Monday, January 5, 2015

the hard questions

It is often said that we ask far fewer questions about the world as we get older. That we settle into complacency and begin to feel less curious about this big, wondrous universe of ours. And in some ways, that’s true. I personally no longer throw a barrage of questions to those around me about every single sight, sound, touch and taste that I experience. However, I am also finding that as I age, I am starting to ask the bigger questions, and to ask them far more forcefully.

When we are little we are quickly taught how the world works: the sky is blue, you cannot fly (trust me, I tried for years), if you do something bad you will be sent to your room, if you do something really bad you will be sent to prison, and that you should finish all of your vegetables because there are starving kids in Africa. But we are never taught why there are starving children in Africa, or why it is predominantly the poor and mentally ill filling our prisons.

Instead, it is all told to us very matter-of-factly, as if that is just the way the world works. And for a long time, I thought that was the case.

It has only been over the past year that I’m really starting to wonder: what is wrong with us?

We teach our children that money, and the possessions that it buys, are everything. We are constantly bombarded by images of things that we don’t have, but which the advertisements promise will make our lives complete. We chase dreams that we don’t want in order to make the funds necessary to buy things that we won’t ever use. We exclaim in glee over five dollar dresses that are made by children far away; children who are slaving away in factories for twenty hours a day for a wage that isn’t even enough to feed them. We idealise fancy looking people in suits and dresses, equating their money with success and goodness, no matter how they came about it. We praise business owners who make their profits by taking advantage of the aforementioned children, while vilifying the poor who break the law in order to get a taste of what we throw in their faces everyday as the ideal.

We treat money as a god and then get angry when people sacrifice their compassion, empathy, and sometimes even humanity, in order to bask in its light.

And the worst part of all is that the majority of society’s problems; the gap between the rich and the poor, the 800-900 million people going hungry worldwide despite the world producing enough food to feed everyone, and the fact that approximately three million children die annually due to malnutrition; are 100% manmade, and will only be changed when we all start to ask the hard questions.

The system is broken. It relies on the exploitation of the poor by the rich in order to keep this capitalist world of ours spinning. Poverty is not an unwanted or unnecessary by-product of capitalism: it is the very heart of it. It is what keeps it alive.

Despite this beautiful world of ours providing enough for everyone to have adequate food, clothing and shelter, we have set up a system, in our greed and folly, that denies these basic human rights to so many. As Jack London states in his book, The People of the Abyss (a brilliant read by the way), poverty comes down to one thing and one thing alone: mismanagement.

'It is inevitable that this management, which has grossly and criminally mismanaged, shall be swept away. Not only has it been wasteful and inefficient, but it has misappropriated the funds. Every worn-out, pasty-faced pauper, every blind man, every prison babe, every man, woman, and child whose belly is gnawing with hunger pangs, is hungry because the funds have been misappropriated by management.'

People do not have to go hungry. People do not have to freeze to death from lack of adequate shelter. Despite what we are taught from before we can even speak, it is not the natural state of things. It is not simply another sad fact of life. Rather, it is the outcome of humanity’s greed, and something that could be changed in a moment were we to stop treating it as if were anyone else’s fault other than our own.

Charity, while I would never advocate stopping it, does not suffice. It is nothing but a Band-Aid, and an inadequate one at that. While we like to say that the richest man/woman in the world could feed the hungry masses if they weren’t so greedy, that is simply not true.

One person cannot change a world that relies on poverty in order to function.

This is not to say that humans are naturally cruel. I personally have not met anyone in whom I haven’t seen at least a hint of kindness. In fact, and pardon me for quite possibly being na├»ve, I do believe that people are inherently good. Kindness, compassion, and empathy are an intrinsic part of us: we aren’t born craving money or thousands of possessions. It is something that is taught to us from a young age, and it is through these lessons that we begin to lose touch with all of the goodness that we were born with, and we begin to turn a blind-eye to all of the world’s problems that don’t directly affect us.

