This Secret We’re Keeping – Book Review

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I finished reading this novel a day ago, after staying up into the early hours glued to its pages. This is one of those few books that are so absorbing, so complex, that I had no idea how everything was going to be resolved. And that is why, during several intervals of reading, I stopped to wonder how someone could craft such a deep, many-layered and engrossing story with so many twists and turns and surprises just when you thought you had figured everything out.

As soon as I found out the novel’s premise – a teacher-student relationship – I instantly knew I had to buy the book. Something about it told me I would enjoy this novel. I didn’t regret it.

The characters all have their own stories to tell, and the subplots are so carefully woven together that it truly is a work of art. I was drawn quickly into the illicit relationship between Jess Hart and Matthew Landley right from page one, and it was one of those rare stories that keeps you up at night wondering what the hell would happen to the hapless pair. It was engrossing.

There were characters I loved, and characters I hated – everyone was so well drawn out that I could almost see the characters standing in front of me as I read. One of the characters I absolutely loathed was Sonia Laird, along with Dr Zak Foster. Both characters were unlikable for different reasons, but what was great about this book is that it doesn’t tell me who to like or dislike, it just does so well at painting each person vividly and showing their flaws that I can make up my mind about each person the way I would in real life. What’s more, what may surprise you about this novel is who you find yourself rooting for. This is not your average book about a predatory teacher and victimized pupil. It takes that scenario and turns it on its head, showing you the inner workings of this forbidden relationship and planting you right inside Landley’s mind, showing you his exact motivations every step of the way as he crosses line after line with fifteen-year-old Jess Hart.

This book also made me think about the idea of fate, destiny and soul mates. Why are two people drawn together again and again over the course of a lifetime? This story doesn’t openly touch on this theme, but it made me think of it all the same. What the novel does in fact explore is the theme of motherhood. Jess’s best friend Anna is desperate to have children while Jess is dealing with her own motherhood-related issues, along with an alcoholic mum. It also explores the moral issue of whether it is ever right to cross the boundary between teacher and pupil. It makes you think deeply about the issues raised and ask questions, which is a true art and takes a very talented writer to pull off. All this comes together to make a heart-breaking and unforgettable story that remains with you long after you’ve turned the final page.

Overall, this was a gripping thrill of a read, involving love, hate, heartbreak, friendship, betrayal and forbidden love. All these ingredients come together to create a masterpiece which is as close to perfect as a novel can get.

Lessons from a novel – ‘A Voice in the Wind’

This week I finished reading a standout novel by kissFrancine Rivers called A Voice in the Wind from the Mark of the Lion series. I’m going to share 4 life lessons I took from this deep, haunting and unforgettable book. I will definitely be reading the rest of the series. Here are my 4 lessons below:

  1. Faith literally creates miracles

The main character Hadassah has to endure many challenges that most people would crumble under, but she clings to her faith no matter what. As a result, she survives the most incredible odds and opens the hardest of hearts. She brought miracles everywhere she went. Throughout the novel is an overarching theme of God having the ultimate power no matter what, and this truth is highlighted subtly and effectively throughout the many twists and turns in each character’s life.

  1. Be careful who you surround yourself with, as they are a most powerful influence

A running theme in this book is how influenced we are by those we associate closely with. It can – and does – affect the course of our lives. Our life choices after consulting with others greatly impact on us and not everyone has our best interests at heart. Therefore we would be wise to be careful who we share the deepest parts of our lives with, lest they use it against us. This lesson is shown through the character of Julia.

  1. Passions define us and can also destroy us

A key element in the story was the idea of passions and how they can serve us or lead us astray. Emotions such as jealousy lead to devastating consequences in this book.  It raises the thought-provoking idea that passion can be dangerous as well as exciting, and depicts this in the thrilling and dramatic context of the last days of Rome. This book skilfully explores both loving passions and the darkest kind while showing the good and bad aspects of both types. The sinister side of loving passion is described with clever word craft, reaching into your mind and twisting your ideas about it without you consciously realising. Nothing is black and white in this story as in real life, which is a cornucopia of the good, the bad, the great and the mundane.

  1. When you think, speak and act from a place of love, others are irresistibly drawn to you

Hadassah’s compassion and open heart endear almost everyone she meets to her. She holds something precious and different from everyone else she encounters – a sense of peace and calm tranquillity. As a result, all those around her are moved in some way by her pure heart and guileless motives. Those with all the riches in the world crave and long for the peace she carries in her soul, even though she owns nothing and has lost everyone she loves.

