Category: time management


ImageImageI’m writing on my bed, my usual working space. Out the window, instead of trees I see brick and windows, white sky. But it’s okay because I have delicious soundscapes in my ears, Fionn Regan, Savoir Adore, and I am writing daily. I feel like a desert cactus that’s finally been replenished. Able to bloom.

Since I last posted, a year ago, I have moved house twice, stopped home educating – Jude started school last week – ended a ten-month relationship, and discovered that I am, after all, an introvert.. Well, I knew I was one, but I also thought I was kind of an extrovert because I’m sociable and outgoing. Then I started to experience such profound fatigue that I wondered if I had M.E. or depression. The gap between what I wanted to get out of my life and what I was, in fact, able to enjoy and achieve, became larger and larger. But depression didn’t make sense, because although I had a low mood for much of the time, and often felt a sense of pointlessness about life, I would still come alive when I had time to engage with things that interest me. M.E. didn’t really either because I slept less than ever when at Dance Camp East in July, yet was full of energy, fed deeply into thriving again by the music, fire-lit companionship and soul celebration.

Then I typed into Google the words ‘Why is small talk so exhausting’ after yet another utterly wearying experience with talking about the surface of life for a couple of hours. I discovered a world of people blogging and writing about introversion. Being an introvert means that you get your energy from being alone, and from ‘deep’ and meaningful conversations and interactions with substance – small talk is very often draining for introverts.  I felt a huge sense of relief: I’d found my home. My favourite so far is Space to Live, by Brenda Knowles. It’s a treasure trove of articles about introversion and how it impacts on parenting, relationships, work and self-esteem. I found myself identifying with every one.

The tiredness I’ve been suffering from for years, most acutely in the past few months, is, I believe, directly related to living a life of extraversion when I am really an introvert. For years, but particularly the past year since Jude finished nursery and I made the decision not to send him to school – to take the full responsibility of Jude’s education and socialisation into my hands.

An introvert is someone who answers yes to many of these questions:

  • When I need a rest, I prefer time alone or with one or two close people rather than a group (yes).
  • When I work on projects, I like to have larger uninterrupted time periods rather than smaller chunks (this is why having Jude at home with me all the time, and therefore being constantly interrupted, was so draining for me, and why I became more and more unproductive in the little time I did have – because there was such a backlog of brain-drain that I had to spend most of that time resting,.then when I finally did get some energy back to do some work, it was time to be back on mommy-duty again).
  • I can zone out  if too much is going on (yes. I can be an absent parent for this reason, at times. The constant chatter of small children, as delightful as it can be for a couple of hours, is impossible for my brain to process after a series of consecutive 13 hour days of it).
  • I don’t like to interrupt others; I don’t like to be interrupted (yes…)
  • I can become grouchy if I am around people or activities too long (even as a child, my mom tells me I used to ask to go home after a while at a party or a friend’s house, and nowadays I can’t take more than a couple of hours in social situations without starting to feel a strain, which can come out as being a bit distant and irritable).
  • I often dread returning phone calls (sometimes)
  • I am creative/imaginative (yes, I’ve been writing books from a young age and always invented elaborate games with dolls and anything to hand!)
  • I form lasting relationships (I have several friendships that span more than a decade)
  • I usually need to think before I respond or speak (this one I don’t relate to as well, as I’m quite quick-talking).

A while ago I read Elaine Aron’s ‘The Highly Sensitive Person: How to Thrive When the World Overwhelms You’, and related to it completely. Highly Sensitive People, or HSP’s, have a vivid imagination, are labelled too shy or too sensitive (as a child I was painfully shy), who perform poorly when being observed even though they are usually competent, have vivid dreams, find time alone each day essential, and are quickly overwhelmed by noise and confusion, crowded parties, hectic office life. HSP’s make up some 20 percent of the population, (while some estimates have introverts as up to 50 %), and have a finely tuned nervous system, often sensing things that others ignore such as strong smells, bright lights, and the crush of crowds.

Although I recognised myself in all this, I didn’t really put much of Aron’s advice into action. I felt resistance at the idea that I’d have to miss out on lots of things I wanted to do, in order to prevent sensory over-stimulation (a point which HSP’s reach much more quickly than others). I figured I’d survived so far. I love many different things, and have always had an active and busy life. When I wasn’t looking after Jude – who is, I believe, a ‘high needs’ child – I was very often seeing friends, travelling up and down the country doing courses, and juggling many different commitments and activities. Pre-motherhood, I typically juggled two jobs and studies and went out several nights a week. It took me getting so tired that I was dragging myself like a weight of concrete through my days, and feeling exhausted by bedtime despite an hour-long nap each day, to be willing to change what I’m doing.

