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This post was inspired by the NZBloggers #BlogGreatness challenge, where every week bloggers are tasked with writing about a predetermined topic. This week’s subject is sage.
I used to think the people who talked the loudest were the ones who knew the most. Now I realise the opposite may indeed be true. The wisest people I know never waste words.
The sagest of all, my gentle Grandad, says little yet manages to charm an entire room with just one sentence.
Perhaps paradoxically, this first #BlogGreatness challenge - the start of many words to come - has inspired me to create more space for quiet in my life.
Silence. It’s a rare and precious thing, in a world where we are constantly connected, where if no person is calling your name then a device is demanding your attention.
Sometimes I find myself talking for the sake of talking, almost as if I am in fear of silence, like I constantly need to fill a gap.
Could it be that we fear silence is unproductive, a waste of potential? That in that space there could be creation, contribution, something more?
But sometimes talk is just that: talk. All words, no action.
A sage woman once said:
“Others inspire us, information feeds us, practice improves our performance, but we need quiet time to figure things out, to emerge with new discoveries, to unearth original answers.” – Ester Buchholz.
I am prone to impassioned rants and I wear my heart on my sleeve, but sometimes this means I put words out to the universe that I can’t take back.
So in the spirit of the sage theme, from today I am going to actively try to be more careful with my words. Might have to go spend some more time with Grandad to learn from the best.
There’s a lot to be said for not saying much at all.
Hindsight is a weird yet wonderful thing. Do you ever have moments when you feel an overwhelming gratitude towards your past hardships? When you’re actually thankful you went through a shitty situation because it’s added value to your life in some way?
I find these moments both infuriating and inspiring. Infuriating, because they challenge my perception of the past. Inspiring, because they offer an alternative story to the doom & gloom I’ve built up in my mind.
I had a moment like this recently. I realised one of my closest friends wouldn’t be in my life if we hadn’t both been in the same challenging job. I used to think of my time in this job with regret and frustration – it was a tough role – and see it in purely negative terms.
But this way of thinking gets you nowhere. Negativity wins. When you allow yourself to get bogged down in the negative details, you miss the silver lining.
There’s a difference between being aware that a situation is less-than-ideal and allowing it to consume you. I think I’m finally beginning to understand what it means to make the most of opportunities, no matter how far-from-perfect they may seem on the surface.
Most experiences will lead to greater self-knowledge and a better understanding of the world. You never know when you might need the knowledge you acquire today, but you can almost guarantee you’ll use it at some point in your life.
The trick is knowing when to accept a challenging situation, and when to make a change.
Trust in momentum
A mantra I often repeat to myself is “something is better than nothing”. I tell myself this when I only have a 20-minute window to exercise, or half an hour to catch up with a friend.
Small efforts can reap big rewards, if only you trust in momentum. In putting one foot in front of the other and moving forward, not backwards.
Like everyone, I often romanticise the past, especially times when life seemed simpler and easier. But when I ask myself, would you really like to rewind the clock? The answer is always no.
Look beyond the present moment
Sometimes I find myself looking at life through a black and white lens. Labelling situations as ‘wrong’ or ‘right’. Focusing on what I do or don’t like about something and failing to see the bigger picture.
But I am at my best when I live life in the grey areas. When I am able to take a step back and examine my present situation from all angles. This allows me to appreciate life for the complicated, layered, messy wonder that it is.
It also helps me to feel less tied to my choices. All you can do is make the best decision with the information you have available at the time. There is no right or wrong; only forward. It is better to take a step in any direction than let time stand still.
Celebrate at every chance you get
What does hindsight teach me, again and again? To celebrate the small wins. To pay attention to the silver linings. These are the moments you will remember later on.
There’s a part of me that craves perfection; the perfect job, the perfect home, the perfect relationship. But one thing I am realising is that I am always going to be exposed to less-than-ideal situations, no matter how hard I try to create harmony.
If we wait for everything to be perfect, we’ll be waiting a long time. So here’s to the present moment, and having faith that everything will turn out as it should.
We can always connect the dots backwards.
Earlier this week, I experienced something new for the first time. I watched more than five minutes of a game of cricket, and I enjoyed it.
Up until that moment, I had always thought of cricket as The Most Boring Sport In The World. I have memories of childhood Sundays spent with Dad while he cradled a portable radio to his ear and listened to cricket commentary with near religious fervour. My sister and I would be forced to play quietly in hushed tones as he engaged in a heated one-way conversation with the commentators.
I remember one afternoon when I must have been about ten, the cricket was on the telly and Dad taught me the difference between scoring a 4 and a 6. That remains the extent of my knowledge of the sport today.
On Tuesday 24 March 2015, something changed. New Zealand played South Africa in a Cricket World Cup Semi-Final. I sat down to watch ten minutes out of a vague sense of patriotic duty, only to find myself glued to the screen for the next three hours.
