2009 – 2019 Reflections

2009-2019 Mara

We’ve reached the end of another year and a whole decade to boot, and I’ve been reflecting on how much my life has changed in that time:

  • Ten years ago, I moved to Glasgow;
  • Eight years ago, I passed my driving test and returned to university to study a post-graduate qualification that led to my current career;
  • Six years ago, my then boyfriend and I moved in together, and got engaged shortly after;
  • Four years ago, we were married and adopted our cat, Mara;
  • Three years ago, we bought our house, and I started this blog.
  • In the last ten years, I’ve traveled to Budapest, Berlin, Barcelona, Rome, Dublin, Iceland (twice!), Japan, New York and Oslo as well as various places around Great Britain.
2009-2019 Travel
Fulfilling childhood dreams of travelling to Japan and New York

It helps to have a bit of perspective because 2019 has been one of the most challenging years I’ve faced in a long time. We’ve mourned the passing of two of my husband’s relatives, and helped my nanna move into a care home. A member of my family was admitted to hospital three times and spent six months as an in-patient, and there’s a question mark over my own health after I temporarily lost vision in my left eye.

2019 highlights

It hasn’t all been bad news though, we’ve enjoyed the RSNO performing the music of Harry Potter, supported our local team at a rugby match, visited the Giant Lanterns of China at Edinburgh Zoo and the Enchanted Forest in Pitlochry to list just a few of the most memorable moments. We’ve both changed jobs, with my husband returning to the NHS after a stint in the private sector and self-employment, and I returned to the front lines of social services after a secondment in a finance driven role. The biggest change is still on the horizon, and all being well, we’ll meet our baby in just a few weeks.

I don’t have any grand plans or ambitions for the next decade and I can’t imagine what 2020 will hold, yet I hope I’ll continue to love, learn, travel and practice gratitude whatever happens. Wishing everyone a very happy New Year. X

Keep Calm & Carry On Counting My Blessings

Coffee with Mara

I had to take a break from blogging earlier in the month due to a sudden and unexpected bout of ill-health. Earlier in June, I woke up with blurred vision in one eye, and it continued to deteriorate over the next 48 hours. After a quick call to NHS24, I was encouraged to go to A&E who were unable to find any sign of trauma or infection and made an urgent referral to ophthalmology for the next day. After a full visual test on both eyes, including scans and eye-drops, the ophthalmologist diagnosed me with optic neuritis (inflammation of the optic nerve), and has made a referral to neurology as it can be the first symptom of Multiple Sclerosis. M.S isn’t hereditary, but I do have a slightly higher risk of developing it as my mum has it. The good news is that I don’t have any other symptoms, and the ophthalmologist expects my vision to return fully in the next couple of months.

It’s been hard not to worry about the worst case scenarios but we don’t know anything for certain yet, and I’m trying to keep calm and carry on counting my blessings. The NHS receives a lot of criticism but I’m incredibly grateful for it, my access to A&E and ophthalmology was quick and all the staff I saw were diligent and compassionate.

Tea in the Garden

Losing vision in one eye has been humbling, unable to drive or work for the last couple of weeks, I’ve been housebound and have been grateful for simple home comforts. I’ve enjoyed spending time in the garden, and I’ve been very grateful for Mara’s companionship. Cats have a reputation for being aloof, but Mara is such a sociable girl, and she’s relished all the extra cuddles and attention while I’ve been at home. Most of all, I’ve been grateful for my husband, who has taken this latest setback in his stride, and has been an unwavering source of support and reassurance.

My vision is slowly returning, and I’m very much trying to counteract my fears with gratitude, but these last few weeks have been a reminder not to take anything for granted because life can change in an instant. Be well, and have a lovely week. X

‘Braving the Wilderness’ by Brene Brown

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I often read books with themes that mirror something I’m going through in real life at the time, and I recently found myself picking Braving the Wilderness by Brene Brown off the shelf. I first learned about Brene Brown’s research through her TED talks on vulnerability and shame, and over the last few years I’ve drawn so much comfort and inspiration from her books that have helped me to navigate difficult transitions and encouraged me to be more authentic, vulnerable and courageous in my personal life and career.

