Joy alongside sorrow

‘I saw that there was an ocean of darkness and death, but an
infinite ocean of light and love, which flowed over the ocean of darkness.’ 

George Fox in his journal, 1647

I’ve been leaning heavily on these words over the past few
weeks – over the whole of February really.
This last month has had some truly great moments, both personally (a fun
weekend away with old friends, my partner making a Bakewell tart) and
professionally (did
you see my announcement about the event on dressing with less that I’m hosting
with Courtney Carver?!).
At the same
time it has been emotionally tough going.
Relentless is the word that keeps coming up when journalling – life simply
feels relentless.  

I’m like the boy who kept getting
battered on the obstacle course
, unable to dodge what keeps coming my way.  Moreover it seems there’s no way out of this.  Sometimes it is just how life is: stuff keeps
happening and you have to deal with it, however bruised you might feel.  I suppose I could stay in bed with the duvet
over my head but in the longer term that’s not healthy, nor is it how I want to
respond.  I want to show up as best I can
in my life, which includes trying to fulfil my responsibilities (even those
that are unspoken) when times are tough.

I know I’m not alone in feeling like this.  I know there are others who likewise feel
compelled to live this way, showing up rather than opting out wherever they
can.  I also know that we struggle with
living and being this way.

This kind of showing up is not a one-off discrete task.  It’s not an achievement which we can tick off
as done.  Rather it is an ongoing
process.  It also a process in which we
have little, if any, control over the context.
We don’t choose who dies or needs caring for or what dates some events
happen on.  We just have to respond.

We can, however, support ourselves through the most trying
moments.  We can seek out comfort and
care to sustain us even when our focus by necessity turns to the needs of
others.  This is not only desirable but
essential – the classic ‘Fit your own oxygen mask first’ analogy.

I wrote about self-care a few times last year (once,
twice,
the third
time
).  Yet there’s something else at
work right now: not just needing to ensure the basics, but a desire to feel joy
alongside the sorrows – to go beyond either/or and to live in a place of
both/and.

How do we do this?  

My response to this urge for joy alongside sorrow has been
to look to the natural world.  I’ve
bought daffodils for the house and tended the cyclamen on my desk.  I’ve second glanced at the snowdrops on
roadside and paused by the crocuses at the front door.  I’ve given thanks for the lighter mornings
and the gradually lengthening days.  I’ve
stood at the window enjoying the bright sunshine streaming in and been aware of
the increase in birdsong.

Spring is coming,
grows the whisper.  New life.  Hope.

At other times of the year, and in other places around the
globe, the natural world will communicate different messages, and maybe not
always so positive.  But right now, in
this corner of the earth, the natural world offers huge comfort and fills my
heart with joy.

And it does this without me having to do anything.  Nay, I cannot do anything.  I have no control over nature, just as I have
little or no influence over other happenings in my life.  Nature encourages me to accept, to loosen my resistance,
to embrace what is.  

To embrace what is…Winter followed by spring, night after
day, sorrow alongside joy, an ocean of darkness and death but an infinite ocean
of light and love too.

May you also find joy alongside sorrow in the week ahead.  

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Tiny Wardrobe on Tour in London

Super exciting event announcement!

Many of you will know Courtney Carver and her work on
simplicity over at Be More
With Less
.  Some of you may even be
familiar with Project 333,
her minimalist fashion challenge that invites you to dress with 33 items or
less for three months.  Since she began
dressing this way herself in 2010, thousands across the world have joined in,
and the initiative has featured on The Today programme in the US as well as in O, The Oprah Magazine and on the BBC.

Courtney recently decided to take her tiny wardrobe on tour
and so, for the first time ever, she is coming to speak in London.  She’ll be talking about what she’s learnt
from dressing with 33 items or less and her experiences of simplicity more
broadly.

And guess what else?

I’m hosting the event with her!

Over the last few weeks, we’ve been working behind the
scenes to make this happen and I am beyond thrilled to announce the details at
last.  The event takes place at 18.30 on
Monday 25th April 2016 at Friends House, Euston Road, London.  Tickets cost just £20 and are available
here
.  Places are limited and they’ve
begun selling already so I’d encourage you to get in quick if you are
interested!  

(For readers in the States, Courtney is also visiting a
number of US cities, so contact her if you are interested in knowing more about
other Tiny Wardrobe on Tour events).

