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à la goblin mode.

The first blog post of a squalling New Year and I decide to work in the coffee shop across the road, an establishment designed in so perfect a manner that I'm reliably prevented from getting any work done.

Usually, I set out my laptop, lining up its bottom edge with that of the table. My phone is placed to my right, in careful geometry with the laptop. And the novel that I take with me – the one I save for when my brain gets tired from all the work that isn’t getting done – I retrieve from my bag and immediately slip deep between its covers to dream.

Today has been no different, only today I'm still in festive goblin mode, loath to switch it off. For those who have yet to come across this 2022 Oxford word of the year (as voted by the public – I refuse to get drawn into the semantics of 'word' even though we are clearly dealing with plurality here; none of us need telling that the general public has a shoddy track record of doing the right thing when it comes to voting, cf. Strictly Come Dancing), goblin mode is defined as:

“a type of behaviour which is unapologetically self-indulgent, lazy, slovenly, or greedy, typically in a way that rejects social norms or expectations.”

Or, as Guardian reporter Kari Paul puts it, goblin mode “embraces the comforts of depravity”.

Mmm. Embraces the comforts of depravity. A way of living I suspect I've been enjoying ever since discovering tinned pies.

On the whole, goblin mode is a time-saver for anyone who wants to do more appealing things such as nothing, very little or lying so still and unnoticed on the floor that people step around you without realising. Goblin mode allows you to dodge the daily shower, champion the unmade bed, eat a block of cheese standing up in front of an open fridge and dress yourself in no particular order. It's a sublime state of being, a statement of autonomy, an expression of base self-acceptance, and I am very, very good at it.

So good, in fact, that this morning I decide to take my goblin out in daylight, a kind of social experiment to see if it could survive away from the crepuscular gleam of fairy lights and discarded Quality Street wrappers.

Now, a large part of embracing your goblin involves being comfy. For me, this means two things:

  • warmth

  • elastic

Your goblin mode might run with different specifics, but me? These two are essential. Having chosen to live in a geriatric house with single, mostly broken, glazing and ceilings so high the spiders hire Sherpas, being warm has taken on an almost quest-like quality especially in a time of unprecedented fuel hikes.

Layers are the holy grail here. I wear so many I can no longer bend my arms. If I fall over, I bounce back up. I am one padded gilet away from spherical. Enter and welcome, elastic. Joggers, long johns, sweatshirts, jumpers, long tees, hoodies, vests, thermal socks. Anything, in fact, that can stretch to accommodate whatever is below in this highly pressurised strata of clothing.

It goes without saying that when you activate goblin mode, you don't give a shiny shitsu about appearances. The part of your brain that wants to make a good impression is put into hibernation. So you blithely get on with the job of forcing yourself into a coat cut for a smaller person with an identifiable shape. The trainers that you normally wear to excuse the joggers are merrily kicked to one side in favour of slip-ons so bending can be kept to an absolute minimum. And if those joggers are tucked into your socks? So be it, although it has to be a hard pass on the woolly hat; while great for hiding musty goblin hair from judgement, donning a hat demands lifting your arms higher than where your waist used to be. Basically, you become a sartorial hell-scape, the walking, talking personification of a church hall jumble sale.

But, I think, the coffee shop is literally on the other side of the road. How likely is it that I would meet anyone I know between my front door and the sanctuary found behind an open laptop and a very large oat cappuccino?

Very, it turns out. I barely make it to the 'open' sign when a New Year's greeting rings out from a lovely student of mine. Then, no sooner do I style that out and waddle to the door, another lovely student hails me. And again at the counter. And then again while breathing heavily at the the top of the stairs (which have acquired a frisson of danger due to my altered centre of gravity).

It seems my entire student cohort has descended on this one coffee shop to marvel at what I have become in the short time since I saw them last year, then moving freely and no doubt more fragrantly on my mat.

