Truth Hurts, And Necessarily So

I arrived in Boghill late one evening in early February, blown through the door like a leaf whooshed in on the howling gale, looking for somewhere to settle.  There were hugs all round, physical barriers preventing me from being blown further forward, forcing me to stop, sit down and accept that this would be my destination for the foreseeable.

I’ve been here now for 2 months and it’s not been easy.  There has been much fun and laughter, but there has also been turmoil, sadness, listlessness, tears, heartache and pain, lots of pain.  My moods have been as changeable as the weather: the bright, sunny days analogous to the days when I felt vibrant, full of life and laughter; the wet and windy days unsettling me like the proverbial leaf ripped from the tree of my ‘old’ life and blown around on an emotional roller-coaster, vomiting tears and pain left, right and centre.

Everyone here is acting inadvertently as a teacher, holding up mirrors reflecting back at me things that I possibly already knew about myself but had not yet accepted.  Lessons that I still need to learn.  Tough lessons.  Lies that I’d been telling myself that I needed to undo in order to get to the truth.

The biggest lesson by far that I still have to learn is to discover what makes me happy and how to develop this from within.  Happiness does not come from external sources, I’ve always known this. What I didn’t know was how bad I was at doing this.  I thought I knew what makes me happy, I thought I was already doing what makes me happy.  Instead, in many ways I was just avoiding things that made me unhappy.  I thought I had done the ultimate thing that very few people have the guts to do, made the ultimate sacrifice of giving up everything that made me feel comfortable and secure (job, house) and everything that made me feel loved (family, friends, cats) in order to live the life I wanted to live.  I felt so fucking chuffed with myself that I had done this by so-called choice, in other words I hadn’t waited for a crisis to happen before making such a choice (e.g. redundancy, homelessness, relationship break-up…) I had done this because I had the guts to do it.  Unlike the masses of ‘dead’ people living lives that they were kidding themselves were happy lives, I had seen the light – yeah man! – and had had the guts to do something about it. Jesus, my arrogance was as tangible as it was pitiful.

What I quickly realised shortly after arriving at Boghill is that places, things and, in particular, people cannot make you happy.  You have to find happiness from within, and the way to do this is to look deep into your inner being and start questioning the limiting beliefs you have about yourself, as these are what create your reality, your truth.  This is an ongoing process and for me (and I suspect for everyone) it’s a work in progress that lasts a lifetime, but it is only in stepping away from the ‘dead’ life, the ‘kidding yourself that you’re happy’ life that you have any lasting chance of achieving progress in this area.

All forms of lying: lying to yourself, lying down, lead to a tendency to fall and remain asleep.  What I’ve learned is that only by staying awake can you hope to attain some kind of truth and sometimes you need an electric shock to wake you up.  By upping sticks and moving to Ireland I gave myself a massive electric shock and now I’m feeling the after effects, and yes the truth hurts at times, but necessarily so.

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Something Resembling the Truth

I sometimes wonder if I had known about all the stress and emotional upheaval that was to come my way in the process of moving to Ireland, would I have still gone ahead.  The simple answer to this is an unquestionable ‘yes’.

There were times when it felt like I was jumping hurdles set in 3 ft of treacle;  there were times when I really thought I might end up homeless and jobless – November is the worst time to try and rent out your house and my salaried days were into single figures before I managed to properly secure a tenant; there were times when I thought if I have to make one more phone call only to hear the phrase: “I’m sorry, all our operators are busy at the moment” I would be in significant danger of killing someone.

And then there was the issue of my cats who I finally accepted would have to be re-homed but which I was in denial about until just 1 week before I had to move out.  In this regard I have to raise a respectful salute to the wonderful people at Cats Protection League who, within 2 days of contacting them in a state of some despair, magicked out of nowhere the perfect new owners for my beloved pets.  It took me a while to accept that Ebony and Max were not destined to travel with me on the next phase of my life but – individually in their own unique way, as only cat owners will understand – they both made it clear to me that there were other humans who needed them now, and they were OK with that so I should be too.

However the certainty of my decision throughout all of this upheaval never wavered.   Once I’d started the ball rolling down the hill there was no stopping it.  All I had to do was try and keep up!

The first hurdle was telling my family.  Not long after sending that email to Boghill, we had a family gathering at my parents’ house one Sunday. The perfect opportunity to tell everyone what I was thinking of doing and explaining my reasons in a calm and rational manner.  Enter ‘Fright’ stage left.

I ended up sending an email to my mum a couple of days later along the lines of a breezy: “Hey, what would you say if I said I was thinking of going to work in Boghill for a year, renting out my house, giving up my job and earning no money?” the empty Subject Line screaming: RE: MID-LIFE CRISIS ALERT.

It took a painstaking 24 hours before my mum replied with the single sentence:

“Have you fallen for someone in Boghill?”

