Staring into the Void

This time of the year is a bit like a twilight zone for many of you. The gap between loneliness and hopelessness. Christmas seemed to happen to everyone else, and there doesn’t appear much to look forward to next year, just a lot more of the same shit we say we enjoy but we know doesn’t really fulfil us. All the memes, all the festive sentiments posted as far as the eye can see, all the pictures of smiley faces, festive pranks and all the determination that next year will be the year it changes. You see it but can’t relate. It doesn’t feel real. You’re still numb, except perhaps for your pain.

I’m not going to pretend that anything I have to say can offer any change for you, but I do want you to feel less alone in this moment. Amidst the casual acceptance of those around you that your pretend smile means nothing’s wrong, we both know not everything’s right. The tissues in your trash tell the story. Or perhaps the scars on your arm.

It may seem twee, but who you are right now is valid. It might feel like you’re defined by all the things you’re not; that your self-identity is framed by what you perceive as your weakness, but there’s still a ‘you’ at the core. Nobody might see it, or understand it, but you know you’re there, hiding away in the dark.

Would you take my hand if I offered it to you? Would you be brave and not shut me out if I told you I think you’re precious? Or if you did, would you let me keep my hand there, waiting for you to hold when you’re ready? If you’d do it for me, perhaps you could do it for your most trusted person. You might just find they’ve been waiting for you for a while.

I think the world is full of ‘you’s . They’re all around. We’re each just hiding away, assuming we’re the lone inhabitant of a vast, isolated cave. It can be comforting to picture others, even those we’ll never get to know. You’re not truly alone.

So as another year approaches, perhaps looking a lot like the last, let’s not fill it with empty promises and cheap sentiment. Let’s just clutch each other’s hands and hold tight, because anything might happen if we can bring ourselves to believe in somebody.

How can you feel and be loved when the world is saying you shouldn’t?

By being brave.

By hearing things the world seems to be saying, and rejecting them if they harm you.

Do you want to know a secret? ‘The world’ isn’t really saying anything. Instead, we’re fixating on things that bring us down because we’re unhappy with who we are. It feels easier to blame ‘the world’, rather than acknowledge that what we’re hearing isn’t common, and that it’s the relationship we have with ourselves that we’re layering over what we hear.

I’m not suggesting you’re making it up. There are plenty of erosive messages out there, and many of them are prominent and confronting, especially for women. Our challenge isn’t to cope with them, it’s to exercise judgement and be careful with what we subject ourselves to.

Our challenge is to be kind to ourselves.

If we’re kind to ourselves, we try to get out of this habit we have of listening to the worst and telling ourselves that’s how it is. We journey knowingly towards our potential instead of wallowing in what’s holding us back. We work out our preferred version of ourselves and we have zero tolerance for anything that hinders our progression. We get smart, we get capable, and we step boldly into the future we desire.

And if all that seems like a bit of a challenge, like too much hard work, let’s not forget that fuel for our journey isn’t just found in our bravery and determination, it’s found in the love and acceptance of other people. You see, the reason ‘the world’ isn’t actually saying anything, is that within the world, with all its influence and subtle grooming towards self-judgement by comparison to others, and consumerism and materialism and all that other nonsense, exists love and acceptance and peace beyond anything we’re told is available to us.

That love doesn’t come with a price tag, it’s simply there to embrace, the same way we’ve become accustomed to embrace things that get us down. It’s found in each other. In the feeling we get when we compliment somebody and bask in their smile; in an extended hug; in averting our gaze from the mirror to the night sky. In remembering the kinder comments instead of the nasty ones. What’s possible for us is already there and it’s free.

How can you feel loved? By recognising that you already are.

They won’t tell you this. They’ll groom you to think love needs to be bought, or you can only get it if you wear this, or say that, or conform to the other. That’s not true. You’re already loved for who you are. You, with all your worries and fears and self-doubt. You’re loved beyond measure, and feeling it requires just a slight adjustment of what to look for, and what to be open to feel.

Send somebody a letter and tell them what they mean to you. Hold somebody close – family or friend – and let them know you’re grateful for them. Do this and more, and experience the magic. See what changes. I know it sounds cheesy, but give it a go and tell me I’m wrong. I dare you.

Love is just behind that veil so many of us wear.

How can we become genuinely caring and not judging of others?

It’s a process that has to start with ourselves. We not only need to love ourselves and stop giving ourselves a hard time, we also need to understand what that love means. It’s a simple thing to say; an easy enough phrase to throw about, but what does it mean to love ourselves? And how does that impact our relationship with other people?

