April 2021’s Intention

Simplicity and Fun in 2021

Lying Down

Do you, like me, have a fantasy version of yourself? Do you have an aspiration to be a certain way? Meanwhile, someone else may aspire to be more like you. I remember speaking to a lady once in a rural part of Portugal. We were there to do yoga in the sprawling countryside with animals roaming freely around us. She told me about her painful history with anorexia — ‘everything hurt’ was how she put it. I have always been an emotional eater as I wrote about here. I tend towards being out of control rather than controlling. I have longed to be more disciplined but it has been one of my life’s missions. While I didn’t speak to that lady about my (much less problematic) relationship with food, maybe she wishes her relationship with food were more like mine.

In March, I wrote a prescription for fun! I made an intention to write a silly rhyme every day and to watch a comedic clip on YouTube every day. Mea culpa. I did not. I couldn’t legislate for fun! It began to feel like a chore to find a funny clip online or to write the rhyme; there really is no substitute for the company of others. Yet the very intention reminded me to simply have a laugh more. I used to find humour in the darkest moments. I have often looked back at that younger person and realised humour masked a lot but it also served an important purpose.

While I don’t buy into sweeping ‘children are…’ statements, I believe that many children possess an inherent spontaneity that has been stripped of many adults by time and toil. The Power of Now is a luminous book. Sadly, I have not had an epiphany like Eckhart Tolle had (…yet!). Tolle writes a ‘how to’ for in-the-moment awareness that came to him in one life-changing night. It can be difficult beyond measure to change one’s very way of looking at the world (and oneself), and to accept one’s way of experiencing the world as defective. Yet, the relentless backward and forward thinking is corrosive of happiness and essentially robs us of quality time on earth, as Tolle so eloquently details.

In February 2020, I set an intention to turn my smartphone off every night at 8:30pm. Over time, I abandoned the intention and picked up my phone to fill vacant moments — to kill boredom. Is boredom a bad thing though? I felt bored last week as I was off work and had my smartphone off for several hours every day. On the evening I began writing this post, I was sitting listening to a radio show I don’t usually listen to and I felt more at peace than I have felt in a long time (and not just because I had had a glass of Rioja and a plate of cheese and crackers!). My mind, in a less preoccupied state, unclenched.

April’s intention and new habit is to turn off my smartphone more. That may sound vague but rigidity has not worked for me, despite the effectiveness of SMART goals. My personality seems to co-operate better with broader brushstrokes.

In the spirit of simplicity, what could be simpler than sitting down of an evening listening to the radio and wondering what to do?: the dishes, laundry, read a book, write, stargaze, meditate, make art, make the bed, make out (if you’re lucky enough to have a partner): all of those activities are preferable to the inexorable, grinding effect nights with my smartphone had on me. I will happily continue to leave it in a drawer every evening.

When I own my own home – when, who knows – I plan to have a good, aul fashioned landline: a phone that only rings when someone wants to have a chat – an exciting and invigorating prospect.

March 2021’s Intention

Simplicity and Fun in 2021

Brushstrokes of Fire

I took the above photograph on a recent walk. Sometimes the colours in the sky conspire to stop me in my tracks.

February’s intention not to purchase clothes has been easy so far. I have plenty of clothes and limited wardrobe space; so maybe that is why. However, I like that my clothes will fulfil their life cycles.

2021’s theme is: Simplicity and Fun in 2021. Fun used to be an integral part of my life. I had most of my fun in the company of friends and family members. The current lockdown and more isolated life make it harder to have fun.

In March, I will do something fun every day. I’m going to write a silly rhyme every day just for fun, watch some comedy and read comic fiction for a change (I usually read from writers who are mining the soul for meaning).

March’s intention and new habit is to have fun every day. I never had to be so conscious about having fun before but I have noticed a slow erosion of fun in my life over the past few years. No doubt, sad life events have a way of weighing us down and can push out our lighter parts. Yet, I believe our lighter parts carry us through life. It is fun for the sake of fun that gives texture to the days.

