What I’ve learnt from starting to write

A little about me, General ramblings, Thoughts

‘Don’t be a writer, be writing’ — William Faulkner

I’m not a writer. I never clicked with English at school. Studying for exams felt I was forcing myself into an unnatural state of being. English Language, English Literature; it all felt alien to me. Then, 18 months ago, something changed.

2014 was an intense year. Every part of my life seemed to be crumbling to dust around me, challenging me to rebuild it if I could muster up the energy. Everything I thought I knew about love, relationships, work, friendship, happiness proved to be naïve at best, down right foolish at worst. I was using every last breath franticly treading water, trying to keep afloat in a life I no longer recognised. I remember being emotionally exhausted constantly trying to find my feet and stay still long enough to catch my breath. I was in the middle of a storm, powerless, being tossed and turned at the whim of the world. I was lost.

I struggle to this day to define and describe completely what was happening in my mind. My current understanding is that I was feeling the complete and utter anguish of trying to desperately escape the present moment I was in. I was consumed by wanting to either trying to reach back into the past to calmer, happier times or to press fast forward and trying to erase and forget everything I was feeling and skip forward to some future bliss.

I sunk heavily into numbness, apathy, the sweet murkiness of giving up. Until one day, from under a blanket cocoon I opened up a blank word document and began to type. These are some of the things I’ve learnt so far from doing so.

There is always something left to try

Even when I thought I had hit rock bottom and I had tried everything, I was wrong. You might not think it at the time, but you have infinite resources within yourself to survive and even thrive in this world. I don’t have a one size fits all plan to access these resources, but for me it tends to be a balance between more patience, so, so much more patience, finding other people’s stories so you know that you are not alone, never, ever even contemplating giving up, finding a way to release my feelings in a creative and not destructive way and re-connecting with myself. These philosophies manifest in many different ways. Sometimes I write to feel creative, meditate to re-connect with my mind and body, read/watch/talk to someone to remind myself my experiences aren’t uniquely awful. Most importantly I’m learning to just do something. Worst is always letting the thoughts consume me. Doing something, keeping moving, however tiny the act, is empowering and the first step to making change.

Writing creates a concrete expression of your experiences

For months, before I’d started to write, it felt like I had lost all control of my emotional stability and ability to make sense of the world. The fiercest joy, excitement, anger, frustration, anxiety, sadness would crash into me unexpectedly like a monster wave and I’d have no time or processes to understand it. I couldn’t explain what was happening so I couldn’t talk to anyone and just lived through it. As soon as I started to write though, it forced me to first become aware of and acknowledge what I was feeling and then find the words, metaphors, labels, descriptions to describe it. I had to crystalize my experience into coherent structures which helped me finally begin to recognise and comprehend it all, laid the foundations for me to begin to talk to those around me and recognise my experiences in the stories of others.

Writing is art, art is important

I used to really struggle with defining what art is and what it isn’t. Until I read Amanda Palmer’s The Art of Asking, a transformative book in its entirety which defines it like this:

‘When artists work well, they connect people to themselves, and they stitch people to one another, through this shared experience of a connection that wasn’t visible before. Have you ever noticed that this looks like this? And with the same delight as we took as children in seeing a face in a cloud, grown up artists draw the lines between the bigger dots of grown up lives; sex, love, vanity, violence, illness, death’.

Writing connected me back to myself. I don’t consider myself to be a great writer yet, but I will continue to write and share what I write to attempt to connect up the big dots in my own life as well as those in the lives of those around me. As I meander through my life I’m finding the process of having an experience, being aware of the experience in the moment, fully accepting it, trying to process and understand it, translating it, communicating and sharing it and then connecting with the world through that, creates endless curiosity and brings me fulfilment that I never imagined possible.

Shane Koyczan’s spoken word explains what I mean so beautifully here (gets me in the feels every time *sob*) :

Blueprint for a Breakthrough: Shane Koyczan at TEDxYouth@SanDiego 2013

If your heart is broken, make art with the pieces’ — Shane Koyczan

The pen is mightier than the sword

Phew. I’m still a little bit in tears after watching the video above again. If you’ve skipped it go back and watch it. I insist.

Writing, I’m learning is one of the most powerful tools we have to shape and change ourselves and the world we live in. Its versatility, universality and permanence make it uniquely able to connect us to ourselves and to each other across space and time.

Ok. So now I’m coming to know that writing makes sense to me, its important and I want to continue to use it to shape and connect with the world around me throughout my life. How exactly? There are hundreds of ways, but here are some of the many ways I’ve stumbled upon and continue to experiment with daily.

