Reaching new heights.

Reaching new heights.

This weekend I spent my time away from the office driving miles simply to find new climbing gyms. Industrial parks, nestled totally out of the way, full of brightly coloured boulders on various slanted walls, tunnels and overhangs. Climbing shoes and chalk in bag, hair matted from two nights of camping in the forest and the reminder of last night’s beers around the pool table adding a slightly sluggish quality to the Autumn air.

Nine months after falling superbly from my first indoor climb and it’s safe to say I’m hooked. Harnesses and belay devices hang from my wardrobe. Daily travel daydreams burst with plans of scaling the rocks of Norway, Thailand and New Zealand. My YouTube homepage is full of videos on how to “perfect the ultimate climb”.

And as someone who can’t help but question her motivations and drivers on pretty much everything she does (yes, it does get exhausting), I’ve thought a lot about what it is about climbing that has hooked me in the way it has.

Of course, anyone who climbs will know that there’s no feeling quite like reaching that last hold, the one you’ve been grappling with for weeks, or hitting the top of the rock that towered above you in that intimidating way they do. You’ll know that the climbing community is one of the most welcoming there is. That feeling your body reach new heights is an adrenaline hit like no other. That the fall is almost as fun as the flight.

But, I suppose, it was my own personal reasons I was interested in. The deeper ones that ran a bit further beneath the surface.

I realised that since climbing (alongside my yoga practice) my anxiety had been the most controlled it had ever been. It had been manageable and, for a huge part, virtually at bay. I’d been more aware of its triggers, more able to look after them, after myself.

Why? I suppose I can only speculate. Can only wonder. Piece it together.

What I think, what I believe, is that this has been the year I’ve found my own joy. It’s been a gradual process – so gradual perhaps I’ve not even noticed it until now – but an important one nonetheless.

And it’s not to say I haven’t felt happiness before that. I’ve felt dizzying joy, so intense in my months travelling I feared I’d never feel happiness like it again. Memories that will forever transport me. Will forever comfort me.

But this joy? It’s different. It’s a softer joy. A joy in being sure of my choices. An ability to live more in the moment. Be proud of what I can achieve… what I am achieving.

Because the way I spend my time right now? I know I’m doing it entirely for myself. I know I would rather take a weekend in the forest with my hiking boots and a picnic than out on the town with heels and shots. That spending money on new climbing equipment feels so much more acceptable than a new item for my closet. That waking up 30 minutes early to roll out my yoga mat makes my day entirely lighter than mindless scrolling through social media in bed.

When you’re doing these things? Well, these things are all you can think about. Monkey brain doesn’t have a chance to sneak in when you’re pushing your body and mind to keep hold of that awkward pinch grip on the wall. Meditation is a natural state when you reach that deep level of yoga.

And most of all? You’re not thinking about what your body looks like when you’re holding on with all your might. That roll doesn’t matter when you’re reaping the benefits of swan pose or buzzing for life when you abseil down the rocks.

What you are thinking about is how incredible you – every single part of you – is when you’re achieving these incredible goals. How strong you are. How powerful.

You find a love for yourself. A love for everything you are capable of.

And what could be better than that?

ab

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It’s not bad, it’s just different.

It’s not bad, it’s just different.

A few days ago, a friend messaged me saying she needed some yoga encouragement after what she described as a “bad class”. One that had left her feeling demotivated, disappointed and just a bit downtrodden.

My heart wept for her immediately. Not only because I hated the thought of my beautiful friend feeling so low, but because that is the exact opposite of how a yoga class should make you feel.

I probed a little further.

“What did you think was so bad about it?”

She told me that the class (which had been advertised as beginner) was only directed at the most advanced in the class, with headstands and inversions making her feel totally out of her depth.

I could go on here about how wrong it is for a teacher to make a student feel so isolated and how yoga shouldn’t be about whether or not you can hang around in the perfect headstand (a blog for another day!)… but the thing is, there’s something far deeper going on here. Something we (me, you, my friend) need to master first of all.

