Friday, 30 August 2013

Do You Believe In Signs?

The other day at work, I was talking with the hotel concierge in the lobby, when an elderly guest approached.  After he had finished speaking with the concierge, he turned to me and told me that he had thoroughly enjoyed watching me teach scuba diving the day before.  He told me that he thought I was a very good teacher, because I possessed the right qualities for it: knowledge and skills in my subject matter, enthusiasm, and patience.  We talked some more and he told me his name was John and that he was himself a teacher of many years standing.  I thanked him for his compliments and I told him that they meant a great deal to me, as I was thinking of going into teaching formally as a high school teacher.  What he said to me next was the sign for which I had been seeking.      

For many of us, making tough decisions is a difficult process.  I know that at times, despite everything that my heart is yelling at me, despite all of its urges, I feel completely unsure and afraid of the consequences, afraid of the unknown that lies down the particular path I am considering.  Even if I know and understand the logic and rationale behind the decision that must be taken, I still feel a deep sense of trepidation.  When this occurs, I feel the need to seek out something illogical, something mystical, something spiritual.  It is as though some primeval sense demands it of me.  I start to look for something that will show to me the rightness of the decision that I am going to make.  I begin the search for a sign.

A sign.  It shows us the way to go, it tells us the direction to take.  Without them, we would quickly become lost.  Imagine driving down the highway and not having any sign posts to show you which exit you needed to take.  You could guess and you might be right, but until you turned off and tried one of the exits, you would encounter uncertainty and doubt.  Life is like this too.  Throughout our lives, we are taught to read signs of all kinds.  A smile means that someone is happy, dark clouds gathering on the horizon means rain, a feeling of thirst means we are dehydrated.  To get through life, we need to know the signs, to be able to read them, and we need to be able react to them.

For sometime now, I have had the idea of becoming a teacher running through my mind.  To tell the truth, it's been there for many years as an idle thought, perhaps nothing more than a curiosity, since I was ten years old.  More recently, it has begun to turn into something more, it has started to grow wings.  This is an idea that keeps on coming back to me, time and time again, it seems like I cannot rid myself of it and it cannot rid itself of me.  If I were to go through with the idea, it would mean a significant life change and a commitment.  It would mean turning my back on my current life and turning instead to something completely new - a path that is unknown and dark to me.  I am afraid of this idea because of what it means, but at the same time, I also believe that it is something that I must do, something important for my life.  To help me with my decision, I have been on the look out for a sign to show me the right way.

The other day at the hotel, John came as the bearer of that sign.  In those words that he spoke to me, I knew the rightness of the path that lies ahead of me.  We cannot create the signs, they have to come to us of their own free will.  There are days when we are desperate to find the answer for which we urgently seek and we see nothing.  Those are the times when we feel as though we have been deserted and left to our own devices.  Sometimes that is a sign in itself.  There are certain decisions that can only be made between you and your heart.  There need not be any other external factor involved.  Other times, we look and we are rewarded.  I remember a time when I was alone in Malaysia.  I had just separated from my partner and travel partner and we had decided to go our own ways.  I was travelling back to the Perhentians Islands to continue my scuba diving education.  On the boat from the mainland across the South China Sea to the islands, I felt lonely, sad and afraid of what was happening.  I can remember looking over the side of the boat, towards the bow to watch the white water that sprayed up as the boat cut through the ocean.  There, in the spray I saw small rainbows, brilliant colours of arcing light that just hung there, motionless, as if they had been waiting for me.  It was the sign that the decision that I had taken was the right one, I felt a sense of peace sweep over me, and my heart felt at ease.

Sometimes we misread the signs, we see only those things that only exist in our own truth of a situation.  How many times have I made the mistake of believing that a girl I liked very much and was giving me lots of attention, was attracted to me?  I figure that because of the attention, this girl must really be in to me, so I decide to ask her for a date.  The reality is that she is only being her usual friendly self and is this way with everyone.  I misread the signs because I saw only what I wanted to see, not the reality and the real truth of the situation.  I am completely unable to read women - period.  They remain a complete enigma and a mystery to me, but that is for a different post.

A sign reinforces our point of view and helps us to feel more comfortable with our decision.  Whether we like it or not, humans have a deep need to establish a spiritual connection, to believe that something exists that is greater than ourselves.  We are part of this great mystery of life, we are part of the miracle.  Signs hep us because they meet our psychological need for reassurance, that a greater power is willing us to go in a certain direction, that we are being helped along our path.  Maybe none of this is correct.  Perhaps it is all too easy to make the pieces fit, to look back with hindsight and to make certain things become the truth.  Would my life have turned out exactly the same if I had not seen the rainbows that day?  Perhaps it would, perhaps it would not.  It really does not matter.  All that matters is that I believe that life places signs in front of us to help us, to guide us, to show us the way that we need to go.

The other day at the hotel, John was the bearer of my sign.  When I told him that I had long thought of becoming a school teacher and that I was now seriously considering the idea, his words held meaning for me.  "It is your calling", he said.  And you know something?  I truly believe that what he said is right.  John is an angel, a messenger that came to me, that spoke the words that my heart needed to hear.  I do believe in signs, do you? 


Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Why Every Day Needs To Be Your Birthday

I recently celebrated (or should that be commiserated?) my birthday.  During the days leading up to the actual day, I wondered and thought about what it is that I should do to mark the occasion, to make it special.  After all, there is only one day each year that is reserved solely for each of us, that one day on which we entered the world and began this journey we call life.  As I was thinking this over, a different thought entered my mind.  It occurred to me that every day should be my birthday.

I do not mean that every day I deserve to be spoiled by others, given presents and surprises, to be taken out, wined and dined.  No, that would mean that my birthday would lose its significance and meaning entirely.  What occurred to me was that as I was planning what to do for myself, what nice thing I could do as a special treat, I realised that I did not need to wait for the advent of this one single day of the year to dawn before doing so.  I realised that it would in fact be better to treat myself every single day of the year, as if my birthday occurred every day.  What I saw was not a matter of self-indulgence but rather I saw a question of love, and in particular, the love of self.

It sounds a little bit strange doesn't it?  Love of self.  We are very accustomed to love being an external emotion, flowing outwards and away from us, towards the object of our love, whether that be another person or another thing.  When we love another person, we want the best for them.  We want to see them succeed in their endeavours and to be happy.  We give them our care and attention, we look out for them, and we provide help and support.  We buy presents, give them gifts and make surprises for them.  We give compliments and we let the person know that they are loved and wanted.  We strive to know the person, so that we may better understand them and in so doing, provide all these things to an even greater degree.  How often do we do this for ourselves?

Often, what we practice is self-loathing and self-hatred.  "I don't like my hair", "I'm too fat", "No one likes me", "I'm ugly", "I'm too shy", "I'm too quiet", "I'm too complicated", "I'm too fussy", "I'm too tall", "I'm too short". You get the idea.  We all have said these things to ourselves.  I know I have and I still do, constantly.  I know that I look in the mirror and often I only see the negative.  In fact, it pains me to look upon my own reflection.  As a result of this, I am left with the feeling that I am no good and therefore, I reach the conclusion that I don't like myself.  Then I reinforce those feelings by pointing out all of the reasons why that is my own personal truth.  I practice self-loathing on a regular basis.

Here's a small exercise to try.  Find a pen and a piece of paper, sit down and write a list of all of your bad points - those things that you do not like about yourself.  After this, do the same only this time, list all of your good points - the things you do like about yourself.  I am pretty sure that the list of the bad will be longer and was more easy to compose.  Those bad things came straight out, whereas you had to think about the good points a little harder.  I know that is how it is for me.

We are taught from an early age that selfish behaviour is not a good thing and that we should avoid being self-centred.  With this, I absolutely agree and I am not condoning those actions.  What I am saying is that we do need to honour the person that we truly are and that we do need to give ourselves the love that we deserve.  We need to do this without detriment to the other people in our lives that we love.  I do not see self-love as a selfish act, I see it as the exact opposite.  If we learn to love the person that we are, then we will strive to become a better person, to take care of ourselves, to give ourselves attention and to see ourselves in a positive light.  That can only help our existing relationships with our loved ones, as our outward love will be coming from a place of positivity, not negativity.  If you do not currently have a partner, then the act of self-love will help attract the right kind of person to you, you will appear more confident, more open and as a direct result, you will appear more attractive - because you are.  

This is why I say that every day should be your birthday.  Love yourself.  Be kind to yourself.  Treat yourself.  Do it daily.  Avoid indulgences like alcohol, candy, sweets, chocolate or ice cream.  These seem like an act of kindness, but often, those things in which we like to over-indulge are detrimental to our personal health and well-being.  Instead, treat yourself to a new haircut, a day at the spa, an afternoon in the movie theatre, a massage, a walk in the fresh air, look upon a sunrise or a sunset, gaze up at the moon and stars, lay on your back and watch clouds drift effortlessly over the sky, listen to sound of waves breaking upon the shore, listen to the songs of birds in the fields and amongst the trees, inhale the fresh scent of the early morning.  Make eating healthily and regular exercise a part of your everyday activities.  Take a little time for yourself to be alone with your own thoughts.  If you have a dream, if there is something that you have always wanted to do, plan it, book it, and do it.  Make it happen for yourself.  This is self-love.  Don't tarry or delay.  Don't wait until the first day of the new year to begin something new.  Make a pledge to yourself that this day you will begin, whatever day that happens to be.  And stick to it.  Resolutions can be made at any time, they are not the sole property of New Year's.

Love.  Love radiates from us and it permeates every fibre of our being.  It flows through us and around us.  Love is not reserved only for those that are external to us.  The love that we have inside of our heart's is for everything and for everyone, and that includes you.  So go on.  Fill your soul with love and fill your soul with life.  Be kind to yourself.  Treat yourself.  Love yourself.  Know what it is to be heartstrong.  Because you know what?  Every day really is your birthday.     


