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.

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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.

Over-thinking

The last couple of weeks have been a rollercoaster of emotions for me. I don’t deal well with transitions in my life, usually – and the past couple of months have been one transition after the next. Getting back together with my boyfriend after two and a half years, getting one of my molars pulled, finishing my Masters, realising how emphatically I don’t want to spend the rest of my life being a librarian, realising how much I do want to get serious about my writing, trying to decide whether or not I want to do a PhD in the next few years… the list is practically endless.

My biggest problem is not so much to do with the turmoil and readjustment that comes with change – conversely, I do relish the freshness of a new start – but with the way I over-think things. As soon as a new world of opportunity opens up for me, I start trying to plan it.

Planning is good. Planning can help to alleviate anxiety, can lead to greater productivity, and can even provide motivation and inspiration. Planning the next few weeks, or even the next few months, seems to me to be a generally positive activity. The problems start when you realise that you are trying to plan things that are going to happen in 10 years, 20 years – when you start trying to plan out the rest of your life, and think you can act now in a way that will influence these things directly.

This is my downfall. As soon as I decided I was going to give writing a real go, that I was going to actually start writing a novel, I started to worry that I wouldn’t have enough money in 10 years’ time to settle down and have a family. Not to mention all the worries I had about the 10 years running up to that – whether I should be trying to get a part-time job, how difficult it might be for me to get a job later with a big gap on my already sparse CV, how I was going to keep paying my rent if I wasn’t making any money.

Last Friday, I got turned down for yet another library job, and I decided to partake in National Novel Writing Month this year. I got up the following Monday at 9am (early for me, shame on me, I know I know) and started planning not one, but two novels – I wanted to work on something different for NaNoWriMo in order to avoid the paralysis that might ensue if I tried to work on my “actual” novel. I was excited, enthusiastic, and felt like I had a purpose in life for the first time in a long time.

But meanwhile, every night when I went to bed I started thinking about careers and mortgages and how many words I might be able to write in a day and what I could do part-time on the side of writing and…

By Wednesday I was exhausted. I went to bed early, feeling anxious, and fell asleep almost instantly for an hour – then woke up and couldn’t sleep again until after 4.

Yesterday was not pretty.

I’ve no idea why I didn’t just stay in bed for the day. I turned into a ball of misery and ended up sitting my boyfriend’s flat crying about EVERYTHING.

I knew that my thinking pattern was highly self-destructive, but it just helped to hear him say it. He looked at me and said: “No-one can plan what they’re going to be doing for the rest of their lives. Even if there’s something you really, really want to do, all you can do is try, or just do it as long as you want to or can do it. Sure, what you do now affects what happens in the future, but decisions you make and how you spend your days right now does not have a direct bearing on what you’ll be doing when you’re 40 – not in the way you think it does.”

Wise words. I really hope I’ve learned my lesson on this one. Sometimes you just need to take each day as it comes. I do have to do some thinking about whether I need to look for a part-time job, but beyond that I really should be taking this year to just try things out and see how I enjoy it. See if I can bear sitting down every day knowing I have to write a certain amount. See if I can actually do it.

So I’m taking the rest of today off. And if I have insomnia next week I’ll sleep in as late as I want to!

Comfort or Passion?

Left dangling as I am over the edge of the adult world of employment, I find myself thinking a lot these days about the future, and about my priorities in life.

It all comes down to the question of happiness. Having been raised in an upper-middle class home, and being someone who generally enjoys pleasing aesthetics, good food, and the arts, I find it hard to imagine being happy in life without having sufficient money to be comfortably well off – to indulge in little luxuries, to have a beautiful home. I came to a decision a few years ago that I needed stability in my life, that I couldn’t bear the thought of not having a stable income. It’s not that I have any aspirations to have a super-high-paying job – and indeed, the life choices I have made so far haven’t exactly set me up for that lifestyle. But a stable career – a career in which I would be sure to make a certain amount.

But over the last year, something of the truth of life has struck me. And that truth is: life is really, really short. It is starting to seem to me that hours spent every day on something that I am less than passionate about are precious hours wasted in a short lifespan. I acknowledge that being able to turn a passion into a career is not something that is possible for everyone. But surely, at the age of 23, I should not yet be giving up on it.

I think the problem is that I have always been afraid to actually sit down and do the things I think I passionately want to do. Perhaps it is a fear of failure – a fear of not being able to achieve what I hope to achieve. When I was a child, I expected to have my first novel written before I turned 20 – but 20 came and went, and all I’d managed were some 3,000 words on a story that didn’t feel like it was going anywhere.

