Hugs, Not Drugs

A conversation with a colleague a few weeks ago prompted me to add an item to my list of potential blog post topics.  Clearly we didn’t have enough work on that day.  We were discussing the closeness you feel when you hug a friend or family member who has known you a long time, a properly long time.  Those people who have been through countless ups and downs with you.  Grown up with, or watched you grow up.  It’s a hard thing to describe, that hug, it’s a deeply personal thing.

I figured it would be a good topic to address in a few weeks, months even, but then I met someone, briefly, for the first time, and as we said goodbye, we hugged, and it was good, really good.  We held it for longer than I expected, it was firm, but soft.  Hugs like that don’t seem to come around so often.  I’ve got several posts concurrently in draft mode at the moment, but that one hug triggered the urge in me to push this one to the front of the queue.  Funny thing that, here’s a person I barely know, but following a brief physical connection, it triggered in me the desire to write about physical connection.

I remember the great hugs from the past few years.  For instance: I remember the embrace with my Dad in September 2016, at Heathrow arriving home for the first time since moving to Australia.  I’m not convinced my father and I had ever hugged like that before.  I also remember the hug with my Mum when she came to visit me down under earlier this year, as I greeted her at Sydney airport’s Arrivals area.  There were also hugs with two of my best mates, as I said goodbye to them on December 23rd last year, the day after a wedding, major hangover in play, and with no idea of when I’d see them next.  I managed to keep the tears at bay, but it was a close call.

Living abroad, especially Australia when you’re British, it’s marvelous fun.  A part of me likes the distance, I haven’t worked out why exactly – I think it’s something to do with the sense of adventure.  However, it’s also terrible, it’s bloody far from my other life, the life I left on hold when I packed up and got on that plane almost three years ago.  A handful of memorable hugs in that time is symptomatic of it.  I don’t get enough of those interactions here.  However, that got me to thinking: were there enough hugs when I lived in England, with my closest friends and family?

I’m not convinced there were.

Some of my guy mates back home are man-huggers.  I appreciate a man hug, it’s strong, reassuring, friendly, cool.  There are two variations of the man hug action – the two men face off and then either:

a)  Shake hands with their right hands, then both use their right hand to pull the other party in towards them.  In the case of an alpha and beta male, it’s probably the alpha pulling the beta in, whether he likes it or not.  I tend to ask my hug-receiver to bring it in.  I am English after all, impeccable manners if nothing else.  The left arm wraps around the shoulder of the other, this is followed by a quick squeeze, then 2-3 pats on the back in between the shoulder blades. Then release.

or..

b) Left arm goes down, right arm goes up (or vice versa).  Wrap arms around each other, one below the arm pit, one above, this is then followed by a quick squeeze, then 2-3 pats on the back in between the shoulder blades.  Then release.

I’m not a gangster, so option ‘b’ tends to be the go to.  The man hug is functional, it displays a quasi-cool intimacy that men rarely display for each other.  If you’re craving human connection, the man-hug is infinitely better than a hand shake, or a hi-five.  But here’s the thing, it’s still a bit crap.

“Woah, woah, woah! What’s wrong with a man-hug, Chris?”   Fair point, there’s nothing wrong with it, but it’s a bit, well, half-hearted.  Don’t lynch me just yet…

In the first instalment of my first Chocolate Covered Rave post I described my discomfort at holding eye contact with my friend.  Later in that evening, once the physical and mental barriers had been broken down by that dancing mayhem, I had no such problem with prolonged eye contact.   In my opinion, the ‘man hug’ is the 7 seconds of socially-acceptable eye contact. It’s generally too short, and too machismo to allow the shared bond of energy to pass between between the two participants.  It says hello, it conveys safety, familiarity, friendship, confidence even.  Hold that hug for a mere 5 seconds longer and you’ll feel it.  Feel what?  Care, compassion, trust, friendship, love.

I definitely have space for more care, compassion, friendship and love in my life, but I’m not lonely.

Calls bullshit on himself. 

No, seriously, I’ve got some good friends here, and feel pretty content about life.  One of my sisters, to whom I’m both very close, lives in Australia at the moment, and having family around is awesome.  I’m just fine.

Calls bullshit on himself, again. 

