Pressing a Pause Button

 

IMG_2726.JPGSo, I disappeared.

 

It’s so uncharacteristic of me that one of my readers reached out to check whether I was OK.

 

About a month ago, I got snowed under marking exams. The task was so large and overwhelming that I didn’t even have time to schedule a post someone sent me for ‘Good Enough’ series. I didn’t even have time to turn on my computer. Working days, evenings and weekends was tough to say the least.

 

Everything else had to stop.

 

I’m pleased to say, the marking is behind me, and so is a conference I attended in Ukraine (I hope to write about it sometimes soon). What’s ahead is trips to five countries within the next two months. Yep, I’m teaching in Germany, followed by more teaching in Belgium and Luxembourg. I’m away the last two weeks of June, home for ten days in July before heading to the USA for five days. To round things off, I’m taking kids to Azerbaijan to spend some quality time with my family. I’m in desperate need of some pampering!

 

Meanwhile, I’m working hard to get ready for my trips.

 

Oh, and I’m running three different events on writers’ block this weekend. If you are local (Birmingham, England) and interested in attending, please, email me on gularav@gmail.com.

 

Thank you for stopping by. I miss you all. Not sure when I’ll write my next post, but hopefully, it’ll be before too long.

 

With much love

 

Gulara

 

Call for Contributions – ‘Good Enough’ (new series)

Good enough Brene Brown.pngI wrote a blog post recently on not feeling good enough for a large proportion of my life. It received a lot of attention from readers, with several people re-blogging it. This resonance with the topic made me wonder whether it’s worth running a series on my blog where people can contribute their stories of feeling not good enough at some point in their lives and how they managed to overcome this limiting belief.

So, if you’d like to contribute, please

1.      Email me at gularav@gmail.com to express your interest.

2.      Submit an engaging story explaining how the feeling ‘not good enough’ showed up in your life, what did you learn from this experience, and how did you manage to overcome it (if it’s an ongoing struggle, it’s not a problem. Sometimes naming things and being honest about them can have a transformative effect in their own right).

3.      Stories should be 500-800 words. If it’s a longer piece, it’s not a problem, get in touch anyway.

4.      If you have a suitable image, please send it through.  

5.      You can include a short bio (up to 50 words), links to your website (if any) and social media presence.

6.      I will promote your post on Twitter and Facebook.

My hope is to inspire readers and infuse them with hope. From my own experience, I know how isolating this feeling can makes us. We hide our shame, and with it we hide away from life and people. Stepping forward and naming the feeling is the best remedy to dissipating it.

You are not alone.

I hope my blog becomes a safe place where we can share our stories and grow through this limiting belief together.

 

When My Grandma Took Her Last Breath

 

 

I first knew there was something wrong with my grandma on Valentine’s Day. You see, it’s my son’s birthday on that day, and she didn’t call to say Happy Birthday. Never ever did we miss a call from her before. In fact, for the first two years of my son’s life, she called every month. No matter what went on in her life, we heard from her on the 14th of each month.

 

As the day progressed and I glanced at my phone, I started wondering whether she was OK. It was a busy teaching day, so I didn’t have time or space to call her myself. My anxiety grew with every passing hour, until my sister left me a voice message. She was in tears, heading to grandma’s.

 

My sister’s message confirmed my worst fears, but I still had another hour of teaching before I could call and speak to grandma myself. It was 9pm in Azerbaijan (5pm in England), when my grandma managed to gather her strength and call me. The moment I saw her name flashing on my screen, I excused myself mid-lecture and went to speak to her. She put on a brave face and spoke as if nothing was happening.

 

Needless to say, for the next two-to-three days I harassed all of my family who happened to have whatsapp. How is she? I held my breath until they woke up and answered my messages. Phew, she’s alive. Can she hang in on there until I finish teaching on 20 March? It looked unlikely.

Luckily, on 16 February, I ran into a colleague and told her what was going on.

 

‘Just go. Go now while you can see her alive. Not much point in going once she’s gone.’

 

I’m so glad we had that conversation, because the next morning started with my mum’s teary voice in my phone:

 

‘She says she’s got only three days left.’

