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“What Lights You Up?” ….She answered, smugly.

“What makes you light up?” my therapeutic healing yoga instructor asked as we melted into the mat, nothing more than fleeting thoughts and deep breathing. Semi-meditative, we welcomed flashes of feelings instead of the usual focus of a mantra.

Alistair exuberant, Alex laughing, my parents hugging, Weasley’s run in an open park. Susan’s arm link and brisk walk. Fi’s knowing smile on the top deck of a Lothian bus. Walking out to my sister standing in my living room and seeing a missing piece of myself staring back at me. 

These were all people; this was all love.

“Try not to think of relationships,” she’d urged previously. “Try to think of the feeling- the physical feeling of lighting up.”

The acceleration of a plane taking off, cold feet in hot water, walking into a classroom, the opening sequence of a film, the full-body vibration of live music, the initial crack and smell of a new hardback, hands in Alistair’s thick hair, hands on Alex’s rough cheek, being squeezed in a full embrace, the texture of a scone, the tapping flow of the keyboard, the rush of a roller coaster, the reverence of personal prayer. 

As the exercise ended, we took out our journals.What did our feelings tell us? What makes us light up?

I wrote with ease, with the assuredness of being self-aware. Upon reflection, almost smugness. Knowing oneself and knowing oneself well was something I was oh-so good at. I studied philosophy for fun. I’d taken that existentialism class through the Open University just because I’m the type of person who knows what I don’t know or what I’ll never know. You know.

Smug.

I wrote:

1- People with whom I share love — a short list, but whatever, suckers who don’t like me. ( I let them go; see past blog posts. )

2- Travel. Obviously. That’s my thing. Novelty, exploration, adventure, etc. Finding a good airfare- ding- that lights me up big time. Getting lost in big cities- almost as fun as finding the place.

3- Film. Obviously. That’s my other thing. Everyone knows I’m, like, obsessed. 

4- God (He is first, but came to mind fourth — keeping it real here) 

The rest- water, music, reading, writing, physical touch, adrenaline, contemplation. 

Yep, that was me. I wrote in my journal and listened as the instructor told us to seek the things that light us up. It would make us happy.

Doing things you like makes you happy. 

This class, held in a strip mall yoga studio in a new sub-division, sent me all of the good feelings a person likes. Assurance. Hope. Confidence. I even drove away with a certificate when the month was over- hey, I could teach this if I wanted to.

Half a year has passed.

I’m not as smug anymore. I know what lights me up…the same things that lit me up before. I haven’t changed. Because people don’t change, not really, not ever. I’m still working on the same things I started working on when I started blogging. I’ll probably work on them forever. I can make positive change in my circumstances, but changing me, and changing what makes me who I am, will never change. Probably not.

This new chapter, the one where I accept I don’t know it all, is scary. But since I love novelty, it’s also kind of fun.

The same platitudes pass over and over again through my life, on a loop. Maybe everyone hears them.

Changes begins with you.

You’re the only person responsible for your actions. 

You never know unless you try. 

The first step is the hardest.

People never change.

Change is possible, if you really want it. 

One small step in the right direction is better than no step at all.

I have an inkling they’re all true. Just like when my mom used to say to me, “These are the best years of your life but you just don’t know it yet,” when I was a carefree young adult. I dismissed it; my immediate needs outweighed thinking about adulthood. But now I see, it was the truth.  It’s all probably true. The things older people tell us on rotation.

And I…..I  don’t know shit. None of us really do.

We just need to know what lights us up, and keep at it.

We need to do the best we can. 

 

Dear 31,

Dear 31,

Your predecessor haunted me. It followed me for months:

3-0

three oh

30

thirty.

It screamed at me from writing homework – reflections and recollections and every single unanswered everything in my real life or fake life or would-be life or could-be life or should-be life or might-be life; it deafened me to new sounds.

I walked through Scotland’s haze with a ringing in my ears and a coffin in my back pocket.

30.

The drama pronounced itself in both circumstance and surroundings: I lived out my  grown-up dream of a creative writing degree in the city just a decade before I’d lived out my growing-up dream.

I pushed my toddler in a pram down the same roads I’d drunkenly stumbled through in the past. I came home in the evening to diapers and literary theory and a husband who’d just a decade before been sweeping me off my feet but now collected the dust of our stagnant relationship.

Panic overtook me in the most privileged guise imaginable; a married white woman,  mother to a healthy child, living in a European capital to pursue an arts degree, was having a case of existential malaise over the loss of a number, of a decade, of time.

I freaking loved my 20’s.

But then 30 came, and it went. And with it, the crisis.

Because 31, you taught me more than any other year of my life. I’ve never felt more like ME than any other year of my life.

Yes. I loved the freedom of my 20’s, the laughter, the chaos, and the possibility. But yes, the burden of unfulfilled potential still haunts me. The weight of choice still keeps me up at night. I often wonder how anyone sleeps, knowing the impact of each minute gesture. The power of our choices.

But 31, you’ve taught me those aspects of my personality aren’t a crisis, but the state of my soul, regardless of age.

The state of my soul has never been been more grounded in reality. In clarity. In understanding.

My 20’s were fun, but I lived in world of black and white. Eithers and ors. Nothings or everythings. Certainties.

Turning 30 wobbled me, spun me around on my axis, and landed me in a position where everything is a shade of grey.

And I’m fine with that, now.

I get it.

Life is colorful, but it’s never black or white.

The water of life is murky, and seldom clear, but refreshing nonetheless.

31, you’ve shown me I know who I am. What I’ll never be. And who I’ll always be (for better or worse).

Thank you, 31.

 

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Photo courtesy Unsplash

Dear 31,