Featured

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.

Featured

Love is a losing game

It is pouring down outside. Autumn is properly on its way and I feel the exuberance and zest of summer-living gently easing off and giving way to melancholy, days of endless reflection and dampness in the air; lazy afternoons of cosy cuddling up to myself in front of a warm fire binge watching my favourite series of the moment. I love the contrast in the seasons. Spring is without a doubt my favourite season, but I also love and nurture the symbolic meaning which transpires into our daily living carried by each of the other seasons too. I love how the smell of the air we breathe changes as we move from one time of the year to another; I welcome with anticipation how my soul is predisposed to feel differently as the sun no longer dominates the days, and heavy downpours and windy days take its place. Today is the perfect day to listen to one of my favourite artists: Amy Winehouse and one of my favourite songs of hers: ‘Love is a losing game’. Here are the lyrics:

For you I was the flame
Love is a losing game
Five story fire as you came
Love is losing game

One I wished, I never played
Oh, what a mess we made
And now the final frame
Love is a losing game

Played out by the band
Love is a losing hand
More than I could stand
Love is a losing hand

Self-professed profound
Till the chips were down
Know you’re a gambling man
Love is a losing hand

Though I battled blind
Love is a fate resigned
Memories mar my mind
Love is a fate resigned

Over futile odds
And laughed at by the gods
And now the final frame
Love is a losing game

Every time I hear the first chords of this song, I have to stop whatever I am doing. It’s like a familiar, gratifying voice; like an alter ego or an older me counselling my inexperienced self, a blessed invisible friend gently whispering: ‘I told you so’. I have often wondered what it is about this particular piece that touches me so. Love certainly is the most complex of emotions, and yet the one we crave the most, like manna in the desert. I guess I relate on a very deep level with the honesty in the song; the candid message; the acceptance of inevitability as we embark on a relationship; the inevitability of disappointment, unimaginable hurt and emptiness. And yet, and even though we know the odds and how much we stand to lose; how acute the pain can feel, we still choose the losing hand time and time and time again. Why? Oh why?

Well, I clearly don’t have the answer but I think the message in the lyrics of another one of my favourite songs by Rebecca Ferguson ‘Nothing’s Real but love’ may have something to do with it.

Standing in a line
Wonder why it don’t move
Tryna get a hand
Watching people break the rules
And maybe the man in charge
Doesn’t like my face
But then this world’s not always good

And nothing’s real but love
Nothing’s real but love
No money, no house, no car,
Can beat love

They watch us open-mouthed
As we joke around like fools
See who can be the worst
Watch what I can do
But then the door gets slammed,
Slammed right in my face
And I guess this world’s not always good

And nothing’s real but love
Nothing’s real but love
No house, no car, no job
Can beat love

It won’t fill you up
No money, no house, no car
Is like loveLa la la la la la la la
YeaaahI put it all away
Holding it back for a rainy day
But what if that day don’t come
I need loveNo money, no house, no car
Is like love

It don’t fill you up
It won’t build you up
It won’t fill you up
It’s not love!And nothing’s real but love
No money, no house, no car
Is like love

Nothing’s real but love

No money, no house, no car
Is like love

As I continue to try and figure out why to love and wanting to be loved is hands down a human’s deepest need and at the core of our being even though it is also the emotion that can destroy us from the inside out; it is the one experience that makes us feel so real, so complete, but also so broken and defeated, I hold on for dear life to what I know for sure: I love my dog and my dog loves me, and that’s good enough for now.

Featured

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.

Featured

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!

Featured

Thousands of luminous stares

Spending all this time in the idyllic island of Menorca is really helping me to recognise things about myself which I choose to ignore when I am back at home in the UK, as I am constantly caught up in the frenzy of what is next to be ticked off on my ‘Must do’ list. It is undeniable that this little floating piece of land in the Mediterranean is a precious gem, with its turquoise secret coves, its magnificent sunsets and starry skies, its dramatic storms and fierce winds, its quietude and palpable spirituality; its glorious seafood and the laissez faire attitude of its amiable and accommodating people. I love coming here. I have travelled extensively to very beautiful, awe inspiring places over the years, but I do not feel the same sense of renewal and self-discovery anywhere else as I do whilst I am here.

It is that holiday feel, you may think, but the reality is that I am not really on holiday. We have an office in our house here and we work as hard as we do in the UK. There is no getting away from it when you have your own business. You never really switch off. What is different is that here my soul, my spirit is able to disconnect from the Self much more easily. What I mean by that is that I am one of those people who is constantly battling that negative voice in our head that makes us feel guilty and fearful about everything that is out of our control. It is exhausting; it depletes me of energy, and it robs me of joy every single day. And yet, the moment I set foot on this island, I literally feel like a heavy layer falls off me. When I am at home in England, I am dragging an invisible chain of self-doubt and fear. The very instant I land in Menorca the chains break loose and I get to feel and see not who I am but who I am meant to be. I guess one could call it a near religious experience. It’s addictive, life-affirming, healing and redemptive. It is the epiphany this world needs to experience on a daily basis to rid us from all the external agents we become dependent on to bring us relief from pain and anxiety; agents that like wolves in sheeps clothing bring temporary respite but drive us to a permanent whirlwind of misery and despair.

