Thinking out loud #2

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The big cup of coffee in bed every morning. The cold beer sitting on the terrace. The taste of mango, avocado and tomatoes on olive bread and the reassuring feel of pen to paper as  I pour my world out to you, drip by drip. These are the things that make me feel at home. These are the moments I can simply be. And whilst worry has crept back trying to steer me out of this path of joy into one of safety, I’ve fought back. Told the dark force that, this time, it won’t win. I will. From now on.

“Because in the end, you won’t remember the time you spent working in the office or mowing your lawn. Climb that goddamn mountain.”

Letting go of the shackles. Putting myself in the face of excitement.

Trusting the process. Trusting it all.

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Comfortable with being uncomfortable.

Comfortable with being uncomfortable.

Last week I attended my first Buddhist group. I didn’t know what to expect, unsurprisingly. I just knew it was an area of my life I wanted to explore a little further with the hope that, maybe, it would help me understand *things* that little further.

Maybe.

I have also been desperate to establish a meditation practice to sit alongside my yoga one. Because, to me, they go hand in hand. And I can’t help but think that in that joint practice sits the key to a mindful life.

And not just talking about it. Not just writing about it. Actually living it.

The group started with some chanting. Fine, no problem. I’m a-ok with chanting from my yoga. I love the energy of it.

But then it came to the next bit and the words I had no idea would fill me with such dread.

“So now we’ll take 30 minutes of silent meditation.”

That’s right. I’d come to a Buddhist group with the sole purpose of meditating and yet the actual act of sitting cross legged with my eyes shut for longer than a few breaths made me a nervous wreck.

I know. I didn’t understand it either.

But here’s the thing. The thought of being in that silent space without any stimulants panicked me. I couldn’t help but think “Jesus, I could be using my time SO much more effectively right now” and even “well if I count X breaths in and out at a speed of Y then I should reach the 30 minute mark at Z.”

For the life of me I could not imagine how I would be able to convince my mind to take a step back for that time without it running circles around every topic under the sun.

It was anything but comfortable to me. My shoulder was causing me grief having pulled it the night before and my ankle was sitting at a funny angle. My neck felt stiff. My toes started to go dead.

So. Many. Different. Feelings. And. Sensations.

And that was all within the first 30 seconds.

It was exhausting.

Then this quiet voice in my ear.

“You’re pushing your attention on all these things because you’re scared to be alone with your own thoughts.”

And it was true. Being totally alone in the silence of my own mind terrified me. It’s for that precise reason I fall asleep with Netflix playing. Why when I find myself in a situation where I can’t nod off either with laptop at my side or a book in my hand I don’t sleep and instead the insomnia kicks in.

That huge, empty, vastness… it panics me. The nothingness? I avoid it at all costs.

Yet… it doesn’t have to be a “nothingness”, does it? Is that not the whole point of meditation? That in the “nothingness” we are able to find “something”?

“When your attention moves into the Now, there is an alertness. It is as if you were waking up from a dream, the dream of thought, the dream of past and future. Such clarity, such simplicity. No room for problem-making. Just this moment as it is.” – Eckhart Tolle

So I forced myself to be with it. To spinal breathe through the chakras and take note of the uncomfortable aches and then move on. To let my mind try to wander but trust that it would find its way back.

To be comfortable with being uncomfortable.

It wasn’t easy. I can’t sit here and pretend that this sudden epiphany instantly made me a master of the big M.

But it was a process I stuck with. That I committed to.

It’s a concept I’m trying to bring into my daily life. That sense of living not in despite of any stress, difficulties or simply awkwardness… but within it. Trying not to fight it, but understand that you will grow from it.

Because, surely, if we stopped resisting the inevitable, worrying about what “could” be and instead accepted each passing moment as it was… passing, fleeting… then surely everything would be a hell of a lot easier?

Surely we would understand *things* that little further?

Are you truly awake?

Are you truly awake?

I received a text from a friend today who I travelled with across Australia and South East Asia. He’d watched a programme about a South Korean Buddhist monk and messaged to tell me it reminded him of a conversation we had shared in Cairns.

I remembered it so clearly. Remembered all the conversations so very clearly. Everything from the in depth talks about life and its many intricacies over a tall pint of beer right through to the nights spent under the stars delving into spiritual teachings.

We were so in tune with our own thoughts and innermost questions. Our hearts open, gapingly even, to drink in with a wild desire every new piece of information and inspiration.

Our world was a puzzle, and we felt so very blessed to find those pieces and figure out quite how they slotted together.

My kindle was heavy with readings from Deepak Chopra, Baron Baptiste and Thich Nhat Hanh. Their words gave me the strength to forgive my Mother. And even now, after an attempt to rebuild those bridges and coming to realise they are too broken to repair, their teachings have provided me with the love to accept this truth and live with it.

At that time, I felt full and… I guess, awake?

Awake. That’s it.