We need to start looking closely at our values, and ensuring that the way we live our life is in line with them. If you don’t condone animal cruelty, don’t buy cosmetics that are tested on animals. If you find it horrifying that many workers overseas aren’t paid a living wage, buy fair trade products. And if you too are starting to find the mass starvation and poverty in our society abhorrent, begin asking the hard questions. Stop waiting for other people to fix things, while you live a life of excessive consumerism and thus feed into the idea that money is worth far, far more than the millions of human lives that are taken because of it.

Who knows, if you begin to ask the questions, you may even be the person to come up with the answer that we all so desperately need.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

five ways to make the most of traveling

No matter what part of the world you’re in; whether you’re breathing in the fresh scent of honeysuckle as the world blooms around you, or crunching your way through piles of leaves with a pumpkin spice latte in hand; no doubt you are starting to feel the travel bug come upon you once more.

With the New Year approaching, a sense of anticipation is in the air. We are filled with a yearning to take more chances, learn new things, surround ourselves with like-minded people and explore every inch of this beautiful globe of ours. The time is ripe for exploration – both of the external world around us, and of our own complex and intricate internal world as well. And what better way to do that than to pack a suitcase and go on an adventure?

Whether you’re planning to head to a different country, or simply go on a weekend road trip down to the beach, I have complied a little list of travel tips to take with you into the glorious new year that we’re all going to have.

Go without expectations

Often when we plan getaways, we go with a little map in our minds of how we want everything to play out. Unfortunately, the more detailed our map is, the more likely we are to be disappointed. If there’s anything that I have learned from my times abroad (and life in general), it’s that things never go according to plan. So rather than bemoan the fact that it’s raining, or the place that you wanted to go to is closed for renovation, or your friends/partner are not as keen on hour-long hikes up steep mountains as you are, embrace the moments that you do have.  Throw away your checklist and plans, and learn to live day-by-day, taking and enjoying the opportunities that come about naturally. You’ll be pleasantly surprised by the amazing experiences that can come out of spontaneity.

Get creative

It cannot be denied that all of us have a creative side. It’s just that a lot of us are unable to find the time to express it as often or as loudly as we wish. Well, now is your chance to let it shine. The beauty of travel is that you have the time and the freedom to get to know who you truly are. So rather than spending all of the travel time that you do have on the things that everyone tells you that you should be doing, such as ticking tourist sites off of your checklist, make the effort to get in touch with your creative side. Spend a morning writing, try a new dance class, paint the beautiful scenery around you, or make up a fun new game to play with your travel companions. Life is too short not to be completely, unashamedly ourselves – and to withhold our innate, unique creativity is to sacrifice who we truly are.

Explore the unfamiliar

Too often when we go on holiday, particularly to somewhere popular with a very rich history, it can so easy to spend all of our time at the tourist hotspots. I found it was hard to avoid doing that in Europe, particularly as we were catching trains everywhere, and getting to places off of the beaten track was a bit of a nightmare. While that was an incredible trip, some of my best experiences have been through hiring a car (which is getting so much more affordable than my first trip abroad, due to things like the RelayRides airport rentals initiative) and getting well away from the tourist destinations: exploring the ruins of castles in Frances, finding 1950s style diners in the desert in America, chilling out in a field with some buffalo, driving through wheat fields listening to Billy Joel with my family, and finding teensy tiny little Christmas markets in the storybook villages dotted around rural Germany. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t make an effort to see the historical monuments and natural sights that are so popular, because usually they’re popular for a reason. But at the same time, make an effort to branch out in the real heart of the place you’re visiting, because you may just find that your trip is the richer for it.

Meet new people

While I love traveling with my friends, partner and family, traveling solo for a few weeks was one of the best things that I have ever done. Everywhere I went I met the most incredible people and heard so many awe-inspiring stories. It’s not that there aren’t incredible people around you right now, nor that they don’t also have fascinating stories to share, but there is something about travel that opens us up. We feel a strong sense of wanting to share and listen that is often absent from our day-to-day lives.  Whether you’re traveling alone or in a group, make an effort to get to know those around you, and really connect with your fellow human beings. You’ll be a much wiser and more empathetic person for it, I promise.

