Ever since I found out the news, I’ve been searching for the right words to say; the most potent string of sentences to express the profound impact you’ve had on my life, Matt. I take a cold, hard look at the person I am today, the things I care and write about, the music I listen to, and the life experiences I’ve been blessed with all as a direct result of our friendship and I can quite confidently tell you that I wouldn’t be the woman I am if it weren’t for knowing you. You were one of the kindest, smartest souls I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing and I’m heartbroken, honestly, that you’re gone.
We met in one of the three classes we shared together in our first year of college and instantly hit it off. You were a total weirdo tree-hugging type and I knew I’d found a soul mate in you. I’d had such a shit time in school being bullied relentlessly and having struggled to make friends after moving back from the US just in time for my GCSEs. I couldn’t wait to put that place behind me. South Downs offered a whole new opportunity for me to come into my own, and I did. You played a pretty significant role in my happiness there. The cozy feeling of finally having met “my people”.
You lived right next door to South Downs, so on breaks, we’d wander over to yours and play with Cleo, bimble around the garden, and play video games before bouncing back to college to do work. You introduced me to all these cool documentaries that I’d never heard of but were somehow perfectly aligned with the environmental awareness I had been cultivating for a couple of years prior. Then there was Jeremy Gilley and World Peace Day. Remember that? Remember when Sharon let us ditch our Environmental Science class so that we could go see him speak at my old school? She was the best. Do you remember how pissed off we were when that shitty administration didn’t let us interview him afterwards? So rude.
Then I started that beach clean-up group. You were my biggest supporter. (And Sharon, obvs.) You were there encouraging me every step of the way and I’ll never be able to thank you enough for that. We did some good work during that time! Even if we were in the minority in caring about litter. I guess that’s pretty uncool when you’re 17? Fuck everyone else though, right?
One thing you had so very right was your music taste. I stormed into college all angry with my Nine Inch Nails and Marilyn Manson and you brought some skank into my life. All. That. Ska. God, I wonder how differently my life would have turned out if you hadn’t introduced me to Capdown. That tiny little band that no one has heard of. You burned me that CD and I listened to it on repeat on my drives to and from college. Remember the time we saw them, when you came to visit me in Plymouth while I was at Uni? That was such a fun night, even if I did get properly smacked in the head. Totally worth it. And I think about how a strange friendship of mine unfolded a few years later over our mutual love of that band. I had just moved into a new house and the neighbor’s kitchen door was open and it faced mine. Blasting out, into the chilly winter sunshine was Capdown! I instantly became pals with those guys and ended up in a relationship with one of them. I wonder where I’d be now if that chain of events hadn’t happened…
There was also that time during Uni that I came to visit you in St. Austell. You were working at the Eden Project and living in the middle of nowhere. Man, was that place a sight to behold though! What a delicious treat! I’ve never been back since, but I will one day – I promise.
After that, you were doing PhD life on the east coast while I was slaving away in my lab in Bristol. I love that we used to write letters to each other and send postcards from our travels. Hardly anyone our age does that. One of those postcards came from you while you were in Tenerife. It sounded so unbelievably beautiful. Those dark skies and bright stars. I went to visit as per your recommendation and it broke my heart that I couldn’t get a hold of you afterwards to tell you all about it. We did everything you suggested while we were there and it blew our minds. All of it. I wanted to tell you how right you were. How I saw the world through your eyes in the way that you wished so many others did. I never got to tell you about my stay at the hostel up Mt. Teide, or the trek down through Masca and the kayak sesh round the coastline to Los Gigantes that followed. I don’t know anyone else who has done those things and all I ever wanted was to tell you about them. You understood.
I know you’re in another dimension reading this and raving about how much cooler things are in the afterlife. One day I’ll meet you there. Maybe we’ll finally get to interview Jeremy Gilley, eh? I love and miss you and think about you often. May the road rise to meet you. May the wind be always at your back.
It’s July and while friends and family back home in the UK and Europe are returning to some semblance of normality, I continue in much the same fashion as I did back in March when this pandemic first hit: at home, alone.
I’m not entirely alone. Thankfully there are a few dogs and humans knocking about, preventing me from going entirely insane. Family, friends, and colleagues, however, are perpetually out of reach. I’m not sure how much longer for, either.
