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On contentment

I've poured a lot of sadness into these pages over the years - particularly in the last 12 months.  I've shared my experiences of depression, anxiety, the break-up of my marriage and the dark times I went through prior to and following that.  It's important for me, then, to share the light as well as the darkness.  And I feel a sense of lightness now, of contentment, of peace.  I'm almost scared to say it (why?!) but I feel happy.  (I keep wanting to edit that sentence.  I'm leaving it).

I was walking Bodhi yesterday in the park near my flat.  It was a truly glorious Autumnal day, one of the best ones - all light streaming through the branches, sunshine bouncing off the park benches and glinting in the puddles caused by overnight rainfall.  Watching Bodhi springing along in the leaves and snuffling in the grass gives me such pure joy.  I was worried when Tom and I separated that there would be an impact on him, but he accepts his newfound circumstances seemingly without question (okay - not that he can exactly form a question) and takes it all in his tiny doggy stride (leaving muddy paw prints behind, as is his wont).  As I walked with him, taking big greedy gulps of fresh air, I felt this strong feeling of being exactly where I needed to be.  No rush, no pressure, no expectation.  Just ambling along with slowness and purpose, soaking up the present moment; and experiencing the pure unbridled joy of a dog turning back to look at you from further down the path, and then bounding back towards you to show you are not forgotten.

It really is true that happiness only exists in the present moment.  I really believe that it is impossible to feel that real, all-encompassing, juicy sense of contentment from purely remembering something good or gazing at a photo you posted on instagram.  And for me, it's a trap - no sooner have I been sucked in to building that image in my mind, than I find myself reminiscing about happy times that no longer exist or cannot happen again.  The present is all there is and all that really exists, and certainly the pathway to contentment for me.

I went to a meditation group last week where there was a seminar on negativity, and how it is effectively a 'deluded state of mind'.  The purpose of the workshop was to teach us how to protect ourselves from negative thought patterns and attempt to stop our minds from becoming 'unpeaceful and uncontrolled'.  The wonderful teacher (a Buddhist nun) explained that when we think about things that are outside of the present moment, they are 'delusions' as we always attach our own perceptions to memories, worries, anxieties, sadnesses, and so on, so they don't represent reality.  By practising mindfulness and focussing on the present moment we can help us step out of this cycle.  The way to do this is to make the conscious decision to pay these negative thoughts no attention, and by purely observing the thoughts and then letting them go by, like a cloud in the sky.  Her advice was to treat negative and upsetting thoughts much like taking a hot pan from the oven, if it hurts, we should 'put it down'.  It's been important for me to try and observe and control my thoughts since moving in on my own, as I did initially find a lot of upsetting things creeping in over the first few days - the typical thoughts of "what am I doing with my life?" or considering myself a failure, as well as the reminders of happy memories that now feel sad and lost forever.  It probably sounds very silly, but as these thoughts crop up, I found myself starting to imagine and visualise a broom sweeping them away.  I now say to myself 'no thank you' and sweep them off in my mind and focus back on what I'm doing.  (Sometimes it takes a lot of sweeping, but I'm committed).

I have lived through a lot of different circumstances in the last year or two - being married and living in a lovely house with a husband I cared about, ending that marriage and living back with my parents at 33, starting a new relationship and moving to a new town, and now living on my own in a little flat in a city I lived in many years before.  No circumstance is inherently good or bad and no decision right or wrong (although there have been situations that have damaged my confidence and made it more difficult to find that sense of inner peace).  Much like the Buddhist nun would say, it is your thoughts that determine how you feel about a situation, not your reality - and I will add into that a little dash of 'check your privilege', as clearly I am in a much better position to create those feelings of joy than many others who do not have the same opportunities.  But I have learned to try and reframe things in the positive, to keep my ego in check, to be relentless about being grateful, kind and hopeful about the future.  I am so much better about letting things go and surrendering to the plan that the universe has for me and it's such a good feeling.  Actually my story about the dog walk is a pretty good metaphor - I'm just ambling through life, staying present and taking time to appreciate the sunshine and the small pleasures.

Small pleasures are just the one too, the other glorious key to happiness in droves.  Dancing around the flat and trying to get Bodhi to join in.  Laughing great big belly laughs with good friends.  Hugging my parents.  Running long baths filled with bubbles and essential oils.  Making things (top secret Christmas things).  Burning incense.  Learning new things.  Writing in my journal.  Listening to my Calm app and meditating.  Cooking yummy foods and eating more veggies.  Listening to relaxing music.  Surrounding myself with crystals and candles.  Diffusing oils in my little aromatherapy diffuser (or the 'puffer' as I call it).  Going for walks.  Reading awesome spiritual books.  Listening to podcasts by inspiring women.  And trying to do as many as these things as often as possible, and create space to do so.
This year has been a journey, a journey full of learning and growing.  A journey that has felt at times like crawling along a gravel road, all bloody knees and split fingernails.  More days than I would care to count that have begun and ended with tears, and several days where I have been simply unable to get out of bed.  Life is HARD.  But amidst the metaphorical scuffed hands and bitten lips, the tiredness and the raw dirt, something is growing, and that something smells like lavender oil and burning candles, and tastes like camomile tea sipped under a blanket and it sounds like seagulls in the morning and it looks a lot like hope.  Like hope and like healing.  And new chapters, empty pages and brand new pens right out of the packet.  I am so grateful right now.  To continue hoping, continue healing, and continue taking it all in.

