Humanity in the city

Today may be the first of March, but London felt distinctly wintry this morning as I ascended the steps at Westminster tube station, bracing myself against a harsh wind, droplets of rain erratically skidding against the road. The panicked energy of rush hour was almost tangible, all overcoats and umbrellas, frustrated lines of traffic and only headlights to provide pockets of pink in a palette of dull grey. I rarely come to this part of the city, and I found myself disorientated by the one-way systems and imposing architecture.

I reached the conference centre with a sense of relief and entered to the familiarity of lukewarm coffee, polite conversation and air-conditioning. The event was aimed at people working in international development organisations, and so suddenly, in the middle of an otherwise non-remarkable day, I was being reminded of the scale of current crises facing humanity. Reminded in a distant, isn’t that terrible, urgh this coffee is cold, which room is the next session in, kind of way. I heard frightening statistics about a lost generation of Syrian refugees, and also empowering stories of hope, but in the midst of my Westminster bubble, they remained just statistics and stories.

By the end of the day my head was spinning from a combination of concentrating and consuming too much sugar. The prospect of commuting across London carrying far more belongings than fitted into my handbag seemed an unpleasant one. (Conveniently the whole concept of thousands of displaced people risking their lives to cross the ocean had already escaped my consciousness.)

But on my way home, two moments struck me. One was a lady with a pram struggling on the stairs ahead of me as people pushed past her. It took a few moments before someone offered to help, and within seconds there was a small army of strangers carrying the pram, and her weariness was replaced with a smile of gratitude. The second, was an Indian man sitting across from me in the carriage, wearing a dark green robe and resting his head on a walking stick. About ten minutes into the journey he caught my eye, leant towards me and gave me a ‘thumbs up’. I almost visibly jumped, so unexpected was the gesture in this setting and from such an unlikely character. I know what you’re thinking, maybe he was mad. The tubes are full of raving lunatics. And maybe you’re right. But I felt encouraged, and so to me, the gesture was meaningful.

If we cannot perceive the humanity in the people we see every day, how can we ever expect to empathise with people whose lives and troubles are so distinctly removed from our own?

The pressures of courgetti spaghetti & clean pants

This weekend my friends and I spent a disproportionate amount of time talking about the benefits of spiralizing, warm lemon water and adopting a plant-based diet while simultaneously drowning our organs in industrial quantities of cheap white wine. Is it just me or does Deliciously Ella have a lot to answer for? When did it become acceptable to preface your first name with an adverb? When did spaghetti become courgetti and since when was rice made out of cauliflower?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not disputing the virtues of veggies. Since watching that Netflix documentary, I have hardly eaten any meat (bar one chicken burger and a couple of ham croquettes) because it just doesn’t appeal as much. But I’m not really blogging about healthy eating. I think there are plenty of people more qualified on that topic than I am. What I am blogging about is how easy it is to feel inadequate. How easy it can be to assume that everyone around you is effortlessly excelling at life while your definition of a successful weekend is not losing any key belongings and ensuring you have some clean pants on a Monday morning.

I want to switch the narrative, from berating ourselves for our failings to celebrating our successes. And I’m not talking about achievements in terms of career success, or reaching your daily 10,000 step goal (ahem). I’m talking about all the efforts we make each day to think about others, to balance all our responsibilities, and to do the right thing. We do so many significant things every day which we devalue because we refuse to recognise them.

I haven’t written for a while, because I thought the end of my eight week experiment signalled the end of this blog. It was easier to put it aside than accept the continued challenge to keep going, to keep sharing, to abandon self-criticism and embrace honesty.

What I think I’m getting at, is that yes, it is very easy to succumb to pressure, to compare ourselves to others, or to believe that someone’s Instagram account really represents their life, all smiles and sepia tones. But that ultimately the pressure is self-inflicted. We choose the standard we judge ourselves by. I’m guessing you really don’t care that I haven’t blogged for a while, or that I ate an accidental chicken burger, or, shhhh….that never, have I ever spiralized a vegetable…

Festive reflections…. ✨

When you haven’t done something for a while, beginning is somehow harder. So, without much of an idea how else to begin, I will wish anyone reading this a very happy Christmas. And also to extend my gratitude for anyone who has read any of these posts, whether or not you related to any of the sentiments expressed.

