Tag Archives: Beauty

The hottest man in the room

http---www.pixteller.com-pdata-t-l-405035I’m a little ashamed to say this, but like any teenage girl I’m not averse to looking up hot men on Google, especially if they happen to be tall talented A-list actors.

That’s how I know that one of the top searches which invariably comes up as you start typing the name of a male celebrity is “wife”. (That’s also how I know I’m not the only one looking).

You can try this at home now, pick three high profile British actors, say Tom Hiddleston, Eddie Redmayne, Benedict Cumberbatch, or pick your own favourites, and you’ll see “wife” come if not first, at least second of the searches.

Why anyone would check this up is beyond me – just in case they’re not married and you still have a chance?? – but it got me thinking, especially as I looked up a famous motivational speaker earlier today.

I was looking up Sean Stephenson , because I’m a huge fan of motivational videos and as I watched him speak on YouTube over breakfast this morning, he struck me as one lovely person. As I listened to him talk about how we can all overcome our excuses to make your life truly special, he positively radiated kindness and intelligence.

Yet if this man’s looks immediately set him apart from the crowd it’s not because of his pretty face; actually quite the contrary. Due to being born with brittle bone syndrome, Sean is three feet tall and he’s spent all his life in a wheelchair. He’s not obvious A-list material and still he’s a charismatic, perfectly charming guy.

So yes, guess what came up when I typed Sean Stephenson on Google?

“Sean Stephenson wife”

That’s right ladies – the hottest man in the room isn’t always who you think he is.

Click here to see Sean in action in a cool video and on that note, enjoy the rest of your day!

 

Books that will change your life: “Cloud Atlas”

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I originally picked “Cloud Atlas” by David Mitchell as a fun holiday read, but was soon gripped to it like I hadn’t been in a long time, so I though I’d share it with you:

 

The book

“Cloud Atlas” came out in the UK in 2004 to great acclaim; it was translated worldwide and turned into a gigantic-budget film epic by the people behind “Matrix”.

(The film flopped at the box office, which is a shame, but also not surprising because the book is so ambitious in scope and depth that attempting to capture it in two hours was a bit bonkers. Still, full points for trying!)

This intriguingly-named novel defies categories and is rather hard to describe. It tells the stories of six different characters living across the world in six different periods of time – 19th century South Pacific, 1930s Belgium, 1980s California, modern-day England, 2100s “Neo-Seoul” and 2300s post-apocalyptic Hawaii.

But don’t be fooled by the word “post-apocalyptic”, it’s not science-fi; and although it can be read easily without looking for deeper meaning (unless you’re like me, in which case this never happens), it is also a fable about the human condition.

The big idea

The six stories are almost self-contained, with only a tenuous link between them as one element of each story will be found again in the next. For example the journal of the South Pacific traveller will be found in a library in Belgium; a piece of music composed in Belgium will be heard again in California; a film made in present-time England will find its way to Neo-Seoul, etc.

But these links aren’t so central to our understanding: the real genius of the book is that each story is really powerful in itself, and by putting in parallel so many of them, it hints at the similarities between the people rather then what separates them.

The six characters all live in wildly different circumstances (a pensioner in a care home, a journalist investigating a nuclear plant, a clone on the run from the police…), yet they are all ordinary people trying to live their lives in challenging circumstances. As they face the difficulties, big or small, of their daily lives, they all have similar hopes and fears, loves and doubts, and the will to make sense of their lives and do the right thing.

At some crucial point in each story, the characters have to make a choice between following blindly what society dictates to them, or risking everything to break free of rules and be themselves: escaping slavery, helping others at the risk of their lives, etc

So the book is also a tale of courage and resilience, because following what they know to be right will test all the characters to their limits.

Why it will change you life

The most amazing thing about this book is how imaginative it is – its gripping narrative across six different “worlds” that all feel incredibly real. So if you just wanted a good holiday read, you could do worse: it’s hugely entertaining.

Yet readers will probably remember it for its deeper meaning too, the questions it brings about humanity and society – what links us beyond time and place, what makes us human.

It’s not all a warm fuzzy – the similarities between those people and their situations make it obvious that neither people nor circumstances evolve much over the course of History.

