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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.

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.

No Legacy is so Rich as Honesty

I have been struggling lately trying to find topics I could write about that I find engaging or inspiring. I have to feel passionate about the subject of my writing or else how can I possibly reach out to anyone reading my words? After all, whilst writing is for me primarily an escape valve for pain, frustrations and hopes, I also write because I have always felt this innate need to connect with other people on a much deeper level; to feel a ‘spiritual’ bond with like-minded individuals whose journey of discovery resonates with mine. Sharing how we truly feel and opening ourselves up to debate and being mighty challenged in our deeply rooted principles is the best way to avoid blind spots or prevent oneself from falling into tunnel vision. Truth and revelation is what I seek, not ego-stroking or adulation.

So this morning I was looking at some quotes and this quote by William Shakespeare really caught my attention. ‘No legacy is so rich as honesty’. A whole life could be summed up in those words. At a first glance, it would seem like a very tempting epitaph that looks impressive, but does not tell us much about a specific person, and yet on close inspection, the implications and consequences of a life lived with honesty with others and specially with ourselves, are infinite and forever transformative.

I often feel purposeless these days. Middle-aged woman whose two children have or are soon flying the nest. A job I fell into by life’s funny twists and turns, which far from fulfills me, but helps realize another person’s dream and in turn allows us to support other people’s dreams who are not as fortunate and privileged as we are. A love for writing that cannot be materialised because in order to do it justice and give it its best chance, I would have to drop everything and live solely for myself, neglecting the needs and hopes of those around me. Some people are able to do that, but as much as I would like to be that ruthless, I simply can’t do it. It is not how I am wired, and what is the point of pursuing the dream, if in doing so your dream becomes a nightmare because you are consumed with the guilt of having trampled upon all you have built up to that point; in doing so you trample upon the dreams and hopes of those who have been entrusted to you? I believe in the power of bringing life into this world, but I also firmly believe that with that miracle comes a huge responsibility that never goes away, should never go away. It blows my mind to think that a part of us lives on forever through those who come after us. If you are a parent, you will know what I am talking about; how there is so much of ourselves in our children that when we die, our soul truly goes on, our spirit lives on in the legacy we have left with every example, lesson, instruction, caution, warning, encouragement, wisdom, every single word we ever uttered to our children, but not just to them, to every other human being we ever came into contact with. Every single action we take or do not take, every word we say or don’t say, affects the outcome of a much bigger reality.

It does make me feel really down at times to think that I spent the first half of my life veering towards a goal, the exploration and perfecting of a passion, a gift, a calling, and the other half neglecting that innermost need and revelation of who I am supposed to be. And yet, a quote like this reminds me that we don’t live alone in this world. Life is not about me, myself and I as much as society, trends and culture today try to convince us that we are. We are inexplicably but undeniably connected to each other, generations past, present and yet to come. Humanity is a mind-boggling concept that can only be comprehended when we see it as an atomic force that only has meaning when seen as the sum of each and every single part, not when we consider each individual and their legacy in isolation. Each person’s legacy is achieved thanks to the example, knowledge and sacrifice of someone else. None of us act alone in this world, not really. We have a debt of gratitude to ‘what’ brought us into being, we have a duty I feel to honour that.

Perhaps my egotistic desire to realise my hopes and dreams was misplaced all along. Perhaps that constant feeling of frustration for hopes deferred is not due to my soul feeling incomplete because I have not reached my purpose, but rather friction in my life continues because I am not willing to accept that indeed the richest legacy I can leave behind is honesty: truly looking within and accepting that despite my dreams of a grandiose materialised potential, be it professionally, as a member of society, a lover, a friend, the simple but painful truth lies in accepting I am just another human being whose significance and value lies simply in passing on to my children the very heavy baton of understanding that we never travel alone, and we therefore, whether we like it or not, have a responsibility not just to ourselves but each other to fulfill our purpose, yes, but never forgetting that the choices we make exponentially condition the choices of others, and that we can afford such choices only because others before us were honest and humble enough to accept that a chain only has unbreakable, limitless power when every link remains deeply interlinked to another.

I can only make sense of humanity as a collective whose parts are of equal value, share equal dignity and potential. It is painful accepting that I am not the protagonist of my own story, but when were truth and honesty that palatable? People often talk about not wanting to have any regrets when they come to the end of their life. Well, I believe every single human being will have some regret at the end, because none of us have it all figured out when we start or even half way through this journey, so inevitably we will come to the end still doubting some of our choices, wishing we made others. Given that premise that we all die with some regrets, I don’t want to look back on my life and only see a Narcissus staring at its own reflection on the water, being so caught up in its own radiance that she misses out on the bigger picture, the bigger purpose and meaning of it all, whatever that is.

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!

A parallel reality

Sat in my office now for twenty minutes but struggling to get on with work. I guess I am facing the daily conundrum of which voice to adhere to: my rampaging thoughts that assail me like bullets or the quiet still small voice of my soul that beckons me to step out outside of myself into another dimension where neither time nor space are of any consequence. The former is comforting in as much as it is familiar, rehearsed but it is also frenetic, mechanic, lifeless, repetitive. The later is liberating, life-giving, tempting, dangerous, annoyingly quiet to the point where one has to go seeking, escaping the safe confines of routine.

Is it just me or it is becoming increasingly harder to find light and hope in this messed up old world? Desperately trying to keep seeing my glass half full which is ironic, because to many who know me, it will seem overflowing with abundance and contentment. Life is all a matter of perspective, though, isn’t it? As cliche as it sounds, most of us judge a book by its cover and none of us really have a clue of the demons, the agonies lurking in the depths of a human being; the battles raging in the innermost layers of their soul. Just as most of us fail to discern the true joys and epiphanies that fan another one’s flame to keep going. In the end, even those with great perceptive skills only see in us the layers which we allow them to see. Can anyone say that a person truly knows another? Very much doubt that. I am on the other side of the hill and am still peeling my own layers of character development, growth, morality and spirituality. No one can claim they truly know us until we know ourselves, and that is an on-going process, so by logic, each of us will remain an unlocked mystery even beyond death.

Spring is coming!