It’s summer in southern Arizona, which means two things: hazy days and sweaty nights. Residents have but one choice to make: whether they’re going to be morning larks or night owls. There’s no middle ground when it’s a thousand degrees outside. We are afforded sunrise or sunset, with occasional dances in the monsoon rains. During the rest of the time, we’re bound indoors exposing ourselves to the freezer when it all gets a bit too much.
Arizona has been one of the US epicenters for COVID-19 transmission rates and it’s not difficult to see why; we’re all stuck inside, in close proximity, facing the breeding ground that is air conditioning. Businesses have been lax. Masks have only been deemed essential very recently. Plus, it’s the wild, wild west, so there are plenty of entitled, conspiritualist types who feel they are above reasonable societal constructs like empathy and compassion. It’s a real hoot, I tell you.
Tucson is a humble, “blue” pocket in an otherwise mostly-red state. It’s easy to forget that I live inside that bubble until I venture out into the mask-less chaos of ridiculously large trucks boasting bumper stickers declaring Trump adoration, religious fanaticism, or confirmed racist status. These days, thankfully, that doesn’t happen often. I keep it that way; it’s safer within the city limits where the influence of the university’s scientific community can somewhat prevail. Reason: it’s a precious commodity.
Any hope that I had for a normal-ish fall semester crumbled some time ago. I’ve not given up hope on the future altogether (don’t worry, Mum,) but I am finding it difficult to imagine any kind of normal classroom scenario or ability to socialise at a bar for many months. It’s quite depressing. And all because a vast swathe of the population would rather take a chance on continuing life as normal. After all, their president says everything is OK, therefore it must be. No matter the nonexistent scientific credentials on either end. It’s a statement that says “your life matters not if it inconveniences me” and that, my friends, is America.
I’ve seen a load of graphics floating around social media that say some variation of:
“I don’t know how to tell you that you should be kind to people.”
And it’s true.
At first, I asked what went so wrong in the childhoods of all of these people that could have made them so lacking in empathy and compassion for others. Then, I took a step back and remembered: it’s a symptom of US culture itself; the dark side of the American Dream mentality of “I’ll do what I damn well please, no matter the cost to others.”
There’s a lot of fear in this country. Fear of scarcity. Fear of being any less than the best. Fear of other people. It has intensified since 2016 – since America decided that politics and professionalism no longer mattered, instead opting for sensationalist reality TV as a decent substitute.
The US has suffered from systemic racism since it decided to take root on native land and destroy its people all those years ago. Since then, we’ve watched as the white man has succeeded with ease, while all other peoples have fought ten times as hard for one-tenth of the financial gain.
I’m a white British woman living in the US and even I have experienced xenophobia. The US is notoriously difficult to live and work in for anyone without significant money in the bank and has been for some time, but during Trump’s administration, we’ve seen the visa process be extended from 2 to 6 months. More recently, during the COVID-19 crisis, applications have terminated altogether, the Social Security Administration has closed down and a travel ban has been put in place for those traveling to the US from the UK and much of Europe. There are no signs of these things lifting anytime soon.
Then there was the ICE ruling. In case it slipped below your radar, allow me to enlighten you. US Immigrations & Customs Enforcement (ICE) (a federal law enforcement agency under the Department of Homeland Security) passed a rule on July 6th, 2020, stating that international students studying in the US would be unable to continue this fall if their universities were exclusively offering online classes. I wrote more about it here. Thankfully the rule was rescinded after countless prominent universities filed federal lawsuits, but it begs the question: if this can slip through, what might come next?
It’s all a bit of a mess. I’m safe in the sense that I have a roof over my head and plenty to eat, but that isn’t enough. Most of life’s pleasures lie out of arm’s length and I fear the toll on mental health that this hostility and negligence will take. America continues to fall apart and it’s one of the greatest social experiments ever conducted, as we further isolate ourselves from each other while our leadership fails to acknowledge that there is even a problem in the first place.
We’re resilient, and therefore undoubtedly strong enough to bounce back. But it won’t be without a touch-and-go adjustment period. I don’t think any of us know quite what that will look like.
Ok, let’s start with a bit of housekeeping. Boy has it been a minute since I last Sphynxed. In case you don’t know, I publish weekly over at Peaceful Dumpling and frequent the Gram (did I really just write that?) on a regular basis. So, if you want more, I suggest heading over to either of those.
