I have arrived, I am home

My partner told me the other day that when he looks at photos of me from before we met, that I don’t look like me. Even in the pictures where I’m laughing and smiling, it’s not the same as the way he sees me now and what I look like in pictures now.

He said that now I look at peace.

I’ve noticed this myself, especially when I look at images from my early twenties versus recently. Even when I look happy, on perfect beaches, traveling the world…there is something being held back, something is missing and it’s as though within the image I have tried to compensate for it.

The way we dye our hair, the outfits we pick, the poses we choose – they all give away subtle cues to what’s happening behind and within our pearly white smiles.

Even down to the filters we use to make ourselves look better, tell a story of uncertainty and not enoughness.

There are definitely things I’m still struggling with, I feel the effects of anxiety often and my body image, no matter how much reassurance my partner gives, isn’t the best.

Having a partner hasn’t solved all my ‘problems’ in fact it’s actually solved none of them.

What being in a relationship has done, is shown me two of life’s greatest gifts – two things we all always have access to. That is love and gratitude.

Before I met my partner, I struggled with these two things. I couldn’t imagine what it would be like to feel so deeply connected to someone and I had trouble seeing all the positives in my life.

Now that I have this new relationship, I am so grateful for the experience and everything it has brought to my life (while not removing all the bad like most people secretly hope it will) that I find myself overwhelmed.

I’m reading a book by Thich Nhat Hanh, a Buddhist monk, and he writes about mindfulness – and being in the present moment. In order to bring ourselves in to the present moment he says we should repeat a poem to ourselves. The first line is ‘I have arrived, I am home.’

This is exactly how I feel. I am at peace. I am home.

Sharing my life intimately with someone has opened up a new range of complications and pain points, but it’s given me so much more. It’s given me access to a part of myself I hadn’t been able to uncover on my own. The space within me where beneath all the anxiety and fear, there is peace.

For that I am forever grateful.

As my coworker said today. There is no magic button that makes everything ok.

But if we decide to make love and gratitude our barometers of whether or not we are successful or happy, then we have the power and control every day to find that elusive magic button no matter what our experience has been.

A true love story…

My partner came to visit me in Bali for the weekend and took part in the yoga retreat I’m currently on.

It was difficult for him to get time off work, but despite that he made a huge effort to fly here to spend less than 48 hours together.

And it was completely worth it (I promise he agrees).

I’ve had a lot of wonderful people in my life in terms of my friends and family, but this is the first time I have felt completely seen and understood by someone else. It’s the first time I have loved someone so much that I feel like I have something to lose.

I’ve always had an image in my mind of what a relationship should look like. I didn’t think that my expectations could be met. I was concerned that maybe it was all a fantasy I’d constructed from years of bad American television.

I’ve found over the past months that the relationship we have built is better than anything I could have conjured up on my own.

I could spend a lot of time describing in detail the ways in which he amazes me…not just through the romantic gestures like flying to Bali or the suggestion to move in together, but the way that he cares for me, the time he takes to explore my passions and tell me about his and so much more….but I like to keep my writing as short as possible.

My point is not to brag. My point is that since so much of our life is about getting through the day and just existing, when we find something or someone who makes time stop, we need to allow the clock to stop ticking long enough to appreciate what’s in front of us and experience what’s happening.

A couple of months ago I wrote about falling in love with him, and now I can say that it’s grown even more.

But as love grows it can cause attachment. It becomes something we can lose…and when we are afraid of losing something we grasp at it…and the more we grasp, the more likely it is to slip from our fingers.

So, my current practice is to appreciate the love we are cultivating in each moment, and to avoid attachment to the way it currently is. Life changes suddenly all the time, and as my partner and I discussed all weekend, it’s important to become comfortable with the uncomfortable. For most people, change is uncomfortable. The more that we can cultivate a sense of equanimity, the more likely we are to be able to handle change and thus not have as strong attachments.

So, imagine the greatest love you can, aim for a life’s purpose full of passion and fill your life with people who make you forget to check what time it is.

And try not to get attached to any of it, that’s where the real work is.

Retreating

In just a few hours I will be on my way to Bali for a much anticipated holiday on my favorite yoga retreat.

