Within you, as you

It’s been exactly one year since I first arrived in the English seaside town of Margate, right after lockdown part one, acting on what appeared to be a very impulsive decision. Everything in my life had changed, so I thought, why not also leave the city I’ve been living in for most of a decade, too? I’ve done a lot of stuff by myself in my adult life—moved countries when I was 21, traveled on several continents solo, figured out how to be self employed—but moving to a new place where I knew exactly one person in the middle of a pandemic was ostensibly the most reckless. 

Except it wasn’t reckless, not at all. I just had this sense that moving to the coast, finding a way to make my life cheaper, my nervous system more stable, and to remove my journalism career as the focal point of my life was exactly what I was supposed to do. I should be clear that this “sense” I speak of wasn’t some vague notion; it was declarative. I can remember exactly where I was (my aunt and uncle’s back garden) and what I was doing (lying on the grass) when the idea to move here arose. I had never thought about doing it before. My next thought was, “Okay, well I guess that’s what I have to do now.” 

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking in the last year about what, exactly, that was. Was it god? Common sense? A byproduct of the many personal development books and podcasts I consume? Instinct? A stray bit of consciousness that just happened to work out because the universe is ultimately a random, indifferent force that doesn’t care about me or anything in it? 

Over the past year, my analytical journalist brain has fought for hours with that other, dare I say spiritual side trying to figure it out. Here’s where I’m at with it. I think we all have access to this thing—an instinct, a knowing, a voice that is, I’m sorry to report to my rationalist readers, divine. I can tell you it sounds and feels totally different from anxiety, which is another voice I frequently have running alongside it. I can’t prove it exists but I do think everyone, regardless of privilege and identity, has it within them. That’s not to say everyone always has the same ability to respond to what it says, sadly.

My experience of the knowing is that it becomes more audible to me when certain conditions are met: When I am making time to rest and be really still and quiet on a regular basis. When I’m integrating what’s going on in my brain with what’s going on in my body, mostly through my yoga practice. When I actively intervene in and question my unhelpful thought patterns, even if I can’t totally stop myself from having them. When I unashamedly and urgently prioritize things that spark curiosity and joy. When I am being kind to myself—something I’ve admittedly spent a considerable amount of time and money learning how to do, and still sometimes fail at.

This isn’t the first time I’ve heard that voice, but it was the first time I heard it so loudly and clearly. Hence my obsession with figuring out what it was, and why it arose. However, in all those hours of walking on the beach and lying on my floor turning it over in my brain, a funny thing happened: I stopped trying to figure it out. The journalist lost the thread, gave up on the story. I no longer felt the need to prove it to myself. I stopped imagining what judgements intellectual types might levy on me for having such a belief. I just let myself have it. After all, it brought me here, and here is pretty damn good all things considered.

If the past year has taught me anything, it’s that the project of life is a generally a pretty difficult endeavor. It never gets easy, but there are many welcome bursts of curiosity and joy. I feel more certain of my role in it now, though. It’s simply to stay engaged in the never-ending work of being kind to myself, listen for the voice, and when it starts making itself known, to do what it says. As the saying goes: God dwells within you, as you. 

Twelve months, two mid-pandemic house moves, one bout of Covid that I am (finally, I think, please god) fully recovered from, one huge attitude shift towards my career, a new relationship, a 19th century Victorian flat purchase, and a hell of a lot of time spent lying on the floor later, I’m still here. I feel like a totally different person. And yet, I feel like the person I’ve always been. It feels really good. In fact, if you ever have the inclination to radically change your life based on a divine rumbling deep in your belly, I really can’t recommend it enough. 

Things I wrote

I’ve been invited to write more on Medium in the last couple months, which I’ve been enjoying. Two pieces I like are one about Dave Ramsey, the conservative boomer personal finance guru who really changed my approach to money, and another about the joy of logging off (JOLO?)—because I promise you are not going to find what you’re looking for on the internet.

Things I read

  • A truly stunning account of one doctor’s experience of the pandemic year. [The New Yorker]

  • What happens when you cancel your wedding, but the internet literally won’t let you forget it. [Wired]

  • On the incredibly awkward, uneven, and messy reckoning of race, privilege, and diversity on the Real Housewives franchise. [Vulture]

  • I recently interviewed Paul Millerd for a forthcoming piece, and I’m really enjoying his newsletter about stepping off the “default path.” There are a lot of people recognizing the limits of a life centered on work, income, and prestige—and Paul is speaking to a lot of them. It’s also refreshing to hear a man talk about these things! [Boundless newsletter]

  • I don’t know about you, but I am really here for married Christian Justin Bieber 3.0. This profile helped me understand why. [GQ]

  • On opening an indie bookstore during a pandemic. [Texas Monthly]

  • “I’m not languishing, I’m dormant.” So grateful to Austin Kleon for explaining exactly how I feel at the back-end of this pandemic chapter. [Austin Kleon]

  • “Shamelessness is the superpower of a certain section of the English upper classes.” Can’t wait to read Musa Okwonga’s memoir about attending Eton. [The Observer]

Things I listened to: 

  • Tressie McMillan Cottom is that rare hyper-intelligent polymath who still manages to speak in a way that anyone can understand. It’s a joy to listen to. [The Ezra Klein Show]

  • This episode of Esther Perel’s work podcast about two models trying to move away from the fashion industry has it all: relationships, motherhood, bodily autonomy, the thorny ethics of making money from being beautiful under capitalism and more. Am example of how beautiful true self awareness can sound. [How’s Work

  • I feel pretty hopeless about the state of journalism, if I’m honest. This interview does a good job of explaining why. [Rebel Wisdom]

An endorsement 

A few weeks ago I logged onto Zoom and, with some strangers, had a guided discussion about our feelings surrounding climate change. The prompts were less about carbon reduction targets, and more about grief, denial, and anxiety. It sounds awkward but it wasn’t, and I hope it’s something I can do more often in my real, non-Zoom life. The Climate Awakening project is led by psychologist Margaret Klein Salamon, whose self-help book on the climate crisis made me see the future for what it will be for the first time. It was nothing short of a relief. (You can download a free chapter of her book here.)

Word soup

“Creativity is not the traditional view of being good at art or full of new ideas, but it is the ability to shape our own brain by what we expose it to, designing our own future through proactive choice.” —Dr. Tara Swart

“The body is not a thing, it is a situation: It is our grasp on the world and our sketch of our project.” -Simone de Beauvoir (h/t Naomi for this one)

As always, thank you for reading. If you enjoy this newsletter, it helps a surprising amount if you forward it to a friend or two, or share it on social media. The subscribe link is here.

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