In 2016, I spent six months working on an outdoor education camp in Canada.
In the Spring season, the site was often rented out by various groups of people who wanted to use the camp’s natural beauty as the backdrop for their events.
As a result, in May, I found myself working on a weekend Yoga Retreat full of people who had found their chackras and could bend their bodies into a variety of complex positions.
At one point, I remember talking to a man who informed me that setting time aside time to connect with his inner self had enabled him to gain control of his mind and banish negativity from his life – or, as he put it, to ‘tell all that sadness and self-doubt crap to piss off’.
The man in question had dreadlocks and was wearing a ‘Live, Breath, Yoga’ singlet so I decided that he was probably a reliable source of wisdom.
I’ve never really been the kind of person who particularly likes spending time with myself but, like most people, I’ve had significantly more free time in 2020 and I thought that it might be useful to spend some of that time attempting to improve my connection with my inner spiritual world.
So I started meditating in April, full-on expecting to have some sort of transcendent experience where I would suddenly feel at one with myself and the universe.
However, my first few meditation sessions were quite underwhelming – as far as I was aware, nothing happened.
I felt slightly disheartened – I had actively attempted to get in touch with my inner self and it seemed I had been put on hold.
This feeling wasn’t helped by the fact that the meditation music I was listening to sounded a lot like the sort of music that often plays when you’re put on hold in what I can only imagine is a vain attempt to make you less likely to get stressed and swear down the phone.
Despite this, I decided to push onwards with meditation, reasoning to myself that nothing worthwhile is ever easy and that the transcendent joy of being at one with my inner self would be worth it in the end.
I guess I assumed that my inner self would be this wise oracle who, once found, would help me transcend above the concerns and stresses of everyday life into a state of zen-like peace.
A few weeks into lockdown, I started to become aware of a part of myself that I hadn’t noticed before.
I was initially excited and intrigued, thinking that I had finally got in contact with my inner self.
However, if I had, she was in no way the peaceful oracle-like being I was expecting her to be.
In fact, if anything my inner self more closely resembled a moody teenager who wholeheartedly resented living under my roof and, needless to say, wasn’t as sold on the concept of working towards meditative enlightenment as I was.
Although my spiritual awakening wasn’t going as smoothly as I had hoped, I kept trying to get in touch with my inner self, thinking that eventually she would open up to me.
However, the more I tried to connect with her, the more I irritated she became.
I had dragged her out of my subconscious against her will and she was NOT happy with it.
As lockdown dragged on and I spent more and more time with my inner self, our relationship started to feel quite tense and I noticed that I was reacting to setbacks in an emotionally dramatic way.
Anything, from receiving a job rejection to dropping a piece of toast butter side down, would make me irrationally upset.
I felt like I starting to lose control over my inner self.
It is strange and unsettling to feel like you are being bossed around by a grumpy teenage version of yourself but I tried my best to be mindful about the whole situation.
I decided that I would sit quietly with my inner self and try and have a calm, logical conversation about how she was feeling.
It soon became apparent that maintaining any form of calm logical dialogue with my inner self was going to be a near impossibility.
Instead, I thought that I would try strengthening my connection with her by engaging in a variety of relaxing hobbies.
Unfortunately, she didn’t seem as committed to the activities as I was.
Dragging my inner self through a series of mindfulness activities made me feel inauthentic and, as a result, my ability to reach a state of meditative calmness was compromised.
Eventually, I decided to leave my inner self to her own devices and instead tried to focus on everyday practicalities.
I thought that if I tried to get on with my life in the way that I had before, she would eventually calm down and my mental state would return to normal
However, as soon as I tried to concentrate on anything, she seemed to experience an inexplicable urge to hang out with me, distracting me from whatever I was doing with a seemingly endless stream of irrelevant and anxiety provoking information.
All things considered, spending more time with my inner self this year hasn’t been the easiest thing in the world.
Just as spend you can only spend so much time in another person’s company before you start to get on each others nerves, spending too much time with yourself can cause things to become a bit tense.
Being a human is complex, confusing and not always comfortable, especially this year and, for me, things became a bit easier when I stopped trying so hard to force my inner self to behave and communicate with me in the zen-like way I expected her to.
Maybe being in touch with your inner self isn’t about achieving a state of eternal chackric calm; maybe it is more about accepting your inner self exactly as they turn up, no matter how annoying they may be.
I’m not very good at dating
This is for several reasons.
First of all, flirting does not come naturally to me.
For me, flirting is one of the most awkward and contradictory forms of communication that you can engage in as a human being – you are trying to play it incredibly cool whilst simultaneously caring intensely about what the other person thinks of you.
Under these conditions, my brain tends to short circuit and I normally end up with something that is the complete antithesis of cool spurting involuntarily from my mouth.
I also spent a lot of my teenage years reading teen romance novels and watching period dramas and, as a result, my expectation of love is unrealistically high.
Although I feel I have matured a lot since my Twilight days, some part of me still expects a potential romantic partner to declare their feelings for me in an elaborate display of affection, something involving a series heartfelt handwritten letters or a moonlit guitar serenade.