Okay, okay, I’m slightly lonely, I’ll admit it.  I like my life, I like where I think it’s going.  Sure, it could be better; I know I have things to work on, but I’ve read enough about troubled places and periods of time to realise that I’ve got it pretty damn good.  I live a 5 minute walk from the golden Bondi sand, have plenty of friends, plenty of money, plenty of ‘stuff’.  But I am a tad lonely.

The question I have is this: Are we all a tad lonely?  I have a strong urge to write about ‘ancestral’ ways of living, which I’ll get to at some point.  I just can’t shake the sense that the way we live nowadays is so far removed from what was intended for us, that we can’t possibly be truly satisfied in this space.  I’m obviously not the first person to comment on this; the rich, successful and incredibly unhappy people are well documented.  Our society has so many of us striving for material wealth, that we’re either unhappy because we haven’t achieved it, or we’re unhappy because we have achieved it, and realise upon making it, that it wasn’t the answer to the right question.

You know what the answer is folks, deep down, we all do.  It’s us.  It’s the Earth.  It’s everything and one, a giant interconnected web of energy, which we’ve sadly, and effectively, disconnected from.

We live in these little concrete blocks that shut us off from each other and the outside natural world.  We go to work in metal carriages and look at our phone screens, we get to work and look at our PC screen (and our phone screens some more).  We come home and watch a television screen, and look at our phones even more. We go to a gig and half the audience is too busy filming it to enjoy it. I’m so glad I went to Ibiza in 2008 before camera phones ruled the world.

Do I feel loneliness more than others?  Am I just being a “big girl’s blouse”, as my Dad would say.  Possibly both.  Or do we just not like to talk about it, because none of us want to appear vulnerable and weak?

I wrote previously about the chocolate-fuelled dance party I attended a while back.  Well, I went to my second sober rave on Saturday night.  Potent drinking chocolate was on offer once again, I stuck with water.  At one point the dance floor opened up into a circle and the members of the diverse crowd took it in turns to showcase their ‘moves’.

When I say ‘moves’, I’m selling them short.  This was an ecstatic dance party, it’s less ‘moves’, more ‘wild limb flinging madness’.  One individual on that dancefloor was flinging herself around more than others, with wild reckless abandon one might even say.  She was petite, brunette, probably 22 or 23 years or age.  Most importantly – she was a free spirit.  Completely uninhibited.  As the dancing mayhem inevitably slowed (chocolate can only do so much), this young woman approached, looked me square in the eyes, saying not a single word, put her hands on the spaces between my neck and shoulders and proceeded to massage my trapezius muscles.  I hadn’t realised those muscles were tight until that moment.  She had.  Then we danced together. Not in the typical sense. We moved with feeling, not thinking, some part of us always touching.  Then we had a conversation.  Then we hugged.

During that conversation I learned that she was studying tantra, and working as a cuddle therapist.  I shit you not, apparently there are people willing to pay good money for a cuddle these days.  I think I may have found my calling.  Seriously though, what does this say about society.  It’s sad AF.

As humans, we have two main tools at our disposal to create bonds: with our minds via conversation, and with our bodies, via our touch.  Most of us don’t get taught any of this, we just kind of make it up as we go.  In some cultures, (i.e. Latin) they’re so tactile, that children are exposed to it from an early age and it becomes the norm.  In others (i.e. Northern European), we’re more reserved and many kids will grow up without that education.  Obviously that’s a stereotype, everyone is different, not everyone wants to be ‘touchy feely’.  What I am coming to realise is that conversation can be overrated.  I mentioned yin and yang in my last post.  We NEED both.  Physical connection is just as important as a good chat.

I think I’ll wrap this up here, my last post drew complaints regarding it’s length (and no man wants to hear complaints about length).  I’ll finish by noting down my intention to hug more.

Join me:  I challenge you, dear reader, to hug three people today, and hold those hugs for as long as you can, without it getting weird.  Or let it get weird, what’s the worst that can happen.jazz-hands

Bants, Bants, Bants

LADS

A colleague of mine, let’s call her Naomi (she’s not called Naomi), called me a “sensitive soul”  last week.  It wasn’t in response to witnessing England’s World Cup dreams falter and die, but a light bulb did go off in my head.  I talked in a previous post of how I was on the lookout for my next writing topics.  Well, here was one, delivered on an imaginary plate.  Time to get out the old knife and fork, and take a bite, so to speak.

