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The Waiting Wall

waitingwall

I recently came across a beautiful and haunting digital art project called The Waiting Wall that displays our darkest thoughts on a public board (the type of boards you have in stations and airports).

It’s well explained in this Guardian article, but basically it goes like this: anyone can go on to the project’s website and enter a personal confession, then the system displays it on the board.

It’s currently exposed in the Brighton train station, so commuters can send and view secrets in real time – but because it’s internet based, so can you.

You can go to this site and upload your secrets. You can also keep reading everyone else’s, which is what makes the project so addictive and wonderful. Here are a few that came up in the last 5 minutes:

“I’m not unhappy, but is that enough?”

“Self doubt is a constant plague”

“I’m terrified my daughter’s cancer will come back, and I won’t be able to save her”

“I don’t have a purpose and I don’t know what to do about it”

“I don’t want to live anymore”

“My Dad is dying. All the time I tell people I’m fine, but I’m not”

The confessions are dark but they’re universal. They talk of love, death, our loved ones, finding meaning. Some are weird, most make you want to hug whoever wrote it, and tell them they’re going to be okay. Except you don’t know who it is. It could be someone in a different country, just like it could be the person next to you on the bus.

Liz Gilbert, who used to work as bartender, says that everybody has a story that would stop your heart, and sure enough everybody wants to tell you about it. It certainly sounds true looking at the wall.

But what strikes me most is how many of the personal struggles are so familiar, as though our deepest, darkest fears, are in fact our most common denominator. 

I had a go at writing on the wall what seems to be my motto these days: “kindness is underrated”. I wish I’d seen it up on the board but I didn’t, I guess it takes a while to put the thoughts through (there must be some kind of filtering) or perhaps it didn’t get on at all.

Either way, it doesn’t matter. I’ll keep reading.

Books that will change your life: “Why do people get ill ?”

Why do people get ill
I’ve long been fascinated by the body-mind relationship, and a few years ago this book awakened my curiosity.  Written by two scientists (psychoanalyst Darian Leader and biologist & science philosopher David Corfield), it draws from the latest science as well as forgotten finds from medical history, to explore the way our minds influence our health.

The book

Do you remember the last time you went to see your doctor, and he/she really spent the time to examine you in detail, had a lengthy conversation about your life and what big events might happened before the onset of your symptoms? … yeah, me neither.

According to the authors, over the last few centuries, Western medicine has evolved to understand a great deal about the body in a scientific way; which has allowed it to develop consistent treatments for many known maladies.

But there is a downside: as science views the body as separate from the mind, the more we explore the body as a “mechanical” system, the less we seem to see the person a whole. We have lost sight of the mind-body connection – despite overwhelming evidence that our thoughts have the greatest influence on our health.

The big idea

I certainly wouldn’t blame doctors who mostly do a fine job (I should know, my Dad is one- hello Dad!); but it seems clear that the combined influence of national health systems and pharmaceutical companies have put pressure on doctors to show demonstrable, quick results.

A patient’s illness has to be identified as quickly as possible as a specific “syndrome” or “disease”, for the appropriate medication to be prescribed promptly (and for it to be counted into statistics).

However in some cases, treating the disease rather than the whole person doesn’t work. By involving different consultants at different stages of the process, we can sometimes miss the forest for the tree – hence the growing number of people who turn to alternative medicine for illnesses that can’t be resolved by their GP because their collection of symptoms doesn’t tick the tight boxes, or because they just don’t feel listened to.