  • This blog — connecting with you wonderful people out there about what I learn as I live makes me happy and it forces me to try and find what is useful and what I’m learning in every experience, positive or negative
  • Morning pages — Getting it all out first thing in the morning to allow you to get on with your day and is powerful, meditative, productive
  • Journaling — Creating pitstops to record and reflect on your experiences provide endless opportunities to re-connect with your self, see how far you’ve come, solidify memories, create your own unique story
  • Poetry — Stepping outside of your comfort zone, doing something new, connecting on a deeper level, using form and structure and musicality to have a lasting impact. A little one I wrote a year ago:

There is a little hollow, I can’t quite locate.

I stumble into it occasionally, as if it were fate.

I catch myself curious, willing myself to peer in.

Against some other judgement my reflection leering.

Equal parts curious, terrified and daring.

Eyes shut, diving in, taken under my own wing.

  • Daily affirmations, goals setting — If you write it down, you are more likely to do it. However you choose to do it, having a list of the things you want to achieve in practical steps and referring back to it regularly will bring more of what you want into your life. I’ve got various lists of all the things I want in my life on the go, one in Wunderlist, some scribbled on bits of paper on my wall, some on sticky notes on my work desktop and then I usually try to write daily to do lists that hopefully line up with the bigger goals. I notice if I don’t maintain my lists or haven’t looked at them in a while, I tend to feel a little lost and unproductive
  • 10 ideas a day — I haven’t done this one for a while, but its genuinely one of the most powerful I’ve ever tried. James Altucher asks you to make yourself come up with 10 ideas for anything you can think of every day. It has incredible potential to super charge your creativity, give you confidence in your own ideas and effectively problem solve
  • Letter writing, thank you notes — writing to others is something I’ve not done much of in my yet. That will hopefully change this year. Letters are so rare and so personally touching. There are few better ways of showing someone that you care, you’re thinking of them, that you are grateful to have them in your life. If you’d like a letter this year let me know 🙂 I’d gladly send you one!
  • Gratitude/things that make me happy lists — Another couple of lists that sit in Wunderlist and I’ve started recently. Gratitude lists of all the many, many wonderful things I am incredibly grateful for in my life. Also a list of all the things big and small that make me happy. These I find are incredible, proactive mood lifters when you’re feeling a little battered by life
  • People profiles — this one might might sound a little creepy! Something I’m experimenting with right now is having a little note on Evernote for important people in my life. In it I note down memories we’ve shared, things they like, anecdotes they’ve shared. My memory fails me often and I’m meeting a lot of new people at the moment. It feels difficult to build deep relationships with people, even those I care most about. So these little snippits have helped me enormously for gift giving, remembering important milestones and events and re-connecting with people if its been a while.

So there you have it. My initial experiences into the world of writing. I don’t know where this journey will take me, but for me writing proved to be the gateway into myself and my own creativity and I could not be more grateful to have found it. I may not be a writer, but I will always be writing.

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What I learnt from a weekend home alone

A little about me, General ramblings, Thoughts

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(Pug purely because he’s adorable) This weekend just past I decided to decline all social invitations and all outside commitments and have a full weekend (Friday 6:30pm – Monday 7:30am) completely by myself. I was tempted by the immense line up at Yestival (and as a long term sufferer of FOMO, this week has been especially tough hearing about what sounded like a magical weekend), asked to see family, have friends who I’ve neglected to spend time with in weeks, but I said no. I’m not sure why exactly but a part of me was really craving some alone time.

When I do the tests they tell me I’m an extrovert, if you meet me, you’d probably guess the same, but if what determines if you are or not, is where you get your energy from, this past weekend makes me question where on the scale I fall.

I used to hate being alone. If I had to be home alone, I’d eat away the time curled up in bed numbed by various box sets which looking back doesn’t really count as time well spent.  I’m certain now, deep down I was afraid of being alone. It’s only since my first Vipassana 10 day silent meditation retreat at the beginning of this year that I realised that my own company wasn’t so bad after all, I had nothing to fear and everything to gain.

I’m going to begin by listing everything that I did this weekend.

