The Ego Trick

For the last few days I have been reading contemporary philosopher Julian Baggini’s book The Ego Trick, in which he poses the following questions: Are you still the person who lived fifteen, ten or five years ago? Fifteen, ten or five minutes ago? Can you plan for your retirement if the you of thirty years hence is in some sense a different person? What and who is the real you? Does it remain constant over time and place, or is it something much more fragmented and fluid? Is it known to you, or are you as much a mystery to yourself as others are to you? I found the questions ones similar to many I had myself in recent years about myself and changes I felt I had experienced. They also reminded me of early 20th century philosopher Rudolf Steiner’s Stages of life, which I had previously considered in my post on the meaning of life. I decided to look back on my life and the changes I felt had happened but had they really happened, was I now the swan not the ugly duckling?

I thought back 20-25 years ago during my teenage years, as I hid in my high school library from the bullies surrounded by books for company with one thing that always stuck out – the Greenpeace leaflets that sat on the librarian’s desk. I knew of Greenpeace as watched the evening news nightly, preferring it over the Australian soap opera Neighbours. Combined with my occasional discussions with my great uncle, winning prizes for my writing against CFCs, and reading Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, my interest in the environment and natural world was very much the teenage me. I also got into trouble, not with my teachers but my mother, for drawing peace symbols against war and nuclear weapons to anti-animal testing doodles on my chemistry to religious education notebooks; issues which even now I feel strongly about and would draw them again. Equally, I’d spend my evenings listening to or practising playing music for bands and orchestras, as well as enjoying writing when I could, and questioning to myself the world around me. Therefore, on some level I am still the same as my teenage self with her passions and interests, but have I changed at all?

However, despite my passions and interests noted above, my school and family pushed me away from three of the subjects I excelled at and loved the most – music, Latin and French, and towards chemistry with biology. I found the sciences interesting to an extent but not the laboratory time, it didn’t quite grab me the same and often went wrong! One time doing an experiment connected to a computer, the whole thing had to be abandoned as the computer broke down and was unable to be retrieved…I joked to my teacher it was a sign I shouldn’t be studying chemistry. Yet if you look at my university qualifications you will see my undergraduate degree was a mix of both biology and chemistry, my first masters is in environmental analytical chemistry, second masters is in archaeology and PhD is in geography…not bad for the girl they bullied and called stupid! I tried to convince myself every year that I enjoyed being in the laboratory but quite simply I was fooling myself, I considered giving up during my second year undergraduate as felt so unme, but not one to give up I kept going. My current eyes see it as a form of emotional self harm, which is why I will probably never work in a laboratory ever again in this life time (or I hope not to)!

The last few years since my PhD I have been considering where my life is going and what I want out of it beyond my three desires (a place to call home, a dog for company and to be happy). Realising that my love of the environment and the natural world is still as big as my teenage self, so often photograph and/or write about it here, equally my love of writing has come to become something beyond what I could ever have imagined. Yet, I do not feel the same woman who looked down the microscope counting proxies of charcoal, seeds, bryzoans, ostracods and daphnia ten years ago; she would draw and daydream what she saw, trying to make the data visual from her mind to the paper and not in numerical form. I feel a sense of freedom now that I am finally being true to myself – the woman I have learnt to love, appreciate and respect, is a quirky creative not a mad scientist. I also know how often I am the person people turn to for help as have an unjudgemental ear, caring shoulder and arms happy to hug, leading others and myself to question if I should not be a counsellor or perhaps speech and language therapy due to my voluntary work with adults with aphasia. I am currently putting the foundations down to try go that path as feels like I’m being deafened by the screams!

Therefore, I do and do not agree on being the same person as I was before. Part of me is the same that has always been there, deep thinking to gentle woman and lover of the natural world. However, there are parts of me that I was either to scared to share or did not know they were me. I have also learnt the importance of a select group of friends that love, trust, respect and appreciate you as you do them. A few years ago I hated myself and found the darkness blinding but now see the light of the world’s multisensory being as though a child experiencing it all for the first time. I also feel it is our experiences in life that change us, for good and bad, so we are in a constant change like the constantly changing world, which we are trying to adapt to. This all brings me back to being aware of the present moment, so we perhaps should remember to try not to be who were ten years ago but use those ten years of life experience to be who we are now. Equally, we can make foundations today for where we would like to be in ten years time but a full on plan is impossible as tomorrow is promised to none of us.

