Your love keeps lifting me higher

“When I sing, I am taken out of the mundane world into another place – and it is always a pleasure to return to that place.”

– Michael Bourke (from a case-study in ‘Flourishing’ by Maureen Gaffney)

One of my absolute favourite things to do is sing: I sing when I cook; I sing in the shower; I sing in front of my computer screen at work. I love it.

I was an active singer at school, being part of the school choir and occasionally singing my own songs for music class. If I felt inadequate in other areas of my life or even in music (I always felt a bit rubbish at playing the piano, for example), I knew that I could sing.

During most of my twenties, I did far less singing. I never properly found an outside opportunity to sing. I thought that choral choirs were too stuffy, serious and much better suited to an older generation. What I wanted was a choir that did traditional and modern pieces. I wanted a full range (or near enough to it).

But it wasn’t solely that I found it hard to find a suitable, easy-to-get-to choir in London, I also felt like I could not spend the time being part of one. My working hours were split between work and studying, my free time was spent commuting or preparing for classes. As I have written previously on this blog, London living was hard, and I did not have enough energy to expend it on something I really loved doing.

What a mistake that was! What I have learnt about passion is that I should never forgo, suppress or give up on what gives me great joy in life. I believe that part of the reason why I felt so unhappy at times living in London was because I wasn’t in a choir. And science has shown that singing in a choir is one possible secret to happiness. The author Stacy Horn does a brilliant job of describing the wonderful effects and release singing in a choir has on your brain, body and well-being. She says that it doesn’t matter if you can’t sing well as long as you can carry a tune, which according to the BAFTA and Emmy award winning choirmaster Gareth Malone, anyone can.

Since moving to Brussels, my return to choir-dom has been gradual, first in a choral group at work to now in a choir at one of the music schools in the heart of Brussels. My choir is a mix of students and non-students, young and old(er), Belgian and other nationalities. We sing a range of music, from Bach to the Beatles. Our choir director is charismatic, vivacious, motivational and not to mention funny. The rehearsals are filled with laughter and energy. It is my dream choir.

When I sing in the choir, I experience flow. ‘Flow’ is a term coined by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi to describe the experience of deep engagement in an activity, in other words, losing yourself in what you are doing. The psychologist Maureen Gaffney describes in her book ‘Flourishing’ that when someone is in flow, their mind is “completely and effortlessly focused on the next move. The experience is poised at the sweet spot between conscious (but not effortful) concentration and being on automatic”.

“Singing reflects the innermost of your soul,” my Dad said to me most recently. In fact, his words provided me with inspiration for this week’s post. Gareth Malone says that the choir is an expression of something that is deeply personal and that is deeply human. When I sing, I often reach a state of ecstasy: my mind is empty; I am wholly and completely lost in the moment; my sense of time has altered. I feel like my true self has come out to shine. In the choir, I sense that I am part of something bigger than myself. We breathe together, we work together, we play together, our hearts may even beat in synchrony. It is said that singing in a choir is likened to a spiritual experience. Amen to that.

I may have convinced you to join a choir. But even if singing is not for you, here is my hope for you: that whatever interest, hobby or work that reflects the innermost of your soul; that lifts you higher and higher (as the song goes) – you keep doing it.*

*Lawfully and the “highs” are natural, of course.

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29

29 was the age when Buddha left his family, his palace, his old life in search for enlightenment. I have not taken such drastic steps but at 29 I realised that I was not being true to myself. A couple of years before, I was in a WH Smiths (a newsagent) in London looking at what to get my brother for his birthday. I am ashamed to say that in the bargain bin I came across a small picture book called, “The way of F**k It” by John C Parkin. I  flicked through it and thought it looked pretty funny. The book was about saying a big f**k it to things that don’t really matter so much and to encourage us to let go and be free. I bought it and gave it to my brother, not really thinking anything more about it.

Last summer, when I was 29, I came back to London for a job interview. I had convinced myself that this job was going to lead me to the career I wanted, a career that I had been building for the last six years. Six years spent doing internships; studying; working; seeing the world; and meeting extraordinary people. After the interview, which I knew wasn’t successful, I came back to my brother’s place and lay on the bed, exhausted. I noticed that on the bedside table was the F**k It picture book. Drawn to it, I picked it up and read it. After reading the funny yet bold captions, I decided that July 2012 would be my f**k it month and I would apply the principles of letting go, being honest with myself, enjoying the moment and not taking things so seriously to every situation in my life.

One year on and many great changes have happened in my life. Changes for the good. I am trying to live a life true to myself and be the best possible person I can be. I have realised that the more you give, the more you get back. So that is why I decided to write this blog. I was thinking about what themes or topics this blog should have and then I just thought, “Why not write about the things I have learnt over the past year and get the message out?”. So this blog is about self-help, philosophy, well-being, spirituality, health and anything else that I think is worth writing about! I hope that what I write can provide inspiration to those of you who want to live the fullest life possible.

At 29 years of age Buddha started his journey, and so did I.