 

I went to work and by 4pm I had permission from my boss to cancel all my teaching and go to Azerbaijan. The trip was as easy as it can possibly get. An Azerbaijani friend of mine was travelling to visit her family on Saturday 18th. I had a ride to Heathrow airport and company during the flight. Once I landed, my old neighbours came to pick me up and took all the way to my hometown.

 

Grandma was alive.

img_8763

This is the first photo I took upon my arrival to my childhood home on 19 February 2017

 

In fact, she told us poems and sang a song for me:

 

‘I’m ready to kiss the sand on which you have been walking.’

 

We talked. An endless stream of relatives and neighbours came to visit; people I haven’t seen for decades showed up to talk to grandma. She was fine. I soaked in her words the best I could.

 

If I could choose all over again, I’d choose this life,’ she said.

 

The life as an orphan, with a violent husband, hardship, famine, war, disappointments, hard work, a beloved son killed at 23….

 

The life in which she brought up two other sons, a daughter, and me (she brought me up as her own). The life with nine grandchildren, eight great-grandchildren and even one great-great-grandson. The life of a matriarch, a strong-willed and much-respected woman.

The life where all her children, grandchildren and their children, endless numbers of relatives and neighbours flocked around her in the final hours of her life.

 

She passed away the next day.

 

There were no signs of her imminent departure, except she told us she’s got two hours left. It was hard to believe her words. In fact, an hour before she died, we had a doctor who said if she eats and drinks properly, she’d live for a long time. Reassured, my mum and sister were planning to have a bath. My grandma got up to empty her bladder. Once upright, we decided to make her comfortable. We cleaned her up, changed her clothes and bedding. A few minutes later, she got into her bed, and suddenly something shifted. Her breathing wasn’t right, and by the way she acted, I knew it was the beginning of the end. I kissed her forehead to say goodbye, and was there until she took her final breath half an hour later. She left quickly and peacefully surrounded by her loved ones.

 

Something in that experience has really changed me.

 

I used to think of death as something scary. Perhaps I was too young at 14 to appreciate its beauty when my grandpa died. My grandma’s death felt different. I could feel the spirits, and something magical in the air. She was ready to go, and her loved ones were waiting for her on the other side. 

 

Perhaps, the grieving rituals observed in Azerbaijan helped me to empty out my grief and loss, but somehow, I feel at peace. I know her soul is with me.

 

And, I’m still sad.

 

She won’t call me today, even though it’s my daughter’s birthday. Nor will she call me on Sunday to tell me ‘happy birthday.’

 

Rest in peace, grandma. I will always love you.

img_8775

Have You Seen My Mojo, Folks?

So I’ve lost my mojo.

Mojo? What’s that, you may ask.

Good question. For the last few years I had a sense of moving in the ‘right’ direction. I put one foot in front of the other, and told myself that no matter how slow the progress may seem, I’m progressing. Somehow, that certainty has evaporated lately.

I’m sitting in the ‘unknown’ with nowhere to turn for escape.

You see, I think the way I coped in the past was like this: if one area of my life didn’t work to my liking, I looked for refuge in another. So, if things were difficult in a relationship, for example, I worked extra hard at work to numb out. If things were not great at work, I sought comfort in food. But right now, there’s nowhere to hide.

  • I’m insanely busy at work, just literally managing to stay afloat and not drown under the weight of teaching, marking, students’ welfare, research – the list is so long, I feel tired just naming the stuff I’ve got to do right now.
  • Comfort eating is the thing of the past. I’m on a diet right now. To be honest, it’s wrong to call it a diet, it’s my new lifestyle: no sugar, no flour, no snacking. Three healthy meals a day. Oh, and moderate portions. I’m loosing about 1,5-2 kilos a week at the moment. It’s been three weeks so far.
  • In light of the above, I’m a bit overstretched to be loving and connected at home. My default is when things get tough to disconnect and withdraw into my shell. It’s not a particularly healthy habit, but it’s what I’ve done to survive, so I can easily slip into this pattern.
  • Since there’s so little time and energy for anything, my 1:1 work and all the effort around building consistency, ‘brand’, whatever you want to call it is gone out of the window. I know it’s only temporary but I find it disappointing, because people reported amazing things happening in their lives after working with me.
  • And my book? My patient little book…. It’s stuck too.