I realised that giving up home education, at least for now, was a matter of survival. Home education is still something I believe in on principle – but the reality was that each day of it involved so.much.stimulation, and was ultimately unsustainable for me as a Highly Sensitive introverted mom with an extroverted yet Highly Sensitive child. Four to five days a week we spent most of the day at groups or playdates – forest school, the home ed co-operative – which involved being around lots of noise, conflicting personalities’ needs, and often chaos – and even my ‘days off’, when I was working, involved two to three hours of travel a day as Jude and I bus-ed it around to childminders and to his dad.

Now, Jude is full-time at a lovely, very small community rural school, is loving it so far, and I wake up with a feeling of eagerness and purpose rather than flatness and tiredness each day, as I know that my day will be mostly full of activities that restore rather than deplete my energy – writing, time in nature, reading, connection with like-minded people when I choose it – and that when I pick up Jude, I will have the energy to relate to him from a state of wholeness, presence, and fun (something that fled me during my exhausted days), instead of counting the minutes till bedtime and becoming snappy and absent. My tiredness has fled, and I feel the energy to do things I’ve not been able to do for some time. I spend most of my time while Jude is at school, alone, working on my writing projects and planning for my writing workshops, and this is the way I like it right now.

One of the sticks I beat myself with when I was still soldiering on with home education, was ‘but other moms are doing it’ – even a couple of other single moms. Why couldn’t I? I felt guilty and inadequate, and resolved to just try harder. I tried to rest when I could. But what Clarissa Pinkola Estes, in Women who Run with the Wolves, calls the ‘call of the wild soul’ would not go away. I was literally like a plant without water, trying to squeeze the days worth of headspace and solitude that I needed, into the paltry hour before I went to bed, too exhausted to enjoy it. I now see that it was pointless to compare myself with other moms – I needed to listen to what my particular temperament and tolerance levels were telling me. My ‘comparison disease’ also played out in the endless reading of blogs depicting happy fulfilled home educating lives – where the parents seemed somehow able to put aside their own need for headspace, solitude and quiet – let alone self-actualisation through realising their creative dreams – and simply enjoy their children and their lives together. I kept waiting for my life to start to resemble these blogs, but it never did. I just felt increasingly isolated and overwhelmed.

It has not been without sadness, of course, that I’ve let go of my plans to home educate long term, and I reserve the right to re-evaluate state school for Jude at any point should it not be working out. I’ve chosen to celebrate the fact that we did it for a year, that Jude had that extra year at home, which has prepared him to deal with school from a stronger more confident and secure position. And I couldn’t have known what home education was really like without trying it. I learned what my limits are, and now I intend to respect them.

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As Brighton comes alive with its annual Arts Festival, I feel pleasantly isolated from all the activity up at the top of Muesli Mountain – the affectionate name for Hanover, the hilly area with its many coloured houses where I live. I’m enjoying a hiatus from mothering for 4 days, and though missing my son already it is so delicious to be able to follow my own curves of movement through space and time. To sit typing all day under a duvet, have only three dishes to wash up instead of about twenty, and to go dancing and see friends whenever I like. When I have childfree time my tendency can be to swallow all my creative time in social interaction, to make up for the snatched and interrupted conversations that are a feature of life with a small child. But I have managed this time to carve out some proper writing time, and plan to stick to it!

My ally in this is a simple new lists/time management method I’ve come up with. Nothing revolutionary, but I’ll share it anyway in case it helps. I’ve discovered that I need my goals for the week to be incredibly specific, or only vagueness and procrastination tend to result. For example, I used to have a goal of, say, five hours of writing a week. When regularly nothing more than one or two hours of writing occurred, I tried being more specific: ‘Working on short stories, poems and non fiction project for 5 total hours’. Nah. No difference. So now, I’ve literally broken it down to this degree: 1/2 an hour editing a poem for a booklet competition. 2 hours re-reading my novel with a view to finishing it. 45 minutes on a pitch to a magazine (oops, yet to get to that one!).

And so far, it’s working. I’m doing it for all areas of my life, too. In neat columns on a piece of paper on my wall, where I can cross things off. Instead of ‘clean flat’, it’s the nitty gritty of ‘hoover hallways’, etc. What this new list system has illuminated is the sheer amount of life admin and Breastfeeding Counsellor related admin tasks I have to do each week. And how these tasks tend to dominate and take over, leaving little breathing room for my writing. So again, I’m becoming strict about my time by designating particular days to each task – I will not book anything on a Monday unless absolutely unavoidable, as that will be my writing day. I will leave Thursdays mostly free too, with space for an artist’s date (which will be going to the Royal Pavilion Museum & Gallery today). Three weeks of this system and I am feeling pleased with the result. I’ve submitted flash fiction pieces to two websites, come up with a few new freelance article ideas and summaries, written up some interview questions for a non-fiction project, and done a lot of de-cluttering and filing which frees up space in my head and my physical surroundings. I’ve also got a new weekly yoga client starting next week. Most satisfying!