I was going to call this blog Late to the Party. I cannot be relied upon for cutting-edge intel but I am enjoying re-sniffing some reliable laughter sources.

Have you ever ‘sent a text to the person that the text was about?’ David O’Doherty nails it in this oldie but goodie.

These days, I have the concentration span of a gnat when it comes to reading but when I obey the homing pigeon on my shoulder, I read Rachel’s Holiday.

I look forward to being able to throw my head back in laughter with those close to me again but until then, I will dedicate some time to seeking out fun with my pen, my mouse and my eyes.

February 2021’s Intention

Simplicity and Fun in 2021

Reflecting 1

In December, as I rounded off my project, ‘A Year of Humble Intent,’ I set an intention to go easy on myself and in ways, I have. I didn’t exert pressure to post on this blog in gloomy January and I have generally been practicing the cutting of my own slack. However, it can be a thin line to tow between going easy on oneself and daily self-indulgence! In a short course I took on the Ten Percent Happier app, Kelly McGonigal explained that self-compassion ‘isn’t about letting yourself off the hook.’

2021’s theme is ‘Simplicity and Fun in 2021.’ (2020’s was ‘A Year of Humble Intent’).

February’s intention and new habit is not to buy any clothes. This has been percolating for some time and I experimented with it successfully in 2019 (albeit in private and not on a blog!). I remember asking my mother when I was teenager if she had any clothes from the 60s or 70s that I could co-opt. She laughed and said, ‘in those days we wore out our clothes.’ Every few years, I fill giant black refuse bags and donate them to charity or give them to friends. There’s a consolation in knowing they won’t be thrown out but I am ready to embrace the satisfaction of wearing out the clothes I own. My focus is more on the act of appreciating the clothes I possess rather than on the denial of possessing more.

Reflecting 2

Fashion is of great cultural and personal significance, in my view, and just as good lipstick and blusher can change a person’s mood, so too can a new pair of jeans or a dress. There is nothing wrong with buying new clothes. However, I wish to take a break from buying clothes with the overall aim of living with less. I learned a lot about living with less last year when I had to downsize in order to fit my possessions into one room. I seem to be slowly releasing crutches to see if I can stand without them.

We are still under level 5 restrictions/’in lockdown’ in Ireland. My familiar old bedfellow, insomnia, has come back to play. I intend to write about insomnia again soon and share my nascent strategies for coping with it sans medication (for once and for all) in 2021.

Working from home has shifted my perspective. I am grateful to be in the workforce and I am learning to embrace stillness. I am realising that I am much more introverted than I thought: an ambivert, maybe! On the more difficult days, however; I find solace in the growing light:

Light is the mother of life. The sun brings light and colour. It causes grasses, crops, leaves and flowers to grow. The sun brings forth the erotic charge of the curved earth; it awakens her wild sensuousness.’

John O’Donohue, Anam Chara, P.82
Sunset Stroll

December 2020’s Intention

Space

Now that there is only one month left in A Year of Humble Intent, I look back at the monthly intentions of 2020 and realise that if I achieved each of those intentions, I’d be living a healthy, fulfilling, disciplined and gracious life. In the interests of keeping it real: I have made some inroads — of which I am proud — but most of these intentions are still goals. I have days when I don’t exercise and nights when I ruminate — and my gratitude journal is craving an entry. Do I need to try harder at these intentions and try harder at being an all-round better person?

I always thought of myself as a laissez-faire kind of person due to my impulsivity. I never thought of myself as someone who was ‘hard on themselves’ — possibly because I have friends who run marathons and cycle for hours, which is beyond my scope as a human! Yet, ‘don’t be so hard on yourself’ has been said to me countless times; so there must be some weight in it.

At the risk of cueing the Pollyanna soundtrack, here are my intentions being teased back to life with calm questioning:

January: exercise every day

If I remember that I am lucky to be able to put one foot in front of the other and breathe in clean air, will I exercise every day? 

