Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. Steve Jobs
I was on an evening cycle last week and came upon a chestnut. Yep, end of July, a chestnut. My first reaction caught me by surprise. Oh shit! Back to School? Followed by sharp intake of breath. Then second thought ‘Chestnut?Already? It’s only July!’ The initial thought made me stop in my blissful happy cycle tracks. WOW! The power of such a small, seemingly simple and inconsequential little thing triggered an avalanche of thought and feeling or should I say feeling then thought as the feeling came first (that argument still goes on in psychological circles).
So I stopped, picked it up and processed my reaction (as you do in this business). First I appeased myself. ‘Hey there is no school! It’s OK, you left school remember? You have another job NOT in a school.’ Then I asked myself what was SO bad about school that made me react this way? It was that feeling that took me by surprise, that DREAD. In my not so distant past it commonly descended on a Sunday afternoon in smaller doses during term time but reaching a crescendo just around the end of August. In fact August itself used to be like one long Sunday evening. Oh Lord! The relief! I had forgotten. But was it really that bad? What did I dread so much?
I wanted to pin it down, the Sunday night dreads. Was it the system? the regime? the rules, regulations, loss of freedom? the bell? the uniformity of expectations? the slow changing culture of this institution? the set formulae that as a teacher you had to succumb to (and I can only speak for certain countries)? Was it the top down archaic management system (as opposed to modern round table). The fact that this top down management was not always fair, worked on favouritism, nepotism and other seemingly acceptable corrupt methods of control (you were elected if you were in the GAA for example or were an offspring of a local successful businessman or just a local full stop)?Was it the selectivity?
One thing I knew, it wasn’t the kids, they were by and large one of the best parts. The actual act of teaching was also not a thing to dread but something that still excites me to this day. Yep, I had no doubt I was meant to be a teacher from the beginning and it is from this experience I have bagged most of my skill set to date. But why didn’t it work out then at school? Why not the 40 year career, with own staff room chair, own mug in cupboard, safe job and comfy pension to meet on the way out?
School, I always thought, was a reflection of what goes on at large in society. It’s all there played out in the staff-room and in the yard. There will always be the good , the bad and the downright ugly, and yes there is all that no matter where you go, but it’s amplified in the school. So much good goes on under it’s roof too though and I admire and congratulate those teachers who stay (and students) and fight the good fight. But change is happening too slow and I just don’t have the patience or tolerance for it anymore.
Along with the Sunday eve dreads and the August dreads there were the annual February-yard-duty-panics. Yes, for some reason near the end I used to get panic stricken out on yard duty around February time, freaking out wondering ‘is this it?’. This took a few years to happen before it eventually nudged me to get out. The signs were all there, and repeating themselves. I was no longer being fulfilled by this career. It no longer served me. I had stopped growing. Time to go.
So despite everything that kept me there for so long; the early finish, the long holidays, the ‘light’ timetable days, the utter sociable nature of the job (also a favourite aspect) , the having an impact on young lives. Weighing it all up though I was still out of love. And yes I found enough reason to stick with it for almost 25 years (like staying ‘for the kids’ in a failing marriage). But time was running out and I had to listen to myself and how I wanted to express myself in the remaining 15 years or so of my career life, on my OWN terms. And so I have left the school gates for the last time, waved it goodbye and headed out into the veritable unknown knowing deep down that whatever I lose from walking away I will gain tenfold in what I embrace of my own free will.
And so here I am working for less, but happier in a more round table management system where I am given a lot more freedom and that freed up energy has allowed me to explore more, to be more creative (which was my deep soul yearning signaled by the ‘dreads’ ) and in turn pursue my own business, the next bold step. In other words , to grow.
No more bosses! No more bells! Perhaps no more long holidays, but no more dreads.
Steve Jobs once said that most people live according to what others have dictated to them and they live inside that box. He urged us not to just live our lives but to build them, to our own measure not by someone else’s.
Wise words indeed.
Zephyr in the sky, at night I wonder
Do my tears of morning sink beneath the sun
She’s got herself a universe gone quickly
For the call of thunder threatens everyone
As I was driving down the M1 I felt a surge of confidence as to where I was heading, a tad apprehensive but excited. So as opposed to wasting my energy on the apprehension bit I focused on my confidence on this mini trip and set my intention for the day as to what I was hoping to gain from it.
I’ve been aware of the importance of following niggles, nudges and hunches for some time. I spotted the event first on Rebecca Campbell’s website while browsing (possibly from a link from ‘Light is the New Black’ , her first book which I had returned to for a second read). ‘Rise Sister Rise’ at Dromantine Monastery in Newry April 8th. Firstly I couldn’t believe she was coming to Ireland let alone Newry, 40 mins from my house! Secondly, I had to get her latest book of same title. Still, I rationalized, is it a bit hippie chick? WuWu? Too expensive? I knew I’d be going alone. Would that be wise or a tad mad? I find it hard to explain my interest in this stuff and don’t appreciate being laughed at about it. And so the doubts crept in and kept me from booking for a few weeks. But the nudge became a shove, or let’s call it a call. So I booked before it was SOLD OUT!
So I put out my intentions for the day 1) to be more courageous and trust my intuition and feelings 2) to feel excited and inspired as I had been feeling quite apathetic of late and struggled to get going about anything. I wanted more fire in my belly. 3) to meet and connect with the right women. As I finished my intention ‘Ray of Light’ by Madonna came on the radio. Up goes the volume and I miss the first turn for Dromantine, but eventually get myself back on track!
It’s now a few days after the event and as I reflect on those intentions I realize I got them, all of them, 10 fold! How exciting is that?
Rewinding back again to getting ready for the event, prior to intention setting, the night before. I wanted to wear something bright and either red or pink or even better, both (great combo). This may seem trivial but it’s important to me for reasons I can’t explain other than I want to represent myself accurately and feel like myself. I also wanted to wear heels, not 6 inchers but a small heel (not court shoes either), to feel feminine and because it’s what I would do for any event (unless a country house visit or farmers’ market of course). I didn’t want to appear too ‘hippy’. I mean you don’t have to be a ‘type’ to go to these kind of events right? This I know is born out of a fear of ridicule and being stereotyped. I believe the corporate lady running a massive company to the archaeologist to the girl who works at spar or indeed any industry or job or lifestyle can equally be ‘called’ to an event like this. Just as a back up though I brought my same coloured flats, though they flip off me annoyingly.
As I pulled up to the beautiful monastery surrounded by trees and serene lake I saw the droves of flat shoed women and not wanting to stand out I transferred from the highs to the lows and flip-flopped my way into the day. Later, at first toilet break, a lady comments on the fact they are flipping and tells me about her friend whose skirt got saturated in blood from her heels that morning.. Co-incidentally I ended up flipping uncomfortably up the corridor with said girl, her in her bare feet as she showed me her blue plastered heels explaining her disbelief at the fact that her one-time-made-to-fit wedding shoes had her heels destroyed by the time she started her journey that morning! Uncomfortable ill-fitting shoes? Hmm. Was there a theme rising? Cinderella complex? Trying to fit into roles/situations/relationships that just don’t fit anymore? But then I have this ‘crazy’ tendency to look deeply into everything.
I sat beside the girl who pulled up beside me in the car, she appeared comfortingly ‘normal’ to me. We both travelled alone, as did many. On the other side sat an older quite formidable looking woman who I wasn’t to speak to until later and how interesting that was to turn out.
Ray of Light
Rebecca appeared taller than I had imagined. She walked tall with such conviction and with an undoubtable bright, eye-catching aura and a twinkle in her eye. Her whole style of delivery was perfect; simple, graceful, loaded but light-hearted, authentic and fun. She doesn’t preach she just tells it as it is. She wore a gorgeous colorful cloak (apt) and wove her magic, just like in her writing, the effects of which I am still feeling and hope to for a long time to come.
We paired up four times with ladies we were ‘drawn to’ to do ‘enquiry’ work. Taking it in turns we asked each other these following questions; What is your soul calling you for? If you weren’t afraid what would you do? How are you dimming your light? What are you carrying that is not yours? What do you do to fill up your well/ how do you mother/nurture yourself? Then we finished by sharing compliments and thanking each other in the ancient style still used by the Hawaiians, bowing to each other hands and third eyes meeting! I cannot underestimate the power of that compliment giving exercise as we have difficultly in our culture in giving and in receiving them. The whole purpose of this enquiry work was to bring to our attention what we need to do for ourselves and what we need to let go of.
And I feel like I just got home
And I feel
And I feel like I just got home
And I feel
As I reflected on the day on the way home I realized to my amazement that I spoke with four ladies, each representing a different voice. In fact age and situation wise each could have represented the maiden, the mother, the crone and all four were the wise woman. The maiden told me to ‘go for it’ in a voice that sounded like my younger more adventurous devil-may-care self. The mother focused on my smile and thought my heart was so open. Another mother told me I was very in touch with myself, both of them tired and busy for everyone but themselves but they still managed to shine, and see the good in others. Their breaths were deep. The crone was the older ‘formidable’ lady and her message to me was the most astounding. She said when she first saw me she felt that I was a lady full of strength and courage. Courage? Really? That’s what I am looking for! What? I have it all the time? And suddenly I was the king of the foresssttt and had a Wizard of Oz moment!