And following your passion is not easy. I am well aware that attempting a career as a writer or as an academic could lead to relative hardship, difficulty in acquiring a publishing contract or a position in a university, and potentially not enough money to be as comfortable in life as I might wish. But really, what should be more important to me? Should I really give up on my dreams before I even attempt to turn them into a reality, all just to avoid stress and acquire a stable income before I’m 25?

I am a qualified librarian now. I may not have as much work experience as may be needed to find a job in this environment, but I could very feasibly move into an internship and from there into a paid position in the next couple of years. And could potentially work in this company or area for the rest of my working life. It would make the other areas of my life easier – my social life, money issues, buying a house and raising a family in about 10 years’ time.

But would it make me happy?

Would I be satisfied with my life?

I’m not sure that I would be. And yet – I find it difficult to start doing those things about which I might become passionate. I have done some writing, and I have thought about my area in English literature and started playing with an idea. But it feels difficult, like wading through mud. And I think – will it get easier? Or is this really how it would be if I stuck to this path? A constant uphill struggle with my passions in life.

But the alternative looks less and less appealing to me. I’m not ready to settle for less in my life.

Living in the moment…

…how do we go about it?

It’s amazing how such a simple, almost clichéd idea can still manage to have a profound impact on me every time I am reminded of it in any well-thought out or well-articulated way. And it makes me wonder – am I ever going to stop “forgetting” to do this? Will there come a time when it truly becomes ingrained in my day-to-day existence?

But the problem isn’t just with forgetting to do it – the problem starts with managing to do it in the first place.

Essentially, a call to living in the moment should be a reminder of the insignificance of material things, the pettiness of small irritations with loved ones and days whiled away in boredom. We might feel moved to reach out to a loved one, or to engage more in what we’re passionate about. We might engage in such activities as meditation, and attempt to think only about what is happening to us right now without reference to the past or the future.

The problem is this: we are, as human beings, hardwired to be constantly thinking about both the past and the future.

And this tendency is present instinctually, emotionally, and intellectually.

Our ability to reason, to compare, to analyse, has led us to this evolutionary point. It is the secret to our success. And so, letting go of this tendency seems to run contrary to our very nature.

So what are we to do about it? It is often true that we would be happier if we let go of memories of incidents in the past, no matter how recent – if we allowed our consciousness to reset and focus on the now. But it is almost impossible to avoid bringing things up in your mind and assessing the probability of it happening again. And if we do consistently focus on the present and avoid this type of analysis, how are we to look at the bigger picture of our life and assess our own happiness, and the successfulness of how we are going about it?

It’s also true that we may be happier if we avoided obsessively thinking about the future – attempting to plan out the weeks, months and years ahead. This kind of thinking can be inspiring and exciting, but leads to one of our greatest barriers to happiness – waiting to be happy in the future rather than focussing on being happy right now. But again, without this future planning, we cannot build lives for ourselves.

So I suppose this goal of “living in the moment” is rather qualified. Perhaps it is something we should aim to do every day, but perhaps just for a few hours, or even for a few minutes. But is it really possible to do, when the rest of our lives revolve around the-moment-just-passed and the-moment-about-to-happen?

I feel I have been struggling to find the answer to this for many years now. At what point do I give up on this particular holy grail, and decide that the answer to happiness lies elsewhere?

New leaf

I love when I find echoes of a past happy time in my life. I love the symmetry, and also the trepidation. I love the feeling of connectedness, as though my life really is a narrative with themes and leitmotifs. I love the moments of uncertainty jolting through the familiarity.

But sometimes the most exciting thing about a new situation is that it is new.

When I was a very small child, I used to think that the clouds only appeared to move in the sky because the earth was spinning, but the clouds were in fact still. The sun, moon and stars were too far away for us to be able to perceive their relative shifting. But watching the clouds to me was like watching the road slip away under the wheels of a car. When I realised that the clouds do in fact move across our skies, I was struck with bitter disappointment. There had been something comforting in being able to look up at the sky and remind myself that we are moving forward.

The excitement of change reminds me of that. The clouds’ drifting spoke of the racing of time, of our own aging and development, and the amazing experiences that were waiting for me in my future, waiting to unfold. But I also was aware of the cyclical nature of time; that we may be hurtling through space, but we move in a fixed path, and the world spins only on itself.

And so we move forward, but also back on ourselves. The seasons come and go, and each time they come around we feel a content recognition, a familiarity. But each time they come around, we are different, we have changed. And so things are new even when we come around to them a second time.

Choice

Is it possible to choose logic over emotion?

We feel hurt and anger, most often, in a place beneath logic. So it would seem that if you managed to focus on the logic of a situation – on the fact, on the circumstance, on the actual bare bones of the reality – you could avoid some of the more unpleasant feelings in life.

