Tag Archives: Dreams

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…

 

February: No Imaginary Conversations

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I tend to live in my head a lot (you don’t say!) so in February I picked a challenge that I felt would make a big difference in terms of stress and general wellbeing/sanity: limiting imaginary conversations.

If that sounds crazy, let me clarify that I don’t hear voices or anything – I just daydream lots.

In fact, I go by entire hours paying only remote attention to what is going on around me, because I’m too busy fantasizing about things that have happened, may happen, or I wish would happen, and as I’m not a visual-type person, I get a lot of internal dialogue.

While some are pleasantly entertaining, others are downright toxic.

Remembering a good moment or planning future holidays probably doesn’t do much harm, but unproductive conversations typically include:

  • decision making: arguing my case endlessly about a real life decision
  • doubt: going over past or future situations wondering if I could have done it better
  • venting anger: usually things I would never dare say in real life to whoever annoys me
  • justification: if I feel guilty about something that happened; entirely pointless and usually unnecessary
  • worst case scenarios: need I explain? I bet you get them too

The Buddhist tradition calls our endless train of thought the “monkey mind” – it goes from one thing  to the next without concentrating on anything, being at best distracting, at worst unproductive and frustrating. I tend to think of it as a washing machine, because whatever the idea, it never comes just once – it just goes round and round, over and over again.

The plan:

The rules for February were simple: if I caught myself having an imaginary conversation of any sort, I was to snap out of it immediately and focus on the present moment.
This was never going to be an easy one…

What actually happened:

I mentioned this challenge to my colleague William, who is also bit of a dreamer, and I loved his candid response:

“Why would you ever want to do that? it’d be 90% of my life gone!”

Indeed.

While refocusing on the present wasn’t actually hard in itself (in fact, it was surprisingly easy) I found that the present wasn’t necessarily always as appealing as it sounds. There is nothing glamorous about being stuck in a public transport, or in line at the post, or in a dreary conversation.

What I’ve learnt:

I’ve learnt several things

  1. It is tremendously helpful to be able to stop toxic worrying, panic attacks and guilt trips when you spot them. Not only does it dissolve the nasty thought literally into thin air, but also it helps you realise HOW MUCH unnecessary anger/ guilt/ worry you have in a day – and how much time you could save by avoiding them altogether.
  2. On the other hand, I would agree with my colleague that daydreaming actually DOES improve your life. As any dreamer knows, thinking about something is pretty much tricking your brain into feeling you’re actually there – so between packed public transport and Benedict Cumberbatch…
  3. Lastly, this is something I keep finding over and over again:We all have, as we say in French, “the flaws of our virtues” – what makes us great most of the time is also what makes us not so great in other respects (the way self confident people might sometimes be too proud, or caring people too overbearing). And so I strongly suspect that the time I spend in my head, while allowing for needless worry/ doubt, is also where I get all my creative ideas; in fact, some of my happiest moments when I actually ENJOY life to the full are moment spent thinking and daydreaming. Eventually, like it or not, I might have to accept that I need to spend a lot time up there, even if it makes me a little neurotic. 

    Perhaps it’s just about training my monkey to behave.

Top tip for those who might give it a go:

Go for it – you may not be able to stop over thinking, but you’re guaranteed to learn a lot about yourself. Good luck & let me know how you get on!

 

2014 – A Year of Living with an Open Heart

P1020734 low resThis January, as we receive wishes for health and happiness from our nearest and dearest, we will be encouraged to wonder what 2014 might have in store for us – what events, challenges or successes will greet us as part of the journey?

As we look at a new year ahead, it is also a perfect time to decide what WE want to bring to 2014.

Some of us may have made resolutions to improve our lives in various small or large ways (my boyfriend decided to actually have a lunch break every workday, which seems very small but think what he could do with an extra 5 hours a week? I’m excited!). 

I’m a big fan of setting new goals for a new year – after all, what better time to reset the counter and start afresh than when we contemplate a new full set of 365 days?

Of course, it’s always easy to let our good intentions slip after a few weeks, so I have found one powerful way to sustain change and action throughout the year, which is popular with life coaches, is to decide on an INTENTION, or one word that represents what you want to do this year. It should encapsulate everything you want to feel or be or achieve this year, and more importantly it should make you feel super-excited about it.

For example a friend of mine has just completed a Year of Magic and is now starting a Year of SunshineSounds more exciting than saying ‘I will eat less carbs’, non?

2013 was my Year of Creativity, which meant that I would try and keep a creative practice and dare to share things – this is how I started this blog; I also did a creative writing course, took lots of photos and wrote poetry. Creativity also represented an intention to do things my way, rather than follow instructions. And I loved it.

2014 builds on what I learnt last year and will be dedicated to Living with an Open Heart. For me it means various things like daring to say what I think, doing more of what I like and less of what I don’t like, taking a bit more risks, being more kind and patient with those around me and generally living in openness and positivity.

