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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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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.

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.

My double-edged sword!

My heart is so full tonight! On the one hand it aches with guilt at the thought of so many exceptionally selfless, brave and committed individuals who are giving their all to keep us all alive, fed, and content. I am at home looking after the ones I have been entrusted with. Yes, I will be the first one to complain that it is no easy task to always think of other’s needs before one’s own, but my kindness is being extended to those closest to me whom I love and care so much about. It is quite a different challenge to give your all to complete strangers, specially when circumstances dictate that those close to you will in turn go without. Saving the lives of complete strangers; seeing to their every need whilst being torn away from those whose needs you feel compelled to meet even before they feel the need themselves. Such is a mother’s nurturing instinct and double-edged all-consuming gift.

Yet, even though the guilt tugs at my heart like a yoke round a cow’s neck, I feel my heart is bursting at the moment with the sheer joy of being alive one day at a time. They say we cannot see the light without the darkness; we cannot know good unless there is evil or joy unless there is sadness. Such is the ugliness, the horror, the chaos, the inferno that is burning in most hospitals and nursing homes around the country, I feel like as the fire intensifies, so have my senses been re-tuned and enhanced. The bigger the hooded claw reveals itself to the world, the more uplifted I feel by the supernatural around me. As the darkness around us has grown, so has the light within me.

The colours of the flowers in my garden are so much deeper and pure. Their hypnotic scent impregnates the whole of my being and lifts me into a kind of Eden where there is no pain or hurt, no death or loss, no fear, just hope and exhilaration at the thought of taking in another breath of treasured, infinitely sought-after air.

The birds are evermore present and synchronised, and I am treated to a new symphony of sheer acoustic delight and perfection every evening, as I catch the last rays of the incandescent zenith that proudly stares intently at me throughout the day, jealous, capricious, resenting its isolation; longing to be down here enjoying with me the myriad of inexplicable equations of nature that makes for a heaven and a hell simultaneously coexisting in perfect harmony.

Even the Poplars just the other side of my garden, which always stand so haughty and aloof, have thrown caution to the wind and dare to waltz in my presence, reminding me with their soothing sway that I will once again be at one with the ocean. The ocean, like me, toils tirelessly back and forth under the guise of freedom. And yet, its repetitive motion in the confines of habit reveals a soul that is enslaved and far too entrenched in its own familiar rhythm to ever brave the unknown.

Poplars waltzing!
A robin nesting outside my kitchen door. His eyes speaking right at me the words he is unable to utter!