Year: <span>2020</span>

Our clutter isn’t relegated only to material things.
We clutter our lives with destructive relationships, careers, obligations, rituals, busyness, minutiae, news, media, politics, gossip, drama, rumours.

We clutter our attention with glowing screens.
We clutter our creativity with distractions.
We clutter our free time with trivialities.
We clutter our desires with attachments.

Our lives are brimming with existential clutter, emotional clutter, mental clutter, spiritual clutter.
So much so that it’s hard to distinguish what is clutter—and what is not.

We are stressed out, overwhelmed, and anxious because we’ve filled our lives with disorder, chaos.

Though there is a solution.
Look at an object, a commitment, a habit.
Does it bring tranquillity or increase your well-being?
If not, let it go!

Not an easy fix,
but a simple one.

Joshua Fields Millburn

I’ve been decluttering again.

In my never-ending battle to get rid of unneeded stuff, and find places for the things that are needed (half the battle sometimes), I’ve taken a different tack and started sorting through different parts of my life and questioning what is truly important to me.

It’s not been easy. The last few months, pandemic aside, have been very trying for me and my family yet, in a way, they’ve been hugely instructive as well, especially as I now have a little distance from which to view things.

Obviously, the sudden death of my father in August is the largest disruption, but since then my Mum has had issues with an abscess causing her to need a short stay in hospital and more recently she had not one but two falls, cracking vertebrae the first time, and her pelvis the second; My Mum is a stroke survivor of 9 years with limited use of her left side so that makes things a little trickier still. I spent a couple of weeks living with her to get her through the worst of it. And still, more recent news includes the death of a close friends mother, the list goes on…

This is all to say that, as always, life continues to throw curveballs because clearly a global pandemic that is killing people and destroying livelihoods – not to mention a Prime Minister that is killing people and destroying livelihoods (but none those of his chums obv) – is apparently not enough to deal with.

But enough with the woe is me.

I’m lucky, very very lucky in comparison to many.

I’ve been able to work through the pandemic and my boss has been supportive of my need for sudden time off and the resulting skewed working hours here and there, something that would’ve been impossible to manage if I was still office-based.

Throughout all of this my amazing partner has been an absolute rock, I don’t think I could have gotten through all of this the way I have without her and it’s helped me learn a lot about our relationship, and myself. My friends too have reached out and been there whenever I asked, and all in all, I feel very loved and supported. I hope I’ve been able to offer a shred of that back to them but, I fear as always, I’ve not quite been there enough.

I look at my acquaintances, more recent friends made in the past few years, and can see that I’ve fallen out of touch. It’s natural, I think, to shrink your world when things get hard so I’m looking forward to a time when it can start to grow again, to embrace those people once more, figuratively and literally.

In a way, this minimised life has forced me to look at how I live more than anything, the habits I have, the things I do and don’t do. As I’ve mentioned here I’m now someone who meditates almost every day, I stretch almost every morning, and even though we are heading to peak food consumption day, I’m still being (mostly) mindful of what I put in my body.

Christmas is another good time to focus on why we have so many things. I look at where I’m sitting now and can see things I don’t need and/or don’t use, and I’m glad that my family is adopting a no presents for adults rule (small mindings aside). We do the same, Becca and I, and it’s twice the fun to spot something small that I know she’ll love.

Next year will bring more challenges no doubt, Brexit will loom large through January and February as we adjust to whatever that brings (does anyone really know?), and as the vaccination and COVID variants continue to battle perhaps we need to look to the summer for more respite, and the chance to reconnect.

However I’m convinced there will be good news next year, one way or another, and as an aide to that part of my recent decluttering thoughts have been about the news I consume, both in terms of volume and source. I’m still reading and keeping up but find myself spending far less time getting lost in the discussions and what-if-ery that seems to be more and more prevalent.

Ultimately things will play out as they will so let’s focus on what is here and now, right in front of us. This is the now we can be a part of, and now, more than ever, I feel the need to push all of the other noise away, taking a broom to the clutter that feeds in via social media, news website, radio announcements and newspaper headlines.