The scope of the book is wide, but here are just a few examples that illustrate how our minds might affect our overall health:

  • The timing of illness: a not insignificant number of people die on dates that are significantly relevant to their personal history: the anniversary of the death of a parent or spouse is a common one. Interestingly, 3 of the first 5 American presidents died on 4th July; and Elizabeth I, the “Virgin Queen”, died on the day of the Annunciation of Mary.
  • Sudden or “voodoo” death (the sudden and unexplained death in a previously healthy person) : accounts for 25% of death in America. There are numerous cases of people who believed they were under a curse, and died precisely at the date predicted (usually of cardiac arrest).
  • Different cultures have different illnesses: different maladies come up in different countries according to what we envision our body (this is true for both physical and mental illnesses – there are fascinating books on ‘ethnopsychiatry’, which isn’t mentioned here).
  • Loneliness has more impact on life expectancy than obesity or smoking put together (why do we never hear about this?)
  • The placebo effect: we’ve all heard of people who get better by taking pills that contain no actual medicine. Turns out it works for surgery too, in cases where the surgeon just make a cut but didn’t actually operate.

Why it will change your life

Whether you are well or have concerns, this book will have you think twice before popping pills. Not to say pills don’t work – they do – but asking yourself what factors in your personal history might have created your illness might also empower you and help quicken your recovery.

 

 

Don’t be afraid of being a wanker

P1060733 low res

Swearing like a trooper is one of my guilty pleasures, and since it’s now scientifically proven that people who swear are more honest than average, I can see no reason to stop.

You might think that swearing is a lack of manners but what I like about it (ok, apart that it’s funny) is that it allows you to cut the crap when you need to get an important point across, and be heard in a way you might not otherwise. A little rudeness can go a long way.

That’s why you come across sensible people who run F*ck It retreats (best-selling author John C Parkin and his wife), or write articles about the Elegant Art of Not Giving a Shit (David Cain on Raptitude).

So it should be no surprise that a great piece of advice I received recently includes rude content. I was talking to someone obviously wiser about work, and voicing concern about the impossibility of being a full-time writer:

“Your problem she said, it that you’re afraid of being a wanker.”

By which she meant: “You’re so worried that calling yourself a writer might turn you into a pretentious twat, that you’re not even trying. Instead you pretend you don’t really want it, to make sure no one ever calls you that (because let’s face it, it’s not nice).”

The problem is that by playing it nice and safe all the time, you can manage to fool people that you’re not even there. (With time you might even fool yourself).

Which isn’t good. You can’t succeed at anything by being invisible.

If you’ve ever fallen prey to thinking “Ooh I could do this, but… who am I to try? why should anyone be interested? people will think this or that…” then you’re probably afraid of being a wanker too (great by the way, there is no reason why it should just be me!).

You shouldn’t worry too much – wankers are so busy being great, talking down at others and believing their own spin, that they’re unlikely to care what other people think.

So you being worried about being a wanker almost definitely means you’re not.

I’ll also let you in on a little secret: one of the people I respect most professionally is on occasions a bit of a wanker. It’s not pretty to look at (and not nice for those around), but there can be a thin line between having enough self-belief to not compromise your vision, and coming across as an idiot.

On the plus side: some might call you an idiot, but you have enough self-belief to see your vision through.

So go on, do your thing! You have the world’s blessing to do whatever makes you heart sing, and tell us about it until the cows come home.

Because hey, you matter.

Looking for God at the School of Life

schooloflife

Last month I finally did something I had meant to do for a while: I attended a talk at the intriguingly named “School of Life” – the bookshop/events-space founded by best selling author/philosopher Alain de Botton.

The school’s objective is what it says on the tin: teach us the bits of philosophy you never learnt at school (assuming you were taught philosophy at school). Scrap the abstract debates, such as whether the outside world would exist if no one was there to look at it (who knows), students will be shown teach students how to improve their lives using philosophy’s practical answers to everyday questions. So you can expect self-help advice from top notch thinkers ranging from say Plato to Arianna Huffington… You could do worse.

If you’ve ever wondered how to find fulfilling work, how to be confident, how to realise your potential or why we need relationships, the School of Life might have your answer – most probably in the form of a book, and a 3-hour “class” at prices from £35.