Remember that mid-life crisis I mentioned in early January? It’s still on.

letting goFor me the most challenging thing is not to move – to stay still and wait to gain clarity before I take action.  I feel my whole identity is changing. Most of my life, I worked hard to be what people wanted me to be. I’ve had enough. Life is too short and I’m not willing to compromise who I am anymore. The trouble is…. I don’t know who I am. Of course I know at some level. And there’s also a part of me which feels confused. The agenda and wishes of others are falling away, so I keep asking ‘what do I want?’ The answer to that question depends largely on ‘who I am’. Yep, I’m back to square one.

So, if you see my mojo, please, send it my way. I’m ready to surrender.

10 Life Lessons My Husband Taught Me

husbandIt’s my husband ‘s birthday today, but unfortunately I’m teaching and won’t see him before 6pm. So I’m writing this to say ‘Happy Birthday, dear Barry!’ I’m immensely grateful that on 9 May 2010 you went down on one knee and changed our lives for good. Big gratitude for all the life lessons you have taught me in the past 7 years. It’s probably a long list, but here are top ten which popped into my head in no particular order.

1.’Good enough is good enough’

I was at the brink of completing my PhD thesis when I met my husband. Stressed out, I got a repetitive strain injury in my right shoulder and was unable to work for a while. ‘Good enough is good enough’ was his mantra back then. He encouraged me to submit a month and a half before the deadline and I’m so glad I did, because I passed my viva without a signle correction and had an enjoyable rest of the summer.

2. Go for your dreams!

If you’ve been following me for a while, you may know that I come from a relatively oppressive background where women were kept small and not encouraged to do anything but think of their families and children. To have an ally who takes pride in my achievements and offers me support has been healing to say the least. In the time that we’ve been together, I got a permanent lectureship, birthed our children, certified as a Compassion Key fascilitator, written a book or two (but not published yet), entered competitions, travelled to far flung places, like Mauritius – you name it!

3. Always say ‘thank you’ and ‘please’.

Now, this will probably sound awful, but in Azerbaijan we don’t say those words to our family members. It’s a given that each family member is willing to serve the other. The way you ask is what’s important, not saying those words, which are reserved to strangers. I started using them after living in England for a while, but not all of the time. Strangely enough, when I visited Azerbaijan on occasion, I managed to mortally offend some family members by saying thank you and please too much. Shortly after my son arrived, my husband indicated that he’d really appreciate it if I used those words consistently. I’m pretty sure the world is a better place for that.

4. Don’t sweat the small stuff.

This one is a work in progress, but he often reminds me about the importance of focusing on what’s really important in life. Sometimes I forget, sometimes we both forget, so it feels good to include this as a reminder.

5. Speak the truth and nothing but the truth.

When I got my university job, my husband and I were in the process of moving in together. The next morning, I remember settling in an armchair by a large window looking out into a peaceful road and reading work emails. My mind was on my wardrobe wondering what to wear to the drinks organised at work that day. Suddenly, I saw an e-mail from the head of department saying he’s going to see everyone to have celebratory drinks in 5 minutes. Confused, I looked at the date, and saw that the drinks took place the day before. With horror, I realised that I missed the school event organised to welcome me (and other new colleagues) on board. Panicking and somewhat hyperventilating, I starting thinking of a good excuse to explain my absence.

‘Just tell him the truth,’ my husband encouraged me.

To admit that I made a mistake felt super scary at the time. Yet, I went to see the head of department and told him what had happened.

‘No problem,’ he shrugged it off.

It may not seem a big deal, but for me it was the most empowering thing I had done in a loooooong time. To have a proof that I can speak the truth and not get in trouble with an authority figure was amazing.

6. Time is the most precious asset.

Like many, I have lived my life like I’ve got all the time in the world. This illusion that we can do something tomorrow, or cram in more and more and more stuff to do was really unhealthy. When I talk about joining yet another course, my husband never questions the cost. As far as he’s concerned, if I love it, I should go for it. The only thing that he questions is the time commitment. Because there are many worthwhile things to do in life, we have to be selective in how we invest this precious commodity.

