Watercolour is an unforgiving medium. It demands patience, which is something I tend to remember once I’ve messed it up a bit. In the cherry above you can see a dark line on the edge of the cherry, which came about because I wanted to make the cherry darker, but wasn’t patient enough to wait for each layer to dry.
The banana has some ‘cauliflowering’ from where I failed to create a decent shadow and left too much water sitting on the page. And the artichoke has a soft blurry edge from where again I struggled to create a shadow.
All the fruit was drawn from life, but the apples, as you can possibly tell from their odd shapes, were moved from the table for dinner, and then I finished up the painting elsewhere, fruitless.
There is an obvious lack of colour theory in the single landscape picture – painted from a photo I took on an evening walk. The hills in the background ought to be cooler. The thing that looks like a stick is supposedly a path, but it doesn’t seem to sit in the grass.
The lavendar is crisp, simply because it’s from a tutorial I was following. Tutorials are good, you can learn a lot from them, although it’s also important to mix in some of your own constructions.
I have an awful lot to learn, but I feel like despite (or because of) all the mistakes, I’m making progress.
In her twenties, the nun in the book
went to an interview for a place at the National College of Domestic Subjects
to study cookery. In front of the panel, she was asked to read a section from
The Times newspaper. Having been born to wealth and educated by her mother to
become a lady, she read with what she describes as a ‘cut-glass accent’.
A chap on the panel whispered, “I
don’t think Sister Agatha will be much good in the East End of London.”
At which point she realised her error
and broke through the ice around them by adding, “Now, me ‘ole Dutch, where we
Smiles appeared throughout the panel,
which decided to accept her. She’d proven she could adapt her tone.
Speaking in an inclusive manner can be
Conversing isn’t always easy,
especially across cultures, across differences in educational opportunity and
across generations. I think those of us who seek out opportunities to converse
across such barriers don’t give ourselves enough credit for what we do.
Just the other week I was reminded how
hard we must work to get the most out of a conversation.
Imagine a very tidy living room and a
I was sitting upright, body lent
forward, alert because I was having coffee with my friend´s mother – a tiny
woman with strong eyes. Such a situation can be a little daunting even if you
speak the same language, but here I was having to converse in Spanish. Spanish.
That language which has me dancing on the edge of my comfort zone on an almost
This time, I was talking about France
I have within me a repertoire of short
stories to which I have learnt, through perseverance and embarrassment, the
relevant vocabulary. Good conversations involve stories or at least interesting
examples the other person can connect to. Stories also fill time and make a
conversation feel fluid.
What’s more, I quite enjoy trampling
over people’s assumptions about me. I enjoy eliciting surprise. You need a bit
of wonder sprinkled in a conversation to keep your audience paying attention.
During this conversation, however, I
was doing nothing artful with my language
The anxiety that strikes me whenever I
must speak to someone new in Spanish had entered my bones, and the cogs in my
brain were overheating. The Spanish grandmother didn’t ask complex questions,
but her Spanish is drenched in dialect, which frustrated our translator and aid
(her son), who desperately wanted me to understand for myself.
I was speaking particularly badly
I was nervous. So out of necessity,
the Spanish grandmother was taking responsibility for the structure of the
conversation. I hate this, but whilst I can structure a conversation in
English, doing the same in Spanish is beyond me.
From the start, she knew I taught
Like many people, she was curious as
to how I’d ended up where I was. I explained how I’d worked in a ‘proper job’
once upon a time. In an office, at a desk, next to a window. And I explained
how I’d watched Spring come from behind the glass pane, summer pass by, and
eventually autumn arrive. Then I told her about France. I told her about
working the land, driving diggers and feeding the sheep.
Now lost between a historic
frustration and a series of memories, I described my nostalgia for that
physical sensation of labour. I tried to avoid romanticising it because hard
physical labour is not romantic. But I did contrast the physical work on the
land to the labours of the mind. And all this in broken sentences with the
verbs conjugated aloud.
The Spanish grandmother frowned
Her eyes communicated her recognition
of my naivety, not in a patronising manner, but in the way that a teacher might
look at a child who just hasn’t quite got it. A maternal look, but not a soft
Her voice, however, when she spoke,
was soft and steady. She said that outside work is both, body and mind.
I felt that she was navigating through
some of her own memories
Even now she works on the land and has
done I believe for much of her life. Her skin is golden, showing a lifetime of
being drenched in sunlight. The previous week she’d been picking flowers. She
knows more about the land than I ever will, but when she spoke, her words were
more like poetry, describing the relationship between the worker and the land
as a form of art.
This was not what I had expected
As I learnt about the woman I was
speaking to, I was reminded of how although she had little formal education,
she possessed immense wisdom, and it gave me an insight into my own child-like
self. In her eyes, I am not much older than a child.
Although, she acknowledged with a
little surprise, I have experienced a lot for one so young.
Her school life had centred around the
Every morning in her school she’d had to start with prayers because her school life had happened under Franco’s Catholic Nationalism. A complete contrast to my upbringing. I declared myself an atheist at the age of 7. The only people who argued the case for religion with me were my father (whose beliefs don’t appear to include an almighty being) and much later, Grand-père (who went to mass every Sunday and brought me back gigantic meringues).
She asked about my religious beliefs
or lack of belief
And I fumbled through my vocabulary,
trying to find the words to describe something I’m not sure I could articulate
in English. All the time she watched me with immense curiosity.
Religion in Spain is a dangerous
topic. Some people talk about religion as a pillar holding up the rest of life,
whilst others have an audible snarl in their throats when they mention the
church. I’m fascinated by these attitudes to religion, but I know I must tread
with care. The girls at school describe my Yorkshire influenced accent as being
cute, and although I’m sometimes conscious of the childish sound of my voice,
sometimes I’m grateful for it.
She listened though, receptive to what
I was saying, and I was grateful.
And then just before she was about to
leave, she motioned to my ebook reader
It lay on the coffee table where I’d
discarded it when she’d arrived. She told me she didn’t read on phones and
suchlike, she reads books printed on paper. A literature lover. Despite all the
differences we might have, we are fellow bibliophiles. My heart felt lighter.
Which brings me back to my
Grandmother’s book about a nun
I started off sceptical. Reading about
a rich young lady who gave up her fiancé and dedicated her life to her God, I
wasn’t sure how well I’d connect. At first, I found her story a little
And then, in her fifties, she decides
that she’s going to travel. She doesn’t have much in the way of cash, because
nuns don’t, and yet, her passion to travel forced her to find a way. And that I
could relate to.
What’s more, when she talked about her
terrible driving, I couldn’t help but think of the habit-wearing nun who nearly
ran me over the other day.
The book was A Nun’s Story by Sister Agatha and Richard Newman.