Unfortunately, the language of love nowadays instead seems to consist mainly of a series of strategically constructed WhatsApp messages – I always feels like I’m playing a highly tactical game which normally ends with me lying awake at night, debating whether I should substitute an ‘X’ at the end of a message for a generic smiley face emoji to avoid coming on too strong.In addition to my general inability to engage in romantic communication, I also have quite a severe nut allergy which means that I have to be careful before I kiss anyone to make sure that they don’t have any traces of nuts in their mouth.
Needless to say, this doesn’t do much for creating an atmosphere of spontaneous romance.
In an ideal world, I guess it would be easiest if I could find someone who also has a nut allergy, partly because we would understand each other’s dietary needs, but mostly because I’ve been waiting for years for an opportunity to use the phrase:
Overall, I don’t really mind being allergic to nuts that much.
I mean it kind of sucks that I can’t eat certain things, like Nutella for example, mostly because everyone’s always telling me how good Nutella is.
I was once seeing a guy and things were going quite well until we walked past a Crepe stand on a date and he asked if I wanted to share a Strawberry and Nutella crepe with him.
I told him that I couldn’t eat Nutella and he looked at me with an expression of raw shock and anguish, as if I’d just told him that one of my close relatives had died.
As I was speaking, I saw it slowly dawn on him that he couldn’t eat Nutella in the afternoon and then get off with me in the evening – the two thing things couldn’t co-exist in the same reality and he would have to choose.
To cut a long story short, he chose Nutella.
A few weeks later, one of my friends came to me upset because her boyfriend had left her for another girl.
This, of course, was awful and terrible thing to have happened but I found it hard to feel too much sympathy for her.
I mean, at least her ex left her for another sentient being…
When I was younger, I used to have a very vivid imagination and spent a lot of time immersing myself in fictional worlds.
When I watched films like Lord of the Rings, I always identified with the main protagonists – I thought I’d be brave and courageous like Arogorn or Legolas or loyal and determined like Sam.
I guess I assumed that when a great crisis came along that threatened the entire world, I would grow up to be one of the heroes at the centre of the action, facing the threat head on.
However, as I’ve progressed into adulthood, I’ve come to realise that the person that I perceive myself to be doesn’t always match up with the person who I actually am in reality.
For a while now, I’ve had a sneaking suspicion that I might actually be one of life’s generic background characters and, if anything, the coronavirus pandemic has served to confirm this.
Nowadays, I’ve drastically lowered my expectations.
If I were a character in Lord of the Rings, I wouldn’t be Frodo or SamWise Gamgee – I reckon I’d be one of the bog-standard Hobbits that sat on my arse in the Shire whilst shit went down, progressively making my way through multiple meals a day with no real idea of what was going on.
This is a more accurate representation of how I’ve spent my days in this time of national crisis.
Sitting at home with my thoughts is challenging in its own way.
Whilst I may be feeling powerless to change external circumstances, at the beginning of April I decided I could still adopt the mindset of a hero and work on myself so that I would exit lockdown feeling more physically and mentally robust than when I entered it.
My childhood protagonist complex kicked in again and I had visions of myself effortlessly holding my body in strenuous yoga positions like Luke Skywalker in ‘The Empire Strikes Back’.
However, if you’ve read my previous blog post, you will know that my attempts transform myself into a zen yogic goddess weren’t particularly successful…
As the days and weeks have melded into one long strange expanse of time, my self-disapline has run off with my sanity, leaving me with a physical and mental state that more closely resemble Jabba the Hutt and that weird crazed rat creature that hangs out with him.
I have been finding social isolation quite challenging mentally so I recently started doing yoga in the hope that it would help me to reduce my anxiety levels.
It is quite easy to do yoga from home – the internet is full of videos featuring yoga instuctors serenly moving their bodies into various positions whilst radiating inner calm.
Unfortunately, these yoga instructors recorded the majority of their videos before March 2020 when the future seemed as solid as their core muscles.
After two months of lockdown, I have neither the abs nor the sense of security to replicate such serenity.
For me, ‘developing a practice’ has consisted mainly of manically jerking my body through each position in a vain attempt to restore some semblance of inner zen.
It turns out that praciticing yoga under lockdown conditions isn’t easy.
I think that yoga was probably designed to be practiced in the mountains or other areas of vast natural beauty whilst listening to the sound of the wind moving through the trees or the waves rushing up against a pebble beach.
It is slightly more difficult to conjour up a sense of profound internal peace in a 4×3 metre room in your parent’s house the middle of Liverpool to the sound of your brothers using the nearby toilet and your mum playing a particularly intense game of Words With Friends in the opposite room.
That being said, yoga has helped me become more physically attuned to myself and more aware of how my body relates to the space around me.
However, this is predominantly because my room is too small and untidy to accomadate pretty much every single yoga move and my ability to enter into a state of seamless yogic flow is often compromised by inconviently positioned items of furniture.
I guess I hoped that my body and mind would blend together in some sort of peaceful holistic spiritual cocktail.
Unfortunately, my spiritual cocktail seems to be one of those cheap mixers you buy on a night out at uni – you’re not sure exactly what’s in it but you end up downing it anyway whilst your flatmates chant at you.
All in all, I would like to say that lockdown has transformed me into a fully fledged zen yogi but, if I’m honest, I have pretty much resorted to repeating postive mantras to myself from my favourite position of all. If you enjoyed this post, feel free to check out some of my other posts. For more blog posts and drawings, you can also follow me on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.