Braving the Wilderness builds on Brene Brown’s previous books but has a distinctly political edge as she explores how we hide who we really are in order to fit in, and how political rhetoric has become increasingly intolerant, dehumanizing and divisive as leaders call upon their followers to oppose anyone who disagrees with their opinions or values. This book is very much about being curious and listening to other perspectives, as well as being honest about our own, but it’s also about having the moral courage to stand up for what we believe is right even if it means standing alone.

Braving theWilderness2

I find it so easy to relate to Brene Brown, and this is written with the same honesty, humility and humour as her other books, yet it’s not an easy read as it challenged me to reflect on the times when my own fear of criticism, conflict, loneliness and rejection lead me to settle for fitting in instead of belonging, and how sometimes the things we do to avoid feeling pain end up causing us more heartache and suffering in the long run.

Braving the Wilderness didn’t have the profound impact on me that I Thought It Was Just Me or Rising Strong did, but it still feels like a pertinent discussion on how to overcome some of the barriers to communication, understanding and connections in the current socio-political climate. Have a lovely week. X

Awakening from Hibernation

4 Hibernation1

I often think January is a month ill-suited to starting our New Year’s Resolutions as it’s the middle of winter and many of us are still recovering from the busy-ness and excess of the festive period. By February though, we’re usually awakening from our winter hibernation and ready to start tackling some of the goals and resolutions we’ve set ourselves.

One of our goals this year is to reduce how much food we waste. Food is a necessity but it’s also become one of our biggest expenditures after housing and transport, and I feel guilty when it goes to waste. To help us achieve our goal, we’ve been planning our meals in advance and we’ve bought a set of Pyrex dishes so we can cook some of our meals in bulk and freeze the extra portions for quick and healthy midweek suppers. We’re also going to continue growing some of our own fruit, vegetables and herbs in our little garden and composting our kitchen waste.

The gradually increasing daylight has given us a much-needed energy boost, and I’ve enjoyed getting back into our fitness routines, like swimming and my yoga class. Yoga has been a key component of my self-care over the last few years, as aside from the physical benefits, focusing on my breathing and immersing myself in physical activity helps me to clear my mind. This year I’d like to focus on improving my spine flexibility and increasing the number of sun salutations I can do without collapsing in exhaustion because I’d love to participate in a yogathon someday. I’m keeping my goals simple because as my yoga instructor often reminds us, yoga is as much about self-acceptance as it is about self-improvement. My husband and I have also signed up for salsa dancing classes. We learned how to foxtrot for our first dance, but took a break from classes after our wedding, and we’re excited to start our classes again as dancing’s a fun and romantic hobby to share together.

One resolution that’s already well under way in our home is resetting our cat’s breakfast routine with Pavlovian behavioural modification. Over the winter Mara had been waking us up earlier and earlier by pawing our faces, knocking things off our bedside tables and scrambling across our pillows, but we’ve gradually retrained her to stop waking us up at 4am, and she’s now allowing us a whole extra hour of sleep, which is a vast improvement as far as we’re concerned! After Mara’s had her breakfast, she always comes back to bed for a snuggle, which almost makes up for our rude awakening.

How are your resolutions going?

Have a lovely week. X

Counting Our Blessings at Christmas

 

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As much as I love Christmas and all our festive traditions, December is also a good time to reflect on all the achievements and lessons, the joys and sorrows of the previous year, and to start making plans for the year ahead. In many ways 2017 didn’t turn out like my husband and I hoped it would; our year has been dominated by health issues, estrangement and home renovations, and some of our dreams are still as far out of reach now as they were twelve months ago, yet it’s also been a time of counting our blessings and appreciating what we already have.

It was a year ago today that we bought our house and I’m grateful to call this little house home, it’s been our safe haven sheltering us from so many storms.

Everyone in my little family suffered some form of illness or injury this year, and there’ll be no greater gift waiting for me under the Christmas tree than having my loved ones safe and well around me at Christmastime. I may write about my own health issues in more detail another time, but taking better care of myself by eating well, exercising and resting will be high on my agenda next year.

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Our cat, Mara, has been a constant source of affection and companionship since we adopted her, and after a difficult year health-wise, we’re so relieved that she seems healthy and still full of mischief and purrs. We’re very thankful to our local vets and the oncologists at the small animal hospital for everything they’ve done for Mara this year.

