Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Saltwater Taffy: The Triumph of A Heart

''A man's greatness likes not in wealth and station, as the vulgar believe, nor yet in his intellectual capacity, which is often associated with the meanest moral character...and arrogance to the poor and lowly....but a man's true greatness lies in the consciousness of an honest purpose in life, founded on a just estimate of himself and everything else, on frequent self-examination, and a steady obedience to the rule which he knows to be right without troubling himself...about what others may think or say, or whether they do or do not that which he thinks and says and does.''                - ''Thoughts of Marcus Aurelius'' (Kindle edition, 8%)

If you've not been naked in the sea, whip your clothes off and head for the coast immediately. It feels like birth - slippery, brutal and a bit bloody (if you're doing it right). Today on yet another sunkissed afternoon shared with friends (who saw way too much)... after being scratched, bashed and scraped along the seabed... after having my nasal cavity filled with small pebbles that immediately gushed from my mouth... my mind surfaced from this oceanic spin-cycle of frenzied frothy crests with the dazzling clarity of freshly-washed sheets. 

My adventure began last year one night in Autumn when I found myself bored in the tedium of my life...scratching an itch to get away ... to inhabit a part of myself that wasn't being reflected by my environment. I needed a new place to sculpt and excavate parts of me that the cold damp of West Yorkshire was never going to reveal. I wanted an adventure! I wasn't sure what I was looking for, or whether it was my imagination or my rational mind that was urging me towards this peculiar something that evaded words, the texture of which changed like the glassy surface of a bubble, like shape-shifting clouds that drift over the sky... but in the spine of the feeling, there was an urgency. My life in a small town in North West provided a steady routine, a part-time job that was enough to support me financially, my leisure time filled with sports, voluntary work and studies that kept me ticking over; I could present the whole picture to myself with a positive slant, become dizzy by flicking through a diary busting with all manner of things. But it wasn't enough - I was bored with the mechanism of it, exasperated with the grey grey rain that looms like bad breath over the Pennines. I was trapped by the safe routine as my spirit was getting stale. I was restless and and my life wasn't boasting the freedom that I'd daydreamed about while at my school desk, with all the glittery magic that I remembered so clearly from childhood days.

I needed time to think. I found a cheap holiday to North Africa and booked. I've never been away alone before and there I found myself in November, in a foreign country, a hotel room on the coast, a view of a flat dusty landscape that old horses and carts trotted along. An online course and the mealtimes of the hotel were providing a loose structure of the day... but now what? I took a few trips to local towns where mocha-skinned locals got uncomfortably close, some drawing me in to their cavernous shops with over-familiar handshakes and forced smiles that revealed yellow teeth. Whatever I was looking for, I wouldn't find it amongst goat-skin lamps and leather moccasins.

One regular night after completing my usual online lecture, I started browsing jobs and immediately came upon an internship opportunity in Spain. Within a few weeks, I had handed my notice in at work and was on my way to stay with a family, start a new job and learn a new language. This was the start of 2014!

Fast-forward to 7 May and my last night in the most beautiful little village on the coast in Southern Andalusía feeling like the luckiest person alive. Soon after the internship finished, I was invited to an interview at a desert technology project in Alméria and, while waiting for post-Easter flights back to the UK to complete some studies, found paid work at a hostel further down the coast in Nerja. My days have unfolded like this - yoga on the terrace (from 9am, it's already 18-19 degrees), work 11am-4pm, online study of Art History for an hour then I hit the beach with my friends until sunrise, shower before a long lazy meal, then drinks on the beach under a star-drenched night-sky sometimes with an international crowd made up of travellers, workers, holiday-makers, musicians. This is what I dreamed about at school; the ''Cinderella'' moment where the shoe of life fits (more cheese below).

This has begun one of the best years of my life. I'm learning the power of following a dream that is populated with nothing tangible but strongly propelled by curiosity and the force of will to be the best version of myself. Taking the first step into an unknown situation has been empowering, terrifying, life-affirming and rejuvenating. It has taught me the value of forgetting about the guilt and shame of feeling selfish in pursuit of something that couldn't be articulated; it's only when I'm inhabiting that powerful (yet vague) feeling that I can give back a confident and true version of myself.

I've often been met with criticism for my romantic way of seeing the world, the idealism that I have striven to live up to and the million dreams I've wanted to realise. Fortunately the stubbornness of my inner voice has not allowed doubt and the many depressing facts of the world to destroy my inquisitive nature. For all the sad stuff that happens, there are an equal amount of majestic and life-affirming things so what is better to focus on? How many of us forget our power to choose. The lazy cynicism of adulthood can threaten our ability to see clearly. As an adult, I continue to be inspired by the arts, by music, films, poetry, cartoons, imagery, stories and dare to not dismiss their messages as cliches; I dare to celebrate the beauty that surrounds us because life is short and suffering is brutal.

20 years ago, in a film called Muriel's Wedding, one of my favourite scenes is where Muriel (the main character played by the wonderful Toni Collette) says that she knows her life will be right when it is as good as an ABBA song. This year, my life is teaching me the cheesiest 80s power ballad lesson of all - that believing is the key to a kind of super-joy (and accompanying power hair with optional hair-dryer) that lives in all of us. When I attend to it relentlessly, surrender to it, swim in it, delight in it...life becomes the best film with the greatest soundtrack, best visual effects and the fabulous supporting actors.

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