Optional

A conversation that plays out quite often in our house, and one that you can probably relate to, is negotiating in a given moment what´s mandatory and what´s optional.

My daughter Alicia is the expert in all this, though her sisters are not far behind. When I ask her to do something she´s not convinced about, Alicia asks: “do I have to?”. And my answer, most of the time, is “yes”.

But not always. So she´s right to ask :-)

In fact, this is something that most of us should ask (ourselves) more often: this thing I have in front of me, this thing “I have to do”, do I really have to do it? ¿According to whom? What happens if I don´t do it, or if I do it differently?

Clearly, the answer can be a yes, it needs to be done, and it may still be yes most times, but it may also surprise us and end up being a no more often than we thought. Or we could come up with another alternative, an intermediate solution that´s even better than the previous one… By asking the question we allow ourselves to see the options, and we have more ability to choose.

Of course, whatever we decide, we have to be responsible and fully accept the consequences. But the key point is that we have options, even if we don´t always see them, even if we don´t always like them. But we do have options. And once we realize this, we can choose whatever we see fit, and “I have to…” becomes “I choose…”, and the burden becomes a little lighter.

Here are a couple of quotes that I love on this topic, as they go a step further, inviting us to choose how to relate to what is happening in our life:

Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.

Buddha

This one I heard for the first time in a yoga class (thanks Carsun!), and felt it especially close when giving birth to my girls, before realizing that it can really be applied to everything in life, not only physical pain.

And this other one I only heard recently; it seems to me that it´s very fitting to the times we´re now living:

Change is inevitable. Growth is optional.

John C. Maxwell

Now you choose!

Binary words

Today I felt like reflecting on the title for this website and blog: binary words... but what do words and binary have in common?

Computers and language? They do have a lot in common.

Did you know that we as people are not so different from computers? We have hardware, our body, which needs energy in order to work. Of course, we don't work on electricity; our energy comes from feeding and hydrating ourselves properly, and from recharging batteries by sleeping and resting :-)

We also have software, a set of "programs" that are running inside our mind. Some of the programs we kick off ourselves, as in the case of computers, and we see them and use them consciously; but in addition to those, the operating system runs many other programs that remain unseen, in the background, making everything work... 

That's our unconscious programming, our autopilot, based on beliefs and values that are well established within us and that we rarely question, even though they may not even be ours, and we may have inherited them or acquired them without realizing. And that unconscious programming pulls the strings in our day-to-day a lot more than we can imagine.

Perhaps that autopilot is producing some results that we don´t want in our life. The good news is that we can re-program it, once we find that program or programs that are causing us trouble, or are preventing us from moving in the direction we wish to go.

But how? How can we bring to the light those troublesome "lines of code", and replace them with better ones?

A programming language that we can use is words.

There is a lot of power in words, and this is something we often forget. The way we talk to others matters a lot. And the way we talk to ourselves matters even more, because we give it even less attention, not realizing that it's a crucial factor in how things turn out for us in life. 

So let's pay attention to the words around us, the ones that make up our world, the ones we use almost without realizing. How is our internal dialogue? How do we talk to ourselves, and in turn, to other people? What are our words conveying? Complaint, criticism, defeat, negativity?

Those words will give us clues about the programs that may be undermining our efforts to move towards where we want to be. And bit by bit, digging deeper, we will get to see clearly what's behind those words, and we will have the power to transform them into other that help us and encourage us, instead of holding us back. We will have the power to choose our destiny.

And following on with the computer metaphor: we, like computers, need connecting to be able to fully function. Nowadays very little can be done without an internet connection... With people, it may be less obvious, but at the end of the day we are social beings, we need to connect with others emotionally in order to live a full life. And even less obvious, but equally necessary, is to connect with ourselves, to have an interest in getting to know and learning to love ourselves. 

The confinement months have tested our ability to connect, and maybe thanks to that, we now appreciate connections more than ever. As the saying goes, it´s all fun and games until you lose your wifi signal!

Saint John´s Eve

On the night of June 23rd, many towns and villages across Spain celebrate Saint John´s Eve. It´s the Christian version of the summer solstice celebration in the northern hemisphere, and like many other ancestral festivals, involves fire as its crucial element.

outdoor fireplace during nighttime

I personally haven´t had the pleasure of enjoying a big bonfire celebration at the beach (my hometown doesn´t officially celebrate St. John, and also we´re not close to the seaside), although I do remember getting together with friends to mark that night in our own way… One year we even had a queimada with its incantation spell and everything, thanks to Víctor, our Galician mate :-)

Of course, we had our own mini version of the bonfire, improvised in a bowl or an ashtray, over which we jumped three times in order to attract good luck. And in that mini bonfire, we used to burn a piece of paper, which if I remember correctly, had three things written on it: something we were grateful for, something we no longer wanted in our life, and something we did want to happen to us or receive.