My life is akin to a whirlwind these days and unfortunately I am simply unable to update this blog as much as I’d like. I’ll be a PhD candidate in a few months too, so the excuses will no doubt continue then *sob*. However, I’ll be moving abroad, so I imagine there will be at the very least a sprinkling of Third Culture Kid anecdotes in due course. Not to mention some nerdy science talk about brains and stuff. I’m really selling myself here, aren’t I? Stay tuned.
Something I talk about a lot in person and across the internet is my absolute loathing of hormonal birth control. After all, it stole nearly a decade of my life from me. I’ve previously called it “man’s last exercising power over women” and that belief still rings true. I think it is an abomination that young women aren’t better educated before interfering with their endocrine systems; that we hand over the most sacred, core part of ourselves to an industry that tells us we are dangerous, baby-making machines; that we’re told the problems we’re having with our menstrual cycles are best masked with synthetic hormones instead of being tackled head on -nevermind that they’ll just sit there dormant ready to cause problems later in life…
I’ve been through some horrendous stuff as a result of taking the pill, as you’ll shortly read. But despite it all, I don’t think I’d change it. I love the woman I’ve become, but I do wonder what I could have done with all that stolen time; where I might be if I hadn’t had my mental health affected in the way that it was. God damn do I want things to be different for the next generation of young ladies, so no one has to live the lie I did. I write this in hope.
I so desperately wish that society had been different when I was an eighteen-year-old packing my bags for university. Even prior to that, I wish that the school curriculum in the US and UK where I grew up hadn’t failed me so. Why did no one properly teach me about my menstrual cycle when I was 12 and getting my period for the first time? Why was I led to believe that once a woman gets her period, she’s a baby-making machine? Why did no one tell me that actually, I was only fertile for a small window of the month? Why did no one tell me how important diet was for my endocrine system? Perhaps if I knew what I needed to at the time, I wouldn’t have gone in to the GP to request that fucking pill when I was 18. I went because society told me that that was what responsible women my age did. And responsible I was.
I was in and out of the doctor’s office that day in a matter of minutes and looking back, this horrifies me. “Do you have a family history of DVT or breast cancer?” are not sufficient determinants as to whether the pill is right for someone. Not even close. But it’s all I was asked. So off I went with my first prescription.
So, I’m 18 and I’m popping the pills and heading off to university in a new town with my bags, my books and what felt like adulthood neatly packaged behind those little foil blisters. I remember thinking to myself that I felt like a real woman for maybe the first time. I was taking responsibility for my fertility (or so I foolishly thought) and prioritising my studies.
Then things got weird.
I should have been out and about socialising, but instead I was withdrawn and anxious and spent a lot of time hiding away. To put things into perspective: I’ve moved around a lot in my life and I’m a really outgoing person. This was unusual behaviour for me. On paper, my first semester of uni was a really exciting time, but all I wanted to do was escape to somewhere else… be someone else.
After taking that goddamn pill for a few months without any real reason to (my periods were never a problem and I definitely wasn’t getting frisky), I simply didn’t collect any more from the pharmacy when the pack ran out. In a matter of weeks, I started to feel myself come back to life. Thankfully, I got the chance to enjoy a really great second half of the school year, a fun summer abroad and fulfilling first semester of my second year. Then I met a boy who quickly became a boyfriend.
Back to the doctor’s I traipsed, asking to be put on a different pill because of how badly the Microgynon had fucked with me. He obliged and hooked me up with Marvelon.
Ah, marvellous Marvelon. It seemed to do the trick. The relationship was a trainwreck waiting to happen, but I was definitely more sociable and, you know, in love. Things were pretty good, so I quickly forgot about the pill. Like many women, I swallowed it mindlessly day after day on autopilot. Every morning at 7am. For the next 7 years.
Less than a year after I started taking Marvelon, I began experiencing sharp, stabbing pains in what felt like my ovary. Whenever I’d contort my body while doing yoga or getting sideways and sweaty, the cramps would come. They were unbearable. I mean, we’re talking pass out on the cold bathroom floor when you get up to pee in the night unbearable. Having your housemate discover you with a towel half-pulled over you that you’d used for a blanket because you couldn’t make it back to bed unbearable. There was blood loss too, when I had one of these attacks and I’d be left doubled-over, physically unable to stand up straight for up to 48h afterwards.
