The benefits of walking an honest path

Nine months ago a friend introduced me to the idea of the ‘law of attraction’. This metaphysical concept states that whatever vibe we push out into the universe, we then tend to attract back in response. So if we start thinking we’re fundamentally worthless then this idea begins to permeate our thoughts, our emotions and then our behaviours. All of this will all be picked up upon by the universe and as a result we’re more likely to attract people who are as worthless as we feel. Obviously this can be put to far more positive uses, and I realised this morning that I have grown to believe in a variation of this idea based on honesty. If we’re able to project our honest selves, we’re more likely to attract people who are honestly like ourselves.

Anyone who has spent time around very young children can have little doubt that we start life as emphatically honest creatures. Any kiss stolen from the milkman, chocolate lifted from the pantry or weight put on by a relative can’t pass without comment. And thus begins the first lessons in moral ambiguity. Those that raise us usually teach us that ‘white lies’ are ok,  and that we should hold back the truth if it’s likely to cause offense. As we stretch into our teenage years we learn that no-one’s arse looks big in anything, that the girl or boy who pretends to hate you is often the one that is too scared to admit their secret passion, and that your parents will reject you if you admit you’re gay. We’re coached to know when to conceal truths. If we’re lucky we were raised to avoid using a lie as a truth, but rarely are we schooled in the dangers of failing to disclose what’s in our hearts.

I had my own collection of secret shames as a teen. My hidden crushes, my inability to contribute my virginity to a good cause, my dismay at thinking the Beatles were rubbish. Ironically it would have been far easier to choose full disclosure at this stage of my life, as I hadn’t yet started building a serious baggage collection. Now though full and frank honesty means admitting truly uncomfortable things. That unicorn-in-a-heart tattoo, the vocally challenged rendition of a Robbie Williams tune at my wedding, the huge hurt I went through when that blessed union dissolved. Fortunately though the benefits of deciding to drop all the barriers is never too late. Over the past couple of years I’ve discovered that although the exposure of your vulnerabilities means that you’re left with nowhere to hide, the significant benefit is that there is no longer any need to.

At the start of this year I formed an incredible relationship with a stranger, one which initially transcended misunderstandings. I met someone who I immediately felt comfortable with, and we spent six weeks sharing secrets, swimming with dolphins and grinning at our good fortune. At times I was jarred by some of her revelations, but when I took a moment to examine my responses I realised that our moral codes were almost identical, and I’d met someone else who had dared to forge a life in spite of other people’s opinions, rather than because of them. Through our shared honesty I discovered what could be gained by letting someone know the real me, and I think she found sanctuary in that too.

A drastic change in circumstances upset this delicate balance. We both fell back into old patterns of behaviour and fought to rebuild walls to protect ourselves. As a result we could no longer see the person we’d been so overjoyed to find. That brief, beautiful commitment had been built on a mutual sharing of everything. When we lost that we lost trust and faith in what we’d built and we both knew we had to walk our own paths again. There’s no more lonely feeling than leaving something like that behind, but we both now understand what incredible rewards honesty can reap. And I hope we’ll always be in each others lives.

The benefits of exposing my thoughts has also led to a significant shift in my writing. A couple of months ago I wrote an article that was a simple, open explanation of my thoughts. It was pure, unrefined, unseasoned me. It elevated my writing to a new level and things changed. From that point on I’ve had much more feedback on what I’ve written. I’ve found so many more points of connection with people who have been kind enough to read my articles, and then moved enough to comment. I’ve had my honesty reflected and it has given me the confidence to continue to write more frankly, and not to shy away from difficult issues.

It’s not always easy living your life in the open. We’re taught to hide our vulnerabilities, to reduce our exposure to pain. But if we can’t let other people know who we really are, then we can’t be sure that they love the ‘real’ us. If we can find people who enjoy our company despite or even because of all the things we usually hide, then the reward of continued friendship is all the sweeter.

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On just how beautiful you are

This post is dedicated to every person who looks into the mirror with a question, and is too often disappointed with the answer. It’s for every one of us that has written a valentines card and then binned it prior to delivery, or almost worked up the courage to tell someone how stunning they are, only to blush and turn away at the last minute. And it’s to those people that we turned away from, the ones left unaware that they caused us such discomfort in such a beautiful way.