Faster than the speeding light she’s flying
Trying to remember where it all began
She’s got herself a little piece of heaven
Waiting for the time when earth shall be as one
On reflection I felt a tad uneasy about the making eye contact with the ladies in the room, all strangers to me and I stayed close to my chair at all times. Even though I am a fan of interpretative dance and all kinds of dance I was quite the ‘stiffy’, not really wanting to let go. Fear I guess, on both counts.
The music and dance were fun and brought out our wild feminine energy. Perfect soundtrack for it too, shaking it off to; Sia, ‘Chandelier’ and Florence and the Machine’, ‘Dog days’ to Diana Ross’s ‘I’m Coming Out’. That dance was the best and so much fun. Like here we are a bunch of modern day women ‘coming out’ as ourselves. Ludicrous but true!
Dancing, Chanting, Initiation, Meditation.
It was all hugely energising. Lots of deep breaths throughout kept us focused and in touch with ourselves. The womb initiation rite was intriguing and powerful but I worried a tad that the priest would arrive back and have a heart attack! I had flashbacks of Mass but instead of reciting the usual stuff I was saying ‘The womb is not a place to store fear or pain. This is a place to create and give birth’, repeating after Rebecca, our priestess. How radical, energising and real that felt. After years of resenting my womb I am loving all this womb love and womb worshipping, I had a lot of making up to do. I only started appreciating it in my 40’s! I am not sure if it was this initiation or the whole day but my womb felt like it was on fire for a few days after (or perhaps that fire in the belly I was looking for).
The heaven-heart-earth ‘pillar of light’ exercise was equally powerful and created a massive energy in me and from the tribe. Hands to heaven, to our hearts and to the earth (quite a workout when you do it at speed over and over).I felt we were drumming up an ancient and powerful energy. It felt like a spell, a good one, and that spell is still over me two weeks on.
The following day I jumped out of bed and decided to go swimming. I hadn’t swam in over a year but knew this was my exercise NOT running which I always feel I SHOULD be doing (wrong shoes?). I tore up and down that swim lane 22 times with a fierce energy I scarcely recognised but in my element. I was over- flowing with it.
A powerful, graceful, spiritual day filled with the wild ancient feminine energy is what I experienced that day in a monastery in Newry. A celebration of all things feminine and all things rising that are due, after 5000 years of patriarchy and dominance of the masculine energy. It’s high time. It’s not about men versus women either for each of us embody both energies. I myself know I am driven mainly by my masculine side and it takes effort and mindfulness to get in touch with my suppressed feminine. It’s the ‘let’s do this’ energy versus the ‘let’s allow this to unfold’ energy. The push versus the pull, The yang and yin, the trust in the cycle of life.
So in a nutshell say YES to the nudges and niggles and don’t doubt them for that is your intuition whispering to you. Intentions WORK! Use them daily! Other women are not scarey, they are other parts of YOU, even the ones that get on your nerves (especially them!). I met with my maiden, my mother and my crone and never felt so at home. I found my tribe. Deep down I knew I would. Society makes you fearful. Embrace your crazy, as Rebecca urges, as you will find your tribe easier that way!
And I feel quicker than a ray of light
Then gone for
Someone else shall be there
Through the endless years
Rebecca Campbell is my Alanis Morrisette of this decade. Her voice, although she may chant, talk and write more than she sings, resonates with me so wholly, as did Alanis’. These girls are my tribe, they are my spiritual sisters, they rock. For me, right now, my spiritual intelligence is more important than my iq or eq! Anyway there is a new q on the block, ‘HQ’, Holistic Intelligence. That’s what I am working on. We are made up of many parts and each needs nurturing to grow. To become ‘whole’ or ‘wholly’ (holy) is the aim. My own personal spiritual journey has been so important to me throughout my life and I was aware of it from an early pre-teen age. It is a huge part of who I am, so why would I want to hide it or deny it? Sometimes it can be a lonely journey though so discovering Rebecca Campbell and events like this only nurture that part of me and bring it more to the fore where I am reminded to make it part of my every day. By doing this the quality of my life improves no end.
Rebecca talks and writes about so many interesting concepts that resonate with me. One, is her insistence in following what lights you up, for in being lit up we inspire others to do same. Not to actually do the same as you but to follow what lights them up too. And so like a chain reaction we light each other up and hence raise the vibration of the world. ‘Hippy’ talk? So be it! But if doing what we love makes the world a better place, what’s not to love about that?
‘I’m coming out!! I want the world to know…let my feelings show!! Diana Ross
So why should we ladies of every vintage and background feel huge relief dancing to a collective ‘I’m coming out’? Perhaps it’s different for each but for me it’s a vindication and acknowledgement for what I may think sometimes are my ‘crazy’ feelings, intuitions and beliefs and of course in following what lights me up. It’s about feeling and trusting our own power and integrating it successfully into our lives. I sat at the end, after our meditation, feeling relieved, comforted, empowered and inspired, more than I had come seeking for that day. ‘What you are looking for is looking for you,’ my young wise maiden beside me told me. And as my crone informed me, I have the courage. All along on my own Yellow Brick Road I have the courage to speak, to write, to be heard, to shine, to trust my own intuition (even when it appears to go against the grain), to go boldly where I have prevented myself from going before, where women were prevented from going before, whatever that might be.
Great things are not accomplished by those who yield to trends and fads and popular opinion Jack Kerouac
Yoga became a popular trend in the 80’s in the West as a form of physical exercise. However, the bigger picture tells us yoga is anything but a trend. It is much more than that. It has been and is a way of life for many long before the 80’s, for 5000 years in fact. From it’s origin in India it had a much more meditative and spiritual core than the physical aspect that was adopted in the West. It was cool and instantly appealed to me more so than any of that step exercise ‘fad’ mainly because of the spiritual element. The ‘no pain no gain’ brigade never rang true with me. It makes me recoil and I always believed it to be inherently wrong somehow. Always trust your gut I say.
I came late to yoga, relatively speaking. I was in my late twenties which means I have been ‘practicing’ yoga for over 15 years now. You would expect a mega flexible yogi bod then but alas no I cannot put my legs around my head, not for long anyhow! I was born with a sheer inability to focus on one thing at a time, which makes me a slow learner.
I’ve been a bad yoga student up until now, taking way too much for granted and letting too much go over my head (and not my legs) without even trying to understand, basically uncommitted and generally pre-occupied. For example, my current yoga studio is called ‘Santosha’. I knew it was sanskrit for something to do with yoga…peace or relaxation or oneness or the like. But it took 3 years before I actually looked it up. The word means ‘contentment’ and not just contentment but the actual practice of seeking contentment which is a whole other deeper level of experiencing contentment. Like the journey is the destination kind of vibe. Which is essentially what yoga is all about. What about that! Also I faced for many years in class a symbol of Sanskrit writing on the wall which I fantasied as a tattoo. I assumed it meant ‘Santosha’ but in fact it was ‘OM’. Doh! If ever I was to get a tattoo this is top of my list though (OM in sanskrit not doh!). But again shame on my ignorance and how slow doth my penny dropeth before I actually get it? But the slowest learning for me was how I had underestimated my yoga classes.
How did I manage to do that? Well I recently left yoga for the gym. Yes, the gym. It was coming into winter and more difficult to get out and about on foot or on bike (my two cardio staples). The gym, a place you are made to feel you should go, are totally lazy if you don’t, and somehow admire those who do ‘often’. ‘5 times a week?’ ‘Wow! Go you!’ I always felt slightly lacking because I avoided the gym and rarely felt pain that bad after one of my own ‘work outs’. To add to my guilt I did it in un-committal bouts throughout the years, caught in a bind of an obligatory pull followed soon after by a reactive sense of failure in that I couldn’t keep it up. Yoga was always warm and welcoming no matter how many times I had strayed. It always felt right. If I missed classes I didn’t feel guilty I just didn’t feel right in myself. I questioned myself though, was I taking the path of least resistance (as we as humans are hardwired to do)? ‘Yoga is soft, yoga is lightweight, you don’t burn fat and as for challenging? As if! Sure you don’t suffer at all plus you don’t get abs. Great place to chill though yea?’ my gym bunny friends would repeat in conversation through their condescending laughs. Forgive them Buddha for they do not know what they laugh at. But it did hit a nerve.
I’ll only do one subscription at a time so feeling that obligatory pull, I decided the gym is what I needed and abandoned my regular yoga classes. The affect was quite the awakening I needed. It was like leaving a comfortable relationship for a more heady one. I may enter this hyped- up-machine-dominated, grey space all geed up and pumped but I’d more often come away tired, sweating, frustrated and angry and have on occasion (this last) burned myself out, after just one month. It did get my heart racing though and I shaped my ass nicely with multitude squatting with weights.