It feels good to be clearing out a little, even if it’s only really a mental adjustment, a bit of stock-taking here and there to remind myself of the things I’m keeping in my life as much as the things I’m pushing away. Switching the focus away from all that clutter to only the things I’m keeping, the things I really need, make it all so much easier.

Life

The nights are fair drawin’ in, eh!

Walking a black dog at night can be a little tricky, and while he doesn’t get off the lead we do have a light-up collar for him, just in case he makes a bid for freedom (to chase a cat, or a bird, or a leaf …). And so, safely adorned, Dave and I take our evening pre-prandial wander around the locality and given the time of year we are delighted to see an ever-growing number of emblazoned homes, festooned in their Christmas finery. It’s such a joy to see them popping up, a tree here, a glowing star there, especially after such a turgid year.

But wait! Something is amiss! It’s something that seems to have changed over the past few years, like the subtle change of a tide, and if anything it seems to be getting worse!

Where are all the colours?! Where are the tawdry baubles, the glowing bulbs, the dazzling tinsels?

Walking through our neighbourhood is a sad affair these days, as more and more houses light up for Christmas it seems that more and more of them are opting for Instagram friendly, exquisitely decorated trees that all have one thing in common; THEY LOOK BORING!

Looking across a few windows the other night and the only difference between the lights on the trees, proudly displayed in grand bay windows, is which type of white/yellowy light has been used. One house has a vibrant white twinkle, the other a gentle golden glow, and not one had any other colour on display.

Yawn.

These are not the Christmases of my youth. Now I know that trends come and go, but I’ll be so happy when the current trend of these seeming magazine perfect Christmas trees, in all their matching decorative glory, is gone and we can again return to the fun and frivolity of a nonsense Christmas tree. One decorated with all manner of weird and wonderful ornaments, gathered together over the years, festooned with coloured tinsel and ablaze with multi-coloured lights of every colour imaginable!

It feels churlish though, this year of all years, to let this pet hate bubble up. In reality, I’m just glad to see the lights, the feeling of some normality, the season of goodwill and all that but it still gnaws away at me. Whilst I no longer buy into the rampant commercialisation that Christmas has become, at least it was always colourful and upbeat. To look at some of these trees I have to wonder why, when you have the PERFECT excuse to brighten things up on these dull winter nights, why you would opt for ‘warm gold’ as the colour scheme of choice.

Last year I was wandering around our local DIY superstore and was boggled to see perfectly laid out displays with matching tinsels and baubles and ribboned bows in perfectly dull and boring colours, a deep teal there, a bronze shimmer here, boring boring boring!

Is it just me?

Or is it just where I live? Is it only the homes that can afford to follow fashion that indulges in new lights, new decorations, matching this, coordinating that, because they have the money to be able to? Is this some form of class divide? Glasgow is small enough that by simply changing my walk a little, taking in slightly less affluent streets, brought a noticeable change in the colour of the lights blinking at me from their windows.

Regardless, the thing I enjoy most about Christmas is the lights that seem to glow all the brighter on these dark nights. And if I’m being truly honest I don’t mind the boring lights all that much, it’s just nice to see them cropping up more and more, bring some joy to a year that desperately needs it.

Life

I’m staying positive.

I’m fighting the fear.

I’ve been telling myself this for a while now, repeating it like a mantra. It’s not a command (stay positive!) but a statement of how I’m feeling, even when I’m not feeling it; I’m staying positive. I’m very much of the belief that you can fake it until you make it, so I’m staying positive.

It’s getting harder though, finding that balance between caring for myself, caring for my loved ones, and caring about others. As the news gets darker day by day, so too do the nights. The weather has turned towards winter, and with gloomy days ahead I find it harder and harder to keep others in mind. I can feel my world shrinking to the immediate, to my kin, and it’s more and more of an effort to retain anyone outside of my bubble.

I guess this is natural at this time of year, it’s when bears hibernate after all, when blankets and warm fires become appealing, closed curtains and lush candles to increase the hygge. I do love Autumn, but as it bleeds away and the colours dull I can feel my attitude changing. Perhaps that is why Christmas, and the all the colourful decorations and lights that go with it, remains such a joy, a simple way to bring a dash of playful hues into our homes, to lighten our moods and help us pause, and then breathe out.