Part of love is acceptance. To embrace our unique set of experiences, outlooks and behaviours, and look for what’s good. Maybe you struggle to think of things to like about yourself. Well, that’s easy to change. Try this: think of somebody in your life and something you really like about them. Then go and tell them. It might seem a strange thing to do, but imagine receiving a message like that from somebody you know; imagine how that would make you feel. So go and make somebody feel good, and hey presto – you did something wonderful. Even if that’s the only thing you can think of, it’s a brilliant thing to do, and you did it. Next time you pass a cat, stop and give it a pet. Watch how it warms to you and enjoys your touch. You’re generating goodness. Grow that kindness – indulge in it regularly and don’t run away from how good it makes you feel. That could be the starting point from which you can grow to love yourself by accepting who you are and the good things you do.

Another aspect of love is non-judgement. How quick we can be to dismiss ourselves by comparing ourselves to others, or to belittle our own achievements. It’s a healthy practice to create a sanctuary; somewhere free of the narrative we condemn ourselves with, that tells us we may have a cool outfit, but we’re still ugly; that tells us that we may think we’re funny but everyone else thinks we’re dumb; that tells us we only look good in photos if we take them from one specific angle; that tells us we’ll never amount to anything and nobody truly likes us. We condemn ourselves with blame and judgement. It’s time to make a place for ourselves where thoughts like that are not allowed. Nobody has to know about it, but it needs to exist, and every time we feel down, or want to hurt ourselves, we go there. Because it’s safe. And in that place, we put our heart, and the way we feel about ourselves. That’s protected now.

The third aspect of love I want to mention is commitment. Love doesn’t give up. It sees us through, when others see we’re through. How committed are you to yourself? Have you ever considered it? Inside every single one of us is a wonderful person, but many of us don’t feel particularly wonderful. Even if we can try to accept ourselves, without judgement, what’s there may not make us feel terribly excited. So what then? That’s where self-commitment comes in. Your commitment to be the best version of you that you can be – the version where smiles and laughter aren’t a notable event, they’re simply part of who you are as you go about the business of being alive. The version of you who decides on a goal and sets out to achieve it because you can do it, and you’re worth it. Commitment can also mean picking yourself up when you drop the ball and get into a rut about yourself – maybe those voices get louder for a bit and start to take over. Self-commitment can help get you over that hump so you see the other side and keep going on your amazing journey.

So, self-acceptance, non-judgement, and self-commitment. What does that have to do with other people? Well, we tend to radiate the relationship we have with ourselves. There’s one person who’s constantly in our lives, who we spend every second of every day with, and that’s us. We’re the best person to practice on, and if we can grow in this way personally, we’ll already be disciplined in these areas. So let’s give ourselves a break, even just for a bit, and see how it feels. Let’s create a safe space in our lives and check in there regularly. Let’s reach out to others and be inspired by the impact that has, and keep doing it until we gravitate there naturally. Let’s be pleasantly amazed by the way in which our relationship with ourselves spills over to better the lives of those around us and our disposition towards them.

What are your opinions on online/internet relationships?

I think they’re great. I’m a fan of any connection. The internet is a fantastic way to cross paths with somebody who, not so long ago, you’d never have known existed. It’s a brilliant example of the way that our human progress is bringing us opportunities.

At the risk of sounding like your dad, it’s also something to appreciate within context. Why do you think we have five senses? They are what helps us identify what’s real. You can’t smell an online profile. You can’t hold and kiss a jpg. You can’t hear a kik chat say your name and feel the love in their voice.

So, as with all things, recognise the value within the context it comes to you. And, if you’re brave enough – because it can be a big ask to make this step – try to introduce more offline into your online relationships over time. You might be restricted by distance, but what’s real can be powerful, and what’s powerful finds ways to bridge seemingly insurmountable hurdles.

And sometimes it can’t, and that’s OK too. It’s good to know.

So yeah – enjoy it for what it is, because what it is, is fantastic. But guard your heart always, don’t be afraid to test what you’re afraid may be too good to be true, and know that your worth comes from your own innate amazingness and isn’t dependent on ‘Joe, 22, from Chicago’ liking that picture you always hoped somebody would appreciate.

You’ve always been as pretty as you secretly hope.

What is your one major turn on? Bums, boobs, eyes?

Bums, boobs, eyes; arms, waists, thighs… all these things are the shell in which true beauty lives.

