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.

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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.

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?

Pandora’s Box.

Pandora’s Box.

The room

was exactly how I’d imagined

the soft seats

table in between

water, in case your throat closed up

 

(or the words got caught, more like)

 

I was nervous

although, nervous felt too small a word

for the gut-wrenching feeling

that my whole world was about to

spill out

pour out

until

it was so bold

so obnoxiously bright

it couldn’t be ignored

 

not anymore, anyway

 

the clock was reflected in the mirror

 

the words didn’t stop

 

and the minutes kept ticking

 

as the sharp hand

worked its way around the loop

my own shackles loosened

just a glimpse, but a glimpse all the same

 

I could taste the soap in my mouth

bitter and stomach churning

as I screamed

until my throat was raw

 

I could see your face

twisted in anger

disgust

hatred

 

I could feel the burn my nails had left

my skinny arms

red with the dirty proof

 

young

confused

alone

 

and now that box is open

the demons of the past and their smug faces

tapping me on the shoulder

 

what have I let out?

what have I set free?

 

can I trust in the journey?

 

will I have the power

to not lock the box

but greet the darkness

bid it farewell

until only hope remains?

What Do You Want? What Do You Need?

What Do You Want? What Do You Need?

The mat was soft against the grooves of my back, my weight slowly sinking across it. My body, floating from the practice of pranayama, and yet alive with energy.

“I want you to think for me… what is it you want right now? What is it you need? And I don’t want you to search for the spiritual answer. Be honest with yourself.”

Immediately my mind went on autopilot, the thoughts flying at me like gnats on a sticky summer day.

I want to be better and more successful in my job… I want to prove I can achieve something.

I want to write every single day and improve my skills.

I want to keep travelling and scratch every country off the map.

I need to keep myself out of the rut. I need to keep challenging myself and becoming a better version of myself.

More. More. More.

The noise building, deafening.

Until it wasn’t deafening anymore. It wasn’t there at all.

A quiet sense of still and a single thought.

I want to stop aspiring for more and love the place I am in for what it is.

The thought was so gentle, so easy, and yet its blatant truth was like a punch to the stomach. The shock forced the words out of me and left them painted in clear sight, impossible to ignore.

Do you ever have that moment of realisation when, suddenly, the dots start to join together? And as the picture materialises, you can’t quite believe you hadn’t seen it out before?

Yeah. This was it.

For someone who preaches about the power of mindfulness and the importance of appreciating the moment, I started to realise it was a concept I’d never fully taken hold of. It had been there, in my sight. I’d dipped my toes in, now and again. But the comfort of dry land was all too appealing to immerse myself entirely.

It was too easy to run away on dry land. The escape route was far more accessible.

I’ve always been a “what next” kind of girl. Forever visualising the next step, the next place. I’ve never wanted to settle; my refusal to see myself in any… state, I guess, for more than a year is a prime example of that. Looking past that, imagining myself staying in the same situation for longer than 12 months, would fill me with anxiety. My heart, palpitating. My skin, prickling. Breath, quickening.

When things started to get difficult? I’d slip straight into my coping strategy.

I’d plan a big change.

And in that moment, there on that mat? It was the first time I’d realised it.

When my long-term relationship ended, I moved to Florence. When my sister found herself alone and without a home at the fault of the one person who should have always cared for her and there was nothing I could do to help, I moved to Australia. When I struggled to find work and the prickles of anxiety began to return after travelling the East Coast, I bought a one way flight to Bali. And now I’m home, as the itchy feet started to come back and I found myself back in a dark place with no real sense of… anything, I applied for a Masters course in a split second decision regardless of the implications.

Constantly seeking change. Constantly looking for a way to avoid the reality of the situation.

Never able to just be.

“Accepting means you allow yourself to feel whatever it is you are feeling at that moment. It is part of the isness of the Now. You can’t argue with what is. Well, you can, but if you do, you suffer.” ~ Eckhart Tolle

And even after this realisation, I still don’t understand it. I’m trying to be okay with that.

I don’t understand what it is that stops me from letting my life just take its course and fully allow myself to be taken up by its tender embrace. To trust it, and to give myself over to it. To believe that I am good enough to stay in one place, in one role, for as long as I need… not to shy away in the fear that if I stay too long, people will start to see me differently. That their opinion will change.

I want to look at this moment, this life, right now and see how wonderful it is. Because I can love the individual components, easy. Every single day I look at my job and feel so blessed for the incredible work I am able to do on a daily basis. The opportunities I have, the difference I am making. I constantly feel myself bursting with love when I remember I am no longer tens of thousands of miles away from my dearest ones. That we are on the same time zone, for goodness sake. I feel a freedom like no other now I am back and in one place, able to take up my regular yoga practice, able to train, able to finally start dancing again. I adore my flat, feel am so lucky to have such a brilliant and inspiring housemate. Am able to enjoy trips to beautiful places, have the pleasure of planning life changing adventures whilst still coming back to a home, money and a job.

And yet… seeing those things all together? Looking at them as one manifestation of a pretty exciting life?

Realising that it was enough? That it was more than enough?

That bit wasn’t so easy.

So. So that’s what I’m trying to change. The mindset I’m trying to alter, ever so slightly. The version of the words I’m now choosing to read.

I mean… that’s it, isn’t it? Choice.

And I am choosing to accept. To allow. To feel.

To be here. And to be happy to be here.

Because what I want, what I need?

It’s right here. It’s been here all along.