I have tried this. I am an innately logical person, I analyse and I try to understand other people. I am not without empathy, I am not unreasonable. But inevitably, the emotional aftertaste starts to colour the logic, and eventually all I am left with is the churning of feelings that an event brings about. The histrionics burst forth.

But it must be possible. Because there are things in life that make no sense to me otherwise.

This must be how people choose to hurt those they care about. The logical step – the logical conclusion. A decision made for the greater good, to be cruel to be kind. I wouldn’t know, because I have never made a conscious decision that I knew would hurt someone I really cared about unless I was retaliating in some way, licking a wound.

That will sound ridiculous. Of course I have hurt people, I have made hurtful choices, I have said hurtful things, I have repeated things that should not have been repeated. But there is this phenomenon that I have seen in a few people on a few occasions – something like a reverse martyrdom. The clear decision to be harsh, to be cold, to pull away. The email unanswered, the phone not picked up. The clear break.

The only way I can understand it is that they have somehow managed to choose logic over emotion. They have decided that this logical course of action will save them some hurt at a later date – or, worse, they have the presumption to assume that they are saving me some later hurt. There is some logic, there must be.

Because I do not want to think that they are acting on their emotions.

Happiness is

I think I need to figure out how to write about being happy. Seriously. I realised today that I haven’t felt like writing as much in the past few days, and then also realised that I’ve been (mostly, stupid research project excluded) very happy during that time. The two things, on closer inspection, seem to be connected.

I suppose I tend to write about “deep” things like feelings and major life crises etc etc, and those things are just more usually connected to negative feelings. I actually remember having this exact conversation with a friend over a year ago, where we agreed that there seem to be very few emotional states that are conducive to expression. Mundane feelings don’t cut it, but weirdly, it seems equally difficult to sit down to write about anything on the happy spectrum from mildly pleased to ecstatic.

Maybe it’s a good time for me to write about things other than myself, as that’s another thing I’m bad at. To be fair, I’ve rarely tried to write when I’m in a mood like this – the whole problem is that I don’t feel like it in the first place. Or maybe that’s not a bad thing? Unless I decide I want to make a living out of creative writing, I guess.

But I think I’d like to be able to express everything, to record everything. As it is, what I do record tends to be the more negative aspects of what I’m feeling about things, and the days when I smile all the way home slip between the cracks. I’d like to be moved to write simply because it’s a sunny day, or I’m excited about something, or I woke up feeling particularly happy. I know it happens sometimes, that the creative mood strikes at the same time, but I’d like it to happen more often.

Maybe this counts? It’s a start.

Inspiration

Inspiration isn’t just about creativity for me – it’s about living. Being inspired, being creative, being happy, are all one. As I grow older I begin to realise that many of the seemingly diverse emotions I experience, like love, contentedness, elation, motivation, are just facets of a state of being that overwhelms me from time to time.

My muse.

Maybe it’s because I have to be creative to be happy, and am happiest when being creative. But increasingly I feel that maybe after all, human emotions are not so complex. There is the good, and the bad. And tapping into the good can be achieved in an infinite number of ways.

I remember that when I was going through the toughest year of my life so far, about a year and a half ago now, I would surprise myself sometimes by suddenly encountering a brief but intense moment of pure elation. It would come upon me without warning, and at the time I thought of it as hope. It was something that would come to me in times of real crisis, almost as if it were a natural human reaction to extreme anguish. And it was almost always triggered by the beauty of sunlit room or garden.

I had probably always noticed that the beauty of nature had a particularly strong effect on me, but this was the first time that I thought about it consciously. I began to realise that it was perhaps beyond the normal human response to aesthetics. It eventually led me down the road of revisiting pantheism as a world view, something I seem to return to in times of need, but relinquish again once the need – whatever it is – is fulfilled.

Another effect that sunlit, leafy scenery has always had on me is the need to write, or create. I have sat by my bedroom window on many, many occasions with a notepad or laptop on the desk before me, writing myself into a pure and still contented feeling that is difficult to capture. I have written countless songs on my piano as the sun sets on my back, illuminating the wall before me in pink and golden tones. Snow has the same effect, but is much more rare when I live. But whatever way I attain it, this nature-linked, creativity-driven state seems to be one of the purest forms of happiness I feel.

Love is the same feeling. I have felt it with varying strength for many people, and these days I feel it most of all for my cat. So all of these things are completely intertwined for me – the beauty of nature, inspiration, love, happiness.

I think I would like this blog to reflect that. It’s a difficult concept to define, partly because it is so broad and so varied, and partly because it is purely emotional. But I would like, maybe, to have a place to write about the things that motivate me, the things that make me happy, the things that inspire me to live life. Because what is life without inspiration?