Monday, 26 August 2013

The Lull After The Storm

After a storm comes a time of tranquility.  The dark clouds roll away, the flashes of lightning and the rumbles of thunder seek out new horizons, new eyes and ears to torment.  The rain ceases, the sky clears, the winds calm, and a stillness settles over all of life.  Peace comes again to the land.  And it is no different with the heart.  At times, when we walk the one true path, we must battle through a raging storm, so that we may find the peace that exists on the other side.  But for how long does that peace last?  Does the voice of our heart ever cease its constant urging? 

When we seek out our dreams, we must do battle with many elements, with many foes.  During the battle, the heart must know when to defend and parry the blows of our enemies, and it must know when the time is right to strike, to swing the sword that will ultimately defeat them, and lay them by the wayside.  The heart suffers during the struggle for our dreams, but ultimately, if you persevere, you will succeed - always.  After the final battle, when the dream has been realised, so to do you enter into a time of tranquility and peace.  You have achieved all that you set out to achieve, you have your heart's desire, you have arrived at the end of your path.  You can sit down and relax, you can look back upon the trials and the tribulations, the times of sufferings, the moments when you thought you had failed, the times of victories that kept you pushing on, you see and feel the scars of battle that you know you will carry for the rest of your days, and you feel a deep satisfaction at having arrived at the place that you intended, of having achieved your dream.  You will live out the rest of your days with all of this knowledge and you will be content and happy.

This is how I thought it was going to be.  After I achieved my dreams, I would find peace and contentment within my heart.  It is true, that I did for a short while, for a time I was happy and I did bask in the glow of my success - actually, I still do - but there is always a feeling that will not, that cannot ever go away.  It sits in my heart, sometimes quietened by the joys of knowing all that I have achieved, by the flying of my soul as it soars on the wings of our successes, but the voice is never truly gone.  Even in the times of great elation, I can hear its whisper of gentle urging.  It tells me that we are not yet finished, that there is still more to be done.  This voice speaks to me of other dreams yet to be fulfilled, of other quests that are yet to be begun, it shows to me that the path is not ended, and I hear the truth of its words, nay, I know the truth of its words.  These words fall heavily, raining down like a hammer on the anvil, each one ringing out with chimes and the weight of truth.

There was a time when I would never have described myself as ambitious or driven.  I was content to follow, happy to be a nameless part of the herd, lost within the safety of the many, never seeking to stand out and to be different.  But I could not remain that way.  Always, there was a feeling inside of me that I could, that I should, do more, that more importantly, I should be me.  I struggled for many years to find my voice, to be able to stand with confidence and to show the world who I was.  Eventually, I did, it was inevitable, I only needed to find the right place and to channel my energy.  From that day forth, I realised that many things were achievable in life, that I could rise above the afflictions, that I could distance myself away from all that I had been and known before, that I could be my true self.  With this realisation came ambition and a drive to achieve.  All of the problems and the sufferings I had known for those many years and overcome, fuelled me.  I knew that if I could overcome all of those things, then I could overcome anything, and so I began my journey, my quest to see just how far I could take things.  I became driven to succeed in whatever I set my heart upon.

With this drive, came the realisation of my dreams.  I did not look on it as such at the time, but that is exactly what it was.  My drive brought to me opportunity, promotions, overseas business travel, and as each of these occurred, I thought I had reached my plateau, achieved what I had set out to achieve.  My heart always had different ideas.  I was happy for a short time and then I yearned for more.  I knew that I needed to keep on moving forward in order to grow, I was an unstoppable snowball rolling down the mountainside. 

Even now, in a different life, on a very different path, I am just the same.  My heart sets itself upon an idea, a dream that I wish to bring to reality within my waking world, and as soon as the seed is sown, I am unable to shake it.  Of course, I can choose to ignore it, I can turn my head away and refuse to listen to that quiet voice inside of my heart, to ignore its urges and its calls to arms.  But I am unable to ignore it for long.  I know that eventually, I must come back to it, to water the seed that has put out its small tendrils within the soils of my soul, that has gotten itself fixed around my heart, and I must tend to it, I must nurture it, for it is me and I am it.

You see, life is like that.  The storm may pass us by but the truth is that the next one is soon to arrive.  The peace and tranquility we find in between is our time for respite, a chance to recover our strength, an opportunity to internally digest and comprehend the lessons that our previous battle has shown to us, it is a time for contemplation, for recovery and it is a time to look to the future, to the next storm, the next battle that is coming.  For the storm will always come and when it does, you must be ready.  A heart that walks the path is a heart that can never lie dormant for long, it can never sleep.  It knows that path and it wants to keep on seeking, to keep on taking that next step.  And like it or not, you are going to go with it.  It is the way of the dreamers.  It is the way of the heart. 

We, we of the path, of the dream, of the light, of the heart.  We hear the call and we follow.  With shield and sword do we walk to the battle, to confront our enemies.  Our shield we call Faith, our sword we call Courage.  We shall never truly be defeated, for we are the walkers of light, on our one true path.  For we are the heartstrong, and always shall the light show us the way.