  • Woke up and meditated for 20 mins both Saturday and Sunday
  • Did a meal plan for the coming week, created a shopping list and did my big shop
  • Got a haircut
  • Went to the gym both days for approx. 45 mins
  • Cooked 3 delicious meals from scratch; my dad’s famous spiced scrambled eggs (so simple but incredible, will happily share the recipe), an asian chicken and noodle dish and a tray of coconut oil brownies, that went down a treat at work on Monday
  • Wrote a 1500 word blog post about my recent Escape to Umbria
  • Wrote up action plans from said trip
  • Tidied my flat
  • Watched an incredible documentary on Netflix; Alive Inside, a real tear jerker I warn you now, about the power of music to transform the lives of people suffering from dementia
  • Listened to 2 Tim Ferriss podcasts (Jimmy Chin & Lisa Randall)
  • Finished reading my Rebel Book Club read of the month Wild Courage by Elle Harrison
  • Got through a quarter of the Influence by Robert Caildini audiobook (3 hours)
  • Listened through my entire weekly Spotify Discover playlist and saved my favs
  • Gave myself a facial
  • Went shopping and got myself a sizeable winter wardrobe haul and did a personal fashion show to myself when I got home to remind my self of what I bought (please tell me I’m not the only one who does this?!)
  • Watched 5 episodes of Friends (towards the end of S4.. Ross & Emily are about to get married)
  • Got a full 10 hours sleep Friday and Saturday night
  • Did my full 20,000 steps over the weekend according to my phone

I don’t want to sound like I’m bragging here, though just thinking back I’m amazed at how much I feel got done. I write the list to illustrate what I learnt:

There is so, so much time

There are 24 hours in a day, 168 hours in a week.

I had 61 hours alone over the weekend, of which I spent 28 sleeping.

That still left me with 33 hours of time awake to fill with whatever I wanted. 33 hours is a seriously long time, in which you can do a hell of a lot. Time is a precious, non-renewable resource that I consider to be my most valuable possession, but I don’t think I have a shortage of it. I have the same number of hours in my weekend as everyone I love or admire out in the world. So ‘I don’t have time’ or ‘I’m too busy’ are just confessions of what my priorities are at any given time. This weekend I prioritised rest, fitness, life planning and admin, myself. If I look at my life as a whole right now, I can’t say that I always prioritise the things that are important to me, this weekend was an exception rather than the rule, which worries and saddens me. This I need to change. Have you thought recently about how you spend you time? And what this implies about your priorities? Intentions, maybes, somedays are imaginary. All that is real is what we do.

How we spend our days is of course how we spend our lives‘ – Annie Dillard

1 hour of planning saves 10 hours of doing

I have to confess… I have no idea where the above statement came from or if its accurate, but I read it on the interwebs last week and its stuck with me. So much so that first thing Saturday morning, I wrote out my master plan for the weekend to test it.

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I’d say I stuck to about 85% of it and it astonished me. It surprised me how many times I forgot what I was planning to do and had to check back to the plan, I’m clearly a slow learner! There is definite value in writing down your plans, goals, dreams, whether that be micro daily ones or the big lifetime ones. Coincidentally, Robert Cialdini confirmed this with the research in Influence, the audiobook I’m listening to. The research says that both writing down your commitments and then going one step further and making them public make you far more likely to follow through.

The above 2 points highlight to me that clearly theres a lot to say for effective time management and goal setting. I attended a mini course on time management at Escape the City by the lovely Alejandro Kaufmann a few months ago and picked up the art of time blocking which I have to say has changed my life. Time blocking encourages you think about the important stuff you want to achieve in the coming days and block time out in advance to do it. I now try to do this each week for work, blocking huge chunks of time where I can focus on specific tasks. It reminded me of a brilliant post by Paul Graham, co-founder of Y-Combinator who writes brilliantly about the difference between the Makers Schedule and the Managers Schedule. All to often in a corporate where I find myself currently is heavily skewed towards a ‘Managers Schedule’.

Time alone is time well spent

I mentioned in my last post that you are the average of the people you surround yourself with. I strongly believe that one of those people should be yourself. I want to be mostly me, honestly. I don’t know who that is yet, and I’m sure it will evolve over time, but spending time alone is one catalyst to figuring it out. Just 2 and a half days helped me reconnect with a few things about myself.

  1. I’m deeply in love with music. On some some level I was probably aware of this already, and sometimes I think but surely everyone is right? Who doesn’t love music? But I feel like I take it to another level in my head… The documentary I watched, Alive Inside, all about the power of music resonated so deeply. Actually if you look at my Netflix wishlist, my audible wish list, my book wishlist (outside of the genre of self-development!), its full of music history, musical autobiographies. I’d say one of my favourite books ever is John Peel’s autobiography, Margrave of the Marshes. I love new music… Spotify Discover brings me endless joy and excitement at the moment. I hadn’t noticed it really before but on the tube, bus, walking down the street, I’m the one trying to keep head and feet from tapping uncontrollably to the beats pouring into my ears. Whilst cooking I had my speakers turned up high as I danced around my kitchen as I cooked. If you’ve ever seen me on a night out on the dance floor… it speaks for itself! I’m in my own little world. I’ve always been this way, thinking back, but only now I’m paying attention and connecting those dots.