3 Big Life Lessons I Learnt In 2015

  1. Moving out your comfort zone is less scary than you think

Back in July I jumped on a flight on my own and volunteered in Marrakech to help disadvantaged children and feed the homeless. Something I wouldn’t have dreamed of doing just a year ago – and a life-changing experience I will never forget. Anticipating the trip was exciting and scary at the same time. For one, I’d never flown alone before and all these fears came up that I couldn’t do it. But the urge inside of me to take this trip was far stronger than any negative thoughts that I’d fail. Now I have amazing memories and have so many stories to tell about my travels – from swimming in the Ouzoud Waterfalls to camping overnight in the Sahara Desert and riding a camel through the dunes. All this wouldn’t have happened had I not stepped outside my comfort zone. And it’s nowhere near as scary as you might think.

As Stephen King said, “The scariest moment is always right before you start.”

  1. Tomorrow is uncertain and full of surprises

I go through periods where I expect the next day to go a certain way – but those are the very times the unexpected happens! When I plan a day and think I know exactly what’s going to happen, that’s when life steps in and throws a curveball. That’s one of the things I love most about life. It keeps surprising us.

Things can change in an instant so we need to focus on what is most important. At the end of your life, what will you regret more? Not cleaning your house that day or not telling your soulmate you love them one last time? Don’t wait until it’s too late. Don’t wait until your loved one is gone before you say what needs to be said. Take their hand in yours and tell them “I love you.” Text, call, Skype, or FaceTime them. See them in person if you can. Look into their eyes. Hug them. Do whatever you need to do. Just make sure you do it. If we don’t stay in the present moment and stay glued to our phones we will miss the magical moments that make life special.

  1. People come and go… and come back

Past, present and future are linked more than we know. This year I have done a lot of soul-searching and considered the fact that where we are now is a result of where we have been.

In 2015 I’ve probably had more chance meetings and coincidences than I’ve ever had. Just when I think I’ll never see a person again, bam! There they are right in front of me.

I believe the past resurfaces to trigger a part of us. Seeing a person from your past could be reminding you how far you have come from the person you used to be. It could be to show that you need to reconnect with that person you just bumped into. Or you may need to reconnect with who you were back when you were close to them.

It could also be a test. A test of how you react, of whether you are over someone or not. Whether you have learnt your lesson from that person. Your reaction in that moment determines what stage you are at in your growth. I don’t believe you can “pass” or “fail” this kind of test though – that’s missing the point. We are all continuously growing and each experience pushes us forward toward our greatest potential. Each layer we remove brings us closer to our greatest version of ourselves and moves us toward healing.

Everyone is a product of their experiences and we cannot deny the past or pretend it doesn’t matter. Experiences shape who we are and make us the people we are today.

Why You Must Love Yourself First Before You Can Give Love

We hear and see so much about how we can’t give love to another unless we love ourselves – but what does that really mean? I asked myself this question for a long time before I decided to explore it myself. I thought, “Anyone can feel love for someone yet still have low self-esteem”. I didn’t quite understand the idea that you need to have self-respect and self-love before you can give love to someone else. It confused me. There have been so many occasions where I would feel bad about myself but feel admiration and love for somebody else. Let’s explore what this statement means.

If you don’t love yourself first, you…

  • Will always want to receive, but you’ll never feel satisfied when you do

When you feel less than happy with who you are, you desire validation from others. When you receive it, whether through a compliment or being asked out on a date, you’re only happy for a short while. Soon you want to fill up that emptiness by acquiring something or someone – and the last thing you want to do is give love to someone else. The reason is that you feel you deserve validation more than other people do.

  • Will withhold love when you’re feeling bad in a relationship

In an argument, couples say things they may later regret. This can lead to one partner withdrawing while the other chases or both partners may withdraw. When you don’t love yourself, you will always feel you deserve to be the one who gets the apology. What happens next? You withhold your love from the other person out of resentment, waiting for the other person to apologise. Whereas if you genuinely love yourself, you won’t need that apology – you will be the one stepping up to fix things. You will be thinking of your partner’s feelings as well as your own and start being assertive rather than passive. Withholding love in a relationship is passive-aggressive behaviour, and it often leads to more resentment and distance between couples. When you withhold love from another, it doesn’t matter how much love you have trapped inside – you won’t share it. Giving always requires sharing. Love yourself, and you are less likely to withhold love at a time when love needs to be shared most.

  • Will accept unloving or abusive treatment in your relationships

People who love themselves don’t accept disrespectful behaviour in their relationships. People who don’t love themselves will put up with less-than-acceptable treatment where no love can be exchanged. You cannot give love when you are surrounded by negativity – both within and without.

