It was just before six a.m. on a cold February morning, a week before Valentine’s Day when the call came.
I was due to wake up anyway but it still took me a few moments to realize that the sound emanating from my phone was actually a ringtone and not the usual alarm.
I knew straight away who was calling, and why.
Regardless, I had to stare at the screen for a few moments before answering; readying myself for what I knew was coming. Whilst it wasn’t a shock, I cried as if it were, when my mum told me the news; my grandma, her mum, had died.
Grandma had been in hospital since before Christmas and we all knew it was a matter of time. But it didn’t make it any easier. She’d deteriorated quickly these last few weeks. Every visit she was weaker, smaller, more frail. Still, she’d always had a smile for us when we visited despite the cruel, relentlessness of her condition.
The months that followed were a sad time for us all. But then it had been a sad few years. You see my grandma, once the strong, loving, matriarch of the family, had been suffering from dementia for quite some time. Her memory had slowly retreated over the years until in the end it consisted of nothing but a few scattered and hazy images.
I’d always been close to my grandparents. My grandma was a kind, loving and creative person, so very good with children. She would probably have made an amazing artist of some kind if she’d lived a different life, in a different time; if her family hadn’t needed her to leave school at 15 to help support her 10 brothers and sisters.
Now with those kind of numbers, there’ll be no prizes for guessing we are a catholic family. Irish blood, English hearts. We went to church every weekend when I was little, yet personally, I’d never gelled with the whole religion thing. It wasn’t for me. I remember even at an early age being filled with an awareness that “God” was just a nice idea, a belief we could hold onto that made us feel good, one that really only fitted alongside other “nice ideas,” like the tooth fairy and Santa.
As I grew older, my atheism grew more pronounced.
There was no solace of an afterlife for me to fall back on now my grandma was no longer here, and I wasn’t going to start simply because it was convenient to my suffering, thank you very much.
However, one of the big reasons for my lack of belief had always been the logistics of how any kind of heaven might exist for people. For instance, would my Aunt be there with her first husband, who had sadly died young, or her second one? Wouldn’t that be terribly awkward? Or in my Grandma’s case. If she was now on her way to a better place was she damned to an eternity of living in her muted shell of a being, her memories and thoughts not her own? Wasn’t that just the cruelest thing ever?
Yet as I mused on this in the days after my grandma died I also realized something else that had an immense effect on me. You see the more I considered it the more I realized I’d been looking at this all wrong. I’d been thinking of the whole concept of the mind, body and soul from too much of a clear-cut, worldly perspective.
The thing that eventually brought me to this realization was my Grandma’s illness. And who she was, and who she continued to be despite everything. Because even in these last few years, despite her not knowing what day it was, or that her parents had died, or even that the young toddler she kept scanning the room for was actually the 30-year-old man (me) in front of her; despite all this, “she” was still in there somewhere.
Even though her memories were gone and her neural pathways were increasingly becoming dead ends, my grandma was still in there somewhere. She still had the same personality, she still smiled lovingly at us all, there was still a strong connection. Her eyes still lit up when she looked at my granddad.
And with this came a powerful realization for me:
Despite everything I’d believed up to now; “we” aren’t our memories.
Our essence isn’t contained in our thoughts but is somewhere else entirely. Somewhere different from what the prescribed idea of “self” is.
I released that this “inner core” is actually what makes us who we are, not our minds. And this inner core, this essence, it never leaves. Even if our memories fade and our thoughts cloud “we” still exist.
When we can step behind our thoughts and ego and understand that our pure essence lies somewhere else a lot of things fall very effortlessly into place. From work to relationships, to just being more confident in our lives, when we connect fully with ourselves we take the pressure off and we can find that answers come to us a lot easier.
Whilst I still don’t believe in any particular religion—and even now am on the fence as to whether I shall ever meet my grandma again in some way–I am certain that there is so much more to understand about ourselves.
There are things we simply do not know and will not do while we’re on this earth.
And I’m more than happy with that.
I know that my inner core has always been with me. Even when I had yet to define it, I was still connected with it. It was what I held onto through tough times, through heartaches and darkness. It was what kept me going when, even though I felt sad and scared, I knew deep down that I’d be okay.
I’d urge you to take some time to connect with it as best you can. There’s a variety of ways that can help with this. I encourage you sit with these concepts for a while and consider them often.
