30 June, 2014

Right here, right now

June for me has been filled with special events, brimming with merriment and emotion. Some big fat occasions went down, not least my sister's 30th birthday and my best friend’s wedding. Big occasions like this are things you see in your future for years before they arrive and then when they finally meet you it is difficult to comprehend.

My sister and I used to have (rather dull) conversations that went like this
“In the year 2000 I’ll be 16 and you’ll be 14”
“In the year 2010 I’ll be 24 and you’ll be 26”
“When will we be 30?”
“Oh not for AGES”
"Ages" came around pretty bloody quickly for me, and so did the future.

We saw our futures mapped out by dates and numbers and in that youthful way part of us couldn’t wait to get there. Now though, we’re there. We’re right here. This is life happening TODAY. It’s rare I feel able to really appreciate that reality, but when I do it knocks the wind out of me.

This is the feeling I had in the weeks before my sister's 30th. We’re only 2 years apart and very close, she’s always sort of paved the way for me. Before I open a door, I know she’s been through it before. When something new happens for me, it happened for her a few years back. Although this is wonderfully comforting as I make my way through life, her leading the way like a silent guide, it also means I am very aware of my near future, as I see it painted on her. With everything she does, every milestone she reaches, I know it won’t be long before that’s me.

I had the same feeling when my friend got married last week. I had expected to feel inexplicably proud, emotional, elated – and I did. What I didn’t expect was this overwhelming force, like a drug, a force which was so potent I literally could not contain it. I sniffled the entire way up the aisle, trying to smile and be in the moment but just actually completely floored by what this moment meant. I don’t know quite what shifted when I saw my stunning best friend descend down a fairytale staircase, Eta James in our ears, floating towards her prince, her fairytale, her future. I had pictured this moment for 18 months, but despite all my apprehension, the second I saw her it all felt so real in that moment, so clear. This is it. This is her future, happening now. This is our lives, unfolding. We’re not students thinking about our future anymore. This will be a moment I tell the grandkids about and dear god those grandkids are gonna be here sooner than I think.

It was incredible and it was terrifying, and then I got steadily drunk and then it wasn’t the reality that floored me anymore, it was the wine.

An intense reaction I know, and to be honest not one I fully expected, but I’m so happy that actually there was a realisation moment. It is rare I am able to really see what’s happening right in front of me, and it was a euphoric moment which I have been able to hold on to. Some kind of happiness and gratitude has stayed with me since and I think it’s largely down to that moment of total consciousness. So often we take giant leaps in our lives and we fail to feel it, because it happens so gradually and we’re distracted by the mundane. We’re living out the job we once only imagined, we have the partner we wished for, or we are just living this amazing, unique life and we don’t realise it because we are so bogged down in the detail, perfecting every element in our minds.

For a long time in my early twenties I felt like I was waiting for my life to start. Even now there are times when I realise I am thinking about “when I have my own house, when I have kids”, as though my life isn’t really real until I have the full set. The irony is though there is no full set. Life just happens, every day, and if you aren’t present there to feel it then you will miss it. There is a scene in Sex and the City which always strikes a chord with me, in which Charlotte (the perfectionist of the group) is crying at her own wedding, over some detail, and her best friend tells her to get over it, because “you’re missing it.” “Missing what?” asks Charlotte. “You’re missing your wedding”. That scene could have been written for me, for the times I have agonised over detail when actually some pretty amazing stuff is happening right before me.

As I look ahead to July, it isn’t filled with big occasions, but it is filled with my life. I am looking forward to the respite, but more than that I am excited about just living my life, hopefully with the same consciousness I have felt in recent weeks. It shouldn’t take a big occasion to make you realise that your life is unfolding right in front of you, but sometimes you need those reminders, you need that step out of the norm to gain consciousness. It doesn’t matter what those big things are – you might be graduating from uni or going on holiday or just watching someone close to you make a big change – what actually matters is how you feel in those moments. It’s not how much you have; it’s how you feel it. Too many of us get so distracted by the detail of our lives, looking ahead out of fear, that we look straight past the right now and fail to see it..

June 2014 you have been one of the most memorable, pivotal months of my life so far, and I can’t wait for what’s to come.

29 June, 2014

7 Tips for Learning Patience

I am so impatient. It is easily one of my less cool qualities. I am so impatient that I can’t bear to stand stationary with the shopping trolley in those big supermarkets with the travelators – why don’t they let you PUSH?! My impatience is so palpable that my first boyfriend randomly said “patience is a virtue” to me within about half an hour of knowing me. Awkward.

This kind of impatience is not fun, for anyone. Although there are upsides – my eagerness has made me more productive in the long-term – overall, it is just really annoying. If I could change one thing about myself right now, it would be that. Yep, my impatience would go before my pot belly – that’s how much I apologise for it. 