  • Will be false around others and never let your true self show

Authentic people love who they are. When these people are around others who feel bad about themselves, they lift them up and inspire them. That’s a form of giving love, which you cannot do in the same way if you hold yourself back and inhibit yourself. When you are being yourself – your beautiful, free, radiant, happy self – you unconsciously give permission for others to do the same.

Five Ways to Feel Fabulous

After recovering from depression, it’s important to know the many ways to feel fabulous about yourself and your life. What you need most is a way to create great feelings which will keep you in that happy space and help you continue to stay positive about life no matter what happens.

  1. Bring out your inner goddess. A great way to do this is through dancing. By turning up your favourite tune and letting all your worries fade away, you will feel instantly good. Not only will you feel good, you will also be getting a workout! Dancing will release happy hormones which will give you a rush and a buzz, and you will feel much more relaxed. Another way is to dress up. It’s amazing what a difference a bit of make-up or a new outfit can do for your self-confidence. Go and treat yourself with a shopping trip and find a wonderful new dress or a new pair of heels. By making that extra effort, even for just one day a week, will do wonders for your mood. Your personality will shine once you feel beautiful on the outside, which will make you instantly feel fantastic, and people will soon see how attractive you are, just for being you.
  2. Laugh. It sounds simple, but it works. Even if you just pretend to laugh, soon enough you will be doing it for real. You will experience a rush that will make your worries seem insignificant, even for just a moment. Laughing regularly has been proven to help heal away negative moods and emotions and keep depression at bay. After recovery it is especially essential to keep a sense of humour about things and keep you firmly on that road to happiness for good. Find the irony and funny side of life. Laugh at the “bad days”. More often than not, what you were worried about will seem very small once you’re laughing.
  3. Think of your happy memories. Dwelling on the bad stuff does us no good, whereas spending our time thinking of lovely memories will give us a mood lift, and you may find yourself smiling as you remember all the things in your life to be grateful for. Visualising yourself happy is also very effective, as it makes it more likely that the vision you have for yourself will come true. We must see ourselves a certain way before we can make it happen in reality. So to feel more blissful, first imagine yourself that way, and enjoy the positive feelings rushing through you.
  4. Try something new. It takes courage to try new things, but the rewards far outweigh any fear or awkwardness you might feel beforehand. Great examples are joining a creative class such as art or crafts, dance, photography or even learning a new language. Or maybe try something else like visiting a gallery, a new area of town, or planning a fun event with friends. Maybe go to the theatre or watch a movie at the cinema with a friend. There is so much out there to explore that there are endless ways to have fun and be entertained. Perhaps you can start your own creative project at home, such as writing a book or doing a painting. Such things get you into the creative flow and take you to a place where you feel passionate about life, and can give you a goal to work towards. The sense of achievement you will feel afterwards will keep you motivated to continue.
  5. Spend time with loved ones. It’s so important for our wellbeing that we take the time to spend with those that truly care about us. Nothing can replace the love that we share between family and friends, and nobody can go through life by themselves, so talking and sharing your feelings with those around you is essential in order to stay feeling fabulous.

Disclaimer: These suggestions have a track record of working for people in this situation. We recommend that you try these tips and see which ones are suitable for you. You may find that other approaches work for you too. Depending on your circumstances, a consultation with your GP may be advised.

Ten Top Ways to Stimulate the Mind

Finding it hard to keep your mind occupied? Do you find yourself struggling with boredom? Here are a few of the top ways to get your mind stimulated.