I’m also trying out a variation on a method a friend told me about, to deal with procrastination. I note down every action I take within a block of time that I’ve designated to work of some kind. That way I can see how many times I’ve gone onto Facebook and done other non-work-related tasks, and having to write it down makes me more accountable and more likely to skip it. I also like this quote from The Organic Sister, an inspirational and empowering life coach, as a way of dealing with avoidance tactics: ‘Is this feeding my soul? Feeding my greater vision and purpose in this world? Is this feeding the souls of others?’

Last time I told you about applying for a place on the Creative Writing MA at Westdean College. Well, I am pleased to tell you (although if you are one of my loyal readers you probably already know!) that I have been given a place on the course, and am to start, part time, in October. I am so excited about having 17 hours a week to devote to my creative writing. I know that the structure and input from talented writers will do so much for my knowledge about this craft, and I will finally be giving the necessary space for what I believe is one of my main purposes in life. In the meantime, my research for grants to fund my studies continues!

Here is a poem I wrote a while ago, which emerged from a writing exercise with my good friend and writing buddy Lou Ice. We like to meet at Marwood”s in the Laines, a great atmospheric coffee shop with comfy couches and interesting roof views at the top, and write for two hours. Lately I’ve been writing poems on the theme of Brighton, my home for 8 years, and in this one I gave some attention to a species of Brightonian that is often despised but which fascinates me – Seagulls.

Seagulls

above the city,

the steeples pitching light

against the cerulean sky,

the sky that makes me feel

like a balloon ready to burst,

that gathers

our summer memories and

lets them loose,

above the city,

the seagulls preen and call,

their steely eyes

capturing it all as they sit

on the roof of the flats above

Hardy’s Original Sweet Shop

in the Laines –

I see one seagull spread his wings, then

re-settle back on the roof,

thinking better of it.

His mate is nestled nearby,

head tucked under a wing,

possibly asleep.

Their secret life is conducted above us all.

The sky is their habitat,

while ours is the grey street,

looking down at our feet.

They see the piping

reaching from top to bottom of the

building with its curlicue brickwork

like the gingerbread house

in Hansel and Gretel,

the makeshift curtain

only half covering the window.

The gull’s mate

is asleep now,

the other still turns his head

like a weather vane,

perhaps observing the mildewed wall face

and the un-used red chimney tops,

the shops that used to be fishermen’s cottages,

and they don’t mind the grey,

because they have the blue,

the white passing clouds

and the sun so close they could dare it.

…is that you often don’t feel like doing them a few weeks afterwards. I feel in quite a different space from my last post, when I was buzzing with goals and plans. Creating a manifestation collage for 2011 with my Sisters Circle revealed to me that my unconscious was bubbling up with some different ideas from my more linear cortex, which loves nothing more than to spin out endless to-do lists and goals.

Phrases like ‘breathe and relax’, ‘intuitive, ecstatic’, ‘slow down, be still’ and ‘fallow time’ as well as ‘your life, your way’ and ‘explore the treetops’ appeared in my collage, and it makes me feel more relaxed and less driven just looking at it. Despite Jude now being at the Dharma School 15 hours a week, I’ve not been doing as much writing as I intended, but not out of wanting to avoid it or procrastinate: more due to an increase in yoga teaching opportunities and a backlog of admin that urgently needed attending to (really, honestly!), because it somehow never was in the busy-ness of full time Stay-at-Home-Mom-ness: tax returns, admin for my course, blah blah…I won’t bore you anymore. I’m continuing to schedule in writing time week by week, and am confident that I will settle into a good fiction writing routine once my current freelance writing projects are complete. When I am working on my novel, it’s flowing much better and is a lot more enjoyable.

As I’d resolved to do monthly, on Wednesday night I went along to e.g. poetry, an event with published poets and open mike slots. It was good to read some of my work, but my honest feeling was that I didn’t connect with much of the poetry I heard, and in fact I find it a lot easier to read poetry than hear it. It felt very much like a ‘should’ to go there, when I felt more like going to a 5 Rhythms class. That’s another interesting thing about resolutions, plans and goals. Hhmm.

This week, I’m noticing what happens when I just follow the energy where it wants to go, without forcing. This does mean I only did my tax return yesterday, 4 days before the deadline, but it got done. Next time I will share more with you about an amazing workshop I attended last weekend, working on clearing limbic imprints, where all our emotional responses are stored. It has definitely left me with a different balance between the internal ‘slave driver’ and the part of me that wants to just enjoy life. It made me realise that money (while useful) is far less important to me than having creative dreaming time, time alone, and time in nature.