I’m not sure whether they appeal most to the curious, the intellectual, or the neurotic (perhaps all three, if you look at me), but the talks sell like hotcakes: in the week I visited, there were only two available: “How to worry less about money” or “How to fill the God-shaped hole”. Because I don’t worry that much about money (and also, considering that any worry I might have could potentially be solved by taking on a better-paid job), on I went to the God lecture.

Although I wasn’t sure what to expect on arrival, I was pleasantly surprised – the place feels fresh and trendy. In a attractive shop window, philosophy books are artfully displayed in a minimalist manner, like in a designer shop. This bode well. What bode even better was being greeted upon arrival with tasty nibbles and a glass of wine until all the participants arrived.

At the set time, I, and a dozen or so budding philosophers, were then invited to proceed to the classroom. Everyone was slightly nervous like on a first day at school, but we needn’t have beenteacher Mark Vernon (who I must admit I’d never heard of but turned out to be amazing), made everyone comfortable from the start with a series of group exercises:

Rather than having to present ourselves in front of a room of strangers, which is always a bit daunting, we were asked to stand up as a group, and place ourselves along an imaginary line according to what we felt about words such as “religion”, “God”, “Christianity”, “Buddha” or “Stephen Hawking” (towards the wall: bad, towards the window: good).

This got us in the mood, and was also a bit of a giggle, especially when everyone tried to stand onto the same spot, so that a few minutes in all participants were in good cheer and happily discussing their personal religious beliefs – thing that aren’t usually discussed much in public, or in my case, at all.

In this open-minded, non-judgemental environment, it made for interesting debate. The topic of the evening being the “God-shaped hole”, we were guided to consider what atheists (which it turned out, only a couple of us were) might miss by not belonging to a religion or church community, and how they could find fulfillment (a sense of wonder, deeper meaning, community, charity, etc) in other places outside religion.

The group was a relatively mixed crowd – some of us really into the issue, others having just come, like me, out of curiosity. In pairs or all together, we were invited to share our own experience as part of the conversation.

Thus I ended up talking to a fiercely anti-religious young Australian couple; a philosophy student who was driven nuts by not knowing whether God existed; a young Mum who wasn’t sure what she believed in, but wanted to figure it out before her children started asking; a lady in her fifties who wanted very much to believe in God, but not that of her strict Catholic upbringing. The teacher himself was a former Anglican priest, who, after a period of atheism, now best described himself as a Christian Buddhist.

By far the most entertaining encounter was with a father and son (who else!) from New York who, in a bid to understand religion, had started attending a different service every week, alternating between Christian, Buddhist, Muslim, Scientologist, Sufi, you name it- including some seriously New Age traditions. So far their favourite was Thich Nhat Han’s community.

Over the course of the evening I realised I don’t really have any problems with God, although I may not have a very traditional view of Him/ Her/ It. I guess mine is more of a “church-shaped” hole. But in a way I was happy (or should I say relieved) to find everyone else seemed fairly confused too, and as the debate continued I became increasingly fascinated with the topic. We kept on talking intensely even during the canapes break. This was the most fun my brain had had in a long time.

Someone mentioned the inspiration behind the School was to recreate an Epicurean Garden- a community of friends living together to talk philosophy and share a simple life. A dubious claim for this London affair, since participants are hardly a community. Plus the places feels less monastic, more middle class (but since when do I to complain about that?).

Still, I found everyone to be pretty genuine, and as far as sharing ideas in a friendly environment, I had a great evening.

I shall certainly attend again.

To give it a try for yourself, visit the School of Life You Tube channel, or your local branch in London, Paris or Melbourne.

 

 

The little things that make us who we are

DSCN0772 little british ice-creamMy friend Diane, who some of you might know, is currently in the middle of an epic “Little British Things” tour of Britain to celebrate the essence of Britishness, and raise £10,000 for the Royal National Lifeboat Institution in the process.

