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Thursday, January 31, 2013

Miss Brightside

Last October I set off in search of a place in the wild west of Ireland so I could live something of an idyllic ‘writers’ dream. I wanted to find a place with the Atlantic Ocean only a stone’s throw away with the wind always howling in the background. I wanted to be there, where the clouds would always be rolling, breaking without warning above the green fields and the scattered tiny cottages. 

I flocked – even though I wasn’t part of a herd of sheep – to the wild side so as to experience something I’d envisioned as being pure freedom of expression and creativity.

Years ago, I always thought I’d only follow that dream through, in 20 or 30 years from now… Well, needless to say, that dream came true a lot sooner than I’d expected at the grand age of 29! It’s true what they say: ‘ask and you shall receive’. And I did! So… who I was to question whether it was right or wrong, when the cottage in Athenry came falling from the sky, saving me gracefully, answering my request and providing the perfect setting for me to sit and write like there’d never be a tomorrow! I didn’t question! Instead I jumped at the chance! And by god, I’m delighted I did.

At the start of November I moved in, I created that space of expression, I worked hard, I wrote like there’d never be a tomorrow (or even a ‘later on’). Suddenly, when I reached the end of creating, I realized there WAS a ‘later on’… and there’d definitely be a tomorrow! But life didn’t seem to be light or bright if those tomorrows were going to be taking place in that space in the wild west!

That’s when suddenly a ‘scheduled’ 7 months turned into a perfect 3 month period; as the clearing work was complete (by ‘clearing work’ I mean: putting my deepest pains and lessons, once again, into ‘story format’). Along with finishing the writing, something else unsettled me: the cold that had seeped its way into my seemingly cosy cottage and further through the pours in my skin, taking up residence deep inside my bones to result in a level of tension and negativity that made it almost impossible for me to live, flow and simply love life in every way.

Both factors – the ‘end of clearing’ and the ‘nestling cold’ – coaxed me to open the door to the world beyond the cottage and take a peek at what else’s available. So I opened the door… mentally 3 weeks ago. But literally last Friday.

I opened it to find the ‘moving crew’ I’d called for help! Well, that crew was my mam and her car! But that was MORE than enough; I’d hardly anything to pack (it actually only took me only 3 hours on Friday morning to box everything and clear things up!). We’d filled her car by lunchtime and I said farewell to that chapter of my life. It was the easiest thing; no stress or regrets or torture on any level!

Once we’d made our way across the country and landed in Arklow, unloading the car and filling up my tiny little box room in my mam’s house with (still only) the few boxes of things I’ve accumulated over the past years, was effortless. All in a day’s work! Literally. 

The following morning I woke up and I thought I’d landed myself in heaven. I couldn’t believe how my perspective totally changed! I was suddenly able to MOVE… not only into the next chapter of my life but also freely around the house without the cold pushing me to ONLY sit curled up in a blanket almost 24 hours a day! I never realized how all-consuming it can be to live in a cold home nor how restrictive life can become. Since then, I’ve been physically releasing the cold from deep within my bones and because it was nestled, letting it go has made me feel partially re-energized, but also drained and in need of sleep, sleep, sleep and more sleep. So, since landing in Arklow, that’s what I’ve been doing: re-fuelling, reheating and relaxing.  

Looking back, Athenry already feels like a different lifetime. I’ll never be sorry for the experience! No way. It was perfect. I HAD to live that dream so I could wake myself up the reality: such a secluded existence isn’t necessarily an idyllic one. We have to try different styles of living, to realize if they’re for us or not. Every person is different. And at different times in our lives, different lifestyles can feel more fitting. From my own perspective, for the winter of 2012 it was fitting and for the spring of 2013 it no longer was. So I made it happen at the right time in my life. If I’d not have followed it through, I’d have felt this past year in Ireland to have fallen short of such a unique experience. 