I get told that I’m a sensitive guy occasionally – ironically this doesn’t upset me.  A very good friend of mine, let’s call him Dan (he is called Dan. Gotcha), called me out on it a few years ago.  I can’t remember his exact words, but it was a suggestion that I was looking for something a bit different in life to most of us.  I practice yoga, I meditate, I like long walks on my own, and now I write a blog about my feelings and experiences.  In retrospect it’s probably a fair assessment.  I also like to watch and play sport, have drinks with the lads, drive my car, and chase women (are we still allowed to say ‘chase women’?).  It’s all about balance…

“Men don’t have to be anything. You just have to be you. Fuck defining that.”

– David Greenwald, 2016

An individual’s level of sensitivity is a subjective matter.  I’ve definitely been called insensitive more than I have the opposite, namely by ex-girlfriends, and my mother. What is the acceptable baseline level of sensitivity for a man?  What is too much?  What is too little?  Are the levels the same for women?  Who gets to decide?  Does it matter?  “What does it all mean, Basil?”

I think sensitivity often gets lumped into the same basket as weakness, and that’s a shame.  In the distant past, before we industrialised the world and started living inside concrete blocks, the tribe members who were the most ‘sensitive’ would be responsible for keeping us safe.  They would be the ones trusted to alert us to threats, hunt our food, navigate our nomadic movements, judge weather patterns, heal our ailments, etc.  Shamans are called ‘hocus pocus’ scam artists nowadays, but in indigenous society they were revered.

It’s somewhat indicative of the society we now live in.  It seems to me that we have increasingly placed more value on the masculine within our world.  Yin and Yang – both energies are important.  In the second paragraph I made a ‘jokey’ comment about balance in my own life, but laughs aside, it’s very relevant.  The destruction of the natural environment, globalisation, Deep Water Horizon, war, London’s knife crime epidemic, 60 million Chinese children being left behind in rural China whilst their parents go to the cities in search of factory work, keeping up with the Joneses, the rat race, the Syrian refugee crisis, investment banker bonuses, plastic choking the sea, 5L V8s, drink driving.  It’s all a result of the overwhelming dominance of masculine energy in our (let’s be honest) fucked up society.

Disagree?  Look at the comparisons of how we remunerate and prioritise those in  occupations which develop and heal our fellow humans (mothers, nurses, teachers, etc), compared to how we reward those who make cold, hard cash.  Cold hard cash – couldn’t sound less feminine if it tried.

I’m no expert in the ancient energies, so I pulled the following from this website to describe the difference for me:

The feminine is creative, nurturing, passionate, connected to nature, wild, enchanting, in flow, and loves to connect. This is why most women (who are embracing their feminine) could talk for hours on end for no reason other than to connect. 

The masculine is still, calm, integrous, certain of itself, great at problem-solving, determined,  and absolutely goal-oriented. Masculine energy is more focused on purpose. That’s why men often need to have a purpose for a conversation, a trip to the shops, and most especially for their lives.

If a man (or a woman with a more dominant masculine energy) does not have a clue what his life purpose is, he will be restless and unable to commit to anyone other than himself until he knows his purpose.

Every human being has a mix of both energies and a healthy balance and use  of each is essential for a fulfilling life.

As I read the below, it opened a spiral of dialogue in my own head, mainly focused around the question – is this me?

If a man (or a woman with a more dominant masculine energy) does not have a clue what his life purpose is, he will be restless and unable to commit to anyone other than himself until he knows his purpose.

Woah. Deep. ‘Triggering’.  I’ll come back to this.

Writing an essay without a plan is a fun, liberating experience, but it’s also kinda hard.  I keep having to dive back and re-read what I’ve written to try to establish where to go next.  Meanwhile it keeps getting longer and longer.  I understand now why my English teachers used to bleat on about the importance of creating a plan before answering an exam essay question.  With that in mind, back to the topic.  The real topic (hint: it’s not banter).

“You’re too bloody sensitive”

No one has ever said this to me, or at least said it to my face, but I am guilty of saying it before… Shortly after I had upset the recipient of my accusation.

