Guilty for enjoying time alone

Saturday night was a big night. For this 41-year-old introvert anyway.

My husband and I were out celebrating his good friend’s fortieth birthday in a private dining room at a fine dining restaurant with 20 other people. Sounds lovely? Yes, it was. And the food was divine. However, it started at 7.15 pm, and by 11.30 pm, I was itching to go home, to bed and to recharge, as many introverts need to. But it didn’t seem that the others, including my husband, were ready to leave just yet.

So I stayed, because it was in honour of my husband’s dear friend. And it was 1 am, when the restaurant was closing, that most of us finally left (whew!), with a few carrying on elsewhere with the birthday boy.

The thing is, this ‘staying on’ affected me for the rest of my Sunday. I was meant to pop in to see my sister and my nephews on Sunday afternoon, but I couldn’t face any extroversion. I stayed home the whole day, venturing out only to go to yoga (where I don’t really need to interact deeply with others). I cooked, read, napped, coloured in (yes, I have one of those mindfulness colouring books!) and watched TV.

But I felt guilty for choosing solitude over visiting my family. So some of my Sunday was spent googling ‘guilty for enjoying time alone’. I found some great reads that made me feel ‘normal’.

Over time, I’ve realised that my dilemma is accepting my need for plenty of time in solitude. Should I be more self-accepting of this need, I’d be less inclined to feel guilty about hurting other’s feelings or perceive that others will think less of me (or that I’m weird).

I’ve become better as I’ve gotten older, as I’ve become more aware of myself, but the feeling of guilt does get me now an then, as it did on Sunday. It’s a work in progress, which will continue for the rest of my life, no doubt. Hopefully, though, this feeling will soften as I age.

During my Google search, I found on YouTube this video by filmmaker Andrea Dorfman and poet/singer/songwriter Tanya Davis on how to be alone. If you love spending time in solitude, it’s a worthy watch.

Do you feel guilty for needing to spend time alone? What have you done to handle such feelings?

Making someone’s day

Lately, I’ve been trying to cultivate a habit. A habit where my interaction with any human being, including strangers whom I may encounter, does something to uplift their day.

It could be looking the person in the eye and smiling as I walk pass or saying a kind word or two. Or chatting to the person who makes my coffee, enquiring about them and their day – listening to them.

It could be ‘letting someone in’, as I drive in peak hour traffic amongst others with the same agenda – to get to work on time should they face the wrath of their boss if they’re late. Or sending a text or email to a friend to say I’m thinking of them.

To me, these simple acts of kindness are an acknowledgement of someone’s existence; even if these acts take just a spilt second out of your day, they can make a person feel as if they’ve been truly seen or heard. We we all need to consistently feel this to feel – be – human.

But, I must be honest. Making someone’s day is not always top of mind. At times, I’m caught off guard, and react to someone’s rudeness or am in my own busy mind to acknowledge others. If I can just keep the word ‘kindness’ in my brain’s forefront, it might just help me to get there.

What helps is if I have also been kind to myself – that is, taking the time to get enough rest, eat good food, exercise and do the things that give me joy, such as reading a good book and having brunch with a dear friend. If I’m in a good ‘place’, only then I’ll have the brain space to be aware of making someone’s day.

What little acts to you do to make someone’s day? Or what does someone do for you that uplifts your mood?

Romanticising

A few weeks ago, I introduced a good friend of mine (let’s call her Jacinta) to another good friend (let’s call her Linda).

At this catch-up, Jacinta learnt a few things about Linda’s life (as did Linda about Jacinta’s). Things such as how Linda lives in the city for 3 days of the week, then escapes to her country home 2 hours’ drive away for the remainder – where Linda gardens, paints and writes, with her partner, dog and cat to keep her company.

It sounded all so romantic.

So, later, when Linda had left for her country abode, Jacinta said to me, “Wow, I’d love to do something like that. To have a house in the country with a backyard for a garden and chooks.”