Saturday, 10 August 2013

A Time For Spirituality

Let's face it, our daily lives tend to be pretty full.  First off, there's that thing called work that most of us have to do.  To get to work, there's the daily commute, which seems to take longer and longer.  Then there's the family.  Looking after the children, if you have them, is another full-time job.  Perhaps there are elderly parents that need your care.  There's the grocery shopping, chores around the house, cooking, the dirty dishes, the lawns that require cutting and the regular maintenance of the garden, the car that needs a wash, household bills and the accounts to be paid.  Then you need to go to the gym, go for a run, play some sports, go to the movies, watch that TV program, visit friends, go to the bar, go to a restaurant.  Perhaps there's a dog to walk. There are a lot of things to take care of and all of them take up our precious time.  Where, in all of this do we find the time to connect with our soul, to sit quietly and talk with our heart?  Are we in danger of losing our spirituality?

For the past week, I have been participating in the 21 Day Meditation Challenge from Oprah and Deepak Chopra.  It has been the process of setting aside a specific amount of time each day, to sit down and to formally meditate, that triggered my thinking about spirituality in a modern society, and the questions of when and how do people find the time to meditate and to reconnect with themselves and the universe?

For me personally, I know that I have meditated throughout my life, albeit, not in a conventional sense.  I have always sought out peace and calm, quiet oases where I could sit and think, and just be me.  Down at the beach watching the waves; in a clearing in the woods amongst the trees; on the top of a hill or mountain, looking down upon the world; under the ocean, listening to the rhythmic sound of my own breathing; sitting quietly inside of a church or cathedral.  Wherever I have been, I have made time for these moments. 

There have been several significant advances in technology during human existence: fire, the wheel, agriculture, the industrial revolution, electricity, telecommunications, the combustion engine, computers and the digital age.  With each step, humanity has moved progressively ever further away from the natural world.  As a race, we are spending increasing amounts of time enclosed within the confines of our self made spaces, whether that be the car, the office, the home, the mall, restaurants, cafes, cinemas, or at the gym.  Then, there is our  immersion in television, music,  movies, the internet, video games, text messaging, and social media.  Human society is becoming ever more closed off from the natural world.  We are shutting ourselves away from nature and moving further away from our natural surroundings, cocooned in a world of concrete, steel, glass, bricks, mortar, and an endless stream of ones and zeros.

This has a detrimental impact on our ability to find moments to commune with our inner selves, that we are no longer finding quiet moments of solace, where we can be one with our natural environment.  Because of this, I believe that as a race, humanity is losing touch with its spiritual self, and with the spiritual world in which we live.   It seems to me that our collective belief is increasingly to see ourselves as separate from the natural world, able to control nature, but we are not separate and neither can we control the elemental force that is nature.  Humanity is as much an integral part of the life on this planet as a tree, a flower, an insect, a fish, or a bird.  Immersing ourselves in nature reconnects our souls with the force of life.  Losing those moments, takes us further from a spiritual path and understanding of life.

I see that there are two fundamental problems in modern society, in regards to finding spirituality.  The first is that our lives have become too busy, and the second is that we are increasingly closing off from the natural world.  I do not believe that either of these can be good for our race.  Something is being lost, something which, although intangible, is nonetheless an essential quality of what it is to be human.  Spirituality is being slowly eroded away.

Take the Sabbath for example.  There was a time in the England, when Sunday was a special day, preserved for prayer and family time, when the shops were not allowed to open, where pubs had restricted hours for the sale of alcohol, when large numbers of people used to attend morning church services, when lunch was a traditional roast dinner involving all of the family.  Now shops are allowed to open and trade, pub opening hours are far less restrictive, church attendances have long been in steady decline, and the traditional Sunday roast?  Well, in my family at least, that was lost long ago.  Where the Sabbath was once preserved as a day of thought, reflection and prayer, and for family time, it has been steadily reduced to just another day of the week, no longer as sacred, no longer set aside as a special day, and many people are now required to work.  It is just another sign of our increasing loss of spirituality in society.  A further distancing from our spiritual needs.

I am very fortunate.  My current work as a scuba diving instructor means I am usually out on the ocean, or immersed under it.  The very nature of my work allows me the time to connect with nature.  When I exchanged my corporate life in the UK for an alternative lifestyle, there was a big part of me that wished to find this very connection.  Now, living in Costa Rica, it is impossible not to connect with my natural surroundings.  As I do not own a car, I either cycle or walk to all local places, which allows me the time to look around, to think, to see, to feel.  When I am outside, I never listen to an iPod or other music player, I prefer instead, to listen to the pulse of nature.  I choose to hear the songs of the birds as they call and whistle one another.  I like to listen to the waves as they break on the shore.  I smile whenever I hear the calls of the monkeys that are hiding up in the foliage of the trees, somewhere in the jungle.  These are the natural rhythms of life, they help me to stay connected to nature.  They have helped me to become more spiritually aware.

