Friday, 4 January 2019

Love Thy Self

Self-love.

It's a buzz word. It's something the hippies talk about. You know the kind. The "new age" folk who are always going on about your inner child and finding beauty within. "Love yourself," they say.

Like many things, it can start to lose its impact after hearing it a thousand times. It starts as a bright light, a warm fuzzy feeling, then fades into a meaningless glimmer. And yet... Somewhere past the paisley patterns, beyond the patchouli and incense, I can see a deeper, more significant truth to this catch phrase. A truth that is connected to one of the tenets of life that I keep coming back to again and again: Accept what is.

Yes, self-love can translate to self-care and self-improvement. But the motive often gets muddled. We start to add conditions to loving ourselves. "Once I've done A, B, and C, then I will love myself", or "once I look like that, then I will love myself," or my personal kryptonite, "once I've accomplished X, Y, and Z, then I will love who I am."

In applying these conditions, we miss the point. The hyphen in "self-love" has become a sorry and forgotten place holder for the word unconditional.

Love yourself unconditionally.

This is something I talk about doing. It's something I encourage others to do. But it's not something I practice. Not really. Like many others, the love and appreciation I have for myself is dependent on a number of things. The food I eat, the amount of exercise I do, whether I write well (or write at all), the experiences I have and how they measure up to others' experiences as dictated by social media.

I hate admitting this. It means I have been caught in the Great Web of Lies. The web woven by society's many facets, through an unending myriad of messages, convincing us that we are not good enough as we are. Convincing us that we are not worthy of love, even from ourselves. It is from our Self that this love must come if we are to learn how to love, and accept love from, others. But we cannot rely on the love of others to fulfil and validate us. We cannot control the choices of others. Their choice to love us - or not - has everything to do with them and nothing to do with us. It would be nice if we could take credit for their affections, but in doing so we misplace our self-worth. We begin to rely on their affections to affirm us of who we are. This is not the way. This is not sustainable.

So, with boxes unchecked, things undone, and body parts untoned, we must look in the mirror and begin to love. What better place to start loving than from a place of doubt? It is from this place that you must accept what is, that you must accept yourself as you are.

Love. Your. Self. There are no conditions to meet that will make you loveable. There are no feats to accomplish that will proclaim your worthiness. Right now in this moment, however broken, put-together, mixed up, figured out, out of shape or fit you are: love yourself. Unconditionally. Every stretch mark and dimple, every flaw and imperfection - it is part of who you are. It is worthy of love. You are worthy of love.

If this acceptance of 'what is', this appreciation of Self, inspires a declaration of self-care or self-improvement, fine. But let it be from a place of knowing that what you have is already enough. Everything else is just a bonus.

Tuesday, 4 December 2018

La Rocca

I finally know the purpose of life.

Well, I've known for awhile now. Ever since my dear friend, Brian Peters, told me so.

But as I sat on the edge of a cliff, surrounded by wild forest, overlooking the edge of old Cefalu, and staring into the vast Mediterranean horizon - I truly knew it. It struck me with an intensity I was not expecting. It sank down deep, in its reverberating Truth, down to my core. It seeped, warm and new, into my bones.

I saw it in the soaring of the seagulls as they drifted from one thermal column to the next. I felt it coming from the sailors in their sailboats down below as they skimmed peacefully across the water. I heard it in the distant, crashing waves, and the twittering of birds in the trees that surrounded me. The trees, shrubs and grasses shimmered with it. I could smell the sweet scent of it emanating from them.

Joy!

The purpose of life - the pulse of life - is joy. This feeling, coupled with the grandiose scene before me, washed over me and left me with a profound sense of insignificance. A tiny dot swallowed up by the vast and wild landscape. Such perspective! Such relief!

There is no better way to be relieved of one's anxieties than to realise how small they are in the scope of this universe. Ahem... this multiverse. Nothing matters. Not really. Nothing matters but the joy of co-creation, the expansion born from this creativity, and the freedom we innately possess to experience it all.

In fact, we are so free, that we can choose not to experience it at all.

The choice is ours to make, every moment of every day.

I choose joy.

Wednesday, 28 November 2018

Analysis Paralysis

Allow me to think out loud.

If there is anything I desire from this traveling extravaganza, it is this: clarity of purpose.

Purpose is something that we all seek. It's human nature to long for a reason to get out of bed each day. I've heard a number of times that those who feel they have a role to play in their community claim to be the happiest, most purpose-filled, longest-living people on the planet. (Watch the movie Happy to learn more about these incredible people).

Having a role doesn't appear to be enough, however. Many people get up and go to work, fulfilling a role for 8 hours or more, but that role doesn't fulfill them. The key, then, is not just a role, but a role within a community. Being a part of something greater than yourself. Something that supports more than just your nuclear family.