“Yeah, I suppose it sounds lovely and a lifestyle to aspire to”, I said. “But I just know myself. I’d get bored. I need the hustle and bustle of city life nearby, with plenty of facilities, and to be near my family and friends [and great coffee!]. Plus, even though I love the idea of having my own chickens, their pooping everywhere would just s#*t me.”

Jacinta nodded her head. “I understand what you mean. I think I’d get bored, too. And I’m not a keen gardener either. May be I’m just in love with the idea of this kind of lifestyle, but, if I were to be honest, it’s not really me.”

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This is an example of what I call ‘romanticising’. Many of us do it throughout our lives, to varying degrees. I feel it’s become rampant in the age of social media, where everyone’s ‘best’ lives are on show. And so we live in a fear-of-missing-out culture, with a comparison mentality.

My particular romanticising vice is comparing my marriage to the relationships of others – their partner is very romantic, they organise weekends away, hold surprise birthday parties, talk for hours, have many common interests … etc.

When I catch myself in the act of romanticising, I ask myself – is this what I really want in my relationship, too, or would it annoy me? And if it’s what I ‘think’ I really want, then which dark corner if my soul is the light shining upon?

That is, what is it that I’m really feeling, it’s root cause, and what’s the true answer. Because wanting my relationship to mimic someone else’s certainly isn’t it – since romanticising about one aspect of a person’s life never gives the whole picture, the reality.

The thing is, the more you romanticise about wanting your life to be more like others, the more you miss out on living yours. Which can turn you into a miserable sod.

So, whenever you feel the grass is greener on the other side of the fence, stop romanticising and water your own grass. But make sure to do it your own way.

The happiness equation

In The Happiness Project, author Gretchen Rubin writes, “Erasmus observed, ‘The chief happiness for a man is to be what he is.’”

I’ve always envied people who, from the get-go, are clear on who they are – and what they want to do with their life.

Just last week, I was talking to my cousin-in-law – let’s call him PS – on how we both have many different interests, and how they’ve lead to our varied career paths; and how we’re still not sure where our interests will take us.

On the other hand, PS said his younger brother always knew he wanted to be a doctor – this dream profession of a once starry-eyed 5-year-old is now a reality, and he loves it.

Imagine that. To be so sure of your purpose that you don’t experience the pain and suffering of feeling lost. Your inner compass is aligned, and you’re all set to be on your right, happy path.

If you follow wellbeing and self-development-type social media accounts, you may have seen “Be your authentic self” and “Do what you love” mantras often bandied about.

These mantras, of course, imply that this is what one must do to be happy. However, they really irk me. Because to be Lesh, I find, isn’t always easy as the statements suggest.

For one, there is too much external noise – we are constantly bombarded with what others are doing, saying, being, buying, etc. – thanks to the advent of the internet. While seeing what others do certainly offers ideas of how to go about one’s own life, it can also be mighty confounding. This, in itself, is a great source of misery. You’ve heard the phrase ‘keeping with the Joneses’, right? I need not say more.

Another reason being Lesh isn’t that straightforward is because, at times, I concern myself too much about what others think – more than I care to admit, even to myself – instead of listening to my gut for what it is that I really like, am or want.

In the end, to be myself, to do what I love and, ultimately, be happy, I have realised it’s about these three not-so-easy-to-practice-but-worth-my-while-to-do-so principles.

Take action despite the unknown

Usually, if I’m unsure about something, I get caught in limbo (and overthinking) for the fear of doing something wrong, not liking it or wasting my time. But, as I have learnt, I need to ‘waste time’ in order to learn more about myself and, therefore, do more of ‘what I love’. This takes time. No pun intended. Seriously.

So, this year, I’m using my time to explore being in an office again, albeit part-time, for the first time in seven years and going to Italian classes. And I’m trying not to pay too much attention to the outcome, but, rather, my role in the dynamic of it all, and how I ‘enjoy’ it. There’s sure to be an end-of-year recap. So watch this space.