Since I left the corporate world, it has been my immersion into the natural world that has truly opened my heart, so that I now see truly.  I have learned to see the miracles of life that surround us, that occur every single moment.  Everything that I have learned and now express in this blog, has been learned as a direct result of walking my one true path.  Perhaps I was always this way inclined, someone once told me that I was spiritual even before my life change.  I have always followed my heart, so I guess this is true.  But now, by choosing to be surrounded by the natural world, I have found a far greater insight and awareness of myself.

Don't lose your spirituality.  Find yourself a quiet moment to stop and reflect.  Take time to get outside, into a park, to go and walk in the woods or along the beach.  Stare up to the sky and watch the clouds roll by, see the rays of sunlight, gaze at the stars and the moon.  Unplug yourself and listen to the world.  Let your thoughts drift.  Slowly and surely, you will begin to recover your soul, you will begin to regain your spiritual self, and through this, will come self awareness, and you will open your heart and see the miracles that exist in every single moment.  Life is simplicity.  Peel away the layers and finally be your true and natural self.


Monday, 5 August 2013

Today I Am Open To The Presence Of Miracles

Today, I am commencing the 21 Day Meditation Challenge from Oprah and Chopra Deepak.  In fact, I am starting this challenge with a dear friend and kindred spirit, and it was this friend who invited me to join her on this particular journey.  The purpose of day one is entitled, Miraculous Journey, with the objective being to begin to open yourself to the presence of the miracles that surround us each moment of every day.  Those of you who have been following my blog, will already know that I talk about this, and that I see it as just one of the amazing and enriching by-products of following your heart.  Today, as I sat down to meditate, with the intent of being open to miracles, something extraordinary happened.

Most evenings, when the working day is completed, if I have time, I like to cycle down to the beach at Playa Flamingo, and to watch the sun, as it sets slowly over the Pacific Ocean.  It is always a beautiful sight, and I love the quiet calm that transcends over all of those who are watching.  It is a time for thought, for reflection on the day, and for thinking about what tomorrow will bring.  It brings peace and tranquility to all life.

This evening, I sat on the sand watching, and it occurred to me that right then, in the glow of the evening sun, was the perfect time to meditate, to open my heart, and to think of the miracles of life.  I looked at the sun, as it dropped below the line of clouds that stretched across the horizon, changing the grey to hues of purple, mauve, and orange.  I saw that the clouds were lined with a brilliant shine, reminding me that every cloud really does have a silver lining.  I looked at the rippled surface of the ocean, and I saw the reflective glow of the sun, as the water shimmered with the breeze, giving the illusion that the ocean was on fire.  My eyes fixed on the volcanic rock formations that line the coast of Flamingo, and then further out, I looked upon the Santa Catalina Islands.  I turned and looked at the land, at the rocky headland, covered with a sea of green, all the trees carrying the lush foilage of the wet season.  I watched as the waves broke on the beach, their waters racing up the sand, reaching out as far as possible, clawing their way over the grains, until they could hold on no longer, and could only fall away and recede once more.  I saw people on the beach, playing, watching, taking photographs, laughing, smiling, talking, sharing.  A flicker of movement and my eyes glanced down to my left, to fix on a small shell on the dry sand.  And as I watched, that shell turned itself into a crab, that scurried forwards, then stopped, and abruptly became only a shell once more.  Then, in a flash, it transformed, it ran and had become a crab again.  I followed its path and my eyes saw that there was not just one crab, there were many, all intent on their end of day business,  every one of them hiding down at the slightest movement, the lightest tremor, to become simple shells again.  And in this moment, I smiled to myself.  I smiled because I understood and I knew.

I knew that I already could see the miracles that surround us each and every moment.  I smiled because my heart knew the truth of it, and my heart, in that moment, felt at peace, and it felt happy.  It was grateful that I was there, that I dared to dream, and that I had the courage to reach out for that dream.  In this moment, my heart was open.  In this moment, I was surrounded by life, by love, and by the countless millions, the infinite billions of precious miracles.  I absorbed all of this in a single instant of time, I took it all in and I let it flood into my heart. And, during this blink of an eye, because my heart was open, I let love flow out from me.  I let the energy of the universe out, so that I could keep the balance within.  I released my light, and in that single moment, I was brighter than the sun, I shone more brilliantly than the greatest star in all the universe.

Afterward, I felt an urge to create and so I scribed some words into the sand.

I saw life and it was good
I opened my heart to the miracles
That surround us each and every moment
Let your light shine forth
Because that light is pure love.

~ ~ ~

I do not know what day two of the 21 Day Meditation Challenge will bring to me.  Perhaps it will be a new lesson.  Perhaps it will be an old lesson.  Some how, of my own volition and experiences, I have moved along the path towards the light.  I have become spiritually enlightened, without trying to do so.  I did not read any books to learn what I know.  Rather, I opened my heart to possibility, I opened my heart to my dreams, and I took a chance on life. 


Mantra Ray

A friend and I, are undertaking the Chopra Center 21 day meditation challenge  which begins today.  To her absolute horror and astonishment, losing all faith in mankind in the process, she discovered that there was no such thing on the internet (I confirmed this via Google myself) as a mantra ray.  This is clearly a clever litte play on words, involving a manta ray and a mantra as used in meditation.