As well, I’ve learned there aren’t any laws or rules stating HOW or WHERE a story should be brought into form. It can be done anywhere in the world, in any situation and can take however long a person needs. Because if the intention to write sits within the heart of a person, and if that person is tuned-in to that space, then it won’t matter what else is happening, or where they may be: the writing will need to unfold either way. I realize there’s no escape. And I'm happy, relieved and elevated in that realization. No matter how much I force myself to stay in one place, or how envision and pursue the dreams of travel; the writing will simply always be there.

In having said that, I know it’s not who I AM. But it's merely a form of self-expression that elevates and cleanses. So I’m no longer going to delude myself into thinking that it’s ‘all’ I’m good for in this world. Thinking along those lines, means I’m limiting myself and losing a spark of life from inside. And this is exactly what I’ve been feeling for months: a missing spark. Therefore, when life came knocking on the cottage door telling me to come out and play again, I felt it was time to explore other aspects of myself. And I am. I’m moving onwards in to the light and operating from a brighter space in my mind. That can only mean that my physical reality will reflect the light I feel I’m rekindling inside again.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

A mood as low as the fields of Athenry

It really is true that a new year brings new things to enter. But before we can actually get on with new things and let them unfold, we have to move on from something that suddenly has become old.

Last week, I felt things had changed in the cottage. It wasn’t only because I finished the first draft of the sequel. No. It was more than that. At first, I couldn’t quite pinpoint what it was. But soon it became clear. I simply wasn’t happy in those circumstances anymore. When I initially realized I wasn’t happy, I was ‘set’ on doing everything I could, just to stay there in a positive frame of mind and not let my landlady down by moving onwards sooner than we’d agreed. But I realized I wasn’t doing myself any favours if I were to force myself to stay. Because, in being totally honest, I felt I’d stopped living, I felt isolated, uninspired, lost, disconnected, cold and alone. I got tangled in this spiral of negative thinking that was starting to swallow me. It became nearly impossible to shake.

I think I’ve grown-up enough to follow through the things in life that are ONLY making me happy; finally I’m done with self-torture and self-created limitations. 

So… in realizing I wanted to leave, I could put this to the test... And I passed with flying colours! Without ignoring my feelings, and with little procrastination, I told the landlady that my circumstances had changed and I’d have to go to back Arklow at the end of the month. Only by having done that my life has been lifted from my shoulders!

This happened last week. Was I instantly feeling sane again? At times yes. But other times, I was (and still am) trapped in that spiral of self-destructive thinking. Even though the change has been set in motion and I’m becoming unstuck and free again, it’s a change that kind of came out of nowhere; I thought this set-up would be in place for the next 5 months! I thought I’d be happy to keep giving my full focus to both books. But I’m not. Yes, writing is amazing. But it’s not everything. It’s something I can only focus on for so long and THEN new experiences need to be welcomed. As well, I need space and distance from what I’ve so far put on paper. Writing that second story was a deep journey; in ways I think I shocked my system and stretched my potential. And now my mind simply isn’t capable of working on the next step (which would be editing it). It’s simply too overwhelming.

The change being so unforeseen, meant I thought, only up until 2 weeks ago, that I'd have months to consider what to do next with my life and where to go. But suddenly, needing to move onwards, means a choice needs to be made in what direction. 

Being so isolated, there was nobody to tell me where to go or what to do. It's totally up to me and me alone to figure out what I want and I only I can start making that happen. But that's quite tough, when a person is operating from such a negative frame, without the normal 'spark of life' to make things fall into place.

In being alone and facing honestly what was going on, I realized that, all along, I’ve known what I want. I knew I’d always travel again. Even before I started writing, I knew I’d leave. But only now I see how many fears I’d created in my mind, over the past year, in regards to travel…!!! I’d convinced myself travel was ‘bad’ for me and I wasn’t meant to be moving… Travel was ‘supposedly’ ‘Niamh running away from herself’. But travel has been my greatest teacher! So how can it be bad? Yet I’d made myself believe that getting on a plane was the wrong thing to do and I thought I’d be failing if I didn’t keep trying my best to stay in Ireland. I know now though that I’d be an even greater ‘failure’ in my own eyes, if I were to ignore what my heart is telling me to do, instead of trying to do what others ‘think’ an (almost) 30 year old ‘should’ to be doing with her life.

