Tag Archives: Book

Follow Your Heart – Susanna Tamaro

14 Sep

“Be still and listen in silence to your heart. When it has spoken to you, rise up and follow it”, thus ends Susanna Tamaro’s international bestselling novel Follow Your Heart. Translated into eighteen languages, this is an epistolary novel in which an elderly Italian lady, fearing her imminent end, writes to her granddaughter in America. Alternating between diary and memoire, the old lady recounts her past to her only remaining living relative. Understanding that this will be the last communication that she has with her granddaughter, the old lady tells her story in the hope of being understood, and, in some way, forgiven, by her young descendant.

In Follow Your Heart, the protagonist tells her family’s story and explains the way in which her relatives, as well as contemporary Italian tradition, played a role in the formation of her character and her fate. She often gives wise reflections on life, as if ensuring to pass on to her granddaughter everything that she has learnt over the years: “Life is not a race but an archery contest. Saving time counts for nothing; what matters is to hit the bull’s-eye”. As we learn more about the old lady’s life through her honest narrative, we learn that most of her life’s tragedies arose from miscommunication and the fear to listen to one’s instinct over custom or duty.

Through this novel, Tamaro creates a fable whose philosophical lessons will stay with us long after we have finished the book. Tamaro captures a universal human essence in her writing, which is evident in the way that the protagonist’s many moral and metaphysical battles remind us of our own. However, having chosen the epistolary form, Tamaro sacrificed the ability to describe the old lady’s past life with more detail, and thus, more emotion. The only moments when we truly sympathise for the old lady and understand her fragile state is during the descriptive passages that capture her present lonely life in an empty winter home. As well as lacking in emotion, the narrative also suffers from a plot that is unable to provide any life lessons without the old lady’s regular words of wisdom.

Follow Your Heart is a novel that will provoke each reader to contemplate his or her own experiences. However, for me this book will remain no more than a source of wise quotes, a story that touched my mind, rather than my heart.

 

For information about Susanna Tamaro’s other work, click here.
For Susanna Tamaro’s biography on Wikipedia, click here.

The Art of the Essential, Part II

12 Apr

For the past two months, I have been living with only a suitcase-worth of possessions. Three pairs of shoes, three pairs of trousers, a dozen tops, two jackets, three novels, two poetry books, a make-up bag, a laptop and a couple of notebooks. For the past two months I have been experiencing the art of the essential.

Living with fewer possessions has had some amazing effects on my life:

I have saved time: having a limited amount of clothes to choose from, I did not spend hours trying out different outfits for one outing.

I have been tidier: fewer things means less mess.

I have had more space: seeing as my possessions fit in one wardrobe and one cupboard, the rest of the space is free, for movement, for dance, for yoga…

I have had a lot of light in the apartment: fewer things means more open space, which means more light.

I have been calmer: in my previous home, I had around forty unread books and a wardrobe of unworn clothes. I would feel guilty about not reading the books and not wearing the clothes on which I had spent money. Now, seeing as I make use of everything in my possession, I do not experience a feeling of waste, greed or stress. Instead, I have a feeling of comfort and simplicity.

I have had more time to do the things I love: I spend less time tidying up and no time at all sorting my things out, which gives me more time to do things that I enjoy.

I have had more opportunities to be creative: rather than obsessing over the world inside my apartment, my thoughts open up to the world beyond my walls.

I have focused on the things I do, rather than on the things I own: in modern society, it is most often our possessions and not our actions that define us. Having little possessions, I have been able to concentrate more on defining myself through what I do, rather than through what I own.

I have seen others differently: now that I define myself through what I do, I also define other people by their actions, instead of their clothes, gadgets, cars, or accessories. This has given me a whole new vision of the world.

Living with fewer possessions has many positive effects on our lives. It does not mean that we should deprive ourselves, but that we should simply reduce our possessions to the essentials: what we need and what we love. Everything else has no place in our home, our mind and our body; everything else brings us negative energy.

April is a perfect time to do a spring clean, so why not take this opportunity to clear that clutter that blocks your energy?

A great book on this subject is Clear Your Clutter, which explains the negative energetic and psychological effects of hoarding and the positive ones of clearing.

If You Love It, Teach It!

16 Mar

“The best teachers teach from the heart, not from the book.”  ~ Author Unknown

The best teacher that I have ever had stood out from all the dozens of others by one simple thing: love. This teacher loved what she taught, she loved teaching and she loved her pupils. Every time I was in her class, I felt as if that hour with her was sacred. She treated every pupil as her own child, and taught us in a way that showed us that we were just as important to her as she was to us. She truly wanted to share her knowledge with us, and to make us discover the happiness that she herself experienced through this subject. Through her honesty, openness, attention and care she did more than teach – she inspired.