I headed to the doctor again and again and again and after trying an elimination diet (because we initially thought it was something wrong with my digestive tract rather than my ovaries) and pressing him about the abnormal bleeding, he finally sent me for an ultrasound that revealed a cyst on my right ovary. It was about 5cm in diameter.
I got scheduled for a laparoscopy during the summer before my third year of uni was due to start. Bear in mind that this is like core data-collecting time if you’re a keen student like me, who wanted to get her disseration sorted ASAP. It was savage having to take time out for surgery, but such is life.
The surgeon did a fantastic job and I don’t have any scarring, so I’m eternally grateful. But I’ll never forget sitting in the follow-up appointment and having him tell me that it was really important that I stay on the pill for the rest of my fertile life because “it’s an excellent way to minimise your risk of developing another cyst, which you might be prone to“.
As you can probably imagine, after the ordeal, that guidance from a medical professional embedded itself deeply into my subconscious. The pill became like water: an essential that I would never be able to live without. (Apart from, you know, baby-making and the on-set of menopause.)
My relationship ended and I stayed on the pill. I met a new dude and a few years went by. We were happy for a while. We moved in together. Then things took a turn for the worse.
I went for an annual pill check-up and the nurse noticed the “old fashioned” pill that I was on and recommended I switch to one with a lower dose. “It’s probably for the best“, she said, “You’re only young and will probably want kids someday, so it’s a good idea if we reduce you to a lower dose.” She sent me home with Loestrin-30 and away I popped.
It wasn’t long before I spiraled into a deep, dark depression and it’s crazy looking back now that I didn’t put two and two together and realise that this turn had coincided with the pill change. But there we go. Hindsight is a funny thing.
I spent a year or two moping around, oscillating between desperately unhappy and numb to the point where thoughts of suicide crossed my radar more often than not. I’d walk the walk and talk the talk, working, socialising and taking care of the fort, but all the while I felt like a complete shell of myself. Again, that pining like I’d had with Microgynon at the tender age of 18 to be somewhere else…someone else.
It’s hard to describe to people who haven’t experienced pill-induced brain fog quite how bad it is. I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy. I can only describe it like being sat in a tinted glass box looking out at the world. No one can see you and you can’t interact with any of them. As you sit there, you question who you are as a person; as a woman. You wonder why you feel so emotionally unstable; why you can’t seem to get to where you want to be; why you feel so disconnected from everyone – even those closest to you.
I went to therapy. We talked about my past. Some of those conversations helped me tackle other, unrelated demons in my life. But for the most part, I spent a lot more money than I really needed to, trying to fix a girl I was breaking on repeat, each day I drugged myself with that pill.
Twenty-seventeen rolled around and I decided to do a year of mini, month-long challenges rather than vague and unattainable new year’s resolutions. This changed things in a pretty big way for me. I was on a journey to my most authentic self, trying to eat better, look after my body and take care of my mental health. Naturally (thankfully) I came to the realisation that the pill I was taking (which I now began to suspect might be the source of my anguish) was perhaps the most inauthentic thing I could possibly be doing to myself.
Let’s think about it: the pill puts our bodies into shutdown; throwing into disarray an effective endocrine system that evolution has taken hundreds of thousands of years to perfect. It floods us with synthetic compounds that interfere with over 150 bodily functions. Because that’s just it; it’s not only the reproductive organs that are affected. There’s our digestion and our mental health and our skin and our cardiovascular system and just about everything else, all because we’re terrified we’ll get pregnant every time we have sex? Or because some doctors shamefully think the solution to heavy periods or PCOS is hormone shutdown rather than looking first at diet and lifestyle?
We only make an important change in our lives when the worst case scenario that might result seems less bad than the reality of the current trajectory. For me, ditching the pill was exactly that. I really didn’t want to get pregnant, but it got to the point where I’d rather possibly find myself with child than live another day as a shell of myself. So I bid it farewell.
Ditching the pill can be really overwhelming, even when intuitively it feels like the right thing to do. I started slow, did my research and utilised some incredible resources. I prepared myself for what might happen to my body as it detoxified itself of the synthetic hormones I’d been pumping into it for years. I prepared myself for how the dynamics might change in my relationship. And then I sat back, tried to relax and armed myself with lots of nourishing foods and skincare as I waited for the hurdles to make themselves known.
