Start Where You Are

I meant the thoughts I’d take into the new year to be more powerful and positive, but at the end of the last one I found myself repeating this one to remind myself that change doesn’t start somewhere you haven’t been yet — it starts where you are. A simple, neutral thought whose logic can hardly escape anyone.

Broadford, Isle of Skye | September 2017
Broadford, Isle of Skye | September 2017

Whether you want to change your profession, eating habits or attitude to adversity, you need to start in the place you are now. Not a place you want to be, probably. A bad place, perhaps. But it’s not possible to become the idealized image of yourself in no time.

It starts with realizing where you are.

It may take some courage and seriousness to take the first step towards change.

More courage and seriousness to step back and try again if the first step didn’t take you where you wanted.

A shit-ton of work to find the right path!

Patience to stay put if your heart, mind, lungs and the rest of your lovely self don’t quite keep up with the pace.

More work to keep searching, and stay on the right path if you’ve found it.

And perserverance.

And more of it.

 

Good luck, everyone.

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A Lesson in Resigning

My twenty fifth birthday was one of the saddest so far. I didn’t feel like celebrating it, few people remembered about it, and at the end of it I couldn’t fall asleep: I was projecting the things I heard about being over twenty five onto my future. It made me cry. I was anticipating that I’d have the same problems I used to have, and that the only difference would be that I’d be less emotional about them. I was anticipating a resignation from my ambitious plan to gradually change the things that make me unhappy.

That’s what I heard people over twenty five become: emotionally cold, and resigned. Everyone gets those projections somewhere. They might be ridiculous and untrue, but they stay with us.

But, of, course they don’t have to define our future. We all have our needs, dreams, and plans that run against any bleak visions of the future that other people or the present feed into our minds. I, for example, need to listen to myself more. I dream about filling my life with interesting books. I have the ambitious plans I mentioned above.

And all of it didn’t go away when I turned twenty five. Quite the contrary: with each success and failure in fulfilling the above, I’m more and more aware of what these needs, dreams and plans mean to me… and in the end, it’s them that define me, not the projections.

Resignation is tempting, very tempting sometimes. It makes things so much easier to say: “this is too hard,” and give up. But I wouldn’t want to do so when I care about something deeply. And of course I care about my needs, dreams and plans deeply!

There is another kind of resignation, though, one I didn’t know until this year. It came unexpectedly naturally to me – a person used to fighting her own perceived weaknesses – after someone casually exposed my “people anxiety” by pointing out that I curled up when someone else sat beside me.

I always tried not to draw attention to my fear of people, wanted others to see me, ideally, as a confident person, and hated it when somebody made comments towards the contrary. I wanted to become confident, there and then, even if only in the eyes of some random beholders.

But at that moment, I resigned from pretending, and from my own hasty efforts to get rid of the anxiety (one of the things that make me unhappy, part of the big plan). I acknowledged the state I was in at the moment, and accepted the exposure, thinking: “yes, I am scared, why would I deny it?”

And, even though I’d never have expected any kind of resignation to be good, it was good for me. It had a calming effect. I’m not really sure how else to comment on this, or what to call this new kind of resignation, so I’ll just leave this discovery here for your consideration, and mine too. Maybe it will make us both more accepting towards ourselves…?

Post scriptum: Two days after I scheduled this post, during a yoga class, the teacher unexpectedly summed up my roundabout reflections on resignation by saying that all work starts from the place we’re in at the moment, and it can’t start from the place we would like to be in. It seems that everything around me conspires to teach me something.

Yalla!

Yet another piece from the collection Over Land, Over Sea that I translated as part of the Journeys in Translation project. This one, written by Trevor Wright, is actually my favourite one. What I like most about it is the powerful imagery that sticks in one’s mind long after one has finished reading. And the hope it brings, too.

***

Yalla

Shadowed by fissured rock,
fingers funnelling cooling sand,
the pull of the moon carving
the rhythm I need to pierce
the gloom, smell the horizon,
taste futures. I hunker down
to take soft hand to hand as
she quietly asks, who hears?
Who sees? Will land touch us?
Night folds in. Of course, I laugh.
The stars listen, the moon sees,
new land will find us. Yalla!