February: go to bed by 10pm

 If I continue to take magnesium and listen to a bedtime story for grown-ups as I nod off, will I be more able to go to bed earlier?

March: meditate every day

If I accept that I need to lean on a wall to avoid back pain while meditating, will I be more likely to surrender to its benefits?

April: write in my gratitude journal every day

If I leave my lovely, turquoise gratitude journal on my desk, will I write in it more often?

May: clear out and look out

If I continue to be of service to others, will I discover even more ways to help others?

June: be proactive

If I accept the past and my circumstances, will I accept that only I can create a bright future and even more favourable circumstances?

Eye Massage
July: reactivate February, March and April’s intentions

If I acknowledge that change takes time, will change become easier?

August: look on

If I practice self-compassion, will rumination dissolve over time?

September: drink no alcohol

If I continue to only drink in other people’s company and not treat alcohol consumption as the default setting of Friday, Saturday and Sunday night, will I consume much less?

October: stop procrastinating (my life’s mission in two words!)

If I develop my curiosity about why I put off the most beneficial activities, will procrastination become less habitual? If I laugh at how preposterous my dedication to procrastination is, will it be easier to ‘get my stuff done?’

November: give up sweet treats

If I think before I eat instead of taking pride in impulsivity, will I loosen the hold sweet food has on me?

I originally used words like ‘soothing,’ ‘easeful’ and ‘simplicity’ in this blog and I want to reconnect with the blog’s purpose.

December’s intention and new habit is to go easy on myself. In the midst of the pre-holidays frenzy, the Covid-19 restrictions, the gift-buying and re-opening of shops (here in Ireland) as well as everyday life rowing on, maybe we all need a reminder to go easy on ourselves. ‘Do your best, that’s all you can ever do,’ is what many an Irish mammy, including my own, told her young — and I’m with the Irish mammies on this one. Peace and love to you.

November 2020’s Intention

The Sneaking, Creeping Sun. I took this on a rare dry evening recently.

‘Pleasure is always derived from something outside you, whereas joy arises from within.’

Eckhart Tolle

What brings you joy? Spending time with my dog (who I am separated from at the moment), reading, yoga, spending time with children, walking in the park, writing, podcasts, comedy, radio, telly and creativity bring me joy. I gain the most joy of all from laughing and spending time with friends or family. This does not happen often these days as no house visits or travel are permitted in Ireland at the moment. It is, however, a small price to pay to reduce the number of Covid-19 cases in the country.

I like how Eckhart Tolle differentiates between pleasure and joy. I gave up alcohol in September (with a few appendices) and I have realised that relishing a glass of wine brought great pleasure, not joy. I quickly substituted alcohol with sweet treats; despite knowing that it was a quick-fix and so … November’s (inevitable!) intention and new habit is to give up sweet treats.

Just How Strict Will You Be?

Not very! I am going to cut out cakes, biscuits, chocolate bars and pastries, which I have consumed regularly for decades and every day for months. I am going to allow myself chocolate covered rice cakes, fruit, ketchup, yoghurt and jam (but not together!). I know this is not ideal but in contrast to my current diet, it will be a detox. I have often failed by trying to erect a halo on my head, which led to an ‘f it! I’ve broken it now; no point even trying’ attitude.

Emotional Eating

If it weren’t for emotional eating, I would have kicked my sugar habit a long time ago. I have been given numerous health reasons over the years to give up sweet treats but I have always found a loophole or justification.

You might wonder if you are an emotional eater or not. I would surmise that if you have a tendency towards it, it is easy to identify. For example, I remember being disappointed when I was a child that a friend didn’t show up for what we’d now call a play-date. I was about ten. I felt overwhelmed with upset and I didn’t know where to ‘put’ the emotion; so I ate a packet of all-chocolate viscounts alone in my bedroom to take care of business. It worked … and it continues to work. Eating sweet treats has felt more like a target than an experience lately and it has not been relaxing.