Self-awareness

While I’m ‘taking action despite not knowing the outcome’, it is self-awareness – of my thoughts, feelings and motivations – that will give me self-knowledge.

For example, I love yoga, but I’ve realised, over time, that I love it in small doses, such as going to a class. And, now, I understand my resistance to booking into full blown yoga retreat. And, I’ve finally accepted this fact about myself, as I have my desire for solitude over a raucous party any time (even if I come across as ‘boring’).

I know these realisations may sound trivial, but it goes much deeper – they’re about an inner shift from ‘romanticising’ about who you think you want to be and how you wish to be seen, to purposefully seeking self-knowledge and, importantly,  practicing self-acceptance.

Self-acceptance

I feel this is a biggie for happiness. For example, sometimes I wish I were artier, more creative, more right-brained. I admire anyone who is, and would like to be in that clique. But I’m not. It’s best I take a leaf out of my husband’s book: he makes no apologies or cares if he is judged for his desire for certain material things or his love for commercial TV. In other words, he knows who he is, and, most importantly, he doesn’t question his nature and accepts himself. Denying one’s own nature is one big fat highway to unhappiness.

Do you know who you are? If so, are you happy with who you are? Why/Why not?

2015 goals?

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What is it about a new year? Is it about starting afresh, having a clean canvas to paint?

1st January is just another day in our lives.

Even so, I love the ‘line in the sand’ a date can create. Crossing over 31st December does give a sense of new beginnings. Especially because it makes me reflect on what I learnt in the previous year – about myself and the type of life I wish to lead – and how I can translate that into the next. It also helps to write about it here, as a record for future contemplation, accountability and change.

Even though I have a handful of projects and experiments in store for 2015, these days, I don’t set concrete goals. It’s more about lifestyle and not ‘achievements’. This calls for conscious awareness of what works and what doesn’t, and, then, to build supportive habits. This is a life-long process.

Over the last few years, I’ve tried different approaches.

Last year, I used my core values – freedom, health, deep connection, integrity and calm – as my guiding light.

In 2013, I used the ‘two words’ idea (my two words were connection and movement), and in 2012, I created a mission statement:

To live a holistic, happy life by making mindful time for people most important to me, eating nutritious food, looking after my health and having a career that doesn’t feel like a job.

All of these ‘goals’ and aspirations for a life well-lived still ring true. In fact, in writing this post, I see a strong theme – the importance I place on my holistic health and the people around me for my happiness.

This year, I’m trialling Alexandra Franzen’s – whom I consider my virtual mentor – five questions for a bright clear and focussed new year:

  1. What am I bored with? The seriousness around food, and the same old routine.
  2. What do I want more of? Self-belief, light-heartedness and fun.
  3. What can I let go of? Taking responsibility for other’s feelings.
  4. What would give me peace of mind? Being punctual and patient, trusting life.
  5. What am I devoted to? Being helpful, kind and thoughtful.

What about you?

The hard lessons of 2014

The wound is the place where the Light enters you.

~ Rumi

This year has been a year of trials and tribulations. This wasn’t something I had anticipated, but I’m not sure whether one can anticipate such things.

I felt these challenges were thrust upon me, coming left of field, yet it was me who brought them upon myself.

Clearly, challenges serve a purpose ­– to learn lessons and crack open another layer, letting more light to enter within. In this way, 2014 was a year of self-discovery.

My first major trial for the year was to finish and launch my ebook, which I did in early February.

The product itself is merely a tip of the iceberg. What lay beneath was not only a lot of hard work, but also self-created anguish around marketing and launching the book. To be honest, that took the joy out of the accomplishment – having to hustle (ugh!) using cookie-cutter online selling techniques. You either enjoy that stuff or you don’t. I learnt that I don’t – it killed my mojo.

