Tag Archives: Love

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…

 

“You’re okay, really”: what it feels like to love yourself

P1050662 low resI’ve always wondered what self-acceptance feels like. That great big love for yourself you always hear about in women’s magazines, and in the interviews of successful people who seem to have everything you wish for… and will never attain.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve yet to wake up in the morning feeling overwhelmed by self-love. I might wake up feeling love for my partner, my cat, or the world at large. But for myself…

“Love your neighbour as yourself”, Jesus said in what seemed simple enough instructions. Yet, many people, myself included, go through life treating themselves like their least favourite friend, not showing much patience or kindness and occasionally calling themselves names.

So a few days ago, as I was washing my face and pondering a difficult decision (to quit or not to quit my job), I was surprised to hear a gentle interior voice say to me: “you’re okay, really“.

This may seem like nothing to you, but it reminded me of something. I once had a boyfriend who was the coolest thing in the universe, with a cheeky smile and a punkrocker’s attitude to everything. Whenever he’d come across something great, not wanting to lose his cool by showing enthusiasm, he’d say “that’s okay, really”.

Just like him now, I’m not going for full-blown enthusiasm. My inner critic may not be going all BFF on me just yet, but at least we’re finally rooting for the same team. Of course it lasted only a few minutes. But it felt wonderful.

Now let me tell you something. If this happened to me, for no reason while I wasn’t even trying, it can happen to anybody. You better be prepared.

Some day, out of the blue…

You might look back upon your life so far and think you haven’t done too badly, overall.

You might be happy knowing you have done your best.

You might look into the mirror and no longer see the extra pounds or wrinkles (yes, the ones other people swear never existed but you just know are there).

You might see someone beautiful in their own, unique way.

You might look at the work you do and think, perhaps you’re doing enough.

You might no longer feel like a fraud, and let go of the fear of being found out.

IT WILL BLOW YOUR MIND

You will shed the illusion of your own criticism like you take off a heavy winter coat.

You will feel lighter.

There will be a new breeze on your skin, which you never knew was there because of the big coat

You will feel so alive that you will wonder how to contain so much joy.

You will no longer feel the need to be or act different.

You will be at home in your own skin.

Even if the doubts return after a moment, you and I both will know that it IS possible be our own best friends.

And once we’ve done it once, there must be a way we can do it again.

 

READ ON Other similar posts you might like:
Should I stay or should I go? 
Living life at your own pace
Everyday meditations: A cup of green tea

 

We are one

P1050280 low resPerhaps like other Westerners who are drawn to buddhist meditation for non-religious purposes (wellbeing, stress-busting, generally coping with modern life), I have a bit of a dilemna. Not being a buddhist myself, I feel there is only so much I can take in from the otherwise excellent meditation classes I have attended. The techniques themselves are great – much is focused on breathing, visualising, and feelings of kindness which are common to all human beings. The teachers are welcoming, patient and non-judgemental. But some of the concepts I just don’t get. Apart from the fact that I feel a bit of a fraud chanting in Sanskrit (which some of the classes include) without understanding a word, there are things that don’t make sense to my rational, European brain.

While some of the precepts are fairly universal (non-harming, loving-kindness), I particularly struggle with the idea that we are one, that no-one and nothing in the universe exists in separation from anything else. To me it sounds like saying “me” or “you” or any other living thing/ dead thing/ object are intimately related, and I cannot really say I get it. I wouldn’t argue whether it right or wrong as a concept – I just can’t work my head around it. In my mind, “I” am not “you”, and neither of us are the same as this chair, be it as it may that we are made of the same energy/ atoms/ elements, and however much I like both of you.

And still. If we look around us, the world is full of chances to see that everything is connected, in a way that even I can understand. As I sit at home writing this article and eating a delicious slice of chocolate cake I bough on the market, I try to think of everyone and everything that existed before this moment that made it possible for me to eat this cake. The Portuguese baker who runs the market stall. The ingredients and their provenance. The chocolate, the eggs, the milk. The cocoa beans, the cocoa tree and the people who planted them. The chicken, the cows, the farmers who tend to them. The grass the cows feed on. The rain that makes it grow, the clouds. The plate the cake is on, the spoon I eat it with, the people who designed and made them both. Our ancestors who invented eating from plates and spoons (somebody had to). The person who first had the idea to eat a cocoa bean. The person who first had the idea to bake it.

