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In which I reflect on my sober life...

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I'M a big believer in reflection, for finding an occasional moment and quiet space in which to ponder life and look in rather than look out. I disappear at parties, whether for 10 minutes of alone time in the bathroom or a full-blown nap in the hostess's bedroom.

I need to spend at least an hour on my own at music festivals, if only to reassert my independence.

And I can often be found lying on my bed, hands crossed corpse-style over my chest, staring at the ceiling.

"What are you doing?!" my family ask incredulously.

"Reflecting," I tell them... at which point they close the door behind them and mutter something about me being a "complete weirdo"...

So I couldn't quite contain my smugness when we sat down to watch the Queen's Christmas message.

"We all need to get the balance right between action and reflection," she said. "With so many distractions, it is easy to forget to pause and take stock.

"Be it through contemplation, prayer, or even keeping a diary, many have found the practice of quiet personal reflection surprisingly rewarding."

I could have written that speech, I said to nobody in particular. "I wouldn't be too proud of that," my brother snapped. "She's 87 years old," reminded my mother.

Ah but auld Lizzie has a point. It's ironic that at the time of year when we should be winding down, we are working ourselves up.

Shopping, socialising, eating, drinking. Repeat ad nauseum, or until you collapse.

MERRIMENT

It's no wonder that heart attacks spike during the festive season.

People go dotty at this time of year and I'm convinced that it's not just because of the hamster wheel of merriment where one day blurs into the next, but because they have no time to reflect.

I realised a few years ago that to retreat from the festive madness was the only way to really move forward.

I was sick of being spat into the New Year with no money, no mobile phone and, crucially, no hope.

I decided that I would instead use the New Year to retreat and reflect and hopefully discover what direction to take next.

It felt good to opt out of the what-are-you-doing-for-New-Year's? hysteria.

It felt even better to add that I was off to a meditation retreat.

Vices and virtues have a strange relationship. The further you go in one direction dictates how far you go in the other direction when you eventually change your ways.

The more self-indulgent your approach to partying, the more self-restraint you seek when you try to lead the sober life. Everyone needs to release – by laughing, crying, dancing, love-making. . .

Those who once found their release in gallivanting very often end up parlaying it into meditating and back bending.

Sometimes you wonder if you're really any further along the road, but that's another day's conversation. . .

I've been to a few New Year's yoga/meditation retreats at this point and I'm always intrigued by the ilk of people they attract.

"Don't judge," urge the teachers. "Don't worry," I want to tell them, "I already judged you – and your mate – the minute I arrived."

It's fascinating how, despite the abiding principles, people still form into little cliques, how they still fall into the comparison trap by trying to out-Zen one another.

Preconceived ideas don't just drift into the ether, even if you're sitting cross-legged in a circle, holding one another's hands while chanting 'Om'.

I remember a silent meditation retreat where silence wasn't dutifully observed.

One attendee told me that he was three months out of Mountjoy, while a pair of awfully awful women who arrived in matching SUVs spent the weekend moaning that there were no massage facilities.

(They had just come back from a retreat in Idaho where each day began with a green juice and a colonic irrigation).

On the final day of this silent retreat, the teacher came into the kitchen holding a small black bin.

The women had also complained about the lack of waste-disposal facilities so she wanted to know if they hadn't noticed that there was a bin in their room.

The ex-con couldn't resist a swipe. "They must have thought it was a champagne bucket!"

Serenity

You find serenity on your own terms at these retreats.

I wasn't staring at a flower or throwing pebbles into a stream when I finally found inner peace. I was perving. It was at an Ashtanga yoga retreat where I was pleasantly surprised by the calibre of men.

"I'm definitely going to get some action here," I thought to myself, before adding, "and if I don't, that's cool too." Namaste.

In her speech, the Queen talked about a friend of hers who was bed-bound due to a plaster cast.

"He realised this time of forced retreat from the world had helped him to understand the world more clearly."

That's what it's all about. I could go on all day about the benefits of retreats and reflection but fundamentally it comes down to one thing: perspective.

It helps you see the wood from the trees.

I started my New Year's retreat a little earlier this year by attending a 'Letting Go' yoga seminar with the fabulous Sinead O'Connor of Hush Yoga.

She talked about the dark and the light; how we can only know joy by experiencing suffering.

She talked about the lotus flower and how it is an analogy for the human condition – it rises out of murky, muddy waters and blossoms into something beautiful and pure.

Her thoughts made me think about New Year's Eves of old.

Perhaps you have to do the lost weekends – and lost handbags – to realise that you'd prefer to spend New Year's doing sun salutations with a group of strangers. And is it really that much of a difference?

One to reflect upon. . .


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