When eating more than we need starts to feel panicky or anxiety-laden in and of itself, the emotional aspect is undeniable.

How Do I Do It?

If it were easy, we would all have done it a long time ago. However, the following will be my crutches as I ward off the sweet treats and they might help you, too:

  • Eat hearty meals. In my opinion, calorie-counting and cutting sweet treats at the same time is a barbarous act of self-denial that cannot be sustained. I find that eating decent portions and being full after each meal prevents me from filling the gap with sugar.
  • Look in the mirror While I appreciate that spiritual enlightenment has nothing to do with the external, the external often mirrors the internal. I have had a reoccurrence of adult acne, which could be due to a combination of wearing a mask all day (maskne), vitamin B6 supplementation, lack of sleep and hormonal imbalance. However, eating sweet treats every single day could be wreaking havoc with my hormones. The acne is not disappearing in response to topical glycolic acid, zinc, oral probiotics or double cleansing. When I look in the mirror and see aggressive red spots on my cheeks that didn’t trouble my face even as a teenager, it reminds me why kicking this sugar habit is important. I have heard adult acne being described as diabetes of the skin, which supports the excess sugar theory. I won’t lie: I feel like crap when I look in the mirror!
  • How are you feeling? Instead of eating mindlessly and using sugar to numb feelings, I am going to ask how I am feeling. I read a book about addiction by Deepak Chopra many years ago; he described addiction as a poor substitute for joy, which echoes Tolle’s contrast between pleasure and joy. When I peel back the excitement at eating a bar of chocolate/pastry/bun/slice of cake/stack of biscuits, it is about purpose. Laughable as it may seem, eating a bar of chocolate with a cup of tea after work gives me not only pleasure but purpose. Yet, the cumulative effect of it on my skin suggests my system needs a break.

After all, I thought it would be much more difficult than it was to give up alcohol(*at home — I’ll support local pubs and restaurants with a few tipples once they re-open). I was surprised to learn that much of it was habit. I imagine giving up sweet treats to be more challenging because it is an entrenched habit that I have had since childhood. During the hairier moments, I will take comfort in books, sublime 60s music and Rainer Maria Rilke’s words below (while finding creative ways to enjoy a sweet treat sans refined sugar such as these yummy brownies, which are great with a dollop of natural yoghurt).

Do you, like me, need to give your system a break from sweet treats? If you’re going to join me on this journey, let me know in the comments below (if you’d like to share). Wishing you peace, strength, luck and clear skin.

‘Let everything happen to you

Beauty and terror

Just keep going

No feeling is final

Rainer Maria Rilke
I took this earlier today. I was taken by the almost mauve hue the setting sun cast on the water.

October 2020’s Intention

Póg na Síochána

Swans at Sunset

A Year of Humble Intent: I started this personal project at the end of 2019 in the hope of connecting with others who were interested in my project. I finally started a blog after procrastinating (out of fear) for over a decade.

I have other personal goals which gnaw away inside me and yet, I fill my limited free-time watching re-runs of television programmes containing dialogue I can recite, eating too much of the ‘bad stuff’ and overthinking/worrying/fretting instead of jumping at opportunities staring me in the face…again, out of fear. To put this into mundane context, the ‘Service Needed’ reminder has been on my dashboard for a month because I have been too afraid to walk into my new local garage!

A family member initially showed me this video about procrastination and it rings oh so true!

October’s intention and new habit is to stop procrastinating. I choose to act now (and not just about car services); to spend more of my precious time pursuing a creative goal I have had for many years. In essence, I vow to ignore my instincts, which usually ply me with excuses not to do that which makes me happy in the long-term and give in to that which makes me happy in the short-term — a superb way to stick a stopper in fear. This ties in with June’s intention to be more proactive.

I choose to no longer take pride in my ‘ah sure, feck it!’ attitude and commit to that which I desire, and which will serve me and others (re-runs of Frasier are great but they serve neither me nor others), while remaining an almost alcohol-free, sugar-addicted yogini. Tough talk, eh?