Patterns and mistakes are repeated – aren’t the “savages” of the 17th century colonies much the same people as the 23rd century “survivors” after the fall of our civilisation? Isn’t modernity perpetuating the same old cruelty under different guises – the compassion-less treatment of the old age pensioner echoing that of the slaves, and the human clones?

The author certainly doesn’t shy away from showing us what is nasty about humanity – greed, deception, cruelty, corruption, the pursuit of one’s own selfish interest.

This roller coaster ride of a book forces us to look at our own circumstances in the light of the characters’, and wonder for ourselves: where we are on this continuum?

But beyond the dark side, what I chose to get out of it is that although greed and cruelty may be omnipresent, there is always an option to do what we believe is right, even when it is not easy.

Each and everyone of us may be insignificant on the scale of History, yet the choices we make everyday – between crime and kindness, acceptance or fighting back, have the power to influence our collective future.

Our lives are shaped by events that begin long before we are born and will continue long after our death. Yet everything is connected – the future, past and present; the universal and the intimate.

As I said, a pretty gripping read…

 

Turner & the Sea (How to become great)

Turner & the sea RNM poster

I recently went to the excellent Turner & the Sea exhibition at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich (down the road from our house), an exhibition of paintings by JMW Turner of – you guessed – the sea.

I am not much of a painting specialist, but this exhibition was hugely inspiring on many levels, which is why I wanted to share it with you:

First of all, the art was stunningly beautiful, and anyone could see why Turner is considered one of the greatest British painters. From his early works which were vividly descriptive scenes of sea wreckage (and must have been quite the sensation at the time – imagine nowadays someone painting scenes from a plane crash) to the poetic impressionist seascapes of his late career, it was a breathtaking display of imagination, beauty, and extraordinary skill and precision which never ceases to amaze me in old figurative paintings… another reminder that in spite of technological progress, we haven’t got much in terms of intellect or skills on the guys who lived centuries before us.

But the show was also interesting in other respects. It displayed Turner’s works along with paintings that might have inspired him: masters of previous centuries as well as contemporary competitors – younger painters that copied his style and became famous by emulating, and ultimately improving on it.

So it was a brilliant way of understanding how inspiration happens, and also what makes a good artist. As we learnt about Turner’s personal and professional circumstances, we were reminded that genius doesn’t happen in isolation, and that it is in fact shaped not only by the artists’ personal vision but also material contingencies such as fashions and market demand. We were also reminded that success, in art as in anything, requires not only talent but hard graft and a good dose of business acumen.

I discovered that Turner wasn’t born by the seaside as I might have assumed, and his ancestors weren’t fishermen. His father had been a barber and wig-maker in Covent Garden, and much of Turner’s trade had been learnt on the banks of the river Thames.

Because his family wasn’t well off, young Turner had needed to make money quickly, and so as his marine paintings proved popular at the time, he pretty much created for himself what marketers today would refer as a “niche” from which to make a good living.

And pretty good he was at marketing too, and PR – creating fame for himself by exhibiting in London’s biggest show at the Royal Academy, and later on in his own purpose-built showcase gallery.

Like all great successes though, he didn’t do it alone – he enjoyed great support from his father, who was his biggest fan from an early age, and went on to be his studio assistant for 30 years (an arguably bizarre father-son relationship, but support nevertheless).

In the end, the part of the exhibition that fascinated me most was an extensive display of Turner’s sketches and studies – notebooks upon notebooks and small format of drafts and ideas for larger paintings.

Here you took the measure of the artist’s capacity for work, but also his obsession with his craft. It shows us a man who was fascinated with the sea and must have spent hours by the coast or on sea journeys obsessively watching and tirelessly sketching, capturing his ideas again and again and again until they became perfect.

But there was also sheer genius, in the precious moments where art worked its magic and left you enchanted and speechless. As I stood contemplating small sketches of three or four brush strokes on plain paper, for a few seconds I actually saw a violent tempest, or a peaceful sunrise. Or did I? I rubbed my eyes and saw only a few brush strokes on letter paper again.

At that point, I truly appreciated how an artist’s life and and experience results in that amazing ability to create such pure emotion with such few brushstrokes, so that the viewer is not longer looking at a fixed scene on a canvas, but at an actual live scene from the past through someone else’s eyes.

So, much as I was impressed by the paintings, I was truly in awe of the man behind them. Because what we come to see as works of arts represent a lifetime of hard work and sweat, clever business planning,  and the sheer love of your craft that will keep your going even when things aren’t going your way.

