Starting Your Day With Intention

My grandma went for a walk nearly every morning until she was 92. She would leave when the sun came up and stroll around the neighbourhood for an hour or so every morning. She’d say hi to passersby and to neighbours working in their gardens. She’d stop to watch the leaves fall or the flowers blow in the breeze. She’d spend a whole hour enjoying the sounds around her, waking up with the world, watching it rub the sleep from it’s eyes. Then she would come home, hang her jacket on the coat rack, make herself a cup of coffee and sit down to read the paper.

I loved this about her. And I respected the fact that, no matter how much she loved me and enjoyed my company, I was not welcome then. That was her time, no questions asked.

When she was finished with her morning routine, she would go about her day in her characteristically sweet and unflappable fashion – working in the garden, making wool, patiently attending to her overly curious granddaughter. That was the case, at least, on the days when she went for walks. On the rare days she couldn’t, we we all felt the difference. She was easily irritated and cranky. Her sweet demeanor remained, but it was tinged with a hint of passive aggression, leading to snarky remarks and mutual frustration.

It wasn’t until recently that I realised the power of these morning routines in her life – the serenity and perspective they provided her – and the emotional consequences she suffered when she couldn’t start her day the way that suited her. I realised it because my own morning routine was completely obliterated by our move last year and it wasn’t until I lost this part of my day that I saw how essential it had been to my emotional well-being.

As my grandmother’s granddaughter, I too find morning walks the best way to start my day. In London, I would walk most mornings in the cemetery behind our house. I loved watching the fog roll in, I loved playing with my dog friends, and I loved watching the seasons change – seeing the old flowers die off and the new ones take their place. It was as nourishing to me as a full English breakfast, if not more so.

Muscat, however, is not a pedestrian friendly city. Sure, we live near a gorgeous park where I could walk in the morning, but to get there I have to cross some busy roads where I will inevitably be honked at by taxis trying to save me from the drudgery of experiencing the world on foot. That’s neither peaceful nor serene. I could go for a morning swim at the nearby beach, but that involves gear and sun cream and extra showers. It’s a lot of work, which offsets the relaxation element of the whole exercise.

Without the option of my ideal morning routine, I found myself growing grumpy and irritable, just like my dear old gram. I felt a profound difference in my ability to handle the day. Everyone annoyed me. Nothing went right. I felt like I was chasing my days instead of navigating my way through them. I rushed around being busy, trying to justify the loss of that time by being hyper “productive.” I lost my perspective and let little things get to me in a big way.

I realised I had to find a way to get that serenity back in my life. I needed to find a way to start my day in a slow, purposeful, nature-filled way because, without it, I was simply not myself.

It took some time develop a non-walking morning routine, but I have finally settled into something that mostly scratches that itch. Every morning now, I get up with the sun and sprinkle food on our windowsill for the wild parrots. Then I write, do some yoga and meditate while I listen to them eat breakfast and bicker over pecking order. I only spend an hour doing these things, but by the end I feel rejuvenated in mind, body and spirit. I begin the day feeling centred and intentional about what I want to do and why. I’m nicer to everyone, myself included.

Building this routine has made all the difference for me. Just like watching autumn leaves fall in the crisp morning breeze was essential to my grandma’s soul, watching parrots eat on my windowsill while I do yoga is essential to mine.

It’s That Time Again

New Year’s Resolutions

They come from a good place. They arise from our desire to make our lives something more, to grow as people, to do more for the world, for ourselves, for others. But they almost immediately become a trap. They chain us to something that may not remain relevant to us for an entire year. We look back on them and get angry with ourselves for not staying true to them, for not fulfilling our promise. It’s not healthy. We create a cage and then punish ourselves for not wanting to be in it.

This year, I have been working hard to cut away ties from the past. I’ve thrown out old ideas for blog posts I’ve collected. I’ve trashed notes one creative projects. I’ve cleared out old emails, old documents, old photos that I was holding onto only because they were attached to some future plan.

It’s not been easy for me. I tend to hold onto ideas (and to physical items) that link me with feelings I had about how my future would be. In other words, my present is holding onto past ideas of my future.

The problem with that is that it makes my present about everything but the present. When I am not sure what I want to work on, I go to those lists for “inspiration”. But those ideas came from a place I am no longer in, so they are not relevant to my current situation. I’ve written about this before, when I first started this process: outdated ideas are the opposite of insightful.