Cheesy for sure, but as a French woman I would argue that you can’t have too much cheese! I’m excited at this new intention that will hopefully sustain me throughout the year.

One of my first projects will be to “tweet from the heart” and find my voice on social media. Second is to spend less time worrying about work, when I am not at work.

What will your year be?

If you need inspiration you might want to try Selina Barker’s “Goodbye 2013, Hello 2014” free PDF. For more detailed planning, I’ll be buying Leonie Dawson’s “Create your amazing year 2014”.

Wishing you a wonderful 2014 full of beautiful intentions – and of course health and happiness and all that…

With love,
Cecile

In transition

P1060009 low resHi friends, I’ve been absent for a while and I’ve missed you. I’ve had a bit of a rough patch in the last few weeks – few months in fact – and so lately I just haven’t blogged as much as I wanted to.

Do you ever have times in your life when things feel a bit empty, when you go through your usual routines – at work, at home, with your friends – but nothing seems to make sense anymore? Things don’t feel as fun as they used to be, like you’re floating around, not really there? Well, that’s what I felt like. Exhausted physically as well as mentally. Vacant. Burnt out.

Thanks to speaking to wise friends (if you’re reading: you know who you are) and with the help of a brilliant book (“Transitions” by William Bridges), I’ve managed to make sense of the situation, a little bit. I’ve made some adjustments – went down to part time at work, set aside more time to look after myself. I let myself off the hook with my usual to-do list and indulged in more restful activities.

As I spent more time in this void – this neutral zone between the old me who was fine and happy, and the future me, who’s not found a new way to be quite fine yet, I’ve learnt to let go. I’ve tried to enjoy the experience and not worry too much about what things might bring.

As for blogging, I realised I’d become so worried about doing stuff bloggers are “supposed” to do – gain readers, share posts on facebook, build an email list – that I was spending more time on that than on the writing itself. Don’t get me wrong, I like to share. But I like to write more.

I feel like a different person now, but I’m in a way more me. I’ve rediscovered old joys I hadn’t experienced in years. I want to do stuff I like and find out what I’m truly good at. It feels like going back in time, but also like moving on.

I’m finally growing into myself, and I wonder what took me so bloody long.

I still want to write. I don’t know if I still feel like bloggin regularly though. I’ll have to take it a day at a time and see.

Meanwhile if any of you out there are feeling out of sorts and a little bit lost – I’m right with you. And we’ll be fine.

 

Lazy is good

P1030517 low resWhen I was little, perhaps seven or eight, I used to get told off for eating too much.

I couldn’t figure out why, seeing that well, delicious food is all around and it would be a shame not to taste it all. (And it might have helped that the French word for “greedy” is “gourmand”, which evoked a more gourmet glutton.)

As an adult, I sort of see my parents’ point – it is more ladylike to show hum, some restraint. But nevertheless, I still prefer the company of people who love their food.

The same goes with being lazy. Laziness wasn’t particularly encouraged at home, and if you ask me that’s a bit of a shame. My hyperactive Dad used to always ask whether we fancied “doing something”, while we were in the middle of say, having a cup of tea, playing with the dog, or reading a novel. As if we weren’t already doing something.

As you might have guessed from reading previous posts, I’m a big advocate of slow, restorative activities. Especially those that appear as though you’re not really doing anything useful.

First because I don’t believe life is always about being useful.

Second, because I am sure day-dreaming, navel-gazing time is essential to imagination and creativity… not to mention your mental health.

When your mind is empty, you create space for more. When you let go of the ongoing chatter in your head and allow yourself to just be, you open up endless possibility for new ideas.

Some of the greatest advances to science were made by people while they were in the bath (Archimedes), or snoozing under a tree (Newton). Coincidence?

Downtime is never wasted time. I’ve heard people say that the busier you are, the more time you should spend in meditation, because you will be able to achieve more in your everyday life. (The Dalai-Lama, who we can only assume i a little busy being a world leader, is said to do four hours a day).

Your head will be clearer. Your problems will seem smaller. Solutions to dilemnas might come to you out of the blue.

We all lead busy lives, so next time you find yourself overloaded with commitments at work or at home, why not try taking just a few minutes to be lazy and daydream?

Perhaps you can just pause to notice the delicious smells rising as you cook dinner. Or sing along to your favourite song. Give your dog a good belly rub, or pause to admire the flowers on your windowsill. Sip tea. Cloud gaze. Whatever makes your heart sing.

Be present. Contemplate. Let your thoughts wander. Watch your problems disappear.

Cherish this quiet time, as soon enough you will be called back to your life’s busy-ness.