I went on the same retreat last year and the experience was incredible. The retreat itself was fantastic, the atmosphere was relaxing and the food was delicious.

The instagrammable moments, were also on point.

So, this year I’ve decided that for the ten days I’m away, I won’t be using social media.

I feel as though we are all always trying to justify our use of social media…’well it’s a great way to stay in touch with people when you live abroad’ or ‘I like to stay up to date on what all my friends are doing and I can’t otherwise’. These things may be true, but let’s be honest, when we are on social media it is mostly scrolling and trolling that is taking place.

It’s cliché to say…and we all know it… but ‘what’s on social media isn’t real.’

This became even more apparent when I bumped in to someone recently and she commented on how my partner and I had gone back to the states together to get married.

I laughed, because the image she was referring to was one where I was dressed as a bridesmaid for a friend’s wedding. The color of the dress was very light though and you could understand the confusion, but it made me think about how we can make up an entire story around an image we see.

We choose all the best parts of life and put them on display.

And while we are doing this we are missing out on our experiences.

I remember my first trip abroad when I was 14 years old to France. I can still remember a lot of the trip quite vividly. When I think back to more recent trips, there are definitely parts that stand out, but it feels like something gets a little lost when we are filtering images and searching for wifi to post to Instagram…ultimately it’s so everyone knows what an amazing time we are having.

We look for these instant pieces of satisfaction and relief, a constant firing of serotonin in the brain, keeps us posting, keeps us distracted.

I recently had an experience that has decreased my interest in social media more than anything to date.

I had someone use it as a means to try to hurt me. It was a small action, but I realised after that I was being watched … and not in a good way. Someone wasn’t drawing motivation from posts or feeling understood by reading something they could relate to in my blog. They were using it as a tool to hurt me and themselves, and I felt uncomfortable. So, I took a small break.

I decided to start to use social media again because it is something I enjoy from time to time, when I also need that serotonin hit and . . . I do live abroad …. lame excuse I know, but it feels necessary sometimes.

There are all those typical photos on Instagram and perfectly curated meals. People using the same hashtags and poses to determine how they would like others to perceive them, hiding the real story and the interesting bits so that they fit the status quo.

This time on my yoga retreat instead of leaping to show the world my next smoothie bowl, which are truly stunning works of art, I’m going to focus on the real reason I go on retreat…and that is to retreat.

Retreat from the day to day, the ideas and thoughts that get us down, the technology that runs our lives…

And have the chance to really experience the day to day and every last bit of my highly anticipated smoothie bowl.

Perfectly, imperfect

I recently moved in to a new house.

It’s beautiful and modern, with lots of natural light. It’s the most incredible place I’ve ever lived.

Seeing all my old stuff in it, however, has made me a little uncomfortable.

There’s a crack in the full length mirror from when I drunkenly kicked a shoe off one night.

The back of my dresser isn’t secure and wobbles.

The leg of my kitchen table from IKEA is peeling off.

They live on in my new home as glaring reminders, suggestions that I don’t belong.

Seeing all my old things, the pieces I have lived with for years on my own in my studio in Newtown, made me start to think about how we curate our lives.

We pick the nice fancy pieces to put on display.

From the images we filter and litter the pages of Instagram and Facebook with, to the soap we put out especially for when guests arrive (maybe that one is just me); we are constantly working on the image we project outwards.

We work-out, dress-up and live our lives like a grown-up show-and-tell.

When something isn’t beautiful anymore we discard it. Old clothes, relationships gone ugly….our IKEA table with the peeling leg.

We are so used to things being perfect, that when something is less than perfect it bothers us. When little inconveniences come up, we get frustrated, exasperated and fed-up.

When I started to notice all the broken pieces of my old life, I felt embarrassed.

How could I be living in this perfect house, living a dream I didn’t think could be real? Surely, this life wasn’t meant for me, I felt like an impostor.

An impostor with broken furniture.

I started to think that maybe it was a sign that things can look beautiful from the outside, but when you look closely you start to see the cracks.

But the more I think about it the more I feel as though the cracks and imperfections are what make it interesting.

