Since my last blog post, I’ve been on a week-long Buddhist retreat and celebrated my 24th birthday. I’ll insert a passage from my journal reflecting on turning 24:
“That’s a great age,” women in their 30’s tell me; but in a way, I feel more pressure upon hearing that. I receive it to mean that not only am I supposed to be having the time of my life right now but also that I have less “good ages” ahead of me and that I won’t always be at a “great age”. There are ages which are not great and you won’t be able to enjoy every birthday, so you better make the most of it now. As if this birthday comes with an inverted hourglass attached to it. Enjoy it while trying not to notice the creeping flow of sand from one “good” half to another “bad” half. There are more granules in the “bad” half now than what there were last year. But this is the socially normalised concept of the passage of time and ageing. Especially as it relates to women. We have more at stake. But this is not my preferred concept of the passage of time. I would love for there to be no clocks (if that were feasible), no assigned age or birth year. As much of a cliché as it is, “you’re only as old as you feel” really resonates with me. And maybe it is easy for me to say at my age but I’d like to think it’s more than that – like a call from my soul asking me to carve out a different path for myself of relating to the world and its inherent mortality and infinity. And the delicate dance between the two of them which constitutes a human life. “I’ve just turned 30 but I feel like my life’s only begun,” said the popstar Marina Diamandis on social media recently. Brilliant – what a role model. That is the kind of perspective I’m trying to cultivate.
I could write thousands upon thousands of words about the retreat and how transformative it has been for me – but it’s too special. What I do want to write about is how the space it provided (emotionally and physically) allowed me to see my addictions more clearly.
One thing I was especially looking forward to on this retreat was the opportunity to not use my phone for a whole week. I’ve known for a while that I’ve been addicted to it, so sealing it away in my suitcase really made me breathe a sigh of relief as I settled into my new surroundings for a week. All the “empty” moments when I would have checked my phone were filled with something else: reflection, reading, writing, mindfulness, sometimes discomfort, and conversation with likeminded people. Surprisingly, it wasn’t difficult.
Also, I got a well-needed break from the emotional disturbance of dating apps. I told whoever I was speaking to that I was heading off for a week and to let me know if they were actually interested. That felt empowering to me – the fact that I had somewhere better to be, something better to do other than waiting on a lukewarm reply from someone who probably wasn’t even interested in me. Because for a while, I haven’t had anything better to do. I haven’t been filling my life with enough spiritual practice and, aside from the performing I do every week, there has still been a swirling emptiness at the centre of my life.
“At the centre of every addiction, as at the centre of every cyclone, is a vacuum, a still point of emptiness that generates circles of frantic movement at its periphery.” – Peter Trachtenburg
I also got the chance to address the pattern of persistent sleep deprivation or cyclical exhaustion (or addiction to exhaustion) in my life. Every morning on the retreat at 7.30, we did Qi Gong and then meditation – so I obediently put myself to bed around 10 every night. Sometimes I stayed up writing for a while but I rarely went to sleep any later than 11pm. The first few days I was pretty tired and I was napping to even out my cumulative sleep deficit; and I could feel myself halfway through the week wanting to continue to nap to allow me to stay up later at night. I saw the urge, I saw the pattern – and I nipped it in the bud.
It was just the feeling of: “No, this isn’t going to continue to have power in my life”. I was sick of giving away my power to addictive and negative habitual tendencies. Having that incentive of the spiritual practice in the morning which was so special and sacred to me, really helped me to stay disciplined. I developed such fondness for the leaders of the retreat that I wanted to make the most of their teachings and company – I didn’t want to miss any of their warmth, any of their wisdom. Over the course of the week, we meditated on average 4 times a day – and I only missed one meditation.
To complete my trifecta of addiction, I also confronted my addiction to food or binge eating. We were eating three healthy, plant-based meals a day on the retreat. Although snacking (on fruit or cereal) was an option, it wasn’t necessarily encouraged. The first few days, I was fine. The meals satiated me and although – like everyone else – I got seconds a few times, it wasn’t really to attain a specific feeling state, it was because I was still hungry (I will admit that the one exception was the vegan lasagne, which everyone at my table got seconds of because it was so good).
After the first half of the week, I started craving a snack before bed. It’s strange, the mindfulness which naturally arose from being on the retreat allowed me to see these urges more objectively rather than being completely engulfed by them. So I didn’t cave. I wanted to but I wasn’t hungry. It was purely to stuff down the restlessness and to overthrow the healthy routine I’d developed which threatened the hard shell I’d been building up around myself. The hard shell made up of overuse of social media, cyclical exhaustion and food addiction. Because when I’m partaking in all of these, what space do I have to feel any of my emotions? What space do I have to be Hannah?
The shrine room where we meditated gave me the space to be Hannah. To feel the bliss, the contentment, the grief, the anger, the jealousy, the lust, the irritability, the suffocation that I’d been pushing down for months (if not longer). Any time I felt restless, felt like opening my eyes and walking out of there, almost invariably there was an emotion lurking under the surface – trying to itch it’s way out. It didn’t always make sense initially. I’d think of something from a good while ago and wonder: “Why am I still mad about this?” But as I tuned into my feeling body, the emotion would spread across my solar plexus, my heart or my throat and the story ceased to matter. All that mattered was the feeling – and that I was giving myself the gift of truly feeling it.
Thank you so much for reading.
All my love,
– SMUT. ❤ xxxx
P.S. Next week’s post will expand on how I’m aiming to maintain my new healthy habits as I settle back into “real life” through mindfulness and joyful discipline. 🙂