I’ll be there to introduce Courtney and chair the
Q&A.  Even if I wasn’t involved, I’d
be buying a ticket as I genuinely think it’s an event not to be missed!  It would be great to see some of you there
too.

The
details again: The Tiny Wardrobe on Tour exclusive UK event – 18.30 on Monday
25th April 2016 at Friends House, London – tickets £20
.

Sobriety (on the) rocks: what it feels like to live sober

Sobriety (on the) rocks- what it feels like to live sober (1)
Sobriety (on the) rocks- what it feels like to live sober
In response to two photograph challenges (#cultivatingenough and
#talesoffebruary), I posted on Instagram last week about my feelings regarding sobriety ahead of a weekend away with friends.  
The response that followed confirmed my long-held suspicion that many of us are looking for a safe space in which to talk about drinking, and more specifically about our own relationships with alcohol:
How much is too much?  
Do we have a problem?  
How do we define ‘problem’?  
What is the lure of booze?  
When did so much of our adult identity become so intertwined with liquor of one form or another?  
Why is it so difficult to stop drinking even if we want to?  
Do we want to?  

The edgy ‘How are you coping?’ chats that littered talk during Dry
January prompted a foray into trying to write about this topic but I didn’t delve into what it feels like to live sober, the many and contradictory feelings that come with the territory.  This is only ever something I’ve done on Instagram, using the hashtag #sobrietyontherocks.  But now I’ve decided to share last week’s post here too because it’s beginning to feel like an area that I need to integrate into my work more.  Let me
know what you think!

I’m going away with friends this weekend and much of their talk as we prepare is about what bottles they are bringing. Mine are sparkling water and an elderflower cordial. They’re a bit different from the rest – 0% proof and all that.

Mostly I’m okay with not drinking. More than okay really.

For me sobriety feels less like deprivation and more like freedom.

Both freedom from (compulsion, obsession, the past) and freedom to (honour my physical and mental health, show
up as I want to, embrace the future).

But it isn’t always easy.

Sometimes I just want to feel “normal”, to be able to join in and not sit slightly tight lipped during the camaraderie of prosecco planning.

And sometimes I crave the possibilities that alcohol seems to engender.

The thrill of the night wide open in front of me, the prospect of unlimited spontaneity. Who knew where the evening would take me, what adventure awaited. That allure of possibility kept me going back long after the fun had faded.

Of course the change isn’t all about abstinence. Age and stage are factors too, both for me and my former comrades-in-bars. Even when we do go out now, the options are not what they were. Babysitters and early mornings create other kinds of boundaries for them where sobriety sits for me.

Other possibilities emerge though.

Real moments of connection where once fuzzy declarations of love stood.

The pride of not having to loosen or numb to get through an event let alone enjoy it.

Accepting this is where I am, who I am and how I feel, not hiding that truth even from myself.

So with my two bottles sat on the worktop ready to pack, I find that in with the melancholy and nostalgia for the good old drinking days (which weren’t always all that great really), there’s also an enormous amount of gratitude for letting go of that world and that way. I didn’t think it were possible but it is.

And I am open to all the new possibilities that this opens up.

What’s your relationship with alcohol like?  Some read these words and understand
exactly what I’m on about; for others it won’t resonate at all.  Get in touch via email (rae@raeritchie.com) or the comments.

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‘This is my real life’ collected

Over the eight days, I’ve posted daily as part of the ‘This
is my real life’ idea that I had.  The
purpose was to share a bit more about me, what I do, what the A Life Of One’s Own vision and
philosophy is.  There have been
suggestions of things to try and prompts for reflection along the way.  

Now it’s all over, I figured it was probably useful to have
all the links gathered in one place for anyone wishing to come back to them or
for any new readers looking for an introduction to A Life Of One’s Own.  So here
they are!

Thursday
28th January 2016 – introduction: This is my real life: a week of
sharing.

Thursday
28th January 2016: My favourite mug

Friday
29th January 2016: Why you should always carry stamps

Saturday
30th January 2016: Now wash your hands

Sunday
31st January 2016: Just empty the bins

Monday
1st February 2016: A Life Of
One’s Own
: philosophy & manifesto

Tuesday
2nd February 2016: You’re the adult now.  You get to make the rules.