Talk about an adventure! From Cornwall to Scotland this 80-day tour of the coastline will see her travelling to iconic locations, tasting favourite foods, interviewing locals and meeting strangers, taking pictures and reporting it all back via email postcards, so we can all be there with her… including people like me who’d never dream of going on such a journey, and of course people like you, who would be most welcome to join the tour crew: you can sign up here to receive postcards.

The reason I love this project – aside from the cheer boldness and originality of the idea – is that it invites us to reflect on the little everyday things that make us who we are; these small habits and objects that may seem insignificant but give us a sense of our own roots and identity.

“Little things” are the first you notice when you travel to a new country or region – the different foods, clothing, houses, the odd way people speak or behave. Some of those things might puzzle you – what is considered normal here might seem weird in your country, and reciprocally.

After a while, if you look carefully, those unassuming everyday things begin to give you clues as to the culture that created them. You catch a glimpse, as if looking through a keyhole, into the way other people live.

If you travel frequently, or spend enough time at your destination, many little things that seemed weird at first start to make sense in their context. What you regarded as “right” or “wrong” or “silly” or “appropriate” slowly begins to shift as you soak in our new environment.
(There are things that I found surprising, even annoying, when I first moved to London, that have now become very much part of my own make-up, and that I miss whenever I travel elsewhere).

The more you dig below the surface of “little things”, the more you realise that people are the same everywhere – the very things that appear to set us apart are so many expressions of the same universal needs, like food or shelter.

You end up seeing different cultures on a continuum and related to each other, rather than in isolation. “Little things” talk to and echo each other from one culture to the next. They travel and evolve as they cross borders and time. We aren’t so different to our neighbours after all – sure, some countries might prefer tea and others coffee, but pretty much everywhere offering someone a hot drink means a warm welcome.

Rather than rendering those “little things” insignificant, being able to compare or place them in a wider universal context makes them even more precious. First of all, wouldn’t it be awful if we traveled half-way across the globe only to find things exactly the same as at home?

Plus, isn’t it awesome that even though we humans are one same species, we came up with such a multitude of answers to just about every aspect of our daily lives? The array of languages, dishes, craft or art available is dizzying.

As for Little British Things, some of them I never got used to in 12 years of living in London (such as beer drinking or dressing lightly in cold weather) and some of them I’ve made my own with delight (like constant tea drinking and the Sunday papers).

Maybe these habits will only last as long as I live in this country, and be forgotten as son as I leave. But I have a feeling that I shall always long for a pub lunch, baked beans or the BBC whenever I can’t have them. And nothing will ever be quite like the delightful politeness, the celebration of eccentricity, the genuine curiosity for foreign things or the warm welcome I have always found here as a French Londoner.

All those little things will be sorely missed. Except maybe for the Great British weather…

Click here to support Diane’s tour & help the RNLI save lives at sea.

Looking back on a year of blogging: 11 tips for aspiring bloggers

First birthday_low res
Last Friday was my birthday (34 years young already!), and as well as celebrating in style with friends, it’s been a good opportunity to reflect on another date that came and went unnoticed earlier on this year:

On 2nd March 2013, over a year ago, I pressed “publish” on my first blog post on this site (and yes, that is a photo of me age 1!).

At the time I was taking part in the “30-day challenge”, and had received great encouragement from coach extraordinaire Selina Barker who had assured me that starting a blog had completely changed her own life for the better.

Still, I was pretty scared. Not only because I knew that the writing would be bad (everyone has to start somewhere, right?), but because it would be bad in public. And even though that was precisely the point of entering the challenge (I could have just have kept writing and told no one) it did feel daunting.

I was also stepping into the unknown: I had no clue what I would be writing about, I only knew that I wanted to write, share, improve my writing skills and explore my interests. 

So 47 posts later, how far have I gone?