They add the story and the history. And people love a good story.

It’s the rough edges that make people relateable and interesting. When we try to make the package or image look perfect, it creates external and internal conflict and tension.

It’s been pointed out to me recently how much pressure I put on myself to do things perfectly. I never considered myself a perfectionist, but I do tend to hold myself…and for that matter people close to me…to a high standard. This can sometimes be a positive thing, but often can be negative and create tension.

The more comfortable we become with the imperfections and the wobbly dressers – the more likely we are to become comfortable with the imperfect world we live in.

So, when the new closet we build from IKEA lives on a tilt, it becomes the perfect tilt for our new home.

And when we don’t get the Instagram stardom we were hoping for or our day…maybe week doesn’t go as planned, it becomes an interesting crack, a minor detail in an overall enthralling story.

The Good Guy

Today I woke up afraid that the life I found myself in might not be real, is it all too good to be true?

For the past five years that I’ve been living in Australia I have been dating. Online dating, speed dating, getting set-up by friends, dating people from social groups, you name him, and I’ve dated him.

A lot of the dates have been really fun, entertaining and if nothing else a great story to laugh about with my friends.

Most of the dates have been complete failures.

Recently, I met someone who completely broke the mold. He’s one-of-a-kind and completely unexpected. It’s as if everything I had ever wanted was rolled up in to one person in addition to all the things I didn’t even know I wanted.

I’ve never really had someone who was as interested in me as I was in them, who could meet my intensity and match it, even surpass it at times.

I was told I could be too much. I was told I was too picky. I was told a lot of things.

Maybe most of them were/are true, but it seems as though the things that were all the while preventing me from ‘meeting the right person’, have inevitably helped me to meet the best person for me.

It’s a dangerous thing to write this, it could all crumble apart in the next week or month, even hours if I’m feeling especially fatalistic, but I think it’s important to write how I am feeling now, not later when my ‘story’ has been more finalized in my head.

I wanted to write about how I feel, like I’m falling in love with the person I have been waiting for.

We can get caught up in all our losses. It’s our innate negative bias. All the dates that failed, the people who hurt us and the relationships that have failed.

Dating had become a huge burden in my life, a thing of dread, something I put on and off hold depending on how much energy I had.

Before I had even met him, I had decided he probably wouldn’t be a long-term person; he would just be for fun.

15 minutes in to the date, I realized I was wrong.

14 hours in to the date, I knew I really liked him.

Two weeks later, he started staying at my place.

6 weeks on and he’s quickly becoming a significant part of my life.

My company, my confidant and my friend.

No matter what happens, these moments of happiness are important. The feeling of falling in love is something we can’t force – so when we have the luxury of experiencing it, we need to be present.

Over the past six months I was present in my life for all the romances that have fallen apart. I sat with the sadness, the loneliness and the despair … and now I feel I owe it to myself to be present for something I have desired for so long.

For me it’s been love, but for you it might be something else.

Regardless of what is happening in our lives, we need to celebrate the good so when there is bad – maybe it won’t last as long.

Undone

Sometimes it is not the doing, but the undoing that takes the most effort or has the greatest impact.

Every day we go about our lives doing. We wake-up and do our exercise/fitness for the day, then we do our make-up or our morning routine, we do our work, we do our life admin, we do our extracurricular activities. Then we go to sleep and do it all over again.

In a yoga class I went to recently, the teacher said that sometimes it is the undoing that takes more of our effort.

We think we have really achieved something when we do a new pose. We do the asana, we do the meditation, we do the pranayama…but when we have moved deeper in to our practice, we begin the undoing.

We begin to notice our habitual tendencies. We notice that we don’t lengthen enough when stretching in to Trikonasana, we realize a tilt of our head in pranayama practice, and we begin to sit taller when we are in meditation as we undo our slouching.

If those two previous paragraphs don’t make sense to you because you don’t practice yoga regularly, you can see undoing when you start to slow down. When we are constantly going and doing we don’t have a chance to notice, our senses are not in-tuned enough and we get things done, but without a lot of intelligence and diligence.