Maybe you fit the definition of ‘beautiful’ as fed to us by the publishers who hope we’ll buy their magazine that helps us with a special diet.

Maybe you fit the concept of ‘perfect’ as given to us by the marketing industry so desperate to have us running after their cynical positioning of our self-content within their premise: ‘acceptance from others’.

Or maybe you’re who you are. Flawed? Yes. Abnormal? Check that one, too. Outside the ‘beauty’ structure? Undoubtedly.

But you’re you. You’re who you are.

The world tells you that you should look like this, think that, and have a particular waist size, and you couldn’t give a solitary fuck. You know what you believe and you will not be shaken. You stand for your principles in spite of a world which would have you squeeze inside a box that you will never fit the shape for.

You ask for my kryptonite, and it’s this: somebody who is willing to stare down the status quo and believe that there are others who join hands with them in their passion, even if they don’t see it physically at that time. Somebody who is determined, with justice and equality in their eyes, to draw a line in the sand and believe the world is better by making a stand for their passions.

Me? I’m a heart man.

How can I feel happy again?

Short term: a tub of your favourite ice cream, this song, this book, this video, this audio 😉

Long term: can happiness actually be pursued? Or is it a beautiful by-product of a different, more fulfilling quest? Sometimes we fixate on our desired state. We want to feel free, lucky, chosen, blessed… happy. But these states of being aren’t things we can just go out and get. They’re what we feel when something else happens.

So the deeper question is: what should be our focus? What approach should we adopt that’s most likely to make us feel the way we want to? And not for its own sake, because we all know that feelings are temporal. I mean, what approach to life will make us feel satisfied regardless of the changing seasons? Which path will see us smile in the rain as much as the sunshine?

That’s a big question, and one we have to answer ourselves. I would say this: there are situations I’ve experienced which make me think that acts of kindness and generosity, especially when sacrificial, can produce intense feelings of living ‘right’, and bring about a deep sense of happiness. The message to your friend to let them know what they mean to you; the call to your parents to tell them how loved they are; the two minutes spent with somebody homeless to let them know they’re worth more than your spare change. There are a myriad ways.

But perhaps the most important factor is self-care.

Please don’t be too hard on yourself – you’re a beautiful person with a unique blend of things to give to those around you and those who will soon meet you. Try not to judge yourself, compare yourself, or give an amplifier to those voices that upset you.

Take good care of yourself, then those around you, and you’ll start to feel happy again.

What do you find to be the most attractive feature or quality in someone?

Their heart. Seriously.

What attracts me is how somebody treats other people; how they care for those with less than them; how they support and encourage those around them and build others up with love and compassion.

We are encouraged to make immediate judgements about others based on empty, superficial aspects of their physicality – their waist size, their height, their hair, etc. and while it’s great to be happy with how we look, it’s self-destructive to use that as a way of forming value judgements, or even worse, have it affect how we feel about ourselves.

So, I try and ignore it. Let’s say you bump into something and knock yourself out. Who’s the more attractive person – the one who laughs because now you’ve got a cut on your face, or the one who picks you up, treats the cut and makes sure you’re ok? Appearance is a novelty but when it comes to the qualities in a person, it’s way down the list.

I’m attracted to people who are true to who they are finding themselves to be as individuals, and I want to be around somebody who exudes that positive love and care towards others, and towards our planet.

How to love?

This is such an important question, because the answer simultaneously provides solutions to many other related traumas. How can I feel like I’m worthwhile? Where is my sense of happiness/fulfilment? What can I do to make a difference? All of these are wrapped up in this question, but here are the main two related enquiries:

How can I feel loved? / How can I live in a better world?

The reason these questions are wrapped up in one another is because of the way many of them are by-products of a choice of attitude. They’re what happens when we choose to give. A better world is a result of activity; being loved results from loving. Each of us are the starting point to a brighter future, through our choice of attitude and the way we react, specifically to the shit that inevitably gets thrown at us.

So, how do we love? How can we conquer our proclivity to judge and compare ourselves and others? How can we overcome our sense of selfishness and entitlement? How can we foster a better commitment to others, to see them through as we’d like them to do for us?

All good answers lie in a full appreciation of the question. Break it down – what do you actually mean by ‘love’? Why is that not happening for you, assuming it’s not? What steps could you take to change that?

