence and limitless possibilities. Like us too, they will one day, if they are lucky to make it, ponder this very same realisation.

I read something on twitter two days ago which really made me sad. A lady, who said was about to become 65, was pleading with her audience to be liked or retweeted in order to, for once in her life, before either dying or developing Alzheimer’s, become noticed or have any kind of impact on a large scale; to somehow be one amongst the millions of grains of sand which successfully makes an indelible impression on the beach before being washed away by the waves.

It made me very sad, because there is that overwhelmingly dominant and influential opinion around that once you reach a certain age, you are good for nothing, you mean nothing, you add nothing, you offer nothing. We are an intelligent species but we can be so shockingly blind too with the elementary stuff. We are all in this together. We all go through the same cycle of life. It is in our own interest to highly value, nurture and treasure the later years of our life, because just like we all have a beginning, we all have an end. And yet, the moment we begin to age, we are the first ones to throw in the towel, to step aside, cower and hide, giving licence to the rest of the world to ignore and trample on us.

Well, I am not going to silently just step aside and let society, governments or ruthless individuals, men and women, treat me like I am done in this world. You come at me with your youth and your arrogance, and I will serve you a huge dose of perspective and a wake up call, because where I am is where you are also going, so you’ll do well to listen to the pilgrims who have traversed before you that very same road you are now on and are convinced is unique and exclusively paved for you and your own gain and enjoyment.

We can see things that you can’t yet see and have solutions for challenges that you have not yet endured. Our foot, unlike yours, is off the accelerator and we have successfully learnt how to marinade in the spices of all that life has to offer; to relish the traits in others that in our youth we foolishly rejected as irrelevant or unattractive. We have learnt to savour the moment; to discard the prejudices and hang-ups that forced us to live life through someone else’s eyes. If you come at me with your naive understanding and fake manufactured self, telling me I ‘aint no longer got it’, I will tell you that no quality is more alluring, more seductive than being comfortable in your skin and loving yourself, all of yourself; your achy body, crinkly skin and scarred soul. It is only when you accept yourself as you are; when you truly know yourself, that your life acquires the ultimate level of authenticity and freedom which is elusive in our youth. It is only then, in the later part of our lives that we ditch the baggage and learn to soar to the heights we were destined for, and trust me, I would never trade the view and full-on sensory and spiritual presence from up here for the shortsightedness, blind spots and restraining presumptions of my youth.

The ugly truth

This is not going to be my usual post deep in reflection but rather more of a diary entry where I get to vent out in my own safe ‘private’ space. Life is strange these days. We are in a kind of Covid limbo where we are neither in motion again nor stationary. What is that state? How does one acclimatise to an undefined existence where it is risky to get going but equally dangerous to stay put?

Work is picking up for us in the office which is great, but it just means that we are falling into the old patterns of our daily existence being driven by the frenzy of new orders. The daily walk which was so therapeutic and refreshing has now reverted back to a chore that needs to be gotten out of the way so that we can spend more time doing the real meaningless chores and be more (or rather less) productive at work.

Throughout the day I often go to twitter for a bit of respite. I encounter fantastic humour there, really interesting people too and I love how most feel they have the freedom to say what they are really thinking and not the measured responses that we often give face to face, because we feel we need to restrain ourselves or else we may come across as human. Perish the thought! Having said that, sometimes that very same veil which gives others a mask to hide behind, can be the sword that cuts both ways. If you are observant enough, if you are patient enough and look closely enough, you realise that whilst some can use that veil of anonymity to propel them into sincerity, there are others who abuse the freedom that such invisible curtain gives them and choose to give an impression of being who they are not in order to gain your trust, use you and discard you afterwards.

I am a sucker for honesty and transparency. Deception on the other hand curdles my blood and turns me inside out. People who give compliments because they want something from you and as soon as they realise they are not getting it, forget you even exist, are for me subhuman, if I am honest. Trusting another human being is completely exhausting, but what really wears my soul down is when you believe someone has a genuine interest in who you are as a person only to discover soon after it was all an act. They don’t offer friendship to see what they can do for you but rather they understand friendship only in terms of what you can do for them. It is the new shopping trend. Do what you have to do, use whichever tactic you need to successfully shop for more followers or individuals you can use to satisfy your own needs. Be all things to all people and lose your soul and your heart in the process seems to be today’s new mantra. At what point did the notion of integrity become obsolete, unfashionable, unnecessary?