To simplify things: I stayed, because it wasn’t time to leave. And it was good that I did. And now I’ll leave because it isn’t time to stay. It’s so simple…

Things can be so EASY, when we get ourselves out of the way and do what we really want to do!

Anyhow… now that I know I DO want to move onwards, I’m choosing to go ONWARDS to Arklow. I know this will unsettle me and I’ll get moving. Step by step, I can shake how stagnant I feel life, or I’ve, become. Staying with my mam for the next few months, I can make plans, get my finances into gear, open myself up more to the world and connect with people on a daily basis (which is something I’ve missed out on quite a bit!). I can soon step out beyond Ireland once again, without feeling I’m doing something ‘wrong’. No. I'm going with the flow. That's what life is all about; it's for living, for connecting and sharing who we are. 

There’s a time for closing the door the world, and seeing what we ourselves are capable of. When that closure has let us reach our potential, it’s then time to live the change, to open the door to the world again and see what’s out there.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Opening up

Yesterday could’ve been a day to jump for joy, to shout to the heavens above, to ring everybody I know, to post 50 updates on Facebook and to scream in excitement for having finally finished something I’ve been working on for months. But I didn’t have any outbursts at all. Yesterday, when I wrote the last paragraph of the book I've been so focused on, I didn’t feel liberated, ecstatic, overjoyed, excited, free… I just felt… fine. All in a day’s work I guess… Now what????

This feeling of calm control was far from what I’d expected myself to experience, when I first started writing it, all those months ago. Especially given how elated and on top of the world I felt when I completed the very first draft of Digesting Wisdom. But the second time round – even if it’s a different story – doesn’t feel half as exhilarating. It’s just… normal.

Actually, I was a little shocked, at how much work I was able to do since coming back from Belgium, given how unsettled I was feeling. But it happened, without pressure or effort. In a way, it’s a relief that it’s over now; it’s at least out of my head and on paper. And I know that the road a book must travel, from it’s very first draft, to finally be printed, is a long one. So, I’m not expecting miracles to happen overnight and I’m not going to push or force this book to the shelves. Because, yesterday I realized: how on earth can the sequel get to the people, if the first title is hardly acknowledged?!?!? A reality-check came through… (even if, of course, it’s vital in life to ALWAYS expect miracles – only then can we be taken to different levels in our experiences). But at the moment, this is how it stands; if I want to get another book out, I HAVE to work with what’s already available. Only THEN can the sequel be welcomed and flow more easily.

As I’m writing this, my direction in life, seems pretty clear. But over the past week I’ve actually felt more disoriented and a little without purpose. Things have changed, by themselves, since I've come back. My perception has altered somewhat... God, how much can a person want in this life! I just completed another book, for crying out loud!!! And EVEN STILL I claim so hopelessly that I’m without direction!  
Well, I’m not here to beat myself up over what feelings have been coming through. Instead they need to be acknowledged. Only then can I realize, that yes, my life is changing, on its own accord. So, it must be what I need. My situation and focus are shifting… And that feeling of disorientation has been coming exactly on time: when one thing in my life has completed itself, instantly there's space for other things to enter. And this is the point where I say: I look ahead and opportunities are everywhere, the road is open, the future (and therefore ALWAYS the present) is bright… But it may be SO bright, that I can’t see what’s ahead! I’m blinded by this light… And have never felt to be so in the dark, as a result.