For me? The answer lies in stepping out of my immediacy; in recognising that my little microcosm of existence can easily start to serve itself, to the benefit of nobody. What would I like this Christmas – the latest iPhone or to see my best friend smile and laugh, creating memories that last longer than Apple’s product cycle? You could have both, the question is your focus. There can be a material readjustment to make. Love can be sacrificial, but generosity reaps rewards.

There’s also a psychological adjustment happening for most of us. We’re conditioned to believe that love is what happens to other people. It’s what we go to the cinema to watch. It’s what we daydream about. It’s what we see on our Facebook feed. We share twee pictures on Tumblr to let everybody else know what’s out of our reach. So close, but not for us.

But love is out there. And once we’ve abandoned our material entitlement of life, we’re free to embrace a wider, more caring, giving and forgiving narrative, where love doesn’t depend on recognition of our image or possessions, but on what we do for each other. Start by thinking of what you like about people around you, and let them know. If you don’t do it often, you’ll get a strange look back, but be consistent and see what happens. Eventually you’ll receive a smile, a hug, or a compliment, and then a closer bond and a stronger friendship. Cynicism can go fuck itself.

How to love? By recognising that love isn’t just possible, it’s within our reach.

Do you think sex is important in a relationship?

To put it clinically, sex is the physical expression of an attraction between two (or more) people. It’s the manifestation of a connection, whether that connection exists for one night, one year, one decade or a lifetime. When we focus on sexual activity as the defining characteristic of our relationship with others, we risk merging the way in which we express attraction with the object of our attraction themselves, which is to confuse two different elements. The primary in any relationship is the one you love, or desire to be with. The method by which you express that desire is important, but it’s also secondary.

Sex is one way to naturally express a desire towards another. There are many others: listening; giving of our time and resources; being committed; consistency; being sacrificial; being accepting; forgiveness; kindness; thoughtfulness; being communicative, and many more. In my opinion, sex has become almost a benchmark that must be hit in order for a relationship to reach the point of importance and value, but I reject that notion.

Many struggle with sex, for all kinds of reasons. Sometimes people struggle physically, to give or particularly to receive pleasure. Other times somebody’s negative self image can cripple them with questions about how anybody else can possibly find them attractive. Others still may wish to reserve sex until much later in a relationship and find that tough to deal with in an age where sexuality is quite open and promiscuity often actively encouraged.

I would say this: try to focus on the object of your affection. Few of us want to be with somebody just for sex and nothing else. Knowing that sex is a wonderful tool that you can both use and enjoy to express your desires, but that it is one tool among many, can help to stop sex from becoming a priority in itself, and that allows us to relax and enjoy each other for who we are.

One final word on this: nobody should feel fixated or pressured about sex, and nobody worth your time would ever make you feel bad for taking things at your own pace, when you’re good and ready. Sex is fun, it’s natural and it can be wonderful, but whether you indulge regularly, occasionally or not at all, it’s not there to be used as a criteria by which to judge your own worth or value. You’re just as sexy with or without it, so embrace that and be happy.

Why is life so hard?

It can often feel that way, can’t it? Life can seem a lonely, uphill struggle. Yet to others, life appears to be easy. Why is it some of us struggle with things that don’t seem to affect someone else? Is it that their life is easier? Have we been dealt a bad hand of cards? Is there something wrong with us?

It certainly feels the case that some of us have more challenging circumstances than others, but we don’t need to spend long thinking of what’s commonly considered an ‘easier life’ before we remember somebody famous or successful who’s struggling like many of us do, sometimes badly.

So I don’t think it’s ‘life’ that’s hard, if by ‘life’ we mean our circumstances and situations.

I think it’s often our choice of perception that makes things seem so tough. We tend to focus on our imperfections rather than what makes us unique. We give ourselves a hard time for our mistakes more than we celebrate our achievements. We can be quick to judge ourselves by our limitations rather than focus on what we do well. How quickly our minds recall an insult, yet we might have to really think to remember a compliment.

How we choose to think and position ourselves can determine how our lives will feel. It’s not easy, and it requires willpower and self-discipline, but a great place to start to alter how we feel about life is by focussing on our relationship with ourselves. Here are some facts: You are able. You are competent. You are likeable. You are worthy. If none of that feels true, just pretend it is for a week and see what happens. Self-belief is the beginning of confidence, and confidence can be a game changer.

The truth is, you are all of those things and more. Your life is a beautiful bubble of wonder; a unique set of once-only experiences that only you will ever live through, so when things seem difficult, become the observer of your life from a wider angle and let that perspective help keep your head above water. I believe in you. You can do it.