The environmentalist, Dr John Francis, didn’t speak for 17 years. It wasn’t that he couldn’t, it was that he’d got sick of arguing with everyone. To tackle this, he decided to not speak for one day. That one day proved a bit of a shock. What took him by surprise was how much he learnt about listening. And so, the next day, he didn’t speak either.
This continued for 17 years.
I thought about John Francis the other morning when I woke up unable to speak. A silence they call ‘afónica’ in Spanish. A curse that teachers, who depend on their voices, are susceptible to. It was not that I felt unwell. As far as I could tell, the rest of me was fine.
Yet when I opened my mouth there was no sound
Since my job is to teach conversation this presented a unique challenge. And, like for John Francis, not speaking proved educational.
I discovered that:
I hadn’t been aware of how frequently I’m speaking
The students help each other more when I’m not getting in their way
It’s not hard to give corrections on paper, but effective praise is always difficult
Luckily, my first class was of twelve-year-olds
It’s a good class and the students and I have a nice rapport. They don’t have an expansive vocabulary and grammatically they’re just learning the past tense, yet, due to their less aggressive hormones, they have more freedom of expression than some of the older students.
They’re all different from one another
And I’ve become rather attached to them all. One child responds to every question by exclaiming ‘oh my god’ (in Spanish), before collecting himself and answering the question. They make me laugh.
The morning’s task was a role-play about an ice-cream shop
They take it seriously as it’s preparation for their exam. The work in pairs. One child has some question prompts whilst the other holds an information leaflet. This is partly a reading comprehension exercise, but I focus on their ability to construct questions. Most errors are derived from incorrect word order or missing auxiliary verbs (do/does, am/are/is, can).
Unable to speak, I listened and jotted down corrections in my notebook
The pages filled with scrawl as the children spoke. Unless they stopped and looked at me, unable to continue without a prompt, I didn’t interrupt. I waited until they’d completed the task before sharing my notes.
Normally once they have finished, I go over the questions out loud. The children tend to lean forward in their seats to see the paper and to watch my lips. I trace over the relevant points on the paper with my fingertip. This systematic reading, after correcting for their mistakes, allows the children to hear everything joined together. It’s the point where it’s easiest to identify between those who are genuinely engaged and those who are bored. I read through the role-play at natural pace letting them feel the language in action.
But this was impossible without a voice. Instead, I used the prompts I’d scribbled down to help the children themselves find the correct phrases. Correcting pronunciation took some creativity, but somehow we managed.
Surprisingly, they needed fewer prompts than I’d supposed
Which made me question how much of my speaking is for them and how much it is for me. The truth is, I enjoy speaking. I like telling stories. But what about them? Their eyes light up when I’m telling a story, but their eyes also light up when they’re the ones with the tale to tell.
When they laugh, giggle and share their own eccentric ideas I know they’re enjoying themselves. Part of this confidence comes from my own story-telling – I make the unconventional permissible. But perhaps I’ve not been taking this far enough?
Now, I find myself wondering how can I shift back and forth between them and me in a more balanced fashion?
My second discovery was that I get in the way of them helping each other
Knowing I wasn’t going to leap in, there were a few students who started taking more responsibility for their partner’s learning.
This is something I believe to be valuable but I have been struggling to encourage.
I’ve tried mixing up the pairs of students
I was hoping to find pairs who are willing to challenge each other and push each other a little further. This is more difficult than it sounds. Sometimes the intention is there, the students want to help one another, but they do so in Spanish which isn’t helpful. Other times their kind advice becomes telling. Occasionally it takes a stronger tone and comes across as posturing. But then, there are some stunning partnerships where the peer support is wonderful to see.
And although I’ve thought about all this before, I’ve been rather blind
Because having not spoken for a day, it’s obvious that one of the biggest reasons why one child doesn’t speak up and help their partner, is me.
I’m getting in the way of the children helping one another
As without a voice, I was unable to make instantaneous corrections, they leapt in to explain things to one another. And in English. My inability made them act as if they were me. They momentarily took on my role.
It seems I need to think this over. The children are able to help one another out but often don’t. What is it they lack? Is it a sense of responsibility to their partner? Is it something to do with permission? I know I’m getting in the way here, so what is it that I need to do differently?
On reflection though, I’m proud of them and how they handled themselves.
Which brings me onto my third point, praise.
Regardless of what you do, criticism is easier than constructive praise
Constructive praise is difficult. As the conversations progressed, I took notes of the incorrect grammar, the misused vocabulary or the pronunciation errors. These mistakes stand out to me as if they were painted in vivid colours.
Praise-worthy constructions don’t flash so boldly in my awareness
Since when we’re thinking about praise, we’re thinking about incremental improvement. Especially when it comes to language acquisition. The changes from one week to the next are tiny. And yet, it’s this progress that needs to be praised. It’s the journey of continuous learning, which is so hard to stick at, that deserves commendation.
Ideally, I like to give specific praise
It is more memorable for the student. Sometimes using a phrase on the paper allowed me to do this, but I found that without a voice it was tricky.
General praise can be given through body language
Although… I already tend to smile a lot.
Excessively it has been said. And I guess in the back of my mind I have the image of a ‘cool’ person who doesn’t grin like a mad cat at everyone shouldn’t be. I’m not that person. When I’m happy it’s impossible for me to hide my smile.
Once upon a time, I worked as an au-pair
My own advice to new au-pairs, who would despair at the children they had to somehow care for, was don’t force the children to like you. We all want to be liked, but it’s important that we also respect not everyone is going to like us. When we try to be likeable, we are doing so because we’re driven by fear. We present something fake and are therefore being dishonest.
Trying to get everyone to like you is the surest way to screw-up
Already, working with teenagers I worry that they think I try too hard to make them like me because of my wild grin. Losing my voice made me more conscious of my facial expressions. I didn’t have much else to communicate praise with.
What reassured me though were the questions I’d asked earlier in the week
A teacher hadn’t turned up, so I’d taken the opportunity to ask the students for feedback. They wrote down some thoughts and suggestions.
We don’t like speaking in English but, when we have to speak with [Catherine] we feel so comfortable because she is always smiling.
[Catherine] smiles a lot and I feel safe when I talk with [her] in class.
Maybe all my worry had been for nothing
And when my voice disappeared knowing that my smile had been regarded positively gave me a bit more confidence. Which meant, that on occasion, I went further and beamed with a thumbs up at times to make my point clear.
They are all remarkable individuals.