Over the past year I’ve lost count…actually no, not lost count, started counting the number of people who genuinely don’t seem to realise just how much they have the potential to light emotional fires in others. How many people out there grew up anxious that they weren’t found attractive by anyone? And how much that blindness to their allure was due to someone, someones, being capable of letting them know of it?

What’s your reaction when someone tells you you’re beautiful, sexy or handsome? Is it instant denial or evasion? Maybe followed by an embarrassed silence? You are gorgeous. Sorry, I don’t want this to come across as trite, this is no half-hearted penmanship hoping to garner kudos from the dispossessed. Instead it’s a heads up to everyone who found a way to avoid letting someone else know just what you see in them.

For a range of reasons many of us in New Zealand (please let me know if this is an international issue…) are subject to social conditioning which acts as a barrier to simply walking up to someone and saying ‘Hi, I just wanted to tell you that you’re gorgeous, you honestly walk with an elegance most could only ever imitate.’ Even reading that I imagine some of you doing a gentle cringe. That’s such a shame. An honest compliment is such a simple way to improve someone’s day, maybe even their year. With the way I was raised it used to take an unfathomable degree of courage to speak these words to a friend, stranger, or maybe even girlfriend. There was the fear of rejection, the anxiety around someone taking it the wrong way, the feeling I’d look foolish. Any society that coaches us to build up walls against giving or receiving compliments becomes a difficult place to grow up with any degree of self confidence. Especially if you’re brave enough to embrace your individuality.

But this social inhibition, this fear of reprisal for offering a kindness is just one side of an important issue. The other is environmental. We are reminded each day of airbrushed idealism. We’re taught to compare ourselves to physical impossibilities. Images are stretched, narrowed, lightened, smoothed and blended. Things get worse though, some of us feel a twisted need to be surgically manipulate to look like these satin haired shop dummies. The terrorists who perform these invasive augmentations are known as ‘plastic surgeons’ for a reason, Barbie and Kim Kardashian are anatomically misshapen PVC marketing gadgets, not an aesthetic ideals.

I’m here now to raise my hand and let everyone know, but women in particular, that I find ‘imperfections’ to be the source of your beauty. Every smile-dedicated wrinkle at your mouth’s edge, every dark or light spot on your arm, every inch of freckled skin. They separate you from the magazine advertisements, the super smooth waxy misrepresentations of humanity. I look at a cover girl image and I can no longer see a person. I look at a face in a skin care advertisement and I know with absolute certainty that all of the people I touched, kissed, held, or chatted to in the last year are far more attractive to me. The hairs on your arms, the birthmark across your stomach, that dimpling on your thighs, that’s gorgeous reality. It’s texture, it is differentiation, it is what gives your beauty depth. When I meet you I see you holistically. The way you hold your head, how much you transform when you smile, the arch of your eyebrows at my comments. I’m not drawn to what you see as your flaws unless you draw my attention to them. And they shouldn’t affect my opinion of you unless they’re all you can focus on.

So how can we transform our self perception, how can we undo the influence of all those who should have no impact on the feelings that are created when my eyes spy your form? How do we reverse the damage caused by marketers, media and merchants? The greatest and simplest way I can think is to take the definition of beauty back into our own hands. That’s it. The responsibility for determining what beauty is lies with each of us. And the best mechanism to reclaim beauty as something personal may come down to simple communication. Every person we fail to address with our honesty in regards to their attractiveness to us, is another of us who hasn’t reached their deserved level of self-confidence. I know that I sometimes fear that my words might be taken as inappropriate, that someone might think I’m hitting on them, or that I’m attempting manipulation. But if I’m an honest person and I tell someone simply and humbly with all my focus and attention that I see their beauty, then I hope that they’ll see my words for what they are, a genuine expression of what I observe. I’ll start. To every woman I have ever made asian coleslaw for, taken the piss out of ‘The Batman’ with, filmed swimming with dolphins, or laughed at German words alongside, you are all so, so beautiful.

And now I implore the rest of you, just stand up, walk out, and find that person. Take them by the hands, the shoulder, the leash, and engage their eyes with yours. And tell them. Unleash the shackles, drop the filters, and let them know just how beautiful they are. Because that glance down at your shoes as you approach, that looking up from under your fringe, that quick shy grin, they’ll all be noticed. And the blush, the quickening of the heart, the gentle perspiration is all worth it. Trust me.