The volume has been turned up on the enjoying life bit, and this is a new experience for me. I’m taking walks in the woodland around the corner from Jude’s school whenever the weather allows – something I was hardly ever able to do when Jude was with me full time, at least not in the same way. I’m having naps when I want to. Lying in bed reading. It’s delicious. My challenge to you this week is to just notice what you really want to do and what you feel you should do – and investigate what happens when you follow the first one a little more (with the usual caveat of it not harming anyone else of course!)

 

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pic by Dayawanti D'Sa

Happy New Year everyone! This is the first New Year in a while that I’ve really connected with a sense of fresh possibility and excitement – a feeling that I can break through old barriers. I don’t know whether that’s due to finally being more settled in my environment – last January I was still in-between homes – and therefore able to look outwards and onwards again, or because of the Solar Eclipse and recent Jupiter-Uranus conjunction bringing positive expansion, or because we are so close to 2012 and all that that means for our development as humans – but it feels so good!

Last year I had big dreams for myself: solid goals, like living in community, being in a loving relationship, and having completed my novel by the end of 2010. It’s wonderful to dream big but it can also put a lot of pressure on us. It would be easy to be depressed about the way those goals haven’t quite materialised, but when I look at it honestly I wasn’t consistently applying effort in those directions – I kept getting sidetracked from what I was trying to manifest, and letting life pull me every which way. It’s been an emotionally turbulent year, but I’ve come out a lot wiser. So this year I’ve decided to approach New Year’s intentions in a different way: making intentions that are totally down to me. And, just as importantly, are measurable in small steps.

My lifelong friend and fellow writer Rin Simpson blogged about approaching New Year’s Resolutions month by month – sitting down at the beginning of each month and writing down your goals for that month, rather than losing momentum halfway through the new year. I like that a lot. It’s really quite simple: I want to take small enjoyable actions, one at a time, that are related to my big dreams for myself, and that gradually narrow the gap between where I’m standing now and where I want to be. Most importantly, I want to enjoy where I am right now as much as possible: spiritually, emotionally and physically!

Something I found very helpful to do was mindmap around my ideal working day and my ideal home – I confess, I have a digital ‘vision board’ of my ideal partner too, and have a list of qualities I’m looking for in a partner that are constantly refined 😉 These mindmaps – which I plan to collage around too, because visual representations are so good at activating manifestation – were so effective at getting me fired up about my life, that it was easy to come up with concrete steps. So, here are some examples of my New Years steps:

To energise my dream of being a successful poet, novelist and short story writer, I’ve decided to, each  month, schedule in nine hours a week to write, and aim for one poetry/short story/article submission per month, as well as a poetry performance where possible.

To move me closer towards my dream of reaching lots of people with the empowering tools of Kundalini Yoga and the power of writing and journalling, I’d like to facilitate one Kundalini Yoga or writing workshop per month – my upcoming New Years Yoga workshop on 8th Jan will focus on New Year intentions and bringing in positive energy to 2011, and I’m very excited about teaching it!  I’ve also decided to keep my determination and focus and see one thing through at a time – e.g. commit to teaching a class for three months, putting my all into it, before trying something else.

    I have plans to take a ‘ready, fire, aim’ approach this year and start finally using the  skills and knowledge I have to reach out to people – for example, I am planning some workshops to help give new mothers basic tools such as breathing and meditation that can be practiced in amongst the chaos. For so long it’s as if I’ve been waiting for someone to give me permission to teach what I know, and I suddenly realised that it can start now!

    pic by Dayawanti D'Sa

    To work on my goal of becoming more organised and efficient, I’m going to do one ‘sort out’ project each month – e.g. file bank statements, throw out old papers I don’t need etc. I’ve been doing this regularly lately and it’s great how much energy it releases, leaving me free to create new things in my life.

    And motherhood of course is not exempt from self-improvement – far from it. I have re-committed to being very clear on my intentions each day, to connect with Jude and put our connection and loving relationship at the forefront of my consciousness when I’m with him. I find when I am clear in my mind about my intentions, I can re-steer my wayward thoughts and actions back towards them more quickly and easily.

    To keep me connected to the spirit that sustains me through all of these things, keeping my focus on the internal rather than the ever-changing external – Yogi Bhajan taught that ‘all things come to those who are stable’ – I want to read, watch or listen to one inspiring thing every single day. It’s amazing what a difference it makes when I take the time to connect with the wisdom of teachers and writers such as Yogi Bhajan, Wayne Dyer, Abraham-Hicks and others who remind me of the greater purpose of my life beyond the roles that I carry out and the actions that I take. It eases stress and uplifts me out of the often narrow focus that can result from chasing after things.