I’ve written before about some of the difficulties we’ve had establishing boundaries with a few demanding individuals in our lives, and it’s taken my husband and me a few years to disentangle ourselves from the webs we were caught in. While it’s sad we were unable to reach a compromise or resolve our differences, after years of conflict and heartache, it was a relief to let go and move on. Although our circle may be smaller now, it is infinitely kinder and more loving, and I’m so grateful for the family and friends who brighten our days and lighten our burdens.

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I also feel very lucky to be married to my best friend, and over the last few weeks my husband and I have been talking about our work, hobbies, travelling and our hopes for the future.

This isn’t the Christmas post I intended to write, but I wanted to share the most valuable lesson I’ve learned this year, that life doesn’t always turn out like we hope it will, and we don’t always get what we want, yet we can still count our blessings and find reasons to smile every day. Finally, I’d like to thank everyone who takes the time to read my little blog. Wishing everyone a peaceful winter solstice and a joyful Christmas. X

Review of ‘Silence’ by Thich Nhat Hanh

Silence

In Silence, Thich Nhat Hanh suggests that many of us are sleepwalking through life barely aware of the world around us because we are so lost in our own thoughts and distracted by the constant stream of information drip-fed to us by our phones, computers, TV and radio everyday.

Having said that, Silence does not read like it was written by someone out of touch with the modern world and living in a monastery in rural France, but by someone who understands just how busy, stressful and distracting modern life can be. Thich Nhat Hanh argues that there is no need to lock ourselves away in a quiet room or move to a monastery to spend our days meditating, but that everyone can achieve a sense of calm and inner peace whatever their circumstances by practising mindfulness during their daily activities.

In many ways, Silence is not dissimilar to Peace Is Every Step published in 1991, yet the message Thich Nhat Hanh delivered then seems even more relevant for readers today.

Although written by a Buddhist monk, Silence is not a religious text and is aimed at readers of all faiths and none. The tone of Silence is patient and understanding, and the mindfulness exercises in the book are simple to follow.

Winter seemed to arrive a little early this year with the last day of a frosty November bringing a light snowfall to our part of the country, and with our calendar rapidly filling up with festive fun, this short book is a timely reminder that we can still make time for silence and mindfulness regardless of what else is going on in our lives or the world around us.

A Peaceful Day at Samye Ling

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A little while ago, my husband and I spent a day at one of my favourite places, Samye Ling. Founded in 1967, Kagyu Samye Ling was the first Tibetan Buddhist Centre in Europe, and the red-robed monks with shaved heads were an incongruous sight in the little Scottish town where I grew up. I’ve been visiting Samye Ling since I was a teenager, and over the years I’ve come with friends to buy books and prayer flags from the shop, chat over cups of tea in the café or sit peacefully in the temple. Nine years ago now, I suggested visiting Samye Ling as one of our very first dates as my then boyfriend (now husband) had never been before, and we’ve returned several times throughout our relationship.

In keeping with the Buddhist belief that everything is impermanent and ever-changing, Samye Ling is a work in progress and there is always something new or slightly different every time we visit. Nevertheless, I’m always struck by how calm and unhurried the pace of life at Samye Ling is, yet somehow the work still gets done.

I often write about slowing down because it is not something that comes naturally to me. Like many of my peers, I’ve rushed through life treating significant milestones like items on a to-do-list to be ticked off one by one, instead of achievements to be celebrated or precious moments to be savoured. Many of us are so impatient to reach our destination that we barely experience the journey itself, yet watching the monks mindfully – and joyfully – going about their daily routines and chores always reminds me just how calming and restorative it is to immerse ourselves in the here and now.

This has been a turbulent year for us with illnesses and injuries – as well as daily news reports of terrorist attacks, natural disasters and political unrest – reminding us just how fragile and fleeting life is, but I feel very grateful for the people and places that help me to find peace and contentment in the present moment. So much has happened since the first time we visited Samye Ling together, and so much has changed, yet some things have remained constant, like the serenity of Samye Ling and the steadying presence of my husband as we walk hand-in-hand through life together. Have a lovely week. X