So why is it that since returning to “ordinary” life, it has has it been so hard for me to open my eyes?

It took me a long time to understand that I could not (and should not) rest my happiness and self worth on a location. I felt guilty for returning to my home town after so many years away. As if I had taken a step back into a past I wanted to forget and was foolishly leaving behind a life I had only ever dreamt of.

Regret walked with me like a shadow, anxiety my second heart beat. “Itchy feet” didn’t even hint at the intense emotions running from my head to my toes pushing me to pick up that passport once again.

Everything was boring. Everything was dull.

Where was the beauty? Where was the discovery?

I blamed this lack of stimulation and overwhelming sense of monotony on my own inability to connect with that girl I had become those few months ago.

Or, rather, the girl I had allowed myself to be.

I no longer felt full and in a state of mindfulness. Far from it, really.

The only time I stepped back into that beautiful state of being was when I placed myself on the mat. My practice would be transcendent, my mind at peace and hungry for my teachers simple but deeply affecting words.

Until recently. Until I gave myself the permission to take my teachers words away from the mat and into my life.

It sounds silly, doesn’t it? An obvious concept.

And yet something had been stopping me from taking them out of my safe haven into my “real world.”

When my teacher returned from a retreat in India back to Shirley, we were of course all bursting with questions for him. His answers were full of joy but very calm, collected.

“Whether you are somewhere exotic and beautiful like India or back in quiet Shirley, it doesn’t matter really, does it? Those things, they’re just external. They’re temporary. The only constant is yourself. And that is the only place you can truly gain fulfilment.”

*the penny drops*

Isn’t it the oddest thing when someone puts into words exactly what you have been searching for all along?

And now I feel as if I have accepted and welcomed that… now I once again want to commit to living in a mindful existence.

There are many ways I hope to do this. My daily yoga practice. Exploring Buddhist groups in the community. Going back to my readings.

Living, loving, learning.

Maybe this blog can help me chronicle them. Give me a space to be and reflect.

I want to allow myself to be that girl who held herself as a blank canvas and lived every moment as it was supposed to be lived.

Fully.

Consciously.

Awake.

It doesn’t matter whether I am doing that amidst a Balinese sacred site, a remote island or the comfort of my humble flat in Southampton.

None of those things define who I am or what I want to be.

That? That can only come from myself.

The Love Hate Relationship.

The Love Hate Relationship.

I have this love hate relationship with writing. Rather, with my writing. My relationship and motivations behind it.

On one hand, writing is my saviour. It has guided me through some of my darkest days, when the heavy cloak of sadness weighed across my shoulders and clouded my vision. It has helped bring about a sense of understanding within the confusion. Allowed me to connect with myself. Given me a space to be open and honest when words failed me.

And yet, the other hand deals the cards fraught with pressure and self doubt.

Because what is the point of my writing?

Surely there has to be a point?

This other hand traces the ominous question mark above my head asking what is right to write about? This blog, for example. Is to write about yourself in such a way just hideously self indulgent? A desperate plea for attention?

Should I be so open? If I truly let my innermost feelings spill across the keyboard, will the end result be far too messy to ever repair?

For the longest time I have flitted between writing on this blog (which, actually, fills me with an energy only likened to that I find on the yoga mat and comes oh so naturally) and trying to force my creativity into other outlets. I take myself to fiction workshops and attempt fiction exercises. I research and pull together articles to submit to yoga websites and the like. I wonder whether I should be working on a writing project.

You know. Something that matters. Something that would be deemed as “better writing.”

The things I should be doing.

All those feelings, all those questions? They’re god damn exhausting.

I heard a quote today on The Good Life Project. It was in reference to the intrinsic links floating between yoga, meditation and writing.

“I wonder sometimes when I write… wouldn’t it be cool if I could create an experience that could bring somebody to the same point that they were at when they were on their knees… in terms of an openness and motivation to take action… without actually having to have their shins hit the floor?” – Jonathan Fields

And it made think…

If writing in this open, raw, self questioning and discovering way I do gives me even a small element of the feeling when I am deep in the midst of a yoga practice… maybe I can give other people that feeling too?

Maybe it’s something I need to clutch hold of, rather than push away.

Because writing? It’s my practice. It’s my meditation. It takes me anywhere I want to be and turns the volume down on all the noise around me.

Isn’t that enough? Doesn’t that matter?

I guess what I’m trying to say is that in this quick fix world we live in where answers are constantly a few seconds away at the edge of our finger tips, sometimes we can question things too much. And sometimes, the answer is far simpler than we could ever have imagined.

Or, at least, we can allow the answer to be simple.

We live in a society of intense pressure. Whether it’s the worry of why we are doing something or whether we are doing something enough (I couldn’t count the amount of times the worry of having not written for so long stops me from writing entirely… even with my journal! My journal for goodness sake!), there’s the constant niggle prodding you in the side until you trip out of the present moment and into that messy place of self doubt.