I find myself writing today in what I consider to be one of the most beautiful and unique parts of the world, the Sheep’s Head peninsula in West Cork. With compulsory festive glass of bubbles in hand, and with a very hazy view of the sea through the rain-streaked glass of the conservatory, I still feel that it is nothing short of incredible that I find myself in this hidden corner of the earth. It’s the place where I met my future husband, and so many other great friends….many of whom were singing loudly together in Eileen’s pub last night! A very wise philosopher who I admire deeply advises that; the most important time is now, the most important person is the one in front of you, and the most important way to behave is with compassion. I don’t think I always achieve that but think it is sound advice which I would like to be able to emulate.

I’m sure I’m not the only person with family on the other side of the world this Christmas, but I do believe that being together physically is not what is important. Love can bridge any geographical (or, may I suggest, metaphysical) distance.

So finally, I just want to say that this blogging experiment has been fulfilling in so many ways. I broke through something very deep; my self-consciousness, by posting these messages into cyberspace. And the encouragement I received from people who have read them has been overwhelming. It confirms to me that no matter our differences, we all share a common humanity and desire for happiness which is the same irrelevant of background, race, likes or dislikes. I was speaking to a dear friend who is an artist the other night and we agreed that successful creative people are those who believe that they deserve to be. If I can do any small thing, I want to encourage all of us, to keep persevering in the struggle to reveal our inner potential. The way it is expressed will be unique to all of us, but the first step to discovering it, is simply to believe that it exists.

So happy Christmas to my friends far and wide. And if you thought this was overly sentimental, just be glad I wrote it before another few glasses of bubbly.

The Middle Way

I love the concept of the Middle Way. Buddhism teaches walking the path of the Middle Way, which to me represents a perfect balance. We can only be strong if all aspects of our lives our strong; physical, intellectual and spiritual. Similarly, there is no point in spending hours meditating if we are ignoring our physical needs, or solely focusing on our ego-driven needs and ignoring our inner wisdom. The Middle Way bridges the gap between extremes. Just as hedonism is not a valuable way to live, nor is self-sacrifice.

I must admit, balance is not my forte, which is probably why I value this principle so highly, and can see such a marked difference when I strive to create harmony and balance in my daily life. I thought I’d escaped getting sick this winter, but woke up yesterday full of cold, and one of those brain-freeze headaches you get when you eat ice-cream too quickly. I spent the day sniffling and sneezing at my desk, slave to hot honey and lemon and feelings of self-pity. But of course to some degree it is the inevitable cause of not getting enough sleep or taking care of myself. The timing isn’t great either as I have today off work and am on my way to Cologne for a Winter weekend break with Kev.

As I was packing this morning I came across 170 euro in my dressing table drawer. Cue surprise…elation….joy! Followed, and this is no exaggeration, five minutes later by a tracked delivery through the postbox from France. Excitedly open envelope and recall just about enough of my A-level French to understand it’s a speeding fine. Cost? 180 euro. That puts me back at minus 10 euro. Ironically though, I think this experience is kind of fitting with my Middle Way theme. It’s pointless being swayed by unsubstantial things which happen to us. They might seem important one minute but the next they are rendered irrelevant.

I must go now, as I’m shortly due to board the Eurostar and ride all the Middle Way from London to Germany.

Celebrations, connections and no coincidences

Three days into my thirties and so far so good. Aside from the inevitable hangover left over from the weekend celebrations I haven’t noticed any new wrinkles or additional grey hairs. To me, thirty actually sounds quite cool and sophisticated, carrying with it a vague promise that people might start taking you seriously. I like the idea that I could just consciously choose to leave my insecurities back in my twenties, a distant memory. Obviously I don’t actually feel any different (other than possibly a little bit fatter and more tired) but somehow it seems like a hopeful decade.