      On that note, here are some quotes I’ve found on my web trawls recently that I found inspiring and uplifting, that deal with creating and manifesting in one’s life:

      Walking with faith tends to turn out better than just having a “concrete” plan. A flexible planwith faith creates miracles! ~Mastin Kipp TDL

      Recognize that you have the courage within you to fulfill the purpose of your birth. Summon forth the power of your inner courage and live the life of your dreams. ~Gurumayi Chidvilasananda

      Life is a handful of short stories, pretending to be a novel.-~~Anonymous
      If we fill our short stories with love a beautiful novel has the opportunity to transpire!~~~Margery@Angelhealingwaters

      Finally, I leave you with an affirmation I like: “I am open to beneficial change’ (vs ‘I wanna stay the way I am!’) (from ‘Simplify, Simplify, Simplify’ on Facebook). Really, all we can do is be open to the flow of change in our lives, and co-operate with it rather than running away. Bring on 2011!

      One of the biggest gaps I experience in life is between how connected I want to feel – and how connected I feel moment to moment, in reality. Connected to what?

      Life, myself, the Universe, God(dess), whatever – to me it doesn’t matter so much what you call it, it’s the feeling I recognise: joy, contentment, openness, and inspiration. Where my energy is flowing and it feels good. Feeling motivated but not compelled to do things – feeling that I am okay no matter what.

      Sometimes I feel really ground down by the seeming mundanity of my life, and the endless repetition of tasks that stay-at-home motherhood involves can feel anything but spiritual and connected. Recently I wrote a guest post for Authentic Parenting about this seeming contradiction. The last couple of weeks, though, something has shifted in my ability to connect with that connected state of being.

      I sometimes spend more energy trying to escape motherhood, than actually enjoying it; using a lot of the mental space I could be using for being present and feeling calm and joyful in the moment, to orchestrate my next ‘fix’ of something completely non-mother-related, like a spoken word event or a spiritual course. Or looking at friends’ status updates on Facebook too much, to feel like I am part of the real world – filling my mind with often irrelevant distractions.

      Because of my fear of isolation, I spent most of Jude’s babyhood rushing frantically around from one activity to another, and it exhausted me. Nowadays our life has a slower pace because Jude often prefers to be at home. Amidst the moments of boredom I’ve started to feel relieved, and to experience that simple contentment of being where I am, with Jude, and knowing him well rather than having a childcare worker share his most significant moments.

      I definitely still find cultural and spiritual events inspiring and valuable, but I’m becoming more realistic about my life as a single mother and not trying so hard to squeeze everything in.

      I couldn’t organise a babysitter for two arts/cultural events I wanted to go to recently. But instead of feeling deprived, I was surprised to find I felt totally accepting – almost relieved to be able to let go of that pressure to do and be all things, and just read a book in the evening when Jude went to sleep. This has been far more nourishing for me lately. Also, it meant I had more energy the next day to be with my son and join him in his enthusiasm for life.

      I’m realising how much energy it takes to be with other people and do task-orientated activities, especially when I am with a high-energy preschooler most of the time, and how much alone time I truly need to recharge.

      I think the shift I’ve experienced in feeling more connected has a lot to do with being kinder to myself about how much energy it really takes to mother in a present, aware way, and allowing myself more rest and relaxation.

      This requires not believing those less than kind thoughts that insist I use my only two or three hours ‘off’ each day to do goal-orientated tasks. The work of Byron Katie has helped me enormously with this. It’s a radical re-conditioning, but worth it to feel that gap getting smaller.

      It looks like autumn is here, teetering on the edge of summer like a surfer poised to take a wave. It brings with it a gust of feelings, memories and images – but many of them, strangely, are to do with summers past. And even though I am now the veteran of six winters in England, I feel the same terror of the sudden stripping away of warmth as the sun deserts us.

      Its visit is so fleeting compared to the seemingly endless summers of my South African childhood and early twenties : I have memories of churning up mud with ecstatic feet beside sprinklers on the lawn, of eating peaches in the pool, dripping juice onto the sizzling tiles, and melting Smarties while paging through Archie comics – all under a mind-blanking curve of lucid blue sky.

      Back then, it seemed easier to relax into the natural gaps in life. I think my addiction to ‘busy-ness’ began at university – the sheer workload of a Psychology degree combined with trying to have a social life. Yesterday morning I sat on the seafront while Jude was at creche, and what seemed like a million to-do lists were cascading through my head. Aware that this was probably one of the last days of good weather, I wished I could just listen to the waves and let myself float with them.

      But I’ve been facing a big decision, which was churning around in my mind: whether to continue working an 81-hour week looking after Jude (i.e. unpaid childcare) and studies, or to take the plunge and convert sixteen of those hours into ‘official’ work – i.e. what the government recognises as taxable income.