Is this year any different? It feels that way and listing the reasons seem to make it obvious; on top of the looming unknowns of Brexit, we are back in lockdown again with a global pandemic worse than ever, I am only months removed from the death of my father, and worries of how my Mum will cope in the coming weeks as she will soon be released from hospital again after her second bone breaking fall in as many months.

But despite all of this I’m staying positive, because I know myself well enough and understand what might happen if I don’t.

It would be easier to huddle tighter, to drop my view more and more until all I can see are my immediate surroundings, all the better to protect myself for the continuing onslaught the world seems so willing to inflict. I know it’s not just me in these situations, I know how lucky I am to be where I am in my life right now despite all of the negativity that swirls around.

So I stay positive because if I don’t I know my fears will rise up, confident in their place in the dark, and start to consume me.

All of these thoughts (and ohhh so many more) had been gathering pace over the past week or so, making me weary as my brain zipped around all the dusty corners it could, consolidating all of my smallest fears into a maelstrom of how I was destined to fail at ‘my future’ (no, I don’t know what that really means either but it’s the only way I can think to describe it).

There I was, close to a place I recognised from previous visits, doing my very best what if-ing about things I have no control over whatsoever, ignoring and nullifying any accomplishments, and trying to (over) plan my way ahead so I wouldn’t fail.

It was an odd moment to step back from all of that and see it for what it was. At the end of a recent group meditation (on Zoom obvs) I realised what was happening and where I was headed and thought, with complete clarity, fuck that! Been there, done that, do not want the t-shirt.

Instead I decided to take control and confront that list of fears my brain had cobbled together and, lo and behold, things aren’t as bad as they seem.

There is one thing in particular that became apparent, that the one thing I really need to let go of is the vision I have for my future, the future where I am again a house-owner, with a nice big garden for the dogs, a (double) garage for the bikes, a place for Becca to park her van (and when that goes a camper-van), a place that will be too big for us just now but that’s ok too. There are practical fears writ large over all of that, money being the most obvious, and not being able to see clearly how we get there was starting to gnaw away at me.

Of course we may not end up there (in a place that looks suspiciously like my childhood home only bigger), but that doesn’t matter and it most certainly isn’t something I should fear. Which, whilst it all sounds very obvious now, was something I hadn’t even realised was nagging away at me.

Naturally there are other fears still rattling around but they too are diminished not only by being identified but by being discussed with my partner. We are on this journey together after all and whilst we are both a little impatient to get on with it, we know we are in a good (privileged) place right now and that makes us both happy, which is all that really matters.

That last phrase sounds glib, almost a throwaway line yet it holds the crux of all of this. As long as we are both happy, what more do I really need?

So instead of worrying about all of those fears I have pushed them away as the nonsense they are and now I am looking at my life as it is today and making small changes to improve things. I’m reminding myself of why I am doing the things I am doing and retaining, as best I can, my optimism for the future and my sense of positivity.

Things I know

I can’t impact what has happened in my past, and I’m glad it got me to where I am today.

I can’t impact the future other than to be mindful of it and considerate of the fact that it will happen one way or another.

Today I can be happy, I can be positive, I can smile, laugh, and seek out the small moments of joy that hide away in the gaps of our lives.

Life

Trump loses.

That’s the headline.

Biden will be President.

That’s the REAL headline, the one to focus on.

Yet I find myself less than elated. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad that America will no longer have a fascist as a President, and I’m clinging desperately to the notion that the hope that triumphed over hate in America (if only just) will continue to flow to other countries around the world.

At the start of the Trump presidency I looked on, bewildered; How could a man so obviously out of his depth have managed to secure such a powerful position. Of course, he’s a white man, so he already had a fairly good shout without having to do anything except turn up, but even then it was astounding to me that this narcissistic loon had pulled it off.

As his odd mannerisms and baffling press conferences started to emerge, so did the take that he was something to be laughed at. Look at the silly orange faced man with the tiny hands, listen to his weird voice, what a moron. Yet I found it hard to laugh because that’s all the liberal media seemed to be aiming for, a simple lampooning of Trump for cheap laughs. Where was the true satire? Where was the notion that this man was horrific, dangerous, and would endanger so many people in so many different ways.