Eventually, I grasped that I’m not an entrepreneur – nor do I want to be – and that I don’t need to go down that path even if I do create something to sell. It’s the creating that I enjoy – and the pressure of launching, for me, just roadblocks everything.

I’d rather make sales through people who genuinely want to support me, trust and enjoy my work, and value my integrity – rather than enticing them to buy something. For me, business has to align with my core values.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. There were a few painful months in between.

About a month after my book launched, I turned 40. I didn’t handle that very well either. I lost my sense of self-assurance that I had in my thirties. I began to question everything. I can’t ‘blame’ one specific thing, but the many things that were going on in my head – and how I projected them into life.

Mostly, though, it had to do with The Mindful Foodie – that is, how to earn money from it, and me trapping my identity within it. I’d mistakenly looked outward for the answers. What I saw was extremism in the ‘real food’ scene, and the narcissism of personal branding through social media. My gut kept twisting in a knot – it knew that I didn’t want to be a part of this. I had to shut off the noise.

What eventuated was learning a very hard lesson:

How much I earn or ‘playing it big’ is not tied up with my self-worth.  

But observing others online can easily delude you into this.

After coming to many realisations – about business and life – I finally began to add the colour back to my life and trust my gut. For I had been hiding.

I didn’t get out of my funk by myself. I had some help. Massive thanks to Alexandra Franzen, whose newsletters and posts on love, life and business made me feel ok for what I wanted – to do business my way, with integrity; as well as to my reiki sessions with the beautiful and gentle Katie Wong, who helped me realise that writing is what feeds me – literally and figuratively. Finally, it was my trip to Sri Lanka that put the pieces together.

Sometimes we have to go through painful situations to become more aware of who we are. And I now feel that I’m ending 2014 and beginning 2015 on a much solid foundation of trust – of self and of life.

All in all, a very successful year.

Life – be in it

“Life. Be in it.” is the mantra of an Australian campaign, promoting healthy, active lifestyles.

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To me, something big underlies this motto: possessing a zest for life. Unfortunately, for most of this year, I lost mine.

After reaching two milestones earlier in 2014 – launching my ebook in Feb and turning 40 in March – I assumed I’d have some answers. That I’d know what the next big thing was, particularly career wise.

Truth be told, I suppressed what I truly wanted (I was scared that it deemed me a failure.) So, rather than make changes, I read countless books on life (um, I believe they’re called self-help books), meditated, and had reiki and kinesiology sessions.

While these practices have their place, no number of sessions could ‘fix me’, nor any amount of reading teach me what I needed to know about life – other than life itself.

After hiding from life for what was about 6 frustrating months, I began a scheme to get out of my head and back into life.

First, I quit facebook. Then, I pulled this blog back from a ‘gung-ho’ online business to a heart-centred space, without marketing lingo – only after giving it a go, I realised it wasn’t what I truly wanted .

The rate-limiting step, however, was my recent holiday to Sri Lanka. It prescribed just the right medicine, and put a zing into my being.

That medicine was a gorgeous couple on my tour. In their 70s, they happily got involved in all the activities. They danced, shared their travel stories, and trekked the rocky and uneven 30 kilometre trail with gusto – putting some of us young ones to shame. Plus, they’re wonderfully kind people. Jackie – who is 71, by the way – still cuts quite the figure in a bikini. Seriously, I was shocked to learn her age.

This couple doesn’t need a daily dose of green smoothies. Because what they have is a BIG zest for life. Something I truly believe keeps them young and happy well beyond their wise years.

Having been in their company – and other lovely folk on the tour – I got involved too, with a zestful attitude. Like riding a bike (I hadn’t been on one for 10 years) in Anuradhapura, one of Sri Lanka’s ancient capitals. At one stage the traffic was mayhem – picture cars, tuk tuks, motorcycles, other push bikes, buses, school kids, dogs and cows all at once. It was scary and eye-opening – yet fun.

