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.

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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.

Changes

It’s hard to believe we’re only just over a week into December. Already, the madness of November and NaNo feels like eons ago. And despite the lack of emotion and satisfaction I talked about in my previous post, I do feel like a very different person, or at least like I’m in a very different place. I look back at October and it feels like years ago.

My diminshed presence on WordPress is probably mostly due to habit – but I also feel that, in a way, I have less of a need for it now. Maybe I have accepted my achievement of the 50,000 words on a deeper level than I thought. For the past year, I have validated myself as a writer though blogging. And although I’m definitely not going to stop blogging any time soon, I feel less of a need for it.

It’s a season for change – maybe a year for change. My life is in total upheaval. And at the centre of it, I have moments of amazing calm, amazing certainty that I am in the right place right now. I don’t believe in fate or destiny, but feelings of belonging and contentedness and connectedness are things I’ve been searching for for a long time. Maybe I’m actually getting close.

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking and reading and development in terms of my (albeit atheistic) spirituality – though for some reason I don’t feel that this is the place to talk about that. So there are internal changes happening with the external ones. I am striving to become the person I have always expected to be some time in the future. But with my 24th birthday, something clicked with me that I will never become her if I don’t start moving in the right direction now.

I was going to write a post about Christmas, and I will in the next few days. But for now, this rambling fragment will have to do. To regular readers – I’m sorry I have been neglecting your blogs! I do miss reading everyone’s posts, and I’ll get back to it at some point. But right now, I’m not in a mood for forcing it.

NaNoWriMo Makes You Busy

I’m aware that I’ve been neglecting this blog a bit – no posts in the past week! – and I’m sorry about that. But at the moment, NaNoWriMo is taking up all my creative juices.

I hit 32,000 words today, and the end is creeping up. It will be a really meaningful achievement for me to finish this – but I’ll be taking a break from writing for December, I think! I’m not exactly sure why it’s so taxing, as I’m not doing a whole lot else with my time, and I usually get my 2,000 words written within 2-3 hours. But I’m just so tired all the time. Maybe it hasn’t helped that I’ve been sick!

It also doesn’t help that I’m still getting used to sharing a bed with someone. It’s not every night, for sure, but it’s probably at least three nights a week – and I’m finding it hard to adjust! At the moment I’m doing fine up until about 7am (we tend to get up at about 9am, we’re night owls) but then after that I find that my boyfriend keeps twitching and turning and keeps me awake for most of the rest of the morning. I’m hoping that I’ll get used to it and learn to sleep through a little bit of moving around!

Anyway, that’s my life at the moment, pretty much. There’s a lot of other stuff I want to be doing right now, but my energy levels are just too low. But hopefully come December I can catch up on everything else.

I hope everyone else doing NaNo is happy with their progress so far too!

NaNoWriMo: 20,000 words!

Today I reached another NaNoWriMo milestone – 20,000 words! I was a bit behind after being sick and having a bit of a tumultuous weekend, but I got 2,650 words down today without too much effort.

I had realised a few days ago during a conversation with my boyfriend that one of the things that was slowing the writing down was that I didn’t know some of my characters well enough. Despite the plot outlining I had done, I had made the mistake of assuming they would emerge as I went. And sure, they probably could if I wasn’t tied down to a specific deadline. But as it is, I was hoping to get my writing done in the mornings on most days, and it was spilling over into the afternoon.

So I spent just fifteen minutes this morning working out a few details, and the two scenes I worked on practically wrote themselves. So I definitely think I need to get into the habit of doing a bit more planning before I start writing – it seems to suit me much, much better.

I had thought I might post an excerpt soon, but I haven’t had time to think about it yet. I feel like I’ve been away from WordPress for a long time, even though it’s really only been a few days. I’ve had a difficult couple of days, but I hope everything has been resolved now in my personal life. I’m certainly feeling a lot better than I have in a few weeks.

NaNoWriMo Update & Blog Direction

Well, today was day 5 of NaNo – my fourth day of writing because I’ll be taking a day off a week – and so far so good. I’ve decided to go for a target of 2,000 words a day and will take one day off a weekend if I feel like it, which gives me a leeway of 2,000 words. I’m a bit ahead of my target though, at just over 8,500 words, so it looks more and more probably that I will actually manage this thing.

So far it hasn’t really sunk in, I don’t think. I’m finding it a little hard to engage with my story – I think I’m going to have to print it out and read over it (to avoid reading it on the screen as this may lead to editing which I don’t want!). I didn’t really want to be reading back over it but it may be necessary to keep the momentum of the story going.

I also have never written this much of one story before – apart from a “Harry Potter sequel” I started when I was about 12, but that’s another story entirely (and I will probably write about that soon). So I’m aware that I might find it difficult at first – there may be speed bumps. But I’m optimistic.

In other news, I’m finding that I’m not sticking with my resolution to write flash fiction every Saturday, so I’m going to drop it for the moment. It’s particularly tough now that I’m doing NaNo. I will mostly be writing personal updates, I think, and I hope to keep the photographs going, but for November the fiction will have to take a rest. I’m contemplating posting NaNo excerpts though – I’ll see how I feel about it.

But anyway – it’s all generally positive, my bug is wearing off and I’m gradually feeling more energetic, so it’s (hopefully) all up from here!