Wednesday
3rd February 2016: Redeeming the ‘know yourself better’ personality
quiz (possibly)

Thursday
4th February 2016 – conclusion: Reflections on ‘This is my real life’
week

Thanks for reading along with any or all of these.  Do let me know what you think – have you been
inspired or gained insight from any of the ideas and suggestions?  There’s Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest or
the A Life Of One’s Own Facebook page – or you can email (rae@alifeofonesown.co.uk).

Reflections on ‘This is my real life’ week

This post is part of
my ‘This is my real life’ week.  

To read how that began, you can click here for the opening post.

To read other posts in this series, simply scroll down past this one.

Whilst applying my face cream on Saturday night (a beloved
pre-bed ritual), I began to reflect on the whole ‘This
is my real life’
project despite only being a few days into the weeklong
endeavour.  

By that stage, the effort to post more on social media had
already ebbed away; too intrusive for me and others in my life, too
time-consuming and too much of a strain on my natural reticence – a trait that
always surprises me about myself.  

I may not be shy, and may choose to reveal some things in
the virtual or actual world that would horrify others, but I have my own
particular boundaries.  Even with my
friends, there is much that I keep to myself, motivated at times by a sheer
sense of privacy more than embarrassment, shame or a desire to project a
particular self-image.  In this sense,
there is no real divide between my online and offline self, a realisation that
somewhat assuaged the need to post more anyway.

As a result, although I didn’t continue with ‘This is my
real life’ in the ‘bare all’ way that I’d initially imagined, I was not unduly
concerned by the change of course.  I realised
that my usual level of sharing on social media is about as much as I am
comfortable with (though I could, and will, make more use of the simple ways to
post across multiple platforms more than I did, rather than sticking largely to
Instagram, where I feel most at home).  What
I share is my real life, at the level I feel happy to disclose to a potentially
unlimited and unknown audience – or even to the digital communities I do
know.  

Furthermore, time and the actual act of living make it
impossible to truly share every single aspect of our worlds.  Necessity if not desire means we post
selectively.  We all have to make choices
about what to broadcast or not; I cannot continue to write this blog entry if I
now also want to photograph it and pop that picture on IG #writing #creativity
#irony #lol (had to add that last one as I did just get the giggles at my own
hashtag mockery, despite being guilty of #blessed-esqueness myself).  

That said, the experiment did teach me to be less afraid of
sharing the non-shiny and the non-glamorous.
I did post about the imperfect, the undone, the unfinished, and the
response was so positive.  Even when the
consciously ‘This is my real life’ social media diminished, an unexpected death
knocked the wind out of my sails, and I allowed a vulnerable edge to my sharing
which I probably would have hidden away before.

This lesson is not just relevant to me, but to others who
use these image and micro-blogging sites too: there is a receptivity to more
honest depictions of our lives.  We don’t
have to style and edit and filter in order to connect and engage; showing up as
who we and our lives really are encourages genuine connection and
engagement.  Too much composure can be
intimidating.  

And what about the daily blog post side of ‘This is my real
life’?

My response to this has been far more straightforward.  It was demanding on my time and mental
energies, impossible without weekends, the schedule button, flexibility in my
working arrangements (not having a daily commute made it much easier to get to
my desk early in order to produce the extra content I suddenly found I needed
when seized with the idea for the project).

And I’ve loved it.
I’ve loved the challenge of generating new ideas in quick succession (I
did draft a plan last Thursday but that was soon abandoned in favour of
following inspiration).

I’ve loved the challenge of seeing if I could write more
words and more quickly – and finding that I managed both.  

I even loved the challenge of putting myself out there and
finally sharing explicitly what the
A Life Of One’s Own vision
is; I
was scared, but in a good way – the way that feels like growth, like your
comfort zone is being stretched just that little bit further.

Overall ‘This is my real life’ has shown me that whilst my
life is in no way perfect, it is so good so much of the time; even when
unexpected difficulties and upsets come along, there are joys, treasures and
hope.  

This goodness is as much rooted in the everyday and ordinary
as it is the more obviously exciting and glamorous occasions.  

This goodness is thanks to a combination of both good
fortune and ongoing efforts on my part to explore, experiment and craft a life
of my own – efforts which are inextricably linked with A Life Of One’s Own.  I would
love to work with you to support and encourage you to likewise create such joy
and contentment – to create a life of your own too.