It was a magic night, full of possibilities.

I always liked the idea of taking this opportunity to reflect a little on our life: evaluate where we are, decide what we want, and perform a ritual so that we can feel the magic of change. The thing is that sometimes we forget that this magic is not only in the “universe”, in that abstract concept at which we throw all our wishes… this magic is also inside of us, because we are the centre of our own universe. So writing down our wishes as one writes a letter to Santa is not enough, we also need to do our part for the whole thing to work :-) 

This year I suggest that you do a little extra reflecting in front of the bonfire, and write down four things instead of three: something you are grateful for, something you no longer want in your life, something you do want to happen to you or receive, and something you´re going to start doing now to contribute to your desired change.

Finding your voice

I have always thought I was not a very creative person, mostly because when I heard the word "creativity", what usually came to my mind were artistic skills like painting, design, arts & crafts... Precisely those things I was quite bad at.

Then over the years I´ve changed that perception, not because I started getting good at painting, design or arts & crafts, I´m still awful at all of them. It´s because I have realized two things:

First, that trying something once or twice and finding you´re not good at it doesn´t mean you´re never going to be good at it, it just means you don´t have enough practice (this seems really obvious when you see it written here, but it´s not always easy to see in the moment, especially when you´re used to getting other things done right the first time round without much effort)

Second, that you can be creative in so many different ways! You just need to find the creative outlet that better suits you personally. Your own way to express what´s inside you.

Your voice.

A couple of years ago I "found my voice" in the most literal sense, upon signing up for my company´s workplace choir and starting weekly practices with Nicola, our choir director. I had always liked music, but never realized before how much I really enjoy singing, it truly lifts my spirit.

Whether I´m good at it or not is another matter entirely; that will only be seen once we can reunite again and put together a performance, although I would say that that´s the least of my worries... The most important thing is how much we enjoy singing (and laughing) together as a group, and if other people also enjoy listening to us, then that´s brilliant, double reward.

Also in my life there are and have been other ways to express my creative side: during my childhood and adolescence it was dancing, when I moved to Ireland it was blogging, and when the gils were younger (and even now that they´re a bit older), you can imagine, being a parent also demands a fair amount of creativity :-)

How do you express your own creative side? Have you found your voice yet?

Create, consume, connect

This week, with all the excitement of starting with the blog again, I have felt full of energy. More than once the hours went by in front of my screen without realizing... And all this after having already spent my usual working hours also in front of a screen.

Sum them up and they are many, many hours of screen time.

semi opened laptop computer turned on on table

The fact that the hours go by without realizing is a good sign, I know, I´m enjoying it a lot, and also learning at the same time. On top of writing the posts, I´m also configuring the website myself (now with WordPress, much better than with what I had previously), and I want to do it properly, fully accessible and bilingual Spanish-English. So my time is split between configuring the various plugins and settings (thanks a million Maria for all your advice), thinking of ideas to write about, writing about them, and translating everything that´s already written, not only the posts but also all of the text strings scattered around the site. Let me take this opportunity to ask you: if you see any errors or typos, please let me know so I can fix them, some of you have already done that and I´m grateful for it :-)

Another thing I´m doing this week is taking a crash course in social media, as things have progressed a lot in the last few years. In the old times, writing a blog post was enough; people woud see it in their RSS feed reader, or would subscribe via email, or would visit the website every now and then checking for new content... Now you have to be on social media, the more the better, so I took the plunge and created a Facebook page, Twitter account and Instagram account, so that whoever wants to follow me can do it easily.

But of course, all that brings a new challenge: more social network connections, more interesting content available, more notifications and more screen time, as soon as you drop your guard for a moment. That´s why it´s so important to use the internet consciously, and take advantage of the infinite possibilities it gives us without letting it interfere with our life more than it´s necessary.

Not long ago, in a very interesting video I watched on Youtube (more screens), they mentioned that the activities we do on the internet can be divided into creating, consuming and connecting. After months and months of basically consuming content and learning passively, I am really excited about creating (in this case writing, translating and bringing the blog to life), and I even enjoy connecting and reconnecting in new ways through social networks. But I´m also looking forward to being able to go out into the real world again, and connect, create and learn there as well, in a more tangible way and in three dimensions. I´m finding it a bit hard to get started due to lack of habit, but I know the effort will be worth it.

So in summary; walk away from your screen for a while and find something else to do! :-)