Make it a Joy (The Simple Step We Sometimes Forget)

Pink Journal Flatlay

Sometimes the most radical realisations of life occur at the most mundane of moments. I experienced this just last week.

Imagine the scene:

I am sitting at my desk, engaged in the work I have chosen for my life, wearing the clothes I have chosen to wear, after eating the breakfast I chose to eat (you get the idea).

And suddenly I notice a profoundly uncomfortable truth: I am not enjoying any of it.

Has this ever happened to you?

Have you ever looked around and felt disappointed, or checked in with your body to find only stress and tension and a heavy weight in your limbs as you drag them around completing autopilot tasks?

You’re not alone.

What felt radical about this moment is what subsequently popped into my head: make it a joy.

This is a philosophy I used to live by in my early twenties but that—somewhere in the encroaching obligations of adulthood—appears to have been lost. I picked up from somewhere (where?) that work should be hard and being mature means being serious and that the most vital success-measure of anyone’s day is productivity.

Yet… are these things actually true? I’m not sure.

I am unfathomably privileged to live where I do, at the time that I do, with the means that I have available to me—and so if I cannot glance around and feel a sense of giddy pleasure at what I have going on then something must be amiss.

Psychologists call our casual acclimatisation to the wondrous miracle that life (even humdrum daily life) on Earth represents: hedonic adaptation.

How do we counter this?

My humble advice would be: don’t get so accustomed to the pleasure of your life that you forget to enjoy it. Make it a joy, whatever that means to you. Call it mindfulness, call it savouring, call it spiritual practice, call it awareness… it all boils down to that simple phrase: make it a joy.

And what is the ultimate ‘it’ that we have in our possession to enjoy? Us. Ourselves. The small human package we have arrived in having its mortal experience of the world.

Make it a joy to be you.

Enjoy being you. Huh, now there’s a concept… What if, daily, we found the pleasure and the pride and the passion in our personhood? What if we settled into the cosy armchair of us-ness (welcoming ourselves home from a hard day’s work of self-flagellation)?

We live in an era where Showing Off On the Internet is an Olympic sport, and where we float adrift in the great gulf of social media ricocheting off of the Instagram stories of Other People’s Fabulous Lives until we are dizzy. No wonder we switch out of the apps, put down our phone, look around at our lives and find them… depressingly monochrome in comparison.

Why not, instead, treat taking pleasure in your own existence as a practice; a hobby; a favourite pastime?

Meet the monochrome doldrums head-on by putting down your phone and replacing it with your own proverbial paintbrush—remembering that you are the artist of your own life experience.

Why not make it a joy?

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What if you were really (really) honest with yourself?

west-wales-coast

The beautiful spot where I’m currently living.

Honesty time: I intended to pen this article (any article) yesterday. I had a whole thing in my brain about the nicey-nice-neatness of writing here every 1st of the month in 2018. But I didn’t. Why? Simple: I was paralyzed by that ‘not good enough’ feeling. I’m sure you know of it. It tends to rear its head when we want to share something, be wildly optimistic, or take a creative leap of faith.

Today I’ve managed to wrestle myself free from the clutches of not-good-enough by pondering what was at the heart of my paralysis. And I think it was… honesty. More specifically, the fear that comes with being honest. Sometimes it is so terrifying to be really, starkly, vulnerably truthful, not only with others, but with ourselves.

Some people can spend many years hiding from themselves in certain ways – often not even realising that is what they are doing. Some hide for a lifetime. I hope that most of us, though, find some way to resonate with these words from Anaïs Nin.

“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”

 

If we are interested in unravelling our own layers of hidden truths and honesty, in order to find that buried treasure within ourselves (which hides so well sometimes), then here is one potent journal writing exercise that we can use.

Try it: “If I were to be really honest with myself…”

Turn to a blank sheet of paper or page in your journal, take a few slow, deep breaths to become fully present in this moment, and to gratefully prepare to encounter yourself on the page. Then, begin writing at the top of the page with the following prompt:

“If I were to be really honest with myself, I would say…”

Next, allow yourself to write, uncensored, in response. Do not worry about structure or grammar, just write whatever comes to you until your thoughts come to a natural close.