In a world where distraction is profitable, we are stuck in a pattern of multi-tasking and rushing. Right now I am staring at two computer screens and my phone is visible within my peripheral vision. When we have this much stimulus around us, it’s the undoing of these activities, the slowing down, turning off and focusing in that helps us to release.

On Monday, I will sign the paperwork to complete my 500hr yoga apprenticeship. During this period there was a lot of doing. There was definitely a lot of learning and in this case the doing was necessary, but right now I am focused on the undoing.

Now that I have more time to notice what’s around me, who is around me and where my attention is going, I’ve found that in the past year while I was busy doing, I was also unintentionally undoing.

I was undoing some of my habits, both good and bad. I had to start prioritising my own wellbeing over those around me, which wasn’t something I was used to. I had to undo my desire to be in control of my time. My routines couldn’t be as set, I needed to become more flexible.

One of my friends was kind enough to remind me frequently that it’s important to stop and reflect when we are constantly doing. I did try to heed this advice, but often fell short of it while in the midst of all the things that had to get done. When we are in the process of doing it seems really important, slowing down looks like failure.

With the end of my apprenticeship quickly approaching and having taken note of all the things that have been undone…and recreated in a way beyond what I had imagined…my sense of what I am capable of achieving, my perseverance and determination. These are the things we find when the undoing is done.

When things come undone, what we are left with is who we really are.

Through the doing we build character, but in undoing we build strength, both are necessary, but neither is easy and when we start to slow down we can see the impact of all that is done and undone.

Are you ok?

The should haves, the have tos and the need tos…

Today I asked my sister ‘where do you think I’m not showing up enough in my relationships?’

And she very wisely referred to an episode of a podcast (strangely enough that I had introduced her to) by Tara Brach.

She told me the story of a monk who was always working hard to improve himself. He would find something wrong with himself that he should work on and then he would. Then he would ask people what he could do to improve and he would take their advice and work on that. Finally, after years of practice and working on things he asked another spiritual teacher, what can I do to be better?

The other teacher said ‘nothing’ you’re ok the way you are, you have nothing to change.

I’ve spent the past year and a half on a self improvement journey of sorts, it’s definitely only the start, but it’s been a busy and intense period. There have been many struggles and some periods of ease and flow and then more struggle.

When you’re on a path of self improvement, it’s difficult to see an end point, because there’s always something to do better or something you need more of.

Sit for longer in meditation, make it in to the next yoga pose, be more compassionate to people with different views etc etc.

I’ve had one of my friends from my yoga teacher training reminding me time and time again to slow down and see my achievements and contemplate what’s been happening, and I haven’t.

The same things come up in my relationships both friendships and romantic ones.

People give advice ‘you should just not think about dating’ ‘you have to be in your authentic energy’ ‘you need to just relax’.

I’ve never sat down and just said to myself ‘I’m ok’. My length in meditation is just as long as it needs to be, my asana practice is just at the right level for where I am, I’m dating the best way possible for myself at this moment.

Instead I’ve looked for outside reassurance. I’ve asked for, looked for and taken other people’s advice and learnings and applied them to my life.

I had a conversation with another yoga teacher the other day where I told her ‘I’ve tried to date seriously, then I’ve made an effort to not try to try to date.’ She laughed because she’d been there too. All the shoulds and the have tos.

This is not to say that people shouldn’t do self improvement work or that dating advice isn’t helpful and/or needed from time to time, what I’m experiencing at the moment is that I have done all these things and while the outcome hasn’t resulted in perfection, I’m actually OK.

It would be great if I could sit in mediation for longer or press up in to handstand and I would love to be in a relationship at the moment – but the reason that I’m not is not because there’s something I’m doing wrong or that there is something wrong with me, because I’m actually ok.

How often do we just let ourselves be ok with where we are?

How often do we allow the story in our minds to be a positive one where we aren’t victims of the world?

When can we slow down and get off the non-stop hamster-wheel-of-a-world we have created to appreciate what we have achieved?

I’m working with a new practice now. The practice of being ok.

There’s no where to go, no standard to be held against and nothing to be achieved.

It’s here, it’s now and it’s ok.

Are you ok too?