Void Fillers - Meditation

Monday, 27 March 2017

You breath in through your nose, out through your nose and you focus on the point between your nostrils and your mouth (the bit everyone coats in too much highlighter) and that's how you fix your life. Apparently. That's meditation, anyway.
I'm at a stage in my olympic stretch pool of questionable sanity where I'm willing to dive into just about anything else to splash some of the relentlessly overflowing deep end.
Go to bed with an amethyst under my pillow? Sure. Drink Turmeric in the morning? Dose me up. Go on a 10 day meditation course to simultaneously try and impress a boy I thought I was in love with for much too long and to stop myself from waking up with hot sweats of panic for no apparent reason? Sign me the hell up. 
So I did, I signed the hell up, drank the tea, brought my crystal, handed all form of communication to the outside world to an old woman called Virginia and promised to engage in eight hours of meditation for ten days under the teaching of a man called Roger, an eery copy of Bill Gates if Bill Gates had a Swiss accent. Oh and no talking, and no thoughts about sex, and no drinking or smoking or cowering desperately away from the things that make you deeply miserable. WHAT COULD POSSIBLY GO WRONG?

I arrived in Heddington, a village I imagine Americans to conjure when asked what the British countryside is, with the exact sort of first day of school nerves I'd dreaded. I was hungover and poor and depressed and as some sort of life default, heartbroken. (It's going well, isn't it?) But ignoring that, I'd arrived with a sense of determination that scribbled 'I swear to god if you don't know how to shut off your brain and float around a Pagoda by next Monday then you might as well not go on.' on the first page of a blank notebook, that meant in some sort of totally melodramatic way - this meditating thing had to work. I had also, like any self respecting 21 year old who had recently adopted 'poet' into her twitter and instagram bio, gone hoping to find love under a cherry tree having exchanged broken glances across a meditation hall so I could come home with purpose and sell the film rights to my new loved up, meditative life.
What I didn't want was to come home and write about realising peace or about how startled I was when I realised my true addiction to swiping notifications and my relighted realisation for Veganism. But here I am, much worse than Tommy on Tinder wearing a Singha Beer wife beater stroking a doped up tiger on his gap year ready to tell you about how I almost found myself and how heartily I recommend it as a form of void filling.

"Oh, another one of them, are you?" Smiled the taxi driver at Chippenham train station as she packed my case into the boot of her car and scrunched up the address I'd given her into the creases of her lids. "Not, like, really, though. Just, er, I've been sent here." I lied. "Sent here? Drugs or alcohol?""A boy."  I whimpered. She spent the journey as my new adoptive mother, soothing my near hysteria every time the satnav suggested we were edging closer to our destination. If I'd offered once to pay her double the fair to drive me back to the station and not judge me, I'd begged a thousand times.
We arrived and she sped down the gravel drive forgetting to unpack my city confidence and within minutes my phone was prized from me and locked in a tin safe. I made my monetary donation, pocketed a packet of Vitamin C capsules and accepted, slowly, that the next ten days were no longer, truly, my own.
I was shown to a chocolate box cottage that I was to share with 13 other ladies from Russia, Australia, India, America, Columbia and a tiny refugee community in Scotland. I felt the loneliest I've ever known- thrown into a silent sea of strangers, guessing their names from a shower rota with no idea that over a succession of emotionally exhausting days we would become an unconventional sisterhood that did everything to make sure everyone was alright. Strepsils, contraband cigarettes, tampons and all. Granted we'd all make questionable lay-ladies but we were to be a resilient and mad bunch of individuals from all sorts of backgrounds. Some of us were more committed than others.. but myself and a woman called Sarah curated a bunch of stragglers who I shared some of the most epic and hilarious adventures with. 

The first morning was testing in its total alien nature - I was given routine, I had places to be and I had to work out what people do before they go to bed and when they wake up that wasn't checking Twitter. 
The smell of heady indian spices floated from the kitchen at 3am and bustled us out of our beds to our first meditation sitting at 4:30am. We sat in six rows of eight facing a clock that told the wrong time and built nests out of yoga blocks and polyester blankets and pillows. This was to be it. This was now home. Back crunched, mind racing, remember to breath, remember to not think about remembering to breath, home.

The days that followed increased in anxiety as suddenly my internal commentary of skepticism dwindled away, it was much easier when I thought what I was doing was ridiculous and that everyone around me was weird but as I learnt the basics of meditation and grew relaxed with my fellow inmates, it all felt very real. It all felt like it was probably going to start working and that I was to accept that my way of life at home was about to get a kick up the arse to change drastically upon returning. Thankfully, before it did reach that peak, I met Sarah.