You may want to bring a notebook for when you start getting genius ideas…

 

READ ON Other similar posts you might enjoy:
Living life at your own pace
Everyday meditations: A cup of green tea
The things that only you see

Books that will change your life: “Finding your own North Star”

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Marta Beck is known as America’s no 1 life coach, yet she calls life coaching “a profession so cheesy it fairly screems to be covered in nuts (and some would argue it is)”. She’s one clever woman, who trained as a Chinese scholar and taught Sociology at Harvard before dedicating herself to coaching and writing bestselling books. I am reviewing this one first as it is the first one she wrote, but all of them are certainly worth a read.

The book

Finding your own North Star: How to reclaim the life you were meant to live first came out in 2001 and was reprinted over ten times since. It is a good start to get into Martha’s coaching techniques, as it is a straightforward, pleasant read with a number of easy to follow exercices. While her later books draw more on intuition, meditation and (what seems like) magic, North Star is essentially down to earth and easy to get into.

The big idea

All of us have an Essential Self, which we are born with and knows what we like and dislike (what we might consider our “true self”), and a Social Self, the part of us who helps us function in society by taking into account practicalities, rules, other people’s feelings. A healthy balance between both is necessary to a happy life.

The idea is that some people get so good at developing their Social Self while trying to please other people or to avoid conflict, that they have lost sight of the Essential Self completely. The book helps readers find out about both selves, how they affect their lives, and how to get back in touch with their Essential Selves to rebalance their lives and be happier.

What’s great about it

In my view what sets this book apart of many other self-help books with a similar message is that it’s actually a very pleasant read – as well as being a good writer Martha is quite funny. It’s also well documented, and written by someone who has obviously done therapy work with hundreds of clients before writing. So you not only benefit from all the real-life examples in the book, but get a sense that hers is advice that works. The exercises are easy to follow and very effective. The fact that Martha has been through similar problems herself makes it all the more credible.

Why it will change your life

You will find this book particularly helpful if you are in a situation where something is off – in your work or relationship or life in general – but you can’t quite pinpoint why. You might feel miserable everyday without a clear reason, or feel drained or trapped in a situation when you should be happy. The book will help you see that a/ you are not alone and b/ there is definitely a way out of it. The approach is that there is not anything “wrong” with you that needs to be fixed. The emphasis in on focusing on who you already are and allowing you to grow in a way that is true to you.

Martha’s compassionate advice, which she clearly gained from going through difficult times (anorexia and chronic illnesses, breaking free of a strict Mormon community, divorce, raising a child with Down’s syndrome) is very powerful, and her voice will stay with you long after you turn the last pages.

How well do you know yourself?

“You don’t know yourself at all”, was what my friend concluded after we’d been discussing our hopes and dreams at length on the sofa one winter evening. Well, mostly discussing her hopes and dreams – to my embarrassment, I didn’t seem to have any to speak of. No big dreams, like a big house by the sea, no small dreams, like a fancy pair of high heel shoes. No buckets lists, no ideal jobs, no mad travel plans. Harsh as it sounded at the time I knew she was right – I had no idea what my dreams were, and I had no clue who I really was. If anyone, including me asked, I would say “I don’t know”.

That was about seven years ago, and I  have been wondering about her comments since. Not proactively at first – I kept on doing business as usual, but I started reading about psychology and self-development avidly. Each book raised a lot more questions than the last, and incurred a lot more reading. How come I didn’t have any dreams? Whose ideas had I been following so far then? Had I ever had big dreams? What was I meant to become? Who was I, really? “But surely you MUST know what you want?!” another friend had kept telling me with her 12 year-old wisdom, slightly amused, but mostly irritated – she’d wanted to be a policewoman since she could walk, and now works in the police force.

Fast forward a few years, books and courses, and here I am – proud owner of a self help libray to rival Amazon, and of what look like my own dreams. They come in all sizes, some of them grand, some of them tiny, but mostly achievable. What surprises me is how far of them some are from the dreams we’re supposed to have – sure an exotic holiday or better paid job would be nice, but given the choice I’d rather have my own desk space to write (instead of the kitchen table), and part time work so I could spend more time reading.

Looking (enviously) at people who are true to themselves and follow their dream also taught me that once you commit to following your dreams, there is really no reason they won’t come true. Writing this blog was one of mine, and the only thing stopping me from doing it sooner was I just lacked the courage to do it – and before that, the courage to own up to it. Because that it what I also realised: my dreams were there all the time, only in hiding, for fear I might be ridiculed or worse, for fear that I might have a try and fail. Maybe it was just easier to follow what I was told to do after all.

I have no idea where this blog will lead, but it will be about sharing ideas I’ve come across over the year, and new ones I come accross now. If you too are a bit lost for direction, I hope you can read it and fuel your own search. On of my all time favourite quotes is from the poet Kahlil Gibran: “You are far, far greater than you know, and all is well.” If you just dare to be yourself, who knows how far you will go?