I used to believe in the kindness of strangers but I am becoming increasingly disillusioned with such prospect. We are so blinded by a culture of consumerism, we stop at nothing in our frenzy and greed, not even other human beings. We chew them, suck up the life out of them and we spit them back out when there’s nothing left for us! We change our alliances and whom we give favour to like we change clothes everyday. The dehumanization of the human species is not far ahead if you ask me.

What do you know? What was meant as a diary entry has turned into another heavy rant. Well, this is me, warts and all! Come back at your own peril.

Our life is what our thoughts make it

This morning I found another short but devastatingly profound quote. This one is by Marcus Aurelius. ‘Our life is what our thoughts make it’. When I read these words the immediate thought that springs to mind is the realisation that amidst a global pandemic that has already claimed so many lives, the real monsters I see devouring people in society are anxiety and depression. I have never suffered from depression or at least I don’t think I have. I have certainly felt depressed on many occasions and have been close to that cliff edge of darkness often enough, but have been providentially lucky to have never actually fallen. Anxiety is the demon I battle regularly. The battles rage in frequency and intensity but I am always fighting that war. Much of it is down to how I am wired, to my genes, but a lot of it is to do with the environment I find myself in and the external agents I choose to put around me or feed from.

Marcus Aurelius statement is so simple yet it encompasses such power, one wonders how so many of us inherently know this to be the truth and yet, we choose to feed our minds with all the wrong things, the very things that are triggers for our thoughts to go on a downward spiral of negativity and self-destruction. We spend so much time of our lives watching tv, feeding our brain with all kinds of images, thoughts, behaviours, responses and attitudes. We spend even more countless hours on social media gulping down negativity, hatred, vileness, insults, threats, misinformation, sheer aggression, scaremongering and endless other sources of fear and hopelessness.

And further still, what about the people that we choose to hang around with, invest our energy in or after whom we mould our psyche, our soul, our behaviour? Why are we all so easily influenced by others? Is it because it is easier to follow than to lead by example? Why do we care so much what others think and in doing so we train our minds to suit the needs of others, when in reality the golden key to an anxiety-free life lies within each of us? If we don’t put our bodies at risk by jumping in a car with someone whose driving skills are decidedly doubtful, why do we allow others’ flawed, damaging reasoning and pathological patterns of behaviour and logic to shape our own?

I have never been a social animal. Quite the opposite: the awkward child who struggled in large social gatherings; who always felt like I didn’t fit in. But why is it so excruciatingly vital to us that we fit in in the first place? I have punished myself mentally for most of my life for being that person that always stood out for hiding in the background in awkwardness. Growing up I didn’t have the ‘know-how’ of how to get out of that rut, but over the years I have been on this path to freedom from ‘outside influences’. Medical staff wear protective equipment when fighting a virus so that the assailant does not enter their bodies. And yet, we are perilous and irreparably careless with neglecting to put a protective shield round our minds everyday. We open up the gates and let all kinds of enemies trample in and rob us of our joy, our peace, our security.

Apart from my family, I have become a bit of an island in my later years. Disillusioned and disenchanted from the very sources of hope, guidance and encouragement most of us entrust our lives and our minds to: religion, the system, politics and even friends. I have learnt to wear that mental shield every single day; to filter carefully what I feed my mind with; who I listen to and whose truth I abide by. I am not lonely, though I choose to be alone in this process of soul-building. The power to overrule the thoughts that determine my quality of mental life resides within me and me alone, so solitude is for me the biggest blessing and not a curse as I have always been pushed to believe.

You are not a loser

Dedicated to Rainey

My friend, you are not a loser

You just lost and you lost big

But you never lost yourself in that engulfing darkness

You wore your dignity and your integrity through it all like a diamond harness.

My friend, you are not a loser

You have been dealt a rough card in the game of life

A game over which you have no control or might

You took a chance, gave it your best shot

But through it all give up on yourself you did not.

My friend, you are not a loser

Losers lack courage to endure self-introspection

They cannot bear to look at their own reflection

You are the overcomer who fights on for Day and night

Riding the waves of adversity driven by the allure of a new hope in sight.

Like the grain of wheat that falls into the ground and dies to bear a harvest

So has your spirit been pierced so that it is fully equipped to sail yet furthest.

The vessel is ready, its captain fully trained.

Sail on, my friend

And let the new adventures commence.