Use your travel time to evaluate where you are in life: clarity most often comes when you have space to reflect

As I said earlier, so many of us are time-poor and it can stop us from getting in touch with who we really are. So many of my epiphanies have been abroad, and everyone I know who has been travelling has said the same. It’s not just because a change of scenery can give a new perspective, but also because it may very well be one of the only times that you have to really get to know yourself. It all sounds a bit touchy-feely, but it’s also true. How many of you devote some space in your day to just sit in silence and breathe? How many of you have the time to lie on your back in the grass, pondering the universe, life and death? If you’re anything like me, your answer will be rarely to not at all. Traveling gives us that much needed freedom and space to reconnect with our thoughts and ourselves. So rather than busting out your mobile phone or music as you trek through the unknown, immerse yourself fully in the moment and let yourself be fully alive, something that we don’t often allow ourselves to do.

So, now that I have shared a couple of my travel recommendations, it’s over to you guys:  What is your number one travel tip? Please share in the comments field below J

(Image credit: 1.)

Monday, November 10, 2014

intrinsic vs. extrinsic goals

If there’s one thing that anybody knows about me, it’s that I love to set goals. Love with a great big capital L. While I’m not entirely sure where I would be without them, having never actually given it a shot, chances are I would spend my days lying in the sun with a good book (by good book I mean re-reading the Harry Potter series for the 10000000000 time) and drinking my body weight in earl grey tea. Now on the surface that doesn’t sad bad at all (actually it sounds amazing), but as I get older I am starting to learn more and more about how vital it to nourish your mind, body and soul in a variety of different ways.
While I usually reach the goals that I set in regards to my mind and soul, I have never quite gotten the hang of the body part of equation. It wasn’t until midway through this year that I realised why those goals weren’t as achievable at the others, even though they weren’t any more difficult: the intention behind them was not the same.
Most of my goals are for myself and myself alone: I set them because working towards them and meeting them is fun, and it fills me with a sense of accomplishment. These aren’t goals that I make with the expectation of impressing anyone other than myself; they are simply a tool I use to move forward (and not read every single day away) and satisfy my creative side.
However, my exercise goals have always been different. Though being a coeliac vegetarian means that I don’t have to worry about my weight, my body certainly isn’t the kind that would grace magazine covers or wind up on someone’s instagram as fitspo (don’t get me started on fitspo. Worst. Thing. Ever.). I’m equal parts bony and soft in alllll of the wrong places, and despite being a staunch feminist often have to swallow my pride and ask my husband to open jars for me because I’m just too darn weak to do it myself (I must stress that I’m not weak because I’m female, I’m weak because I have been too lazy to build up my upper-body strength).
Due to having a touch of low self-esteem when it comes to my figure, when I have set exercise goals it has been with the intention of changing my body. And while I’m a little ashamed to type this, always being the first to loudly say that looks don’t matter, the only reason I attempted to change my body shape was to impress other people. I certainly wouldn’t feel any differently about myself were I to suddenly wake up with abs and buns of steel, because that sort of thing doesn’t matter half as much to me as say, good grades and kindness. But a small part of me couldn’t help but think it might be nice to look appealing in order to gain the approval of others.
Needless to say that, as is the case with most people, my desire to impress others was simply not a strong enough motivator to combat my deep set loathing of exercising. So any fitness goals that I have had have lasted maaaybe a month or so before I have crawled back to the couch in defeat.
However, something has happened over the last year that has turned my ‘move’ goals from extrinsic into intrinsic. This past year I have been a bit unwell, and it was when I went in for surgery that I realised my body wasn’t working quite as well as I have been used to. While there isn’t much I can do about that side of things, it was a great big wake up call to just how awesome being healthy actually is. I realised how much I appreciated my body: not in terms of how my body looks, but in regards to all of the things that it does for me: I can walk, dance, run, sing, smell, taste, hear, breathe, see. And hell if I don’t want to look after it as well as I possibly can.
I have since started running and joined a lunchtime boot camp – two things I have previously avoided like the plague – and am already feeling far healthier and stronger. Where once I would have said things to myself while attempting to run like ‘no pain, no gain’, now when I feel like giving up I remind myself that I love and care for my body, and it is this intention that keeps me going forward.