I remember when I was reading The Ragged Edge of Silence
That’s the book John Francis wrote on his experience of being silent. He describes teaching a discussion class without speaking. It seems so contrary to my own university experience where all my teachers at university did was speak. It lodged in my mind as remarkable. In his TED talk he says:
“Now this was a discussion class and we were having a discussion. I just backed out of that, you know, and I just kind of kept the fists from flying. But what I learned was that sometimes I would make a sign and they said things that I absolutely did not mean, but I should have. And so what came to me is, if you were a teacher and you were teaching, if you weren’t learning you probably weren’t teaching very well.”
Dr John Francis
If you aren’t learning you probably aren’t teaching very well… Leaving space and silence for the students to develop their own voices shouldn’t be remarkable, it should be part of what it means to teach.
Moving onwards, what I can focus on here is:
Varying how much I am contributing to the conversation
Staying quiet and letting the students correct each other
Investigating what is important about praise
And I can smile plenty.
Not being able to speak didn’t prove to be much of a problem
My job is one where speaking is taken for granted. But being ‘afónica’ for the day was a good lesson in the importance of speaking less.
Every now and again I spend a day being a real, proper tourist. In the case of my visit to Granada it was an entire weekend, a good part of which was taken up by the Alhambra.
You have to book tickets well in advance so I was all prepared for a crowded space, filled with hot and bothered tourists talking too loudly. Which meant that I was pleasantly surprised, when, having slogged my way up the hill, I found that the Alhambra wasn’t chocker-block with people, but, actually, especially in the gardens, was peaceful.
It’s not to say there weren’t people, yes I had to queue a while to use the ladies, but the space is so large, there’s just so much of it, that you can find yourself in a peaceful corner. And, if it just so happens you find yourself in a crowd, you just have to wait for them to pass by. They come in waves. As long as you move at a different pace, it’s alright.
My knowledge of Spanish history is… improving. The Romans were here, they built a fort. Muslim Emirs with very long names were here, they built the palaces – hence all the stunning, intricate design work – and Catherine of Aragon’s mum was here. That’s Isabel I, Queen of Castile, husband of Ferdinand. The mother wrote an essay on this royal couple at school. Christopher Columbus was here to get his travel documents signed off. Napoleon tried to destroy it and some poets wrote about it.
When you get tired of history and wander back down into town, there are plenty of tea rooms to quench your thirst.
Sometimes it’s good fun being a tourist. Sometimes you need to really holiday.
Feeling ill this week I took to the sofa and immersed myself in Victor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning. It’s a book that I’ve been meaning to read for a while. One that I see recommended in various places and given praise, but at the same time I was a bit wary. I expected a rather dark book.
Victor Frankl was an Austrian psychotherapist. His personal
experience in a concentration camp during the Second World War forms the
backbone of stories for his psychological theory that is shared in the book. I
read it front cover to back cover in one afternoon. I found it surprisingly
As well as being an autobiographical account of his ordeal in the concentration camps, Victor Frankl’s book dealt with the transitions that framed his imprisonment. He wrote about the initial humiliation and the shock, and then, at the end, he wrote about the vast unease that came following liberation, and how the psychologically, this didn’t happen in an instant.
And transition periods fascinate me. They feel like
something we don’t pay enough attention to. Too often we concentrate on the big
reason for changing and miss the details of the change in the process.
Not quite yet, but soon, I’m moving to far and distant lands
Already I can feel the tension in my body increasing. I say
that, and I haven’t yet got back home to England. I’ve got two steps ahead
planned, multiple transitions, and as much as I love novelty, my body does not.
Before therapy I described this as a change funk. Now I’m a
little more attune with what is going on. I know that my hunger is all or
nothing. I know that my sleep is lots or little. I know that my skin is about
to object in the only way it knows how, and that the chances are that within
the next month I’ll have mouth ulcers.
It they were only spots, I could ignore them
But with stress there’s an emotional side to too. The extremes of my emotions are more likely to raise their heads these next few months as I switch countries and continents.
After all this moving around is not a holiday; holidays come
with less admin. This is a restructuring. It includes everyday things like:
Where and what food I eat.
Where I wash myself.
The bed in which I sleep.
The weather (and season).
And what’s going to happen is that many of my wonderful
habits are going to get shook up. They won’t feel quite so automatic, so habitual.
I’ll find myself swinging off-course, which is not where I want to be. Therefore,
I’m writing this article to get my head around how much effort it’s going to
take to rebuild my routine.
So why am I going to struggle here?
Lack of energy management
Absence of triggers
There are many fears that influence how we structure our
The fear of missing out is one of these, but when we think
about the fear of missing out, I believe we often skip a step. The truth is
that when I’m joyous and focused I don’t have this feeling. If I’ve spent the
day loving what I’m doing I don’t worry that I didn’t happen to go with some
friends to see some film. I’m content.
It’s when I’m not content that the fear of missing out comes
into play. So, if I have this fear arising in me then I know what I do. I need
to look back a bit at what I’m doing with my time, and recognise that there is,
somewhere in the mix, a lack of self-satisfaction. I need to self-soothe. I
need to take time and care for me.
When I first landed in Spain, finding friends was a priority
I felt very much like I needed to pour a huge amount of
effort into my social life immediately, or that I wouldn’t have one. After all
I was going to be living in the country for eight months.
At the time this seemed to make complete sense
When I look back, that’s bullshit. Hindsight is a good teacher. Looking back, I
can see that although those first weeks introduced me to some people I go out
for coffee with, my social life isn’t built around them. The meaningful
conversations and relationships I’ve built came from investments of time I made
much later, at my own natural pace.
The fear of missing out also drives me when I’m back home
Moving back to England, for a few weeks, I know what it is that
I most fear. It’s not having enough time for all the people I love. This
there-is-not-enough-time belief comes from the fact that the number of days is
short. Such a belief instils me with fear and puts me at risk of doing a very
typical Catherine screw-up.
I’m going to try and do too much.
You see, I am still an introvert
Sometimes people who have recently met me find this funny.
What with my broad grin, direct eye contact and enthusiasm for hearing my own Yorkshire
voice I don’t always come across as an introvert. But I recharge alone. People
exhaust me. My energy builds back up when I am quiet, working on my own
projects, writing, reading, tidying my bedroom. It can be frustrating, since I
love being with people so much, but it’s important for me to recognise that
this is how I work.
For me, although my time is short, energy management is more
important than time management.
But you know what I’m going to do the moment I reach far off
lands… I’m going to forget how exhausting new colleagues, new students and new
house-mates are. I’m going to say yes to every invitation to coffee I get.
You see, moving to a new country is all very exciting
Meeting new people kicks out a burst of adrenaline. I
underestimate how much energy gets sapped seeing someone can be. Long-term
friends who you haven’t seen in a while are a perfect example of this.