I was surprised by how little time passed before I started to feel more like myself again. My relationship was falling apart due to unrelated issues, but I was starting to notice a new confidence budding within me and intuitively knew that this was the start of the rest of my life.
Time passed and the skin eruptions started. Painful, cystic acne that I’d never had before began scarring my face and leaving me self-conscious. I am a swimmer and so being bare-faced is a part of the deal. It was tough having the confidence to stand tall and do so, but I knew it would eventually get better.
I’ll mention that this is the point at which many women go back on the pill. I honestly don’t blame a single one of them. If you’ve experienced years of glowing, clear skin and suddenly have to try to navigate being an adult woman dealing with acne, I wouldn’t be the first to tell you that it isn’t great for your self-esteem. But I persisted.
The months rolled by, my relationship ended, my sex drive reappeared and I looked in the mirror and saw a woman looking back at me with knowing and integrity. For the first time in my adult life, I knew who I really was and what I wanted. And for the first time, I wasn’t scared to go and get it.
In the past year, I have changed my entire life beyond anything I could have ever imagined for myself and I dread to think what kind of hole I’d be in if I hadn’t made that decision to ditch the pill those 18 months ago.
The skin issues have passed, along with most of the growing pains. These days, I pause for a moment most mornings and thank the universe that I made that decision way back when to get to know myself. And I thank myself for sticking with it while my body navigated the chaos.
If you’re thinking of ditching the pill, there are numerous amazing resources available to help you get through the crazy. I recommend starting here. And please do not hesitate to get in touch if have any questions. I am totally here for you girl.
From the bottom of my heart, I want you to know that life can be so much better than how things are right now. The universe is just waiting for you to take that leap of faith and get to know your real, authentic self.
The loss of Anthony Bourdain this week hit my family hard. He was one of the few celebrity chefs we knew of back in the day, before this culture of celebrity chefs was really a thing. The charismatic and adventurous New Yorker put a solid two middle fingers up to any kind of health food fad or pretentious, showy, Hollywood sensationalism and instead let himself be immersed in what truly mattered: culture and cuisine.
Having grown up abroad, this resonated with me. The foods I was exposed to growing up – particularly in my early childhood in Morocco – have shaped the person I am today in many ways. I am bold, adventurous and forever on a quest to try new things. Anthony Bourdain spoke to that part of me. The explorer. And the part of me that is captivated by the Human Condition, as was he.
I remember watching episode after episode of A Cook’s Tour and No Reservations, fascinated as Bourdain would take himself around the world, trying the most diverse array of foods. He would laugh and ask questions and learn from his hosts and had this way of making those places commonly left off the map newly desirable locations for foodie enthusiasts watching from around the globe.
Although these days I eat in such a way that I try to minimise my environmental footprint, I still can’t help but have a place in my heart for what Bourdain stood for, underneath the surface; food as a vessel for the coming together of people. And food as an art form. Food as the medium through which a culture can express itself and tell its story. Even if those foods include a bunch of things that we know in this day and age we would be better leaving off the table to preserve a healthy planet. Much of the world eats what’s local and what has helped them survive for millenia. Those foods mean something, regardless of whether or not they fit into the current desirable paradigm of ‘sexy vegan cuisine’.
In much of the world, people have a far more intimate relationship with their food than those of us surviving on microwave dinners and single-serving fruit cups purchased and consumed on the go. In these places, food is an experience. Every moment, from the sowing of seeds or birth of new livestock through to the nuturing, harvest and preparation of meals, culture is comprised of the life cycle of food as a whole. We are who we are based on how we deeply we interact with that life cycle.
The headline came through this week that Bourdain had died by suicide and I couldn’t quite believe it. He was so full of life, so fascinating and had so much going for him. How could this be? What drove such a successful person to think this was the only way out? We’ll never know and I sure as hell have no place speculating.
Many people around the world commit suicide every day. That sentence makes it sound like I wrote that without emotion and – believe me – that couldn’t be further from the truth. But I must state the fact; they do. And the majority of those people won’t raise global alarm because they are everyday people with small social circles and their cases considered ‘ordinary’. But whenever a celebrity does it, it always makes the headlines and it’s easy to see why.