Still, getting rid of past ideas has been a really hard thing. I have seriously struggled to do it. I’ve worked on it all year and still have things I hold on to “just in case.” When it comes down to it though, I’m using those ideas to hold myself back.  Having those lists is the best distraction in the world because it allows me to look for ideas there instead of digging into myself and acknowledging what I really need to be working on now, in this moment.

I am working hard to really look at the moment I am in, what I am interested in now, what makes me curious now, what makes me excited now and do that thing. New Year’s resolutions don’t fit the mold for that. They are the cart before the horse. On December 31st, we decide all the things we need to do for the next year, despite the fact that we have no idea what will come into our lives, what will inspire us, what will move us, what will light us up with creative energy. They tell us what we have to do without allowing room for change, for growth, for diversion.

This year, instead of making a list of creative projects (and this is seriously the hardest thing for me!), I am going to create a space where I document the things I end up doing over the course of the year.

I like this approach for two reasons.

It feels so open and full of potential! The future is suddenly allowed to become whatever it wants to. My creative energy isn’t forced into something I may not be interested in after a few weeks.

It also means that at the end of the year I will have a list of things I did that I never planned to do – things that I accomplished purely because I found them interesting, because they sparked my curiosity, because they were exactly what I needed at that moment.

I love the surprise that brings. Instead of knowing what I will be doing (or not doing and feeling guilty about), I will watch a list of things grow over the year and be able to look back on these things that made me happy, made me excited, made my life sparkle just a little bit more.

I have no idea what I will get up to over the next year in my creative life, but I know I am looking forward to seeing that list at the end of the year and smiling at how life takes us to unexpected places when we let it.

See you next time,

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You Are Here

http://dornob.com/you-are-here-3-real-life-works-of-digital-map-inspired-art/

Apparently some really nerdy (aka awesome) artists do projects based on digital map graphics. Check out more here.

You are here.

For the last few months this has been a kind of mantra for me, something I go back to when I am feeling lost or overwhelmed. It centers me and reminds me of my place in the world, the space I take up in it. It gives me perspective. It gives me freedom. It makes me appreciate what is around me and it makes me feel like I’m part of something that matters. Plus, it’s map nerd-ery – always a bonus in my eyes.

You are here reminds me that I take up space in the world – actual, physical space. That I am part of the world – glued to it by gravity, breathing it in, pooping it out. No matter how much time I spend in my head, the reality is that I am here, physically present in the world, taking part in it and sharing it with everyone else –  even on the days I wish I wasn’t.

You are here reminds me that the space I take up is a space that no one else can. I am the only collection of these molecules and these experiences in all of time and space (Maybe. I guess statistically and astrophysically speaking there might be another one of me. I’d really like to meet her). At moments that perspective makes me feel entitled, but more often it makes me feel like part of a much bigger picture. It makes me feel a responsibility to respect the fact that I am here, that I do exist, that I have a presence and that it’s my job to make the most of it. It makes me very grateful.

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You are here reminds me that I have choice. I imagine myself on one of the walks I did in London and remember the excitement and overwhelming sense of curiosity I felt when I came to an intersection full of streets I’d never seen before. You are here means I have the choice. At any given time, in any given part of my life, I am always standing at the intersection of choice. I can dive into whichever option looks the most appealing or exciting to me at that exact moment. That’s insanely liberating.

You are here reminds me not to push myself too hard. I want to be really good at everything and I very regularly compare myself to people who are way ahead of me in the game (based on my completely arbitrary calculation) – much to my emotional detriment. You are here reminds me that everything is a process, that I am where I am at, no more, no less. Sometimes I can settle into that, be comfortable being where I am. Other times it causes ridiculous frustration. But you are here is a fact. It’s a reality check. It doesn’t judge or enable. It just is. You just are. You can’t argue with it, which I find huge relief in.

You are here reminds me that there is no competition in life, there is no final destination to which we are all running, trying to beat each other along the way. There really isn’t. There are billions of us, all with our own goals, prospects and concepts of success and achievement. There is no race, there is no competition, therefore there is no need for comparison. I am where I am at. You are where you are at. We are. We can help each other out or share our story, but we are not going the same places. And that’s a good thing.