But my fear, and the subsequent confusion in this role-seeking, is the fact that community isn't what it once was. The earth's population is 7.7 billion, and yet we've never been so lonely. Our independence has led to isolation. Our local communities have been all but usurped by a global community. Neighbourhood hangouts have become digitalised, conversations with market stall owners have turned into text chats with the delivery guy, who's bringing our groceries to us. We used to belong to one or two communities. We had our school folk, or our church folk, or our pub folk. Or all of the above. Now there are hundreds of both real and virtual communities to choose from on a daily basis. How does one choose? Sometimes the choices can be so overwhelming, the only one that seems viable, is Netflix.


The more traditional societies seem to have it easy. Individuals are born into a role. Fisherman. Basket weaver. Farmer. Hunter. But is that better? Perhaps it is better only if you are ignorant to your options. As soon as the options are spread out before you, does what you have no longer carry the same value? After all, a person does not scorn the bread they have to eat, until they see a banquet before them, just out of reach. Suddenly the bread they were thankful to have seems measly and inadequate. Ignorance can be blissful, and too many options can by paralysing.

I don't have the luxury of ignorance. I see my choices, and they are many. I have the freedom to choose, and for that I am grateful.

But if I am so free, why do I feel so bound by indecision? I am suffering from paralysis by analysis. Where to live? What to pursue? Should I study again? If so, what, and where? Where to work? What to write? The options stretch on, endlessly.

All I can say is: thank goodness for Netflix.

Tuesday, 13 November 2018

Alguero



I love my husband dearly.

However, the joy I feel as I walk, solo, out of our Sardinian apartment is overwhelming. As I step into the narrow, winding cobblestone alley I feel joy bubble up inside of me. Unable to contain myself, it comes out as a squeak, with a simultaneous skip of the feet.

Alone, at last! My introverted soul soars out towards the glittering harbour and up to the blue skies. This moment... is mine. I breathe a deep, satisfying breath. It is just me and my journal, and the waves of the Mediterranean, crashing against ancient stone walls.


I find a stone bench, warm from the sun, with the word "madness" written in green graffiti across it. An old, ivory building with forest green shutters and rust stains dripping from the windows acts as a buffer for the brisk, southerly wind. Perfect. Sitting down, a smile of contentment spreads across my face. I take in my surroundings. The sea stretches out before me, my view of it partially blocked by what was clearly once a wall of defence. Little divots are cut into the top of the weather-worn stone, presumably for brave archers to shoot their arrows through. Catapults and cannons speckle the promenade, an ode to a time long gone.

Now in 2018, a row of apartments face the water. White-washed buildings with turquoise doors, pink fa├žades with blue windows, and yellow buildings with wooden shutters. All of them aglow in the late afternoon sun.


In the summer, this coastal walk must be busting with foreigners. But now, in November, the tourists have left, and the local Sardinians have the quiet, sleepy town to themselves once more. Shops boasting reams of vibrant coral necklaces close at midday, opening again later in the evening, or not at all. Half the pizzerias are shut for the season, leaving about a dozen still open, just a stones throw from our apartment in old town Alghero.

And the sun... oh, the sun! So delightfully gentle. I could sit for hours on this bench and not worry about burning.

This is happiness for me. A harbour full of gleaming masts, swaying and clanking; the percussion for the seagulls symphony. Nowhere to be, nothing to be done. Just me and my journal, and the warm, crinkled smiles of wizened Sardinians, nodding silent greetings as they pass by.

The sun has dipped behind a fluffy bank of clouds, streaming glorious beams of celestial light from behind it. This is my heaven. But it's time to move on.

Following the curve of the promenade, I step into the wind. My skirt whips around my knees as I walk, my cardigan billowing out behind me. The coolness of the salty wind on my face edges on discomfort. It reminds me how alive I am.

Stopping to lean on the ancient wall, I watch as the rugged shoreline entices the deep, azure waters to join it, again and again. Not a stone seems to budge with the relentless chase of the tide. Such bravery! Such fortitude! These rocks and the wall that is built upon them have withstood the waves for centuries, and will likely stand for centuries more.

The birds in the rustling palms behind me twitter with excitement. Twilight approaches.


In a few moments the sun will drop below the bank of clouds and hover above the horizon. This brief time of day is my most favourite, for it's the most mysterious. Shadows stretch, yawning across the pavement. Sandstone buildings glow, almost other-worldly in their luminosity. It feels as if reality hovers on the edge of another dimension. As if now, and only now, I could walk under the nearby old stone arch and be transported to another realm.

The moment shimmers with possibility! But the shimmering is brief. Lamps click on, pouring fluorescence onto the cobblestones. The spell is broken. The moment is beckoned away by the departed sun, now illuminating the other side of the world with early morning light.