I was mesmerised. My heart was racing with anticipation. I desperately wanted the Black Caps to win. I spent the final few overs peeping at the screen behind my hands, scared to watch in case New Zealand committed a final, irreversible error.
What was happening to me?
We’re all in this together
Big sporting events bring people together in a way that is both beautiful and also slightly odd. In what other situation do people experience similar (positive) emotions on such a large scale? There’s something delightful about feeling as though the entire country has stopped to watch the same thing.
In the back of my mind, a small voice wonders why sport has the power to engage people in a way other big issues fail to do so? Why do I get so emotionally invested in a game of cricket when there are ‘more important’ things happening in the world?
But I push that thought to the back of my mind, because – for the most part – I can’t find fault in something that encourages people to come together for a common cause.
Gotta have faith
Watching Tuesday’s game of cricket provided me with another unexpected comfort. It reminded me that it feels good to believe in something, no matter how small or trivial.
I realised it is the act of placing your faith in something, not what you place your faith in, that is most important.
Faith is such a big word with so many underlying connotations. It sparks different feelings for different people.
But for me, faith is simply choosing to believe in something – be it of momentous proportions, like an afterlife, or of seemingly irrelevant insignificance, like believing your local sports team is the best.
Faith has no rules. It doesn’t have to be tangible, it doesn’t have to be justifiable, it doesn’t have to be approved by someone else. It is yours to place where you wish.
And when placing your faith in something, you are saying to yourself and the world: “I believe. I have hope.”
Go the Black Caps!
On that note, I’m looking forward to feeling the faith of New Zealand as the Black Caps go into the final against Australia this afternoon. Yes, I have well and truly jumped on that bandwagon!
Black Caps captain Brendon McCullum wrote an open letter to fans, published in the Sunday Herald this morning. I particularly liked this part:
“Make no mistake, we’ve felt your belief. We’ve heard the chants, the cheers and the roars. We’ve seen the emotion in the faces of the children, in the faces of the mums and dads, and the grandfathers and grandmothers. We’ve seen grown men in tears; we’ve seen strangers hugging and we’ve seen the elderly dancing. I’m not how to say this but we’ve never felt quite so ‘New Zealand’ in all our lives.”
It’s a weird and wonderful world we live in, don’t you think?
Disclaimer: I am currently freaking out about meat and reading Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer and my brain is exploding. Please brace yourself for an introspective rant about my eating habits and fear of supermarkets.
Like most people, I inherited many things from my mother. First and foremost, a love of food. In my family, as in many others, food is a source of joy, comfort and love. Sharing a special meal together is our way of celebrating life.
My mother has always valued family meal times above all else. She loves to prepare food for a crowd, and one course is never enough. Our deepest discussions have occurred around the dinner table, with an impressive antipasto platter spread out before us. Cheese and crackers are a family favourite, washed down with wine and always followed by something sweet.
Growing up, food was firstly a source of pleasure, secondly a source of sustenance and nutrition. My mother always prepared healthy, balanced meals, but as a child I was disinterested in vitamin counts and protein content. I ate when I was hungry and food was magical, yet simple.
This began to change as I got older and became more aware of my body. I would love to say I never once worried about my weight or my appearance, but like many teenage girls I went through all sorts of emotions in regards to my image. Food began to take on a different role – it was still joy and celebration, but it was also something more. It was sugar, or it was fat. It was healthy or it was ‘bad’.
On the whole, I shrugged any anxieties off and continued to eat as I had always eaten – a relatively healthy, balanced diet, bar one too many sweet treats and the odd craving for a McDonald’s cheeseburger.
Slowly, as the years went by, I absorbed more and more information about food and nutrition. It’s hard to avoid it, once you start reading magazines and newspapers and cooking your own meals. And as my knowledge grew, I began to discover things that made me feel uncomfortable. Factory farming, artificial flavours, ingredients I couldn’t pronounce.
But, I pushed these things to the back of my mind. I didn’t want to think about them, so I didn’t. I actively chose to ignore inconvenient truths, than to investigate them further. I still do, in many situations.
Recently, however, these inconvenient truths have been harder to ignore. The more I learn about food, the more I question what I eat and why.
What special diet is Jess on now?
My exploration of food has become a bit of a running joke in my family. Recently I caught up with my father and stepmother. They live an 8-hour drive away, so we usually have a lot of ground to cover. After the typical conversation topics – siblings, work, hobbies – my stepmother asked something along the lines of: “So Jess, what are you eating at the moment? Any special diets we need to know about?”
I grinned sheepishly and Tom helpfully interjected: “Well, this week Jess is vegetarian.” (What he really means is that I’m currently going through an existential crisis and I have belatedly realised that beef is actually cow and that cows have beating hearts and minds and I’m not sure how I feel about eating them and other previously sentient beings for dinner).
Not long ago my stepmother’s question may have made me feel defensive or self-conscious, but I know myself well enough now to realise it comes from a place of kindness and genuine curiosity. And of course, humour.