I laughed out loud with relief and some disappointment – if only it WAS that, things would be so much more simple and straightforward!  (Incidentally, 3 weeks in and the Irish farmer that everyone keeps telling me I am going to meet and fall in love with is proving to be somewhat elusive…)

The second hurdle was handing in my notice at work.  This was tantamount to ending a 4-year long relationship, and took me several days to pluck up the courage.  I mean, what would I say to them? “Er… can we talk…?? It’s just that…. Well…. it’s not you, it’s me.  I’ve really enjoyed my time with you, I’ve learned so much but I need my freedom…..  So I’ve decided to go and live in Ireland for a while.  You know, work out what I want to do next, get some time for quiet contemplation…”  At this point I noticed my boss’s eyes glaze over as I rambled on about how I would not be leaving for another 3 months, happy to do everything needed to ensure a seamless handover, etc. etc.  My boss is someone who works 24/7 keeping the business running.  When I’d finished my spiel she said: “That bit you said about ‘quiet contemplation’…. that sounds really nice…”

And gradually, as the news broke to my extended family, my friends and my co-workers of my escape plan to Ireland, this became the typical reaction.  Contrary to the expected mid-life crisis accusations and judgements instead I was met with sighs of wonder, thoughtfulness and, yes, some envy but mostly what I can best describe as ‘recognition’.  People looked at me as if I had reminded them of something, something familiar that they had perhaps forgotten about in the hustle and bustle of everyday life.  One colleague said to me a day after hearing my news: “You’ve got my head in a spin, trying to think of what I can do to make my life more fulfilling!”

I was just doing my thing, just following some kind of magnetic pull that I didn’t really feel I had any choice over, even though it did require stepping out of several comfort zones (comfortable house, job security etc.) but in so doing I appeared to be holding up a mirror to people, and in return they held up a mirror to me.   Suffice to say for my part the mirror image was misty and blurred – it still is – but there was something recognisable about it.  Something resembling the truth.

Fuck! I’m in Ireland! How It All Began

So, when, where and how did it all start, this desire to give everything up that makes me feel secure and comfortable and go and live in a damp, cold caravan in the West of Ireland with very little money and no idea of what I was going to do next?

I could date it back to April/May 2012 when I first visited The Boghill Centre in County Clare.  Searching for a reasonably priced, not too far away break from my hectic life, I came across Boghill after doing some research for a project on the Nutritional Therapy degree that I was studying at the time.  Neither a luxury spa retreat nor a sackcloth and ashes, hairshirt sporting venue, Boghill perfectly fitted my idea of a place to enjoy quiet contemplation and creative, eco-oriented pursuits without costing the earth (in more ways than one) and without being judged for being a rampant omnivore. I booked a holiday there immediately.

Then again, I could date my pull to Ireland back even further to a solo road trip I did in 2002 around the Dingle, Iveragh and Beara peninsulas.  Walking back to my car one night in Kenmare, I heard the sound of a live session of Irish folk music emanating from the open door of a pub on the square.  I was tired and wanted to get back to my B&B to sleep, and yet I was slowly but resolutely hauled into this pub as if by an invisible lasso.  It’s difficult to explain.  It was like my body was trying to walk back to my car while my soul was a dog straining on a leash because it had smelled the scent of a rabbit. It’s never a good thing (in my experience) to suppress the yearnings of the soul so I entered the pub, stood among the crowd and listened.  I only stayed for a few minutes and in that moment nothing was said, only the sound of the music filled the air, but the voice of my soul spoke and whispered: “Welcome home Lesley”.

After I visited Boghill for the first time in 2012 I started a new job and the next couple of years whizzed by in a blur of stress and commuting misery.  Don’t get me wrong, I was not unhappy, in fact I was happier and more settled than I’d ever been, but having finally settled into an apparently ‘normal’ life, it was starkly obvious to me that this was not the life I wanted.  Ellen Goodman expresses it perfectly:

“Normal is getting dressed in clothes that you buy for work and driving through traffic in a car that you are still paying for – in order to get to the job you need to pay for the clothes and the car, and the house you leave vacant all day so you can afford to live in it.”

I’d already read and devoured The Moneyless Man by the remarkable Mark Boyle a few years earlier. I’d already taken a near 40% cut in salary when I started my new job in 2012. I seemed to be heading in some kind of moneyless direction and was a lot happier as a result, but where was this all going to lead me? Did I really want to shower outdoors in a solar-powered shower in the middle of winter? Is that even possible?

I got restless, I did some research, I discovered Leonie Dawson and joined her tribe. I discovered Marianne Cantwell who explodes the myth of the ‘ONE’ job and the 9 to 5 mindset and I eagerly joined her tribe of Free Range Humans. I spent a year doing research, reading books, doing online courses to find out how to ‘do what I love’ and ‘find my passion’. I discovered Jenny Hume, aka Webtech Wonder Woman who helped me with the techy side of things and with her help I built a website in WordPress.  I did exercise, after exercise, and then one day, something happened.  In one particular visual exercise I had to imagine myself at 80 years old and ask myself a number of questions including: “Where am I? What am I doing? Who am I with?” etc. I dislike visual exercises as I don’t regard myself to be a particularly visual person, but I thought I’d give it a go.  When I asked the first question: “Where am I?” I opened my eyes with a start and said out loud: “Fuck! I’m in Ireland!”  Ireland had not even been on my radar for some time, so it was a complete shock as to why it would have come up in this exercise, but it was so soul-yearningly deep that I emailed someone I knew who had just starting living in Ireland and asked if we could chat by Skype as I was thinking of doing the same. We chatted for over an hour.

It was another year before things finally got sorted.  I booked another trip to Boghill for the following summer and let the pot simmer for a while. On my flight back from that second trip to Boghill, I read an interview in Psychologies magazine  with Dave Cornthwaite, founder of The Yes Tribe, in which he explains how many people are only jolted into life when some kind of adversity strikes.  “Why wait for some adversity to come into your life before you start living?” he says.  The trigger had finally been released. On my first day back at work, I emailed Boghill and asked if I could come and work there.  They said yes.

And that’s when the shit really hit the fan…..