My usual reaction to this is to get on a plane, travel and I’ll find the answers. I’ve been tempted to... I've wanted to surf the internet for jobs abroad, to go teaching again, to find volunteer placements maybe. But I’m consciously NOT doing that (well, not yet anyhow)… I’m waiting patiently… Because the internet overwhelms me with things I ‘MUST’ do. I get more lost, frustrated and blind to what’s around me. This is something I’m trying to avoid… I don’t want to miss my life, here and now, by searching everywhere for what I want to pursue in life. And since when can Mr. Google give me the answers? I’m not dissing him, of course… but, I can't expect him to tell me what’s in my heart or where my focus should be turning towards. 

The fact that I’m waiting patiently for answers, doesn’t mean I’m being a lazy bum, and not DOING in order to get things moving… But, before taking action, I have to be clear, within myself, what it is I want. As well, I STILL have to take my current circumstances into account and realize that I don’t have the finances (yet) to move away (not if I don’t have a job waiting). I’ve also committed myself to this little cottage, until May (the notion of being here till then, has only recently started to feel suffocating... Oh god… here she goes again, creating her own misery in a space she once needed and loved so much). Along with that, I’ve also got a book that’s on the shelves (partially) BUT still in need of a great publicity boost. So I can’t go anywhere. I’d be turning my back, way too soon… No, when it comes to moving, it needs to be so I can bring what I’ve started, along with me… without neglecting what I’ve set in motion. 

So I know I have to stick it out and wait patiently. Maybe I’m already answering my own questions here: the road is open, I’m not sure of my direction, it’s not YET time to move, I’ll only travel once the first book receives a few boosts… Hummm… maybe that’s it… It could be so simple… And I guess it is… if I stop trying to figure out the hows, whens, wheres and whys. I’ve to keep trusting that the answers are inside… I can’t force them to the surface, I can only be aware of what I feel and look for signs in the world around me to guide me onwards. I can only use what’s available to me, here and now, to move me onwards. So I won’t run to the airport, hoping that a flight will direct me to the place I’m meant to be. Because, even if I feel unsettled right now, I know this is where I’m meant to be… lost in the dark, blinded by the light and patiently waiting for it to dim, so I can see the next step. (this is actually making me feel more excited, than I did yesterday, when the last chapter was written!!!!). Happy days as always.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Serving Vipassana

A long pause later and I’m back in Athenry. I’m sitting by the fire, settling down again after a trip to Holland and Belgium. I spent Christmas in Holland with my sisters and on the 26th I headed off to Belgium to serve at a 10-day Vipassana meditation course in Dhamma Pajota. This is the same meditation course I sat in both Ireland and India; the one where the students are silent for 10 days, meditating for 10 hours a day, disconnected from the outside world, not permitted to read, write, make eye contact or use body language. Anybody who has ever completed a 10-day course as a student can apply to serve at any centre on any given course. Being a server means to voluntarily help out with the running of the course and experience what goes on behind the scenes. So… after having completed 2 courses as a ‘sitter’, I wanted to attend one as a server. I chose the centre in Belgium, because it worked out easily, given that I was Holland for Christmas (I’d only have to travel 3 hours from my sister’s place). 

On the 26th the course was due to start. I left Holland, took the train to Dhamma Pajota and instantly it was as if I entered a different world. Even though I wasn’t a student on the course and wouldn’t have to take a vow of silence or be sitting on a cushion for 10 hours a day, I still disconnected from the world, from days, dates and time, from Christmas festivities, from New Year’s celebrations, from writing, from reading, from mobile phones and from the internet. 

It was such a freeing experience to consciously focus ONLY on what I was doing at the centre. And all pulls towards the outside world stopped. YES!!!! The intensity of what was happening on the campus really brought us servers to be totally present in that situation and give everything we could for the purpose of keeping the course running smoothly and the students – who were going through probably some of the toughest times in their lives – as comfortable as possible, so they could complete the course with little distractions.