What I do feel however, quite keenly, is a huge sense of gratitude for all the people in my life who I have made a connection with over the years. Say what you will about birthdays, but they have a wonderful way of bringing people together. Creating contact between people whose lives were once closely intertwined but now, for various reasons, have more distance between them, but no less fondness.

I spent Sunday celebrating with family. It’s an unspoken prerogative of birthdays with a zero on the end, that you can gather people together at your whim and they must enjoy themselves. I may be speaking out of turn, but it really did feel like a joyful day; when lunch lasts eight hours it’s usually implies that people are having fun.

Which has got me thinking about the nature of families and friends and what brings us all together. All the encounters that we have with others, long or short, positive or negative, shape us in some way. When we consider the vastness of the universe, there can be no coincidences in the connections we make and the people we meet.

There’s a quote people use about friendship which implies that you can pick your friends but not your family. Well I’ve decided that I disagree. Being adopted, as I have grown up, I have become totally convinced that there is no coincidence that these people, though not tied to me by blood, are very much my family. I have come to believe that, when viewed from the perspective of eternity, we have known each other for many lifetimes and that this is just one chapter in a wonderful, continually unravelling story.

Seasons of silliness

Welcome to December. Prepare to embrace the new, month-long version of the Friday excuse. Four weeks of the year where almost any  frivolous behaviour can be justified by the standard “It’s December” response. 

Want to wear a ridiculous reindeer jumper which jangles when you walk around? Go for it, it’s December. Skip the gym in favour of going out for dinner? No problem, ’tis the season. I respond well to any seasonal developments particularly when they involve an abundance of fairy lights, sparkly things, cosy clothes and mulled wine. Our revived office Christmas tree is a twinkling reminder of the fast-approaching holiday. 

It’s a shame that this general sense of festive cheer does not seem to have spread to London commuters. I’ve just witnessed a ruckus between some passengers over the usual personal-space related issues. It took a considerable amount of self control on my part not to tell them, “chill out guys, it’s December.”

Indecision & intuition 

Recent newspaper headlines, as well as my own daily dilemmas, have got me thinking about the nature of decision-making and intuition. 

The big one in the UK news at the moment is the debate on whether to launch airstrikes in Syria; to bomb, or not to bomb, that is the question. The country holds its breath and braces itself for the inevitable. 

Call me simplistic, but I am unable to see how more bloodshed could represent any kind of moral victory or progress. Call me naive, but I doubt I’m alone in not wanting to live in a world where the biggest bomb represents the loudest voice. 

“But we can’t just do nothing!” is the response I usually get when I profess this point of view. But in a situation like this, there is no such thing as doing nothing. There is making a decision to stand up for peace. There is no such thing as a fight for peace, only a fight for supremacy.

Obviously this particular scenario is one which has far-reaching implications, and bears very little resemblance to my own personal dilemmas. What to wear in the morning or how to respond to a difficult situation in my own life, is not quite in the same league. But so often I am crippled by indecision. 

A wise friend of mine once told me, if you really don’t know what to do, do nothing. Wait until you do know. Initially I was confused by this, surely doing nothing represents a kind of action in itself. But I’ve come to realise that what she meant was that you always know what to do. It is simply a matter of listening to and trusting your own intuition. Waiting until the voice within is loud and clear enough.

With regards to my own life, I have come to the conclusion that there is no such thing as a wrong decision. Only a different path and a different lesson. I’m not sure that’s the case with dropping bombs, but only time will tell. 

All I want for Christmas…

All I want for Christmas, and I really don’t think it is too much to ask, is for a little pet elf who is skilled in the art of keeping abreast of generic life admin. In return I could promise a good home, plenty of love and oodles of appreciation.