Celebrities appear to have it all, don’t they? The status, the money, the power. They’re at the top of the foodchain. They’re the people we should all look up to, right? They had a big dream, worked hard to achieve that thing and have the luxury lifestyle that most of us will only ever aspire to. Get rich or die trying, right?
So how can it be then, that these people with their perfect lives can fall down a cavern of darkness so deep that the only way they know how to escape is through suicide? Ding!You got it: their lives aren’t perfect. I know. It’s a revelation. In fact, the enormous pressure of feeling so bad when you’re supposed to feel the polar opposite can near drive a person to insanity. I’m no celebrity (chef or otherwise) but I certainly know at least a thing or two about feeling the unbearable guilt of asking the universe why you don’t feel better; why you don’t feel the sum of all the wonderful things that you can list about your life. Those things that, of course, you are grateful for. But somehow, those things aren’t enough.
I spent most of 2016 wanting to die. It was the only viable option that I saw for myself. The only way that things would get easier would be if I didn’t have to keep going at all. I felt a million miles from the kind of life that I wanted for myself and a ten-tonne weight bore down on my chest everytime I’d look at all the boxes I ticked which said, ‘hey girl, you’re doing better than most’ and felt an emptiness outweighing them all.
I sought therapy and reduced my work hours and those decisions were the catalyst that turned things around for me and eventually made me come off hormonal birth control which made me realise that that had been about 80% of the problem all along (read more about that here). And after all of it, when I finally felt my ‘Day 1’ of starting afresh, do you know what the most common response was, from the majority of people who knew me best?
“Wow, I never knew you’d been feeling that bad. You always seemed so happy.”
Some of us can hide ourselves under layer upon layer of responsible adulting that can create such an opaque mask over what’s really going on inside that even those closest to us wouldn’t be able to guess in a million years. We still go to work. We do the grocery shopping. We run our errands. We fulfill all of our familial obligations. We make jokes and we laugh sometimes. And meanwhile on the inside we are empty and lifeless.
It really surprised me that my sharing this newfound joy with others elicited such an unexpected response. In my head I had been a shell of myself. How could my closest friends, family and boyfriend not know just how low I’d felt this whole time? How was that even possible?
And then something like Anthony Bourdain’s suicide happens and suddenly it all makes sense. No matter how well we think we know each other, the truth is that none of us are mind readers. And so it is paramount that you ask questions and cultivate your empathy to try your best to step into the shoes of those that you love if you want to truly support them. And not just when they’re turning to drugs or alcohol or sex to numb the pain. Much before that. In the everyday.
These celebrity deaths, as heartbreaking as they are for everyone who’s lives they have enriched, are so vital in triggering a reality check for us all. They show usthat celebrities are, well, people. First and foremost, they are humans with complicated emotions and brain chemistry and inner demons. You can have all the money in the world and a team of staff and great career prospects and plenty of vacation time, but you are not exempt from those demons that prey on us all. You are not exempt from trauma and heartbreak and loss and yourself.
I didn’t know Bourdain and which demons got the better of him in the end. Or well-known fashion designer, Kate Spade, who too was found dead in her apartment from suicide this week. My heart bursts with sadness for those closest to them and their millions of fans around the world. But I hope we learn from this. I do. May they get conversations flowing and may humanity change in their wake.
May has been and gone in the blink of an eye, but boy, what a month it has been! I write this from the patio of my new home, freshly returned from a spot of frolicking in the wilderness of Colorado and the Pacific Northwest. It’s a hard life, isn’t it?
It’s a weird thing coming back from your vacation to the unfamiliarity of a new home. Jetlagged and in desperate need of both a shower and the use of a washing machine, I knew not how to work the shower and scalded myself in my delirious state and my washing machine hasn’t yet arrived. It feels a bit like I’m still traveling; still on the journey. And I suppose I will be until I’ve settled in and made this bombsite feel like home. But in the meantime, I have a south-facing garden that is a heavenly oasis upon which to sip my morning brew. Life could be worse.
I digress! The subject of today’s post is an account of an important lesson I’ve learned. One I want to shout from the rooftops! Schooltime with Kennedy, if you will. It’s nothing revolutionary, but it absolutely has a tendency to lurk in plain sight; fooling us all. It’s the key to happiness; to fulfillment; to contentment. You’re dying to know, aren’t you?