To restore all sense and order to the universe, and to restore my friend's faith in humanity, which was so shockingly disturbed, I have remedied this situation, with my very own creation.

Cartoon manta ray courtesy of


Saturday, 3 August 2013

My Life With Anorexia and Bulimia - Part One: Anorexia

This is probably going to be the hardest post that I write.  To make this confession is going to be difficult, it's going to be embarrassing.  I guess though, that my confession is out there already, since the title of the post gives everything away.  I've thought about writing this post before, I've thought about it many times, and each time the thought came to my mind, I quickly dismissed it, I shied away from revealing what I regard as my deepest, darkest, most shameful, and most embarrassing secret.  I have suffered from the eating disorders anorexia and bulimia.

Let me begin my dispelling a myth immediately.  Anorexia and bulimia are not women's problems.  I think that is a very important point to make.  Clearly, I am a man and yet I have suffered from these afflictions.  I regard both of them as a form of mental illness, and as such, both can equally affect men and women.  Anorexia and bulimia are usually associated with women because of the pressure that women are under to conform to an image, a certain way of looking, so that they may be thought of as being attractive. To be considered as slim, thin, or even skinny, is in today's ever more fashion and look conscious culture, an absolute must.  For women, this now begins at the worryingly early age of childhood.  It is perpetuated by the media, in particular fashion magazines, television, cinema, billboards and advertising, by the fashion industry, and by the slimming and health/well-being industries.  More recently, it has been perpetuated by the ever increasing obsession with celebrities and celebrity.  For men, this is not so much a factor, we are not under the same pressures to conform to a certain image that society holds as necessary for attractiveness, although this pressure has been ever increasing over the last couple of decades, especially in recent years with the 'six pack' phenomenon.  In my own situation and my own experiences of these mental illnesses, they were not brought on by any pressure to conform to any image, but it does not matter what is the cause, since the affects are equally the same.

For me, it was anorexia that came first.  As a child, I was overweight, I was fat, I was obese.  It started some time around the age of seven.  I cannot remember exactly when, since I do not know why it began, but around that age, I started to over eat.  There are two significant events that happened back then.  Firstly, I developed a hernia that kept me inactive for six months and unable to participate in physical activities.  Secondly, my sister was born.  Perhaps, out of a need to seek sympathy, attention, and love from my parents, I began to eat and to gain weight.  It was not a conscious decision, so I cannot be sure about it, but what I am sure of, is that there must be a correlation between these events.  At school lunch breaks, I began to go back to have 'seconds', some days, I would even have 'thirds'.  That meant taking a second or third serving of dessert.  Slowly but surely, the weight went on and I became fat.

I was overweight from the age of seven until the age of eighteen.  I was fat.  I was obese.  What exacerbated the situation was my stature, as I was never tall for my age, actually, I was always short, and so my weight was not able to be spread over a larger frame.  At the age of twelve, I was given my nickname, Bombur.  For those of you unfamiliar with Bombur, he is a character from The Hobbit, by JRR Tolkien.  Bombur is the fattest and the slowest of the dwarves that Bilbo accompanies on the quest.  I do not remember any direct bullying or name calling because I was fat, but it did afflict me.  In school sports, during team selections, I was chosen either near to last or last.  In athletics, I had to compete in the race of the 'fatties'.  I could find no jeans that would fit me, so my parents had to buy trousers in adult sizes to accommodate my waist, and then have half the leg taken off to accommodate my short legs.  These years are the most formative years of our lives.  These are the times when we form lasting friendships, when girls start to become interesting, when we have our first dance, our first kiss, our first date, our first love.  For me, girls were interesting, I had crushes on many, but I was always met with rejection.  My friends enjoyed dances, kisses and dates, I endured rejection.  To say that these were trying times is to put it very mildly.  In the years when we formulate our perceptions of the world and of ourselves, the perception of who I was extremely negative.  I now know that it is the reason for so many of my struggles in life.  Back then, I would look in the mirror and rather than see my own reflection staring back at me, I only ever saw one thing.  It was just a simple four letter word: ugly.

Some mornings, I would wake and I would look down at my body.  Laying down, the fat of my stomach did not look so bad.  I would try to convince myself that during the night, a miracle had occurred, and I had lost some of the weight.  I didn't want to get up because I knew that once I stood up, the weight would still be there, the 'spare tyres' of fat would hang around my waist.  Whenever I was sitting on a chair, I liked to put my feet up on something, so that I could elevate my leg off the chair a little.  This allowed the fat to hang down, rather than to spread out, and helped to reduce the width of my leg, making my leg look thinner.  Such was this habit and the mental conditioning of it, that I still do the same today. 

