Archives for posts with tag: Work and Family

To know the truth, all you have to do is close your eyes

I’m reading ‘Shantaram’ by Gregory David Roberts at the moment and finding his words so touching, so real and resonant. He is describing the colourful and spiritual characters he meets whilst in Bombay, but much of his experiences and emotions strike a chord with me, and I imagine anyone else who feels they have been running away from some demons. In one passage early on in the book – which is nearly a thousand pages long, so this means around p.200 – one of the characters tells our main protagonist that the world we see is an illusion, it’s only what we’ve created with our eyes and with our words. Such creations, illusions, are not important – it’s when we close our eyes that we see the most. Indeed, I’m realising that much of what I assumed to be important over the years has been contained within the news I’ve watched, the injustices I’ve seen or read about, the opinions I’ve formed and discussed with others. This has been how I’ve formed my reality, and have then proceeded to impose it on others with each political statement or discussion. I’ve tried so hard to create my identity through what I say or do, particularly in relation to my work. But now there is a gentle voice inside me, telling me that none of this really matters if we don’t understand ourselves on a deeper level. We must establish truth, and peace, within ourselves before we can really apply it, or argue for it, in our lives. This implies a personal journey, not one that is influenced by books, newspapers or what someone said at a particularly good seminar or conference.

This reminds me of a yoga retreat I attended a few months ago, where I felt compelled to ask how we can integrate yoga into the work we do. I was talking about myself really – struggling to marry Buddhist principles of inner truth and enlightenment with the external world where war and human rights violations rage on, the world I was so familiar with and in which we fight a battle of right and wrong with such self-assuredness of which side we are on. The reply from my instructor had finality to it: ideologies, polemics, treatises – these are all meaningless. It is our understanding of human nature, of universal truths and what binds us all, that’s found deep within our souls and not in our words or deeds, that can move us towards peace.

I’m still struggling with this concept, finding it hard to let go of the importance I’ve attached to hours spent in debating rooms and seminars, in meetings and briefings, posing arguments and counter-arguments, distinguishing extreme positions from measured ones. But I know I’m beginning to reach some acceptance that I will only be happy in life if I set aside those external elements which I’ve hitherto relied on to define who I am and what I think. I have to take the time to listen to, as well as confront myself, instead of others.

This means learning to be present, which for me – a habitually impatient person – is the biggest test of all. It is a daily challenge to stop fretting about the past and future, about not having a job and not having money, and instead embrace whichever emotion is arising at that moment. The old phrase that we must learn to love ourselves before we can love others rings so true when confronted by one’s demons. You have to learn to love them. And in embracing the bad as well as the good, I have had moments of clarity, where I realise that my inner truth will come to me if I just stop willing it or forcing it to happen.  Transitions take time, much longer than we expect, and that is because we have to heal from all the anxieties and insecurities which have stood in the way of our hopes and dreams.

And in order to heal, we must allow time for creativity. I’m parroting Julia Cameron and the Artist’s Way once again. But it is actually in my moments of stillness that exciting creative ideas emerge. And it is in performing acts of creativity – writing my blog, belly-dancing, the rhythmic in and out breath as I swim a front crawl up and down the pool – that I am healed. With each act of creativity, I feel inspired. I have in mind that I would like to write a book, – maybe this is in fact my ultimate dream – but I won’t necessarily start writing the book now. Ideas for it come and go, and this is the gestation period which Julia Cameron refers to in the Artist’s Way. We cannot force the birth of a new and exciting creative project, just as we cannot force our inner peace. We have to acknowledge the ideas, gently, and keep them within us to grow and blossom. If they are the dreams we really want to follow and make real, we will know from the sparkling and radiant light which emeges when we close our eyes.

What is your understanding of ‘inner truth’ and how we integrate it into our everyday lives? Is inner peace so paramount in order to make peace with others? Do political or moral opinions and values matter more? I would greatly appreciate your thoughts and comments!

