Listen to Yourself: On Achieving Self-Discipline

“The greatest medicine is the emptiness of everything.”

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When was the last time you sat in silence and felt yourself slip into nothing? Do you ever tune out the noise around you and pay attention to what happens next? If the answer is ‘yes’ and you’ve allowed yourself moments to stall out, this cryptic message taken from a fortune cookie might stir something inside you.

The more I write, the more the yin and yang of human existence comes up as a theme. It almost writes itself. It’s no surprise, as you can probably tell by my latest blog posts, that I’ve been struggling to find my place in the world after completing my education. It was all too cozy being intertwined in structured collegiate strings – classes, professors, friends, clubs, all keeping my mind and soul active. As I walked across the stage during graduation I felt the strings snap and release their hold on me. It took feeling the diploma in my hand, celebrating a once-in-a-lifetime achievement with my family and friends, and simultaneously suffering the grief brought on from losing the safest chapter of my life for me to understand life’s dark sense of humor. It’s a hard pill to swallow.

Slowly after this shift, I began to look to myself for guidance. The discipline came to me in “the emptiness of everything” — from the moments when I had let my life become cyclical, structureless, and empty. By that I mean, clarity would find its way to me when I was stuck.

When I was a freshman in college, I developed a hip fracture from a combination of dancing for 10+ years of my life and gaining a drastic amount of weight too quickly. I had to drop out of school for a semester to live at home and keep the weight off my legs. Though this could have easily been the worst time in my life, the solitude and quiet gave me time to get to know myself again, to let my mind wander, and to make plans for a better future. It was in those few months that I dedicated time to this blog, wrote poetry every day, painted again for the first time in years, took care of my body, and got accepted into Salem State University where I would eventually complete my education.

I often look back at this time and use it as fuel when life feels uninspiring again. I remember the yin and yang and that I am solely responsible for pulling myself out of the hole, for bringing passion back into my routine. We tend to move so quickly all the time, always set to autopilot at work and in our relationships. It’s easy to lose yourself if you’re not paying attention to the voices and urges inside you. I had to learn that the hard way. I now make time for myself a priority.

When I graduated I let the ensuing emptiness consume me by neglecting the things I loved to do most of all. I stopped writing and felt the strain of that on my entire body. Nothing was expected of me anymore, no schedules were put in place to keep me in line. It was on me.

I’m writing this because I wish it had been available to me around the time my life shifted drastically and I couldn’t keep up. I’m writing this to remind everyone that “the greatest medicine” in life is you. It’s remembering to read, write, think, sit with yourself and feed your intellect, even if no one is expecting that of you.

It’s ironic how much we hate going to classes, dread doing a homework assignment, and can’t stand being graded constantly throughout the majority of our lives, but feel dependent on it all when it’s gone. Most people won’t admit it, but the void is there.

Long story short, sometimes a fortune cookie from last night’s take-out can lead to an epiphany — but only if you give yourself the time necessary to reflect. Though I don’t have anything figured out yet and feel stuck quite often, I am steadily emerging from the fog. Adulthood is intimidating and isolating, but it won’t overpower you if you fight back. Listen to yourself.

 

 

 

 

 

A Guy and a Gal in Galway (Part 1)

A vibrant tale about a couples’ first adventure abroad in a city where the Guinness flows like water and the locals are as friendly as the sheep

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On May 2nd 2018, my boyfriend, Richard, and I embarked on our first adventure abroad together to Galway, Ireland. Where my anxious brain might’ve expected drunken arguments in unfamiliar streets, battles over what to do, various fits of rage and hair-pulling, I was gifted instead the insurmountable joy of splitting a once in a lifetime adventure with my best friend who not only supported me through a new experience, but made it explode with beauty.

Galway is colorful, hip, teaming with music around every nook and cranny (there are infinite nooks), and rich with traces of medieval architecture that blend seamlessly with the various modern additions to the city. It’s a successful combo of old and new, just as enjoyable for the longtime locals as it is for the overwhelming college population who are lucky enough to frequent some of the most beautiful pubs, cafes, and restaurants I’ve ever seen.

Seven days is nowhere near long enough to take in an entire city, but dammit, we tried! From taking a ferry to the largest of the Aran Islands, Inis Mór, and racing through the winding streets surrounded by walls of stone and infinite green pastures to sharing pints with new local friends at a hole-in-the-wall craft beer pub called The Salt House – we wanted to make our experience as diverse as possible.