A pivotal, and life changing, moment occurred at the age of eighteen.  One evening at a local pub, my so-called group of friends were teasing me, making me the butt of all the jokes.  I didn't retaliate there and then, I laughed it off like I always did, but I knew that a line had been crossed.  That evening, when I went to bed, I made a very important decision: this would never happen again.  From that moment, I stopped going out socially and I filled the void that was left by taking up cycling.  It was still winter, so I cycled each evening after dinner in my parents garage, on a set of training wheels.  As my fitness increased, so too did my weight decrease.  At the same time I began to exercise, I also went on a very strict, self-imposed diet.  I switched to non-fat milk, I changed to black coffee with no sugar, I stopped putting additional sugar on my breakfast cereal, I never ate a dessert unless it was a piece of fresh fruit, for lunch I ate rye breads with a thin layer of non-fat spread, I stopped eating cookies, biscuits, cakes and chocolate.  I never faltered, I stuck rigidly to this diet plan.

After a few months, the excess weight was gone.  I used to check my weight every day and I set targets for myself.  I do not recall what my weight was when I began, but I do know that my waist size was somewhere around 35 inches.  I set myself weight targets, I gave myself a goal for which to aim and achieve.  In the UK, we measure a person's weight in stones (14 pounds / 6.35kg).  I know that I was in excess of 12 stone when I began, and I do remember that I set my targets in terms of half of a stone.  So, if my weight reached 12 stone, then my next target would be 11.5 stone.  When I reached that target, the next one would be 11 stone.  And so it kept on going.

I would look at myself in the mirror and I always saw the same thing staring back at me.  All I could ever see was that I was still overweight, that I was still fat.  I could not see that I had become thin, that I was actually becoming skinny.  Even though my face was becoming drawn, that I looked gaunt, and that my ribs were beginning to protrude, I did not see this.  My mind blocked out the reality and showed to me only what it was that I wanted to see.  My weight dropped to 9 stone (57kg/126lbs) and I can recall telling my mother that my next target would 8.5 stone.  I remember that she said to me that I was becoming anorexic and I told her not to be so stupid.

The truth was though, that I was indeed becoming anorexic.   Perhaps I was already anorexic.  My mother used the term to describe a skinny, underweight person, because that is what she saw when she looked at me.  I think she used it in a derogatory way to try to shock me.  I do not think she understood the mental processes that were taking place within me.  At the time, I dismissed it because anorexia was something that happened to young girls and to women.  Besides which, I felt in absolute and complete control of what I was doing.  I had a clearly formulated plan.  I knew that I was still fat, I could see it, and I told myself that I would stop the diet as soon as I reached my goal.  But what was my goal?  I know that if I had reached 8.5 stone, I would have set the next target of 8 stone.  When would it have been enough?

This is the scary thing about anorexia.  I could only admit to myself that I did have anorexia some years later.  Anorexia is a mental illness.  When you are afflicted with it, you see yourself as fat.  It does not matter whether someone tells you that you are not fat, it does not matter how many people tell you that you are not fat.  Nothing will change the perception that you have of yourself.  It is obvious to me now that I was anorexic back then.  The symptoms and the signs were there.  I was headed down a dangerous road and some how, I managed to pull myself back and to stop.  I do not know what that was, whether it was an event or someone's words that finally got through to me.  Probably, it was my own self-realisation of what I was doing and where it was headed.  I stopped my diet and over the next few months, I let my weight increase a little, until it was at a more healthy level, and then I made sure it stayed there.  I was very lucky.  Other people get trapped in the vicious downward spiral of anorexia.

Ever since this episode of my life, I have been extremely weight conscious.  Those of you who know me, will recognise this.  I am very careful with what I eat, I know exactly what goes in, I buy products whose calorie level I know and understand.  I do not use sugar in my diet, I choose diet sodas if I am to drink one, I continue to use low fat milk.  If someone hands out chips (crisps), sweets, or chocolates, I will usually decline, even though I would like one.  I always know my own weight.  I think in terms of calories consumed and the amount of exercise I have done in minutes.  I try to ensure that these always balance.  I do it subconsciously, I am unable to stop it.  It is part of the scar that remains from having had an eating disorder, from having been anorexic.   But because of this, I am more healthy since I eat good wholesome foods, and I exercise as much as I can. 

I look in the mirror these days and I am more pleased with what I see.  I like my muscle definition, I work hard to maintain it, and I can recognise that I do look fit.  But, there is one lasting trait that continues to exist from my days of anorexia.  I still see myself as fat.  I think that I always will because it has been so imbedded into my brain.  It is just how I will always think of myself.  I am comfortable with that, because I know it will drive me to continue to maintain a healthy lifestyle, I know that I will never again let myself become overweight and obese.  

I believe it was important for me to write this blog post, to share this part of my life.  It is my sincere wish and hope that by doing so, I may be able to help others.  At the very least, I hope that it serves as an education.  I have been lucky to escape anorexia, I have been fortunate to recognise it within myself, and by so doing, I am able to control it.  As with many mental illnesses, I do not think it will ever truly leave me.  But I'm okay with that, since I am the sum of all of my experiences.

If you know of anyone who you suspect as being anorexic, please reach out to them.  They need help.  If it remains untreated, it can, in extreme cases, lead to death through severe malnutrition.  Anorexia is an illness like any other, and I hope to have shown that it can affect any one.  Below are some resources for help on eating disorders.