Christmas planning + this year's Christmas cards

Christmas is of course going to be a funny old time this year but I'm definitely not feeling sorry for myself as I know I'm incredibly lucky to absolutely adore spending Christmas with my family and friends.  The Christmas Market is in full swing in Southampton and my walks home from work are punctuated with the smell of mulled wine and smoked sausage so I'm already feeling a little festive even though it's still six weeks' away.  I'm looking forward to putting a tree up in my flat and wrapping presents as I go along (until there's a mountain of them in the corner, as I always over-buy!).

This year I'm going to be making a few presents and I'm trying to plan things early to avoid the last minute stress that I've experienced in previous years when I've decided to embrace a more homemade Christmas.

I'm feeling very smug that I've already ordered my Christmas cards from Basic Invite.  They do a lot of beautiful photo Christmas cards but although I toyed with the idea of having a photo of Bodhi and I on a Christmas card it made me feel a littleeeee bit of a loser and so I went for a standard design instead.  They're so pretty and I think they have a little bit of a Rifle Paper Co-esque style to them and they look stunning propped up on a mantelpiece (of course, I myself won't be having them on my own mantelpiece!)

I was pretty excited to discover Basic Invite as I always think it's useful to find a website you can rely on for custom cards, invitations and stationery.  I've been planning a little drinks reception at my flat before our work Christmas do and I'm toying with the idea of printing some Christmas party invites, wouldn't that be cute? They also do foil Christmas cards that even come in rose gold - I'm pretty sure that would blow anyone else's Christmas cards out of the water... (I've also just noticed that you can even customise your envelopes with different vintage flower designs - why am I feeling like I want to order more cards?) You can also get 30% off their cards with the code 'holi30'.

I thoroughly enjoyed feeling festive and taking these pictures, even if I did set my Mum's eucalyptus on fire (spoiler alert, burning eucalyptus smells really nice!) Are you planning to hand-make any Christmas cards or gifts this year?

*Collaboration with Basic Invite, all opinions my own

My first week of living alone

A little over a week ago I found myself waiting on my doorstep in Southsea for a man I knew only as 'Dan' to arrive and move me 25 miles east, back to Southampton where I had lived for most of my 20s.  Having spent all of the evenings that week bundling my belongings into Ikea bags (a skill that, after moving twice already this year I have pretty much perfected), it was with a somewhat tired and anxious disposition that I greeted Dan as he hopped out of his battered old Highway Maintenance van and began to load into it furniture and the remnants of the last few years of my life.

This year already I had moved from my Lymington house, into my parents' house and then into another house as part of a new relationship.  We had taken that house in Southsea - with its beautiful high ceilings and bay windows - in good faith, but unfortunately it was not to be, and so only three months later we found ourselves handing back our keys.

I haven't lived on my own for around nine years, and to say it was a daunting experience is an understatement.  As Dan the moving man left on that rainy Friday, I closed the door behind him with a sense of both nervousness and excitement.  This flat was the only one I viewed when the decision was made to move out, and it's a new development, so I had only seen it empty and smelling of fresh paint.  With all my belongings in it (50% of them in the flat looking neat and presentable and 50% of them piled up in some kind of game of cupboard tetris in the hallway) it does look extremely homely, and it's really nice that everything is so new and well designed. 

I'm lucky enough that I've had a steady flow of friends visiting since I moved in - though this I suppose is no accident as I decided to come back to Southampton as I have several friends here.  It's made a huge difference to have people 'popping' over and being able to catch up with friends I've not seen often enough, but I must admit that in the first week that feeling of loneliness crept in through the open door as they were leaving.  I find myself absent-mindedly walking from room to room and feeling as if there is much to be done, when there isn't.  I can't settle, and no sooner have I relaxed on the bed with a book than I decide I want to watch Netflix, or empty the dishwasher, or rearrange cupboard tetris.  I think it will take some time to live completely to my own routine - with no-one else suggesting it's time to empty the bin, or vacuum the carpet, or deciding what to watch on TV.  Time seems endless and impossible, and in that first week I found that overwhelming.  I was skittish and jumpy, trying to decide all by myself whether to whip up an extravagant dinner or just have toast and marmite in my PJs.

I have always been indecisive, and I've always felt a little like I didn't really know my own brain.  Although I will gladly organise a holiday right down to where we're eating breakfast on day nine - I actually quite like to have others make decisions as I find it takes the pressure off.  But now the decisions are all mine; even if it does concern whether to have toast for dinner.

The thing is, this is exactly what I need right now, and though it might feel odd at first, I need this 12-month lease to find myself, to work through emotions, to build things on my own and work out where I want to be.  Whilst it might feel a little daunting, I do know in my heart that this is the right place to be.  And though I might get frustrated at spending an entire Saturday morning building a TV bracket, it's all in the pursuit of finding that wild independence that I recently let go of.  Above all, I'm grateful.  Grateful for this new beginning, to have the space and time to find the true Rosie, and for the friends and family that have supported me through this rather annus horribilis.  Here's hoping the tides are turning.