Sarah and I were drawn to each other from the get go. We started sitting next to each other at breakfast and would often choose to wrap ourselves up and brave the outside patio to drink our tea in the morning. For the first three days we managed to get by with just a smile. 
"SHIT!!!!!" She screamed, under her breath, as a run of hot water knocked out of the side of her tall tumbler glass onto her icy hand.
"SHIT!!!!" I screamed back, she was screaming! We're not allowed to talk!
"OH SHITTING HELL." We both settled on.
She grabbed my wrist and pulled me up and we power walked into the gardens, besides ourselves with giggles, to stand shaking in a bamboo tree. We had broken our noble silence and Christ alive was it the most liberating feeling. Our initial instincts told us to hug each other. 
We cuddled and exchanged stories, she was 47 and lived in Devon and was trying to suss a toxic relationship, I told her my current fate and agreed that whilst we probably shouldn't do this again, if we needed each other, this was our spot. 
We returned there most days, calculating our timing to a criminal degree, sneaking out biscuits we'd stolen from the larder at the back of the kitchen. I regretted in parts that I'd not kept silent but the warmth she gave me moulded itself in to a lesson of its own and I don't think I'd have got through each day without her. Other women cottoned on and before we had a chance to consummate that guilt with a trip outside of the grounds (also, totally forbidden), we'd built a den with garden chairs and pushed back the bush to allow for additional revellers. 
We had shape shifted the International Meditation Centre to the Broken Hearted Women's Club to St. Trinian's in a matter of days.

Meditating became more powerful. Thoughts and feelings I was scared would rise started to flash in my rested brain and I began to understand how to compartmentalise them, little flatpack boxes built themselves and ushered past anxieties to nestle inside of them, all I had to work out now was how to sellotape them shut and who the cheapest removal company was to come and collect them.

There is nothing more dramatically sobering than sharing pain and learning with others through what had to be mostly non verbal communication. As the gong rang at 4am every morning and we huddled into the meditation hall, swaddled in blankets and morning mist, we all took the time to check each other for glassy eyes and swollen, tear blotched cheeks. It usually took only one of us to be clawing at a particularly difficult day in our minds for the whole group to feel the weight of it and it was because of that we all had to muster up courage much more wantingly than we'd signed up for. 
Some days you couldn't stop yourself from laughing hysterically and others it felt unfair you had to leave your bed, but it was those extremes, such painfully full emotions, that had been missing from our normal lives, were making us so miserable.For the first three days I sat and begged myself to cry, I wanted it all to come rushing out of me so I could find some light to dish out when needed without the constant pull back of wondering when I'd admit to myself what was so wrong, but it took its time and when the tears did come it felt euphoric. I have never cried before in the way that I did after seven consecutive days of silent soul searching, it was ugly and snotty and unstoppable like previous tears but it was through absence of pain. I felt as though I was shedding all of the nonsense I'd poisoned myself with for so long, that with every heavy thudding chest pain I was releasing bad memories and that they were no longer mine to own. I was handing back the guilt and sadness sodden situations had gifted me as souvenirs for mine and others mistakes that I'd clung onto for so long.

Sarah didn't last the full ten days, she couldn't find the break of agitation, so she snuck out one evening leaving a letter under my pillow. I managed to catch her just in time, which was just as well, as her car wouldn't start and she had to call a friend to come and tow here away... without anyone realising. It was all more fodder for how mad what we were experiencing was and at the time felt like instant karma finally getting us back for nicking a packet of prawn crackers that afternoon. 
Her exit was the perfect time for me to crack on with the last few days of switching off but instead I leant that time to remembering that during my stay, I had made a glimmer of a suggestion towards the romance chapter I'd prayed for. The boy, D, in the kitchen. We had shared secret smiles and would face each other during dinner time, one dinner being the last two, both in the hysteria stage of the course, howling with laughter that reverberated around the dining hall until one of the volunteers came in to tell us off for breaking rules. On the final day we were allowed to speak to each other, which fell as a built up with anticipation, awkward hello and goodbye as he bowed his head into a taxi. I thought perhaps I'd get his details from Roger but he was quick to tell me he had gone to Burma for 17 days to finish his practice with the monks. Bugger. 

I left those ten days feeling new. Feeling as though the feelings I'd felt previously, whilst normal and necessary, didn't have to tarnish everything, the angst and sadness was all but chemical misery and potential poetry - it just needn't be forever, even though it often feels like it might be, I know now to remind myself it doesn't. Sure as hell I missed drinking, the bar on the train home was the first to receive some damage, but it was my phone that hurt me the worst. The pocket grab every time I got up to do something, thinking in internalised Tweets, wondering what events I'd been invited to on Facebook... what if I had a Raya match that was about to expire??? It was much more relentless than the thought of having a glass of Malbec and a Marlboro light. I thought drinking was my worst habit, it is after all a physical addiction, but it turned out that not only was it not that or simple self indulgence, it was being so reliant on my phone for a momentary pick me up, for not allowing myself to feel things without distraction.
I meditate twice a day still and long for a month I can justify ten days out to go back.
Turn your bloody phone off for a bit. Learn to meditate. Give your brain a moment off from all the distraction so it can master your pain into teaching.