In the past year alone, I have been gluten-free, grain-free, dairy-free, sugar-free and Paleo – sometimes all at once.
I can see how my family finds this amusing. Especially as I have a tendency to get a bit carried away whenever I start a new health-kick. At the beginning of my gluten-free journey, I was convinced cutting out that pesky little protein was going to revolutionise my life and I would all of a sudden have boundless energy and vitality. I lasted six months before I decided my life was just that much brighter when it included pizza dough and Vogel’s toast.
I also get lazy and overwhelmed and lapse between caring deeply about what I eat and just wanting to enjoy food and focus on the positives.
I want to make one thing clear: I am not experimenting with what I eat to lose weight, although that would be a nice added benefit. My constant exploration of food comes from a much deeper place. For me, food is a question of philosophy and identity. Eating is a choice we make three times a day, if not more. How do my choices reflect my beliefs? How do my choices reflect the person I want to be, or the world I want to be part of?
Health, ethics and everything in between
My journey to better understand food probably began in earnest when I discovered I had an autoimmune condition called Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. This is a big fancy word for ‘underactive thyroid’. I have had an underactive thyroid since I was 12, but it wasn’t until just last year when I went for a routine check-up that I realised what this actually meant.
My thyroid is slow and does not produce enough thyroxine (crude explanation: the hormone that governs metabolism) on its own. I therefore have to take a synthetic hormone daily. I never questioned why my thyroid was slow – I just accepted that it needed a little bit of help and TLC.
But then a doctor in London informed me that my thyroid was slow because my body was systematically attacking it. For a reason I am yet to understand, my immune system thinks my thyroid is a foreign invader, a threat that needs to be dealt with. So it tries to protect me by destroying it.
Other autoimmune conditions include Type 1 Diabetes, Crohn’s Disease, Lupus and Rheumatoid Arthritis.
This revelation shook me. Why would my body attack itself? How can I have so little control over this process? Surely there must be something I can do to improve my health and give my body a chance to recalibrate?
Hello, Dr Google. I spent hours and hours reading about Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis and obsessing over ways to improve my wellbeing. I hated the thought of my body attacking my own tissues, and wanted to give it as much support as possible.
But what I uncovered through researching about autoimmune conditions is that being healthy is no longer as simple as eating more fruit and vegetables and getting plenty of sleep.
The more I researched about food and health, the more I realised how flawed the modern food industry is. What are we eating? How can we possibly nourish our bodies when food is sprayed with pesticides and meat is pumped with antibiotics? And where do ethics even come into it?
Food: fuel or fear?
I have been known to have the occasional mental breakdown in a supermarket. The sheer choice of products overwhelms me, as does the fact that each different brand is claiming to be better than the other. I become paralysed with anxiety as I read the backs of labels and try to make the best decision for my health, my wallet and the environment.
All the anxieties I have about food tend to converge into one big panicky mess when I am in a supermarket. To give you an insight into my brain at these moments, here is a list (in no particular order) of what I am thinking about when I am trying to buy food.
- Fat content/good fats vs bad fats
- Sugar content/dental health/waistline
- Artificial flavours/colours/sweeteners
- Animal welfare/factory farming/death
- Protein content
- Carbohydrate content/bloating/weight gain
- Calorie count
- Cancer/heart disease/illness
And probably more. Is this what eating has become? A source of anxiety and fear? Is diet the difference between heart disease and heart health? Will eating processed sausage meat give me cancer? Is there mercury in my tuna?
It all starts with food
I care about social issues, and lately I have been unable to separate the problems of the world from the way I eat.
Okay, that might sound a little dramatic. But let me explain. Long gone are the days when food was simply fuel or sustenance. Food is now a commodity. Food is big business. Food is social, cultural, political, profitable.
And because food is something I consume more often than anything else, I feel it is important that I carefully consider the implications of what I eat not only on my own health, but on the environment and the world as a whole.
I can’t change the world, but I can change my own personal habits. I can make a conscience effort to eat, act and live in a way that aligns with my personal values.
Because I have so much choice, I feel my consumer dollar counts – where will I invest it? What will I choose to eat? And how will I choose to eat?
Will I eat purely for pleasure and enjoyment? Will I eat simply for personal nutrition? Will I let morals enter into the equation? Price, convenience, seasonality?
It would be different if I had no choice, then these concerns would go out of the window and I would eat whatever I could in order to survive.
But I’m not living within that framework, so I must take responsibility for my choices.
This might come across as virtuous and brave, but actually I am writing about it because it exhausts me and terrifies me. I don’t know what’s worse: spending so much time worrying about food, or not worrying about food at all?
Should I adopt the attitude that life is short and just try to enjoy it, even if that means eating chicken pumped with antibiotics or food sprayed with harmful chemicals? Or should I rise above my taste buds and primal desires and try to eat in a way that is healthy and ethical and not destroying life on this planet?