As I wiped the ocean spray off my glasses and returned home, this is what remained with me: enormous inspiration resulting from having met a great artist, a visionary and a great mind – as refreshing as a day at the seaside. There are worst ways to spend an afternoon.

If you happen to be in London, the show is still on until 21st April at the National Maritime Museum.

My Dad and the pear tree

Libourne 041_2005 cropLet me tell you a cute story:

When my parents bought what became our family home over 30 years ago, my Dad planted a pear tree in front of the house. Neither he nor my Mum being great gardeners, many plants have withered in their care since – but not the pear tree, which still grows strong outside their living room.

Every season over the years, the tree bore a great many fruit which for some reason were always juiceless, hard and bitter. Still my Dad cherished it and, out of some sense of pride, or perhaps loyalty towards the tree, we kept tasting the pears every year in the hope that they might finally turn out nice.

Last summer a neighbour came for dinner, and as we were enjoying dessert, the conversation turned towards the mysteriously bitter pears. The neighbour, who happens to be a farmer, had a good laugh and said no wonder the pears never tasted very good: they’re not an edible variety. In the old days, they would have been fed to the pigs, hence their common name of “pig pears”.

My father was a little offended, never having heard such a thing; but the simplest explanation often being the likeliest, we had to admit this sounded about right – for the past 30 years we had been placing impossible hopes on those pears to be something they weren’t.

Oh well.

Last Christmas I was staying with my parents again, and my Dad talked to me at length about his nearing retirement. Many of his friends have retired already, and much as he looks forward to slowing down (“you don’t have the same energy for work at 60 as you had at 30”), he sounded a little apprehensive about the passing of time.

“By the way”, he said as we were driving through the garden, “I almost took down the pear tree.”

“The one with the pig pears?”

“Yes, that. It’s never produced an edible pear, and it doesn’t look great anyway, so I thought we might use the space for something new.”

“So the other day”, he said, “I took a shovel and started digging the roots out. But then I thought about it – what has that tree ever done to me? I watered it for 30 years and now I take it down because it’s not productive enough?”

“It made no sense” he said, “so I planted it back in.”

And so I bet the tree will still be there in a few years time, when my parents sell the house to move to a smaller home for their retirement.

 

Adventures in Outer Space

P1060521 low resAgainst my better judgement, I’ve become addicted to the sci-fi TV series Battlestar Galactica.

I say “against my better judgement”, because I don’t normally watch much TV – much less sci-fi (I still think StarTrek = idiots in pyjamas), so this took me rather by surprise.

The show’s premise is this: sometime in a distant future (no pyjamas), humans are at war with robots they created. The robots look convincingly human, so nobody knows who is who.  In episode 1, all human planets are destroyed in a nuclear holocaust; the only survivors are 50,000 poor sods who were travelling in outer space while it happened. These 50,000 become responsible for the survival of the entire human civilisation (no pressure) on a dozen spaceships. Unbeknownst to anybody, there are human-looking robots onboard the human fleet.

So far, so sci-fi.

What makes it compelling of course, are the stories of the people we follow – the fighter pilots who go out everyday to protect others, the admiral who keep things together when everyone else is freaking out, the civilians who have lost all they had with no hope of return, and the robots who, despite being robots, fall desperately in love with humans (and reciprocally).

Kudos to the cast and writing team, some of these stories are among the most deeply touching you can imagine – stories of courage and impossible love, of loss, hope, faith, and finding soul where there is only chaos. Beyond the sci-fi flick, it’s a story about being human – what makes us human, what makes our individual destinies, and what legacy we may have as a species.

It’s also a story about heroes, and how we are all, in our small everyday ways, appealed to be heroes.