Void Fillers - Miso Sad Soup

Monday, 13 March 2017

It's me, Charly Cox, your friendly neighbourhood manic depressive, back on the internet!
I've dealt with depression for the best part of my adult life, the plight of mood swings and sad strung showers, the galaxies of carbon coloured fog speckled with high reaching stars that suggest that maybe it's not forever, the lying, the embarrassment, the anxiety, the sleeplessness of it, the void.
The void is my least favourite flavour of depression.
It's the bit where your brain feels lazy, it's too tired to feel sad.
Your heart is too heavy to beat too fast, your appetite isn't here nor there, everything's just a bit bland and my god it's boring. When will it bloody end?
I write this to you, from exactly there, the void, working out how to fill it.

I've got quite good over the last few years learning what works, what definitely doesn't and what helps season even the most seasoned pro's sad salad. So I wanted to revisit and share the recipes, the books, the musicians and the artists - the snippets of overheard advice and the prescribed bits humanised, in hope that it might get me out of this rut and help anyone that's slumped in a similar stupor.

This is the first 'Void Filler' and the first recipe. It's simple, it's delicious, it's quite a good baby step.

Last year I made the soul crushing decision to quit chicken nuggets. I loved chicken nuggets with a gargantuan heart I've never pressed against another human, ever. It was immeasurably difficult.
But slowly, once my McCravings subsided, I began a process of radically changing the way I thought about food.
I am a particularly talented emotional eater, I'm the cookie monster of a potato waffle and white bread sandwiches stuffed with pasta and baked beans variety, desperately trying to fill a void.
Instead of plugging it, that expanse of terrified emotion would always grow larger and more complex because I'd hate my body more and more, my skin would erupt with craters and I'd feel exhausted from carb overload.

So I learnt to cook.
I got excited about food and what it can do, I read up on ingredients that 'scientifically' make you happier and, just like nearly every other white middle class girl on the internet, I'm going to tell you - my switch to a, gulp, mostly vegan diet... was revolutionary. Ironically, 'clean eating' was the dirtiest thing I used to be able to think of and now in a measured way instead of becoming something I always hated, it's helped to stop me hating myself at all.
I'm not restrictive, I'm just mindful of how I'm feeling.
If I'm in a good place - a potato waffle, a whole bar of Galaxy and a chicken nugget isn't going to spark a chemical imbalance, but if I'm edging towards darkness, I know it's not going to pull me back from it either. (Friendly side note - I am militant about vitamins etc. etc. etc. when I am sad and don't recommend chucking yourself in head first if you know you're not prepared for the slog because it could make you feel worse. This isn't me screaming MEAT IS MURDER it's me nudging you in the ribs across the table with a glass of wine in my hand smiling 'Mate, did you know mushrooms and their selenium and vitamin D overload might make your brain fog a bit less shit?')

Cooking has become this fundamental piece in my mental jigsaw, the sense of achievement when you master a dish, whether you have the stomach to eat it or not, is a satisfaction I've often found quite difficult to attain from anything else when all I want to do is stay in bed.
Miso Soup in its silky, hot and salty richness, was the first thing I began with and I come back to it often.
The health benefits are teetering on decadent for someone who doesn't feel worth nourishing and that's exactly why it took to be a form of afternoon meditation I obey when I start cry-watching daytime TV in my pants.
The process is mesmeric, soothing, there's little mess, there's little instruction, there's very little to it but a shit ton to take from it, like a giant hot ladle of it.
It fixes hangovers and heartbreak and in the right Anthropologie bowl - makes a great instagram that suggests you've got your shit together and haven't been back-flat-on-the-floor, toes-swaying-in-the-air, screeching to Dido 'White Flag'.

I never make it the same way and Deliciously Ella need not quake in her Birkenstocks over this recipe but here's a dish that I make for myself when stuff gets too much. This helps to fill the void.

  • 4-6 Mushrooms (of your choice) (it's good for your sadness so adjust measurement dependant on feelings)
  • Brown Miso Paste
  • A handful of rice noodles 
  • 1 large spring onion
  • 3 handfuls of Kale/spinach/leafy green stuff (it's good for your sadness so adjust measurement dependant on feelings)
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • Coriander 
  • Sesame seeds
  • Worcestershire sauce
  • Cubes of tofu 
  • Soya sauce
  • Ginger
  • Sesame Oil
  • Salt/Pepper/Hot sauce
Chop the mushrooms, tofu, garlic and spring onion, throw it in a saucepan with a teaspoon of sesame oil and let them soften, stick the kettle on - have a cuppa in one hand and mix a jug of miso paste (a hefty tablespoon) in the other with enough water to cover what's in the saucepan. Pour the miso stock over the mushrooms, tofu, onions and garlic and chuck in the rice noodles and leafy greens as well as the grated ginger, soya sauce and then some Worcestershire sauce (trust me on that one), in whatever amounts you think tastes good. Coriander and sesame seeds on top once served if you're up to it. Most of the time I'm not. Go back to the sofa, put Dido on pause and enjoy.

How do you fill the void? Let me know in the comments below and let's help each other out. x

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