As always, when I am feeling uncertain and confused, I turn to books. I am halfway through reading Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer, a book I have kept at arm’s length for years as I was warned everyone who reads it comes out the other side a vegan.
I don’t really want to be a vegan. I don’t want to be an ‘anything’. I don’t want to have to label what I eat, or follow any rules, or fit in a certain category. I don't want to be that awkward guest at the dinner table who has weird eating habits. I don't want to have to say no to trying local specialities when I travel. And most of all, I don't want to be judged.
I just want to eat in a way that doesn’t harm my body, the environment or other sentient beings.
Why does this feel so difficult and daunting? Is it just me? Do you also worry about these things, or am I overthinking to the extreme?
Writing usually leads me towards some kind of solution, or at least a personal reconciliation. But all I have are questions, questions and more questions.
Does anyone have some answers?
Last Sunday I woke up without an alarm. I felt rested and content. I went for a walk up Mount Victoria and sat cross-legged on top of an old concrete bunker and marvelled at the beauty that is home. To my left, the perfect symmetry of Rangitoto. To my right, the harbour dotted with sailing boats against a backdrop of white beaches and rolling hills. Directly in front of me, the calming presence of North Head and a dozen islands stretching out to the horizon.
This is the place I call home.
My hometown often leaves me speechless. Gratitude bubbles up in my chest and silences my restless mind. In moments like these, I think, this is enough. My life feels both expansive and tiny at the same time. Expansive because my mind is flying free, soaring over the blue water. Tiny because my home seems so small, this little peninsula, a collection of streets, familiar houses.
I feel immensely grateful that I love the place where I grew up. That my desire to explore has never been marred by a desire to flee. That no matter where I go, I carry home in my heart.
But sometimes I worry that I will get too comfortable, too content. That I will become complacent. As I sat on top of that bunker, on that still Sunday morning, I thought: I hope I never take this beauty for granted. I hope it is forever enough to calm my frantic mind.
Another Sunday dawns. Today it is rainy and humid. I wake up at 5.45am, my throat parched, gasping for air. The weather is warm and sticky. I pushed open our two bedroom windows, as far as they would go, and lay still, listening to the wind swirling outside.
I can’t sleep, but it’s too early to get up. I check my phone. I scroll through Instagram, Facebook. Spring has dawned in London. The sky is a bright blue, people are at the pub. Immediately, bittersweet memories flood my brain.
I close my eyes, and for a few moments I am back in London. Walking to Putney Bridge. Shopping at Waitrose. Leaning against the doors of the tube on a weekday morning, reading about nicer places, as I speed towards work. Fumbling for my swipe card to enter the office in Farringdon. Always fumbling for my swipe card.
Sitting in our back garden in Fulham, chatting about the world with our flatmates, interrupted by planes flying low overhead. Heathrow Flight Path.
Waking in the middle of the night to shouts from the flat above. The neighbours are arguing again. People run up and down the stairs, cursing. The front door bangs.
Venturing to unseen corners of the city on weekends, eyes wide open, minds exhausted. Eating the best chocolate cake we’ve ever tasted in Brixton. Always looking for a quirky, independent café to try. Often ending up in Pret-à-Manger, hungry and tired, eating a ham sandwich.
After-work drinks in the pub during winter. Old pub, low ceilings, pint glasses overflowing. Standing outside in the rain, trying to get to know my colleagues. Navigating the different cliques and unspoken rules. Yearning to be asked about my home, for someone to listen to my story, for someone to see the real me.
Shopping for winter boots in Bromley in the rain. Feeling broke and broken. Desperately looking for something practical, something I can walk long distances in. Most boots are fashionable, with chunky heels and non-existent lining. I leave the store with sturdy lace-ups, something I’d never wear otherwise, out of a primal desire to avoid cold, damp toes.
Catching the train to somewhere new, and feeling the breath return to my chest as we soar out of London, passing the rows of houses and finally seeing nothing but fields of green, or even better, a glimpse of the sea.
Revisiting old favourites. Being transported back to my 19-year-old self in the Tower of London, a mesmerising piece of history. Climbing the Monument for the second time in my life and seeing a completely different view. Walking past private gardens and posh shops in Chelsea, but this time wondering what all the fuss is about.
Eating curry in Brick Lane. Feeling conned. As usual, wishing we knew the area better, so we could seek out the trendy eateries and meet some locals.
Coming home from work during a transport strike, after three hours on a bus. Collapsing, exhausted. Tom takes my shoes off, puts me to bed, hot drink and a piece of toast. Crying my eyes out, out of sheer exhaustion.
Loneliness, even though Tom is nearly always by my side. Wanting to get to know locals, to form a connection, to be part of a community. Wanting to be asked about New Zealand, getting the odd question about Lord of the Rings if I’m lucky. Telling people about New Zealand anyway, often met with kind eyes and blank faces.
Always talking about home, thinking about home, until one day: home.