Here was a dangerous and now powerful man, who was President of the United States, and the best we could do was point and giggle? Clearly Trump was a pawn, manipulated and cajoled by many, and while I’m sure he thinks he came up with all his ‘good ideas’, I doubt that Bannon, Putin et al would agree. Try as I might I just could not shake the notion that all of it, the man, the things he stands for, all of it was not something to laugh at and I never really understood why he was being so trivialised, so easily, by so many.

Don’t get me wrong, I read articles highlighting all of these things, but they weren’t the ones being published by mainstream media, the masses either agreed with Trump, or thought him a harmless buffoon. It’s no wonder we have our own ‘harmless buffoon’ in charge of the UK Government.

Sidebar: Neither Trump nor Boris are buffoons, they know what they are doing, they know why they are doing it and they are dangerous, predatory, self-serving, elitists. The only thing stopping Boris being compared to, and acting like, a Nazi is the proximity of Europe.

I realise it’s all well and good saying all of this after the fact, but there you have it.

For the past week I’ve had an unsettling sense of fear; fear of violent retributions from both sides, fear of a descent into exactly the kind of hate filled, goaded, rhetoric that Trump was becoming more and more overt with in his final days. I’m gladly surprised that it doesn’t seem to have gone that way and, oddly, I think the descent into legal battles will stop more bloodshed. For now.

That sense hasn’t really gone. The right-wing in America are emboldened, they are out in the light and they don’t care to hide. Why should they? Go skim read some Trump supporters twitter feeds. Get out of your own bubble and be amazed, then shocked, then genuinely fearful that people like that exist. Well, that’s presuming you are a like-minded person to myself of course.

Whilst Biden had over 75 million popular votes, Trump and everything he stands for managed over 70 million. Many of the latter would have remained Trump supports purely from their Republican base, and many will be from the same pool of disenfranchised voters who are simply fed up of ‘big government’ and thought that Trump was going to sort all that out and still believe that’s what America needs.

Further still a large portion of that, a LARGER portion than before, will remain. Trump may be gone (or at least going) but the ideas he stood for, the approaches he took, the lies and hatred remain, and the groups that have expanded and stand emboldened remain. That’s what scares me the most.

Biden stands for a return to caring about the environment, a focus on racial injustice, a bringing together of a country that only seems to be growing further and further apart.

So I hold onto my hope, hope that if Trump can turn the world on its head in 4 years, that maybe Biden can turn it back. Hope that other fascists, those would be dictators, will be toppled soon. Hope that love and peace will be the defining factors of the world in the coming decade.

I have the hope, I just need to find some optimism.

Life

Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.

Ain’t that the truth.

It seems like no time at all since the start of August, and in the wake of my Dad’s passing – actually can I pause here, my Dad died, he is dead, I need to get used to saying those words and not have them feel like a bad thing, he didn’t ‘pass’ (and I know he would agree with me here) he died, he got cremated, his body is ash, he doesn’t live on anywhere. He is dead.

Whooo sorry that got a bit heavy there! Realised I’ve been trying to soften the blow a little when other people find out (which is still happening) but why? People die. It’s sad, and I miss him every single day, but it’s happened, I can’t change that.

Anyway, enough about Dad. He hated a fuss. Where was I?

Oh yes, life moves fast…

So, in no particular order over the last couple of months, post my father’s death, I’ve started back at the gym, bought a new bike, my Mum fell and cracked a vertebrae (T11) and so I stayed with her for a couple of weeks, then it was my birthday, I got back (again) to the gym, and then last weekend my Mum had another fall and has cracked her pelvis. She’s still in hospital where I can’t visit her because some people can’t give up going to the pub or aren’t willing to wear a mask…

This is all alongside the usual working days, side projects, dogs to walk, of course.

In better news, tomorrow marks day 400 of my partner’s sobriety. I am so immensely proud of her and feel so lucky to be part of her life. I won’t say more, it’s not my story to tell.

And so there you have it. Life continues, at pace.