7. If you feel grouchy, do appreciations.

Works like charm. Try it. We do it quite regularly, especially when things don’t flow. Just saying ‘I appreciate …’ and completing the sentence can bring a fresh perspective.

8. Obstacles as allies.

This one we learnt together. We were on a dance retreat in Brighton when a teacher introduced an exercise encouraging us to use obstacles as allies. We shortly learnt this principle in practice. It was December of 2010. We were planning to go to Devon for new year, but got snowed in. Grumpy, I complained all the time, until on Christmas eve we received a package with my documents from the Home office. They rejected my visa application because one piece of paper was not enclosed. I had less than a week to re-apply, or else I had to leave the country, because my visa was expiring on 31 December 2010. Panicking we managed to get the paperwork in on time. Were we to travel and return on 2 January as planned, I’d be in a big trouble. Obstacles as allies….

9. Happy parents = happy kids.

This too is a work in progress. In early days, unconsciously, I was following my grandma’s model of martyrdom as a parent. She still prides herself on the fact that she hasn’t lived a single day for herself. I thought if I worked really-really hard, my kids would be happy. Needless to say, I stressed myself and my husband out with all the vein attempt of ‘making them happy.’ It’s been a steep learning curve, but I’m finally getting that when things are well between us, kids are settled and content.

10.  I am loveable – all of me.

This lesson has changed my life. When in the early days of our relationship my husband complained that I never get angry, I must admit I felt puzzled. Why, did he want me to get angry? What was wrong with being nice all of the time. The truth is it was just a habitual façade. For the first time in my life, my light and shadow were welcomed in equal measure, and for that I’m eternally grateful.

Happy birthday, Barry!

P.S. If you enjoyed this post, you may want to check out my last year’s birthday blog too.

Do You Dare to Want What You Want?

Want what you want!

Do you know what exactly you want to be, do and have in life? Do you even dare to know? In my own experience, people often know very clearly what they don’t want. But ask them what they do want, and they can often feel  stumped. Me included.

I’ve been asking this question repeatedly since mid-December. 2017 is an important year for me. So before the year kicked in, I tried my best to figure out how I want to live my year. What do I want more of in my life? What needs to go?

It turns out those are dangerous questions to ask. Because sometimes the answers may come not in the form you anticipated.

I was chatting to a friend recently, and she said something that didn’t sit quite right with me.

‘People hate change,’ she said.

In my mind, I disagreed. Of course, you want to change something that’s not working. Personally, I face all the stuff that’s not working on a regular basis.

But it’s one thing to look at the discomfort which comes to the surface, and another thing to introduce a major change into your life. This dilemma reminded me of another instance in my life when I got really clear on my wants.

I was on my second maternity leave, and we had an idea to take off and settle somewhere warm for a while.

‘This is the time of our lives. I’ve got this freedom. Let’s do something.’

After brainstorming with my husband, I got pretty clear on what was important to me. I wanted to live somewhere warm, near an ocean, with a heartful community and people we could relate to. We even had a place in mind: La Gomera. My husband visited an amazing community there many years ago and loved it so much that we considered moving there.

For six months.la-gomera

It felt exciting beyond measure. Imagine having a retreat for six months. Waking up to do meditation, yoga or dance every morning. Eat avocados from trees and having a nurturing live food done for you every day. Imagine sitting by the ocean and sometimes even diving in. Every day. For six months. Ah, bliss.

But wait. We had to promptly wake up, because we had to hand in 2 month notice to my son’s nursery and chances were we’d loose his place upon our return. And what about the house? OK, we could rent it out, but all the stuff we have? Oh, and don’t forget about the car. Wait a minute, and how much this whole thing will cost? Oh, no, that’s not feasible. So before we knew it we were thinking of going there for a month, which turned into a week, and then disappeared into non-existence.

Having what we really want sometimes requires an effort.

Is it worth it? How much do you want what you really really want? And do you want it with your head, because somehow it sounds like a good idea? Or is it your heart and soul longing for that thing….

Food for thought…

Photo credit: With thanks to Google images.