It’s that notion of what is a good vs bad practice.

And it’s something that has taken me a while to understand. Something that developed as my understanding of what yoga truly is grew. The idea that it is something far beyond the asana. An opportunity to use the practice to understand and connect with your body and mind.

Is it a bad practice just because you can’t get into crow pose? Is it a bad practice because your forward fold isn’t sinking in the way it used to? Is it a bad practice because monkey brain is getting in the way of your savasana?

Or is it a sign to check in and recognise the areas of your body that need nourishment? The areas you might not have noticed? Or the ones that you just took for granted, accepted, brushed under the carpet?

Because it isn’t bad, is it? It’s just different. The same as every day is different… from morning to night, no two moments will ever be the same. So why should your practice be any different?

There are so many reasons we might come into barriers during a practice. Stress, tiredness, diet, fear, aches, pains, ailments. All problems that in our fast-paced, constantly moving life we tend to “make do” with. We take for granted that we’re never going to feel “quite right”. We get used to feeling exhausted. We tend not to question the bubbling feelings of anxiety because “everyone feels like that.”

But what if we used our time on the mat to identify these issues? To press in on them and start paying attention? Took that attention off the mat to make subtle changes in our day to eradicate them?

And what if that awareness became a daily “checking in” morning routine? If it could be used to start your day in the best possible way?

Man. That would be pretty great, wouldn’t it?

ab

In-between.

In-between.

I don’t know how to label this place I find myself in.

I don’t know how to label it because, really, I don’t know what it is myself.

It’s a place that can either come in intense bursts, debilitating bursts, or in a gentler presence shifting me in directions I don’t want to go in.

A few months ago, I realised I couldn’t – wouldn’t – allow myself to go back to those dark places. Would no longer run rather than face the deeper story that was being written beneath the surface. Words etched across my heart but never spoken out loud.

So I turned to therapy. I’m not afraid to say that. Not anymore.

In fact… I’m proud to say it. Proud that after 25 years I have finally taken a step into the unknown in the most frightening way possible.

I thought jumping out of planes was frightening. Taking a backpack with no end destination in sight. Leaving my life behind.

Turns out this journey is the scariest of all.

Because this journey has meant opening a door I fought my whole life to keep shut. And the demons that have crept out have changed everything.

They’ve changed because… now I can’t help but notice when my behaviour, when my mind, takes a swift and plunging turn. The areas I may not have recognised before are now forced under the spotlight.

And they’re areas I no longer want to give space to. My space. Because that space is precious. It’s the space I want to fill with love, learning and growth… not panic and anger.

It’s a space I want to burn bright with trust and an openhearted spirit.

I don’t want it to be a space I retreat to when the walls are closing in and every part of my world is fighting against the need to escape.

But the thing is, recognising those traits and escape routes is one thing. Eradicating them is another.

And right now? That feels like an impossible task.

That mountain I now have to climb? It’s teetering oh so high. It’s covered in slippery slopes and jagged edges.

It’s overwhelming.

The idea that, one day, I’ll be able to shed this outer skin and give way to a calmer, content way of being free from the extreme up and downs feels so far away.

You know. You can see it but you can’t quite touch it.

I can feel myself changing already. When I compare where I am now to a year ago I can already see those beautiful steps I have taken. I’ve walked through the thorn-filled paths of my mind and slowly let myself sink into the petals.

I’m letting go. I’m letting myself be myself and gradually loosening the grip on that looming shadow.

Yet the loosened grip is a grip all the same. It’s still there, in the peripheral.

Right now I’m in-between.

In-between then and now.

In-between here and there.

The life I want to embody whole-heartedly is at my fingertips. And that can only be a good thing.

Estranged.

Estranged.

I find it a difficult sentence to say. Even now, when the words have almost formed a script that I go to time and time again. An off-hand comment said quickly and casually. It invites less questions that way.

“I don’t have a relationship with my Mother.”

The raised eyebrows in response call for elaboration. I never give it.