The more you gain the self-awareness of what is true for you the more aligned you will become with yourself.
Deep down I think we all know where our inner core lies. When we have the courage to listen to ourselves without judgment we can recognize what we want from life and what we don’t. We can see what gives us energy and what steals it from us, what gives us confidence and what creates anxiety. By taking time each day to sit in silence and listen to what no longer serves us we lead ourselves back to our inner core.
Like many things that bring about lasting change, a first powerful step is a renewed awareness and a realization of where we are placing our focus. Your truest, heartfelt desires are feedback from your inner core about what you want to do next. Living from your inner core means paying heed to these desires daily, and unapologetically.
Most of us don’t listen to our true desires. We let our focus be drawn to quick fixes and short-term gratification. Even worse we tend to focus on the bad events in our lives. Yet by doing so, rather than finding answers, all we do is attract more of the same to us.
So when you next feel disconnected from yourself ask; what is my focus right now? Am I focusing on something I want or something I don’t want? Am I seeing the opportunities or only the obstacles? What am I looking at? What am I listening to?
The answers to these questions will help you get clarity and create awareness. This wisdom, this calm acceptance of what is your truth, is inside of you if you take the time to access it. You aren’t looking to connect with something outside of you. It is you. The essential you. That part of you that sits in silent peace, like the moment of happy release following a big sigh. You know the feeling I’m sure. That’s how it can be all the time when you connect fully with yourself.
The modern world is a fast moving place of noise, distraction and chatter. Endless ideas and negative influences have a nasty habit of invading your territories if you let them. Through time they can eat away at our core, leaving us anxious and confused. Thus it’s so very important to take some time out from time to time to let go of everything that drains our energy. Be it things, people, beliefs or the stories we’ve been telling ourselves.
Actively stepping away from the distractions that come with modern life can we connect with our essential selves and gain the necessary knowledge and self-awareness to live a life of purpose. When we let go of distraction the world gets simpler, decisions become easier and our connections with others and our true desires are allowed to appear.
To help with this then it’s important to unplug from technology from time to time. Try to have whole days or at least evenings devoid of screens; no email, no Facebook, no television even. It will be hard but the rewards are plenty and I know from first-hand experience that doing so offers an amazing sense of relaxed confidence. Life becomes calmer when you allow yourself to just “be” rather than endlessly consuming images and symbols that are designed to have you be a passive reactor in your own life rather than a confident action taker. A pleasant way to do this is by simply replacing an hour of television with a walk, a game of scrabble. Even just relaxing with a good book.
When we lighten our load and let things go we allow ourselves the time, space and energy to really connect with what is important.
Finally, allow yourself to love who you are. Give yourself a hug, tell yourself in front of the mirror that you love who you are fully. With our busy lives, we often forget to simply take some time out to acknowledge ourselves yet it’s so important that we do so. You deserve love, you deserve to love and reminding yourself of this helps create a much deeper connection with your inner core.
Above all, pay attention to your heart, your emotions, your breathing. By being aware of the idea that you are not your thoughts or your memories but something deeper, something much more powerful you can take control of your happiness in more profound and giving ways than you ever thought possible.
The process of seeing our thoughts for what they are can be life changing. I’ve found an amazing way to assist this is through meditation. By calming the mind for just 20 minutes each day one is able to get a better understanding of where the negative chatter comes from. You can actually catch it in mid-flow and decide not to accept it any longer and instead to love yourself fully. By stepping away from negative self-talk we get back in touch with ourselves in a loving, profound way. It takes us straight to the quiet calm which is our true self. A self that is free to do amazing things in the world free of doubt and ego.
And the thing is, whether this inner core, or God force, or consciousness (or whatever you want to call it) continues on somewhere after our earthly bodies fail isn’t important. What is important is to understand that whilst we’re here on this planet, by connecting with our essence we can gain the strength and self-acceptance that allows us to live, love and experience wholeheartedly.
I also know that wherever else she is my Grandma will always be with me, because she’s a part of who I am. She helped mould my inner core because of what she shared with me while she was here. She helped guide the love and self-belief that has helped me connect fully with my own essential self.
And I feel stronger and happier knowing that.
Author: Matt Richards
Editor: Sara Kärpänen