All enchantment is not lost, however. The night is a new kind of wonder, a new kind of adventure.

For someone else, perhaps.

For me, it is my queue to head home. I did not dress for the chill that is now present beneath the darkening sky. I begin to walk back. Just me and my journal, and the slap of my sandals on the stones.


As I wander slowly back through the narrow, winding alleys, I ponder the moment that has just passed. Such magic always comes and goes with astonishing brevity. For me, it is a poignant reminder of the nature of life and the importance of presence. Appreciation for what is, and a child-like eagerness for more seems to be the only way to live a joyful existence.

These moments, like grains of sand in our hands, glint golden while we hold them, only to fall through our fingers and be carried away by the breeze, seconds later. Let them fall. Do not try to catch the grains as they fly away, lest you lose sight of the new ones being poured into your palms, ready to be admired.

Thursday, 8 November 2018

Accordian blues

The sun is setting over Porto...



The sun shines gold on architectural relics, and silver on cement apartment blocks. The clouds are rippled, like a disturbed pond frozen in time. Each time I blink they are a new shade of tangerine and rose. At first brilliant and eye-catching, then soft and faded, with lavender smudges.

There is an accordion being played in the distance. I saw its player as I walked back to our humble abode in the Cedofeita barrio of Porto. She had a cable-knit sweater on, loose around the neck. It's deep, umber colour brought out her matte, burgundy lipstick, which looked striking against her porcelain skin. She sat on a wooden box, curly hair tossed into a bun. Her denim legs were crossed, capped by black boots that probably used to shine. A cigarette dangled from her full lips. She began to stretch the accordion. She seemed reluctant about it, almost apathetic. In fact, she appeared to care more about getting what she could get out of that cigarette than about what was coming from the yawning instrument in her lap.

Although profoundly melancholic, the whole scene cheered me considerably. It reminded me of how I felt when I first saw the film, Amelie. A sad-sweet feeling. Perhaps she was playing a song about life. Life, after all, is both sweet, and sad; full of joys and sorrows. Just as the push and pull of the accordion creates music, the ebb and flow of happy moments defines our lives. With that thought, need she play a song about life, or need she just play? Thinking about life, it's nature, and its elusive meaning always cheers me a bit. As does blues music. The croon of a broken heart backed by a wailing guitar does wonders for my soul. Maybe I need a therapist.

Or maybe I need to learn the accordion.

Saturday, 27 October 2018

Seagulls

So much of life is about expectations and perspective...

Porto, Portugal - 22 October 2018

If I had come to the beach expecting a spiritual revelation, or an awakening of the soul, I'd be sorely disappointed. 

But if I had come to  the beach expecting to get shat on by a seagull, followed by a late afternoon nap behind a rock to keep the sand from getting in my eyes, I'd be satisfied.

Satisfaction is the result of expectations being met, and perspective is what determines our experience.

Tuesday, 23 October 2018

Pudding


Traveling forces one to be flexible. If you are not, you will break.

Our train got cancelled on our way to Gent from Amsterdam. The turn of events landed us in Rotterdam Centraal on a "layover" en route to Belgium.

If our train hadn't been cancelled, and if we hadn't had to twice change platforms, we wouldn't have enjoyed our moment in the sun, drinking coffee and eating a warm slice of Dutch apple pie. If we didn't just accept the circumstances and let go of the oars, so to speak, we would've been thrashing against the current, fighting the flow of events, and potentially missing out on one of Holland's finest desserts. Instead, we peacefully drifted on, munching contentedly, while observing a few such thrashers.

One of these was a lovely, blond woman who looked to be in her late 20's. She fought the current with all her might. Blush and lipstick delicately - purposefully - applied, hair coiffed just so, toffee-coloured peacoat cinched around her tiny waist, she clomp, clomp, clomped in dainty heels to the new train platform. Italian curses and manicured hands flew feverishly around her head. The way she furrowed her brow and huffed and puffed through her cute little nose, one might have mistaken her for a rhinoceros in pumps.

The proof's there in the pudding: Beauty does not beget happiness. Especially when paired with inflexibility.

"Accepting what is", however, does. I am not traveling in style. My hair is due to be washed, and the little make-up I did have on has been rubbed off absentmindedly as the day progresses. I don't mind. Like unpredictable train travel, I accept it, and move on.

While I admire those who find joy in traveling stylishly, for me it is just something else to think about. Something to distract me. The hair up-keep, the lipstick maintenance - these things would keep me from being fully immersed in the present moment.

I cast no judgement on those who look like they've stepped out of a fashion magazine, complete with a matching roller bag. By all means, carry on with your attractive ways, strut your stuff from London to Paris. The bedraggled rest of us are looking on with admiration, enjoying the view - and the pie.