I begin to feel dizzy with the million connections and people and days and amounts of knowledge that enabled me to sit here and eat this cake. I realise this is not only true of this cake, but the computer I use, the chair I sit on, the clothes I wear. Everything in the house and outside of the house. Everything that comes from nature and everything that is man made. Everything I can see and everything I cannot see. Everything that is in your life, and everyone else’s. Everything connected to our parents, and their parents before them.

I feel grateful to everyone who put in so much effort. I feel humbled and small, and in awe of a world that provides us with so much. The milk, the grass, the cocoa beans. The people.

I feel grateful and I feel connected. I feel the energy of such a perfect system and I feel blessed to be part of it.

I begin to feel with my heart what my head won’t understand. Without the shadow of a doubt, we are one.

 

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.

Finding your flow

P1050058 low resWhen you are unhappy in your job but unsure what else would make you happier, the one piece of advice you are likely to hear often is to try and find what puts you in flow, and concentrate on these activities in your job and daily life. Like most brilliant ideas, it is both very simple and surprisingly hard to follow. How do you know what puts you in flow? Chances are that you – like me – might be in the place you’re in precisely because you’ve lost track of what it is that makes you come alive, so powerful as this advice may be, it may take you a while to see how it applies to you.

Flow (a term coined by psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi) is used to describe the feeling of enjoying an activity so much that time disappears while you do it, so that if you start at say noon, you look up 5 minutes later and it’s dark outside. It implies that you can concentrate on it effortlessly and feel energised, rather than drained, by the task. When I started looking for what puts me in flow at work, I couldn’t find anything. My first thought is I must be stupid (obviously), but I now realise there is nothing that puts me in flow at work, so I wasn’t about to find out. In fact, for a while the only true flow activity I could ever remember being involved in was playing the piano – which I haven’t done in 15 years.

It wasn’t until I came across Julia Cameron’s excellent The Artist’s Way (soon to be added to the Bookshelf) that I began to reconnect with what truly comes easy to me. I dabbled a bit in painting and photography – just for the fun of it, because I thought I might enjoy it – and after that I tried my hand at poetry and writing. And that’s when my mind blew right open. Writing seemed to not only come easy, but to happen almost “without me being there”, as if I could just sit back and take dictation coming from someone else, and feel as refreshed after an hour of writing as after a good nap. This was exactly the same feeling I’d experienced playing the piano, a deep relaxation coupled with a strong and vital connection with the world.

What puts you in flow? My boyfriend forgets all about the world when he is cooking a complicated meal, or when he dances to very loud disco music, and my housemate can spend entire days without  a break gardening in her allotment. What does it feel like for you?

If you’re having difficulty thinking of something, I found the trick is to, little by little, start noticing what makes you feel good, and not be afraid to try out new things. If you think you might like to do painting, or fashion design, or horseriding, go and do it for a day. Trust your intuition.  Give yourself permission to be a beginner, even if – especially if – your inner critic might say you are too old/ not talented or any other excuse it comes up with. If you keep following your intuition, you will eventually end up finding your flow.

Everyone is unique, but for many of us flow might feel like deep contentment, a relaxing connection to the people and things around us. You may experience the feeling that there is no time – the present merges with the past and the future – no separation between you and the universe. In fact, flow is a similar to the physical sensation people feel when they are deep in meditation or prayer. For this reason I think there is something deeply sacred in flow – and that is why it is worth searching for.

So in my humble opinion, you shouldn’t be too worried if you can’t find any flow activities at the office, because you are so much bigger than your job. But when you do find what truly makes you come alive, you owe it to yourself to spend as much time as you can doing it. When your start doing this, your life will be transformed and start to feel a little bit more magic every day.

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.