Because how can you elaborate on something you can’t quite understand yourself?

I’ve written about my childhood before. The story that forever follows my every step, unknowingly. A story of closed doors and uncertainty. The shadow I can’t quite seem to let go of.

Since starting therapy 8 weeks ago, it’s the one I’ve finally started to shine a light on. And that light? It’s a glaringly bright one. Because taking yourself back to the memories you fought so desperately to suppress is long and it’s painful.

I always come back to the same question.

Am I happier having her in or out of my life?

It’s always been a back and forth race. For over two years I didn’t see her at all. I didn’t have a choice in the matter. And still I longed for her in the same way I longed for her love and support as a child. I wanted her to be everything I needed her to be.

When the time came that I couldn’t stand the cut ties any longer, I wove the threads back together. Slowly. Bit by bit.

I tried to forgive her. Tried to let go of the weight I was carrying around like jagged rocks pushing into my chest.

Tried.

She had changed, I told myself. Maybe it would work this time.

And she had. For the most part, anyway. The darkness that had crippled my younger years was gone. She was trying, in her own disjointed way.

So why is it I still found myself in a position where I couldn’t let her back in?

My Mother was a stranger to me. Is a stranger to me. When I looked at her all I could feel was immense sadness over the years lost and the fact she would never look at me the way my Dad did.

She wasn’t my Mum.

And I couldn’t forget. As much as I wanted to, it was impossible. The second a situation arose where I felt her darkness was coming back out, I pulled up the walls and shut my eyes.

I had tried. And I had failed.

I realised I wasn’t ready to let her back in. I never would be until I could accept that she would never be the Mum I wanted.

And that realisation? It brings a tidal wave of emotions.

I feel sorrow when I imagine how different it could be. Brokenhearted at the thought of a future without her in it.

I feel guilt over how little she has in her life. How perhaps I should be the one to help her fix it.

I feel shame over being estranged by choice when so many have that choice taken out of their hands.

I feel confusion over whether to follow my head or heart. Whether I’ll ever be ready to let my heart lead me.

Yet… I also feel certainty that, at least for now, I am not strong enough to follow that path.

One day the heartache will subside. I hope. Perhaps a time will come when I can let her back into my thoughts and back into my life. We will create our own version of a Mother Daughter relationship and it will add happiness rather than toxicity into my inner being.

Or maybe not. I just don’t know.

But right now? It’s a truth I need to own.

Without the shame that tries to sneak along beside it.

Is paying attention the key?

Is paying attention the key?

I find myself questioning a lot. Too much, maybe. I question the root of my battle with anxiety and depressive episodes. I question how I can balance my longing to be free against the notion of what freedom really is. I question my writing and what I want to achieve from it.

I question everything. I guess that’s what this blog is, really.

And I think that constant hunting out of the answer to all these questions is precisely that… a need to find that bigger answer. The one lingering in the corner of the room, tapping you on the shoulder and following your every movement.

How do I live my life to its fullest?

A dear friend and I talk about these questions almost every day. We share reflections on the week gone, help one another work our way through the existential topics that frame our very being.

Recently, with reference to a recent blog post where I spoke about throwing myself headfirst and giving it my all, she said:

“I wonder if your natural tendency, what comes easiest to you, is to be active, pushing, striving it’s quite a fierce approach… so what about the wildness in softening, letting go, grounding, getting present?”

It’s something I’d never considered. Not on a deep level, anyway. Whilst I strive for a mindful life I’d be lying if I said it was a path that came easily. If at all.

I’m fiery by character. A textbook Sagittarius, my passions are intense and my life tends to run on impulses. I follow my gut, always, and fly through every experience as if on hot coals. A moment wasted is a moment lost.

And mostly, it’s a trait that has served me well. That desire compelled me to leave my comfort zone and take on many of the life changing experiences I pride myself on. It helped me get the jobs I have done and grab hold of my achievements.

But it also made me slip through them at full speed; a conveyor belt continuously taking me to the next destination.