I was stateside this past month visiting friends for the first time in a long time. It was much-needed after a very stressful couple years. So, we packed the trip full to the brim and explored far and wide, leaving little time for twiddling our thumbs. That suited me just fine.
If you’re fortunate enough to have done your fair share of traveling, you’ll likely understand what I mean when I say that some places call to the soul more than others. It’s never logical, either. It’s entirely emotional and mysterious and magical and shouldn’t be stared at too closely. A bit like the sun. These feelings guide us; in tune with our gut instinct and our sense of spirit that drives us from our very foundations, these sensations are to be respected. If you simply don’t like a place – even if you can’t quite articulate why – trust that that’s enough. You don’t need to psychoanalyse all of the sensations. The beauty of our incredible internal guidance system is that it can handle the wheel remarkably well, if only we let it. The struggle comes when we try to slip into manual override as though we know what’s best for ourselves (we don’t).
It’s impossibly difficult to follow your gut instinct 100% of the time, though I believe that it is in these moments that we faulter that most of our mistakes can be linked to. How many times can you recall saying to yourself, “I knew I shouldn’t have trusted him!” or “I knew I had a bad feeling about that car,” etc? If it’s anything like me, your response is “countless”.
If we all learned to follow our guts a little more and our brains a little less, we’d be well on the way to living happier, more fulfilling lives. The whole point of life; all we ever try to do (whether we’re consciously aware of it or not) is to follow our joy. These is no feeling remotely comparable to the immense satisfaction of feeling like you’re in the right place. Where you’re meant to be. It stimulates this sense of home or belonging that could never be matched by bricks and cement alone (no matter how physically beautiful the structure). Akin to the “flow state”, following your joy is the practice of choosing to pursue what feels good, because, well, it feels good.
It sounds easy right? It sounds So. Damn. Easy. But it isn’t. Especially if you’re not in the practice of doing this already. In fact, for most of us it is the complete opposite: a challenge that must be chipped away at, like Michelangelo’s David. Our brains tell us no, but our body is telling us yeeesss (#sorrynotsorry for that). If you’ve been raised to believe you’re a smart girl (or guy) who has always done the logical thing, you’re essentially on a par with a newborn baby in terms of life experience following your gut. Scary thought, huh? Although actually, the baby has an advantage, somewhat. At least they are starting with a clean slate. You might well have to undo years of terrible decision-making and face things like ending your relationship, changing careers or moving halfway across the world to get back on track with your soul’s desires.
But before I scare you off, let me emphasise that any trade-offs end up with you better off every single time. One hundred percent success rate, people! Suddenly it doesn’t seem so bad right? Any uncomfortable, intermediate stages of stress/anger/sadness/frustration are only fleeting, soon to be replaced by better-than-your-wildest dreams kinds of things. Alluring, huh?
The process for following your gut is incredibly simple really; you make all of your decisions based off of feeling rather than logic. It can certainly take some practice though, so here’s a good place to start if you really feel like you have no idea and are, like, totally overwhelmed by this potential lifestyle change.
Start small. Rome wasn’t built in a day and all that jazz. Start with decisions as simple as which brand of lotion to buy, or which hot drink to order in the coffee shop. Practice the art of making choices that are totally in line with where you’re at on any given day.
Get familiar with “the feeling”. If you’re totally out of touch with your gut instinct, a really easy practice to follow is taking some time out in a quiet seat or lying flat on your back. Place your hands to your solar plexus and then, allow your thoughts to drift over the following, paying attention to the sensations that arise in your body:
Your favourite vacation
Someone who has let you down
Something unjust going on in the world right now
A time that you hurt someone
You’ll notice that there is a feeling signature assigned to each of the above. You can choose to articulate the emotions either aloud to yourself or written in a journal if this helps. The point is, notice the physical sensations that arise as you think through all of these different things. When faced with a new decision, our gut will echo these sensations. It’s important that we take note and pick the one that is uplifting rather than the one that causes that heavy, knotted sensation at our core.
Life is indeed much like Forest’s box of chocolates. You really don’t know what you’re gonna get. But making decisions that are aligned with our gut instinct will either generate more of the good stuff, or more of the bad. I know which one I’d rather. I encourage you to follow suit.