      Even though I would be doing things I love for money – teaching yoga and writing freelance – because I don’t want Jude to be in significant amounts of non-parental childcare, it would mean giving up some of my already very limited fiction-writing time and ‘dreaming time’ and cramming work into every single gap in my life. Like so many decisions, it’s hard because both options involve gains and sacrifices – so it’s a real process of sifting through my values and defining which ones are non-compromisable.

      If I choose the working route, I’ll have more money, of course, and the freedom that brings. And the satisfaction of sharing my gifts with the world. But I’ll also lose the freedom to rest when I need to during my child-free time – and to be available for spontaneous things like contemplating waves, or going for an Artist’s Date.

      These may seem like indulgences, but it is the very space to breathe that allows the rest of our life to exist, whole: the same way that music could not exist without spaces between notes.

      In my last post I wrote about the stress that creeps in – as it would if you were working an 80 hour week at anything – simply because of the lack of space and, crucially, silence. In ‘Finding Sanctuary’, Abbot Christopher Jamison says some compelling things about the downside of being too busy – how it denies the soul’s yearning for silence and is a sickness our society perpetuates to keep us consuming more and more.

      Even I, who consider myself a very un-materialistic person, fall into this trap because of the powerful messages that equate working (as defined by the government) with self esteem and money with security, happiness and freedom. Let’s be honest: ‘single mother on benefits’ isn’t a label that inspires pride.

      But I’ve been encouraged of late to see that some of the gaps I’ve written about here are starting to be filled in a very satisfying way – and not through me ‘trying’ to do anything. Community, for instance. I’ve been bumping into my neighbours in the park and having good conversations, and in fact there’s an event called ‘Hanover Zocalo’ happening in my neighbourhood this weekend where people put their chairs outside and hang out with the neighbours.

      Then there’s nature – another of my core values: I’ve been spending more time in locations like Stanmer Park, picking blackberries with Jude – which he loves – and even in ‘ordinary’ Queenspark up the road, Jude has been enjoying playing ‘Pooh sticks’ in the (admittedly smelly) stream and ‘fishing’ with a stick. It’s been so heartening to see him enjoying nature, trying to climb trees, wanting to explore, when I was starting to fear he’d always prefer urban concrete playground environments.

      So…I guess real life is in the gaps, sometimes. The unscheduled connections and synchronistic meetings, the times you let go of what’s been planned to follow an instinct – to walk into a gallery to have a closer look at a bewitching painting. It’s often only when I allow gaps to exist without compulsively filling them, that a solution to a problem will appear. Those gaps, I think, cannot have a price put on them.

      Dispensing raisins with one hand and scribbling with the other is probably not what Julia Cameron intended when she advised writing ‘Morning Pages’: three longhand pages first thing in the morning to help artists recover their connection to their gifts.

      The idea is to become familiar with your ‘first thoughts’, before the world intrudes, and thereby get in touch with what you really desire in life – clearing the pathway to right creative action. You’re supposed to get up before the others in your household and set aside at least half an hour to allow for these important musings.

      Well, the world intrudes on me at approximately 6 am these days – since the recent end of our breastfeeding relationship and the sad loss of the ‘feeding back to sleep so you can get some more shut eye’ manoeuvre. And it’s usually with a bit of a thump: a two and three-quarter-year-old thump with an emphatic “Woke up Mummy! Woke up!”

      Prompted by the block I’ve been experiencing with my novel, (which I’ve been working on, on and off, for years), I turned to the ever inspiring Julia Cameron, author of the acclaimed “The Artist’s Way” which helped me recover from writer’s block – and general creative blocks – several years ago.

      But a couple of nights ago I felt more than a little annoyed with Julia. Reading her ‘Walking in this World’ with Jude tucked up asleep beside me,  everything she suggested struck me as impossible for me, a single mother juggling study and part time work, to actually implement.

      Having time to go on an artist’s date? Sure, no problem when I was 24 and running on my own schedule, and I did find them very beneficial back then. But now…? The gap between where I was at, and where I wanted to be in order to nurture my creativity, seemed to loom very large indeed.

      Just as I was about to toss the book aside in despair, she said something that turned it all around: she related the story of how, as a single mother, she had started to lose joy in her very joyful, lovely daughter. Serving her daughter’s needs and not serving her own creative needs was taking all the sap out of her. She was irritable, resentful, and snapping at her child.

      I could hear a mirror of myself here. I go through regular periods where the enjoyment of motherhood sounds like a far away ideal rather than a lived reality. My life feels hectic, overwhelming, and a struggle to meet everyone’s basic needs, let alone my creative ones – hardly a tranquil pool of bliss.