Right back to where we started
We went home. When people asked me about London, I didn’t know how to answer. When I am passionate about something, a place or a person or an idea, I can’t stop talking about it. I speak fast and freely and excitedly. I get frustrated when people can’t see what I mean, because my heart is so full, my soul so alive.
I felt this way when I returned home from my first big trip overseas. When I was 19 I went on exchange to Lyon, France. I arrived in the city alone, with nowhere to live, and spent my first ten days in a hostel, madly visiting flats and putting my classroom French to the test.
My six months in Lyon were exhilarating. They remain one of my fondest memories. I awakened an independent streak in me I didn’t know I had. I made new friends and spoke a new language and pushed myself far beyond my comfort zone.
It was in Lyon that I decided to move to London one day, even though I might not have known it at the time. What I did know is that Lyon was just the beginning of my overseas adventures – I quietly vowed to come back to this side of the world.
When I met Tom, I had been back in New Zealand a year but Lyon was still fresh in my heart and soul. He quickly established that I wanted to live overseas again, that this was something I envisaged happening in my near future.
One year later, the company he was working for went into receivership, I was stuck in a job I hated, and we decided to move to England.
We all form opinions based on previous experiences. I had no doubt in my mind that this second round living abroad would be just as exhilarating as the first, perhaps even more so, going with the man I love.
But London was no Lyon, and for some reason, for reasons I am still trying to figure out, my soul did not engage.
Moving to London was a hard and difficult process. Unlike when I moved to Lyon, there was no time-cap on the experience. We could be there for a year, we could be there for ten years.
We made decisions blindly, fumbling in the dark. We went in the wrong direction more than once. I spent a lot of time isolated, unemployed, looking for a job while Tom worked long hours. It was tough.
Things got better. We moved house, lived with close friends from home. I found a job. We met other Kiwis living in the area and we managed a few holidays in our spare time.
But our ‘everyday’ was a slog, it was an uphill climb. It took most of my energy to commute to work and then spend nine hours in a job I wasn’t passionate about. I wasn’t earning enough money for weekend escapes to outweigh the dullness of my 9-5 reality.
I felt like we were failing. I still sometimes wonder if we did fail. Did we give up too soon? Were our expectations too high? Did we make too many wrong decisions? Did we not have the right attitude?
When we arrived home, I was still working through these feelings. People asked me about London, and I didn’t know how to answer without sounding ungrateful or small-minded.
My experience in London forced me to redefine what travel meant to me. I had been on three other trips: a one-month exchange in Tahiti when I was 14; a two-week trip to Rarotonga with my best friends when I was 17; and a six-month exchange to Lyon at age 19.
All three of these trips were challenging but exhilarating. They nourished my soul and mind and helped to shape the person I would become.
Before London, to me travel was synonymous with adventure and discovery. It was undoubtedly a positive experience, despite any negatives.
I am still coming to terms with the fact that London felt like none of these previous trips, and did not warm my heart in the same way. I kept wondering: where did we go wrong?
But the lessons I learned in London are now propelling me through my life in New Zealand. The complete lack of direction we felt in London has helped us define our way forward back home.
Making the everyday extraordinary
When Tom and I were living in London, we had Europe on our doorstep. We had infinite options. The city was alive and buzzing. There was always an event on, a new show to see, a new park to visit. Although some people thrive in a busy environment, to us it felt heavy, suffocating.
There were moments when it was brilliant. When I adored the city and its people and its history. But these moments were the exception, not the rule.
The day-to-day grind, the long commute to work by tube, the grey weather, the constant need to be on high alert, this didn’t feed my soul.
And it was then, when we were both trapped in a routine we didn’t love, that we decided we did not want to live our lives waiting for an exception to the rule.
We wanted every day to have a little bit of light. We weren’t prepared to sacrifice daily dullness for the odd wild weekend or once-in-three-months trip abroad. What we wanted was to love our ‘Ordinary Wednesday’, to create a life we didn’t want to escape from.
If we hadn’t lived in London, I’m not sure we would have arrived at this conclusion – at least not so soon in our relationship. After being home a few months, I realised I had been devaluing the time we spent in London because it wasn’t an incredibly positive, happy time.
That was my first mistake. Just because something is hard, or not the right fit, doesn’t mean it isn’t valuable. It doesn’t mean it wasn’t worth it. And most of all, it doesn’t mean you failed.
I’m sure everyone has bittersweet memories of some kind, anxieties about the past, worries that you could have tried harder. What if you had done things differently?
When I see glimpses of London on Facebook or Instagram, I sometimes feel sad that our time over there wasn’t what we expected. And sometimes I wonder, if everyone else is loving it so much, then where did we go wrong?
But then I remind myself that travel is an intensely unique experience for every individual. We all respond to situations differently. What works for one person may not work for another.
The beauty of travel is it awakens you to who you already are. It shines a light on your uniqueness. Through comparisons and new experiences, you are able to identify what is really important to you on an individual level. And that is invaluable.