  • My writing has improved: or if hasn’t, at least I feel more confident about it.
  • I think I found my elusive “voice”: now when I write, it still feels like me.
  • I’ve learnt to share: it’s still pretty scary, but I get on with it (plus I no longer shy away from telling friends in “real life” that I have a blog.)
  • I made friends with other bloggers: they have been really inspirational in keeping me going when I go discouraged.
  • I know myself better: I gained a better sense of the topics that work for me, and I realised how much I love writing. Also, I found out I’m quite a bit more creative than I thought.
  • Thinking about what I love also made me realise what I hate doing (and what I suck at): anything that requires too much precision, or rules, or repetition or God forbid, all three

So broadly it’s been a positive year. Mostly it’s made me appreciate that it’s okay to be a dreamer, and spend time thinking about stories or just doing nothing to see what ideas arise, rather than thinking it’s laziness.

And so although I know a year and 47 articles doesn’t make me any kind of specialist, here are a few tips I would like to give you if you are thinking of blogging but haven’t dared to try yet:

  1. It’s okay to have no clue what will come out of it: you won’t know until you start. When I started I honestly though I might write poetry and meditations as well as “self-helpy” stuff. As it turns you, I never posted one poem and almost everything is a story from everyday life. I don’t know for sure what I’ll be writing about in another year.
  2. Don’t be put off by technicalities: you don’t need any specific techie knowledge. Sites like Blogger or WordPress let you create a free account in 5 minutes. And there really isn’t much more to posting than to sending an email with a picture attachment. Honest.
  3. You are not alone: there’s always help at hand. I had encouragement from all the other contestants on the 30-day challenge, and it made me realise just how many new bloggers there are out there, who will be more than happy to meet and help you, online or in person, via all sorts of courses or communities.
  4. Don’t overthink it: you won’t know which posts your readers might respond to and which will go unnoticed. Don’t try to guess and don’t try to write what other people like. Go with what interests/ moves you, and with a bit of luck it will interest/ move your readers too. Also, it’s useful to have an editorial strategy, but it’s more important to actually get started.
  5. Don’t be scared to share: or rather, it’s fine to be scared, but make sure you share anyway. There are two massive advantages (three, if you count being proud of yourself for doing something scary) : you will probably get some great feedback and encouragement, which will make you want to write more. And it will create a sense of accountability, because once people know you blog, it makes it harder not to.
  6. Write with your heart, not your head: I could probably write a whole post about this, but if you don’t know the difference between the two, you probably are writing with your head. Practice free-writing in your spare time. Don’t edit yourself as you go (you may want to do first draft and edits on different days). Don’t use words in writing you wouldn’t use in conversation, and if it helps, imagine you’re talking to particular friend or reader.
  7. What you put in is what you take out: of course you could always write theory on whatever topic you’re into, but the magic of blogs is the insight into other people’s private lives, and how they can inspire our own. So don’t hide, tell us about you! The more of you you put in, the more touching the results
  8. Don’t worry if it’s not perfect from the start (or as some people say, “done is better than good”): I know it’s hard – especially as a marketing professional myself – to produce a website that looks amateurish. There are things on this blog I would cringe at in a work context (approximative design, plug-ins that half work, etc). But hey, we’re all here to learn, and the important thing is to improve as we go, rather than wait until everything is perfect to get started.
  9. Just keep going, a little at a time: while I’ve proudly posted something every month since last year, you might have noticed that some months have almost nothing in. That’s when I got discouraged, or tired, or generally life got in the way. Like with a diet, you won’t do yourself any favours by kicking yourself when you fail to write: just get back on as soon as you can, otherwise you’ll give up altogether. A little at a time is way better that not at all.
  10. You may need several attempts: this is actually my 3rd blog. The first one was shared with my family only in 2007; the second one had about 5 posts in 2008 before I gave up. So if your first attempt didn’t quite work, it doesn’t mean that you can’t get there.
  11. And finally the most important advice of all: HAVE FUN! you don’t know where it will lead you but so long as you enjoy the process you can be pretty sure you’re going in the right direction. 

 

Vegan January: Expect the unexpected

P1060420 low resIn the first days of January I, rather unoriginally, needed to lose  weight. So when my boyfriend (who’s vegetarian) mentioned going vegan for 30 days, I jumped at the opportunity, thinking we’d both shed a few pounds easily.