It’s taken until now for it to really dawn on me that I rarely come out of the gym happy. Well not so much that I realize it doesn’t rock my world but that I don’t need to do things that don’t make me happy in order to get certain results, espoused by the populace. Tired? Yes, but I’ve worked hard. Sweating? Yes but not a bad thing either. Frustrated and angry? Affirmative. Something was not quite right with this dalliance. The music is on a loop , usually some horrific over -produced unnameable techno. Why so loud? Why so tasteless? Is that the cheapest subscription to music this gym can afford? Then there are the gym instructors shouting through their attached microphones ‘YOU-CAN-DO-THIS’ ‘WHAT DID YOU COME HERE FOR?’ ‘LET’S MAKE IT WORTH YOUR WHILE’ ‘PUSSSHHH ITTTT’. And that’s me listening to a spinning or bodypump class from my car, parked all the way up the street. I don’t remember signing up for the military? (exasperated face). My final crib is that it’s not a particularly warm or friendly place either. People keep to themselves mostly (in my gym), dourly and intently looking straight ahead or at themselves in the mirror, ploughing through their plan for the day. So yeah add all that up and you get an industrialized unwelcoming cold pump house that plays woeful music and doesn’t appear to care less about you, just plays to your inner perfectionist. It was the music that was the last straw! That’s my experience. Horses for Courses.
Frankly, I never feel I’ve done enough in the gym no matter how much time or effort I put in. And that my dear friends is where I figured it out that it’s not right for me. Like a relationship where you never feel good enough and you have run out of ways to impress or try to make it fit, it was time to walk, despite the allure of the bodyfit pictures on the walls. With that I took my run-down, over-exerted body and cold-sored lip and returned gratefully back to my yoga. Since then, my love, appreciation and gratitude for yoga just exploded. I knew right then that we were made for each other. Yoga loves me from the inside out. And I was going to make greater efforts with my practice. It may have taken 15 years for me to acknowledge this or at least bring it into my consciousness but better late than never.
On reflection I have never had a bad yoga experience. My worst experience had nothing to do with the practice of it, it was the push and shove attitude of an over eager bunch of attendees vying for their spot on the floor in a London, alpha-driven, gym franchise (gyms and yoga studios do not mix). Not a very ‘yoga ‘attitude one would say. Be a type A all you want but don’t shove your A-ness on me girl (pun not intended)! I’m a yinger not a yanger! I always come out of yoga class on a high and in love with myself and life! Ultimately, I would love to end all my days in this blissful state (Samadhi).
I remember finding it a tad boring at first, my first hatha yoga class, and swiftly moved onto ashtanga, kundalini and bikram seeking more thrills from their fast pace. It was probably a symptom of our aerobic wired generation and the belief faster equals better. But I quickly found that hatha had more to offer someone like me, someone who needed to calm down and get grounded. I learned slowly from there. Getting to class, having the right mat, bag and clothes, class etiquette and finding a good teacher were all a bit of a preoccupation at first, much like starting school. I found teachers ranged as much as the poses. The ‘pretend you are a tree’ type, the ‘let’s get as many salutation rounds in as possible’ type and the more meditative one who focused on breathing, getting grounded and in touch with our bodies through more slow focused movements. I’ve been to so many, from the yogi guru who spends all their spare time in various foreign locations, mainly India, forever deepening their knowledge about yoga (and their tan) from renowned gurus to the house wife up the road who provides the once a week class for retirees and stay at home moms (while the children are at school and while I was off work with the retirees!).
I’ve gained something from all of them but am happy to say I found my yogi master and he is luckily my current teacher . As I no longer get pre-occupied about the externals of yoga practice I can just get down to it. What he has is a mix of all the great qualities of all my past teachers. He is seriously knowledgeable about yoga, the names of the poses effortlessly roll off his tongue; from tadasana (mountain pose) to adho mukhasvanasana (downward dog) virabhadrasana 1 (warrior pose 1) to vrksasana (tree pose) to vasisthasana (sideplank pose) through to gomukhasana (cow face pose) and to countless more while remaining uncannily down to earth and Buddha like cheery. My personal favourites? Baby pose and corpse pose, the rest poses, naturally!
It’s not how far you go it’s how you go Paddy Hamill, Santosha.
He says such beautiful meditative things at the beginning of class to get us in the frame of mind (lie down into savasana …swoon!) and at the end while we are winding down, encourages us to focus on the minutiae, from each physical part of our bodies, to the great expanse of the universe, acknowledging our connection to all. He roots me to the earth and stretches me up to the stars. One particular enlightening thing I learned from him recently was something he says almost every class but which finally resonated with me over time, another slow penny drop . ‘It’s not how far you go it’s how you go.’ This thinking was a huge moment of divine clarity for me. He says it every class at some point and it eventually found its way deep into my subconscious. It’s how I go. It’s how I approach my pose , how I approach every single thing in my life from the moment I wake up until the moment I lay down to sleep that matters, that can change the quality of my life. If I keep being obsessed with how much, how far, quantity not quality then I will be forever chasing my tail and never learn to just be and be in the best way I can, transforming every minute resulting in less agitation and frustration at not accomplishing all that I set out to. It was a Eureka moment for me! I try to bring this into my daily attitude. He lives it and makes me want to live it. He inspires me to want to know yoga deeper so that I can get more from it, not just a once a week thrill or clap on the back for attending but so that I can incorporate into my life. No two classes of his have ever been the same and I’ve been to dozens. He is in the moment and in the flow of where each class takes us. That’s yoga. He perfectly blends the yin and yang, allowing us to challenge ourselves, facilitating in our own growth and personal strength. He also teaches me how to take my life into my pose and my pose into my life. Genius. My yogi hero.
Yoga is a dance between control and surrender – between pushing and letting go – and when to push and when to let go becomes part of the creative process, part of the open-ended exploration of your being. Joel Kramer
So you can bodypump, spin, burpee, TRX, CX , T-Rex and HIIT all you like my dear friends, yoga is the one for me. It’s old school, new school, always relevant and in vogue school. It will always be NOW. Mindfulness, meditation…eh that all stems from yoga. Somehow I can’t see there being burpees in 5000 years, can you? They will be a forgotten fad by the time the word even hits the dictionary. But pardon me that remark was rather non yoga. I am only in competition with myself. OM.
So what are we doing when we bend, stretch, twist and breathe? Well the ancient yogis had big ideas about union. They believed that yoga could unite individuals with the universe, bring about the understanding that all beings are one, and enable us to experience total bliss. Modern yoga may not have such lofty goals, it simply wants us to live more comfortably in our bodies and to feel better and more alive. You focus on your breath. You arrange your body like a cobra or a tree. You balance the best you can. It can strengthen your muscles, increase flexibility and circulation, boost your immunity and calm your nervous system. And it can also strengthen your spirit. You learn to quiet your mind and stay present . These benefits follow you off the mat and weave themselves into your daily life.
I tumble into class and throw out my mat with no guilt, no pressure, no ‘shoulds’. I just allow my body do what it can that day as I immerse myself in the loving, compassionate, yin infused studio surrounded by Sanskrit, Buddha statues, candles, sweet chanting music and sometimes incense. It’s non aggressive. They are no loud booming voices. There is no pain but we take ourselves to our ‘edge’. There is an aura of self -care, of natural attention to ones body and of holistic well being. The yoga mat is a safe place to take a break from your perfectionist self. What’s not to love?
There is always more to be learned about this mind-body practice. It’s called a yoga ‘practice’ because it’s never quite finished. The wise yogi knows that the process itself is the destination. That life itself is the ultimate reward. Another most beautiful belief that yoga has is that every person is compassionate, loving, and peaceful. Yoga helps us uncover the basic goodness in ourselves and in others, which can so easily become buried beneath anger, resentment, self-criticism and doubt. If only yoga were compulsory for all politicians and leaders of the world. Then what a wonderful world this would be.
It was a decade ago when I wrote a vignette about the life and times of 35 year old Katy in response to a ‘stereotype’ David Mc Williams created in his book ‘The Popes’ Children’. I happened to be 35 at the time of writing too and wore a pencil skirt, fake nails and lived in a duplex as per ‘stereotype.’ Go figure. I was lead back to it again recently when one of my clients jokingly nicknamed me Bridget Jones at work, for no other apparent reason than she thinks I resemble her. She may need glasses. However it did remind me of the intro to said piece when I compared myself to her, or more specifically that I possessed her same ‘inner narrator’.
Looking back, there are quite a few aspects that have changed. But firstly my attitude. I don’t know why I didn’t choose Carrie out of Sex and the City over Bridget Jones? I mean I watched it more, she was the one I most identified with (like every girl had their spirit spice girl, every woman had their spirit sex and the city girl, right? ). Being a magazine columnist was a fantasy I harboured and I related most to her end of episode inner findings! Perhaps though I did outwardly lack in the chutzpah and glam approach to life. Cosmo’s, pink tutus and heels by day were not really my thing, more tight jeans and converse by day or pencil skirt (obviously while working) and lbd and heels by night, a lot more conservative. Bridget, equally a writer, had a more humorous approach albeit clumsy but I certainly didn’t share her idiocy, well her taste in jumpers anyway. In retrospect I think it had either something to do with that old Irish tendency of self deprecation or something to do with that song ‘All by myself…'(My 30 something swan song) Perhaps it was a combo of both. My now attitude? Be the best you can be and then OWN it, American style!
Back then…written 2007…
Girl in a Pencil Skirt
What Katy did. 2007
She would not like to admit it but she would be akin to Bridget Jones, in ways. Her inner life functions similarly, a place she regularly checks in with. In BJ terms it’s the inner ongoing narrator, the voiceover to her life. It surveys the terrain, sizes up, accepts, discards, moans, celebrates, connives…it never stops…. carving out the way forward.
So what are the concerns of this ‘girl’?