No matter, I am undeterred. Goblin mode runs a programme of shamelessness alongside the more front-and-centre slob executive. I get out my book, extremely self-satisfied if a smidge over warm.

At this point, it would be well within your rights to wonder where the hell I'm going with this. You're used to my little New Year pep talks, a gentle buzz of positivity to help you find your way back to your mat if you strayed last year, and to stay on your mat if you're contemplating *retch* Pilates this year.

See, I've been thinking. Before Christmas, I mentioned that come January we would focus on our core. We'd target the pelvic floor, diaphragm, back, waist and yes, of course, those fame-hungry abs. All the well-known and not-so well-known anatomical bits and pieces that come together to support and stabilize the body.

But, as I hope you understand by now, yoga isn't just about the physical. In fact, it's least concerned about the physical. The strength and flexibility gains in yoga are side effects but not the point. The point of yoga is to settle and calm the mind, to find peace. By finding a still centre point, we become more effective in the world, more compassionate, less reactive. We function better.

As you know from previous posts, it only bobbed into my conscious awareness fairly recently that I have never functioned in a way that best serves me or those around me. Like most of us, I have, over the years and for whatever reasons, acquired many restrictive layers that have prevented me moving through this precious experience of life as freely or as peaceably as I could. If it wasn't for yoga and meditation, I might never have had this realisation and therefore missed the opportunity to try to learn how to reconnect to my true self – my core, if you will.

"After Sappho" by Selby Wynn Schwartz, my current café read, plots the journey of visionary women through history – poets, writers, adventurers –and their struggle to satisfy their need to evolve beyond the roles that the patriarchy prescribed them. The external systems of society – legal, financial, religious, educational, medical and social – were deliberately engineered to prevent these brilliant, bright people from discovering themselves, layer upon layer, each possible avenue through which to claim autonomy and self-expression decisively shut down by systems designed to smother and immobilise.

Many years later, thanks to these uncompromising petticoat refuseniks, there is far greater opportunity for women to move through the world to the thrum of their own passions. However, many of us – not just women –remain in thrall to the limits we place upon ourselves, the internal systems of repression.

Mostly subconsciously, we establish strategies and behaviours to keep safe and unchallenged our sense of self. The way we dress, what we read, our politics, opinions, the need for the latest gadget, car, holiday destination, our career, hobbies, friends ... Everything stage-managed so we can see ourselves "in the right way", to be accepted, to connect (albeit superficially), to maximize our physical, mental and emotional comfort in the immediate here and now.

Under these careful layers, we exist in a kind of permanent, psychic goblin mode, until one day we may discover that navigating life doesn't feel as easy or as satisfying anymore; we feel stuck, small, our movements restricted by the very habits that were meant to make our life easier and more manageable.

Over the holidays, someone asked me, in the style of Morpheus from The Matrix, would I take the red pill or the blue? If I took the red, my current sense of self would continue to fray, revealing more upsetting truths and unhealthy coping strategies. If I took the blue, I would forget that I had any difficulties and continue to live life as before, untroubled by the niggling sense of unease that something was fundamentally off.

I would take the red, of course. Yes, it holds the potential of learning life-changing, often disturbing information, but it also offers the chance of growth and positive change. Yoga, if you let it, is the red pill illuminating the truth of our vulnerable, naked self and, lemme tell you, it's not always a flattering mirror. No, we probably won't like what we see at first, but knowledge is both power and permission to try something different, to evolve into something we do like when we look at our reflection.

So while the hedonistic comforts of goblin mode definitely have their attractions in the outside world, when it comes to our inner world we should strive to be more at ease with our discomfort. Shed the layers. Ditch the convenience. Not make it so easy for ourselves. Let's wear our own skin rather than one picked out by somebody else, and delight in rediscovering freedom of movement in a shape that fits us properly at last.

Talking of which, budge over. There's a toffee penny by your foot that has my name on it. Actually, I can't bend down ... would you mind?

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