The excitement builds, I bounce, my speech gets to almost
the same speed as a Spaniard, my mind goes wild as it tries to connect
everything together. It feels like the past, so familiar, yet also new. It’s a
precious sort of conversation.
All this excitement acts as a mask for how tired I am
Unfortunately, even the everyday becomes more exhausting
when you move about.
Habits, scientists say, emerge because the brain is constantly looking for ways to save effort. Left to its own devices, the brain will try to make any routine into a habit, because habits allow our minds to ramp down more often.
The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg
But what I’m doing is upsetting my routine
My brain has energy saving routines well engraved into it,
but I’m going to change things up. Eating breakfast takes more energy when you
have to decide what to eat. Shopping for food is more effort when you don’t
know where the pasta isle is. Getting money out from the cash point makes your
mind spin when you’re remembering different codes for different accounts and
paying attention to avoiding currency conversion fees or ATM charges.
Everything I do takes more energy that I presume.
There’s a lesson in quality over quantity that I should pay
I pretend to myself I know it. Most of the time I’m pretty
good at abiding by my belief that it’s not seeing someone a lot that matters.
What’s important to me is having a genuine connection when you do. However,
prolonged absence, or a bout of loneliness, tends to make me question this
The mixture of adrenaline and anxiety comes together and…
So I’m going to fall flat on my face because I’m inadequate
at managing my energy.
But now I want to talk about habit triggers
When you twist your life around and change things up, you
lose some of your routines and habits.
Whilst I sit on my bed each morning and have my breakfast, I
practice my Spanish flashcards. But in England I have breakfast at a table
because we’re all very proper like that in my family.
Lunch time here is about three on a weekday, because I
finish at school at half past two. But lunchtime at home will be after twelve…
where therefore does a siesta fit into my routine? Not at half past three for
sure… And it’s not that I always sleep in my siesta time, but I do tend to take
a moment to relax. Sometimes I write in my diary, paint or read, but I make
sure I’m not rushing into the next activity.
Then there’s exercise. Here, I have combined riding my bike
into my life by making it part of my commute when I’m teaching in town. In
England I tend to run or cycle, but in all honesty the hills of home, after the
flatness of here, are quite intimidating.
Part conscious, part unconscious, these triggers are built into
At home it is inevitable that I will settle back into an old
routine. The triggers of the past are still wired into my brain. I have some
good home-habits and some bad home-habits. Here I wake up at half six. At home
it used to be more like eight.
My wonderful luck means I have a mother who will knock on my
door and say something helpful like “When are we doing yoga?”
Maybe I will have breakfast in the kitchen, but maybe I can
do my flashcards there instead? A siesta at half one, or two is plausible,
especially if it’s collapsing on the sofa with a book (this is how I read so
much). But the environmental triggers aren’t the same.
The harder challenge will be in far and distant lands
I have more space and more options. What form does exercise
take, what does my diet look like, what hours am I working, is lunch eaten at
home or at work? But this itself is part of the challenge, it’s part of the
fun. It’s the time where you get to start over, test out a new structure,
consider what is important and then make your days the evidence of those
There you are.
That’s what’s swirling around in my brain right now
That’s my teaspoon of awareness that I’m stirring into a
whole lot of unknowns. I’m going to react too much to fear, I’m going to
mismanage my energy and I’m going to have things that seemed easy, habitual,
become a whole lot harder.
And reading Victor Frankl’s book has given me something to
think about. Transitions are hard. Change doesn’t come easy and there’s always
But overall, my transition is a beautiful opportunity, a
gift, and something I shouldn’t complain about but should be grateful for.
Where am I going to screw up?
Where I let fear dictate
Where I don’t manage my energy
And where I don’t compensate for an absence of triggers
Which means I’ve got some planning to do.
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A chap messaged me recently because he’d read what I’d
said about my ‘bullet train’ mother, and he wanted to know more.
And since I am not an expert at meditation and all that, (although
yes, I do it daily), I asked my mother, who happened to be visiting me in
Spain. I created a mega mind-map, and this has resulted from that conversation.
I wrote it, the mother edited it, and here it is.
Travelling means bumping into other travellers
This week there’s a woman staying in the house with me,
another Brit, another fed up soul who decided that the office didn’t suit her.
She’s on her journey and I’m on mine, and for a week or two our paths run
The inevitable exchange of stories took place. Not where and
who and what – although we dropped some place names and mentioned some
activities and described some memorable characters – but the story about how we
each became who we are, and how we’re going to become the people that we will
And it’s these people, running parallel, sometimes for a
long time, sometimes a short time, who feed us with stories, who open our
minds, who influence where we go.
And this woman, a yoga teacher, is one of the many who have
reaffirmed that my journey involves meditation.
In this article, I’m going to talk about how meditation
fits within my life:
I’m going to talk about what I do on a bad day
Then I’m going to talk about having a formal foundation
Finally, I’m going to speak about how being crap at meditation is beside the point
To begin, I want you to imagine I’m having a bad day
My head is whirring. I’m thinking all the thoughts I
shouldn’t. I feel small and vulnerable and helpless, yet at the same time as if
I must act now. I crave the reassurance of busyness and chocolate cake. No…
give me chocolate cake on the move. And yet, if I had chocolate cake, I would
be bewildered by it, and were I to move, I’d end up going in circles.
On occasion I seem to lose all my marbles and I have no idea
who I am or what I am doing. It’s possible I’m not the only person who does
this, maybe there are other people as dramatic as me out there.
So feeling terrible, I lay down. On the floor. And I breath.
First out, then in, but slow, gentle, soothing breaths. Like the air is
caressing my insides. And I don’t bother moving. I want to, but I know it would
only make things worse. It would fuel the need for more movement which, in
turn, would make me more likely to break things or upset people. Plus, when I’m
overwhelmed, my body has an awkward habit of giving in anyway, I become
So instead of moving, I focus on breathing
Exhalation follows inhalation, one after another. I let the
manic thoughts dance through my brain, kicking their legs up in a conga line
until my mind begins to quieten down.
I stay there, lying on the floor, until I have felt calmness
in my mind, a period of tranquillity, and then I lie there a bit longer. Now
though, I begin to let myself plan what I will do when I stand up. More Cuban
dancing starts up, and I let that die down, breathe, and then return to my
I wait until I have a solid plan
That means I know where
I’m going to move, how I’m going to move and why I’m moving. Only then do I let
myself sit up. I take my pulse, check it’s normal, and breathe-in, breathe-out,
repeat a few times. The pulse checking is an oddity that came about from the
PTSD, but it does make me more aware of how my stress affects my body. Once I’m
happy that I have a sensible heart rate, a plan and steady breathing, I stand up.