Well she’s aware that she’s from generation X, long before she lay back on her Ikea leather sofa in her duplex apartment and indulged in a good Mc Williams read (The Pope’s Children etc)! She is single, not necessarily because she is flawed to the extent that she is prevented from engaging in a fully functional relationship but because it is a combination of it being her choice and because she is so choosy that she has left little choice. Due to a history of boyfriends that just weren’t bringing enough to the table to allow them a permanent ‘feet under’ fixture she chose instead to go it alone and achieve financial and house security and independence in the broadest sense. This did not feel in any way abnormal.
‘And what I wouldn’t give to meet a kindred…’
She was carried along and away by the girl-power movement, although had read Simon de Beauvoir long before that and admired the likes of Germaine Greer and Janet Street-Porter albeit she thought them a bit extreme. She championed the arrival of the Alanis Morrissette debut-album-wonder-revolution, singing it loudly in her car as though honing those survival muscles she would have to pull on in the future. As she learned, after the songstress, it would take grit to have grace. But for all that she never considered herself a feminist. Then again the above four spice girls probably started out as romantics too. Joining in on cat calls of ‘sisters are doing it for themselves’ and ‘don’t settle for second best’ one wonders did many of these women leave themselves high and dry?
Nevertheless the drive for self-sufficiency and independence outdid the one for partnership and babies. Basically she tired of that zone that girls entered into in their 20’s – mid 30’s where husbands were bagged and fourth fingers ringed. She wasn’t a real player. She eyed the institution of marriage with suspicion and there were no signs of broodiness of any description along the way, quite the contrary. No carrot essentially.No carrot no caret! Most of her earliest and most memorable relationships, her great loves in fact, were with foreign counterparts on her travels, back at a time when love letters were written. She did once endorse and go along with the search for ‘the one’ for quite some time but that concept became shelved due to it evolving into a Holy Grail saga that eluded her year after year. It is more of a grandiose notion now. It was not that she was about to coat her heart in a hard shell of bitterness and cynicism (that was the one pact she made with herself in the midst of her Camelot moments), besides too young for that. On the contrary, love matching was quite the ultimate challenge and a find more precious in her thirties. Gold dust in fact. Still trying to figure out exactly what she wanted from a relationship one thing for sure was it wasn’t an exact science and part of the discovery process involved experiencing what she didn’t want. So the goal posts were constantly changing.
Now in her post 35 years with hormones somewhat abated, men had unintentionally become close to obsolete in her life. She has mixed feelings about her present status. On the one hand she views single hood and being a ‘bachelorette’ (not yet in the dictionary?) emotionally eco-friendly and hassle-free but on the other she is slightly anxious that the flip-side of being a smug single (not always an easy role to maintain – single supplement city) means walking herself right into becoming a premature settled single (confirmed bachelorette status formally coined as ‘spinster’. ).
Either way on Monday morning she slips into her perfect size 10 pencil skirt like a queen into her customized corset, and crisp white shirt from Massimo Dutti, feeling purposeful and classy. That skirt makes her feel professional, on top of her game and in control.
Choices are ever abundant. Everyday presents itself with a new plateau of decisions, destiny the result of these decisions made. Self-advancement is the main raison-d’etre, (although some may call it self-pre-occupation). What to eat? What to drink? Where, when and with whom? What to wear? Where, when and with whom? What brand? What look? What colour? What T.V. series to follow religiously? What brand of make-up? What type of fake tan that looks the least fake? What car? What form of exercise? Where and how often? What career moves to make, academic level to reach? Wallpaper one feature wall or paint? What food? Organic or cheap? Where to holiday? Bulgaria? Adriatic coast or is Ibiza in? Should she choose a dog?… but is there a type low maintenance enough that would be duplex friendly? And besides it gives off an air of ‘eccentric girl lives alone with her pet’. If the garden doesn’t come with the duplex…the duplex will grow a garden. How many plants could she get into and surround her pad without it looking like the botanic gardens? At times she contemplates the man like she would a coffee table…but a two day visit from a sleek fit tiler leaves behind a sufficient whiff of testosterone strong enough to exert a bit of male endeavour on the place.
It all matters. It’s all part of her identity and gives her ample material to talk about. As religion is pretty much redundant in her life all these choices give her life meaning and shape in a cut and paste customized manner. When she wants a religious experience she hits the shopping centre, when she wants the pilgrimage – Dundrum. Having moved out of the club-scene where God presented himself as the D.J. she moved onto the consumer floor where he becomes a 50% off Karen Millen dress price tag. Oh. My. God!
On generation X
She values her vinyl collection, still stacked at her parents’ house, especially her 12” Blue Monday, what a gem! She takes great pride in being an 80’s child of the pre-computer age. Nostalgia is a recent thing. Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive – endless days and long hot summers, in the fields, rolling in the hay. She vividly remembers the arrival of the atari video game to the house and a dark day that was. That blister in the palm of her hand created by the outsized and cutting edge joy stick, interrupting the mind numbing game of space invaders. Space invader indeed. She still believes to an extent that that game was the spawn of the devil and that burn a testament to that. Blood-suckers were the lesser of the two evils.
In her teens she was fiercely passionate covering every inch of bedroom wall space with the band or movement du jour…from the new romantics (crying nightly over Andy Taylor of Duran Duran) to gothic…the Smiths, the Cure and Bunnymen (with accompanying attire). Records were bought religiously and early morning queuing for new album releases and concert tickets the outward sign of worship and devotion as was the chosen form of statement couture and attendance at the big stadium concerts.
We can be heroes, just for one day David Bowie
Next to replace the hero was Jack Keroauc and the beats. After realizing that Keroauc ended up dead in his forties, a wino, his hero status faded just like the jeans he promoted. However he is to be credited with being a pioneer…of the white t-shirt and jeans look, of hitchhiking, of writing without rules and saying it as it is and of romanticising a culture and lifestyle ‘on the road’. The position of hero flat lined after that as we were urged through various pop cultural media to become our own heroes and heroines. It has remained a situation vacant. One likes to have heroes and people to emulate but the road was open to becoming our very own role models. We could be heroes…just for one day!
She feels very much a product of her generation, daughter to the post-war babies who did it all by the book. By the time they finished questioning the institutions, the next generation were given full permission to reject them. They are re-writing that book, re-writing the rules, re-designing the future. They are also paying the price of having thrown away the security blanket the structures allowed but are willing to gamble with their freedom. There is no going back and it is too exciting and pioneering to have it any other way.
Fed on a diet of pop culture, which goes hand in hand with the generation X’ers identity, at times one wonders if you were to take the influence of pop culture out of the girl…would there be a girl at all?
Her best friend is her diasporic counterpart in NYC. A Sunnyside Queens immigrant, last of the group of the great Irish exodus in the early nineties. They met in ’94 when they were both 21 teaching English as a foreign language in Spain, having finished the degree and H-dip. 21, way to young to get a serious job at a time and in a country that produced graduates too young and travel or inter-railing was the prerogative. The world was our oyster. We were never really sure what we wanted, we just pursued whatever we were passionate about and kept changing the goal posts to suit ourselves. Travel was top of that list.
One goes Stateside and the other returns home. Now, after thirteen years in the states, five ‘hanging out’ in San Francisco and eight focused in NYC, her friend has reached the highest level in her job in 5th Ave. and in all yoga practices. Having moved onto marathon running, she eats sushi, drinks less than moderately an apple-martini or two at the weekend in her Irish local Maggie Maes and has developed, much to both their amusement, the curmudgeon NY temperament and a superiority complex about living in the ‘centre of the universe’. She misses their long conversations into the night to the tune of ‘having babies is so for the lower species’. Half in jest they provided the camaraderie and support in their mutual endeavour to cut a different groove and defy nature, becoming part of a new breed of women ‘too posh to conceive’ not to mind ‘push’. Having kids was not on their list of ‘things to do before you die’. And as she, a soulmate, in her parallel world has just reached the ‘shoes are not enough’ realization, the duplex, a year on, starts to lose its charm. The space starts to magnify in size, the rooms, unused and wanting, take on an empty-nest-vibe. The home décor project starts to become a chore and not the fantastic creative endeavour and delightful distraction it started out as. She thought it a find, got in when they were briefly giving out the 100% mortgage (which has risen 5 times in the last year) but now considers downsizing.
A house for one defies logic. And so, renting, the next stage, feels like a step backwards. The girl in a pencil skirt has to invent new ways of either using her space or her time as she moves over to let the stranger off the street into her home.
She observes carefully her friends who have opted for the 2.5 family lifestyle of choice but it holds no pull whatsoever. In fact it still represents to her ‘giving in’. In NY this Katy fits right in, in provincial Ireland, despite our growth spurt over the last 10 years, no-one quite knows where to put the decidedly-single-self-contained thirty something, who, with the amount of self-care administered, simply does not fit into the ‘on the shelf’ or ‘spinster’ category.
‘Looking out of dirty old windows…’
Now on the outskirts of Athlone, in suburbia, she sits out on her balcony listening to the sound of happily directed traffic on route to by-pass Moate on the new motorway. She wonders which direction she should take on her next outing…Galway or Dublin? She is well used to the sounds of the two Polish kids chase each other around the block for the umpth-teen time, sometimes joined by the well dressed but louder Nigerian kids, who tend not to mix.