So many people, such as myself, attempt to ‘get healthy’ for all of the wrong reasons. We do it out of a place of hate; out of the idea that we’re not good enough as we are. Getting outdoors and moving shouldn’t be about trying to force your body into changing. Rather, it should be about nourishing ourselves because we want the very best for the skin, bone, fat and muscle that we call home.

We need to stop trying to mould our bodies to fit to match the unrealistic representations of men and women thrown at us constantly by the media, and start appreciating and caring for the bodies that we do have, no matter what shape or size, simply because we recognise how completely awesome they already are.

(Image credit: 1.)

Monday, September 1, 2014

Hi, my name is Kaylia and I am an introvert

Joel and I are finally saying goodbye to one-bedroom apartment life and are making our way on up into the world of houses and having room to breathe. In anticipation of our upcoming move, I have been going through all of my stuff and throwing out as much of it as possible in an attempt to curb the hoarder habits that I seem partial to. I have managed to keep the most random things over the years (post-it-notes, beer mats, weird little knick-knacks that I completely forgot about as soon as I shoved them into a drawer somewhere), and amongst this junk that I was certain was important when I stowed it away because ‘it holds memories’, I found my old diaries. While I never managed more than ten entries, I did start a new one every year from the age of eleven onwards, so it was interesting to see how I grew and changed up until my last diary at age fifteen.

Of course by interesting I mean horrifying. I was not a very nice person at all, spending most of my time complaining about my parents and my friends in a way that I would never dream of doing now were I to discuss my arch nemesis (side note: I don’t actually have an arch nemesis but I am quite partial to the idea, so if you know anyone interested in the position get them to contact me). While the notes scribbled in class between myself and my friends that I also kept reassured me that being a complete tool was not exclusive to me and is probably a part of this whole growing up thing – and we all grew up to be not so bad so I don’t think the early teenage years adequately demonstrate the kind of person we are (at least I truly hope not) – the diaries also affected me in a different way. Because underneath all of self-absorbed prose about clothes, boys and what ‘so and so said to so and so’; and borderline crazy rambling of a girl about to embark on a full-blown eating disorder – the theme of being deeply unhappy ran rampant throughout.

While I ended up throwing all of that stuff out because I don’t particularly want to remember myself, my friends and those years that way, so I can’t write it out word for word, by my last diary I went from the every second sentence being ‘I wish I was’ followed by pretty, confident, funny etc. that dominated the other ones, to an actual list of demands as to how I had to change to morph into some kind of caricature of the perfect person.

Unfortunately ‘nice’ never actually featured in my diary, which is a shame because that was advice that I actually could have used. However, what did feature every single time (aside from ‘thin’ – which wasn’t a surprise since I had equated being slim with happy from a very young age) was ‘confident’.

Now I have never been a confident person. Talkative? You betcha. I have gotten plenty of reprimands at school and work for that particular trait. But an extrovert I am not. This has always bothered me, because, aside from attractive, it is the one thing that media tells us we should aspire to be. No one lists ‘shy’ as something that they wish they were. No one ever wants to own up to their introverted ways (and yes, I recognise that shy and an introvert can be very different things).

However, as I get older I’m starting to get a bit tired of attempting to be somebody that I’m not. I am awkward. Always have been, always will be. I will manage to accidentally insult you/your mother/your best friend/your dog at least once during a conversation, no matter what that conversation happens to be about. As such, I may be a bit nervous in engaging you in conversation at all (though once I warm up to you and start chatter-boxing away then you can bet those accidental insults are coming your way).

It took me a long time to accept the fact that I am not confident at all, and in many social situations am downright shy. In fact, I did not really start to accept it until this year. My best friend just happens to be one of the most straight-talking people in the world, and all through high-school felt the need to consistently remind me that I was not the extrovert I so wished I was. She hadn’t brought it up in a while, and then a few months ago as we were sitting in front of my television she turned to me and said ‘I read a great article about introverts’. After explaining it to me and being met with an uninterested shrug she decided a more straightforward approach would be better ‘I thought you would be interested because you’re an introvert’. This quickly turned into a ‘no I’m not’, ‘yes you are’, ‘no I’m not’, ‘yes you are’, style argument that one seems to only have with people that they’ve known since they were little.