Ideally, we want to be happy with ourselves and our choices. For me, I have a conscience the size of the 3rd world and feel bad if I even look at someone wrong, so when I see myself being impatient I regret it. Impatience is unattractive and difficult to be around, and when I feel myself getting twitchy I wish I could be more serene. Like one of those people who lets everyone go in front of them at the Post Office, claiming they aren’t in a hurry, WHY AREN’T YOU IN A HURRY? There is LIFE to be had outside!

Being impatient can land you in trouble. If you are too quick off the mark, you either act before you have all the facts, or you end up tripping yourself up in your eagerness to get there. Sometimes literally. Oh the falling over stories I could tell you. I am sure my clumsiness (another flaw! what was the big man thinking?) is largely down to my constantly being in a hurry. It’s hard to style that kind of thing out; ‘Bull in a China Shop Chic’ does not go with a Tea Dress. Sigh.

SO many reasons why patience is a virtue. I wish it was mine! I have always known I am impatient, I am fairly sure my family identified it in me when I was still in nappies (I was 2 weeks early out of the womb) and it wasn’t long before I saw it in myself. I don’t like it in others and I don’t want it in me, so I have been teaching myself to be more patient and have found certain things which can help. A leopard can’t change his spots, but if you are impatient like me and don’t want to be, read on! Just don’t take all day about it.

1. The good old deep breaths
There is a reason why “deep breaths” has been our go-to remedy for hundreds of years. Deep breathing calms the nerves by forcing us to take a step out of our own situation. It has an actual physiological effect on the nervous system which in turns triggers a relaxation response in the body. Over the past year or so I have tried to calm my own head when I feel myself getting impatient, and it really works. I am not suggesting anybody sits there gasping like a gold fish at their desk, but whenever you can take yourself away and breathe deeply for a few seconds; you are likely to feel calmer about everything whence you return.

2. Laugh 

Those close to me often laugh at my impatience, and I join in, because if we didn’t do that I would take myself far too seriously and end up even more wound up. Usually I am in a good enough frame of mind these days that if I can laugh at my own ridiculousness. Laughing at yourself and recognising your quirks is healthy, and helps you gain perspective. You can’t laugh and stay uptight. Or is that ‘Dance?’ Also, Laughter Yoga exists.

3. Herbal Tea
Caffeine can be bad for the nervous system. When you’re already tense, step away from the Venti cup! It pains me to say that because tea is my best friend and has been since I was about 8, but when I replace it with herbal tea, I am so much more serene. Herbal teas are known for relaxing us, and in turn that alleviates impatience. If you ever tell me you’re running late and I seem alright with it, the chances are I just got off my face on Dr Stuarts calming blend.

4. Headspace

I have mentioned Headspace many times before, but in short it is quick and easy mediation which leaves you feeling calmer in the short-term and instills more serenity in you over time. Headspace comes as an app and allows you to fit meditation into a busy modern lifestyle. My main issue with Headspace initially was that I was too impatient to sit there with my eyes closed for 10 minutes listening to my breathing. I was in hurry to get on with the rest of my evening, but that’s exactly why I need it. Anyone who can’t take 10 minutes out of their day to invest in a healthy mind, really really needs to. Not convinced? Headspace is a gym for the mind. I invest hours a week keeping a healthy body, but it is just as important to keep a healthy mind. 10 minutes people!

5. A break from social media (yeah, I said it!)

I know, I know, coming from the QUEEN of social herself. I am always checking those pesky apps, always reacting, responding, on Red alert. The truth is, as much I find social media fun , I have long since been aware of its anti-social qualities. Not least the way it makes me twitchy. It means we are switched on all the time. When I feel myself spiralling into a ball of anxious impatience, I have a social media holiday (outside of work of course). I literally remove the apps from my phone for a week or more. It is a holiday for the mind and soul, and it never fails to amaze me how much more relaxed I am when I take a break from uploading my life.

6. Eat.

Ah finally, something everyone can get on board with. My most impatient time of day is around 6pm. This is usually when I have just got in from work and am really hungry after a long day. I am not fun when I’m hungry, and that applies to lots of us. I tend to calm down and feel more patient after dinner, which is no coincidence. That said, we can’t stuff a chocolate bar every time we’re feeling stressed mid-afternoon, as sugar just makes it worse. SO MUCH WORSE. Sugar is the worst thing for your attitude and mood. So, yes eat! But eat well. I find nothing calms my nerves more than a plate of sweet potato mash. Filling, comforting and high in potassium which is great for the old blood pressure.

7. Take inspiration.

I am surrounded by incredibly calm and patient people, and I work hard to take inspiration from those people as it’s a quality I admire. Not least in my Gareth. Living with someone who has the tolerance of a saint has rubbed off on me. At first it just highlighted my own nauseating lack of calm, but over time I have learnt from him and been more than willing to. If you want to ‘be more’ something, whatever it is, learn from the pros. And without making anyone want to gag, when someone is so good to you, it makes you want to be better for them. Being more patient benefits him, my friends and my family, so it’s something I will continue to work on.