If you aren’t as bananas as me, maybe your mind doesn’t
flake out with such drama. Maybe you can continue (or at least sustain
yourself) through the overwhelm? But what with my amygdala having a trauma
shaped dent in it, my brutal truth is, I can’t.
There’s no point pretending otherwise
If necessary, I would lay down on the floor multiple times a
day, building up space within my mind. Much of what trauma taught me is wrapped
up in this idea of getting myself lined up for what I want to do next. Now I
can generally calm my mind much quicker. Now I am better prepared to go after
But I get the fundamentals back in place first. Yes, it
sounds odd, but when I was fighting trauma, and things were particularly rough
going, I did need to fight for the fundamentals. I don’t think people place
high enough value on them.
Which is why having a system for emergencies is all well
But it’s not enough. You want car insurance before you drive
into the lamp-post. As you want a foundation in meditation before life has a
hiccup or big, unanswerable question starts to grow in your mind.
I believe that regular formal meditation helps
After much reading, I’m convinced that it strengthens my
mind in such a way that I can be less reactionary and more deliberate in my
actions. My mother has a wonderful formal meditation practice, whereas mine is
less disciplined. I tend to, but not always, meditate before bed, seated, with
a straight back, bum raised on a cushion, on my bed. I can meditate for hours
if I have people around me, for example on a retreat, but in my own bedroom,
with distractions abound, I sometimes find ten minutes to be hard work.
What though do those ten minutes look like?
Once comfortable, I either set a timer, or start an audio
track, or load up a video. Then I stay there, fidgeting as little as possible,
until the timer goes off or the media ends. If, when I sit down, I know I’m
going to have a hard time concentrating, I make sure that I either have a
guided meditation playing, or a sing-a-long meditation. My sing-along
meditation involves repetitive finger movements. These stop me fidgeting. And
the instructions in guided meditations (such as Headspace) were particularly useful
when I first started.
When it’s me and the egg-timer (and yes I might peek at it
every now and again if I’m bored) I sit and observe my breath. Every breath in,
every breath out.
It’s easy, isn’t it
Sit down, observe yourself breathing for a while, done.
Or maybe not. You’ve found a cushion, sat down, noticed your
breathing and then, you find yourself thinking. Your mind is sabotaging your
efforts. Which brings me to my final point…
Being crap at meditation is irrelevant
Sometimes, we run around because we’re scared of what might
happen when we stop. The more scared we get, the faster we run.
When we stop thoughts explode in our minds, we realise that
we’re feeling things that moments before we were oblivious to. Our organised life
loses clarity. Uncertainty builds. Are we doing this right? Is this what
happens for other people?
These thoughts are discomforting, and to ease discomfort, if
you’re anything like me, you desire action. You want results!
there belongs to the Mother.)
You need to do something. Anything. Now.
And feeling this urge and letting it pass ain’t easy.
Perhaps we feel it should be, because we’re not doing anything. Yet it’s not.
Our brains like things to be at an equilibrium
They spend much of their energy making sure that when we’re
hungry, we eat; when we’re tired, we sleep; when we’re cold, we put on a
jumper. Whatever our norm, our brains and bodies try to maintain it. However,
when you start a meditation practice, you begin a journey of change. Your
defence goes to full alert. Sirens sound. Your brain is going to fight hard to
make sure that its equilibrium is kept.
Even if your equilibrium happens to be sending you to an
Maybe you practice for some time and then your brain says
It doesn’t want to right now. It’s too busy. It feels like
you have no choice. You tell yourself that if only you had time, you’d do it,
but you’re very busy, too busy. There are other, more important things to do
than meditate. There’s no time. Wait… is that the truth? There’s not ten
minutes in the day where you can sit still? No, maybe that one’s a lie. Maybe,
you can’t face the idea of sitting down, still, doing nothing. Not a nice
truth, but better than a lie. Anyway, you don’t want to. So you don’t.
Your brain is so used to being full that it’s become
comfortable that way. It wants to maintain that fullness, it isn’t happy about
having space in there, let alone awareness. Your brain’s doing very well at
keeping you safe by hiding you from all that awareness of what you feel.
So you struggle.
And you signed up to becoming a tranquil person. You wanted
your stress-reduced in a proven-by-scientists method. The free health
supplement. You didn’t think about how this would mean living, for months and
months, years perhaps, on the edge of your comfort zone, in a place of change.
You thought it was sitting and breathing
You thought it was something you did
It’s not. It’s something that happens to you, in you, whilst
you’re building the space for it to take place.
You thought it was private
And it’s not. Because whilst you may sit cross-legged in a
locked room, the fact that you are changing is going to affect everyone around
you. Sooner or later, you’re going to stop being quite as predictable in your
reactions as you once were. You’re going to have a little more space between
the BAM of an event and your RARH of a reaction, and this may make some of the
people around you uneasy. They’re expecting an instant RARH.
But as you progress with meditation you start to realise
that things don’t stay the same, they are always changing.
Meanwhile, you may still sit down and, by accident, find
yourself planning a holiday
Or writing a complaint, imagining an argument with the
neighbour, sobbing, fidgeting, trying to roll your rr instead of singing the
mantra, slumping against the wall, cheating yourself out of the last thirty
seconds, starting the timer before you’ve settled, or whatever.
That’s the embarrassing truth of meditation. Sometimes your
brain is like a monkey. However, and of course there’s a huge ‘however’ here,
if you stick at it regardless of what happens, you do change.
And one day, when you’re least expecting it, someone will
say something that makes you stop. Something sweet, like they wish they could
live more in the moment, aware of what goes on around them, more like you.
So in summary (because as I said, we’re practicing
writing articles here):
On a bad day, I lay down until I have a solid plan.
But meditation isn’t a quick fix, you need to build a solid foundation.
And building that foundation can be a strange and uncomfortable process. Change always feels a bit weird.
But it’s worth it
You remember how, at the beginning, I said that the
traveller passing though my life this week and I exchanged stories: the stories
about how we each became who we are, and how we’re going to become the people
that we will be. Meditation has been part of these stories, and it’s clear,
when we listen to each other, that the change it has brought has helped us
craft the lives we want.
And keeps on doing so.
As for the chap who wrote to me, what I say is this, get
your bum on a chair, or on the floor, and start practicing.
Here in my Southern Spanish town, you sometimes have to think ahead. On a Sunday or a festival day normality ceases. When it rains nobody goes out as, due to a lack of adequate drainage, the streets flood. During the working week, many places close mid-afternoon, and places like the post office simply don’t bother reopening until the next day.
Here you can’t depend on a 24 hour supermarket or the bus arriving on time. On festival days (or during rain) the bus may or may not choose to run. Living here means that you have to be prepared in advance.