She is one of the few Irish on her estate. It brings back memories of similarly sitting out on the deck in Sunnyside Queens on her yearlong career break stealing a quiet wistful moment between her 10hour-no-break-welcome-to-NY shifts where she was also figuring out the nationalities of the neighbours.
There is another thing in common with that memory. As momentous as it was being in what felt like the heart of it all, she had an unsettled feeling, a slight soul-ache, of not belonging. There she appeased herself with the fact that she had it better than her diasporic counterparts who were so long in the States that there was no returning to the homeland. They were rootless and she had the more attractive prospect of living the rest of her life comfortably close to her roots. It would mean being spared that soul-aching affliction she termed the ‘displacement complex’, the epidemic rampant among them.
But here in midland suburbia, five years on, that feeling of one up-man ship eludes her as she feels she doesn’t belong either, in fact she feels more disconnected. This disconnection is more accentuated as broadband hasn’t yet reached this part of Co. Roscommon. Apparently according to the 3G salesman, due to the rejection of the Lisbon treaty eircom are not getting the funding they need to allow them full national coverage and she’s located in an unconnected pocket. How did she arrive here? The urge to keep moving, to take a cheap ryan air flight on any random weekend is yet another preoccupation….and get the hell outta there!
‘And what it all comes down to is that I haven’t got it all figured out just yet’
What next for the girl in a pencil skirt then? Further up the career ladder? Acquire more letters after her ever-expanding name? Give in, go out and hook a husband with the 2.5 kid guarantee (although he might be on his second round at this stage) and invest in that endeavour (new gunas’, shoes makeovers and social engineering). Fulfill the dream of the big country home complete with trendy aga? Start an organic farm and enter a world of endless pleasurable gardening and batches of gingham-topped jars full of homemade jam?
What her inner narrator is not saying is ‘Eureka’ ‘J’ai arrive’ but instead is shouting ‘this is not IT’ ‘do not rest on your laurels here’ ‘it ain’t over yet’. It is not clear as to whether the girl outgrew the duplex or the duplex outgrew the girl. But one can’t help but wonder will she ever outgrow that pencil skirt?
What does Katy do next?
‘And what I wouldn’t give to meet a kindred…’ All I Really Want Alanis Morissette
‘looking out of dirty old windows’… Kids in America Kim Wilde
‘and what it all comes down to is that I haven’t got it all figured out just yet’ Hand in my Pocket Alanis Morrisette
What did Katy do next? 2016
So it’s been almost a decade. What has ‘Katy’ been up too? Did she study more? Hook the husband? Get the AGA? Start the farm? Make the jam even? And does she still have that size 10 pencil skirt let alone fit into it?
Last seen on a balcony in a duplex apartment on the Co. Roscommon side of Athlone listening to the sounds of foreign children playing, wishing herself on a cheap Ryan air flight. Here’s what Katie did next…
With flight still upper most on her mind, (and let’s face it in her dna too), a few summers on she has reached the point of not wanting to return to her apartment, of facing the ever mounting bills, a ruthlessly extortionate mortgage for one ( the fate of a very bad gamble and trust in criminal bankers )and unceasing salary cuts. A sinking fate, too much to sit with and accept. The voice of ‘settle down’ ‘root yourself’ ‘buy a house’ ‘invest’ just boils her blood now and she mentally batons it away Captain Caveman style. What use was any of that? No, not following dumb herds anymore. Gambling it all up again was not a difficult decision.
Fortune favors the brave. With that, a career break, apartment leased out, a new contract in the Middle East and not a cheap Ryan air flight but a proper seat on an Etihad one changed life for the better indeed.
The summer of 2013 was one of anticipation. Job, apartment and country all abandoned for the lure of a tax free salary. A new adventure to embark on and with it new avenues in an altogether diversely different culture.
Etihad, quite the upgrade from Ryan air and Aer Lingus was a welcome change from the trustee Irish duo. Freebies all the way and movies, quite the luxurious treat! It all starts with Etihad, the beginnings of the ‘velvet rut’. Being well used to the ‘rut’ feeling, she welcomed an upgraded one.
End of September and she was ready for that blast of heat and culture shock. A wave of heat met her off that plane as she touched down into the sandpit. It melted away all tensed up recession muscles making way for an all new feeling of wealth, warmth and comfort.
As Salam Alaykom. Welcome to the new world.
She totally uprooted herself and spent the best part of 2 years making money and exploring a new culture as well as meeting some life long friends. Emigrating didn’t actually dawn on her at that time and it took another 4 or so years but it definitely was the answer. Why? For one she found more of her own flock ‘out there’ (single self sufficients) There wasn’t much of that demographic in small town Ireland so she moved on and out among more of her kind. Secondly, the more obvious quest for a better life. There were very few voices around her that encouraged this move and she had her own self doubt about it too so fair play! It has been well documented that those who emigrate to up their game are the go-getters and a loss to their own country. A good theory.
She was in a predicament too regarding the man situation, not having enough hunger for the whole nine yards of marriage and babies and caught up in the stubborn determination to go it alone yet having the irrepressible need for a companion. Well, although she reluctantly signed up to online dating, she did, and after 3 years of eventful dating she met a very good match! And yes as she predicted he was on his second round, having had the marriage and kids. They make for a good companionship, have had their ups and downs but are now as the song goes ‘solid as a rock’, simply because they were ready for it. And he is that for her, a rock and a person who values her for who she is and allows her to be who she is. Her belief in finding what she was looking for resulted in a true find. And for him second time around proved to be a better fit. Magic can happen, even online! So yeah she busted a few beliefs and found her kindred (otherwise she could still be reading a book on that ikea sofa). She realized all she needed was that mutuality but still believed in staying with someone as long as it was good. So marriage, as it were, still, as an institution did not work for her. Her vows would be ‘we will stay together, support, love and enjoy one another… as long as the love and want is there. Another goal achieved though. Fair play!
Music, sadly, it’s almost an RIP situation. How important it was to her 3 and 2 decades ago. It has faded unfortunately this last decade and now she no longer pursues it like she used to (as in she can get through a day without having to listen to a certain set of songs to get inspired) She lets it find her, the same way she finds books, from the radio or other accidental random sources. But she has lost faith in the music industry. It just isn’t what it used to be. It’s become like the fast food industry; over processed and lacks any proper nutrition for the soul. She hasn’t even bothered downloading a tune. Her interest faded with CD’s. 2016, the year Bowie, Prince, Cohen among others died, all the greats basically fading out. She still belts it out in the car though to ‘oldies’ from her youth (all of the above and some)! Jazz suits her mood a lot more now, unless she is in the gym of course. Her interest in books though never faded, quite the contrary. The passion for music was somewhat replaced by a new passion and approach to food. Indeed it proves a more practical way to gain sustenance. A girl cannot live on a great song alone (as much as her earlier bohemian tendencies believed).
Her preoccupations have only slightly changed and the remaining get more focus but her attitude has tempered somewhat. She is still choosing wallpaper and mutual home décor has its own challenges (negotiating choice) but all domestic chores are made easier with two. The high mortgage is gone and lost its reign of terror. She didn’t get the big country house and is doubtful about it now as downsizing and maximising on less is really what she is about ( life and times of a recessionista). Big cold empty rooms are no longer attractive nor is wasted rent or high heating bills! Living abroad and through a recession finally taught her how to save and live minimally. No AGA either, another hoax fantasy, but she has made a few rounds of homemade jam and wine and it brings her great joy and comfort, as predicted! She is still in suburbia again albeit up north, closer to her spiritual home and away from the oppressing midlands (landscape wise). 20 minutes to an international airport, 20 to a city she loves and an hour and a half from home-place. Perfect for the need of now.
The plethora of choice still exists. What to eat, what to drink, where to travel to, what form of exercise to take, which brands etc. All this is much the same but who to do it with does not take up any airspace. It’s more fun now, less angsty and more home based. She is happy in her society of two and real friends and family are already in the bag. The social circle got downsized and in the main is virtual. The dog question has come up again too. To have or not to have, the continuing saga. Current Answer: No dog because of level of commitment and care. Scandalous really considering she is an animal lover and although can’t manage it herself espouses veganism. She does ask herself sometimes, perhaps after watching an easy-on-the-brain chick flick espousing the virtues of commitment, is she living her life somehow morally wrong with her non-committal-no-strings attitude? Does it make her less of a human? Perhaps it’s an inner slow shift from confirmed bachelorette status or a deep spinster wish. Why does it feel so right though?
She and her NY bestie have still remained besties through another decade of virtual corresponding, yearly meets including knocking out a bit of world travel together aka realizing dreams; Morocco, West Coast USA including a Grand-canyon road trip and Oman. They have the Camino on their to do list before 50! They have also both remained ‘childfree’ in so far as that choice was made long ago. No regrets. No room. No time. Life was full already and getting more comfortable, why change that? But the issue of biological clock ticking its last is topical. Hormones, bone density, muscle firming, end of an era are all of concern and new vocab to the mid 40 something. What is a pleasant change though is that people accept it and have stopped the hugely irritating and patronizing ‘ah your time will come’.It stopped in Ireland from about the age of about 37. With the Arabs it would not come. Middle Eastern women do not let age stop any baby dreams and continue to have healthy babies into their 50’s . Go figure. So they spoke to Katy in her mature 42 years with an expectation that one day she would be a mother. A refreshing change from the Western approach of ‘writing you off before you were finished (ovulating) but funny to me in that they didn’t think any women would ever consider NOT having babies (a reason I would not fit in well with their culture longterm either !) . They made her feel like a ripe little peach all the same!