Overall I’m doing ok, the outcome of the US election will be what it will be, we are taking the right COVID protections within our own ‘bubble’ and I already know 2021 will look very different to 2019 and talk of a ‘return to normal’ is just nonsense. Given I can’t change any of this, I’m doing my best to let it slide.

However, fundamentally, despite all of the crap stuff, I feel happy. I am finding more ways to love myself, to accept myself, and the last few months have (weirdly) been absolutely key to this. It would’ve been easy to dwell, to fall deep into mourning my father, to rail against the injustices of the world that leaves my Mum lying in a hospital bed again. Instead I’m letting go of the things I can’t control, not something I’ve been particularly good at, before now, but I guess necessity is the mother of invention and all that, and there is no time like the present (the latter a phrase that takes on quite the double meaning these days!).

Yes, life moves fast, life is too short, so if I may borrow another movie quote, you either gotta get busy livin’, or get busy dyin’.

OK, that one is a little on the nose.

My point is that I’m still here, I don’t fear the future and I know there is still a long way to go on my journey, many highs and lows still to encounter, and I feel more ready than ever to experience them.

I hope you are coping with all of this too, dear reader, hope you are finding ways to let yourself rest easy, ways to be happy, ways to counter the unrelenting shit show that 2020 has been so far, finding ways to realise that amongst all of the anger, pain, and loss there are still moments of beauty worth noticing.

Be kind to you and yours.

You’re still here? It’s over. Go home.

Life

I got a new bike (before my birthday but I’m saying that it was my present to me…) and this was the first proper spin on it. Lovely!

Life

It’s World Mental Health Day, which falls at the end of a rather crap week for me, but which weirdly has re-enforced some of things I’ve developed throughout the last few months, and reminded me why I did them in the first place.

What are you good at? What have you learned and practiced? I don’t mean through lockdown I mean in general? Nothing? How modest, but ok. What are you ok at? What are you good enough at? What are you able to do quite well and, more importantly, what is the one thing you enjoy doing no matter how good or bad you are at it?

When I was younger I took piano lessons. I say took, it was more a decision made by my parents for me and I wasn’t old enough to say no; they also managed to get me to cycle to my lessons at 9am on a Saturday morning come rain, shine, or snow, I must ask my Mum what her technique was!

I bought an electric piano a couple of years ago and, to my delight, found that I still had a basic level of knowledge and after a few weeks was able to play Fur Elise. I wasn’t great at it but it was good enough to make me smile and give my heart and soul a little lift. Then it’s on to the Billy Joel songs my Mum loves and next thing I know I’ve been sitting there for an hour thinking about absolutely nothing and having the best time.

It’s a little like the focus moments that sometimes arrive when you are working, or those glorious gigs that grab hold of you and make you forget anything else exists in the world, the ones where you and everyone else leaves grinning and happy and ready to take on the world!

Alas gigs aren’t happening just now and my mood for playing the piano ebbs and flows – although it’s a fair bit more ebbing than flowing – so as we continue to learn how to live in the middle of this global pandemic and with fewer distractions provided by the outside world I find myself turning more and more inwards, exploring my own self. I’m not alone in this of course and, as the deluge of articles and posts and instagram stories suggest, it’s also creating a marketplace. Adverts in my social media feeds are almost wholly now about exercising BETTER, living CLEANER, being MORE, and all of these notions seem to include downloading a new app and subscribing to THE program that will finally unlock your FULL POTENTIAL.

Ugh. It’s all so boastful, and all seems destined to push you into the path of comparison and right now it’s the last thing I think anyone needs. So, being somewhat contrary I’ve been looking at all of these things and decided to push against them. I do not want to compare myself to others (been there, done that, it’s not a nice place) and so thanks to the laws of physics, as I rail against the very notion of being told to live BETTER, CLEANER, MORE, to my FULL POTENTIAL I’ve head off in an equal and opposite direction.

Welcome to the world of good enough. Turning up is good enough, doing the thing badly is good enough, trying and never doing it again is good enough. It costs nothing, there is no subscription, and you can do it yourself! I know, this is nothing you don’t know, but maybe if there were more adverts that said things like that we would need World Mental Health Day at all?