Planning ahead is also how I manage my own, unpredictable mental health. Since last week ended with a random burst of unsleepable madness, I thought I’d reflect a little on my ‘recovery day’ process to make sure that Monday morning had no choice but to go to plan.
I’m going to briefly cover…
The things I drop from my to-do list
The actions I take to get me back on track
The importance of good transitions
Sometimes the most important is what you don’t do
On Saturday night, before I went to bed, I wrote down a list of all the things I had to accomplish on Sunday. Then I removed everything I deemed unnecessary and could be put off. Writing this article wasn’t important enough to make the list, even though my original plan had it being edited by Sunday. Practicing Spanish was removed from the list too. Anything related to work was scribbled out. Any admin, scratched through.
It wasn’t that I was ruling out practicing Spanish, not at all, if I fancy practicing Spanish then that’s fine. But the thick black line removing it from my list affirmed that it wasn’t the priority for the day.
A rescue day, as I think of it, is not a normal day
On normal days I practice Spanish and I write articles. I stick to my bigger plan of learning goals and creative ambitions. On rescue days I rescue the little part of me that has been neglected and is screaming for attention through my sleep (or lack of sleep) and through all though ugly ways that stress makes itself known.
So what does this mean that I doing?
This morning I followed my morning routine, although much slower than normal. I had my coffee and my cereal. I watched a video about learning watercolour and I did yoga. Later I meditated.
Routine is important to me because when I’m working within a set routine I don’t need to waste energy making decisions.
Then I put my bedsheets in the washing machine and tidied my room. While the washing was whirring away I painted a pine cone and emailed my mother updating her on my life and my yoga practice. Keeping my mother vaguely in the loop is important.
The lady who I live with invited me to eat lunch with her.
In the afternoon I went out for a walk
It’s been raining here, most unexpectedly, and I perhaps lacked some fresh air. More importantly though, I needed to create space for my mind to mull over why it’s so upset. In the evening I went out for a coffee (descafeinado) and chocolate cake with a friend before going early to bed.
Which I guess doesn’t seem all that mad…
In fact it’s not all that different to what I normally would do. The difference comes in the transitions. When I’m picking myself up off the ground it’s rarely the activity that matters.
What matters is how I approach each activity
In one of his books I remember John Kabat Zinn suggesting we take special care to note the attitude we bring to the beginning of a meditation practice and the attitude with which we leave it. I try to apply this wisdom to each of my activities. Of course, it’s only possible for me to do this when I’m willing to slow right down.
I’ll give you an example
I posted my pine cone painting onto Instagram and was about to scroll through the feed, but noticed that I hadn’t consciously decided that this was what I wanted, so I paused, set a timer for ten minutes and then returned to Instagram. When the timer went off I stopped it. My thumb hovered over the feed for a moment while I thought. I knew I wanted to keep reading, but I also knew that I’d decided ten minutes was more than enough time, and so I stopped.
Or another example
At the end of the meditation track I play, the background soft noise continues some time after the meditation itself has ended. Normally I stop it playing and just get on with my day, but today I paid attention to my need to get up and be busy. I decided to wait until the very end and only stand up once I knew exactly what it was I was going to do.
But of course this is not easy
Rescue days might contain fewer tasks, but they are anything but easy. It is much easier to be busy. It’s easier to keep pushing yourself because that’s the muscle that you’ve spent your life strengthening. If you’re anything like me ‘more’ feels more natural than ‘less’.
But to slow down and catch myself, to not march but amble and take note, to set myself up for Monday morning and from there the rest of the week, this all means that I won’t just survive the week ahead but that I have the opportunity to enjoy it.
Living here in Spain the pace of life is slower
You can’t brutishly charge around expecting to have what you want when the rest of the town is busy having their extended lunch break. And you can’t expect that dinner is going to be an option at the moment you feel hungry. You have to learn to slow down to the pace of life around you. And you always have to be prepared for when, maybe, things don’t go your way.
So yes, I did less with my Sunday than I could have
I focused on what matters to my mental health most, and I made sure that I was aware of how I start and end each activity. I want to be the one choosing how I live rather than allowing myself to be led by compulsive desires.
And now I am prepared for Monday morning.
Do you actively change your behaviour to recover from a bad day? Or do you keep pushing on?
The children at school instructed me that I had to see the Easter processions. It’s not necessarily that the children are themselves particularly religious. A few are definitely so, more are kind of uncertain, a significant number seem to be solidly atheist. As far as I can tell though, of those from a christian background, they’ve all been baptised and many confirmed. The church plays a significant role within the community here.
Let me tell you that it’s a spooky experience seeing the people weilding torches, wearing masked faces in rich robes. Some off them suddenly broke rank and leapt towards me. A voice spoke out to me, teasing me in English refusing to give their identity but rewarding me instead by putting their hands inside their robes and pulling out…
… huge handfuls of sweets. Yep. They might look like their wearing cushions around their middles, but it’s actually millions of sweets. I came home with my pockets stuffed full.
Things like this, however obsurd them might seem to me, remind me that community rituals have a value. What do you think of such processions? Have you ever taken part in one?
When I was in Sicily I read a book about siestas1 and discovered that the siesta was, in the author’s opinion, the ideal time for either having sex or catching up on literature. It so happens that I once read a claim, in a Spanish newspaper, that the average Spaniard has more sex than the average Brit.
Maybe there’s some truth in the ‘more sex’ claim. After all, apparently 40% of Spaniards don’t read books and 35% only read one book a year,2 and yet many (at least here in the south) still do have some form of a siesta. Are they genuinely asleep, or maybe just watching day-time television? I wouldn’t want you to think that I was at all being scientific here. I’m not.
But some people are a bit more scientific about sleep than me
he came to visit a few weeks back DeepThought brought with him a book entitled ‘Why We Sleep’ written by the sleep scientist
Matthew Walker.3 DeepThought has not been taking enough siestas
recently, or at least he hasn’t been reading during them, because last year
when I saw him, he had the same book in his hands.
You’d be wrong to deduct from this that the book is a bore
It’s not. However, if you are one of the
many who don’t get enough sleep you might find it a horror.
and I did a deal. I think he was feeling guilty for reading so slowly. In
exchange for being allowed to read the book before he had finished it himself,
I would summarise my learning for him. Perhaps a mistake on his part. I’m not sure if he started regretting
lending me the book before or after I informed him that not getting his eight
hours a night would shrink his testicles.