      Of course, as a yoga teacher and long-time yoga practitioner, none of this should be a problem for me, right? I should be able to meditate and asana myself into a state of imperturbability, just with my regular practice. Well, I’m afraid it’s not that simple. I practice yoga most days (usually with my son playing nearby, regularly talking to me and clambering over me – so not exactly relaxing). I meditate most days, though not nearly as long as I would like to.

      And still, although things are much worse if I don’t practice, it’s challenging to keep my perspective, to not succumb to stress, to not… you get the picture. But Julia Cameron’s words made me stop and think.

      She said that she had been told by a mentor that instead of listening to the prevailing ‘cultural wisdom’, which says ‘your child must come first’, she needed to listen to her innate wisdom, which was saying: your connection to yourself and your creativity comes first, and then your mothering will flow out of that abundance.

      It was such a relief to read that. I have long compared myself to what my friend and I call ‘Uber Mothers’ who just live, breathe and sleep mothering, who just seem to love being with their children more than any other activity. Well, I love my child, but I also love reading, writing, being in nature alone, meditating and experiencing my soul. I would love to be one of those mothers – if in fact, they really do exist – but I can only be what I am.

      So. I have had a look at what I can prune from my over-committed schedule, and what help I can marshal to create a bit more space and time. I have newly committed myself to morning pages, and to waking up even just 15 minutes before Jude – early as it is – to do those in peace, without having to answer questions about helicopters at the same time. I’m also going to somehow fit in an artist’s date – taking myself off to do something or be somewhere just for me, just to feed my inner artist – once a week.

      Even if you are not a parent, I think we all probably have areas where we need to let go of over responsibility in order to give ourselves the space we need to grow and flourish.

      I’ve realised that it’s not enough to try and get an early night and recover from my 13-14 hour days looking after Jude. I need to drink from the pool of my own creativity, and this replenishes me in a way that no amount of sleep can. I’m also reading novels that directly relate to my own novel, speaking in the language of magic and mystery and forests in which my own work is steeped, and giving space for that to breathe. Hopefully, out of that will come a more energised, happier mother.

      And I notice my creativity flowing into my motherhood more: making up stories which Jude loves listening to; turning the bathsponge into a friendly monster-creature; just grabbing those moments with  him and making the most out of it instead of just living through them in the hope that I’ll come out the other end intact.

      I’d like to share some lovely quotes that have recently inspired me in this area: “A wise parent does little, yet so much gets done! After all, the Eternal does nothing, yet the entire universe goes on. When you get too busy, stop and return to centre. When you are centred, you easily keep things in order.  When things are in order, there is not much to do”; “To allow the Mother principle to work to centre your family, take time for yourself. Otherwise, the self will be constantly grasping for its share. This grasping obscures the Mother principle from within you and from your family, and leaves everyone alone and lost.” – Vimala McClure, ‘The Tao of Motherhood’ (I highly recommend it as a ‘daily reader’ for mothers).

      And finally: “In the quietness of a woman’s life she is at peace. Seeking nothing more than to be still and listen with the source of all life moving through her. Showing her the one consciousness of love” – Casey Leasure, ‘The Color of a Woman’s Heart’ page, Facebook.

      Before I became a mother, I was, and still am, a feminist. My version of feminism at the time acknowledged few essential differences between males and females of the human species. I was convinced that socialisation – parenting, schooling, peers, and the media – accounted for most of the differences we see between boys and girls, men and women. Another gap between ideas and the real world, it seems.

      Today I found myself at a nearby park at a windy 6:20 p.m. feeling distinctly – well, nervous – as I realised I was the only female for miles around. There were some teenage boys playing basketball in the court nearby and a few rough looking younger boys kicking balls up into trees, and then me and my toddler son, who does such a good drop-kick that he even got an admiring remark from one of the ‘tough lads’: “Good kick, especially for a little kid.”

      I notice how at the age of two and nine months, my son’s ball skills have surpassed my meagre ones already, and how he looks at the older boys with fascination, soaking in everything they do with an attentive eye. That’s where he learned how to drop kick: sure, I showed him a couple of times, but he was the one who asked me how to show him in the first place, because he’d seen other boys doing it. As a girl, I avoided ball sports like the plague, even hiding in the cloakrooms before gym (or P.E. as it was called). I was so unco-ordinated I couldn’t fathom how to return a volleyball or hit a ball with a bat, and I froze up with fear when a ball came my way.

      So this is all new and foreign territory as I notice I’m spending at least 1o minutes a day doing a formerly despised and feared activity, and almost enjoying it at times. Often it’s all too easy to think of Jude as ‘my child’ and so when his gifts and interests emerge in a different – and very masculine direction – I not only realise that he is after all quite a separate being, but also a sense of foreignness creeps in: after all, I have never even remotely understood the male species (even now).