Help Resources for Anorexia and Bulimia

Anorexia and Bulimia Care (UK)

American Physiological Association (ASA)

Help Guide - Eating Disorders
The Nemours Foundation - Teen Health


Friday, 2 August 2013

What To Do When The Smile Fades Away

It happens to all of us at one time or another.  One day, you are going along and all is well.  You are happy, you feel content, you walk lightly, you smile, and you roll along with all that life throws at you.  Then, one morning, no different to any other, you wake from your sleep and the world feels different.  Nothing has changed, at least, nothing around you has changed, but something is no longer as it once was.  You feel tired, the smile is gone from your lips, it feels like you are carrying a heavy burden, and it feels as if life is trying to beat you down.  The perception that the world feels different is not accurate.  It is not what is outside that has changed, it is what is inside that has altered.  What is different, is you. 

I know this feeling.  It happened to me yesterday and I still have it today.  I cannot say that anything significant has occurred, because it has not.  My situation is unchanged from the days that preceded yesterday, so why should I wake up and suddenly feel this way?  The smile is gone from my lips, fallen to the floor and lost.  The joy of life to which I was holding has slipped through the cracks of my fingers.  My heart is silent, its voice muted, it speaks to me no more words of comfort and urging.   What could have happened to cause this change in my persona, and what does all of this tell me?  I believe that I know the answer to those questions.

There has been no significant single event, rather a series of minor occurrences, each one chipping away at my resolve, each one like the water that runs over a rock, imperceptibly changing it, eroding it away over time.  My resolve is being tested, the faith that I have in my path is being questioned.  Each of these small things is nothing in itself, not worthy of merit, but over time and collectively, they add up to a continuous barrage of blows against my defensive shield.  They have worn me down, and gradually, they have caused me to falter. And falter is what I have done.  The arm that holds my shield lacks the strength to raise it once more, the hand that holds my sword can no longer parry the blows of my enemies.

Over the last few months, I have suffered setbacks.  The daily grind of my work situation is beginning to take its toll.  As much as I love the scuba diving here in Costa Rica and as much as I love teaching scuba, the lack of respect from my boss, the long hours, the continual struggle to get a day off, never knowing when that day will come, all of this has had an impact.  I have suffered rejection in my struggle to find love.  I have had a friendship tested and realised that it was founded on the wrong principles.  I have seen that same friend for the person who they truly are, and I have been affected by it negatively.  I have seen the anniversary of a dear departed friend's birthday.  My own birthday is later this month and I know that as that day approaches, so too does my sinking feeling.  I have recounted and relived the most painful and traumatic period of my life to another person for the very first time.  I have thought back to a year ago, to where I was and what I was doing, and I have realised that perhaps, just perhaps, I lost not only a friend but my love as well.  I have felt a sense of rejection by my family, as our lack of communication and inability to talk openly of love for each other continues.  Many things, each one small and each one easy to deal with individually.  Together, they form a mighty blow, one from which I am now suffering, forcing me to flee the battlefield and seek respite and shelter away from this storm.

There is good news and I know it.  By articulating what has been playing on my mind these past weeks, allows me to see and to confront my enemies.  The enemy unseen is the hardest one to defeat, since you cannot analyse their strengths and weaknesses, and you cannot find a strategy for defeating them.  I am fortunate in as much as I know my enemies, I can see them, I understand them and because of that, I can formulate plans to defend against them, and to attack and defeat them when the time is right.  Understanding your situation is a major part of what it takes to defeat the enemy and to win.  By analysing what is going on, I have been able to break down my enemy, to deconstruct him, and to see him as the sum of all of these parts.  Now I have a chance to take each one on its own and to work on my strategy for defeating it.

This is a very important strategy in life.  Often, it is all too easy to be blown away by everything that comes your way, but, by breaking it down in to smaller, more manageable pieces, you can work on each, and tackle it.  Each time that you do, you make a small win, and with each win, becomes a step forward.  It is the strategy of divide and conquer.  The art of war is to know when to push the fight and when to retreat and regroup.  I know that right now, I need to regroup, to rest, and to formulate a new set of strategies.  My dreams are still out there, they have not changed, they have not moved further away from me.  They are exactly where they always were, where they will always be, waiting until the moment is right, until I can reach out and take what has always been mine to take.

Writing this post has been a big help to me today.  I know that I created Walking The One True Path and began writing, because I have always believed in the power of writing down my own thoughts, in order to gain a better understanding of my subconscious mind.  I know that many artists do the same with drawing and painting.  It is therapy.  Self help.  And I know that it works - for me at least.  I also know that by sharing my thoughts, I have in the process helped others, and for that I am very happy.  It is a blessing to know it.  My smile is not yet back on my face.

I am still feeling tired, I still feel a little discouraged.  But, what has changed is that by sharing my burden, some of the weight has lifted.  When the time comes, the fight will go on, as it always must go on.  For now, I will just sit and rest a little while longer and recover.  When the moment is right, I will strike down my enemies and I shall walk ever on, basking in the glow of light, with my shield and my sword, and the power of love.