Sensitivity is person-specific.  We all have different tolerance levels, formed, and to an extent, ‘locked-in’, by our cumulative life experience.  Take me (and most other men educated in Britain) as an example; I went to an all-boys secondary school, populated by relatively smart lads.  I spent 7 years at school between the ages of 11 to 18 having the piss ripped out of me, and learning how to throw those insults right back.  Getting in the first jab is the best form of defence, however.  Comebacks are harder to come by.  Unless you’re Jimmy Carr.  Or my mate Steve.

Boys are not ‘nice’ in that sense, but that’s the way a lot of us are configured; being amicably horrible is our way of bonding.  This experience desensitises us to being insulted.  Just like a boxer becomes desensitised to being punched, or a sniper becomes accustomed to shooting at people from a distance.  I’ve got to be careful about generalising here, let me be clear: I’m not saying the girls aren’t equally capable of being horrible to each other.  I have some girl mates who are far funnier/better at slinging insults than I am.  I would simply speculate that, typically, young girls don’t engage in the ‘sport’ quite to the extent that us lads do whilst we’re growing up (and grown up).

Banter’ has, however, gone full main stream of late, and women seem to be on board.  The ability to give as good as you get is revered.  I’ve noted that ‘Good banter’ is often listed as a requirement above all else for potential suitors in women’s dating app bios.  Instagram accounts showcasing the best in global ‘bantics’ are plentiful, TV shows are dedicated to it.

With good reason.  If you ‘get’ the jovial repartee, it’s a lot of fun.

But it’s a fine line: because of the subjective nature of sensitivity, we occasionally miscalculate the line, causing offence.  If we do, we can wind up being labelled rude, insensitive, cruel even.  Just ask Russell Brand and Jonathon Ross.  Beat up on somebody too much and you step into the world of bullying.  Be too nice, however, and you’ll be labelled needy, a push over, annoying, TOO SENSITIVE.  Knowing what is too much or too little is a key social skill we learn gradually as we grow up.  Becoming sensitive to the feelings of others – some are better at it than others.

This difference in the honed ability to give and take well-meaning insults, is one that I don’t hear being talked about very often.  However, it’s one I’ve experienced first hand.  It’s an issue of compatibility.  Looking in from the outside, the couples whose relationships always look the most solid to me, are the ones where they poke harmless fun at each other on a regular basis.   Personally I’ve never had a relationship like that, where it’s felt that ‘easy‘.

I recall a past relationship that was particularly affected by having very different tolerance levels for playful insults.  My girlfriend at the time was regularly upset by my jibes.  I was, at first, confused by the offence she often took, but once I started to understand our different tolerance levels, I adjusted my dialogue to avoid upsetting her.  Not before labelling her “too sensitive” a couple of times.

Error.  I’m all for being sensitive (there’s that word again) to other people’s feelings, but having to change to be with someone, or holding back part of who you are, is a tried and tested route to failure.  Took me a long time to work that one out.  I’ve been cautious about ‘falling’ into a relationship that didn’t tick the ‘easy’ box since that experience.

There’s a scene from the movie ‘The Last Kiss’ which has remained in my memory for some reason.  One of Zach Braff’s pals asks how he could cheat on his wife, Jacinda Barrett’s character, Jenna:

“How can you f*ck around on Jenna? She’s perfect. She’s beautiful. She’s like a guy. What more could you ask for?”

The ‘she’s like a guy comment’ is an interesting one.  Certainly it could be taken as sexist, but before we go throwing that term about, here’s what Zach’s character had to say about his wife earlier in the movie:

“Jenna and I met 3 years ago. She’s smart, she’s beautiful, she makes me laugh. If you absolutely have to become an adult and all that comes with it, this is the kind of woman you wanna do it with… right?”

This provides a bit of an insight into the thought process of the previous statement.  I guess the friend could have meant that Jenna was ‘like a guy’ in the sense that she farts a lot, leaves the toilet seat up, or some other bullshit gender stereotype, but I think it’s more likely he’s referring to her personality traits.  Maybe her ability to ‘banter’, I’m speculating. Form your own conclusions.

I’m going to go a bit ‘open and honest’ at this point.  The reason I’m single at 34 is that I haven’t found the girl who makes me want to become an adult and take on all that comes with adulthood.  Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had girlfriends – beautiful, smart and interesting women, but I’ve never felt able to properly relax and truly be myself with any of them.  A couple of women have featured where I did feel that, who I like to imagine I would have given up the bachelor life for, but for whatever reason it didn’t work out.  The ones that got away.