But what about your pension?
Career wise she fluctuated between doing it for the money and opportunity to travel to doing it for the interest, belief and integrity. Basically she is not ‘all about it’ nor is she a career climber (more responsibility? are you wise?) but it is important and aside from paying the bills and allowing for travel experiences it’s the social outlet that is needed and it gives a sense of value, which is why the nature of the job is important to her. She likes to give back. One thing that marked the big change in career approach during this decade is that she listened to her inner screams, threw up the ‘permanent pensionable’ and felt confident to try out new and different avenues. She was never cut out for the country school for life. It would have been soul death by permanent job regardless of the disapproving fearful majority (‘But what about your pension?’). Ireland mid recession had to be left behind for good but she learned some hard lessons from it that would prove useful for the future. More grit for grace.
Choose to listen to inner voice
There are current pressures though. Not of the ‘will I won’t I meet someone?’ , ‘can I pay my mortgage this month? or ‘am I sure I don’t want a family?’ variety. Present day Katy lives under a new kind of pressure – zero living. I don’t mean having no life but pressure feeling she should subscribe more to a ‘ZERO living’ lifestyle. It’s on her conscience. Surely, now that she is aware of their dangers it’s time to quit the sugar, the alcohol, the processed foods, the chemical products, the dairy, the all kinds of living animals, the wheat, the gluten, the blue screentime…the list goes on. Especially as she has got older, hitting middle age when care of the body is vital. Lately it’s making her feel up against a wall, under pressure. It’s time to practice what she knows to be true, right? But this requires a high degree of discipline. She suffers from clean living envy and clean living anxiety but also restriction intolerance. The axiom ‘a little of what you fancy does you good’ and ‘everything in moderation’ suits her lifestyle better, but it feels guiltily like a cop out.
After all her various travels Facebook takes on a new level of significance and she spends more time on it keeping up with foreign friends. That’s her valid excuse. She does less twitter and has taken up Instagram. On the upside she loves the photo editing process, on the downside she gets involved in healthy eating groups and then feels threatened by them. It’s like they have become the food police and their Sunday posts of the weeks food prepped and carefully displayed in geometrically placed tubberware is not a movement she can identify with or easily fall into. No spontaneity allowed for these healthy eaters where the motto is ‘Fail to prep Prep to Fail’. She likes to decide at the very most two hours before dinner what she is having. And besides Sundays are for chilling and watching Midsummer murder double bills! She happily goes along with what God said about why he created the 7th day.To Chill!
It’s the era of the chia seed (where were they hiding out in the 80’s/90’s/noughties/3 years ago?), energy balls, protein shakes, the rise in protein enriched everything, superfoods, super smoothies, fermented food and where bread has become a bad word as opposed to the ultimate traditional home comfort food it once was. She feels for Weetabix, left on the shelf, who have slapped a big PROTEIN ENRICHED on its’ packet to encourage plummeting sales due to the ‘Weet'(bad) word. Porridge is back in fashion as oats regain their superior status are ride the wave of the keep fit movement. Fat has also made a comeback. Binge drinking has long gone replaced by a daily drudge of getting the expected 2-3 litres of water into your system. Outside of the 9-3 work schedule (she teaches) daily life is work in making sure you have taken in and expended the right amounts of energy, consumed enough liquids, nutrients, vitamins, taken your 5 a day and 46% recommended protein. She not only works towards fitness but works on each body part separately (legs day, arms day, abs day, cardio day, strength and conditioning day) and finally yoga or something to relax, stretch and find your Zen to day. Then God said you can have a rest day and Sundays became like a perfect haven. Chilling out – the new hedonism.
Life is still, if not more, a myriad of choice. Cracking it, Katy discovered, is in making those choices, keeping them few and sticking to them. That makes for an ‘easier’ life. Although there may be an element of drudge and soulless automation about all this healthy pursuit, it really is worth it. How you feel becomes the crux of how you enjoy your life and the belief that beauty does come from the inside out, from what you put into your body, the way you feel, to the nature of the thoughts you have. PMA is an almost forced daily practice, again a little too much pressure from social media to ‘live life to the max’ while reciting positive affirmations. But with it come creative ways of getting all the good stuff inside. Food and beliefs. It’s the health and happiness crazed 10’s, and bottom line it’s all for the pursuit of the elixir of life, the eternal desire to live forever. It’s nothing new, the Tuatha de Danann were at it in ancient times with their Tir na n-og , the Chinese, the Egyptians… We should all have a bit more Leonard Cohen in us though, accept our mortal coils and just ‘dance till the end of love.’
So in the last decade some dreams have come true (more travel experience, heavy mortgage lifted, life partner found, a healthier version of self maintained) some have been edited (house size has become more practical, best selling novelist has become a blog post every now and then) and some remain (the organic farm -chickens and some veg would do) house location (not quite there yet)). There is always a need for CPD in career, which is good news. There is no end point in career or in life long learning. Big gasp of relief! Although Katy likes to think of it as more to do with following a sense of life purpose which is constantly evolving, as long as efforts are made and growth sought. There are always new options including self-employment to aspire to.
Choose what works
I went to the doctor, I went to the mountains
I looked to the children, I drank from the fountain.
There’s more than one answer to these questions
pointing me in a crooked line.
And the less I seek my source for some definitive,
the closer I am to fine. The closer I am to fine.
One of Katie’s wisdoms born out of this decade is the belief that we adapt to our situations and our times and it’s in how well we do this and in how well we manage our expectations that is directly related to our happiness quotient. Nourishing and using our own inner resourcefulness is probably our greatest asset (past generations were better at it). She feels more passionate about this gradual lesson in life and strongly believes that education needs to address this more, to teach and nurture qualities as opposed to abstractions. Success and her learned belief about it (coming from past generation)had to change too to fit with herself. The success yardstick is a personal one and in wise words of Bruce Lee on the matter ‘Always be yourself, express yourself, have faith in yourself, do not go out and look for a successful personality and duplicate it’. Enough said.
Note to younger Katy (35) : You did good. Took you some time but you got there. But in your struggles in this decade you learned many things and still got to indulge your adventurous nature; flexibility, adaptability, the ability to take risks, responsibility of yourself travelling alone in another continent( even taking 3 weeks out in Nepal to volunteer teach the little Monklets up in the Monastery nestled in the mountains of Kathmandu), maintaining a home bought and essentially living between a few countries. You also learned about your own boundaries and are constantly learning to trust and appreciate yourself. You didn’t settle for second best. You really got out there and answered your true calling, as you are not a home bird. This bird was meant to fly! The doubt about your choice of career has lifted and you are grateful for one that enabled you to fly and continue to make it work for you. Plus you got your masters…more letters after your name!
Note to older Katy (55): Hope you fulfil more travel dreams and hope you keep gaining confidence in yourself and what you wish for. Be part of the movements that speak to you. Play your part. Stay motivated, don’t get complacent. Keep digging for gold, find your own and don’t get swayed by fools gold or bogged down with choice. Hope you get through ‘the change’ ok and it’s not such a big hormonal storm! Stay true to yourself and give give give whenever you can. Nothing is ever lost that way, only gained.
Oh and as for that pencil skirt? It found its’ way many years ago to the charity shop. But the good news is that you remained a size 10. With all of that weekly working out and minding your food? Too darn tootin right! At least some things haven’t changed 🙂
Soundtrack to this decade
The Indigo Girls ‘Closer To Fine’.
I’m bringing history back…
Fancy a day out, where you enter a different world and leave your cares behind? You get to embrace the beautiful outdoors and come away with more knowledge about history, art, design and horticulture yet don’t have to read or write a thing. Best of all it’s shop free (bar the gift shop) and technology free (if you choose). So, want to feel refreshed, energised and inspired? Then head to the nearest old stately home and find your lime tree-lined bliss.
I got late into the game of visiting old estates, but once discovered I now have quite a penchant for them. They are an acquired taste and being limited in number country wide, a rarity, so I can afford to take my time with this relatively new passion.
Take museums. People choose to visit museums and art galleries for various reasons; the peace and quiet, the space, the obvious visual experience of art, the history, and the cafes are usually worth a visit too. Old estates however, provide a much richer experience and if you are a kinaesthetic person like me you will find them even more fulfilling. Not only is it a walk through experience of times gone by, it provides an excellent platform for learning about history, art and horticulture, effortlessly, as if by osmosis (a good example of interdisciplinary education). A sensory experience that satisfies the artistic sensibility and leaves you with an inspired and lingering impression. This impression, for me, created a whole new and insatiable curiosity not only about how our predecessors lived but of 18th and 19th century art, fashion and sensibility.
I remember my first, as a 12 year old on our annual summer holiday. The grandiosity, the numerous steps out the front entrance, flanked by majestic lion statues, the extensive gardens and the magical lily pond filled with giant sized gold-fish. I remember learning of the children that once lived there from the faded brown and white photos inside the house, and imagined them playing in the gardens . That sense of enchantment and mystery never left me since my first trip to Westport House in Co. Mayo . Since then my most memorable visits have been to Lissadell Estate in Co. Sligo, Strokestown in Co. Roscommon, Glenveagh Castle Co. Donegal and the most recent and most exquisite Mount Stewart in Co. Down and Hillsborough Castle gardens.