Last night, I drank a large glass of red wine after 37 days alcohol-free. In the past, I would have thought, ‘well, I’ve broken it now — I might as well drink as much as I want!’ Instead I exercised some mindfulness (it’s all the rage now). The wine tasted good but it was just a drink and not a life-changing elixir. I don’t plan to give up alcohol completely but I do plan to change my attitude toward it and greatly curtail my intake.

Procrastination has been a longstanding persuasion of mine and it will not be easy to break this habit. Sticking to a routine has often felt like a mental strait-jacket for me; I like the freedom to be spontaneous. However, that supposed ‘freedom’ has left me with a bucket of unfulfilled dreams and rumour has it, we’re on this planet for a finite amount of time.

To whoever is reading: I hope you are safe; it warms my heart to know we are connecting at a time of such separation. Seolaim póg na síochána duit [I send you the kiss of peace].

Day 19 Alcohol-free

Last Wednesday

My name is Lasta and I am not an alcoholic! However, I need this break from booze. After 19 days sans alcohol, I’d be lying if I wrote that there have been great revelations, mind-body shifts and epiphanies … but I have made some observations. This is my own experience and I am not physically dependent on alcohol. I imagine it’s a different kettle of fish entirely if that is the case.

‘Habit is a great deadener.’ Samuel Beckett

(I quoted the above from ‘Waiting for Godot’ here before. I row back to some quotations time and again).

Drinking alcohol had become habitual for me. I’m not even sure how much I enjoyed it of late; my skin had become congested, my tummy had been sore, my sleep had been erratic, and alcohol, it seems, contributed to all of those ailments. Those ailments haven’t vanished — I’m sure the reset will take longer than 19 days to kick in — yet, I’m aware of the habit I was shackled to. ‘Friday or Saturday night=wine’ was an automatic equation regardless of whether I felt like it or not.

Boats. I hope to buy a better camera in the future but for now, I enjoy taking photographs on my phone.
‘The best way out is always through’ Robert Frost

We are so often advised to feel our emotions. I know, from experience, that repressing sadness or grief just allows it to emerge at a later (usually inconvenient) time. Alcohol is an inimitable way to delay feeling and when the feeling catches up the next day, a-hair-of-the-dog can sort that out! I spoke to an addiction counsellor once who told me that ‘feeling our feelings’ — as opposed to self-medicating them — is the key to kicking an addiction. While I don’t have a full-blown addiction and as such, do not face the challenge someone who is addicted would, I was drinking alcohol more and more often as a way to escape my feelings. I have noticed since I’ve stopped that I am feeling a lot more, which terrifies and relieves me in almost equal measure (the pendulum still swings towards terror, let’s be honest!).

‘Get up at the same time every day!’ Said everybody who knows anything about insomnia.

I wrote about insomnia here before and it has been a night guest of mine on and off for over 20 years. Sleep experts vary in their advice but they all seem to agree on getting up at the same time every single day, seven days a week. I simply couldn’t force myself to get up at 6:45am on the weekends before because I was experiencing mild hangovers and felt defeatist. Despite being tired and sad upon waking this weekend, I got up. Unlike money, not repaying sleep debt actually balances the books. A booze-free bloodstream lends itself to superior sleep quality, too.

This is the most exciting aspect of being alcohol-free for me and may well be the hook that allows me to persevere (as well as sweet treats!).

Day 13 Alcohol-free

Simplicity within spitting distance of my new home. I’m joining the army of people who post photographs of the sky online! The blue bench looks like a serene spectator of the fading light.

Sugar, it turns out, is the antidote to alcohol consumption. Since I’ve given up alcohol, my love affair with sugar has grown ever more intimate and unashamed. This love affair is, of course, doomed but it is a rock in the middle of the stream to help me get to the other side.