From day one, Rich and I were blown away by the kindness of the locals. With luggage in-hand, we got lost on our way to the Airbnb. Though it wasn’t funny to us then, we were able to laugh later about the fact that our airbnb host said the place would be about a twenty-minute walking distance from the center of town. Nope. It was closer to an hour. As such, we ended up in a suburban street behind one of the shopping centers in the city when, in full-blown desperation, we realized our phones were dead so we couldn’t even call a taxi. Eventually we were able to ask a woman leaving her apartment across the street if she could point us in the right direction. In a thick accent that made us more excited that it should have, she not only pointed us to the street we were looking for but offered to hail us cab as well. This was the general behavior of everyone in town who was willing to answer our questions. During another mishap, a lovely couple offered us a ride after we missed our bus, treating us as if we were longtime friends. They called the bus company for us and, sure enough, it came back. Not only were they incredibly accommodating, they were pretty badass too. Only a little younger than my grandparents, we had caught them in the middle of heading back to a nearby pub to retrieve their car.

“Sounds like you had yourselves a good night,” I joked.

“That’s every night,” they responded.

Flash forward to Rich and I exclaiming the Gaelic version of “cheers”, “Sláinte!” (pronounced slawn-cha) while clinking pint glasses with new friends from Galway at The Salt House, a craft beer dive bar we kept returning to after this night in particular. The couple who left their car at a pub came to mind as Rich and I too found ourselves fully immersed in the Galway daze, losing track of time and space in good company. Hours flew by discussing everything from whether or not we were watching the same TV shows on Netflix to the current political climate in both countries. Though we couldn’t miss the hundreds of “Vote Yes” and “Vote No” signs all over the city, we had not been informed about the historic referendum on abortion that had all of Ireland in a tizzy. Locals were and still are nervously anticipating a drastic change in their constitution, allowing women to have safe abortions in Ireland, if the majority of the votes turn out in favor of repealing the current law. Tucked away in our American bubble, we were shocked to discover this and it was a topic of conversation that came up more than once throughout our trip. It’s crazy to think, if the law is indeed repealed, that Rich and I were there before history had been made. It’s amazing how easy it is to be removed from the rest of the world, but it’s even more amazing how quickly we empathize when the issue is suddenly in front of us.

I don’t remember how long we stayed to chat with our new friends or how many rounds of beer were ordered, but I do remember Rich doing an Irish accent upon request and getting a round of applause. Point is, we were in the thick of it, just like we wanted. When it was time to go, we all exchanged Facebook info and planned to meet again. They invited us to a referendum repeal party on a boat.

Rich and I looked at each other, both with smiles that were waiting to burst all over our faces, looking like we were holding in a secret. We were thrilled but didn’t want to seem too uncool, too eager. We waited until we were alone outside to kiss and explode with excitement at how intoxicating the entire night had been, that we had found ourselves in this new place and formed real connections, that we were experiencing this adventure together. Running on a mutual high from the bar was one of the highlights of the trip for me, feeling deeply connected to him and to the moment – and the best part is, it was only the beginning.

To read the final installment of my Galway adventure, click here!

Don’t forget to check out The Irish Times for additional information on the abortion referendum too.

Still A Work in Progress

Last night I picked at the dry skin on my bottom lip and stared at the ceiling for hours until eventually, around four in the morning, my eyelids felt heavy. My mind was frantically planning an emergency escape from the absolute dry spell of inspiration and adventure that my current life had become.

Oftentimes, when I’ve reached the deep end of a low point in my life, I experience  random bursts of inspiration. They seem to come to me from an outside source, usually before bed, and they beg to be the fuel for something productive. Sadly, they often go unused and unfulfilled. During last night’s episode in particular, I found myself watching a TEDx Talk by Caroline McHugh called “The art of being yourself”. It was through this that a couple of things became clear to me.