In current times, it is rare to find a teacher with all of the above qualities. I have come across teachers who taught simply to make money, or because they couldn’t find another job; I have known teachers who were unqualified and unmotivated, and those who simply did not care about their students. Jacques Barzun rightly said that “teaching is not a lost art, but the regard for it is a lost tradition”. The current focus on passing exams and getting the best grades has transformed learning from a process of discovery to a process of repetition, regurgitation and memorisation. Teachers are no longer valued as our guides to self-discovery, and they are no longer respected as professionals with a wealth of knowledge.

There is never a shortage of eager students looking for the perfect teacher (all of us would love to learn one thing or another), but unfortunately, there is a shortage of eager teachers looking for the perfect student. Why is that? Because we have come to believe that being a teacher means having a qualification or a post to confirm our abilities. In fact, there is a teacher in all of us: we all have something that we love and that we would love to pass on to others. Last week-end, I taught yoga to a friend. We did a ‘proper’ class, with postures, sequences and techniques, and both of us came away happy. I am not a yoga master, nor am I trained as a yoga teacher, but yoga is something that I love, and something that I would love to pass on to others, and therefore it was a great pleasure for me to spend an evening teaching it to someone who was curious and willing to learn.

We all know how much joy it brings us to share our passion with others, and I believe that one of the best ways to do this is by teaching. Whether you love literature, singing, playing on the piano, gardening, knitting, swimming, writing, playing chess…there is someone who would love to learn from you. Whether in a formal or informal class, paid or free, with friends or strangers, regularly or irregularly, to a group or to an individual, sharing what you love is a gift. Don’t let your talents and your passions go to waste – pass them on!

If you love it, teach it!

Begin

17 Feb

This is now. Now is. Don’t postpone
till then. Spend the spark of iron

on stone. Sit at the head of the table.
Dip your spoon in the bowl. Seat yourself

next your joy and have your awakened soul
pour wine. Branches in the spring wind,

easy dance of jasmine and cypress. Cloth
for green robes has been cut from pure

absence. You are the tailor, settled
among his shop goods, quietly sewing.

~Rumi
The Book of Love

Translation: Coleman Barks

The Art of the Essential

13 Jan

“Are you rich?”
“I have everything. I no longer even have possessions.”
~ Malcolm de Chazal

A few months ago, I met a guy in Paris whose only possessions were the ones he could fit into his rucksack. Ever since reading L’Art de l’Essentiel (The Art of the Essential) by Dominique Loreau, I have been trying to achieve a similar sort of thing.

In her book, Loreau outlines the Feng Shui principles of space clearing that bring peace into our lives. Excess or unnecessary possessions can have a negative effect on our energy, slowing us down, making us depressed or lethargic, and eventually making our possessions become the owners of our lives.

Just before the new year, I managed to clear my shed of eleven years’ worth of junk. Clothes, books, films, music, jewellery, stationery, a bike (that I rode once, six years ago), roller blades, a tent (that I borrowed from someone five years ago), and other similar things. Friends came and took what they liked, and the rest went to charity. I followed Dominique Loreau’s basic principle: if you don’t need it or you don’t love it, let it go. Unsurprisingly, I didn’t experience any remarkable feelings of loss or regret when I parted with these things.

It was a different thing, however, when I started going through my university folders. Ninety-five percent of four years of work went into the recycling bin. Four years’ worth of lectures, homework, assignments, essays, notes, photocopies and research proved to no longer be of any worth to me. When I’d finished my first round of recycling I sat back in horror… “What was my education for if only months after finishing it, I am already throwing it away?!”. I remembered my endless battles with philosophy (one of my BA subjects) and how I thought about giving it up a few months into my first term at uni. But I didn’t, because I thought it would be ‘good for me’ in the long-run.

Sitting amongst all the philosophy papers that I was about to trash, I decided then and there never to do anything with the hope that it will be ‘good for’ or ‘useful to’ my future self. I realised that we can never guess what we will want or need in the future, so the best we can do is to make the most of the present – that way, our best possible future will unfold naturally. If we hold on to objects that we don’t use now, we ruin our present by being tied to things that have no relevance to the life we would actually like to lead. If we spend our time doing things we don’t enjoy, believing that they will be ‘useful’ for our future selves, we will end up losing opportunities to do the things we genuinely love.

Living with only the essential brings freedom and peace to our lives. We are defined by who we are and what we do, rather than by what we own. When we learn to effortlessly let go of material things, we find it easier to let go of situations, places and people.  Happiness does not lie in the things we own, but in the things we give.

 On the same topic: Art of the Essential Part IIArt of the Essential Part III