© Fi S. J. Brown

My life purpose

I was reading an article online entitled “How do you find your purpose when you don’t know what it is?” I felt an affinity with what the article was about, as often find myself playing over again and again in my head or writing, what is my purpose in life? I then remind myself of a song from the musical Avenue Q called “For now; in it the character of Kate Monster points out who really does know their purpose and the cast sing about the importance of the present moment, with some things only being temporary. Remembering the lyrics to this song and words from a close friend help me stay focused on the present moment, i.e. living mindfully, so worry less over the things I cannot control and enjoying the good things when they come.

Going back to the article, I found four things stood out, which are listed below and then my answers to them, therein lies my life’s purpose. The four are:

  1. What am I grateful for?
  2. What are my gifts and talents?
  3. What do I love?
  4. What feelings do I want to have?

Gratitudes

  • I am grateful for being able to read and write. This makes me happy or benefits my life because to me there is so much to explore that others have said before me to writing my own experiences of life or giving voice to those that have none. So simple yet taken for granted by many as learn them at a young age but not all have the chance to learn them at any age.
  • I am grateful for being able to see and hear. This makes me happy or benefits my life because it makes me look beyond the surface level, looking deeper and longer, and hearing the songs of Mother Nature to musicians that write their own and/or play ones that paint visuals in my mind, become soundtracks to my life, and give words to what perhaps I find I cannot.
  • I am grateful for good friends. This makes me happy or benefits my life because it makes me feel loved, appreciated, and accepted in the world where many get jealous or envious, wanting more without realising what they have already, and feel like the ugly duckling now gliding down the river of her life as the swan she truly is not the ogre she thought she was.
  • I am grateful for being an empath and highly sensitive This makes me happy or benefits my life because it makes me appreciate the little things that cross my path, keep the light shining for those that are in darkness as know that it can suffocate when it overwhelms, and although I may not understand psychopaths or narcissists they show me what I am not
  • I am grateful for surviving the bad times. This makes me happy or benefits my life because it makes me know the importance of this present moment, which can change from bad to good or the reverse at any moment. They taught me lessons that I can share with others so they can survive their own and do not define me as a victim but a survivor of them.

Gifts and talents

  • I am lucky to have the gift to write my thoughts and words of others so that their songs can be heard even when I am gone.
  • I have also the gift of a vivid imagination and a visual mind, so can look at a scene to see it many ways beyond the initial glance.
  • Another gift is having a non-judgemental ear to comforting shoulder and arms to hug those that come on the journey with me.
  • I have a talent for research, looking beyond the tip of the iceberg, diving deep to see how far I can go and what lies hidden.
  • I have also the talent to realise there is so much in the world to learn, so each day I try find something new to wonder at a new.
  • Another talent is knowing myself, strengths and weaknesses, pushing myself when needed and withdrawing when needed.

Love

  • My closest friends who mean the world to me, I’d do anything for them as their place in my heart and soul is as unique as they are.
  • Walks along with nature as my guide and friend, fighting all my senses at once which one that I should taken in first or all at once!
  • Writing and/or photographing to record or give voice to a sight, sound, experience, thought or moment so has its own voice and/or image.
  • Supporting others as feel privileged and honoured that out of all the human beings on this planet that could help them, it’s me that does.
  • Exploring somewhere old afresh with a child’s eyes, as well as somewhere new where there are memories and stories to tell.
  • Mindfulness and meditation, to be centred on this present moment, realising there are more roses than thorns growing at any time.

Feelings

  • Freedom – To be me, not what others expectations or wants. Follow my path not one created or walked by others, the so called normal life.
  • Appreciated – I have no desire to be rich and/or famous, but to be appreciated by those that I enjoy having in my life as they do with me.
  • Determined – Not to give up when feel lost in the darkness or suffocating from trees I should have dealt with when were but seeds.
  • Inspired – Every day and by everything, seeing the world like a child and not taking it for granted that it will be there again tomorrow.
  • Worthwhile – I do not want to reach the age of 60 and wonder what I did with my life or why I continued to ignore what my teenage self knew.
  • Wanderlust – I would love to see more of this world with its different cultures and traditions that share similarities and differences to my own.

© Fi S. J. Brown

 

My “real self”

I was reading an article posted to Facebook on Depression is the unavoidable by-product of not being who you really are? I decided to ponder this and reflect on my own experiences of depression and self hate.

Looking back on my days pre-therapy I hated every part of me, frequently dreaming that I would have every part of me surgically changed, as thought I must look at total freak for the way people pointed and laughed at me in the street. My self image was so bad in waking life that I thought that I must look like the love child of Frankenstein’s monster and the Hunchback of Notre Dame, I mean why else would people do that or call me ugly to my face? I decided that as heard it so often, it must be true, I must be truly have something repugnant about physical appearance. However, at no point in time would I ever have considered plastic surgery to change it for real. At the same time I was not allowed the freedom to express myself; I always Frances’ daughter not an individual in my own right, and she always wanted the final say in how I looked from my wig (I have alopecia universalis) to my glasses and how I dressed. Any medical appointments she would come to, encase I said something she did not want said. It took me a long time to realise I am the daughter of a narcissist.