      As a women who grew up in a very female household (a sister, a mother, a grandmother and a lone male: my dad), boys and men fascinate, excite and terrify me by turns. At school, boys were the ones who teased and bullied me most – although girls could be vicious in their own ways. It’s so strange to think that my own child is now the possessor of this masculinity, that can take so many different forms, but often in our society is distinctly twisted in one direction. I walked past a mother with a young son yesterday, saw him fall and bite back the tears as she said, “You ain’t crying, see, you ain’t a cry baby, you’re a big boy.”

      Of course there are many girls and women who love ball sports and physical activity: but Jude has been largely brought up by me, someone who couldn’t care less about such things, yet he showed a clear preference for looking at ball play since before he could say the word: from as soon as he could turn his head as a baby.

      It’s not just the interest in balls and climbing, the need to be ‘walked’ like a dog (while I was happy to spend hours curled up with dolls and books as  a child), and the ‘vroom-vroom’ gene as Susan Maushart, author of ‘The Mask of Motherhood’ calls it: it’s the sense of separateness, a feeling that in some sense I will never understand my son and what makes him tick, because he is, well, the opposite gender from me. I felt a sadness as I looked at the older boys and realised that Jude won’t want to play ball with me for very much longer, that in the not too distant future he’s going to be firmly ensconced in a peer group of boys. That they will become his barometer of how well he is doing. Now, he asks for cuddles and kisses and to be picked up, and needs me to kiss his knee better when he falls; so I try to appreciate these moments, although I’d really rather be in the bath with a book.

      Which, actually, I’m going to do right now that he’s finally asleep (yes, I needed the breathing technique as it was a bit of a battle again…)

      But first: a tip for managing the gap between your patience as you’d like it to be, and the rapidly wearing-thin-sense-of-tolerance that is sometimes the less palatable reality. Applicable to parents and non-parents alike. It’s a simple tool called the square breath. Simply inhale to the count of four, hold for four, exhale to four, and hold out for four. Continue until you notice that your state of mind has changed, or at least you’re concentrating more on the breath than whatever’s threatening to ‘make’ you lose your cool. It’s helped me many times when I’m feeling a sense of time pressure or a situation of high emotional velocity.

      Oh, and magnesium. I’ve noticed a big difference since I’ve been taking a magnesium supplement once a day. It was recommended on a natural parenting site for helping people cope with the stresses of everyday life, and I’ve noticed since I’ve been taking it that I feel – well, just more in control. I still feel irritated when Jude, say, won’t go to sleep and I desperate for some me time, or he’s asking me the same question for the tenth time – but I don’t feel that sense of water rising above my head. Apparently many of us are magnesium depleted with today’s depleted soil and diets, so it’s worth looking into it. Oh, and it has to be taken separately from calcium or any other vitamin or mineral, so as to be absorbed properly.

      Oh, yes…that bath is getting cold. Have a good week!

      Hello everyone and welcome to my blog. As a mother, writer and yoga teacher, I’ve been thinking lately about the gap between our ideals and the real messiness of life. As a mother, so often I’m measuring myself up against some idea of the perfect mother, and I know from talking to my friends that this is a not uncommon experience. Whether we’re ‘attachment parenting’ or following Gina Ford’s schedules, we’re all trying our best to do the right thing, and this can be a lonely journey.

      But it’s other gaps too. In many areas of life. The gap between doing and being: between going after your goals and just allowing things you need to flow towards you. The gap between focusing and multi-tasking. The gap between  my mom friends and my friends who haven’t crossed this bridge yet, or may never do so. The gap between being a writer and a creative person and, as a parent, having to put another being’s needs first. Negotiating these differences can feel like stepping across a chasm at times. Other times it happens in a more fluid space.

      I’ve just returned from a wonderful week at Midsummer Camp in which many of these contradictions could exist side by side. I was able to be a mother and also a woman, friend, dancer, hedonist. I could play, dancing around a fire, and also be serious and soulful with long conversations under the stars. I could take my son for a fun wheelbarrow ride and pretend we were going to Africa, and have a release of tears in a singing workshop a couple of hours later.

      Most importantly the co-parenting that evolved from the communal living situation at this camp showed me that the different parts of me could be held in a space, allowed to be, and flourish, as I was not carrying the full burden of my son’s wellbeing – and let’s face it, in our society where parenting is done largely alone, it is set up to be something of a burden. He benefited from it too, and I could see him blossom as he interacted with others and experienced the freedom of movement that is so difficult to find in the city.

      I want more of this, and I want to explore how to do this in our everyday lives. Join me to share ideas on how you do it – whether you are an artist, writer, office worker, businessperson, parent or non-parent.

      I will share my tips and ideas on how I live with these gaps or attempt to do so, including: simple yoga and breathing exercises, visualisations, books that have helped me, etc. So join me on this journey as we attempt to not only straddle the gap but be comfortable in it!