I have been keeping daily notes but the gist of it is: I wake up feeling tired and sad; I am busy and OK during the day; I feel tired and sad at night, yet have difficulty falling asleep. This may be common for a person coping with an ending (or any major life change or burden). I often feel emotion with excruciating intensity and while alcohol seems to nicely dull uncomfortable emotions on the night, the next morning, it seems to have shaven off the veneer, leaving nothing but the undressed, bloody emotion behind. I have not put a time limit on this but instead, I plan to give up alcohol until mornings and night-times feel less sad and sleep comes easier.

Not only do I feel less of ‘The Fear’ while staying sober but there is a pride in achieving the goal. I appreciate I am not at the gloating stage yet since I am only 13 days in (and I have been shamelessly substituting with non-alcoholic beer, non-alcoholic cider and sugar) but at the very least, I am taking steps to be less impulsive and more mindful regarding alcohol.

I liked how the sun gave its last bit of light to the swan.

September 2020’s Intention

Endings

When I finished university about eighteen years ago, I spent six months doing random jobs, one of which involved dressing up as a giant M&M and being physically attacked by a gang of boisterous eight year olds in Dublin city centre! I told myself that there was no point in even looking for a ‘real job’ (whatever that is) because the bureaucratic wheels were in motion for a trip to Asia.

I took off and spent a calendar year teaching children English in South Korea. September marked the beginning of the glorious autumn in Suji-gu, where I lived on the sixteenth floor of an apartment complex with a Korean lady who spoke little English – and I spoke little Korean. Living with someone with whom there was a language barrier was comical rather than culturally enriching for us both! There was the time I made cooing, lovey-dovey sounds in response to her description of her fiancé (who she had met just once as it was an arranged marriage), only to find out afterward that she had described him as ‘ugly; plain looking.’ There was the time I forgot to remember the washing machine bridged the gap between my bedroom and the outside window, and that my housemate might collect her laundry there the next morning. It was a balmy night; I stripped off and lay naked on the mattress on the floor – one leg in South Korea and one in North Korea – with the sliding window in my bedroom wide open. The next morning the sliding window was shut and the washing machine empty. I knew from then on that she had seen me butt naked (but convinced myself that nudity isn’t as much of a privacy to Korean people as it is to Irish).

A family member met me in Frankfurt Airport while I was en route to South Korea and gifted me this travel companion, Olaf Mansfield.

 In Ireland, the seasons bleed into one another and maybe the changeable weather accounts for the people’s spontaneous and, at times, erratic nature. It’s imperative to seize the day here because there’s no telling what tomorrow will bring. In the west of Ireland, rain is part of the deal: we signed up for it, yet we show our perennial disappointment when it rains in the middle of a ‘hot spell,’ i.e., more than one day of uninterrupted sunshine.

I went to South Korea because I was afraid to seize the day and I was still metabolising an ending. Taking a ‘year out’ in South Korea on my own was oddly the easy way out. It would have been more difficult to go after what I wanted. So, I wandered to a random country to teach English and press pause – by not trying, I couldn’t be disappointed. Beneath a bubbly exterior, I was achingly lacking in self-belief.

I made some friends and many drinking buddies there: two of whom were Korean and the rest were from New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, Ireland, Canada, the USA and the UK. We would congregate in WA Bar in Suji. We romanticised WA Bar as our Cheers where a person could simply show up and be met with a welcome. We worked long hours by day and drank beer and cocktails by night.

While my drinking habits are more sensible now and mostly centre around weekends and holidays, I have not taken a hiatus from alcohol for more than four days in many, many years! I have been diagnosed with fibromyalgia and IBS, and I have noticed that hangovers lead to darker days the older I get; so perhaps I have more than good reason to experiment with teetotalism.

September’s intention and new (somewhat reluctant) habit is to drink no alcohol. I recently moved to a new home in a house-share and have fulfilled my lifetime ambition of being within walking distance of a pub. Why give up alcohol when I can finally walk home from the pub?