And I also trekked the tea plantation country – all 30 kms of it – amidst the monsoon rains and leeches(!). (My thoughts and heart go out to all those who lost loved ones in the landslide due to the heavy rains, just a week after we were near the region.)

I’ve returned home with a renewed sense of self and an enthusiasm for making exciting, new changes. Almost immediately, this has had a spill on effect on my close relationships, my work (doing the type of writing for the types of clients I’d been dreaming of!) and, most importantly, my attitude to life.

Life, let’s play. I’m back in the game!

An unexpected reason to travel

It is said that home is where the heart is. But to some degree it is also what you’re used to and all that you know.

This is why the hubby and I like to go off the familiar trodden path when it comes to travelling. It broadens ones mental and spiritual bandwidth, and makes life more enriching.

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It does another important thing, too. Something that I wasn’t consciously aware of until our recent trip to Sri Lanka (the hubby’s birth country).

Reflecting back, it became obvious that it happened after our trip to Cuba a couple of years ago, and after Kenya and Tanzania a year before that.

What was that thing? I returned home brimming with gratitude.

In between trips (usually a span of a year or more) I get into a rut of the daily routine, staying within the confines of what I know and do. This can make life mundane, and me less tolerant and appreciative. I notice the good stuff less, and complain more.

Travelling to countries with differing living conditions and facilities to what I’m used to makes me appreciate my life more.

So while my trip to Sri Lanka did broaden the bandwidth — being immersed in the local culture, observing the country’s people, trekking and bike riding in nature, and taking in the beautiful scenery and historical sites — it also made me aware of all that I take for granted back home.

Such as:

  • being able to drink water out of the tap
  • clean, spacious and safe roads with foot paths
  • the variety of food delicious foods and cuisines at my disposal (and not having to be worried about getting sick from eating out)
  • the change of seasons — everyday, it’s hot, hot and hot (and muggy) in Sri Lanka
  • clean toilets with toilet paper
  • lack of mosquitoes (in Melbourne) and the diseases they spread (malaria is not much of a problem in Sri Lanka anymore, but dengue fever can be)
  • I have every material thing I need and more to make my life comfortable — a beautiful home, car, gadgets, nice clothes
  • the freedom to make certain choices about my life, more so than many others in the world — and to have those choices available to me (from where to eat, shop and do yoga to which hobbies, activities, and work I undertake).

Travel does indeed deliver more than meets the eye. It goes deep, and speaks to the soul. I just hope I don’t find myself in a rut before I get the itch to stretch beyond my little world, and grow. The big question is: where to next?

Spring cleaning that creates inner space (and calm)

Melbourne’s weather is hinting spring.

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With it, I’m getting the urge to clean and declutter. Not in the typical sense, but, rather, the things we cannot see or touch, and that unconsciously become a part of us. Like negative thought patterns, and the digital stuff that takes up more of our lives than I really care for.

With that urge in full force, I quit facebook a few weeks ago. Quit as in deleted (not the timid deactivated option) my account, including The Mindful Foodie page.

Years of virtual stuff gone just like that, with the push of a virtual button. It took up too much sacred mental and soul space, you see. Looking, scrolling, comparing, consuming ads (without one’s choice), thinking of writing something witty to go with the photo I just took (or am about to take), thinking I should update my page and feeling guilty when I didn’t!

I’ve been observing myself since, my behaviours and thoughts. The mind seems calmer, and there’s more mental space to create.

I’ve been taking the initiative to call and catch up with loved ones, nourishing what feels like long-lost friendships. There have been new ones springing up too. The irony of disconnecting to connect!

 

What are you really giving up for the sake of convenience?

Recently, on Masterchef Australia, one of the contestants was competing against a professional chef for the elusive immunity pin.

The core ingredient was cheese, so she decided to make a twice-baked soufflé.  Of course, she would need to whip up egg-whites for her dish. And upon doing so, she said something like this:

I know chefs like their gadgets, but where I come from, we do this the old-fashioned way.

And she proceeded to energetically whip the whites till stiff.