Because when I look back, I can’t help but wonder… how different would things have been had I found the space inside me to press down on the brakes and ground myself?

To be in that moment, to pay attention to it, rather than tying up my laces ready for the next step?

I’ve always told myself that my inability to stop is simply a manifestation of my urge to live every second out of life. The thought of reaching the end of my life and feeling any regret for the opportunities missed fills me with a debilitating terror. I want to be able to tell of my adventure, to hold it close to my chest and know that I made every moment count.

And yet… am I really feeling those moments?

Mary Oliver puts it beautifully:

“Attention without feeling, I began to learn, is only a report. An openness – an empathy – was necessary if the attention was to matter.”

Is this, then, the answer?

Perhaps the key is to surrender to a gentler way of life. To stop comparing this place I find myself in to the past and let go of my expectations for the future. To let the water carry me. Let it quench my thirst.

As if on cue, I stumbled across this quote today from the global spiritual leader Thich Nhat Hanh:

“To dwell in the here and now does not mean you never think about the past or responsibly plan for the future. The idea is simply not to allow yourself to get lost in regrets about the past or worries about the future. If you are firmly grounded in the present moment, the past can be an object of inquiry, the object of your mindfulness and concentration. You can attain many insights by looking into the past. But you are still grounded in the present moment.”

It seems so obvious. But I’ve got 25 years of behaviour to unthread to make it a reality.

Because to truly live in the moment… to appreciate being and to show up to it in an open way… it means letting go of the control.

And that is my ultimate challenge.

But recognising that? Acknowledging it?

At least that journey has finally begun.

Wild and free.

Wild and free.

I’ve struggled a lot with the transition between “being away” and “being back.” Here and there. Back and forth. The difference between days spent wandering white sand beaches blissfully disconnected from expectations and those laced in routine and demand. Which one provided more meaning. Which one offered a version of my true self.

It’s a struggle I dip in and out of. When my current path is paved with achievements and fulfilment, that struggle drifts away. I am present and so very at peace with this life I have built.

And yet other times that question mark seems to trace its silhouette back in glaring focus. All too quickly the walls around me shoot further and further up, encasing me in panic and confusion. When life takes an unexpected turn I wasn’t quite prepared for. When mindful living trips into monotony.

It’s coming up to a year since I’ve been home. And for a while now I’ve stayed on the lighter side of the gate. I’ve been able to embrace the beautiful relationships “being back” has brought me and feel true joy in the simple pleasures of time spent in my hometown. I wake up inspired by what my work day may hold and excited about the places the next few months will take me.

Because, maybe, I can still find that wild freedom that made me feel so alive in that sacred time “being away”?

Maybe, being wild and free doesn’t have to be jumping out of planes and diving into the ocean depths?

Maybe, being wild and free doesn’t have to be endless evenings spent beer in hand dancing under the stars?

Maybe, being wild and free doesn’t have to be snap decisions to fly to a destination of your choice with nothing but your backpack and a sense of adventure?

I’m beginning to wonder whether being wild and free can also grow in the thrill of throwing yourself headfirst into something new, simply because. Of giving it your all, regardless of the end result. Or perhaps it’s there when you push away the barriers and let another in. When you don’t even think about the risk, weighing up the pros and cons, holding yourself back because it’s “easier that way.” Letting time and life do their thing and see where it takes you, for the better or worse. Could it be trusting the process? Is it learning to love yourself in a way that means everything makes sense, just a little more?

What if it’s saying yes rather than no?

What if it’s saying goodbye to fear, in every aspect of life?

The pang of what else is out there will forever walk beside me. Curiosity follows in my shadow… and that’s okay. Thirst for life and living the hell out of it is a quality I never want to let go of.

But doing that? Embracing that quality?

It exists within me, in every moment regardless of where or how that moment comes into light.

It’s here. And it always will be.

“The best thing you can possibly do with your life is to tackle the motherfucking shit out of it.” – Cheryl Strayed.