Here I am on 31 Jan, still enjoying my veg, but…

 

The plan:

I’m really into eating “clean” foods and cooking from scratch – in really think that eating simple fresh produce is the key to both a healthy body and a balanced mind.In the past I’ve been on a “macrobiotic” diet for two years and felt (and looked) my best by a mile. Plus, I’ve always been curious about veganism as a compassionate, “eco-friendly” lifestyle so was looking forward to trying it out.

So I honestly thought the vegan thing would be easy peasy. Plus 30 days isn’t that long so I figured if I got bored, it’d soon be over.

What actually happened:

Of course, nothing went according to plan. Although I felt more energetic for a few days, I’m embarrassed to say I quickly started fantasising about eating dairy products: yogurt, eggs, cappuccinos. After about a week I’d already had 2 or 3 “cheat” snacks.

I kept to vegan meals anyway, and towards the middle of the month I started feeling unwell – tired and tearful and slightly disoriented. My boyfriend kindly suggested I should go back to eating normally; I didn’t want to, but was forced to admit I felt much better, like by magic, almost immediately after eating eggs.

After that, it seemed obvious that the vegan thing wasn’t really right for me – I’ve not managed to keep it up, I’ve not felt very good, and I haven’t lost any weight (let’s face it: I’m going to have to exercise!).

Still, it’s been a valuable experience and I’d encourage anyone to try it:

What I’ve learnt:

If proof was needed that you can learn a lot even when you fail (I need to keep reminding myself), I’ve actually learnt quite a lot this month:

  • Brilliant new recipes: I’ve had to go out of my ways to come up with new meal ideas; I tried exciting new ingredients (with more or less success), and it’s been really refreshing. Some of them have already become firm favourites and we’ll still cook them in the future.
  • Mindfulness about what I eat: this month I’ve had to think carefully about what I put into my mouth, and it made me realise I do eat a lot of unnecessary snacks, in a really mindless way, especially at work or while watching TV. Sometimes out of stress or tiredness or boredom, but mostly out of habit. Having to remove all the snacks that weren’t vegan has really helped me much less.
    Although I eat 90% vegetarian (the other 10% being when I visit family in France, or when there’s no other healthy option), I also realised how much animal products I do eat out of habit, even though some of them can be easily swapped by healthy, lighter plant-based alternatives (vanilla soya milk, anyone?), at least some of the time.
  • How our everyday choices impact the planet: I’ve also thought a lot about the men and women who make veganism a permanent life choice. While I’m by no means saying they are more saintly than anyone else, I truly admire their commitment to living a lifestyle which is kinder to animals and the planet. It’s something I don’t think I could ever do, if only for the love of cheese (I remain French, after all).
  • The importance of listening to our bodies: However much I like the idea of a plant-based diet, I was reminded that there’s no point doing something that doesn’t feel right in our body. Just like there’s no point trying to be a size 0 when your natural weight is more towards size 12, there comes a time where we just have to accept that’s what our body is like, and love it just the way is.
    Plus, this experiment has reminded me that our body is pretty good at telling us what it needs, even though we often choose not to listen (because yes we’d rather eat a whole box of chocolates). So if we can learn to tune in to its subtle messages, I guess we’ll all be if not healthier, at least happier.

Top tip for those who might give it a go:

Even though I was disappointed it didn’t work for me, I’m happy to report my boyfriend has lost over a stone, and feels mega energetic, so I’d still encourage anyone to try going vegan, if only for a few days – it might do wonders for you, not only physically but also in terms of understanding a more compassionate lifestyle.

My best tip would be, don’t be too hard on yourself. Even though I failed to do a 100% vegan month, I’d say that being even 80% vegan has been beneficial and inspiring  in terms of general wellbeing,

So if you do end up cheating a little mid-way, keep going : you’re worth 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.