Yet another dawn,
chin to chest, rib to rib, my
last daughter curves in my lap,
exposed to a firmament fully
intent on pressing our shared
breath to the depths. I raise
my trailed palm, cool my brow,
wrinkled fingers stroke dreams,
residue all at odds with the tides.
Does anyone tune into the stars?
Who cares what the moon sees?
Will land reach out? Yalla. Yalla!

***

Yalla[1]

W cieniu spękanej skały
Palce przebierają stygnący piasek
A przyciąganie księżyca rzeźbi
Rytm, którego mi trzeba, by przebić
Mrok, poczuć zapach widnokręgu,
Smak możliwych przyszłości. Kucam,
By wziąć jej miękką dłoń w swoją,
Gdy cicho pyta, kto słyszy?
Kto widzi? Czy ląd nas dosięgnie?
Zapada noc. Śmieję się: oczywiście.
Gwiazdy słuchają, księżyc widzi,
Nowy ląd nas znajdzie. Yalla!

Kolejnego ranka,
Oparta brodą o moją pierś, ostatnia
Córka kuli się na moich kolanach,
Tuż pod sklepieniem, które usilnie
Chce zepchnąć nasz wspólny
Oddech w głębiny. Podnoszę
Rękę i schładzam czoło,
Pomarszczone palce głaszczą sny,
Osad, co powstał wbrew ruchowi fal.
Czy ktoś wsłuchuje się w gwiazdy?
Kogo obchodzi, co widzi księżyc?
Czy ląd poda nam dłoń? Yalla. Yalla!

[1] W języku arabskim wezwanie do pośpiechu: „prędzej”, „chodźmy”.

Why I No Longer Set an Alarm When I Go to Sleep

I used to believe it’s sad to think about sleep during the day, to be longing for sleep when you’re awake. Sleep, I thought, is an escape, and if you feel the need to escape, it must be quite bad.

But is sleep indeed an escape? And an escape from what? If the waking state was the primary reality of human beings, and if our living in that reality was always and without exceptions a hardship, then we could consider sleep an escape.

But our reality is composed of both sleep and wake, both playing a huge role in our well-being. That the waking state takes up two thirds, and sleep only one third of our lives, does not mean the latter is less important. We live in both, and need both.

The waking state is not always a hardship, either. I used to think it is for personal reasons, but now I’ve become acquainted with many more of the experiences that life has in store.

There is pleasure in life, and there is love. There is enthusiasm and exhaustion, and there is sadness and pain. There is also the feeling that one is actually lucky to be alive. And there is much more.

Coming back to not-so-personal beliefs, let’s remember that the time we spend asleep is equally valuable as our waking time. It is a time for rest, a time perfect for connecting with our inner lives, a time for dreaming and, let’s not forget about that: for growing.

But we’re reluctant to accept this fact of life, aren’t we, the twenty-first-century high-speed human machines? We minimize the time for sleep to have more of it for work, game playing, partying and whatnot. We treat sleep as if it was a necessary evil, often resorting to it only when we’re completely exhausted.

You’ve been there, haven’t you? If you haven’t, then my congratulations. But most of us relegate sleep to a place down at the bottom on their list of priorities. “Sleeping won’t get us a financial upgrade, awesome friends and photos from an enviable exotic trip, so why waste our time?”

There are at least two reasons… no, not to “waste our time”, but to change our minds about sleep so that it doesn’t seem a waste of time. Aaand to finally sleep enough.

Reason one is very simple, and you already know it: we need sleep. Our bodies, our minds, our everything needs sleep like plants need the sun. There’s no denying it, even if we like denying our needs so much. Remember: there’s no shame in being in need of something, so there’s no need to deny it.

Reason two is arguable, and I am going to argue for it: sleep makes our lives richer and more interesting. If we were to go with the current conception of a human being as a sort of organic robot, with brain for its main computer, stomach for the fuel tank and so on, we’d make ourselves dull and exhausted.

We’re not machines. We’re animals with an enormous capacity for experiencing things. Numerous things (see the personal paragraph above). And I have no doubt that we experience and remember them more fully when we are rested than we do when trying to fight exhaustion and boredom.