I was put on the kitchen team and GOD how happy I was! Working and preparing food from fresh every day, for 100 students, was therapy in itself. Because I've sat a couple of courses, I know how valuable food becomes, when meditating so intensely, sitting in silence and going through emotional, physical and mental pain in a secluded manner, often drowning in sorrow, despair, depression. Food becomes something so precious - especially because there are only 2 meals a day. So, being placed in the kitchen, where I was able to play a tiny part in bringing the students their food, was a hugely satisfying experience for me. And from day 1, my own appetite shot sky high… Not too sure why... Maybe it was the fresh produce, the goodness, the exciting recipies and the efforts we put into the preparation of every meal. Maybe it was the community spirit and homely feel I had on the team or maybe it was just because we were working 10 and 12 hour days and slowly becoming physically exhausted. Whatever the reason, I was delighted to witness how my position permitted me to feed so many, as well as myself, in great abundance (quality giving the food more richness than the quantity). That was probably the biggest lesson of all.

I say it was physically draining to be serving and working so hard, but that didn’t take away my feeling of satisfaction. I had a few daunting moments, when I actually wondered if I’d be able to keep up the pace. But we were told by the teacher to be selfish, even if we were serving others. We were told to constantly enquire within: 'what am I gaining from this?' A strange concept it seems: to be selfish in the act of giving selflessly! But I slowly understood what he meant. I realized that if we were draining ourselves, in the act of serving others, then we actually wouldn’t be serving others from a good, healthy, positive space. Then there’s no point in serving! If we couldn’t feel that we were gaining, then it was best for the servers to step back from their position and join the meditation sittings instead of doing the work. It’s true what they say: a person can only give wholeheartedly to others, if they’re giving to themselves first. 

For me, even if my body was drained, I felt deeply satisfied. I was able to keep my own daily meditations (around 4 hours a day) deep and the lessons continued to reveal themselves constantly. That was my ‘selfish’ act. It meant I was able to become selfless and gain so much from being there. It wasn’t only the meditations and lessons that I gained, but also working with food, connecting with like-minded people and knowing I was making a contribution to the overall experience of the hard-working students, brought out different sparks from within myself that I'd forgotten ever existed. And the inspiration I gained, gave me energy to give and give and give. 

I guess, if a server manages to absorb themselves FULLY in what they’re doing, they too go into a process of cleansing and purifying the mind (which is what the students are doing, in their endless hours of meditation). Being selfless, means we’re dissolving the tendencies of the ego; we don’t feel better or worse than anybody. We’re all the same. And if we’re all the same, we understand that everyone should receive goodness, not only we, ourselves, on a personal level. Give to others whatever you'd wish to receive. Then it's bound to return. It’s GIVING without trying to be GETTING… 

As the week progressed and the campus continued to be the ONLY thing that received my attention, it became so uplifting to realize the world doesn’t revolve around MY needs, MY problems, MY worries, MY dramas! God, how free I felt! I’ve heard how beneficial it can be, to serve selflessly without expecting to be getting ANYTHING materialistically or verbally in return. And this was the first time for me to truly experience how much a person can grow by doing so.

Due to the intensity of the course, it felt to have lasted forever. But it was a very happy 'forever'! Our team was like a little family. We connected instantly, we knew how to deal with each other’s moods, we worked synchronized and had some hilarious moments in the busiest of hours. We didn’t really acknowledge the New Year, besides the exchange of some best wishes during the preparation of breakfast on the morning of the 1st. And I was delighted… no major build-up, so no come down and the simple life is so balanced and fulfilling!

When it came to leaving, I didn’t feel things were over. Not at all. It felt things were, and still are, only beginning. I was happy to move back to Ireland and, right now, I'm intrigued by what can happen over the next months. These past few days, I feel a part of me is searching for something and the world feels open again. Perceptions have altered just a little bit more and I know my time here in the cottage might be winding down – well come May I’ll definitely be on my way. But where to, who can say?! I can’t. All I can say is that I’m open to opportunities and unsure of the exact direction but certain of what the bigger picture is all in aid of; living and loving life.

Wishing you all an amazing 2013... let the change and transformations manifest in all of our lives... What a wonderful time to be alive. Love love love always xxx