On the road to our Ordinary Wednesday
Another lesson that London taught me is time is finite. Many people describe London as being a city made up of small cities. There is music London, or theatre London, or café London, or pub London, or history London… whatever you are interested in, you will find a group of people interested in the same things, and they will become your community.
What this taught me is that there is not enough time to do everything. We only have so many hours in each day. So, you have to be selective.
Find what it is that feeds your soul, and concentrate on investing your time, money and energy into that. Don’t worry if it’s different to what other people want, or more importantly, what other people think you should be doing.
We are all unique and life is too short not to listen to the desires of your heart. No matter how bittersweet my memories of London, I will always be grateful to the city that put me on the road to creating my ideal life.
A few days ago I realised one word sums up my biggest fear. That word is waste. The very concept makes my chest tight with anxiety. The idea of a wasted life, a wasted environment, a wasted career makes me feel as though I am stumbling through quicksand.
But it’s amazing how, when you articulate a fear, it becomes smaller. More manageable. Something you can begin to understand, as opposed to an abstract feeling that plunges you into darkness.
Waste. I am afraid of waste, in particular of wasting my life. Of wasting my precious time and energy. As I wrote recently, you only get one life: now is the time. I feel acutely aware of the fragility of the present moment. And I ask myself on a regular basis: am I living the life I want to lead?
The truth is, the answer is complicated. In some ways I believe I am living the life I want, because if I didn’t want this life, wouldn’t I be doing more to change it? But at the same time I am plagued by uncertainty and doubt, always wondering if the grass might be greener on the other side.
A common theme in my writing is that of choices. I often struggle with making decisions, out of concern that I will take a wrong turn, or worst-case-scenario, waste some of my time.
I don’t think this is a fear that will go away overnight, and I acknowledge that it can also be one of my strengths, as it constantly forces me to explore new options and challenge my surroundings.
But it is a fear that can spiral out of control if I let it, and cause me to be incredibly hard on myself. My fear of ensuring I get the most out of the present moment is self-defeating – I cannot get the most out of anything when I am afraid of it.
Fortunately, a colleague recently helped to put my mind at ease. I was telling him how I majored in French at university, and I found myself shrugging off this personal achievement because ‘I don’t use the language on a day-to-day basis’.
My colleague swiftly countered my self-depreciation. “Learning is never wasted,” he said. “You never know when you might need to draw on that knowledge.”
A simple truth, yet one I had failed to see beneath my own anxieties. His words completely shifted my perspective. I realised I have been impatient with the present moment. Sometimes what we are doing right now cannot be fully understood until the future. And that’s okay.
I can be prone to literal, black-and-white thinking. I can quickly jump to extreme conclusions when I am feeling unsettled or disillusioned. But I need to remember that, even if my present moment is uncomfortable or imperfect or less than ideal, that doesn’t mean I am wasting my life. That doesn’t mean I am doing something wrong. It just means I am on a journey, one moment at a time.
My little realisation might seem like an obvious truth to some. But I think it illustrates how fear can cloud our perceptions. I am passionate about learning – that is why I started this blog – yet my fear of wasting my time can sometimes stop me from covering new terrain.
What I need to remember is that I don’t always need an immediate reason for learning something. I don’t need to justify it at the time, rather I need to trust in the process. Every piece of knowledge I acquire adds to how I see and understand the world. Whether I draw on that knowledge now or 50 years in the future is irrelevant.
Waste is all around us, it is a modern burden. We throw things out as fast as we consume them. It is a very real fear, both philosophically and physically. But when it comes to learning, I believe we can all find some peace in the fact that no knowledge is a waste of time.
Make time to learn, invest in education, celebrate the mind's infinite imagination. Trust in the process. It may not all make sense now, but hindsight can be a beautiful thing.
Dear reader, I have had a rather average day. My emotions have largely consisted of guilt, fear and insecurity. I feel lethargic and exhausted and frustrated at myself for reasons I don’t even understand. Perhaps it’s last night’s wine lingering in my bloodstream. Or maybe it’s the product of a bad night’s sleep. Whatever it is, I know it will pass.
Thing is, this line of logical reasoning doesn’t make me feel any better at the time. The rational side of my brain knows I will feel better tomorrow, but the emotions continue to bubble away under the surface, fears festering and insecurities multiplying like misbehaving cells.
And as I’ve been wallowing in this weird, unhealthy, unproductive state, I make it worse by chastising myself for feeling this way. “You’re being pathetic,” I tell myself. And then I feel guilty for said pathetic-ness. And the vicious cycle continues.
Throughout this jumble of emotions, I keep coming back to one particular line that most self-help and motivational gurus repeat like a mantra: “Let go of feelings that no longer serve you.”
I think this line is intended to have a calming, empowering effect. As if a metaphorical flick of the hand can wash away years of negative thought patterns.