Our lives get more interesting also thanks to the dreaming we do while asleep. Seriously, wWhat would they be without those strange nightly phantasms, reflections on their possible meaning in the daily light, and evening discussions with our loved ones about whether they mean anything at all?

These are my reasons for not feeling bad when I think about sleep during the day, not setting an alarm when I go to sleep, and enjoying most of all the days when absolutely no external force can make my eyes open until they open by themselves in the morning.

What are yours? If you don’t have any, go find some, quickly. Because sleep is quite a lovely state.

***

A source that made me reflect on my attitude to sleep, and also a place for you to look for reasons to start getting enough sleep: The Cure for Insomnia Is to Fall in Love with Sleep Again

On a less serious note: A video presenting a healthy attitude to sleep

***

Nighty night!
mulan

Auto-Correct

A few months ago, I took an old notebook, half-filled with Russian words, out of a cupboard, and appointed it my new diary notebook.

It has more ink in it now than it could ever have as the kind of notebook you take to classes. In fact, it’s almost full by now. When I wave it goodbye and take on a new one, I know I’ll remember it with fondness because it is the place where I’ve learned and am practicing a new life skill: auto-correct.

The pages filled with Russian words are the only pages from my notebook that you're allowed to see...
The only pages from my notebook that you’re allowed to see…

Let me explain. For most of my life, I thought I lacked self-confidence but that that was the way I was. I thought that not being sure what you want and not believing that you can get what you want was something you were born with and that you couldn’t change regardless of how much effort you put into it.

“Being the way I was” in this aspect never made me happy. But it wasn’t until my early twenties that I decided I can get rid of tendencies that make me unhappy.

One of the eye-opening events during that time was reading Anna’s post about women’s lack of confidence in their dreams, plans, and abilities.

It was this post that made me start to notice the little “I think’s” and “maybes” that I slip into my utterances, my diary entries, even my thoughts. And when I became aware of the number of those seemingly harmless words in my language, I decided to… one after another, get rid of the fuckers.

So when I had filled some of the new notebook those few months ago and, flipping through it one lazy day, spotted several sentences starting with “I think I may want to…” or “maybe I will…” crowding it up, I corrected them to what I actually wanted to say: “I want to”, “I will”.

Since then, I’ve crossed out many “I think’s” and “maybes”, and you know what? Over time, I’ve begun to feel more confident about what I want and how I feel about things. In fact, I’m just beginning to believe that I have the right to want things, and to feel about things the way I do. In other words, I’m beginning to feel that my life is actually mine.

Auto-correct may well sound silly to you, but to me it sounds like the best way to start. I have always experienced words spoken out loud as “heavier” than ones you just turn over in your head. That’s probably because I don’t like talking very much, so when I do talk, I try to at least make the words “heavier”, that is more meaningful.

The same goes for words that get crossed out on paper — the act of crossing them out means that I don’t want them in my language. It’s a manifestation. It means that I want to change.

So if you also want to change something about yourself… why not try out auto-correct?

Old Habits Die Hard

My recent therapy sessions have taught me a new way of looking at some of my more painful experiences: namely, to see them as habits.

The word itself doesn’t sound painful, does it? It sounds rather… light. Undramatic. Normal. And that’s what I wanted — to see my experiences, and deal with them as I’d do with normal things. Like bad habits, which might be sticky, and one might be too lazy to get rid of them, but they are not a matter of Fate — one can change them if one wants to, and if one applies to it.

One of my more painful experiences — or bad habits — is to think of myself as a victim: unprotected, unhelped, and abandoned. I probably got into that habit some ten years ago but, sadly, it still makes me do stupid things, like rejecting help, calling people’s good intentions into doubt, or mistaking sporadic lack of help for general unreliability.

Of course, I hate this tendency in me. It reminds me of a bad time in my life, it makes me feel guilty of an unfair mistrust of people, and I don’t really like thinking, let alone talking about it. But I wanted to get rid of it, so I brought it with me to therapy.

After some time, I decided that, without disregarding the pain associated with it, it’s best to approach it simply as a habit. And through practice, perhaps through doubt and disappointment, with a lot of patience, possibly with support from others, and certainly with my own happiness in mind, I can get rid of it.