But wait, there’s more…

If at any point in this writing exercise you sense you aren’t being truly honest, or that something is not ringing quite true, or if intuitively you feel you have yet to get to the root of your feelings, pause. Begin again. This time, start with the following.

“I wasn’t truly being honest there. If I were to be even more honest with myself, I would say…”

This is one of those ‘rinse and repeat’ journal writing exercises. Keep going until what you write sparks off of the page like lightning – with that zing that only Your Real Truth has.

This probably isn’t an exercise you’ll want to write with all the time, but trust me when I stress how deeply powerful this way of writing can be. Use it next time you wish to get to the heart of your feelings around a particular topic or issue. Or, you know, just to get a blog post written…

Getting to know ourselves… honestly? It is a life’s work. Let writing be your sidekick.

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What we lose when we don’t (or won’t) accept the road we are on

Welsh countryside road

Yesterday evening, feeling philosophical about the New Year, I went for a stroll up the country lane outside my little country house. As I stopped to take the picture above, something popped into my head.

sometimes in life the paths we end up taking—which we may never have purposefully chosen for ourselves—end up being the best ones.

Fairly often in life, things don’t work out as we imagine they ought to. I’m pretty sure you will have experienced this phenomenon about as often as I have.

As an example, this year I meant to send at least a monthly email newsletter, and to write regularly on this blog (!)

Things didn’t work out as I imagined they ought to.

The thing is, one ‘failed’ plan made space for myriad other beautiful life events to blossom. I have landed, not one, but two book deals, each of which are due out in 2018 (stay tuned!). I also submitted an 80k word PhD thesis. I feel more potently creative and masterful at my craft than I ever have before.

This year, I also tried to keep my relationship alive.

Again, Things didn’t work out as I imagined they ought to.

Yet, alongside this ostensive ‘failure’, my personal life continued to grow fit-to-burst with love. My niece was born and I fell head over heels for her tiny, astonishing aura. My friendships continued to deepen so that I feel, more than ever, that I am suspended in a shimmering web of the most beautiful souls I could ever possibly have hoped to know. I also got to know myself a whole lot better in the midst of crisis (funny how it often takes crisis for that to happen, haven’t you found?)

Dear one, what I really want to say is this: the road we are on is long.

It’s a road that’s proverbially bumpy, winding, and overgrowing with as many hindrances as it is lined with intensely beautiful scenery. Nevertheless, it’s always the road we are on.

Sometimes, we kid ourselves that we can cease to be on our old lumpy bumpy country road. That we can stop the car, scribble out a new sign pointing off on a tangent, and build a speedy highway to our goals, completely from scratch. But we can’t. If we ever think we are doing that… Well, let’s just say my experience tells me that we will swiftly find ourselves diverted back to our original road. Knee deep in old habits we never faced head on. Haunted with that sense of lack. Feeling unfulfilled. Feeling that we haven’t achieved all that we meant to.

But this is not to say we are stuck on our old familiar road. Oh no. Because the nature of roads, of course, is that they take us places. Our road stretches out far beyond sight—to places we couldn’t possibly imagine, even if we tried. Yet too rarely do we accept this.

Too rarely do we ask: ‘where might this road be taking me?’

Too often we insist: ‘this road is taking me THERE’ as we point obstinately at our goal on The Map of What We Want. (Side note: sometimes what we want is an utter surprise, even to ourselves.)

We lose when we simply point on the map of life like this.

We lose because we fail to behold the truth and beauty in being exactly here—where we are—on our old familiar stretch. We cease to savour the scenery.

We lose because we forget to compassionately acknowledge where we have come from—we refuse to slow down, to reach out of the window, to catch the snowflake of experience on our outstretched palm… Instead, we rush ahead like a snowplough, utterly blinkered to any subtlety, surprise, or serendipity.

I know you’ll have been told before to ‘love the journey’ but, seriously, people, love that journey—that road. Love it hard. It’s yours. It’s happening. You’re on it. It may be challenging. It may not look the way we think it ought to. But by gum is it also thrilling and surprising and astronomically, unfathomably beautiful in all its contradictions.

Isn’t it?

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