“For whatever reason”  

What. A. Cop. Out.

In the past 4 weeks I’ve been exploring myself, my past, my present, and my thought processes more than ever before – “for whatever reason” and blaming it on ‘humour compatibility’ may have been acceptable prior to this phase.  It is not anymore.

I hope I’ve held your interest until this point, because I think I know the reason.  I haven’t been happy.  I’ve been ok, not depressed, enjoying life for the most part, but not PROPERLY happy.  Not confident enough in myself.  You can’t win and be with someone, especially not the smart, confident, beautiful, funny, positive person we all want to have in our lives (i.e. Jacinda Barrett’s ‘Jenna’), not when there’s something not quite ‘on point’ with you.  This, I imagine, is why I’ve ended up flirting with love, in substandard relationships, drawn to people as equally lost as I was.  Relationships with an obvious end date.

Buckle your seat-belts, kids.

  1. Why haven’t I been happy?
  2. I haven’t been very well.
  3. Why haven’t I been very well?
  4. Because I have been abusing my body for 15+ years.
  5. Why have I been abusing my body?
  6. Because that’s what everyone does?
  7. Bullshit.
  8. Ok. It is kind of true, but ask me again.
  9. Why have I been abusing my body?
  10. Because I’ve had my eyes closed, being the person I think I should be based on what others think. Living life in fear.
  11. Why?

Bugger! What started out as an essay on banter has turned into this.

I’m not going to attempt to answer #11 now, but the quote I pulled from that website earlier in this post has been ringing in my ears ever since I pasted it into WordPress a couple of  hours weeks ago (yes, this one has been a long time in the making).  Does it come down to needing to find my purpose in life?  It sounds like such a cliche.

I found a quote on LinkedIn that feels very relevant to this blog:

Deciding what kind of man you want to be is the first step to becoming that kind of man. If you put this question out of your mind, with the hopes that you will eventually become the man that you want to be naturally, you will most likely never become the kind of man that you desire to become.

In my second post, I talked about how I was looking forward to creating a new version of me, with the old bits I like, and the new bits I’m identifying.  The blog is titled ‘Redesigning My Best Self’ for a reason.  If I already had the answer, I wouldn’t necessarily have the reason to be writing.  It seems to me that the current challenge is to come up with that blueprint, and then work out the steps to achieve it.  Those steps may take the rest of my life, and rightly so. Personal growth is not something you complete, it’s an ongoing process.

I grew up seeing very little of my Dad, but lots of my Mum and two younger sisters. As a result, I’ve always enjoyed talking and connecting with women and I have number of close, cherished female friends.  The result of my increased exposure to the fairer sex through my formative years, I think, is the appraisal my colleague recently made of me (which I started this post with).  I am a ‘sensitive soul’, because the women I have been close to in my life have shown me how.  I thank them for that. I do, however, wonder if it has resulted in an energy imbalance – am I embracing my masculine enough. Quite possibly not – I think I’ll do a post on this in the future.

For now though, I am a sensitive soul.  I think deeply, possibly too much, but I like this part of me, I see it as a strength.  It will not be consigned to the bin in the redesign process

Without goals, and plans to reach them, you are like a ship that has set sail with no destination.

– Fitzhugh Dodson

Footnote: This post is by far the hardest I’ve written to date.  I’ve re-shaped and re-worded it countless times over the past two weeks, trying to work out what message it is supposed to be conveying, and how best to communicate that without causing offence.  Even now, as I click ‘Publish’, I’m not convinced I have succeeded.  If I have failed, I apologise.  These are merely my opinions and thoughts, formed from exposures to information inputs throughout my life.  I am not pig-headed enough to think I know it all – I welcome being challenged and shown another way.  Drop me a message.

To Sauna, or not to Sauna?

I should advise you, dear reader, that this post is mostly informative.  As  I started typing I worried about how I might be able to make this an interesting, entertaining post.  I mean, it’s not the Truman Show-esqe glimpse into my being, like some of my other recent pieces.  Then I slapped myself across the face.  A post does not need to be entertaining to be worth reading.  (That said, I have got a juicy, 2,500 word epic sat in the drafts that I’m aiming to publish at some point next week – it just feels too soon after England’s World Cup disappointment to put you through that).

