Running changed my life

Honestly, so much of my lifestyle has changed over the past year that it’s hard to pinpoint any one thing that changed me the most. But running is definitely one of those things.I had kidded myself for a long time that I didn’t need to be more fit, that (fast-paced, hill) walking was enough. But eventually I decided that I really wanted to be able to run, at least at this point in my life.

I had never run before. I mean, obviously I ran around as a child, and a little bit during the obligatory P.E. (gym) classes at school. When I was about nine or ten, I was even fit and fast, as I played football with the boys during lunch. In secondary (junior high) school, I “played basketball”. But because my fitness had depleted by that point, I was on the C(rap) team. And honestly, there was very little running around involved. My fitness began to decline at that point.

From age seventeen to twenty-four, I took up walking. My fitness increased a little, and I was happy with that. It wasn’t until I moved to an area without many hills that I realised how inadequate this really was. It was a beginner’s kind of exercise, the exercise you do when you’re so unfit you can’t do anything else. But it should be transitional.

So I took up yoga, and began running. And man, was it hard. Initially I could barely run 500 meters. I mostly ran at my parents’ house, so I was running up hills, but still. I was horrified at my lack of cardiovascular fitness, my lack of lung capacity. I hadn’t even tried to run in years.

I was struggling to run half of a two-mile circuit with many, many walking breaks. But. I immediately started to feel like a whole new person.

I remember sitting in my boyfriend’s kitchen one morning, having been for a run a few hours previously, and realising that I felt really, really fantastic. I was energetic, happy, enthusiastic. And I realised how much I had grown used to feeling tired and lethargic and generally terrible.

My busy schedule has only allowed me to squeeze in two runs a week, which I’m well aware is less than ideal. So my progress is very slow. I mostly run in the morning, and doing so before work takes discipline. My body is stiff and a little reluctant. But afterwards, I am clearer, more focused, more calm.

None of this is any news to anyone who exercises regularly. It wasn’t that I was unfamiliar with the idea that exercise made you feel so much better, either. But I guess I had to experience it to really understand. I’m working now on finding time for a third run in the week. The sky’s the limit.

Dreaming

I wake up so many mornings with a feeling that something very important and meaningful happened in the dreamworld, but I can’t quite remember what. It frustrates me, but generally I try to accept that if I don’t remember it, I don’t need to.

Dreaming is healing, for me. It can rip me up, open wounds, raise questions I didn’t even know needed to be asked. But when I’ve spent hours or days pulling something apart, worrying ruts into my brain, the right dreams can leave me feeling peaceful.

Not everyone places such import on their dreams. But honestly, I think this is a mistake. Our dreams can influence our day without us even realising it. They can give us insight into how we’re really feeling about something. And I think nearly everyone can remember their dreams if they work at it.

I know that I would remember those vague, forgotten dreams more often if I got into the habit of keeping a dream journal – but my meditation practice in the morning is currently taking precedence! But when I do keep a dream journal, I develop an even stronger relationship with my dreamworld.

Sleep then can seem like another important part of the day, and another important part of my personal and spiritual growth, rather than an inconvenience. And I love that. Your brain is very busy at night, especially when you’re dreaming, so why denigrate that? Pay attention to the contents of your unconscious – it makes up most of who you are, after all.

Stress versus Happiness

I’ve come to believe that happiness is not so much the absence of unhappiness, but the absence of stress.

I also can’t understand why deciding to not be stressed isn’t enough to kick the habit. I have over time tailored my life so that it should be possible for me to work towards my goals without putting myself under undue pressure. I thought that doing things I love would eliminate the stress even if I was very busy. But now I wonder if stress is more innate to my brain, and it’s something that will take more invasive intervention.

I actually feel sometimes that I made a choice at some point between stress-free and doing something I love. The job I work now is largely stress-free; more than most other things I could be doing. But I’ve chosen to work part-time and gradually ease out of this career. Why? It’s just too boring. It’s not meaningful to me. I have nothing invested in it.

So if you are invested in your career, does it have to be stressful? I don’t think so, but I’m still trying to figure out how. If stress is a personality trait or a habit, then I just need to train myself out of it. I’ve been gradually working on living in the now, and perhaps that is my ticket towards greater well-being.

Clutter-clearing your psyche

Finding peace and stillness day-to-day is hard. And yet when I don’t, I feel frazzled. I find I can’t get truly excited and inspired. I go through the motions but I don’t really feel it from heart level.

I’m not sure that achieving peace and calm is something you can just decide to do – because then there would be no stress in the world, right? Apart from those odd people who are addicted to it! But I have always found that creating outer order and simplicity creates a mirror effect in the psyche.

You would think that having made that discovery, I would forever keep my living space clean and clear! Not quite. But every now and then, when I’m particularly overwhelmed and know something has to change, I take to major clutter-clearing.

I used to just come up with ingenious storage methods, and put the clutter out of sight, neatly arranged. But it’s still there, bubbling under the surface. When I stumbled upon the idea of actually getting rid of all this crap – and living as a minimalist – I knew I had struck on gold.

It’s hard to get rid of stuff, though. There’s something innate about the human condition that makes us want the shiny stuff. And lots of it. Not only do we attach sentiment to things: we seem to feel that our very survival depends on all this stuff. It insulates us. It will be there to save us when catastrophe strikes.

So I haven’t got rid of everything. But I’ve boxed up my clothes, keeping out only a few items that I truly want and will actually wear every week. And little by little, I turn to a cupboard or a drawer and have a look at what I don’t need.

Once it’s gone, you don’t miss it. And the calm runs a little deeper.

Everything can change in a year

It’s strange how even a year or two can render you almost unrecognisable to yourself. The Áine who started blogging on Sirens & Muses two and half years ago has now disappeared into the folds of history. In her place: me.

Things have changed. I built a spiritual practice and gradually my blogging shifted over to that subject entirely. I blogged under the name Spinning of the Wheel for a few years, until I launched a business called Heart Story, and subsumed the blog into it. These days I am known as Áine Órga online, and the persona of Áine Warren – while it is a variant of my real name – has receded.

And I am happier. More stressed? Undoubtedly. But I finally feel that I am getting to where I need to be.

I am still writing. But at the moment I am primarily writing about spirituality, nature-based religion, and personal development. I write Tarot readings for people (when I make a sale!). And I am generally trying to reach out more into the world with my writing. I am trying to make a difference.

But I miss having somewhere to come and write casually. I miss creative writing, and I keep trying to find the time to come back to my novel-writing. It will happen, it’s in the plan. But starting a business is time-consuming!

So I think I’m going to come back and write here again. Probably very informal and unfocussed stuff. I won’t make any promises! But I miss Sirens & Muses and the freedom it offered me. It started me on an epic journey, and I will be forever grateful for that.