 

How to (Not) Have an Identity Crisis

Identity Crisis

My identity crisis struck unexpectedly in mid-December. I went on a lovely family holiday, and the plan was to enjoy myself. Instead, it was as if
awake I woke up from a trance. Staring at my reflection in the mirror, I asked how, or even why, I let myself go like this? Trying to be kind to myself the best I could, I fretted about all my extra weight, which incidentally I have been carrying for over a decade. Exercising daily helped, and so did all the healing techniques I know,  but something irreversible was set into motion the day I woke up.

After a two week break, on 1 January I logged into my website and found out it was down. Pushing mild irritation away, I message the IT company that hosts my website to find out what was going on. The answer transpired a couple of days later. Apparently something went wrong with the domain name, when the IT company moved my website across. And for a while, it looked like the domain name gularavincent.com was gone for good.

By then my whole family and I were terribly ill. Sleep gone out of the window. Instead, I tended to two poorly children and spent either shaking or burning up all night long. There’s nothing like a serious flu to put things into perspective. The glitch with my website faded into insignificance.

Once I started recovering, I asked an IT-literate friend to help make sense of the mess. As I do, I also turned within. I had a session with an amazing Charlotte Kanyi to explore what was the significance of this glitch.

‘There’s something in the name….’ I kept saying as we started our session.

As we went deeper, I started asking bigger questions: Who am I on the blog? Why am I doing what I am doing? What do I really really want?

You see, when I started blogging in October 2014, it came from a place of ‘should’. I was working on a book, and needed to build an author platform. Don’t get me wrong – it was a great decision. I made lots of friends across the world, learnt to be visible, and to speak up. But there was no consistency. My posts were all over the place. Then last summer, I was working with a business mentor. She tried to help me to align my blogging with my 1:1 service. For a while, I blogged about writing path and its challenges. I had another growth spurt, but it still wasn’t ‘it’. Perhaps, for my regular readers it was even confusing. What was that sudden shift about? Who is she?

And so in my session, I sat with that question myself. I realised that the frustration of not getting anywhere with my blogging was to do with the fact that I was still searching for who I am. Why am I doing this? I asked. It was an uncomfortable and potentially inconvenient question. By then I had written nine blog posts and developed a short e-course for the coming three months. All I needed to do is to schedule them all in when the website was back on and I was good to go till the intense teaching period at work was over. By the end of my session, none of it felt right anymore. Those posts came from the ‘old’ me who was doing them because she ‘should’. The new ‘awakened’ part wanted to tell stories.

‘Something in the name….’ I mumbled as we were wrapping up the session, and Charlotte took me through Non-Personal Awareness sequence.

The answer came straight away. ‘I need to write in the name of love.’

Ah, the relief and joy of clarity. And guess what. Three days later, my domain name was restored.

But I had no time to celebrate. Again, life gave me a rude awakening, forcing me to put things into perspective. One of my most significant relationships wobbled. The shock, confusion and sadness set it. It was as if I was challenged all over again to ask ‘Who am I?’ If this relationship goes, what would remain? Who would remain? The truth is I got too comfortable in that relationship. From my perspective, it was solid as a rock. Leaning into it, I was doing everything else and stopped paying it the attention it deserved. In short, I was taking it for granted.

Waking up can be painful, but staying asleep is even worse, especially when it’s not an option anymore.

So where does it leave my blog? I’m taking one day at a time, and learning to focus on what’s really important: health, family, relationships, harmony, inner peace…. Down with the regular posting schedule, and scrambling for something meaningful to say. Perhaps there will be nothing for a while. I’ll find out together with you while I’m sitting with the question of ‘Who am I?’.

It’s a big question to ask. Although the last month has been gruelling and I feel like I’m in the thick of a mid-life crisis, I’m glad I’m asking big questions. The cost of staying numb and deadened on the inside is too high. Sometimes, an identity crisis can be a blessing in disguise, even if it doesn’t feel like that in the moment.

The Guest House by Rumi

This being human is a guest house.  Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,  some momentary awareness comes  as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!  Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,  who violently sweep your house  empty of its furniture,  still, treat each guest honourably.  He may be clearing you out  for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,  meet them at the door laughing,  and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes,  because each has been sent  as a guide from beyond.