This article however is less about facts and more about feelings
Here I’ll combine a few thoughts on how I feel about sleep:
The tiredness in school: teachers and students alike
The anxiety connection – a spiral
The sadness of ignorance and the hope of awareness
Monday morning arrives and I head to school
reluctantly gather in the staffroom bemoaning the coming of a new week. Supposedly
in the morning we are taller than at night, but at 8:25 am they seem shorter,
as if moving with a slight stoop, their limbs longing to lay back down.
wanted, it seems, to stretch their weekend out into the last moment – those
Saturday and Sunday moments with family and friends are so precious compared to
the chore of the week. I remind myself that this career that they’ve chosen wasn’t forced upon them but
was something that they spent many years training for. They’ve sat through
countless exams to be allowed this opportunity to teach, and yet they are going
to start their week wishing they didn’t have to.
It would seem surreal perhaps if it wasn’t so normalised
Monday morning one of the teachers I assist didn’t turn up, so I took the opportunity to sate
my personal curiosity. I quizzed the class on their sleeping habits. I
discovered that at the grand old age of seventeen, out of twenty-five or so
students, only two had managed to get eight hours sleep the night before.
wonder if I’m the only
person in the school with a fresh memory of what maintaining 8 hours a night of
sleep feels like. When was the last time many of these kids woke up fresh
faced? Last summer perhaps, when they reportedly sleep a good proportion of the
reassured them that it wasn’t
their fault that they were sleepy at half past eight in the morning, that it
was just their circadian rhythm being out of sync with the city’s Department of
Education. And then I apologised for informing them that if they weren’t
getting 8 hours of sleep a night then they’d have to study a whole lot more
because their memories were leaking like a patched-up bucket and their
creativity was as strong as soggy cardboard.
stared at me as if this was the first time anyone had said anything positive
about our biological need for sleep. In other words, like I was mad.
understand, I think, that sleep has some value – they do apologise to me, from
time to time, when their brains fail them mid-conversation. They explain that
they are sleepy. Some days some of them look like they’re going to slump over my desk. And
yet, they wouldn’t consider their sleeping patterns to be abnormal. They don’t
recognise the value of applying some change.
The teachers have an inkling that their biology demands more
they talk about sleep, they at least talk from a perspective that they know
they need to get more of it. The rhetoric is there even if there’s no follow up action. Societal norms
students however are sceptical of sleep. Another girl described sleep as boring, as if
the challenge was in fact to minimise the amount of sleep one could get by on
because watching television or scrolling through Instagram is so much more
exciting. One girl I asked talked about sleep being
pointless because she wasn’t
going to sleep anyway, she is too anxious to sleep.
Frankly, such attitudes terrify me
anxious, not sleeping enough, being more anxious, not sleeping enough… this is an interconnected spiral,
and fighting this spiral becomes the central theme in some peoples’ lives. Bad
sleep habits become ingrained and so freedom from anxiety, freedom to breathe
easy, enjoy life and be creative is strangled.
you are stuck in this spiral, then I feel for you.
I feel helpless standing in front of the class knowing that sleep deprivation
is so tightly linked to their mental health. These children are from a
neighbourhood where the main industry is seasonal citrus picking, they are not
privileged like me and their parents are not necessarily going to be able to
fund their therapy and their recovery when tragedy occurs.
Bless their little cotton (or polyester) socks, because they’ve no idea what lays ahead
am forever making mistakes when it comes to my mental health. Just this week I
found myself fighting with an old friend and having to apologise for a badly
worded comment to my sister. The friend was anxious and sleep-deprived, my
sister was fretting, and I have been having nightmares.
And why, because I haven’t
been honest enough with myself, because I haven’t been paying enough attention
to my own emotional needs and in my own quickly spiralling way this of course
meant that I wasn’t sleeping sufficiently which was making me grumpy and…
body responds with a barrage of defences. I survive wonderfully, fighting down
my foes, strategizing, analysing, making myself busy. And then I have a moment
of realisation of what I’m
doing to myself.
At this point I know I need to open up and slow down
need to talk, and probably cry, and then I need to make the journey from my
castle wall and back to my bed. I need to get my mind to somewhere safe where I
can fall asleep and stay asleep because it’s in the night, when I’m dreaming that my
mind can apply its magic. It’s in the night, when I’m dreaming that my mind can
finally process how I’m feeling.
that means I need a two-hour bedtime routine, so be it.
Nowadays I am slow to realise, but in the past I was totally ignorant of my needs
the past I didn’t
make the connection.
All suffering is caused by ignorance. People inflict pain on others in the selfish pursuit of their own happiness or satisfaction
The Dalai Lama
I had been inflicting pain on others for my own happiness that would be a
rather selfish and unkind way to be living, but the truth is that when I am
ignorantly barraging myself against the world I’m not getting anywhere near happy. I’m
occupied, busy, surviving, but happy… no.
comes from my moments of humility and generosity (to myself and to others) and
depends on me having a gentle perspective of my state of being. There is no
happiness when I am working from a place of defence.
And nothing makes me defensive as quickly as not sleeping properly
I am learning more and more about how my body and my mind are intricately woven
together each day. This opportunity to be a little less ignorant and a little
more responsible for my words actions is a gift.
hence, when I see the students being led by tired teachers to a belief that
sleep is almost an enemy of a good life, I feel helpless and afraid for them.
They joke about their sleep-deprivation, but I can’t bring myself to laugh.
Yet, I can make sure that when I turn up on a Monday morning, I am awake
sometimes, when someone is tired, I can say something gentle with the hope it
might one day sink in. When the teacher didn’t turn up the class decided that I would have
to teach them instead. Thankfully I’d got a good night’s sleep and was feeling
suitably creative so I set about improvising a class.
quizzing everyone on their sleep I asked if anyone could remember dreaming the
previous night. Two hands shot into the air. I smiled, took a deep breath and
surmised that it was interesting that the two people in the class who had slept
their eight hours had also remembered having dreams. A coincidence perhaps, or…
that’s another article.
So, just to summarise what I’ve written here
Sleepiness pervades society, making us all a little more stupid.
The teenagers I teach are sleep-deprived and don’t see the connection with their own mental health.
I am luckier, my luck is the gift of awareness. Sometimes, not always but sometimes, I can recognise my unkindness as stemming from too few hours steadily sleeping.
The book ‘Why We Sleep’ is surprisingly non-lecturing
It’s sometimes even apologetic about the
truths it breaks. It’s not one of these books that’s repetitive and fluffy. The
author has a scientific way with words, being clear about causation and
correlation and although the information he shares is sometimes horrifying, it
doesn’t come across as sensationalist.
At the back of the book Matthew Walker includes a reprint of this list of tips for a better night’s sleep.4 You might want to check them out. After all, would you be happier if you got a little more sleep?
The Art of the Siesta by Thierry Paquot (Translated from French). I apparently only rated it 3 stars on Goodreads so don’t consider this as a recommendation.
My favourite type of restaurant to frequent in Spain belongs on the edge of a small town. Outside on the road, or in an unmarked parking lot sits a collection of cars with the appearance of being unwashed, although the land here is so dry and the air swirls with so much dust that they could have conceivably been washed that morning.