There is so much unspoilt beauty on this island, so much positive energy. Every sense is empowered, enhanced reminding us with every instant of our beating heart and the fluttering pulse of blood flowing through our veins, that life is not the dark mental labyrinth we get lost in, but every reality we have been gifted with to perceive with our senses when we shut our minds. The taste of the salty sea stinging my lips, the silky warm feel of the water on my skin, the deep colours of the flowers, the metallic glistening of the waters, the blessed miracle of such succulent food on my plate; the feel of the far away Saharan sand brought across with the storms which is a constant reminder that, despite vast distances and expanses, land, sea and life are all desperately connected and interdependent. The delightful scent of ripening fruits becomes a meal in itself; the overpowering presence of fresh rain evaporating no sooner it heats the ground, the incredible moisture in the air alerting us with every breath to how precious water truly is; to how we choose to forget at our own peril that we are the water that we breathe; the sensual perfume of tourists walking past enjoying those fleeting moments of lightness as if walking on endless clouds of freedom before they have to return to their golden cages. The commanding sounds of different sea birds telling us that this island belongs to them, contrasted by the sound of silence, makes me feel connected to whatever is out there, to the universe; to humankind; to what has been before and even what is yet to come. I feel anchored, safe, looked after, rooted and above all guided by forces that run far beyond anything we could ever hope or dare to imagine. As I gorge on all those wonders, Master Fear ebbs away until I feel blessedly weightless.

When I am here, I get to clearly see how truly fearful I am. Little me sat in our terrace on a starry night looking up to that infinitely populated firmament is the quick fix I need when that negative voice begins to whisper in my ear. One quick glance upwards and I forget myself as I see thousands of sparkly lights signalling back at me that it is going to be OK; that everything is already taken care of whether I fret or not; whether I do more or less; whether I beat myself up or not. Thousands of luminous otherworldly stares filling me with awe and the echoes of the supernatural, the beyond, the unknown, telling me to stop wrestling needlessly and to start enjoying the undecipherable and extraordinary gift that life is.

Featured

The butterfly that never was

Her ship had sailed once again. “Lord, why do I keep doing this to myself? When will you give me enough courage?”, she desperately asked out loud. The walls of her house so downcast, so worn with always hearing the same lament echoing through them. Verity stood on that achingly familiar imaginary dock as she sat round the kitchen table, gazing at the intensely alluring horizon with a choking lump on her throat at the crucifying realisation that for the hundredth time she had come in touching distance of embarking on the trip of a lifetime to her promised Shangri-La. Once again, however, she had also boycotted her own free pass to a new life; a new birth; a fresh journey of discovery through which there would be for the very first time in ages, no baggage, no plans or expectations, neither resentment nor unforgiveness, no limits, just a glimmer of hope with every sunset; a nugget of opportunity to soar with every breath taken in aided by the sea breeze. She had once again subconsciously but without fail, aligned every detail of her life in such a way that yes, she would allow herself to play the game of abiding by the fire of longing, like a moth round a flame, but always with the paralyzing certainty that this ‘Odyssey of Freedom’ game she had invented, would, as it always did, come to a sore end, and that she would lose and she would lose big.

She had already resigned herself years ago to be denied a life free of duty and expectation; a life that exponentially gains momentum when not lived just for others, owed to others, shaped by others. She had given up on that a long time ago. What really buried her soul like a ton of granite and wilted it one depth further at a time; what truly permanently anchored her feet, was the painful admission that there was nothing and no one really standing in her way to entering the God-inspired life she felt so inexplicably drawn to. The only thing stopping Verity from living her unique and undeniable truth was simply herself, her paralising fear and inexcusable lack of courage.

Like an addiction, she repeatedly enjoyed embarking on that imaginary trip of the what ifs and the maybes, pushing the boundaries of acceptable possibilities and controlled risks; reaching her ecstasy but always knowing that no matter how far she pushed, how far she ventured out, when the hybrid game of fusing day dreaming and reality came to its end, she would always find herself firmly stood on that dock, defeated, ashamed, frustrated, but at least loved and validated by those whose own illusory Shangri-La depended on Verity never truly taking that final step forward from the punishing dock toward the unequaled promised land of self-discovery and self-fulfillment. A land which she had convinced herself was only destined for the truly great.

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.