Shortly after moving to Loughborough in October 2006 I began therapy, at first I had no real reason for feeling depressed as just always seemed to be there like raindrops in my tummy as I put when I was a child. It was then I started to unravel all I kept inside and found I had razor blades inside my stomach too, as often beat myself up emotionally for things that were not my fault and/or had never had a voice to say stop or no. I had been hurt so much by life that I almost gave up just before Easter 2008 as came close to suicide, I felt like the puppet mistress would never let me be free to be me. On my return to Edinburgh in October 2009, I had begun photographing, but nowhere near as much as I do now, with a feeling of sickness and dread. I had tried to turn the camera on me for around a year by then, perplexed at the woman that appeared on it as she was not the ogre in my head. Gradually over the next few years as I returned to writing combining with my photography and finding supportive friends I saw me as a person and learnt to appreciate, respect and love this unique person that I am. I belong not in a laboratory but helping others, writing and photographing, and dressing the way that suits me!

So was my depression caused by not being who I am? Yes and no. I am far happier internally than I have ever been, I can look in a mirror and say it’s just how I am at this moment and that’s okay. Equally, I can delete or edit a photograph based on it being a picture and not make it feel so personal. However, I still have depression as there are still things from my past that hurt me and in my present but try not to let them. To me mental health conditions, including depression, are far more complex than a simple and singular explanation. I have mentioned before that we let things take root and suddenly faced with a tree and sometimes a forest of issues we should have dealt with at the start. To me it is this forest that overwhelms us as we do not know where to begin to cut it down; borrowing an axe from someone else is like trying to use their methods to solve our issues it may work but not always; and often a combination of many things help, but the most important is living for today as per mindfulness so that the roots can take hold of us. So be true to ourselves, but equally be gentle with ourselves, as we’re not all meant to be Jennifer Lawrence, Kim Kardashian, or Kelly Brook, but also note the images we see of them are heavily edited and may also have just the same insecurities as we do!

© Fi S. J. Brown

Words

From our youngest days we learn words, spoken and written. They have power and influence; they build, shatter or kill. Perhaps the most powerful weapon known to humanity; capable of driving one person insane, or changing another’s life for the better.

Do you want to know the worst part about words? It is so few us realise the power they hold. A humorous remark by one, can be an insult to another. Is it any wonder we call it spelling, as cast a spell upon those that hear them said aloud or given voice.

So what can we do? It sounds simple, listen. These days we often have our heads in our phones or think of something else rather than listen to what another is saying. We are also in a rush to get from A to B that we all to often fail to register and/or dissect.

How can we listen better? By being mindful and taking an interest in the life of someone other than ourselves. Put down the mobile phone and share in the tears or laughter. Thinking twice before we post it to Facebook, Twitter or e-mail, as can bite back.

© Fi S. J. Brown

Living is…

Living is a piece of music that is our tune,

Breathing and heart are the rhythm and beat,

Speaking is the lyrics of our unique adventure,

Meeting others make the key major or minor,

Being true to ourselves is the harmonious melody,

And copying another is a bad cover version.

 

Living is a piece of art that is our masterpiece,

Seeing is the world painted with our eyes in multicolour,

Touching and feelings are sculpted into shapes,

Hearing vibrates and echoes form the layers of paint,

Smelling is the essence of ourselves distilled,

And tasting is being satisfied with what we have.

 

© Fi S. J. Brown

The Beautiful Ones

These days it is easy to be hard on ourselves if we do not meet the airbrushed, “perfect” image, we see in newspapers and/or magazines to websites and social media. People that we are told are “beautiful” yet feel the boy in the emperor’s new clothes when realise they are not.

Remember, this is not the world’s view on what is beautiful and/or perfect. In fact perfection is a lie we have been convinced exists, look at flowers in a field or garden, they are all shapes, sizes and colours as we are. Make up or surgery do not enhance beauty, but hide or trap what makes us unique.

Ugly is not a trait of physical beauty but in personality; with greed, envy and jealousy that eats away at them over time. Sometimes it can be seen in the eyes as darkness as it has eaten away at the soul till there is little or none left. Making them blind, unable to appreciate or respect another’s way of being.

It is easy to compare ourselves to others, convincing ourselves they are far more beautiful and/or their lives are easier or better than our own. Stop it now. Few of us know another so well that could make that comparison and in fact only we know the true ourselves. Find, accept and respect them always.