For the first few weeks of lockdown I struggled with my attention span. I’d be ok for a while but would then drift off and spend hours of my day doing nothing other than flit between social media channels (something I had aimed not do at all back in January!), and the various tasks and chores of day to day life. Social media was ablaze with people learning sourdough (do you learn it?), knitting for the first time, starting up daily yoga routines and more. And there I was, striving to do nothing of much at all.

Now before I go on, to paraphrase Kottke, I realise what I’m about to talk about sounds a bit woo-woo bullshit (and like him, a younger me would’ve been rolling his eyes by now), but after taking a step back from social media and focusing on myself I found a couple of things that I did enjoy doing, and when I coupled those with my new ‘good enough’ personal mantra I realised I had something I could hopefully pick up and use, something I’d been doing on and off for a few years and which I was contentedly, already, good enough at, meditation.

My meditation journey started almost four years ago.

Like most journeys it’s had to endure all manner of incidents, changes of direction, endless roadworks, and the odd puncture, all played out to the soundtrack of the niggling voice from the back of my mind that continually whines “Are we there yet?” and, like many journeys, it turns out that it’s the journey itself that I’ve enjoyed more than the destination because, and it’s taken me a while to figure this out, meditation doesn’t have a destination.

A few years back, when I finally started to explore meditation properly, it took me a while to land on a method that worked for me. Every now and then I’d meditate, trying my best to make it a habit and doing my utmost to become good at meditating like, somehow, it was a competition, or a life skill that I could work on until I perfected it.

Yet the harder I tried to get better at meditation, the harder it got to meditate well, it became a chore, lost its effectiveness and slipped from being something that I thought was well embedded as part of my day to day existence, to something akin a passing acquaintance that I’d forget about for weeks at a time.

I can still remember the sensation of lightness I felt after the first guided meditation I had attended, and I was lucky to have been able to recapture that feeling a few more times on my own. One time I found myself sat on a rock halfway up a hill, the sun shining down, and quite happily zoned out during the meditation. It wasn’t until I tried to move that I realised I’d been sitting there, in a state of blissful calm, for about 45 minutes and I had a very numb bum! A small price to pay for that lovely state of being that relaxing into meditation can bring.

Yet the practice fell away from me and whilst I revisited it sporadically, spurred on by the knowledge that it was something done by people who I aspired to be like, ohhh and that it was also good for my mental health. But it never really stuck and I ended up falling back on the less fulfilling routines of self-care I had unwittingly been cultivating for most of my adult life, the usual social media scrolling, playstation playing, emotional eating routines all happily stepped up to fill the void. Meditation became something I did now and then, and more and more infrequently.

And then I stopped altogether.

The app I was using sat on my phone staring at me, but it had a few niggles that created just enough friction to stop me bothering and, for some reason without an app, without a guide, I found myself standing at the crossroads of the decision to meditate or not and, rather than get completely lost, I’d just turn and head for the same well trodden paths as before.

I was happy though and didn’t really miss meditating all that much, so it drifted away from me and joined the ever growing pile of ‘things that I’ve tried’ (don’t get me wrong, I’m proud of that pile and aware of how lucky I am to even have such a pile). Somewhere in my brain the idea grew that meditation was a useful tool for when I wasn’t too happy or feel overwhelmed and, as my life was (and still is!) in a good place, I had no real need for it anymore.

Yet as I took stock of my own actions over the course of the latter half of 2019 I realised that I wasn’t as happy as I could be. It’s a weird thing to realise that, despite being generally happy with my life, there were aspects of it that I didn’t like and so I set myself some aims for 2020. I didn’t realise it at the time but this was really about focusing inwards, as it’s entirely possible to look out upon the constituent parts of your life, see how good they are and presume you are happy because you should be, all whilst ignoring the little voice inside you.

When you start thinking about your own happiness it’s important to understand that that isn’t a selfish thing to do. You’ll have no doubt seen and heard phrases that suggest you have to learn to be happy with yourself, to love yourself first and foremost and I think it can be easy to presume that you do, just because so many other parts of your life are going well.

So there I was, with 2020 looming, and I was focussed on building new habits, thinking I’d lean on some things I new worked for me in the past (hello writing, hi meditation, howdy exercise!) – to try and temper the habits I didn’t like (bye bye endless scrolling of social media). Surely then I would achieve some form of satisfaction with myself?