History? Oh No! ZZZ
It is due, to a large extent , to these stately home visits that an interest in history has been ignited. A late bloomer in the subject, history was a word full of negative connotations since school, simply due to a stringent teacher with no gift of inspiring their subject or of making it relevant to a then teen (not the only guilty teacher). History was a word I had become indifferent to. Treaties, dates, parliaments, politics and men. Yawn. Endless and meaningless streams of all of the above and a demanding teacher who did nothing to present them in an appealing light. The not uncommon case of the frustrated teacher who had little tolerance for our demure, head down unwillingness to participate in the passion politics seemed to undoubtedly bring him, or his interpretation of it anyway. He would storm into class and demand to know the names of these treaties, dates and the men who signed them. He would then pontificate on the answers no one offered, demand that we read chapters x-y for next class and storm out again. I dreaded this tri-weekly drama. No amount of reading the history book or sitting under his constant reign of terror inspired me to take this subject any further. I was relieved to see the back of the subject and him.
It wasn’t until I walked through the Famine museum in the old stables of Strokestown house that I became starkly aware of the hardship of that time. Here were lists of names of the townfolk and local tenants who were to board a ship to Canada after walking to Dublin from Roscommon. Their fate was bleak, most of them didn’t make it. More than a third died, some on the ship on route and a large number when they reached their destination in quarantine in Quebec, all in horrific conditions with very little food and water. Modern first world problems eh?
The story of the assassination of the house owner Denis Mahon by hungry and enraged tenants who were to be evicted and/or put on these ships was not a surprising one (turns out he was one of 7 throughout the country) . The museum, which opened in 1994 includes many haunting pleas from starving tenants on the estate and the response they received. It uses the unique documents that were discovered in the estate office, dealing with the administration of the estate during the tenure of the Mahon family. I didn’t remember much or any of our Famine history from history class. We had a famine? These letters, lists of names and the conditions of emigration provided a sobering memorial to our ancestors who suffered during the plight of the famine. Half a million people were evicted from their cottages and of the 60,000 Irish that travelled in these ‘coffin ships’20,365 perished that are accounted for. No doubt more died on their further journeys from the illnesses they contacted on the ships.
The old set of skis that hang in the hallway was one of the images I took away from the house. How cumbersome and archaic they looked, yet a symbol of privilege set against the world of the peasant farmers who worked tirelessly and mercilessly outside on the land. The beautiful walled pleasure gardens take the edge off the harsh realities learned about the famine ships, with the customary giant lily pond and the 18th century décor which has echoes in all the great houses.
Let’s talk about the décor.
Telephones and electricity! I feel I am in a HG Wells novel for heavens sake. All this change is unnerving . The young are much more adaptable to it.
Violet Crawley, Downtown Abbey
A walk through an 18th/19th century home for me is a feast of décor porn.The customary deep crimson red damask wallpaper has never lost its appeal, often found in the living room. Very Victorian and popular in the French Renaissance it originated in Europe in the 14th century and has not lost its popularity today. It is again as a direct result of my estate visits that I have a damask feature wall in my living room, a deep red and gold. Turquoise painted hallways look garish to the modern eye but were in vogue back then too and I have wondered in which room would I get away with it today? The grandfather clock, stopped in time, the stags head, crystal chandeliers and candelabras, huge oriental vases and lamp shades with super long fringes, the dainty colorful delf displayed in large cabinets along the walls in colours and designs re introduced to the market as ‘designer old’. Too old for retro title. Antique chic. The more mismatching the better using a feast of garish colours; reds, pinks, browns, yellows, turquoise blues and mint greens. And of course, the again, customary enormous portrait paintings of the family members in ornate gold frames. Looking into these paintings and the grandeur they displayed in their dress I think of them posing, perhaps for hours, for this painting and wonder what they would make of todays ‘selfies’ taken dozens of times a day as opposed to posing perhaps once a year, if even. A time before electricity, before telephone, before adequate bathrooms. The beds are so small, no not because they were smaller in stature but because they slept sitting up afraid of getting an infection in their lungs. For once that dreaded cough started there was little that could be done to reverse the ravages of TB. We can sleep soundly lying down and enjoy long lives and beds now thanks to modern medicine and vaccination.
The light of evening, Lissadell,
Great windows open to the south,
Two girls in silk kimonos, both beautiful, one a gazelle.
The building that once housed a pair of revolutionary sisters and had one of our national great poets for all of two visits fills a visit to Lissadell with political, cultural and literary intrigue. The young militant and the suffragette both capture Yeats’ imagination and are immortalized in the above lines as he sat looking out at them from the house. A popular question as we move through the house. Where did Yeats sit exactly as he wrote those immortal lines? Imagining this time and these fiercely determined and politically active young ladies, one a countess who fought, literally, gun in hand, for the Irish free state and the other who fought for women’s rights, one can imagine there was not a dull moment in this house. As you walk through the house it is easy to be transported back in time, as it is as it was. Conjuring up the kind of conversations that unfolded between these historical figures, progressives in their own time, one wonders what they would make of ours? Would Yeats be on twitter? Would Constance Markieviez be a role model for female army chic? GI Connie!
Lissadell with its echoes of the 1916 Rebellion and Yeats’ poetry is not the only estate that housed celebrities. Mount Stewart has table place names for Winston Churchill and his wife among Counts, Countesses, Marquis, Ladies, Dukes and Duchesses. One particular Marquis who lived there entertained a group of SS men representing an unnameable leader of disrepute. Can you imagine the discussions, the table talk and post dinner shenanigans at that house? Apparently the socialite Lady Edith hosted many a glittering party for up to 2500 guests at a time! But as amusing as this is, it’s not so amusing when we learn that as the house went through a £150k refurbishment £30 was given to famine support relief. To enjoy the house one must forget or distance oneself from the unsavoury politics it once housed.
Mount Stewart Fountain Pool garden, the Shamrock Gardens (with red hand of Ulster) and one of the topiaries on top of the perfectly trimmed hedges.
Circe the Sorceress
The gardens, which make this estate a jaw-dropper, are understandably on the proposed UNESCO heritage list and rate in the top ten gardens in the world. Lady Londonderry’s passion for bold planting schemes coupled with the mild climate of Strangford Lough allows rare and tender plants from across the globe to thrive in this celebrated garden. This lady expressed her energy and power not just in being an influential society hostess but in creating an amazing tapestry in her garden woven out of varying species of Rhododendrons (apparently biggest in the world found here), Azaleas, Magnolias, Primulas, Irises, Gunneras and umpteen exotic plants she sourced from elite botanists abroad such as the likes of the very rare blue poppy. She called herself Circe the Sorceress infusing the place with feminine mythological energy and making it a garden for goddesses which includes the Ladies Walk, the Shamrock garden, the Sunken Garden, The Dodo Terrace, Menagerie, the Fountain Pool, Tir n’na Og, the Italian garden, the Spanish Garden, the Mairi Garden and the Rose garden. She was extremely particular in her chosen flowers and designs including 24 topiary pieces telling a children’s story. The roses had to have a scent that appealed to her and the rhododendrons and lilies were her favourites due to their smell. Mount Stewart reflects a rich tapestry of design and planting artistry bearing the hallmark of its creator.
In all the grand estate gardens you can be sure of finding a Ladies walk (usually a mile), a Rose Garden, a Camomile lawn, a Lime tree walk and/or a Yew tree walk. In the Hillsborough castle gardens you can view the Rose Gardens in which the current Queen and her sister Margaret played as young girls when visiting their Aunt. She likes to walk there today, when on a visit, to revisit fond memories. Further down around the lake you will find two birches planted by herself and her husband back in 1994. Either way the experience of walking through a carefully designed landscape with peaceful woodlands, meandering waterways, serene lakes and trimmed lawns gives one a sense that they too are of royal breeding and to the manor born.
Lime tree-lined bliss. Hillsborough Castle Gardens
I call it a lovely way to spend a Sunday afternoon, away from the madding crowds. I’m off to The Argory house and gardens today! I wonder is it neo-Classical, Victorian, Georgian or Gothic? Hmm Hope the cake in the café is decent too!
Special thanks goes out to the National Trust, without whom none of these Sunday fun days would happen.
In the Shamrock Garden and getting my Marquis head on. Mount Stewart
‘Life is short DO BIG THINGS!’ ‘When we stop taking risks we stop LIVING’. My latest gripe has been brought on by my over exposure to social media (my bad). It’s living LIFE TO THE MAX fatigue. Yes. I wince as I scroll down my newsfeed on facebook. If I am told, or shouted at (because that is what capitals are yea?) one more time to ‘Don’t just LIST it, TICK IT!…I’m liable to shut down my account. Yes really, it’s that serious. It’s the plethora of high octane urging aphorisms. Its just a constant barrage of get-up-get-out-there, make-IT-happen, scare the bejaysus out of yourself, make yourself feel ALIVE and LIVE EVERY SINGLE MOMENT! What ? Must I jump out of a plane without a parachute from space in order to feel ALIVE? Really? Plane? No parachute? Space? YES! TICK it before you KICK it!! Pass the oxygen please.