2. My second love is space and time and all the wonders of the universe. Also heavily featured in the books and documentary wish lists. I wanted to be an astronaut when I grew up. I read Simon Singh’s Big Bang when I was 12. Cosmos: A space time odyssey is probably one of my fav TV shows ever.

3. I love to cook. For myself, for others, savoury, sweet. It excites me.

4. I love to write! The post I wrote on Saturday was the first time I felt like I’d spoken in my own voice for a really long time and here I am again.

5. I currently don’t invest my time in the above 4 things as much as I’d like.

We spend so much time doing what we should do for some goal outside of ourselves, I think we bury our natural passions and the things that excite us just because they excite us. I’m never going to be an astronaut (fingers crossed for a trip to space though!), but that doesn’t mean that following that excitement is a waste of time. I can’t play an instrument (yet), music probably won’t ever make me money, but it makes me fundamentally happier and more my whole self. Elle Luna a wildly incredible artist and author wrote a beautiful book which comes to mind whenever I think about this, The Crossroads of Should and Must. If you haven’t read her blog post, it’s an absolute must.

Time and how I’m spending it, is clearly on my mind a lot right now, reading back this post!

I’m also enjoying trying to breakdown my experiences in to what I’m learning as it’s helping me focus and have a purpose to what I’m writing. Any feedback is greatly appreciated. 🙂 Coming up in the next couple of weeks or so… I’ll be sharing what I’m learning at work in my role in corporate learning and development, at Rebel Book Club, at the first ever Escape Mondays, perhaps my experiences as a property guardian and TEDx Brixton…

@rimapatel7 on Twitter

@poppetino on Instagram

Ruby Wax on Mental Health

Books, Events, General ramblings, London, People

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‘A question that sometimes drives me hazy: am I or are the others crazy?’ – Albert Einstein
(runner up for quote for this post- ‘One is very crazy when in love’- Sigmund Freud, I’m not sure that there has ever been a bigger understatement made in the history of mankind)
Mental health and well-being is a subject extremely close to my heart. I have seen the devastation and debilitation that mental illnesses and also less severe mental stress/pressure can have on an individual and their lives. From acute stress and anxiety on a day to day basis in the workplace to depression, eating disorders and mood disorders in my circle of dear friends, to the full spectrum in my volunteering with the charity The Samaritans.
I had the privilege of attending a panel discussion held by my workplace, at which the fabulous Ruby Wax was a guest panelist. She spoke honestly and fiercely to a room of eager listeners about her experience and her work into understanding mental illness. I hope that there was plenty of food for thought for the decision makers in the room, because there is a vast divide between the ideal working environment which is truly inclusive and supportive of all and the corporate machine that is in place currently. Change is hard, but I hope that the event really inspired the leaders to lead in this area, where so many big companies are woefully behind.
I’m keen not to waffle on as I am no expert here. However, I want to raise awareness and understanding so here are a couple of things that I think are key and then some places I know where you can get further information for yourself and for others you are worried about:
1. Mental illness is not the same as general day-to-day stress. Of course this is still not great and we should all endeavor to minimise this, but there are medically diagnosable mental health issues which cannot be treated without the help and support of medical professionals
2. Illnesses that fall under mental illnesses: Anxiety disorders, mood disorders, psychotic disorders, eating disorders, impulse and control disorders, personality disorders, adjustment disorders, dissociative disorders.. the list goes on.
3. 1 in 4 people will suffer with some form of mental health disorder in the course of a year
4. The economic cost of mental illnesses is estimated to be £62 billion each year
5. When you have a illness of any other region of your body aside from your brain, it is your brain that identifies a problem and tries to respond. When your brain is suffering from some form of illness it is unable to identify this, there is no brain to monitor the brain! Which is why suffers may not recognise the symptoms for long period of time or not thing there is anything wrong with them
6. To treat a mental health condition, a professional should be consulted, it is virtually impossible to treat otherwise
Please find support in the following places:
Mind:
@MindCharity
Samaritans:
Mental Health Foundation:
Ruby Wax:
@Rubywax
Ruby Wax- Sane New World (seperate review on this fantastic book to come!)