To start, I’ve wasted too much time comparing myself to and appeasing others. McHugh attributes this habit in particular with a female-driven desire to be liked and appreciated. As a child, I never cared what people thought of me and it made me seem bizarre to other kids, especially to other young girls. In fifth grade while my “normal” female classmates were learning to straighten their hair and passing notes to the cute boys in class, I was designing identification cards for my three best friends as official entry into our magical world. We were young witches in a Harry Potter-based universe one week and ghost hunters trying to break into the haunted house behind the gym the next. I remember mustering the courage to ask the one boy I had a crush on if he liked me back and he laughed in my face. “No. You’re weird,” was the response I got before he sprinted back to his herd of cool boys. I shrugged and walked back to my friends unscathed. We had adventures to continue and the rest of our lives to fantasize about. Sure, it would’ve been nice if dreamboat Nick liked me back, but his opinion held no power over my confidence. I’ve been searching for that strength inside myself ever since. (P.S. Nick has since added me on Facebook and flirted his way into my messenger.)

My fixation on what others were thinking of me or what others were doing with their lives only held me back. Instead of allowing myself the time necessary to focus and think about who I wanted to become, I filled my time with Youtube videos of other people making their dreams come true. I soaked up the lives of the fictional TV and film characters that I adored and envisioned seeking out the same adventures and success. I’d often say things like “I could easily do what she’s doing!” or, after a random surge of inspiration, attack my parents with lists of ideas and dreams I hoped to accomplish to which they would nod and reply “It all sounds great Mariana. I want to see you do it.” I don’t regret soaking up all the inspiration, but I do regret not giving the same attention to myself that I gave/give to the people I admire. I realized that I need to build a relationship of admiration with myself to start making real strides.

Self-discipline is a bitch. I’ve been struggling with it my entire life, but more as a postgraduate than ever. Someone recently told me that talent is only 30% of what we can each rely on. The rest is how much work and dedication we are willing to put in every day to bring whatever dream we choose to fruition. I had been failing at this miserably, blaming bad luck and fate for how stagnant my life had become. The truth was right in front of me and I knew it all along. I was the one thing stopping me from moving forward.

So, what now?

As the title of this post would suggest, my path to pushing my limits and “making my dreams come true” is still a work in progress. I plan to make this blog my guinea pig, a place where I can track my creative productivity. I strongly suggest anyone who feels road-blocked or lost to watch Caroline McHugh’s Tedx Talk. She reminds us that we each have something powerful and unique to bring to the world. The first and most crucial step is to see it.

Where’s My “Personal Legend”?

I’m currently reading this book called “Like the Flowing River” by Paulo Coelho. I found it it in a box of things my parents had stored away in the office.  It was an old gift to my dad from a friend of his that had been gathering dust for years.

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At first, when I started reading the first two chapters, I wasn’t immediately hooked. I forced myself to keep reading only because I trusted our family friend’s taste. I’m glad I kept reading. Each chapter of the book is comprised of a short story that contains an overall message which tends to be inspiring or motivating in some way.

One chapter in particular about the “importance” of a college degree stuck out to me. Coelho writes that often people attend university because,

“…someone, at a time when universities were important, said that, in order to rise in the world, you had to have a degree. And thus the world was deprived of some excellent gardeners, bakers, antique dealers, sculptors, and writers.”

He then alludes to a famous Robert Frost quotation:

“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.”

Coelho makes an interesting point that “we each of us have our own personal legend to fulfill.” In fact, this notion seems to be one of the primary themes in his writing. He purposefully inspires the reader to ask herself “What is the meaning of my life?”

Though I respect this belief, I find it irritating constantly hearing this from people who already have it all “figured out”. There are fortunate people in this world who know early on what their “personal legend” is. They barely struggle to find it at all. Those of us who are still searching have a hard time knowing where to begin.

It would be lovely to follow Coelho’s advice and to simply stop everything in order to fully devote myself to my passion. What happens when you don’t know what your calling is yet? Where are the books that guide the indecisive, the Renaissance men and women, to their specific path? I have yet to find and read those. I refuse to accept we’re simply lost. There’s a path for us too but it’s difficult to find.

I honestly don’t know what my life’s work will be. I find utter satisfaction and passion in various things. For instance, lately I’ve devoted a great deal of my time to artistic expression. I’ve been falling in love with art again. Upon showing my friends and family the artwork I’ve created, many of them said something along the lines of “Why didn’t you go to art school?”

Sometimes I feel like I am wasting my time at university, just going through the typical life path motions. I believe that being busy isn’t necessarily a good thing if it means I’m just avoiding figuring out what it is I truly want in life.

I wish I had less questions and more answers.