In honour of this,
I’ve decided to keep registration for my
2016 coaching packages open for a week longer than previously stated
– you can now sign up for one of the six options until Monday 8th
February.  All the details are
over here.

Thank you for reading along and sharing back with me over
the last week.

Redeeming the ‘Know Yourself Better’ personality quiz (possibly)

  • The quiz pictured is genuinely from a women’s magazine – an early 1970s publication with the unfortunate title Candida (if you’d like to know more about it, ask!  It’s a pet research project of mine).

This post is part of
my ‘This is my real life’ week.  

To read how that began, you can click here for the opening post.

To read other posts in this series, simply scroll down past this one.

 As a tween and teen, I was a massive fan of the personality
quizzes that periodically showed up in girls’ and women’s magazines.  I’m not talking Myers Briggs or anything that
sophisticated; I mean the pop-psychology ‘What kind of indie chick are you?’
variety.  The most basic were a simple
flow diagram, just yes or no, but more common was the multiple choice question.  Usually the responses were grouped ‘Mainly As’
and so on, but occasionally you were required to score each answer individually
to find out your result.  I liked these
ones the most, lured by the implication that the end revelation would be worth
the extra effort.   It never was.
Considering I clearly remember shampoo advertising jingles from the
early 1990s, as
discussed in yesterday’s post
, the fact that I can’t recall any personality
quiz results from the decade that followed is probably testament to how inane
they were.

Of course you know what’s coming next, don’t you?!

A quiz!

Insert major caveat: I offer no promise that these questions
will help to classify or decode your personality.  There aren’t even any results to conform to
(surely I’m not the only person who manipulated their answers to fit the
description they most liked the sound of at the end?).  

Instead this ten question quiz offers some binary options
for you to reflect upon to whatever level you wish (they could be great journal
prompts).  It can be fun to discuss the
choices with another person (a version of this is a common ice-breaker game, a
good way of highlighting similarities and differences within a group).  You may subvert the whole format, insisting
that you value both equally – or even rejecting the two offered in favour of
another option altogether!

The goal? Simply to reflect upon your own whims and idiosyncrasies.  We all have our own particular ways of
looking at the world and navigating our way through it; to become more
conscious of that can provide some useful insights.  

If nothing else, it might help you to recognise your
particular preferences – your specific likes and dislikes, pleasures and
irritations.  Knowing such information
makes it easier to craft a life that integrates the former and minimises the latter.  

As someone who drank blackcurrant squash for thirty-two
years before realising I didn’t actually like it, I can vouch that such
self-awareness can have a profound effect.
Obviously Just Seventeen never
featured ‘Which fruit based cordial most stimulates your tastebuds?’ flow
chart.


The quiz

1.      
Orange squash or blackcurrant?

2.      
Indoors or outdoors?

3.      
Book or film?

4.      
Past or future?

5.      
North or south?

6.      
Home or away?

7.      
Sound or vision?

8.      
Black or white?

9.      
Sweet or savoury?

10.  
Old or new?

Can you think of any similar two-choice questions that I
could add?  I’d love to hear more
suggestions.  You can share with me via Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest or
the A Life Of One’s Own Facebook page – or you can email (rae@alifeofonesown.co.uk).

This post is part of
my ‘This is my real life’ week.  

To read how that began, you can click here for the opening post.

To read other posts in this series, simply scroll down past this one.

You’re the adult now.  You get to make the rules.

image

I’m the adult now.  I get to make the rules.  That includes choosing toiletries.  I also get to make rules.  That includes not having to line them up straight & forward-facing in the cupboard.  Crazy times!


This post is part of
my ‘This is my real life’ week.  

To read how that began, you can click here for the opening post.

To read other posts in this series, simply scroll down past this one.


When I was eight years old, I made a decision about my adult
life.  I resolved that when I was a
grown-up, I would by Finesse hair conditioner.
This choice was based purely on the product’s TV advertising
campaign
(‘Sometimes you need a little Finesse, sometimes you need a
lot.  Finesse!’ went the jingle).  It wasn’t targeted at my age group but I was
a rather precocious child so think the aspirational consumerism must have
appealed to me in some way, even if I couldn’t articulate how – thus my decision
to buy it when I was older.  