I think… I THINK… I’m finally committing to the path of saying thank you, but goodbye to the niggle and carrying on regardless.

And the first step? This. My writing.

Carrying on. Persevering.

Tipping the scales back into love.

Maybe.

Thinking out loud #1

An unexpected sunny Sunday, my scrawny arms relishing in that familiar kiss. A week of work achievements, of knowing I’ve found my “thing”. The reassuring nod, the gentle smile. Another week stepping back onto the uncomfortable, sometimes painful conveyor belt, rushing full throttle back into the past. But it’s okay. It’s all okay. The tenth paper envelope at the door, your familiar drawings scrawled on the front. One day I’ll scrawl them onto my skin, a story inked across my own canvas forever more. The music you recommended has echoed around the flat ever since.
“And a lion, a lion roars would you not listen?
If a child, a child cries would you not forgive them?”

A transcendent yoga class. Laughter on the sofa. My sister’s smile.

Everything. Nothing. All the colours in between.

Review: National Theatre’s Jane Eyre.

Review: National Theatre’s Jane Eyre.

I am fascinated by productions that can say so much by doing so little. The talent, the mind power, that goes into creating something so effortlessly poignant without the aid of gimmicks. It’s a rare and brilliant feat and one that consistently takes hold of my attention long after the curtain has fallen.

National Theatre’s adaptation of Jane Eyre at The Mayflower Theatre was a glowing example of that. Set on a sparse stage with a series of wooden platforms and ladders with floating white drapery as a backdrop, Michael Vale’s design was simple and adaptable. It threw all focus directly on the performance whilst still capturing a sense of childhood innocence and the passing of time as the cast darted, twisted and ran between pillars and ledges. It didn’t want for any more.

NT Jane Eyre Tour 2017 ensemble. Photo by BrinkhoffMögenburg (15).JPG

This simplicity wove its magic throughout the rest of the play. Performed by an ensemble of 10 (three of which were musicians),  the cast seamlessly switched between characters with an ease that made each transition unnoticeable. It played homage to their skill: every single person on stage embodied their characters flawlessly. Costume changes were carried out softly (almost eerily) in plain light meaning that for every step of the way, we as the audience were a part of the story. This clever technique pulled you in and left you feeling like you were sat right there, embedded in the script, with them.

Tim Delap (Rochester) Nadia Clifford (Jane Eyre) NT Jane Eyre Tour 2017. Photo by BrinkhoffMögenburg (2).JPG

The story itself was a superb balance of contemporary interpretation and staying true to the classic. Under Sally Cookson’s direction, both Bronte lovers and newbies to the tale would connect with the production just the same. I found myself almost bursting with my inner geek during the classic monologues (“I am no bird; and no net ensnares me: I am a free human being with an independent will.” – goosebumps!) whilst totally enthralled by the modern twists. A stand out had to be the role of Bertha, played by the exquisite understudy Dami Olukoya. Dressed in a regal red gown (the only burst of colour in an otherwise subdued selection of costumes), she had an ongoing presence in the shadows of the set. Her haunting singing voice echoed around the theatre between key scenes, a chilling reminder of her constant hiding in the darkest corners of Thornfield. Dami’s rendition of “Crazy” in the closing scenes had the whole audience on the edge of their seats… you could have heard a pin drop.

Melanie Marshall (Bertha Mason) NT Jane Eyre Tour 2017. Photo by BrinkhoffMögenburg.JPG

(Melanie Marshall playing Bertha)

But Dami was by no means the only stand out performance. In fact, every single person on that stage was a stand out. From the oddly endearing and mysterious Tim Delap playing Rochester to understudy Francesca Tomlinson taking on the roles of Adele and Helen Burns (amongst others) with poise and sophistication, everyone turned the script into something alive and truly intoxicating.

NT Jane Eyre Tour 2017 ensemble. Photo by BrinkhoffMögenburg (7).JPG

Of course, Nadia Clifford was a complete dream as Jane. Her transformation from a confused, lost and yet head strong little girl to a brilliant and spirited woman taking the reins on her life had me thinking “dear lord I want to be like her!” She embodied a powerful, feminist lead and commanded the stage. A fierce talent and one to watch.

Nadia Clifford (Jane Eyre) NT Jane Eyre Tour 2017. Photo by BrinkhoffMögenburg (4).JPG

Music, humour and intelligent prop use were interspersed throughout, further strengthening the unique appeal of this gorgeous production. I was captivated, from start to finish.

Nadia Clifford (Jane Eyre) NT Jane Eyre Tour 2017. Photo by BrinkhoffMögenburg (14).JPG

You can’t really go wrong with National Theatre. Their quirky and charming approach to performance art never fails to bring something fresh to the table. Followers of literature and the theatre alike will fall in love with this extraordinary tale, told in a timeless and unique way.

Jane Eyre is showing at The Mayflower Theatre until Saturday 13 May. You can grab your tickets here.

Photos by Brinkhoff Mögenburg