Well it’s October, and we all know that 2020 has been a bit of a year and yet here I am, happier than ever and with a meditation habit again and it’s been a constant throughout lockdown, and the death of my father, and all the mental strain many of us have been feeling.

So, how did I do it?

It started with a snippet of advice I read somewhere, it’s been repeated in a few articles I’ve read since:

“Changes that seem small and unimportant at first will compound into remarkable results if you’re willing to stick with them for years.”

James Clear, Atomic Habits

Looking back at how I meditated in the past I knew I would need some guidance, and whilst I’d used Buddhify in the past, I decided to look at some of the alternatives like Headspace and Calm. The latter is the one that stuck, offering daily 10 min guided meditations, and longer ad-hoc ones available whenever you wish. So, there was my first aim, start doing a daily 10 min meditation. Other apps are available.

The key for me was dedicating myself to this, making it an important part of my day and so I set up a 30 min part of my day that was for meditating. 10 mins to make sure I can relax into the meditation time, turning off notifications and alarms (and making sure the dogs have been out for a pee!), and then I can start the meditation app and, 10 mins later, my mind feels quieter, and I have another 10 mins to just sit in that state and let it rest within my mind.

That’s the plan at least. Some days I achieve that, some days I don’t, and some days I don’t meditate at all. Some days when I do meditate I can’t seem to focus, my mind wanders, and I lose track. Sometimes I’ll start a meditation and not finish it, some days I’ll restart it when I’ve finished as I realise I wasn’t really participating.

However, most times, even if my mind does wander I still feel some of the benefits and that, for me, is the entire point. I am not the best person at meditating, I don’t always finish it feeling refreshed and ready to take the world, and I don’t even do it every day.

But when I do, it’s wonderful, and that keeps me trying it, and the more often I manage it, the better I feel and the keener I am to repeat that the next day, it’s a joyous circle.

This past week has been a hard one, and I haven’t had the inclination to meditate until today.

It’s apt, given it’s World Mental Health Day, that as soon as I was done I felt that sense of calmness flooding over me and realised how much I’d missed this simple practice that I’ve developed over the past few months.

Meditation isn’t for everyone, but if you’ve always felt like trying it then try not picture the zen monk, sitting cross-legged atop a mist covered mountain, instead think of me, a middle-aged balding overweight man, in shorts and t-shirts, sitting in his office chair, headphones in, who spends half of his meditation time with his mind wandering all over the place.

But when it works, it’s a wonderful release, a freedom, and a lifting of unknown tensions and stresses and I’m so happy it’s now part of my own wonderfully selfish routine.


If you are struggling today, or any other day, there are resources available, people you can speak to, you are not alone. Reach out to any of the organisations in the link above, or drop me a line. I’ll help if I can.

Personal Musings

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I think, on the whole, I’ve been pretty good at sticking to my minimal principles (replace or improve!) through lockdown with only one or two impulse buys amongst the variety of things I’ve bought, and only one item I regret although that’s more about the company than said purchase.

I’ve bought somethings that are definitely investments, somethings that were needed, and of course some frivolous purchases were made (and some regretted).

Stand/Sit Desk (base)

Whilst I’ve been even more conscious of NOT buying via Amazon, sometimes it’s the cheapest option so whilst I did check a few direct sources, given I was spending a couple of hundred quid on this, it ended up being the cheapest, the fastest delivery (it arrived the first week of March) and by far the most valued item I’ve purchased.

I’ve been lucky enough to be working from home for most of lockdown and decided now was as good a time as any to invest in a stand/sit desk. I already had a desk in our spare room/office, so I just needed to find an adjustable base, which I did. It’s wonderful.

I also purchased a second monitor, largely for personal use as I am working on a couple of websites in my spare time, and as I was kitting out a little office space of my own it made sense.

Tripod for iPhone

Sounds like an odd one I know but bear with me.

I no longer own a camera, my iPhone (11 Pro) is my only camera and it’s one of the reasons I’m in the upgrade programme as the camera just gets better and better.