At least 50% of people think it’s ridiculous when they find out that I recently bought a sauna for my rented apartment.  30% don’t seem to know what to make of it.  The enlightened remainder think it’s awesome.   I’m unaffected by such judgments.  Spend 30-40 minutes in my pride and joy, and you’ll soon change your mind, and your underpants (if you’re wearing underpants..).  It gets hot and sweaty in there, folks.

The decision to purchase an infra-red sauna was a surprisingly easy one.  I started paying for 45 minute sessions at a ‘sauna shop’ on Bondi road.  No, it wasn’t a brothel.  After 3 or 4 sessions I was hooked, I always felt amazing afterwards.  I didn’t like the exorbitant cost, but I presumed buying one for my rented apartment was unachievable.  I was wrong.  For $1,900, I had a one-person, Canadian Hemlock sauna delivered up from Melbourne.

It turned up flat-packed in three fairly sizeable boxes.  I’d been out for drinks that evening, so when I arrived home, fairly inebriated, I did what any drunk person would do.  I unpacked it all.

Now, even a one-person sauna is quite a substantial bit of kit, so having removed the wooden panels from their cardboard suitcases, there was simply no way I could leave it strewn in pieces all over the living room.   The instructions stated that putting it together was a two-person job.  Balls to that.  It would be an entertaining YouTube clip to watch me putting that thing together, stumbling around half-drunk, completely failing to heed the assembly notes.  By some miracle, however, just a mere two hours later, and sweating profusely, my throne was erected.  I stripped off, stepped in, and sweated some more.

I woke up with a slight hangover that next morning, so I dived back in for a quick 30-minute bake.  Finished it off with a cold shower and made my way into work.  I felt amazing.  No hangover. No tiredness after 6 hours sleep.  I was a fan.

I bought the sauna on gut-instinct, having chanced upon that shop near my home, and how it made me feel.  I did no prior research into the science of why it made me feel good.  However now I own one, I’ve been researching some of the other touted benefits.  This isn’t a story about me buying a sauna.  It’s a suggestion that you may want to consider getting one for your own home.  I’m looking at you, the cynical 80%.  Here’s why:

Sauna makes you happy: There are studies such as this one to prove it so.  Or, you could just take my word for it.  Waking up in the morning, jumping out of bed, and jumping into the sauna puts a smile on my face.

Increased detoxification: It’s a fact; we live in a toxic world – especially those of us living in cities.  Which is most of us.  This study found a total of 287 chemicals in umbilical cord blood (from a sample group of 10 North American babies), of which, 180 are known to cause cancer in humans or animals, 217 are toxic to the brain and nervous system, and 208 cause birth defects or abnormal development in animal tests.

Holy f**king sh*t, right? Re-read that above paragraph.

Why have I used this study as an example?  Well, expectant mothers are generally the most careful about what they put into their body, and the mother’s body is pretty darn good at protecting the fragile, unborn child.  Despite this, 287 chemicals made it into the babies’ food pipe.  It’s scary stuff.

I described some recent health problems I’ve experienced in my second post.  You read stuff like this and it’s not hard to understand why we’re experiencing a spiraling health crisis in large swathes of the planet’s population.  Without packing up and moving to the forest (what forest?), it’s going to be hard to avoid the chemical ‘wash’ that today’s civilisation burdens us with.  So what can we do?  We can detox.

The skin is key to detoxifying your body via sweat pathways.  The more you sauna, the more you sweat, and the better you become at sweating.  End result.  A less toxic you.  Win.

NOTE: Do not use a sauna if you are pregnant, or have an existing medical condition – check with your doctor.

Hangover Killer: Pretty obvious given the point above.  I’ve had a number of opportunities to test this out over the past month.  Having consumed too much vino on a school night; I’ve dragged my sorry self into the sauna armed with a litre of water and hope for the future.  It works.  I invariably emerge feeling like a new man, albeit a sweaty new man.  Quick cold shower to follow, and I bounce out of the apartment, ready to tackle the day.  This one justifies the expense on its own in my view.

Increased Longevity: This Finnish study proved that regular sauna use (4-7 times per week) resulted in the risk of heart disease or heart attack being halved.