  1. Engage in healthy debate. Get together with friends and have a discussion about something you feel strongly about, for example current affairs or anything you feel passionate about discussing. Hearing other people’s opinions will get you to think about new perspectives. Conversation, especially about topics that stimulate debate, will get you thinking and will take your mind off any worries and eliminate boredom. Being with your friends in general will lift your spirits and will fill you with positive thoughts.
  2. Read. A good book is one great way to stimulate your mind, and even a light read will give you something relaxing to do and it will take you to another world. A gripping plot will keep you reading and will be thought-provoking. Alternatively, you can go to the cinema or the theatre if reading is not your favourite thing to do.
  3. Travel to unknown places. At home we are comfortable and relaxed, whereas if we are travelling, it moves us out of that comfort zone and you will pick up new skills such as communicating to people of other cultures. It will feel like an adventure because you will be experiencing things you simply don’t get to do at home. You will meet interesting people and try lots of new foods. You will return home with memories that could last a lifetime.
  4. Learn a new language. This is an ultimate way to stimulate the mind, as it requires dedication and time. But it will be fun and extremely rewarding. Maybe even team up with a friend and learn together. You can spur each other on and this will help you pick up the new language faster. Then you can travel to that country feeling good because you can speak fluently to the locals, which will give you a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction.
  5. Change up your routine. Try one new thing to shake up your normal daily routine, for example trying a new route to work or choosing a brand new recipe for dinner. You could even try a new dance class such as salsa or Zumba. These sorts of activities can introduce you to great new friends, too.
  6. Study a subject you like. Read up on something that piques your curiosity and learn as much as you can about it. This will give you something to chat about to other people and will inspire passion towards your life. Learning and thinking is what the mind does best, so studying a fascinating subject will stimulate you.
  7. Try volunteering for a charity. You can find charities online and choose one which speaks to you. Any gifts such as time or money are valuable, and the rewards for taking part are numerous, as you will be making a difference and improving other people’s lives. It will give you a deeper appreciation for what you have and give you peace of mind knowing you have helped a good cause.
  8. Create art. Whether you love taking pictures or you enjoy painting, make something creative from scratch, such as drawing or writing a story or poem. Once you’ve started, you will be absorbed and your mind will start flowing with ideas. This is where inspiration comes from, and often it takes something fun and artistic to spark off your ideas. Once of your creations could lead to a profitable idea.
  9. Try learning a musical instrument. This is more challenging, but you could start with choosing an instrument and playing just for fun, and then work up to taking professional classes if you wish. If you look for courses in your local area you should easily find one suitable for you that will fit your schedule. You may find you have a hidden talent. It isn’t until we try new things that we find out what talents are inside us waiting to come out.
  10. Exercise. It releases endorphins which make you feel happy, and exercising regularly gives you energy. It can optimise your brain for learning. You can try going out for walks, dancing, swimming, cardio or weight-lifting, for example. Team sports like volleyball or basketball are also great because you will make new friends as a bonus.

Disclaimer: These suggestions have a track record of working for people in this situation. We recommend that you try these tips and see which ones are suitable for you. You may find that other approaches work for you too. Depending on your circumstances, a consultation with your GP may be advised.

What is a dark night of the soul?

“A dark night of the soul” can be a time when nothing in life feels meaningful. There are times when, no matter how normal or good things are in a person’s life, they feel hopeless and abandoned and without love. The suffering can seem to be never-ending, and the person can feel completely alone. Nothing makes them feel better, not prayer, not friends, not hobbies. This state of mind can sometimes be directly triggered by a specific difficult life event, such as losing a job, or it can simply appear to come out of nowhere. Often it happens as a result of suppressed feelings and unfinished emotions from the past (abuse, abandonment, or other emotional challenge)

From a spiritual perspective, the dark night often happens after significant progress toward higher consciousness and spiritual growth. It can be seen as a preparation for the happiness of progressing to the next level of spiritual growth: a purification, a cleansing.

Although usually temporary; it can last for extended periods of time. Some people may find

Life presents them with more than one dark night. Many reject and resist their dark nights throughout their life, under the understandable belief that pain and difficulty are to be rejected and resisted rather than accepted and even, odd as it may sound, welcomed and embraced. True transformation can be a painful process and takes time.

Symptoms can include depression, loneliness, loss of energy, anger, a sense of abandonment, and frequent crying seemingly out of nowhere. These symptoms mimic ordinary clinical depression. However, there is a major difference. The dark night is where deep, rich spiritual growth is occurring.

There is a beneficial side to a dark night as there is to everything. After successfully passing through, you may have let go of many things that were holding you back, and sometimes it takes a dark night to face those fears or demons and truly move beyond. The dark night is also a place of beauty and grace. Humility and surrender live there, the willingness to do anything, to be open, to consider possibilities that have not been considered before.  It is sometimes hard to forget that shadow and light are linked, that light cannot exist without shadow. Whilst the shadow side often has been press, its appearance is an invitation to set more into love of yourself.

How can you recover from a dark night of the soul? The key to this is by simply surrendering to what is happening. This means that you are not endlessly worrying “why is this happening to me” or “what can I do to fix this” – these types of thoughts create strain, and they just serve as blocks. These worries can actually make you feel worse, because you will likely struggle to find the answer.

The answer is not in what you do; it is what you stop doing. You stop resisting. The best thing to do is to just allow yourself to feel everything that you are going through, without pushing your feelings away or trying to figure out what everything means. It might help to do something practical by taking good care of yourself by exercising or going out for a walk. But it is important to let the pain pass through you so at the other side you will be rejuvenated. It can help to focus on the fact that your dark night is temporary, and that when you have recovered, you will see the value in it.