Becca and I like being outdoors, but it can be tricky getting good photos of the two of us (dog nonsense aside!) with just the reach of my arm. So I looked for something better. Fully height adjustable from 11″ which is actually a good height for my desk, to almost 40″ this, coupled with a Glif mount (that I already had), and the joys of remote camera operation from my Apple Watch to my iPhone means we can now get photos of the two of us like this:

Dafties at the Butter Bridge
Dafties on the Butter Bridge (Glen Kinglas)

Shoes

I’ll start with the impulse buy:

Aside from those, I was mostly replacing old/done shoes. First up a 10yr old pair of Salomons for these new Salomons for when we are out somewhere muddy (hello Mugdock!), and to replace a pair of trainers that my big toe ripped through (crap material + solid big toe nail did not work) a new pair of New Balance to be used for the usual round the streets dog walks. And no, the fact that both pairs are in matching colours wasn’t planned…

Other bits and bobs

I may have been influenced to buy some sweets, and we may have bought a snazzy new fruit basket too.

Things I haven’t bought

NEW AIRPODS – I bought a pair of AirPods almost as soon as the first version was released. They were, and remain, a joy to use. Alas they are now a couple of years old and the battery is starting to deteriorate and I’m unable to use them for any calls longer than an hour. I’m working from home so most meetings are by teleconference now so this was an issue. But I have a wired set of headphones which do the job, and the battery for just listening to music still gives me a couple of hours so, until they die completely I don’t see me replacing them any time soon.

Update: I drafted this post a few weeks ago. Since then, the battery life dropped to 30 mins of music listening so I bought a new set. I tried the AirPods Pro but couldn’t get a good fit in my ears, so returned them and went back to the standard AirPods (which has the benefit of returning the ‘double tap to skip’ functionality the Pros lack!).

NEW BIKE – One of the changes I made during lockdown was to get out on my bike more often. It’s worked, I’m out at least once a week (although also started running again so that may change?) and I’ve been loving it. So much so I started eyeing up a new bike. My bike is fine, it’s just a big heavy lump of a hybrid, so something sleeker and faster would be great. Add in Becca getting a shiny new (second hand) triathlon bike which weighs less than my cycling shoes(!)… and bike envy kicked in. But my bike is fine so I’ve made a promise that I won’t get a road bike until I can maintain my mileage through to next year.

Update: I’m wavering on this one. I’ve been out a few more times on longer runs and I’m starting to feel the heft of my current bike. Right now it’s brain over heart but, I think the heart is winning….

Worst Purchase

I succumbed to a persistent Instagram advert for a pair of trainers (since replaced by the New Balance mentioned above). They were from Opp France.

Alas they turned up as a size 9.5, not a size 10, and the customer service has been shocking. At present I can return them by shipping them to the USA as the France depot doesn’t accept returns. Shipping will be about half the cost of the shoes themselves so… anyone want a pair of trainers? Size 9.5, as new!

Stop buying more stuff

I’m aware that I’m in a very privileged position as I’ve worked through most of lockdown; I’ve swithered over posting this at all when some people are struggling just to pay their bills.

I’m also constantly fighting my desire to have fewer things, not more, and more recently we’ve had a clear out of the kitchen, replaced ageing cutlery and crockery with only what we need, got rid of a few gadgets that we had two of, etc etc.

We’ve bartered away most stuff too, well everything that we could – that hand-held food processor we no longer needed left us with some candles in exchange, for example – and overall I think we are being smart enough with our choices.

Yet here I am, and just looking around my ‘office’ there are still many things lying around that we don’t need, many things without a place to put them and that latter fact is always the one that plays on me the most.

When I moved to my last flat, it was a lot smaller than my previous one, both in terms of volume and number of rooms, and so I worked hard to minimise what I owned, and for what I kept I made sure everything had a place so it could be put away.

It’s always going to be something I look towards, but thankfully I’m much more relaxed about it these days. Not that a good clear out doesn’t feel good from time to time, but most of the times our purchases are required, not frivolous, and serve a goal rather than just sating the presumed joy that consumerism feeds on.

Now, if you don’t mind, I’m off to see if that bike I want is in stock….

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