Love Is All You Need

Drinking alcohol affords a person a temporary escape route from life, a means of adjournment from a humdrum day-to-day existence. When I drank, I never looked further than about 7pm, when I knew the wine would be brought out of the fridge and my routine departure from the real world could begin.

For many people, faith provides a very real comfort from the harsh truths of our existence, and more specifically, our certain mortality.

I am neither religious nor a drinker, and it has become clear to me that here lies a real challenge in life. There is no escape route, no security blanket, no gentle dissipation of the absolute fact that I will, one day, die. And, worse still, that the time I spend on the planet will essentially amount to nothing – the Universe will one day cease to exist, and everything in it will be reduced to nothing more than a black space in time, forever more.

Is this why many people drink? Is this why I drank – because the truth is too unbearable to contemplate? I have pondered these questions over and over again since I quit drinking four years ago, desperately seeking a sense of purpose and a meaning to life that would result in alcohol, religion or any other cushioning from reality not being required, or even contemplated.

Occasionally when I look at myself in the mirror I am reminded of how old I am, how fast time is ticking away, how close I am to reaching the beginning of nothingness. At other times I think I still look young, I feel young. I’m glad I stopped drinking and smoking, and that my lifestyle choices are now reflected in my outlook on life and in my appearance. Sometimes I desperately want to wind the clock back, have another chance – do it all differently. I wish I had known myself at twenty like I know myself now. I’m often bothered by a desire to understand the purpose of it all, the meaning of life, and sometimes crushed by a sneaking suspicion that there isn’t one.

The things that I thought were important in my youth are not important at all anymore. The only constants for me are music, and love. Love seems to me to be the thing that matters the most because it allows us to leave a lasting, meaningful impression on the earth after we have departed it forever.

sunset in heart hands

We can affect other people, bring them happiness, care for them, make them feel worthwhile, nurture them, help them understand that they are not alone. We can change a person’s existence for the better, even if it is only while they are here, alive, caught in the present. The experience of living is heightened when we are loved, and in love. And yet, being selfless and loving is often difficult to achieve – we are, as human beings, prone to self-serving behaviour. It is our survival strategy, to take care of number one. Striking the balance is not always easy.

I have discovered that loving other people – and I mean truly loving them – is far easier when alcohol is not in my life. I am able to think rationally, empathise and make sacrifices whereas when I regularly drank, I was selfish, thoughtless and impetuous. I engaged in knee-jerk reactionary behaviour and was entirely unable to contemplate the outcome of my actions before setting forth down a particular path.

I’m different now, emotionally more mature. This is a very worthwhile and valuable outcome of sobriety. Finding the inner reserves to love other people fully has allowed me to attach proper meaning to my life, and in times of darkness I am assured that there is a purpose, and there is a point. For me, love is the point. Love is what we are all about. It’s the only real meaning of life that I can find.

Focus On The Important Stuff Instead

Never underestimate the human ability to adjust to new situations – what you may imagine is impossible will one day become easy, if you open your mind.

 Find time every day to get your rock n roll kicks from listening to loud music; lose yourself in it.

My beloved Red Hot Chili Peppers

The Red Hot Chili Peppers

Do exercise a few times a week – it makes your weight easier to manage, kills stress and releases an endorphin rush so you’ll feel happier too.

Refuse to be influenced by your past failures or your imagined future limitations – the person you are today is the only one who can affect change in your life.

Learn from mistakes and then leave them where they belong – in your history. Getting it wrong enough should always lead to getting it right, so don’t beat yourself up for the things you did when you were younger and not so wise; use your experiences to foster growth instead.

 The people you love should be the recipients of your kindest, most generous self. When they’re gone, you will find it hard to shed deep regrets; try not to have any.

Drink plenty of water; it helps your body and mind work effectively. Avoid fizzy drinks – they are of no value.

Only you know when a habit has become destructive – that little voice in your head is there for a reason; listen to it before you have reason to regret not doing so. It’s there to protect you from yourself.

Eat when you are hungry; forget about food when you’re not. Over-thinking anything will only lead to negating good intentions.

Trivialities aren’t the makers or breakers of your happiness – whether you buy those new shoes or not won’t fundamentally alter your life. Focus on the important stuff instead.

Having a change of scene and breaking your routine does you a world of good.

Never hold your looks in too high regard – one day they will fade and you need to make sure you’ve got back up. You’ll be much better off if you put the effort into developing your character.

birthday-cake

Ironing, cooking, gardening and knitting are so much more than practical chores. Losing yourself in one of these tasks acts a little like meditation; it demands enough concentration to stop you sweating over the small stuff, but not so much that it feels like effort. Try immersing yourself in baking a cake next time your anxieties are getting the better of you.

joyful child

Be nice to someone you’ve never met before – you’ll feel better and their faith in humankind will get a major boost.

Make an effort to look nice, but avoid obsessing over your outward appearance. Vanity makes even the most beautiful person appear ugly.

Adopt a cat or dog from your local shelter – having a pet reduces stress, and you’ll be giving an animal who has felt the cold hand of hurt and abandonment the chance to feel at peace. Don’t buy one from a breeder when you could help so much more by taking a stray.

Find an art form that helps you escape from reality for a while; whether it’s a film, book, seeing a live band or visiting an art gallery, get your hits from someone else’s creativity; avoid searching for highs in mind-altering substances. The former will help you grow; the latter will stop you dead in your tracks.

Make the effort to empathise. You never know what life will fling at you next – good or bad, you will always want to share things with people who understand.