“I’ve done that before. Damn, I stopped eating crisps!” I thought.

Have I had much success so far? Not really, no. Only yesterday, I mentally accused my significant otter of being generally unconcerned about my health just because he refused to once again wash the shower cabin when it was my turn (I ask him to do it because washing stuff is tricky when you have skin problems).

But I checked myself: “oh yes, that’s that old album playing — the one about people being unhelpful — I don’t like that one.” And I thought that no otter, even the significant one, is obliged to fulfill my every wish, especially if they’re tired, and I washed the stupid shower cabin myself.

So there is some progress… But equally important as the slow progress I am making is the fact that, even if thinking about my habit still brings some pain, and fighting it is anything but easy, I feel so empowered when I treat it this way. Seeing myself as a victim is no longer some vague “way of being” thing that I cannot change, no matter how hard I try. It’s a habit that I decide whether to keep or not.

And I already decided not to.

Someone Unlike You

In my recent post, I recommended reading Laney’s The Introvert Advantage. The book offers advice and support to the “temperamental minority” of introverts, who make up roughly a quarter of the general population. It emphasizes that the western culture puts introverts at a disadvantage because it’s the extrovert traits that are promoted and encouraged everywhere. It brings to light the prejudice and misunderstanding that surrounds introversy, the shaming and rejection of introvert traits by the extroverted majority.

It’s all true enough but it got me thinking about the other prejudice that you can see some introverts hold: that directed against the extroverted majority. It’s barely noticeable among people – after all, it’s only held by a portion of a minority. But when an introvert talks to another introvert, you may hear critical remarks about extroverted people. “Why are they so loud? Why can’t they stop talking? Why don’t they think properly before doing something? And what’s with this habit of ‘thinking out loud’, why on earth can’t they think like normal people?”

And when the phrase “normal people” enters the stage, it’s usually a sign of some kind of prejudice. Don’t take me wrong: prejudice is just a thing that happens when we don’t know enough about the Other to empathize with them. It’s about a lack of understanding, and it’s about taking the shortest path to classifying the Other somehow. The introverts who don’t understand, criticize, or even reject extrovert traits (I’ve never met with shaming in this context), do this because they never put any effort into trying to understand introvert behaviour, or they did but found it too hard.

Photo of snow flakes by Aaron Burder
Photo by Aaron Burder

And it’s fine! We are different, and differences are sometimes really hard to get one’s head around. I wouldn’t blame another introvert for failing to acknowledge the benefits of thinking out loud – damnit, I can’t grasp this concept myself. But I wouldn’t blame a more extroverted person for thinking it weird to “keep so quiet all the time,” either. Everyone has their limitations when it comes to understanding otherness, and having a prejudice in the first place doesn’t mean you’re a bad person. We hold prejudices because they’re helpful in going about our lives without stopping and thinking about everything that surprises us about other people. In a way, prejudices help us make sense of the human world.

Most of the time they are wrong, though, because we came by them in ways that were too easy: we inherited them from our parents; we took them over from friends who travel abroad more often; we heard them on the radio from a guy whose voice always seemed trustworthy to us; or we formed them ourselves from what little experience we had with a particular group of people. Still, it’s not a crime to have prejudices. It’s just such a shame not to examine them when presented with contrary information, and to hold on to them when confronted with people as they are – in all their beautiful variety.

Because when you stand by your prejudices like they’re some holy text, you shut your mind off from innumerable possibilities to understand more of the world. And you also get really, really, really difficult to listen to.

I have more prejudices than just the prejudice against extroverted people, and I think I’m more or less aware of each. I could write pages and pages about them, but it’s not the point. The point is that life gives us opportunities to learn new facts, think and re-think whatever prejudices we hold, and change our minds if we decide to do so. For example, by reading The Introvert Advantage, I learned something about differences in human temperament, and started to shift from the kind of outlook on extroversy where “extroverts just sort of do stupid things for no reason” to one where… everybody’s different, and that’s fine.

I encourage you to use your opportunities. So go out and talk to someone, or stay in and watch a documentary, or read a book about somone unlike you. It’s worthwhile. I promise.