I’ve learnt a great deal from observing life onboard Galactica for 80-odd episodes:

  • Nothing is for ever and nothing can be taken for granted. Just like the humans in the story have lost their old homes and families, life as we know it may come to an end at any time, through no fault of our own. The people and things we love one day may be no more, and life will go on regardless. And that’s okay.
  • Humans will do stupid things. You’d think with only a few survivors in the universe people would try to get on. Of course not – they still hurt each other out of fear or greed, of cowardice or pride. In the face of difficult choices, even those who love each other often don’t realise or act on it until it’s too late. As a viewer you want to shout at them “go on, life’s too short for this!”. A bit like real life then.
  • We all have a role to play. Destiny is one of the series’ strong themes. The main characters (humans and robots alike) all have a strong sense of a mission they need to accomplish, although they usually don’t know how or why. As the story develops, all their separate missions come together for Humanity to be saved – salvation is only possible because each single person played their role, as pointless or insignificant as it might have seemed at the time.
  • Our calling may take us by surprise.  Human-looking robots don’t usually know they’re robots. They go about living a normal human life, until one day a programme is activated in their brain that will reveal their true nature. Did this ever happen to you in real life, suddenly feel the urge to do something out of character, learn a new skill, meet new people, visit a new country? Following those hunches might just lead you to your true nature too.
  • We may need to go a little mad. In the process of following our callings, others might call us mad. As we starting seeing or doing things differently, we might even wonder about our own sanity. When the Battlestar’s best fighter pilot disappears in mission and reappears 2 months later with no recollection of what happened to her, the others assume she’s a robot, and she starts doubting herself – she’s no longer sure who or what she is. But out of this confusion emerges a new, clearer sense of purpose. A nice metaphor of how we sometimes need to let go of our old lives to find meaning.
  • We should allow ourselves to be driven by love. Even the most level-headed, rational characters will risk everything for their one true love – trecking alone through the entire universe to rescue a parent or a lover. That’s because even though it makes no rational sense, they know life wouldn’t be worth living if they lost those they love most. That’s pretty cool.
  • We can choose everyday to do good or bad. We all have a part to play and it’s up to us to honour or ignore it. The things that are worth doing are often pretty damn scary, and we can choose to go for our dreams or to do nothing and keep going. Every small choice adds up to what we do with our lives. It’s all up to us, really.
  • Heroes never give up. For the one day of glory when they will save Humanity, the heroes have had a thousand so-so days when things didn’t go to plan. They had to turn up to work everyday (even if “work” was flying a fighter jet); their bosses got on their nerves, they were bored out of their minds, or hungover from the night before. They were sometimes betrayed by the people who should have had their backs; often the mission seemed impossible. They had plenty of opportunity to doubt themselves and give up. But they didn’t. And that’s what made them heroes.

And that, my friends, is what I learnt from my stay in outer space. As well as having a jolly good time.

Highly recommended.

 

The Office Yogi

P1020537 low resI read somewhere that there is no point practicing yoga until you can do headstand while chanting Sanskrit and tossing salad with your toes, if you’re still going to get angry in traffic jams.*

Quite.

I’ve been doing yoga (on and off) for years, and it’s always struck me how easy it is, after a blissful session, to get annoyed by petty grievances as soon as you step into the “real” world.

Yet in my view the whole point of yoga – or meditation, or any transformative practice – is to be approached holistically.  If you don’t try to extend the calm and balance you learn from your practice in other areas of your life, you’re missing out big time on opportunities for change (unless you’re just after a hobby, and that’s cool too).

People refer to yoga as their “path” to enlightenment, or awakening, of self-improvement. Others also refer to their marriages, or their businesses, in the same way. They chose to bring mindfulness to these particular areas of their lives, and gain an opportunity to grow, to become kinder, more open – to be their “higher” selves.

It ocurred to me that our 9-to-5 jobs, whether we like them or not, can be a pretty good path to transformation too.

Our day jobs are the place where we spend most of our time, yet also where we are most likely to experience frustration and disempowerment. Even if we like what we do, we still have to face stressful deadlines, people or situations.

Yet can’t we use all the hours the spend there – the fact that we turn up every day, now matter what, even if we don’t want to – to a higher end than paying our bills, or building our CVs?

Rather than thinking of our jobs as separate from our intimate, personal or spiritual lives, we could see them as way to learn a little every day about…

  • Patience and Perseverence – When things are so slow they seem to go backwards, when the task is so huge we never seem make a dent, when we’re up against everything and everyone, we learn how to keep at it.

  • Calm and Balance – If our jobs are really stressful, we are forced to look after our own wellbeing so that we can remain efficient and not burnout (I learnt that the hard way last year, when I did burn out). We can learn what relaxes us and what keeps us going, without going crazy.
  • Kindness and Compassion – A smile doesn’t cost us anything, and when we come to the office with a positive attitude we can not only brighten our day, but create a nice atmosphere for others too. It makes for a nicer all-round life to treat people like people, not commodities.

