Tag Archives: Friends

Counting the Blessings, Not the Events in My Life

15 May

I had heard that time flies, but no-one had told me that it soars. The past year has gone by with the blink of an eye. For me, it has had little form and even less structure. What have I done during the past twelve months? What has happened in the last 365 days? Looking back, the past year looks like a stretch of time marked by uncertainty, emptiness and waiting. Things have moved at a slower pace than ever before, and there are few events that have been caught on camera or written into a diary. However, when I think about the past year, I realise for the first time that it is not the quantity of memorable events that matters so much as their quality. This year has brought few notable events, but they have had a crucial role in the direction of my life’s path.

1) I graduated from university.

2) I went on a life-changing trip to India.

3) I completed a novel-writing course, which made me realise that, despite my fears, that I am capable.

4) I was offered my first ‘real’ job in a field that I love.

5) I moved to a different country.

6) I moved in with my boyfriend.

However, when I look back at the past year, these events feature only as a backdrop to that which happened on centre stage. In fact, it is my spiritual experiences and changes that played the main role during this period of time.

1) I got rid of 50% of my material possessions. In my new home, I live only with the things that I use regularly.

2) I deleted my social networking accounts. If they’re my real friends, I should be able to call them to find out about their lives. If I feel uncomfortable about picking up the phone to speak to them, I don’t need to be filling my mind with their lives. Seven months without Facebook, and I feel calmer, more confident and I know who my true friends are.

3) I took a risk. When I started job-hunting last autumn, I knew that I had two choices: I could either persevere and look for jobs in the field that I love –writing – or I could take the easier option of going into a better paid, more stable and more ‘prestigious’ career. Parents considered The City or the EU as a good destination for me, but I knew that if I didn’t take the chance to try my luck in writing, I would never again have the opportunity to do so. Three months later, I was offered a job as an online content editor.

4) I made a dream come true. Ever since I was a little girl, I dreamed of working in a cute little bookshop, where I would be able to pass on my love for literature to others. In the autumn, I was hired for a week-end shift at a new independent bookshop in my area. I only worked there for four months, but the experience was unforgettable. I was blessed with kind, knowledgeable and good-humoured colleagues, with friendly clients and with a brilliant stock of books to enjoy.

5) I chose love over fear.  What if I don’t like it? What if it doesn’t work out? What if he changes his mind? What if we get bored? A million doubts filling my mind before moving to a new country and moving in with my boyfriend. Four months after my move, this new life feels like second nature.

6) I was honest with myself. Young women my age are going to parties, filling their days with countless activities, following fashion, spending, seducing, networking…I tried, but never found fulfilment in any of these activities. I finally admitted to myself that I would prefer to spend Friday night watching the sunset from a hill, spend the afternoon riding a bike, spend evenings doing yoga, spend the week-ends doing photography, and spend my money on dance class, art exhibitions or fresh local food from the market. By being honest with myself, I have found a more natural way of life.

This year, I may not have had many events to talk about, but I have had many ideas and feelings to share. I think I am finally starting to learn how to count the blessings, and not the events in my life…

Help Another to Heal Yourself

26 Jan

“The best way to heal emotional turmoil is to do something for someone else,” my grandma always tells me. In recent years, it has become fashionable to be egocentric. Phrases such as “Spoil yourself”, “Give yourself a treat”, “Go on, you deserve it” and “Me, me, me” have become extremely widespread in the world of advertising. And worst thing is: we buy it.

Doing things for other people is now viewed in a negative light. Family life is seen as a sacrifice, rather than the greatest gift; doing chores for friends and relatives is seen as a favour, rather than a pleasure; helping out a stranger is seen as a burden, rather than a natural act of compassion.