Sauna can make you smarter: Studies have shown that heat stress increases a number of key hormones such as prolactin, norepinepherine and brain-derived neurotrophic factor.  All 3 are linked to improved brain function.  Here’s one such study

Sauna will give you nice skin: In the month or so of procuring my sauna, I’ve had 3 compliments on my skin.  I’m a dude – people don’t compliment men on their skin, or at least, it’s unusual.  Of course, I do also have my diet on point, which helps.

Reduced muscle soreness/inflammation: Feeling a bit stiff after a big gym sesh?  Feeling a bit ‘achey’ with the contraction of a cold/flu virus?  Neck on a 30 degree angle after sleeping at a funny angle?  No problem if you’ve got an infra red sauna lying about.

Talking point: Owning a sauna is unusual.  As far as I’m aware, I am the only person I know who has one, to date.  I’ve had all manner of entertaining conversations around this purchase.  Everyone has an opinion on it.  I see a future where humanity is split between those who have access to a sauna and those who don’t.  Make sure you’re on the right side of that divide.  Yep, they’re that good.

More than enough reasons for you to jump onto the ‘bandwagon’ up there.  I’m sure there are other benefits too.

Ps. this is the supplier who provided mine.  http://www.jnhlifestyles.com.au/far-infrared-sauna/deluxe-1-person-far-infrared-sauna/

They currently have a 15% sale on, so you can pick up a one-person unit for $1,600 in Australia.  Comes with a 3 year warranty.  All those health benefits for the price of a long haul flight. Madness!

No, I’m not on commission.

Happy Sauna’ing.

Losing My Intuition

Roughly a year ago, a friend of mine, let’s call her Nina (she’s not called Nina), told me now was the time for me to read a book called The Alchemist.  So I did.

The Alchemist was written by a Brazilian chap called Paulo Coelho, and published in 1988.  It has gone on to become a wildly successful publication, translated into 74 languages, selling 65 million copies.

But here’s the thing; it’s quite short, it’s quite simple, and not a particularly interesting read (IMHO).  So what’s the appeal?  I’ll come back to that later.

alchemist

This is the fifth post I’ve written on this blog, and it’s the first one where I haven’t started with a clear direction on where I wanted to go with it.  The first four posts were easy to write; I smashed them out in 4 days (although the decision to publish ‘Bare with Me‘ was much harder than the writing).  Since I started writing last Monday, the words have been flowing out of me like Bruce Willis’ tears during his ‘Friends‘ cameo.  Every spare minute has seen me log back into WordPress to type a paragraph, or make some minor amendment.  I’m (quite possibly temporarily) obsessed.

I’ve started doing this thing where I’m constantly on the lookout for blog topics.  I’ve already drawn up a 20-odd long list of future potentials.  I’ve also found myself mentally drafting sentences whilst doing menial tasks, sat on the train, or just walking.

It’s only been a week, but it’s already clear to me that writing is something I should have been doing more of.  My brain likes the process of writing down its thoughts.  Where have those thoughts been going when I wasn’t writing them down?  Hmm…

I’m not alone on this: the advice to keep a daily journal is often touted, but even more ignored.  I can see now that it provides the opportunity to reflect on what’s going on in your life, process what happened, what went well, what didn’t, how to improve, etc.  I’d be interested to hear if any of you out there keep a journal going and what benefits you derive from it.

I’m aware it may sound like I’ve gone off on a tangent there, trust me, I haven’t.

The Alchemist’s basic premise is that the universe will show you what you should (and shouldn’t) be doing with your life.  It is up to you to keep your eyes open, look for those clues, and take action when you see them.  Once you realise what your purpose is, strive with everything you have to make it so, do not waver.

I.e. Follow your intuition, peeps.

Most new parents realise this shortly after they have a first child.  From that moment on, they have a new purpose in life and strive with everything they have to be good parents. They do not need to be told this.  It comes naturally.

To tie these two themes together, I’ve got a nice example to share…

So here I am at 34, realising that I really enjoy writing. I’ve always suspected that I would, but I’ve never really tried.  Don’t get me wrong, I wrote a lot during school and university, as we all did, but that was never me writing about what I wanted to.  This is a whole new ball game.

According to ‘The Alchemist’, the universe will have been telling me I should be writing (maybe not professionally, but writing nonetheless).