On returning home (and what that means)

Speyside

My hopscotch journey towards New Zealand began with a flight from Inverness to Belfast. After six months on so many different roads I’m wondering what I’m heading back to. Where and what is my ‘home’? Here in my sister’s Derry backpackers around forty people a day enter our lives, tread about within our communal home, and then head out to their next port of call. Some of them bind themselves to us for brief periods, sharing pints, songs and stories. I ask these ones about their homes, about what makes their bungalow in Washington State, their apartment in Genova, or their farm outside Kabul the place they want to return to. And in their stories I hunt for meaning, because I’m about to return to a country in which I hope to build a new life.

It was the three months in the USA that opened my mind to new ways to envision my future in New Zealand. That bold country has enabled generations of people a great deal of control in deciding what sort of home they want to create for themselves. The enormous and varied landscape provided opportunities for millions of people to create something new, unrestricted hundreds of generations of tradition. And for some time their government left them enough freedom to determine their own paths. And though these freedoms may be disappearing, I still found plenty of people who had tried two or three different lives on for size, and found one that fit. Not the one their parents dictated to them, nor their laws, nor their peers. And their experiences helped me understand how I might be able to combine freedom of thought and movement, with a permanent base, a real home in my country.

Many of the Americans I met also helped me understand that I shouldn’t be afraid to walk with conviction towards the things I want. It’s not just the lifestyles that Americans have been free to create, they’ve also been encouraged to chase ideas. My own hopes and dreams were usually bolstered when I shared them with people. My enthusiasm for the outlandish wasn’t as open to negativity and cynicism as it might have been in other environments. I realised the importance of ensuring I spent time amongst ideas people, creative people, intelligent free thinkers. They drive me onward, rather than slowing my progress.

The third thing I decided to take home from the States was the utilisation of the honest compliment. My first response (I shudder to recall) to these positive critiques was cynicism. I hunted for subtext, for an end-goal in these happy comments on another person’s character, hair style or youthful vigour. And when I couldn’t find it, I began to realise it was simply a good and kind act. I was smitten. I was even the recipient from time to time, which no doubt made me doubly suspicious. But then I grew to understand its simple power to bring happiness. So I’m taking this home, and I’ll aim to fill a few half empty glasses.

The transition to Europe helped add new ideas to those I harvested from the Americans. I did two months of volunteer work between Ireland and Scotland, and the time spent in old homes in old parts of old countries was useful in corralling my thoughts on what I need from life. Wandering and cycling through the countryside on the occasional days that the sun spilt between clouds on the horizon was blissful. But being so far from civilisation tended to make my head itch. The humble quarters within the castle walls (ironically) taught me how little space I needed to relax in. The caravan in Scotland shrank this space significantly, but the views I took in from the narrow lounge windows became my environment as much as the thin aluminium walls that shook like barley in the exhausting cross winds. So small house, in big country. Tick. The lack of people though, that was the itch. I need my cafe interviews with artists and musicians, my wander through the markets picking out beetroot to roast, my Wednesday evening gigs at character packed pubs and bars.

Now I’m back in Derry, the heart of my travelling experiences. Six weeks ago I was here briefly, licking fresh wounds, and working through my thoughts and hopes. This time I’ve returned with a peaceful energy, a head full of ideas, and a focus. My Halloween evening here was spent dancing on the edge of a life I knew in my thirties. I told ghost stories to gladiators, twirled with witches, and faced down demons. And I’ve made peace with the things I’ve seen and done. I’m consolidating I’ve learnt, and begun planning for what comes next.

New Zealand is still a place where we can build our dreams. I’m returning to Aotearoa with new ideas from other places, aiming to build a home between town and country. A place I can share with people who fight to obtain their dreams, and with my family. I’m returning to spend time with my young niece, the newest member of that family. Her Uncle Regan’s returning a little less cynical, a little more focused, and just as happy as when he last saw her. He’s looking forward to telling her tales of far off lands, encouraging her imagination, and supporting her ideas and hopes.

I’d like to thank all those people who I have met along this most recent journey. You mad, wonderful, inspirational girls and boys with whom I shared a few beers, a trailer, a Castle or a laugh with. You’re all forever welcome to visit me in my home, wherever that will be. I’ll make sure there’s a comfy couch.