“I hope I die before I get old.” Pete Townshend ‘My Generation’
Perhaps it’s me from my, as society (in the Western World ) would like to call it, slightly ‘over the hill’ perspective.I do have a sneaking suspicion though that these bucket listing tickers are not all that thrilled as they don their uber-ecstatic smiles while one-handedly holding a water ski. I’m not convinced. I detect that behind that slightly forced grin is a hint of frustration. Well I haven’t tried it but I assume it’s not easy to hold a water ski in one hand, a cocktail in the other AND consider taking a selfie. I mean who else is going to capture it right? I can see that some are rushing from bucket ticker to bucket ticker with a facebook post already conceived in their minds eye and that in that release onto the newsfeed perhaps there is yet another release of endorphins. Is modernity a move away from the much exclaimed ‘carpe diem’ towards a more digitally virtualized ‘post the pic-iem’? (not an exact latin translation). Or is it that age old obsession with what it means to be happy and missing the mark ( for a whole other blog post)
Need I point out that this desperate need to capture a moment kind of takes away from truly enjoying it? Not all great moments need to be shared. Has mystique died a complete death? But again maybe that’s just me from my ‘over the hill’ selfie-post-the-pic-iem fatiqued point of view. I laugh to myself when I remember that I too once shared Pete Townshends’ sentiments from The Who’s ‘My Generation’. I, too, thought at 20 that 40 would be a nice age to kick the bucket because, well, you would be way too ancient to enjoy anything at that stage! I just hoped I’d die before I got old. Needless to say I changed my mind.
Don’t get me wrong I admire, to a degree, these ‘get up and doers’. And I guess I have been guilty of same (well how else would I have met these big grinning go -getters?) Achieving so much physically before heading to work in the morning is admirable and it most certainly will pay off dividends as they MAX their 24 hours. But do I detect a tone of neurosis? A sense of urgency? A kind of POST IT BEFORE YOU LOSE IT anxiety? I don’t need to be a psychologist to observe that this excessive LIVING LIFE TO THE MAX attitude is a symptom of a deeper issue, an existential angst that appears to peak in your thirties. Perhaps its a precursor to the mid -life crisis? Aren’t mid-lifers on the bottom of the U in the U curve of happiness? The U bend of life as the Economist calls it. Yes happiness it turns out is measurable, only quite recently mind did they start making surveys on it as the era of ‘positive psychology ‘came into vogue.
Could this neurosis be born of a of dawning realization? ‘Hey I’m still physically and mentally capable of pushing myself to my limits so I best do it now before I’m past it and not able’, mixed with the fact that life can be a hard slog with small windows of opportunity available to really enjoy oneself as one climbs the career ladder, responsibilities increase but you still feel young. Born of a need to connect with what it really feels like to be alive which is both human and spiritual and no doubt innate, I can totally relate, it’s universal. But let’s not take it overboard. Selfie-ing off the side of a cliff to capture a better view or forcing oneself to over-multi task while on water skis to get that ultimate pic of living life to the FULLEST just can’t be that much actual fun. Surely there are other, more pedestrian, home-grown ways of getting your life affirmation feels on.
I’m not talking about crochet either.
I got thrills they’re multiplying…
There are ample ways one can feel alive and its all down to personal choice. I’m not actually talking about how to make oneself happy. It’s been so well documented in the studies on positive psychology that process is predominantly behind feeling happy and it’s a separate more delicate matter. I’m talking more specifically about those life affirming moments, which of course intersect with happiness. Like a simple jog or cycle? No mileage pressure. Nothing beats free wheeling down a big hill yea? A swim in the ocean? No judgement here or scale of how much that constitutes as ‘living’ or ‘feeling alive’. A dance around the kitchen to a much loved song while cooking, hiking up the volume and losing yourself in that moment? Trying out a new restaurant, taking up a new sport/hobby/interest, making new connections, and the big one of course travel (a whole other blog). A good convo with a friend or family member. Long term family and friends are legacies in their own right and moments and milestones shared with them bring on the big feels. Or alternatively an easy conversation with a random stranger who you effortlessly click with and boom a new connection is born. The list is non-exhaustive. Some great moments are meticulously planned but most great moments just creep up on you and it’s that surprise element that makes them great.
Youth is wasted on the young.
Appreciation and gratitude for all you have around you is a wisdom you can have at any age. But essentially it’s the difference between my 20 something and 40 something self. A 20 something is still at the dreaming phase, is pregnant with ideas, full of desire, conniving game plans and has the drive, hunger and gumption o get out there and DO IT even if it turns out to be a mistake. The only lack is experience. At 40 much has been accomplished; many mountains climbed, rivers crossed, passports stamped, roads less taken (many times), half of career path trodden and perhaps marriage and/or kids achieved too. Phew! The chase lessens, desire softens and perspective changes. You get the feels but in a different context and in different ways. Making it to 40 and over, it turned out was not the terrifying curtains down finale I once imagined. It’s a gradual subtle shift. The best analogy I can think of for aging is how you once favoured a more raucous high energy radio station with little dj talk to one with a slower tempo music and an informative dj who tells a good story . Then one day you switch and wonder how you ever listened to the former. Radio stations change as does your taste and attraction to many things.
I understand youthful energy more now from a standpoint that I don’t have so much of it. How do we know something? By contrast. Envying youthful energy though is like wanting to wear your old teenage clothes again. It doesn’t fit and looks ridiculous. I also understand the term ‘youth is wasted on the young’ now, one I resented when I was the younger me. It is like giving a fantastic job to the inexperienced person. They are endowed with bountiful energy and a sense of fun and fickleness without any real clue how to direct it. And so they must discover that.
Am I just getting older? Indisputble. Is this the reason for my LIVING LIFE TO THE MAX gripe? Yes, in the way some people ignorantly and feverishly pursue it. Is that it then? Settled, boring cocoa and slippers complacency giving off about the foolishness of the young and being the crab in the bucket? No, not quite. More settled maybe yes but more knowing and content. I have acquired new ways of feeling I’m living life fully without the high octane, jumping-out-of-plane drama. I can admire the detail and the wonder of life from a new, more rooted, wizened and slow paced perspective and I don’t feel the need to SHOUT about it or run 400 marathons in 400 days to prove something. Its a more lower case script, sometimes its even between the lines. It would probably look out of place on the newsfeed but if it did appear it would probably look something like this. ‘Found a great book and had some really interesting incites while reading it’. ‘Made some wicked jam this morning’. ‘Caught up with a friend and had a great convo, came away energized’ ‘Watched the swallows swooping this evening, magical’ ‘Its 3 days before my impending sun holiday. Packing slowly. Relishing it. Anticipation is everything ” Felt really content and at peace today’.
Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while you could miss it. Ferris Bueller
It’s amazing what you notice when you stand still, without cameras or posturing or rushing through it. I read about it, I acknowledged it but I never actually felt it until my 40’s that happiness primarily does come from within. I wouldn’t want to return to any previous time in my life but I would if I could take my present mindset with me. You can get great mileage out of past exploits for a very long time and good memories made are like a sweet treat to the ever hungry heart. But it doesn’t end with sweet nostalgia, the key is in changing things up when they become a bit stale. We all need variety , we will always seek out the new. New is fresh and inspiring and like beauty we will always be drawn to it.
But back to my ‘living life to the MAX’ fatigue. I could be told quite simply to move on. Why look at something/body that clearly doesn’t appeal or ring a bell? Why scroll down the newsfeed at all? I eventually feel my wisdom nudging me to, no not delete, but just remove from my newsfeed those who just don’t feed me, and the posts that irritate (besides I haven’t grown out of facebook just yet!). We gravitate to those who inspire or to those we resonate with. Perhaps for every age there are different ways of getting it on. Perhaps at different ages we do what we are capable of from an evolutionary point of view and that it’s inevitable that different generations can find each other irritating and nonsensical.
‘The best is yet to come, and babe won’t it be fine
You think you’ve seen the sun, but you ain’t seen it shine’
So I’m here now, and over 40 turned out to be not so bad at all. It turned out to be better in most ways in fact. But you don’t believe it until you are there. And everyone’s story is different and circumstantial. Bit crankier yea but I get over it just like I’ve mellowed by the end of this post, thanks to dipping into a bit of wisdom.
Pete Townshend I’m happy to announce has also mellowed and is happily writing a blog at 60 plus. Furthermore I’m glad to reveal that the stats from the U bend of life tell me that the age you really start enjoying life starts at 46! Is that the downhill part on the other side of the hill? Onwards, upwards while heading (apparently) downwards then…Happy days 🙂 I do want to tell the ‘maxers’ to slow down , take a breath and try to enjoy the ride a bit more and to let them know that ‘living’ doesn’t have to be packed into a year of their lives. But they need to discover that for themselves. And each to their own.
The beat goes on albeit a more slow jazzy rift and set to the sassy lyrics of Tony Bennett, ‘The best has yet to come, and won’t it be fine…jazz hands emoji!
Well hello. Let me introduce myself. I am a 40 something female (and will be for some time God willing) who feels at this (middle age) stage I know a thing or two but I still muse, moan and wonder a little over quite a few things! I would also consider myself an explorer, adventurer, teacher, philosopher , nature lover, culture vulture, fun loving, peace seeking, everyday kinda person. Basically, I’m a jotter not a jogger! Let’s hit it…