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Last week I spoke of the tears we all shed during the Olympics – tears of joy, of wonder, of warmth. And only this week I spoke of some funny situations that perhaps only a transitioner would find themselves in. But it’s not always fun and games, and the tears of a transitioner are not always ones of joy.

Since my last blog post, I’ve been crying quite a lot; in fact, I’m in a perpetual state of holding back tears. Maybe it’s all that anger that the Qi Master told me, after an acupressure session, that I was holding in my stomach, along with any other emotions stuck there that are now releasing themselves, often against my will. The absence of any of my regular routines of yoga, Tai Chi or dance classes in the last few weeks since I had knee surgery probably hasn’t helped and has thrown me off kilter. My belief that getting wasted at the weekend would somehow be a good idea in this state of imbalance may well not have helped either.

A poem by Julia Cameron. Last week I finished her book ‘The Artist’s Way’, a 12 week course in unleashing your creativity (but it actually does a lot more than that). I think I’m having withdrawal symptoms!

Whatever it is, a transitioner’s tears are often letting out a whole lot more emotion than is easy to define or attribute to one particular disappointment or grievance. I cried today when my friend told me she got married. That’s not really the reaction a friend expects when giving such news (and luckily this was an online exchange so she didn’t have to know…although now maybe she does. Sorry, I hope I haven’t caused offence with such spontaneous tearfulness). Yesterday I read the poem attached to this blog post, and burst into tears; and carried on crying for a good solid half hour, my parents blissfully (and thankfully) unaware in their other rooms.

Call me ungrateful, or blind to all the good things I have in my life. But actually I have been seeing those things, and reminding myself religiously of them, every day. I have a safe and welcoming house to live in, and two very supportive parents, and some wonderfully encouraging friends. I have time to be creative, to write my blog and discover new and exciting projects to work on. But when you’re going through a bad patch as a transitioner, all these positives get pushed out by the so-called negatives; or, to use another term, those nasty little demons of anger, resentment and fear.

In my case, I start looking at the last ten years of my life. All that time spent fighting injustice and extreme poverty in various countries (or at least that’s what I hoped I was doing, but in these dark moments even that is thrown into serious doubt). The organisations I worked for with such commitment, often with little appreciation or support. The year I spent studying hard for a Master’s degree whilst living in a squat. All that hard work, so how do I find myself here, in my thirties and living with Mum and Dad? No matter how well you get on with your parents, such a situation can never feel quite right; I thought I’d grown out of depending on my parents years ago. Added to this my continuing dread every time I look for jobs – any jobs – and find myself despairing because I actually have no idea what I want to do. The self-doubt that accompanies longer term visions – mine being to write a book or to do a Phd – and which can take over if any person questions my motives or expectations. And then there’s the gaping hole that is my private life; my desire to go out and have more fun often dampened by the reality that this is not so easy whilst living in suburbia with my parents and with no income.

A cure for those emotional or creative blocks: bake a cake. I baked this yesterday – it’s a blueberry and hazelnut muffin cake.

At times like this, the transition can seem like a long, dark tunnel with no light at the end of it; and one in which everyone else appears to be whizzing past, apparently able to see the light more clearly than me, despite all my efforts at ‘knowing myself better’. Whilst others have been working on their jobs, their careers, their marriages, their children, I’ve spent a whole lot of time working on myself. But am I any wiser? Searching for my inner truth appears to be a much longer journey than I had anticipated, and not always one that brings fulfilment, or even clarity. There are days when everything simply seems terribly unfair, when one can’t get past the loneliness or emptiness of a life of uncertainty. We’re only human after all, and tears are natural, even healthy. Maybe I’m making up for all the tears I’ve held back and buried in the pit of my stomach over the years. Tears release what sometimes dare not be admitted or publicly revealed – our vulnerability, our desperate need to be loved, to be appreciated, and ultimately to be happy.