My Halloween Birthday

This year I had several birthday celebrations, both on the actual day (Halloween) and last Friday. On the actual day, I had been invited to a Halloween party/house-warming, which was difficult to get to but worth it to have the excuse to wear a costume and to see some old friends. Unfortunately the point and shoot I brought with me turned out to be all out of battery, but I did take some photos the day before of my mask while I was making it.

I added some black feathers to the side/top as well, and was generally pretty happy with my handiwork. The mask was originally plain white, so everything else added is my own handiwork.

My actual birthday began in my boyfriend’s house. It was a bit strange, as it was the first time I’d ever woken up away from my parents’ house on my birthday, but it turned out to be a lot of fun. We walked into town and had an amazing breakfast of pancakes with a berry compote and crème fraiche, and hot chocolate.

I met my parents a few hours later for lunch – but not just any lunch; we went to Michelin starred restaurant for dinner, and had one of the nicest three-course meals I’ve ever had. After that we went back to my parents’ house and I opened my gifts, then I topped off a day of amazing food with pumpkin pie, barm brack, chocolate birthday cake, and champagne.

[Photographs of me were taken by my father.]

The evening finished with the party, which turned out to be a lot of fun. So all in all I had a pretty great day. Then Friday evening I had a bunch of friends over to my flat for drinks.

Unfortunately, I’ve now come down with some sort of bug, but I think the two days were worth it.

I’d also like to mention that this post marks my 100th (public) post on Sirens & Muses – some of these were posted previously on other blogs, but the majority of them were posted here on WordPress. I also hit a few other milestones recently – 200 followers, and 1000 likes. And I’ll be reaching 5,000 views sometime this month! It’s been an amazing journey so far, and has helped me immeasurably with my creative development. So I’d like to say thank you to all my followers, commenters and likers – and here’s to another 100 posts!

Outside My Window: Homeless Love

A few short weeks ago the sun would only be setting at this time, but now it is deep night. Today it turned bitterly cold, as though the old gods are reminding us that it is nearly winter. There is no wind, and the pavement echoes with the sharp attacks of my boot heels.

I am walking aimlessly. I left the house with the intention of walking around the block to stretch my legs and clear my head, but now I seem to have set out for the city centre. There is a tearing feeling in my heart like thin fabric being ripped. If I keep walking, if I keep running over this knot in my mind, maybe I will reach a point of calm.

As I reach the heart of the city, I see that the Christmas lights have been erected along the main street of the south side. The sight of them makes something break within me a little more. I am irritated, it is not even Halloween yet, it is much too early for this – and still, I am thinking: “I don’t want another miserable Christmas.”

By the time I reach the university, the tears pushing at my chest and throat have ebbed away, and I have reached determination. I pass a woman whose face I recognise – the mother of a girl I used to call a friend – but I look away, afraid of being recognised. My anonymity is what is holding me together. It is allowing me to believe that I am a different person, in a different life, who will not break apart if this is unfixable. Who will not allow herself to be unhappy in this way.

Once inside the university gates, a feeling of coming home envelops me. The small flat I left only half an hour ago seems distant and alien – it has not seen me through the ups and downs, the terrible lows and the ecstatic highs that these old buildings have witnessed in me. Inside these walls, the greatest love of my life was born and nurtured. And now when it all seems to dangle over the precipice, its memory will be held safe by these monuments of time.

I cross the front square, feet hitting the ground uneven on the cobblestones, and sit down on the cold cement steps of the university chapel.

The world becomes still. I take my heart in my hands and imagine a life on my own until I can imagine it calmly. Until I am serene with the weight of it. I become tall again, my limbs stretching out into the gaps of my independence.

I watch students come and go for a time. A young man in a university society hoodie jogs past, face shadowed by the orange lights; two girls hang out of a dorm room, shouting down at someone below. Above the haze of the city lights and smog, right above my head at the highest point of the sky, pinprick stars gleam coldly. I imagine the worst – my heart rests a moment – and then the world moves on.

The warmth is leeching out of the thin film of sweat that had accumulated at the back of my neck beneath my scarf, between my breasts, under my arms. I feel as though I am sinking into the cold stone steps – or the stone is seeping out into me, turning me icy and paralysed under the Medusa-stare of the chapel. I rise, and zip up my jacket. I consider buying a coffee, and decide against it. It is time to go home.

On my way back up to the main street, I pass a woman crouched in a sitting position against a pillar outside a newsagents. She has the characteristic shabby, mismatched demeanour of all the homeless people in this city – clothes of indeterminate colour, torn and dirtied; hair dry and dishevelled.

But she is not begging; she is paying no attention whatsoever to the passersby. A large plastic carrier bag sits before her on the street, and out of the top of it, a tiny kitten’s head protrudes. It is young, barely old enough to be weaned away from its mother; a scruffy white little thing with a tortoiseshell pattern down its back. The woman dangles a black sock before the kitten, dancing it before its eyes before tugging it away again. The kitten’s tiny claws wave uncertainly, catching on the sock like needles, its green-gold eyes wide and excited.

The homeless woman is as enthralled as the kitten. Her features are tender and smiling, like the face of a doting parent. The moment catches on my heart. I wonder how often this kitten will go hungry in the long nights it faces on the streets, and tears press against the backs of my eyes again. I swallow, look away, and walk on.

 

Outside My Window is a weekly series every Saturday on Sirens & Muses where I write a short story or vignette based on something I see outside my window, outside my door, or on the streets around my area. It’s a little late this week again!