It did.

Example No.1

I was fortunate that my parents pushed for me to go to a local, highly-rated grammar school.  I had a tutor for a short period who brought my maths, English and non-verbal reasoning skills up to speed.  700 bright-eyed, young lads took the entrance exam.  120 were fortunate to be awarded places.  I was blessed to be one of them, it was a truly excellent school to attend.  I later found out that I had scored in the top 1% for the English entrance exam.  Apparently I was the only kid out of the 700 who chose to answer the question topic of describing a walk on an autumnal day.  There was obviously some sort of raw talent there.

Example No.2

English at school – I’m not going to bleat on about this: it was just my favourite subject.  From 11-18, I looked forward to language and literature classes, and my grades were consistently decent.  Ironically, my second favourite subject was biology.  Here I am at 34, keen interests include reading (and apparently now writing too) and human health.

So what did I go on to study at university?

That’s right folks.  Economics.

Why did I study economics at university?  I think I can put this down to two key events.

Firstly, I became motivated by money once I started working part time in shops and restaurants as a teenager.  Growing up, we weren’t poor, but my parents divorced when I was 11 and money was fairly tight.  I loved the freedom having my own cash provided, and this created a desire in me to be a wealthy adult.  Studying economics and then building a fast-paced career in finance became my goal.  Not because I wanted to work in finance.  Purely because I wanted to be wealthy, and that seemed as good a plan as any.  I recall a conversation with my Dad in my early teens.  It went along the lines of this:

Dad: “What do you want to do with your life, son?”

Me: “I want to be rich! I’m going to earn £100,000 a year!”

Dad: “Haha, you won’t earn £100,000 a year”

style-blogs-the-gq-eye-Wolf-of-Wall-Street-Fashion-9

Ironically, I achieved this goal in my 30th year.  Proved the old man wrong.  Tick, hit the target, realised I wasn’t happy, quit, and moved to Australia.  There’s a pretty obvious lesson in there.  I’m not regretful; it’s all part of the ongoing personal growth journey that is life.

The second event was this: I had a conversation with a struggling journalist, whilst queuing up overnight for Centre Court tickets at Wimbledon.  I think I was 17 at the time,  half a lifetime ago – I remember it vividly.  This late-twenty-something journo had been scratching out a living working for a local newspaper for 5 years, he was earning less than I was serving tables at TGI Fridays on weekends.  He was still living with his parents.  He was down on his luck.

If this is what being a journalist meant for my life, I wasn’t interested.  I don’t remember any conversations with my parents or teachers about what I would pursue at university. I think that single conversation cemented my decision.  I was going to be a super-rich banker.  That was the end of it.

Oh, the stupidity naivety of youth.

How crazy that seems when I look back on it now.  I made that decision based on my limited understanding of a stranger’s experience.  Instead I pursued a ‘safe’ career for the end.  The dollar.  The irony here is that I spent 2 years working in finance after Graduation, and fiercely disliked it.  Then the GFC hit, and I found myself working in Technology.

The universe gave me two clear signals, and probably countless others that I failed to notice.  Unfortunately, I was not wise enough, and/or not ready, to interpret and take note.

When you fail to listen to your intuition, you are quite likely to cause stress in your life. Physical red flags like developing anxiety may slowly creep into your life, because your intuition is trying to communicate that you need a change.  A good test for this is going on a holiday.  If you have an ailment which miraculously disappears when you take time off, but it comes back when you return home/to work – your body is sending you a message, make a change.  It’s up to you to listen to it, and work out the course of action.

I had an experience such as this last year, when I took a week off to travel Northern Queensland on my own.  I had been struggling with my health at that point, but removed of all stress, I spent a week in a blissful, chilled state.  Fast forward two weeks, back at work and all the physical complaints came roaring back.  It’s easy to pass this stuff off as normal: “everyone feels better with a holiday, just get on with it”.  That may well be the case, I have utmost respect for stoicism as a concept, but I also believe that if you ignore your intuition for too long, you will pay the price, eventually.

By coincidence, last night I googled Creative Writing courses in Sydney.  The top-rated one is located around the corner from Bronte beach, which if you read my first post, was the scene of where I had that mini-meltdown that led to the creation of this blog.  It’s a funny old world.

Keep your ears pricked, the universe is talking.