When I am feeling strong, I find it easy to live life by this concept. But when I am feeling weak, I find it incredibly difficult. I think of those self-help gurus, living their zen lives, chowing down on kale while I burrow further into my duvet of despair and binge on chocolate.
How do they do it? How do they rise above the negativity?
Do you also struggle to let go of feelings that no longer serve you?
We are surrounded by positive affirmations and life advice, but sometimes words can only go so far. What I needed today was some practical tools to dig myself out of the negativity I had created for myself. Less talk, more action.
It took me until late afternoon to stop wallowing and start doing. First step: I went for a walk. Almost immediately after leaving the house, the simple process of putting one foot in front of the other helped to soothe my busy mind.
As I walked, I thought about the way I handled bad days. I realised that I wasted a lot of energy obsessing about what I thought I should be doing, rather than trying to understand my current feelings.
When you are climbing a hill, there is no point wishing you were already at the top – that doesn’t help you get there any faster. You need to concentrate on doing the best you can as you climb.
Perhaps I interpreted the saying ‘let go of feelings that no longer serve you’ too literally. I would find myself fighting against my negative thoughts, rather than seeking to understand them. ‘Letting go’ should be a gentle process, not an exhausting battle.
I realise now that I have been trying to solve my problems backwards. I have been trying to come up with solutions without fully understanding the causes of my distress.
In order to let go of feelings that no longer serve me, I need to first make peace with them. I need to see them as a part of me, not my enemy. They are never going to go away completely, so trying to banish them from my mind will only leave me feeling like a failure.
Instead, I must gently acknowledge my fears and flaws. It is in accepting my weaknesses that I will be able to truly let them go.
I write this in the hope that there are many of you out there who feel the same way. Do you have bad days where you feel inadequate or afraid? Do you occasionally act out of a place of fear and insecurity and therefore fail to bring the best version of yourself to the table?
So much of the content we read about other people’s lives is carefully crafted – we see their best snippets, an edited version of their realities.
But beneath every social media profile is a real person, with real thoughts and fears under the surface. I wish more people talked about the challenges they faced – there is a strange sense of hope in knowing that even the most outwardly confident people have difficult moments.
I raise a metaphorical glass to any of you out there who may stumble across this piece of writing when you’re having a bad day. Be gentle on yourself. Go for a walk. Listen to your thoughts without judgement or hostility. They will pass.
But most of all, seek to understand why it is you feel this way. Sit with your thoughts. Allow yourself to be weak for a little while so you can come back even stronger.
Tomorrow is a new day.
“Breathe deeply, until sweet air extinguishes the burn of fear in your lungs and every breath is a beautiful refusal to become anything less than infinite.” – D. Antoinette Foy
Idealism. What does this word mean to you?
I find it is a word tainted by cynicism and condescension. Idealist attitudes are often regarded as a ‘nice-to-have nonessential’, like a cute pet or a pretty indoor plant. Sweet, but superfluous to survival.
But for me, idealism is the fire in my belly, the passion beneath my ribcage, the singing in my heart. Idealism comes from the soul. It is a feeling that cannot be contained in a cage, or quietened by explanation.
Without idealism, I feel empty, apathetic, resigned. Without idealism, I lose faith. So I refuse to let go of my utopian dreams in favour of ‘reality’. What is reality, anyway?
Reality, noun: The state of things as they actually exist, as opposed to an idealistic or notional idea of them.
Reality, by definition, is fixed. It is the way things are in the present moment. Reality is a slave to time.
But life is fluid. The reality of today is different from the reality of yesterday, and will be different to the reality of tomorrow.
As time passes, reality changes. So maybe idealists are just realistic about the fact the future will look different to the present.
Idealist, noun: A person who represents things as they might or should be rather than as they are.
Within the framework of these definitions, realists are passive and idealists are active. Realists accept their current situation and idealists strive for greener pastures.
In that light, I believe most people, by nature, are idealists. It is a distinctly human trait to strive for more.
I could go one step further: is it not idealism that is at the heart of capitalism? Does it not underpin the American Dream?
The current capitalist argument goes like this: anyone can make something of themselves if only they work hard enough. Anyone can attain the American Dream. It doesn’t matter where you sit on the socioeconomic scale, you have the power to transform your own destiny.
That very philosophy is underpinned by a refusal to accept things the way they currently are and instead transform your own reality into something different.
It seems only when difficult issues are raised – such as the environment, the state of the economy, the questionable justice system – that people pull out the reality card as their defence. “That’s just the way things are”. As if our lives are bound by a set of rules that will never change.
I passionately and urgently refuse that soul-crushing statement “that’s just the way things are”.
I will never give up hope that things could be – and should be – better.
Idealists are often the punchline of jokes, teased for being a bit green or naïve, because they dream of making the world a better place.
But we should be rallying to protect these glorious ideals, to invest hope and energy into creating a better future, because what is the alternative? To accept current systems that are failing us and the environment? To resign future generations to a set of rules that cannot be altered?