I guess I could have asked my mum to get a bottle of Finesse
but to be honest that would never have occurred to me.  Toiletry buying was some mythical event, choices
made and executed by adults.  Our bathroom
shelves housed a green bottle of Vidal Sasson’s Wash n’ Go, ‘salon shampoo and
conditioner in one’
 (complete with another aspirational consumerism ad), and it seemed to me that was just the way life
was.  Finesse would have to wait until
the long-awaited day when I too had the power to buy hair care products.

This tale of two conditioners reflects the wider power
situation that we find ourselves in as children.  Choices, from the trivial to the absolutely
monumental, are made for us and about us.
We rarely, if ever, had influence or input; what would you like for
dinner maybe, but certainly not how to structure our days and our lives.  Parents, teachers, local authorities,
national governments: they were the ones that took such decisions, whilst we
then agonised over whether to get a 99 or lolly from the ice cream van.

I’m not arguing that this situation is wrong per se.  Most of the figures in our lives operated
with our best interests at heart.
However, as children we can feel disempowered, passive even.  At an early age we learn that we have little
control over the circumstances around us to the extent that we don’t even ask
or assert ourselves in situations where we could have more influence or input,
like requesting a specific type of conditioner that we dream of trying out.

Crucially, this mind-set can linger into adulthood without
us ever realising it.  We can continue to
unconsciously function as if we were not the ones with control our lives and
the decisions we make within them.  

Sure, there are other forces at work; the same local
authorities and national governments, for one, as well as factors such as the international
economy.  Nonetheless we retain a fair
degree of agency.  Many of us are
fortunate enough that even when the job market contracts, we still have some
level of choice available to us.  If we
don’t like the political bias of one news outlet, we can turn to another – even
whilst retaining a level of cynicism about them all.

How often do we lose sight of this?  And how much so on the seemingly more trivial
end of the spectrum!  We forge relationships
then end them; get pregnant or not or find alternatives; emigrate and relocate
and start over in myriad ways.  But within
our daily lives, the passive childhood mind-set can hold strong without us realising.  We forget that our parents’ way of doing
something is not the only way.  We forget
that we don’t have to clean the hob in the same way our mum did, or that the
male partner in a relationship doesn’t automatically get the last biscuit just
because our dad always did.  Perhaps we
never truly realised that our feelings were valid and important.  

In our homes and other aspects of life, we are the adults
now.  That means that by and large, we
get to make the rules.  This discovery is
hugely empowering.  Yet it is often
overlooked, passing us by unnoticed.  We
continue to abide by codes of behaviour, consciously or unconsciously, that we
laid out years before but no longer serve us (if they ever did).  We continue to relate to the world as if we were
still helpless children.  So I want to
provide a much-needed reminder: you are the adult now.

You are the adult now.
You make the rules, and you get to overturn some that you don’t
like.  

You can buy fizzy pop every week if you want.  It doesn’t have to be reserved for special
occasions.  Do you what know else?  You can have a second can, or a third, in one
evening.  Maybe after a while the adult
that you are will decide you’re not that bothered or that this habit isn’t good
for you, so you stop.  But you get to
make those choices too.  No-one else is
responsible or in charge.

You can go away over a major holiday period if you want too
(this may seem an unseasonal example but wanted to throw it out there now so
you have time to plan if this resonates with you).  You’re the adult, you earn the money and the
leave period, you can choose.  Other
adults (or children) may not like it, and you may have to deal with the
consequences of that, but you don’t have to hand over your power to make the
decision to them.  Maybe you decide the
hassle of rocking the boat isn’t worth it – but then that is your choice too.

What rules could you make (or break) now that you’re an
adult?  What would really help you?  

Perhaps it doesn’t even need to be a rule, maybe just a
single decision or experiment.  I’m
planning on adding Finesse to my next shop if the brand still exists, to
celebrate the entirely uninformed mental choice that I made twenty-five years
ago – although it will have to be a shampoo version, because I don’t use
conditioner.  

As the 1990s
advertisement states
, ‘You get to control the amount of conditioning that’s
right for your hair’.  All these years
later, turns out they were right.  I do
get to control that.  I’m the adult
now.  I get to make the toiletry buying rules.

If you’d like to share with me about the rules you’ve made
and broken, or how realising you’re the adult now has affected your life, then
there’s Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest or
the A Life Of One’s Own Facebook page – or you can email (rae@alifeofonesown.co.uk).

This post is part of
my ‘This is my real life’ week.  

To read how that began, you can click here for the opening post.

To read other posts in this series, simply scroll down past this one.