The most common cure for emotional turmoil has become ‘taking some me time’: going shopping, treating ourselves to a nice dinner, taking a week-end away to cool off. However, in doing something for ourselves in order to get a worry off our minds, we are channelling energy into ourselves. And because this energy is fuelled by a negative primary thought, the energy inside us gets clogged up, never blossoming into something positive. It creates the opposite effect to what we desire: we become more obsessed with our problems and even more frustrated because our ‘cures’ haven’t worked.

If we do something for another person at a time when we’re in emotional angst, the result is completely different. Firstly, our thoughts move from ourselves to another person. We not only stop thinking about our troubles, but we realise that everyone around us has problems of their own…and that ours are often ridiculous in comparison. Secondly, when we do something positive for another person, we do it out of genuine good will. Our blocked negative energy transforms into positive energy. Thirdly, we return to a loving way of perceiving the things around us: we see the wonderful effects of our positive actions on the lives of others and we realise that love is more important than anything else.

Doing something for someone else can be as big or as small as you want it to be: doing the housework for your parents, cooking dinner for your partner, helping your younger sibling with their homework, doing the shopping for your elderly neighbour, doing the dishes for a flatmate who’s late for a date, completing work for a colleague who has fallen ill, replying to the long-forgotten e-mail that your friend sent you. When we do even the smallest things for someone else, a weight is lifted off our chest: we see that there is more to life than our internal world and there is more to life than the problems running through our heads.

When we feel frustrated, anxious or confused what we need the most is to put things into perspective. And the best way to do that is to remind ourselves of the bigger picture: we are surrounded by people who love us and who also need our love. Unfortunately, just reminding ourselves of this is often not enough to dispel the agitation that our minds get into. But actively doing something positive for someone else is not only a sure cure for our own emotional turmoil, but quite possibly a cure for someone else’s too. After all, doesn’t it make our day when someone does something nice for us?

The Extraordinary Ordinary

23 Jan

“If I died today, I’d be happy with the life I’ve had,” my friend said at the age of eighteen. “I’ve had everything I needed: a good education, a roof over my head and food in my belly”. Her words have stuck with me since. At that age I had never heard anyone be grateful for such ‘basic’ things; most of the young people around me measured their happiness in clothes, in popularity, in money, in parties, in status, in partners. In my school, students avoided being ‘average’ at all costs. Now, this trend is spreading like a disease across the continent.

In Western society, being ‘happy with what you’ve got’ is often interpreted negatively as ‘settling for less’. Leading a life of calm contentment and simple pleasure is considered as lack of ambition, laziness, cowardliness and generally being a bore. We have become obsessed with the idea of ‘a life worth living’, which has come to mean living fast, achieving lots, having wild adventures and ‘trying everything once’. With so many opportunities and options open to us, we have come to believe that the way to enrich our lives is to fill them up with as many things as possible. “Quantity, not quality” seems to be society’s current motto.

The American golfer Walter Hagen famously said: “You’re only here for a short visit. Don’t hurry, don’t worry. And be sure to smell the flowers along the way”. He recognised that we should make the most of life, but his vision of the way in which this can be done is very different to what we witness today. His quote evokes a life of slow and calm movement. The pleasure he portrays of ‘smelling flowers’ is one that represents the simple pleasures of life. Hagen is encouraging us to appreciate the everyday things, and in doing so to turn something ‘average’ into something amazing.

Those who have tried this know that it takes effort, patience and courage to love the smaller things in life. Yet the rewards are much greater. When we realise that even plain objects are beautiful, that even ordinary events are meaningful and that even (so called)  ‘unexpeptional’ people are precious, we learn that everything we experience is a gift. Nothing and no-one is average – everything and everyone is exceptional. When we see the miracle in everything around us, we begin to love everything around us. Calm contentment and simple pleasure become our saviours; they are what give us energy, hope and happiness.

Most of our life is made up of what we call ‘everyday’, ‘mundane’ or ‘routine’ things. Therefore, we may as well make friends with these constant companions. When we stop taking things for granted, we realise that the ordinary is actually quite extraordinary.

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