Fortunately I feel confident that idealism will never be supressed. How can it be, when new ideas spring to life every single day? It doesn’t matter if you are the most realistic, logical person in the world: your life is constantly changing. Nothing will stay the same forever.
Those that resist change and mock idealists are those that are benefitting from things being the way they are (thanks Russell Brand).
Why would people not want to improve the environment in which we live? Why would people not want to have more freedom? To live in a more harmonious world? To reduce conflict? To improve quality of life?
You have to ask yourself what drives these opinions. Despite what some people claim, it is not unwavering realism or defeatist attitude. It is likely fear. Fear of change.
But to let fear of change stand in the way of a better world is to be afraid of life itself. Look around you. All the things we find most beautiful, beaches and lakes and mountains, these are the product of a constant state of change. Think how long it took for sand to form, for trees to grow.
Change is inevitable. Anything is possible. We defy our own expectations all the time. The world will continue to surprise us in ways we could never imagine.
So ask yourself: what do you want to change?
And let your inner idealist roam free.
Every now and then I have what my godmother calls a paradigm shift. An epiphany. Lightbulb moment. Sudden realisation. All my jumbled thoughts come together and form a clear pattern. My busy mind feels quiet, calm, at peace. Every question, every uncertainty, is bathed in light and understanding.
I love these moments. Sometimes I have them in the car, or out walking, or even in my sleep. Occasionally I wake up and whatever problem I have been stewing over is magnificently resolved.
My latest epiphany occurred just before Christmas. I have a diary entry dated 24 December 2014, titled: ‘You only get one life’.
I only get one life. An obvious truth – yet a reality I am only just beginning to understand. Youth is coloured with possibility. As a teenager, I imagined several life paths for myself. My mind overflowed with dreams of the future. It was easy to think that everything I ever wanted, every life I had ever imagined, would just fall into place, like a well-written Hollywood movie.
There is a glorious freedom in being young, in feeling as though you can chop and change your life as it suits you. It’s a creative time. You haven’t got many responsibilities or relationships binding you to one place. You are at the centre of your own universe, the main character in your own storyline. Yet despite this, you are not necessarily selfish – many young people have magnificent ideas about the world, because their minds do not see obstacles but opportunities.
Some people are successful at perpetuating this feeling of youth and possibility well into their adult life. I don’t think youth is about age as much as it is about experience and perception. How do you experience the world around you? How do you perceive your life?
My experiences and perceptions have altered significantly in the past five years. Although I am still young, I often find myself reaching out to my younger self, trying to tap into my youthful spirit – the Jess that believed anything was possible. The Jess that felt free.
Someone once told me that ‘life kind of takes you on a path and sometimes there’s not a lot you can do to stop it’. I agree to a point. All around me, situations are unravelling that are out of my control – yet they influence my life and shape my personality. Life will continue to do that – it’s not something that can be mastered.
But what about the rest? What about the parts of your life that you can twist and shape and influence? What will become of them?
When I was young, I imagined so many different possibilities, but I never thought about the practicalities. My mind was not interested in the how, when or why – it was interested in the what. I was in no hurry.
On December 24, the realisation that I have but one shot at this life made me sit up straight and realise that, now is the time to start looking at the how, when and why. In a few weeks I will be 24, and then I will not get to be 23 again. And that’s how life goes. You move forward and on and there are no re-runs. There is no going back.
Perhaps this realisation came as a surprise to me because I have grown up with my head buried in books. In every book there is a new character, with a new life path, a new history, a new circumstance. I realised that I can’t be every character – I am but one person, with my own set of baggage.
As 2014 came to an end, I felt a strong sense of opportunity once more. But I also felt alert and rooted in the present moment, as opposed to in some faraway dream of an imagined future.
I only get one life. What is it that I want to achieve? How can I incorporate all my conflicting dreams and ambitions? Mind Nomad was born out of a similar question – I found myself wanting to be in two places at once. In the comfort of home, but also travelling the world.
I get the feeling this is going to be a common theme in my life – conflicting desires and compromise. Finding the best way forward out of several possible pathways. Staying true to myself but also knowing when to expand my horizons.
One thing I feel for certain: the time is now. This very moment, the present, this is something I’m never going to get back. Am I using it to take steps towards what I ultimately want out of life?
Not completely. As always, there is compromise – and responsibility and external events out of my control. But this awareness – this bright lightbulb, this paradigm-shifting awareness – has helped me to start putting plans in place.
I feel I have left the boundless freedom of youthful dreams and am instead entering a new phase of selective living. I can’t have it all. I can’t experience every experience. I am limited, yet at the same time I am utterly free. Free to choose what it is that is most important to me. Free to prioritise what it is I want to achieve.
I only get one life. My energy is incredibly precious. This realisation has lured my mind down from the clouds and rooted me in the present moment.
This is it.
"Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?" - Mary Oliver, The Summer Day