She has since linked me to the introvert article and after reading it, and relating to it, I finally admitted the unthinkable to myself: I’m an introvert.

I like having time to myself to write/play piano/practice yoga; I prefer to sit in my pyjamas with my friends than go out for a night on the town; I would much rather a group dinner than a party; I love long walks with just me, my puppy and nature; and I HATE talking on the phone to people I don’t know.

Since admitting it to myself I have had so much freedom and started doing a lot more of the things that I really enjoy doing, rather than simply doing things because they matched the personality of the person that I wished I was. It also turns out that self-acceptance is pretty hard to do if for the longest time you desperately pretended to be someone that you weren’t.

While confident and self-assured are great things to be, being both introverted and shy has turned out not to be so bad either. I no longer beat myself up for not wanting to go to those awkward work lunches, or to parties with people I don’t know, and instead have a lot more time for the people I love and the things I love. I no longer wish that I were something that I’m not, and am learning instead to appreciate, and even embrace, all of the things that I am.

So here’s to being an introvert and all of the blissful solitude that it brings ;)

What about you? Are you an introvert or extrovert? 

(Image credit: 1.)

Monday, August 11, 2014

how to live your dream life

Without exaggerating in the slightest, I can honestly say that in the last year I have come across hundreds of articles that encourage the reader to ‘follow their dreams’. I myself am guilty of writing pieces of a similar nature. After all it’s good advice, isn’t it? It’s far better to aim for what your heart really desires than convince yourself that it will never happen and live a less fulfilled life as a result. These articles are supposed to make you act; first by deciding what your dream life is, and then by devising a set of goals designed to help you reach that dream life, if only in teeny tiny baby steps.
While at first glance this all sounds great, I am starting to take umbrage with the entire idea of ‘dream life’, as it implies that the life you’re currently living isn’t good enough as it is, and is simply a waiting room for the life you want to be living.
Too often these articles ask the question: ‘are you stuck in a nine to five job?’ knowing that the answer to that for the majority of people will be a resounding yes. They then go on to argue that now is the time to start living your life, and to do so you should quit your job and open up the coffee shop you’ve always wanted/become a sky-diving instructor/make money by telling people how to live their best life. Now if that is what you want to do, go for it. However, my issue with this advice is that having an occupation that isn’t in the field you want, or simply isn’t everything your heart desires, does not mean that you are not living a fulfilled life. It doesn’t even mean that you are not living your dream life. These articles give the impression that we should not be happy, fulfilled or feel that we have ‘made it’ unless every single card has fallen into place.  
That is not to say that dreams and goals are not important, because it’s great to have things to aim for. I for one am probably the most goal-orientated person on Earth, and would probably spend all day sitting in a park with a book if I didn’t have a check list of things I wanted to get done every single day (like writing this article for instance). Nevertheless, the problem with goals, particularly if you are not happy, is that they can become a sort of life raft. You base the happiness that you may not be feeling right now on that goal, thinking that think once you reach it you can finally settle down and appreciate the here and now. However, no matter who you are and no matter how lucky you are, nothing will ever be perfect. There will always be additional goals and things that you are dreaming of that may not have yet happened, and may not ever happen. So for every dream or goal that you do fulfil, there will be thousands more waiting in the background, giving you a reason to feel unfulfilled in your current situation.
To put things in perspective a bit, eighty percent of people live on less than ten US dollars a day and 1.3 billion do not have enough to eat. If you think about that and then look around you – at the roof over your head, the food in your cupboard, the security of that boring office job – then it is quite easy to see that you are already living a dream life. You don’t need to wait for every single thing to be going exactly the way you want it to before you can stop and appreciate how lucky you are.

So despite the so-called positivity and motivation of these ‘follow your heart and live your dream life’ articles, goals and dreams aren’t what are really needed right now for many of us. Rather, we need to foster gratitude for our current situation, and the dream life that we currently have ownership of. It’s okay to have dreams – in fact, I highly encourage it. However don’t let those dreams stop you from enjoying the here and now. There needs to be far less articles that advise how to get from point A to point B in order to be happy, and more articles on how to be happy right now in the life that we are already living.

(Image credit: 1.)