Remember how fleeting your time on Earth is; use your sense of mortality to put life’s minutiae into perspective, as well as to focus your mind on doing your best where it counts.

Always keep your ego in check – when things are on the up, remind yourself that you are just human; when you’re down, tell yourself you are unique and amazing.

Let go of hatred; it prevents you from being a free spirit.

Your mind is your instrument. Learn to be its master and not its slave.

I yearn for complete inner calm. I want to be one of those people who drift along with a look of serenity, a palpable sense of sanctum about my being, an enviable ability to cope in even the most stressful of situations. Despite becoming more level-headed since ditching alcohol and with less of a tendency towards depressive or anxious episodes, I know there’s still room for a deeper level of tranquillity.

I felt strangely at home as I entered the Kadampa Buddhist Centre for my very first meditation class last Monday evening, despite never being inside such a place before. After removing my shoes and coat I took my seat in the meditation room alongside about 30 others, and placed my feet on a cushion on the floor. It felt very normal to be sitting there in front of the Buddhist Altar complete with numerous gold Buddhas and, bizarrely, a couple of large packets of tortilla chips (was Buddha a fan of crisps?).

Image courtesy of © Bparish | Stock Free Images & Dreamstime Stock Photos

We listened to our teacher’s friendly introduction to the session and then jumped straight into a spot of meditating – I was a little taken aback at the speed with which we were getting to the nitty gritty, but went with it regardless. I approached the idea of meditating with an open mind, and I believe that this is what enabled me to go pretty deep into a state of meditation almost immediately upon closing my eyes. This surprised me – past efforts at being hypnotised have failed miserably, largely owing to my somewhat cynical nature I think…meditating was different though and it all felt totally normal and right to be sitting amongst 30 strangers with my eyes closed, slowly drifting off into a state of mind rarely visited; serenity.

After half an hour, we were ‘brought back into the room’ and I was amazed that so long had passed – it felt closer to ten minutes. Our teacher then talked for a while about how, through meditation, it is possible to determine whether external events affect us in a positive or negative way, simply by becoming more in tune with our emotional energy. This is what I wanted to hear; I want that ability to shun the occasional burst of anxiety, the odd blue mood. I am deeply drawn to the idea that I call the shots with regards to my own emotions, and that I can develop an ability to see the positive in (almost) everything simply through practicing this amazing art of meditation, which in itself is a powerful thing.

I can’t remember feeling so relaxed…EVER. I was so chilled out that I was somewhat concerned about driving home, with visions of me swaying behind the wheel with an inane smile on my face as I ploughed straight through some red lights playing in my mind’s eye as I approached my car after the class. I was filled with a sense of positivity and love; I could not wait for the next class so that I could do it all over again.

Meditating, just once, has highlighted to me the extent that my lifestyle has come to represent the typically Western way of being; a life that is crammed full of activities, chores and work, and one in which any spare time that I have is largely filled with checking emails, texts or Twitter. I NEVER sit and JUST BE. No wonder I sometimes find it difficult to relax. Even when I go to bed I usually scroll through my tweets, or take a last look at my emails, when once upon a time I always read books.

Since the class I have made an effort to notice my emotions more, trying to pinpoint the stress points in order to better reverse the negativity. I have also become more aware of how I breathe, and have realised that I have a tendency to hold my breath when I become anxious, which in turn increases the anxiety only further. My aim now is to leave my phone downstairs when I go to bed, thus encouraging me to read and relax before trying to sleep, rather than scrolling endlessly through electronic messages of one type or another. I am also trying to find some time each day to practice meditating, although this is proving difficult with a 9 month old baby, a teenager and a dog to look after – I can see that it is possible but I need to attach a higher priority to it in order to fit it into each day.

And of course, I will be attending my meditation class next Monday.

2013 – Seeking Serenity, Wellbeing & Happiness

I’ve been writing about alcohol for quite a while now; about when I used to drink, why I stopped drinking, how it made me feel, the regrets and the shame, and the newly-discovered happiness and positivity that I have derived from sobriety.

Giving up alcohol has led me to thinking a lot about the meaning of my life, how to achieve and then maintain true happiness and how to feel the very best, and how to be the very best, that I can be. And so I’ve decided that 2013 is going to be a year of effort and experiments, a living test to find the secrets of inner serenity, wellbeing and happiness – and I thought I would share my findings with you. A new day

Life isn’t about being dealt the best hand – it’s about doing the best you can do with the hand that you’ve been dealt. This year I want to discover all my cards, and work out how to play them to the best of my ability.

I’m focussing on the spiritual, physical, mental and social aspects of life because I believe that true happiness comes from within, not from without. I think the world we live in often places too high a price on the shallow and the irrelevant, failing to realise that what is just under our noses is often the source of the greatest joy; cooking and eating wholesome meals together as a family, creating something out of nothing, working towards and then reaching a personal goal, spending quality time with family and friends, learning how to be more mindful and appreciative of the small stuff, letting go of anxieties about the things we are helpless to change, being kind and helpful to people we don’t know, and to those we do, having adventures, seeking out new experiences, being community-spirited, and finding space in busy days to have ‘me time.’

From now on, I’ll use this space as a record of everything I do that counts towards reaching my goal of seeing all the cards I’ve been dealt, and how to play them as best I can. This journey of self-discovery that began when I woke up one day in April 2011 with THE worst hangover known to mankind will be twisting and turning for a while yet, I hope. Now that I’ve cracked the alcohol, I’m going to channel my efforts into being the best sober ME that I can be…and I’m starting with MEDITATION.

Read about my very first meditation class in my next blog…