Endings fray my nerves and reverberate in my heart and guts. I have been experiencing some painful endings of late, not least the ending of my marriage. Unwinding with a glass of wine at evening’s end feels sublime but as I look back at the long stretch of evenings that have been seen out with wine, I know I need a break.

I intend to post regular updates about my experience of giving up alcohol because this won’t be as easy as just deciding to. How long will I last? Will the withdrawal be enough to make me quit trying? Will it be easier than I expect?

My love of music has been gradually resuscitated in the past few years. Hammersmith-born Arlo Parks’s song ‘Black Dog’ bowled me over when I first heard it a couple of months ago. She’s twenty years of age and sings with a sombre sensitivity that transcends age and time. Trips to London to visit family and friends were a frequent part of my pre-Covid life and once that possibility opens up again, I hope to catch Arlo Parks live. May this song be a companion to many on a dark day.

‘It’s so cruel

What your mind can do

For no reason.’

Arlo Parks in ‘Black Dog.’

In brighter moments, the Waterboys’ triumphant song, ‘How Long Will I Love You‘ (later covered by Ellie Goulding) is just the tonic.

How long will I love you

As long as stars are above you

And longer if I can

Mike Scott of the Waterboys in ‘How Long Will I Love You.’

What Defines You?

I have been listening to the Pogues a lot lately and have found myself having to sit down to take in the lyrical sensitivity and melodious intensity of their music. Shane McGowan is a talented, multi-faceted man. For me, he’s a perfect example of how not to judge a person on one aspect of their being, such is the disparate nature of his. Do we describe him as Shane McGowan who’s ‘fond of a drink’, Shane McGowan who has an inimitable intimacy with the written word and its marriage to music or Shane McGowan who injured his pelvis and now uses a wheelchair? Surely, none of those aspects define the man. They couldn’t possibly since I’ve never had a conversation with him. How could I define someone I’ve never met?

Yet many of us are hellbent on defining other people. I’m no psychologist but my instinct is that people like to categorise others. The Spice Girls was an outward expression of this tendency: the posh one, the sporty one, the babyish one and the scary one. If only people were that simple! Family systems are often interesting microcosms in perpetuating reductive definitions of people. She’s always been disorganised. He’s always had a short temper. She’s always been unreliable. He’s always been a stress-head. They’re always late. Transformation and change can be challenging when being defined.

We watched our friends grow up together

And we saw them as they fell

Some of them fell into Heaven

Some of them fell into Hell

Shane McGowan, A Rainy Night in Soho, 1986

I remember reading in ‘How to Practice’ by the Dalai Lama that we should never try to change other people because we know just how hard it is to change ourselves. I agree that it’s futile to try to mould others into what we wish them to be (and a recipe for heartache) but I firmly believe we can change ourselves. While we have natural proclivities, change is possible.

An area of great change for me is the way in which I deal with emotions and being an empath. I could write a whole other post about that but in short, I’ve accepted my sensitivity. For many years, well into my twenties, I denied my innate sensitivity – I watched films with friends that secretly terrified me, pretended to find things funny that secretly upset me and allowed emotions to stir beneath the surface. I turned 40 this year and it has taken me a long time to accept that I am deeply sensitive.

So, what defines you? Is it your job, your sense of humour, your hobby, your accent, your family of origin, your bank balance, your list of accolades, your past, your shame, your height, your looks? Many years ago, I asked my boyfriend at the time what attracted him to me. I was hoping he’d say something specific. Yet, in hindsight, he gave the best answer a person could. He said, ‘It’s hard to put into words. It was the aura of you, if that makes sense.’ It didn’t but it does now. He was attracted to more than a list of criteria and he didn’t break me down into parts. He didn’t define me.

On a recent visit to a pet farm, I was drawn to this bonded pair.

Maybe we would all do well to pause when we find ourselves defining others and look at them through a wider lens – or better yet, look at ourselves instead and ask why we feel the need to pigeonhole others.

Still there’s a light I hold before me

You’re the measure of my dreams, the measure of my dreams

Shane McGowan, A Rainy Night in Soho, 1986