Life, as I imagine it with said elf, would be a breeze. I would not find out that my road tax expired two weeks ago because I hadn’t had time to open my post, or forget to buy bin bags on the way home, or order new contact lenses, or….okay, let’s not go down the mile-long ‘to do list’, you get the idea. This evening I’m pretty sure to an observer I would have resembled the insane woman from ‘There’s something about Mary’ – you know the one who manically cleans her house after taking inordinate amounts of speed.

I don’t know how the multi-tasking Mothers of this world do it. I would prefer to sit in my pyjamas drinking gin in the evenings but apparently that is not deemed socially acceptable, and let’s face it, nothing good ever came from drinking gin.

Anyway, it’s late. I’ll be back tomorrow, or maybe when I’ve found a rare breed of pixie, infamous for his observational skills and blogging expertise, who can write these entries for me.

Keep it simple, stupid

Something I’ve noticed over the past weeks is that it isn’t always easier to write after what might be considered a particularly ‘interesting’ day. In fact, the most seemingly dull of days have often resulted in the most inspiration. Thurs proving my initial suspicion that it is not always a case of having an exciting experience, but rather of how you relate and respond to your environment. It is our state of mind which determines how we feel, our external circumstances are, to a certain degree, irrelevant.

On my way home from work this evening, my mind was spinning with all the things I need to do and the timeframe in which I need to do them. Whenever I start thinking this way, I begin to feel out of control, incapable and overwhelmed. The image of the head above water but legs frantically kicking under the surface comes to mind.

My thoughts were interrupted by a group of school children piling onto the train, they must have been about five or six years old, on their way home from a day trip. It is very rare that I am around young children, and I found listening to their conversations not only very amusing but also thoroughly enlightening. You could be excused for thinking that they were on a high speed roller-coaster rather than a commuter train by their vocal reaction to us starting and stopping. While pleading Toby to please hold hands with Sophie, their teacher simultaneously sighed that she would need a large glass of wine this evening. To which Sophie unhesitatingly replied, “Nooo Miss. Remember when you were drunk and you had a bad headache so we couldn’t do our times-tables?” To which, the majority of the carriage, who until now had been pretending not to notice this inconvenient disruption, erupted into laughter.

This and other completely earnest observations including, “You love being a teacher because you love bossing people around”, succeeded in skewing the way I had seen the day so far. A child’s perspective, honest and entirely without agenda, made for a refreshing view of my Monday evening commute. Something happens as we mature, which removes our capacity for excitement, fun and unaffected honesty. It can’t do any harm to remind ourselves of the wonder and simplicity which comes so naturally to children.

Handstands & hangovers

I’m unsure how to summarise this weekend. I’ve been in Leeds celebrating my impending thirtieth with two of my closest friends. Knowing me as well as they do, after over twenty years of friendship, they planned a brilliant weekend full of surprise activities. Ranging from the constructive to the slightly more…deconstructive. As a result my powers of creativity are slightly subdued.

In the process of convincing ourselves that we have fully matured into well-rounded, balanced human beings, they had booked us into a handstand yoga workshop in the morning. As often happens when we get together, it felt a bit like regressing back to a gym class at school, giggling in the back row. After an hour and a half of trying (and failing) to do a handstand, we balanced out the rest of the weekend eating, drinking, debating and reminiscing. 

As I get older, the number of people who I actively keep in touch with, especially from our school days has decreased dramatically. But as I type this, on a very slow, overheated & overcrowded train back to London – fully equipped with yoga aches, pains and a horrific hangover – I realise the value in fewer friendships if they are all like these.

In the workshop, the teacher’s advice was that the only way to get into a handstand is to focus fully on all the small things, any slight distraction would disrupt your progress. And, true to form, every time I told myself I couldn’t do it, I fell immediately. Our thoughts play a powerful role in creating our reality.

A side-effect of writing this blog, and deciding what to share, has been how grateful I’ve felt this weekend. There’s something incomparable to being with old friends who have been through good and bad times together. Whether trying to stand on our heads or just catching up on each other’s lives, it has been a lot of fun, and I’m certain there’s a lot more still to come.