Every time I approach such a restaurant I feel a little afraid. You can’t see too well inside, maybe older men sit outside, smoking, suggesting an all boys club, but on entering you discover the place to be loud with voices high and low. You take a seat, anywhere you want, and you’re offered the menu of the day: a selection of courses that will be brought out, one after another to be shared between you and your companions, all for a fixed (and very reasonable) price.
This is my favourite type of restaurant because it forgoes all that pesky decision making that comes from having to choose what it is you want.
Here I can just eat.
Sometimes though, life ain’t quite so easy.
“So—do you know what you want?”
This is the question my mother emailed me with after reading my previous blog posts (lessons from the mother), and by the question, she didn’t mean just for dinner, she meant in life. I stared at her email for a moment, considered my lists, my plans and the feeling that floods my heart when I’m doing something that I consider to be important and then my fingertips hit the keys in determined strokes. I wrote back, “Yes, I think I do.”
I thought, for my mother, as well as any other reader, I’d elaborate. I’m going to briefly elude to three stages of how I got here.
This isn’t guide to how to work out what it is that you want, I wouldn’t want to suggest that such a process would be the same for you, this is just a story of how things were for me. But, what with you being human too, chances are you’re going to relate to some part of my journey.
The stages so far:
Stage 1: Recognising I didn’t have a clue Stage 2: Accepting my long term goals were my long term goals Stage 3: Writing down the next step
Stage 1: Recognising I didn’t have a clue
Towards the end of my degree I proactively made an appointment to see the career counsellor. I was a few months off finishing my degree and hadn’t worked out what I was going to do after graduation. I had, in one moment, contemplated teaching, but after volunteering in a primary school for a while I came to the solid conclusion that teaching would be a long slog of me against the system.
This chap who was supposed to advise me was probably a great source of information for physicists looking to move into a hedge fund or academic department, but he didn’t excel with hysterical me. It was hardly his fault.
Wisely, in hindsight, he suggested speaking to a medical professional
Although he didn’t express himself very well. Of course I did not feel that not knowing what job to apply for constituted a mental health problem. I figured it was a very common challenge facing many graduates and that it would, in time, resolve itself.
In fact I didn’t understand that not knowing what I wanted was a real problem until a number of years later when my psychotherapist pointed it out to me. Graciously she guided me into the understanding that my incredible, analytical, rational brain (the one that was at home in the world of quantum mechanics) was a bully, and that my emotional needs were being squished, surfacing only in inelegant spurts of anti-social behaviour.
I needed these two parts of my brain to cooperate
The compromise however would have to be from the rational side of me. The side of me that understands my bank balance, writes my CV and earnt a degree. I really despised this idea, but eventually, after much fighting with myself, recognised that my emotions are impossible to reason with.
Now I had surrendered some of my stubbornness it was time to move onto the second stage.
Stage 2: Accepting my long term goals
It surprised me to discover that what I want is nothing new. The things that make me the happiest are pretty much the same things that made me the happiest when I was at school.
The desire for travelling has amplified rather, and become more nuanced. Painting and drawing have been pretty consistent activities throughout my life. And I whilst my standards have risen, my writing has been prolific since I was a teenager. I might have started my diaries when I was in my twenties, but the Christmas holidays of my sixteenth birthday I churned out 20,000 words. A year later I’d created most of a novel.
My problem however was that it all felt pretty much like playing
I’d written that novel after stopping studying English at school at the grand old age of sixteen, and although I did art at AS-level it became a horrific endurance battle as the department entered civil war.
So whilst other people around me studied to be artists or writers, I played at both and loved both hobbies equally. Meanwhile I was pretty obnoxiously certain that I was going to become successful, well-off and influential because of my incredible analytical mind.
Thankfully, after a few false starts, I ended up amongst the psychotherapists cushions. She helped me think through some very important questions. What will being well-off give you? Successful in whose eyes? Influencing people to what goal?
At which point it hit home
I want to be immersed in the things which require a soft ego, gentle humility and that are driven by listening to the world, not shouting at it. I want to paint, I want to write, and I want to learn by opening myself to all the incredible people around me.
Here steps in the Crabbe and Goyle of my brain
Crabbe says yes, but you are going to have to get a proper job one day, and Goyle says, but don’t you want to be successful like your house-buying, PhD winning, money making peers.
At first I fought them.
Then I realised that they, like most bullies out there, need a bit of compassion. I was rejecting them and therefore they were going through a bit of a rough patch. This time it was my emotions that needed to get to work. It was time to show some compassion, to myself.
I needed to commit myself to doing what I love.
Stage 3: Writing down the next step
So, these fluffy goals of creating art, writing something and seeing the world aren’t exactly your business SMART goals. And I’m sure intelligent goals are very useful for some people, but what I need is a direction. At this stage, it doesn’t bother me that I haven’t got a clue where I’ll be in five-years time. I don’t currently know which continent I’ll be living in six months from now. I’ve kind of made a nest of uncertainty, and whilst it’s not necessarily plastic wrapped perfect, it’s tactile and stable.
I know that in five-years time what I will be doing is creating art, writing stories and conversing with strangers. Therefore, all I’m focusing on right now is getting really good at those three things. I plan on spending the rest of my life continuing to get really good at these same three things.
So all I need to know today is what small step I’m making
Each week, or every couple of days I review my goals, write down the next small step I need to take, and then I focus on doing just that. It’s simple.
In the future I assume I will need to put more emphasis on being more financially stable but I’m practicing my humility. I’m not in the place to do that right now. I’m practicing my generosity, I believe I’ll get there eventually. I’m practicing my self-kindness, I’ve just picked myself up off the ground after a rather nasty fall.
I need to get a stable footing before I try to cartwheel
And so today I wrote this article, and I painted a picture of a photo I took a few weeks back whilst visiting Granada and I practiced my Spanish.
So, yes mother, I know my life goals. And I’m achieving them every single day.
For me, it’s easy to be so analytical that I forget to follow my gut feeling.
My gut feeling, what I like and don’t like, is actually surprisingly consistent. Therefore I pay attention to this and set goals that reflect what I actually enjoy doing.
Getting the next step written down helps me keep my mind focused on today, whilst moving along the path of creativity I’ve actively chosen for myself.
It doesn’t mean I know what I want to eat when I’m presented with a menu
So if I’m feeling overwhelmed, I ask the waiting staff for a recommendation.
Spain is a wonderful place for trying new food. You can pick at the food, share it, swap it, taste only a tiny amount of it and this is all considered to be polite. It’s how you’re meant to eat.
Life ain’t so different.
Do you know what you want?