© Fi S. J. Brown

Recipe for a hug (for National Hug Day)

A pinch of love from our hearts,

A sprinkling of our soul’s wisdom,

A dash of warmth from our eyes,

A hint of our smile as infectious,

A smidgen of our fingers’ touch,

A dollop of arms fully stretched.

 

Slowly mix the above together,

Blending gently without malice,

Carefully bake but do not burn.

When finished no need to wait,

Share at once with good friends,

And they will give back one to us.

 

© Fi S. J. Brown

The Glass Vase a.k.a Life

Life, in the words of one of my favourite authors (Neil Gaiman) is “a disease: sexually transmitted, and invariably fatal“. With the recent deaths of musicians and actors that we have all admired (maybe even idolised or fancied) for many years; from David Bowie to Lemmy, Alan Rickman and Glenn Frey, we feel we have lost part of ourselves as they wrote the soundtrack to our lives or a distant friend that never judged but was there in the background. As a result I have been thinking about the fragility of life, which to me is best thought of as like a glass vase held in a toddler’s hands, which could shatter in an instant.

No amount of preparation is able to prepare any of us for death only that that it will happen one day; nor can we protect ourselves or those we love from the impact of it. The shards of glass are like the bits of the person now gone; there are things we all may like or admire in a person, but equally there are bits only some people saw like the unique design that made them who they were or with the addition of flowers they became like an amazing support that many took for granted. At first we may try in vain to glue the shards back together before realising we cannot bring back what is gone, and the water on the floor increasing as the tears fall from our eyes like a river meeting the sea. Even when the shards are put in the bin, there is still part of them that will forever be part of us, as had a shared history (good and bad). Some may think getting a new vase will be the same, but it will not have the memories and identity that the one now gone had, and can never truly replace it.

However, it is important not to be scared of the vase shattering but remembering what the vase meaning is to us every day as can mean different things to different people, just as life can be different for us all. It can vary in the colours/shape/form because we all come in different ones, the only thing we share is being human and it is the diversity that is our true artistic self. It does not matter where the vase is, be it on a broken shelf in a run down house or a museum as created by some artisan of note, we all matter to someone. What that is can vary too; a vase may hold flowers that a loved one gave us to mark our birthday or Valentine’s Day, it also may have bought at an art gallery shop after enjoying an exhibition by a favourite artist or the colour fitted with the new décor of our living room. Finally, remember no vase is truly perfectly made, just as we all have flaws or hidden defects, perfection is a lie we tell each other as a way to convince ourselves as much as others. 

© Fi S. J. Brown

Press pause

Stop where you are and what you’re doing, pause briefly, and note in your head: three things you see, three things you can hear and three things you can touch.

In your own time do the following:

  • The first type or write it down in pen on paper, in any language;
  • The second draw or paint, even sculpt it with clay, so can be seen;
  • The third say aloud or sing it in a song so now has a voice of its own;
  • The fourth mimic either in action or sound, is it easy or hard to copy;
  • The fifth note how it makes you feel, happy or sad, and also why;
  • The sixth what shape does it have, is it like others, can you compare;
  • The seventh what or who does it remind you of, past/present/future;
  • The eighth can you put a value on it, does it need one or is it priceless;
  • The ninth can you imagine a world where it was not here on Earth now.

Before you finish, I want you to think of a tenth thing – yourself. All you have noted above are aspects of your own character as you see them.

Pause at least once a day remembering that you matter too, how uniquely remarkable it is to be you, and try be a bit kinder or gentler with you.

© Fi S. J. Brown

Life is an anagram of file

Everyone of us is born like an empty file, which over our lifetime is filled with different words, pictures and sounds that are unique to us.
There are special moments we save to our file to remember them again years later, but also those we forgot to press save on now gone. Equally, there are those we wish we could delete as bring us pain when we see them, as well as those in haste we erased with anger or in tears.
Life is full of repeats. Copied and pasted throughout the file, perhaps they are lessons we are meant to learn from. Cutting toxic people is a must for our sanities, as act like a virus on our file, but it is not always easy as a click of a mouse to remove them permanently.
Sometimes it feels like it be good if we could star a new file, but this is impossible. Stop to think of all that be lost if succeeded in aborting. Remember even if the file gets corrupted and refuses to not open, it is not necessarily the end. There is support out there that can help us.
Arial 11 in black maybe default, standard or “normal”, but there is no such thing as a standard human being. So explore the fonts, sizes and colours till find one that is us. Sometimes adding italics, bolding or underlining works, but it’s not for everyone. Find and create our normal.
As a new year approaches, a time of resolutions and possible change. Think of it like a new page on the file, how we fill it is up to us,
© Fi S. J. Brown