  • Humility and Service – Because we can’t always have things our way and we sometimes have to admit that others might know better. And because ultimately we’re in our jobs to serve, not just look after our own interests.
  • Boldness and the Courage to take risks – our jobs can teach us to push ourselves further, accept more responsibilities, get out of our comfort zones. They make us face our errors, but also teach us to stand for ourselves and speak up when we have to.
  • Love and Respect – It’s easy to get lost in daily complaints, but you first picked that job for a reason. Did you love the industry, follow your calling, feel part of something bigger? Do you look up to your bosses, your team, or the people you serve? Was it a first step to your big dream? When the going gets tough it’s easy to forget about the love – remind yourself often.
  • Humour and laughing at ourselves – taking ourselves too seriously doesn’t get us anywhere; and sometimes when things go wrong, the only thing to do is laugh about it.

Most of all, our 9 to 5 challenges us to be ourselves – Our job tells us what we’re good at, and not so good at. It gives us opportunities to shine. It challenges us to not only be open and fair to others, but also to become our own best supporter.

Our job helps us find out what we want from life – even if what we want is to get the hell out of there.

There will always be people (I used to be one of them) who job-hop from one “hellish” job to the next, only to find more of the same, or worse – the way others always end up with the wrong boyfriends. 

Yet if we open ourselves to be taught, even when it feels like hell, we can discover so much about our expectations, our limitations, our fears, the way we interact with others, and the ways we can shine.

If we have the courage to face what we don’t like, and act on it, we have a powerful tool for growth. And we can learn where to go from there.

And if the time comes for us to move on from that job, we know that we’ve not wasted the time we spent there.

We learnt all that we could.

We have grown.

 

* In Tosha Silver Outrageous Openness, the chapter about ‘The Zen of traffic’ (don’t let the dodgy cover put you off, the content’s quite nice)

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.

The beauty within you

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Have you ever noticed how every person you know is beautiful in their own, unique way, and how somehow most of them fail to see it? I don’t mean physically beautiful, but beautiful in the way they do things, how they relate to others, their hopes, their dreams, their faults too. I find it truly heartbreaking that we can almost always see beauty in others, and so often be blinded to our own.

Specialists who are concerned about us loving ourselves – psychologists, spiritual guides – tell us that the ability to love ourselves as we are is related to the ability to love others as they are. Buddhist teachings tell us that we can only be happy if we learn to practice “loving-kindness” towards both ourselves and others: you cannot be kind to others if you are not kind to yourself; you cannot be kind to yourself if you are not kind to others. Didn’t Jesus himself command us to “love thy neighbour as thyself” – not more, not less?

Most of us know how to be kind to others, but how do you go about being kind to yourself? After all, this is not something anyone teaches you. If anything, unless you are extremely lucky, a lot of the teachings you received in your life will have focused on fixing your so-called faults and lacks, rather than praising what was already good about you.

Yet, there are simple ways to do this. We can start by talking to ourselves as gently as we would to our best friends. We can take time everyday to truly stop and listen to our peace. We can look in the mirror and learn to like what we see. In the many thoughts that constantly go through our heads, we can listen out for the voice that tells us exactly what our life needs. And little by little, we can begin to trust and follow this inner guidance – even though it often tells us to rock the boat in the most uncomfortable ways.

Equally, how do you go about showing others how beautiful they are? Encouraging and praising them is the obvious way, but what if they are unable to really hear your praise? After all, do we always trust the praise we receive? Crazy as it sounds, I for one often dismiss it as “this person clearly doesn’t know what they are talking about”.

I am no great gardener, but I often have this image that loving people is helping them to grow like a plant – providing an environment that allows them to thrive, and water them regularly so they can grow as tall and beautiful as nature intented. Perhaps creating this environment is just being there, without judging, and letting them know you are there. Perhaps it is being calm and balanced and loving towards you and others, so others around you might become calm and balanced and loving too.

Thinking of my close ones who, for reasons unknown, have a particularly hard times seeing any positives about themselves, I am also often reminded of this simple but powerful song by the The Velvet Underground & Nico. Here is a link in case you would like to hear it, and may it stay with you so you can remember it at times you ain’t feelin’ so good.