Monthly Archives: May 2013

The importance of Being You

P1030681 low resI don’t know if any of you have read it, but this week I’m still reading Gretchen Rubin’s Happiness Project, which chronicles the author’s year-long project of researching the topic of happiness, and applying her theoretical findings to her everyday life.

It’s an entertaining read – if anything because the author sounds (to me) like a typical slightly-neurotic New Yorker, but also as a formal legal clerk she is down to earth, logical and systematic in a pursuit that most people might approach in a more lighthearted, spontaneous way. But it is precisely by being authentic and genuine in sharing her own experience (my favourite bit of genuineness – on page 23, she admits to not liking showers) that she becomes extremely likeable .

Before starting the year of experimenting, Gretchen writes down two interesting sets of rules she will have to live by. One is her Secrets of Adulthood, the truths she has learnt to trust such as “It’s ok to ask for help” or “Soap and water remove most stains”.  The second list is her own Twelve Commandments for life and includes wisdom such as “Let it go”, “Do it now” or “Be polite and be fair”.

The one item I have found inspiring above all is her Commandment One: “Be Gretchen”. Silly as it may sound, it is powerful reminder that true happiness is only found when we can be ourselves, in the mundane and the everyday as much as in our larger goals and plans.

For those of us who spend a lot of time doing what we should do instead of what we want to do, it feels positively revolutionary. So, I’ve made “Be Cecile” my rule no 1 too. I might not have written the other rules yet (sad as it makes me, I might have to admit that “being Cecile” does often equal not being very organised), but I HAVE decided that this one is not an option, it’s a must. Be Cecile. Be yourself, no matter what. And let’s see what comes out of it. 

 

You don’t know what you have till it’s gone

P1040368 low resI was recently reminded of this simple but universal truth: we often fail to appreciate the good things in our lives, until it’s too late.

My family is about to sell the beach house our grandparents built in the 1960s as a holiday home. Back then it was on the outskirts of a provincial seaside town but, fifty years of gentrification later, it finds itself at the centre of a fashionable holiday resort. The place has changed beyond recognition – the forest is replaced by housing developments, the beaches that were once the preserve of local families are a playground for the Parisian well-to-do and celebrities. The restaurant next door now offers a chauffeured car service to drive patrons to their cars further down the road.

So, we have been priced out, and we have to sell. But my point is not to lament gentrification or the woes of the middle classes. My point is this: I knew the house would go at some point, but I never expected it to be so soon. I knew all of us were going less and less as us ‘children’ grew into adults who live far away. I knew holidays increasingly mean exotic places and the idea of a prolonged stay with four generations under one roof no longer appeals. I knew the house was sitting empty a lot of the time, and even my grandmother no longer enjoyed going there much. Still, I didn’t expect her to suddenly decide to put it on the market just before the summer.

I never imagined it would be gone before we all could go one last time. Before we could have one last family barbebue. One more breakfast looking at the sea. One more siesta under the pine trees. One more run down the sand dune and a last swim before lunch.  Those little things that were happy landmarks of my childhood and early adulthood and will now be gone forever.

If I could have gone one last time, I would have savoured every single second of every day. The simplest moments would have seemed so perfect. I wouldn’t have had as many petty complaints. I would have photographed the house under every angle. I would have really taken in the smell of the sea, listened out for its distant sound. I would have delighted in the company of every single family member.

One day, my grandmother will no longer be there. Neither will my parents nor others I know and love. One day, I will no longer be there. Do I really appreciate everything I have?

I came across something along those lines today, in Gretchen Rubin’s book The Happiness Project“I didn’t want to keep taking these days for granted. The words of the writer Colette had haunted me for years: ‘What a wonderful life I’ve had! I only wish I’d realised it sooner.’ I didn’t want to look back, at the end of my life or some great catastrophe, and think, ‘How happy I used to be then, if only I’d realised it’ “.

Are there things in your life that are so close to you that you fail to see their true value? Loved ones you wish you’d show more patience and kindness towards? Is there anything you could think of, that would show them how much you care?

If so, makes sure you do it now. And again tomorrow. Remind yourself how lucky you are to have such riches in your life, and celebrate them fully so that if one day if you came to lose them, you would find comfort in the fact that you have loved them to your heart’s content.

 

Everyday meditations: A cup of green tea

P1050320 low resIt is early morning and the world is still quiet outside the window. I have slipped out of bed silently so as not to wake up my partner. I have fed the cat, stretched a little, put the kettle on. I have about half an hour before my day needs to start.

I open the cupboard and look for the packet – a small, delicate green box with the inscription “Jasmine Tea – Produce of the People’s Republic of China”. I take time to look at it, thinking how far it has travelled and how lucky I am that it found its way to my part of the world. It is beautifully designed, and the leaves inside it are gently fragrant. As I open the box I think about the ladies who picked them in a green field – agile hands under large straw hats – the men who  toasted the leaves. I think of the manager of the import company (I imagine him rather large), and of the Chinese lady who runs the shop next door.

I pour boiling water on the leaves to rinse them – as I have heard is the proper way – before brew the tea. I smile thinking I am probably not doing it very well. A proper tea master,or a Japanese master of tea ceremony, might wince in horror. Still, after a few seconds I fill up a small teapot and pour my first cup of the morning before sitting in an armchair in front of the window.

I take time to savour the first sip, feeling the hot water on my tongue, breathing in the sublte jasmine scent. I imagine how much history and skill is contained in this little cup – thousands of years of tradition across continents, in a humble drink.

I am grateful for the silence in the house, the beauty of nature outside. The birds, the trees, always their graceful selves day after day, come rain or sunshine. Weeds grow out of nowhere on the abandoned wall facing the window, against all odds. After a second cup I feel nicely awake. The cat is peacefully eating from his bowl. I empty my head of all thoughts and try to just be, only for a minute, taking in all my surroundings. It will soon be time for the day to start. I smile to myself and I feel grateful for another day of being alive.

Being connected

P1020819 low resThere’s a feeling I think of as being connected, which is the feeling you get whe you are completely at one with your surroundings. Those beautiful, ephemeral moments when you stop thinking as if by magic, and are overwhelmed by the deep knowledge that the world is wonderful. You are where you are supposed to be; extactly at the right time, in the right place.

When was the last time you felt connected? Perhaps something beautiful left you speechless, music moved you to tear, or you held a baby in your arms for the first time. Perhaps you sat by the sea, reached at long last the top of the mountain, or watched your plants grow strong and healthy. Connected moments make our lives special, and we cherish long after they have gone. But we can also learn to seek them in the everyday and the ordinary.

I once went to a buddhist meditation class that taught a special technique to develop “loving kindness”, and discovered this was exactly what I’d been calling connectedness. The practice was geared to train you at feeling this deep connection to the world around you and the people in it, so you could start to feel it all the time. The feeling was not so different from being in flow – the almost out-of-body experience we sometimes get when totally absorbed in an activity we love.There’s that same feeling of not really being there, paradoxically accompanied by hightened sensory perception.

As opposed to flow, connectedness seems to arise when we are not doing anything, perhaps precisely because we are not doing anything. That is why in my sense we should just leave ourselves a little bit of time every day for being idle, for being, full stop. Just breathing in deeply, slowly, and becoming aware of your surroundings, acutely, in full colour. Feeling fully alive, feeling that the world it a beautiful place, that people are good, and that you are part of something much, much greater than yourself. Feeling at peace and buzzing at the same time. Fully awake.

This month I will be writing about different ways to feel connected in everyday life. If you can relate to this experience through meditation or other practices, there’ll be plenty of space to share your thoughts with us in the comments section – we (me + other readers) would love to hear what you think.