All I could think was: yes!

Why? Because if not careful, we humans will eventually make ourselves physically redundant.

Think about it:

Many of us get up in the morning, and then sit on the commute to work, sit all day at work, before sitting back on the commute home. If we cook dinner, we’ll be standing for half an hour or so, otherwise, we’re sitting watching TV, browsing the internet or are on our device, which we continue to do after we eat dinner, and then finally roll into bed.

We also invent things so that we can reduce the remaining movement that’s left in our day.

Like the electric eggbeater so we don’t have to use our biceps.

The escalator so we don’t have to use our legs.

The robot vacuum so we don’t have to walk around pushing and pulling the vacuum ourselves.

The car boot that opens with the press of a button so we don’t have to lift and move our arms above our head.

The voice activated parallel parking of cars, so we don’t have to use our arms.

Siri {if you have an Apple device, you’ll know what I’m talking about}, so we don’t even have to use our fingers.

Heck, soon everything will soon become voice activated so we don’t have to use any body parts.

Of course, these changes can be helpful for certain situations — however it is the mindless misuse of such manmade conveniences that is getting us into fat trouble.

If we’re not mindful, we’ll find ourselves fast heading towards a lifestyle similar to the humans portrayed in WALL-E.

Sure, we’ll save more time. But more time for what exactly?

Working more?

Fitting in more TV?

Online shopping?

Spending an extra hour or two on social media?

The introduction of such conveniences, while gradual and seamless, has a significant impact. It changes our culture, the way we live, and literally the way we move, or in this case, whether we move at all.

To counter this lack of movement and associated obesity, the modern way of thinking is to do to around 30 minutes of moderate exercise each day. This is not enough if you’re sitting for much of the day.

And that’s just our problem: exercise is viewed as something separate to the day’s happenings.

This makes it challenging to create time for yet another thing we have to do in the day.

Instead it would be easier and wiser to make movement an essential part of our daily activities, what is now termed as incidental movement. This is the traditional, natural way of being {and living}.

As Mark Bunn writes in his book Ancient wisdom for modern health: rediscover the simple, timeless secrets if health and happiness:

Apart from the need for survival, exercise was traditionally associated with flow, dance, pleasure and joy. Today, the very thought of being active is often seen as an inconvenience or an undesirable necessity. Many of us need inspiration, discipline, a personal trainer or the distraction of music just to get off the couch. These are signs that we have forgotten that natural wisdoms of exercise and lost our connection to the intrinsic joy of movement.

As far as movement is concerned, blessed is the waiter, labourer, dancer, cook, gardener and dog walker.

Yes, there tends to be more dollars in a desk job — but when money becomes the driving force with which one leads their life with, the excuse of smarter use of time becomes easy to justify. Such as when paying some one to clean the house makes sense, money wise, because you’ll earn much more than the cleaner by working at your desk job.

Having mostly a desk job as a writer, I am grateful for every opportunity to move  — but I create opportunities too.

Previously, where I once saw, vacuuming, cooking, washing the dishes as a chore, they’re now wonderful opportunities to use my body, senses and be on my feet moving.

If I catch myself moving ‘too efficiently’ – I may consciously choose to move inefficiently, creating opportunities to move more. Such as when talking the bins out, I may do them one at a time, instead of trying to take both at once.  Or when moving things from one place to another, I may make a conscious choice to do extra trips than I need to.

And when I’m on the laptop writing, I’ve used a timer as a reminder to take movement breaks, or work without the power cord till the battery runs out {a couple of hours with an 11 inch Mac air}, which forces me to get up and do something else. At times, I place my laptop on a higher bench so I can type while I stand.

This is in addition to walking my dogs and doing yoga most days, and, of course, housework.

In the end, it’s about re-considering the way we live and our attitudes to movement, and making some conscious choices and opportunities to move more.

By the way, while the Masterchef contestant lost, she has stronger biceps than the chef.