It’s easy to assume that living with one’s parents, signing on at the Job Centre and surviving on no income whilst working out what on earth to do next – and all at the age of thirty-something – must be a miserable life. I have had a few pitying looks that’s for sure. It gets worse if I feel obliged to go into the details of what I do with my time. ‘This and that’, I sometimes say, further provoking a look of sympathy for such a hopeless situation. Because in this society we live in, as blogger Tim Kreider so poignantly put it in his recent piece, ‘the Busy Trap’, we are so used to saying how busy we are – whether it be with work, family or social life. Apparently taking a break from work, or spending time doing very little except reading an interesting article, listening to an album all the way through, or writing a blog (!) is nothing short of shameful. Surely we must be desperate to find a job, to get back on that work treadmill and do something with our life.

This is indeed how I felt for a good few months. In February I returned from a month away in Thailand, supposedly full of inner peace and calm after several weeks of learning how to be still and do nothing – which comes pretty easily when you’re lying in a hammock by the warm Pacific waters and sipping from a fresh coconut, after having just done an amazing workshop on transformational breath.

Had Thien/Had Yuan on Koh Phangan – the place to go to find calm, stillness, and your chakras

But what did I do on my return? Within very little time I was back onto the job listings and contacting anyone I knew in vague desperation, seeing what work was available. There were job applications which took several days to complete, during which time my hopes were raised as I convinced myself that what I’d written ticked all the boxes in the job description; then the long wait for a response, the long silence, followed by a period of despair as I realised yet again I hadn’t even been shortlisted. Such is the difficult times we live in, I try to reassure myself – competition is high, and apparently no one has a spare minute to get back to you unless you’re invited for an interview.

And those are the moments when a transition is indeed painful, even agonising. You wonder how you got to this situation, given all your hard work and effort over the years, and how you can get yourself out of it, as quickly as possible. Living with the parents also seems like an extra shameful element to an already bleak picture. Surely I should have grown out of relying on my parents by now.

And yet, and yet……I would like to repeat a great phrase I heard in Thailand – ‘change the way you look at things, and the things you look at will change’. Transition is a process, and over that process there have been subtle adjustments in attitude, in behaviour, in choices, which have helped me see the positives of this time. For some who are reading this, the positives might be obvious; but it is actually quite a challenge to adjust one’s mindset – so firmly rooted in the ‘Busy Trap’ – and stop worrying about finding a job or a house or settling down, and embrace the present without worrying about the future. There is a huge amount of resistance to start with, accompanied by a great deal of self-doubt, where the RAGS (Regret, Anxiety, Guilt, Shame) I referred to in an earlier post rear their ugly head.

But having periods of doing nothing actually results in doing something, and that is self-growth. How to describe an act of self-growth is tricky, but it can be found in yoga or meditation practice, in taking a dance class, in baking a cake, in buying a sketch pad and some colouring pencils for the first time in years, or in putting pen to paper and writing a blog. I haven’t done all of these activities, but I’ve certainly dipped into a few.  Self-growth for me has also been a continuing process of letting go of what no longer serves me, and taking pleasure in acts which really require very little effort – like watching the birds fly into our garden to peck at the bird feed in the morning, or spending time with my parents doing a crossword.

Birds feeding

And a few more words on living with one’s parents. Whilst many people I know are right now taking a crash course in parenthood – with pregnancies and births announced almost every week – I have been learning my own profound lessons in this area. Because when you live with your parents in a limited space, you learn to let go of any cravings for peace and quiet or privacy, and instead enjoy these precious moments, because one day we will no longer have them. After many years spent away, sometimes in countries that I’m sure my parents would wish I hadn’t chosen to live in, it is a privilege to spend this time together – without the stress of work or other commitments.

I’ve come a long way since February. I can’t say how exactly; the changes which occur during a transition are not always earth-shattering. But maybe they wouldn’t happen at all if we hadn’t chosen to take that giant leap of faith into the unknown.

No trumpets sound when the important decisions of our life are made. Destiny is made known silently.

 Agnes De Mille

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