It’s a good thing, maybe the most important thing, because you are here reminds me that I am not alone. I am one pin on the map. One person moving around, living my life, trying to improve myself and the lives of the people around me. I take up the space I take up, I am a unique individual with my own set of choices and challenges. But so is everyone else. We are all doing the same thing. We are all finding our way, making our mark on the map. When I zoom out and see it all, when I let myself be one tiny dot in the confetti of beautiful people living perfectly ordinary lives, I get a true sense of what it actually means to be.

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Curiouser and Curiouser

I’m a curious person. I love things that make me go, “Hmmmm, that’s interesting…” And I love how digging into them often opens up all new avenues for me to pursue. I love the playfulness, the possibility that curiosity brings. Yet I often find myself writing off my curiosity as a fun but, ultimately, useless thing. I push aside my curiosity in the pursuit of something I am told is far more meaningful: passion.

For a long time, I’ve felt an overwhelming pressure (both internally and externally) to “follow my passion” in life. Far from being the rewarding and exciting adventure it is often billed as, however, it feels more like an impossible and thankless task, one that I would even describe emotionally crippling.

The time and energy I have spent looking for my passion, reading about it, filling out worksheets to try to capture it has left me feeling exhausted and desperate. It always feels just out of reach, something I could grasp if only I kept at it, approaching it from different angles, like a buttery kernel of popcorn that has slipped between the cushions.

Enter: Elizabeth Gilbert

A couple of days ago, a friend shared a video with me that freed my mind from the pursuit of passion. In the video, Elizabeth Gilbert, a human who I admire more all the time, describes it like this:

You spend a lot of your life having people tell you to follow your passion. It’s nice advice, it’s heart-warming advice, it’s great advice — if you happen to have one that is very clear and obvious.

Sometimes it feels cruel and all it does is make you feel even worse and more left out, because you’re like, ‘I would if I knew what it was.’

If you’re in that position right now… forget about passion.

Follow your curiosity. It might lead you to your passion or it might not. You might get nothing out of it at all except a beautiful, long life where all you did was follow your gorgeous curiosity. And that should be enough too.

As I processed this idea (in the shower, where all the good thinking happens), I felt an analogy that made the whole thing really click for me and helped me let go of this desperation I have to find my passion.

Prince Charming.

Disney princesses are told that there is a prince who will come, sweep them off their feet and make their life worth living. He could appear anywhere at any time, but when they see him, no matter the circumstance, they will just know. Their eyes will lock, their hearts will sync and they will be one and the same being from that moment on, living happily ever after in bubble of uncontrollable happiness.

When people talk about following your passion, they use imagery like this too.

Just as the Prince Charming myth leads us to ignore every other person along the way who isn’t “The One,” the passion myth makes us ignore our curiosity. Instead of being happy playing the field – having flings, sleeping around, dating the bad boy, snogging a stranger in a shitty pub – we sit in a corner waiting for this knight in shining armor to come and find us. Or even worse, we go desperately looking for him in everyone we see (that’ll be the option I went for).

I am exceedingly guilty of trying to shoehorn my curiosity into a passion. I find something interesting and I tell myself that this must be the one! The thing I’ve been waiting for! The thing I am supposed to do with my life. Finally!

It usually lasts about a week.

Letting go of passion and the idea that it will make you whole is as exhilarating as that lightbulb moment you have after a breakup when you realise you are free to do whatever you want, with whoever you want, for as long as you want.

There’s freedom in that moment. And that freedom sounds far more interesting than spending the rest of my life looking for something perfect – especially when the imperfect things make for far better stories.

Anchors Aweigh!

I did a really scary thing yesterday. I asked for advice from someone whose opinion I respect immensely.

And as a result of that advice, I did an even scarier thing today:

I deleted all the ideas I have ever collected about creative projects I want to do in the future. 

This tricky task was the result of an email discussion I had with someone yesterday who knows his shit about this stuff, a creative mind I have followed for a long time, Paul Jarvis.

If you haven’t read any of Paul’s work or listened to the Invisible Office Hours podcast he does with Jason Zook, you should get on that. Every time I read or listen to his ideas (and Jason’s too), I come away with so many nuggets of wisdom that help me in really big ways. Plus, he’s a really nice guy who genuinely likes to help people, so that’s a pretty awesome combination.

When I emailed him yesterday with a question, he gave me two pieces of advice that I took as a challenge for today. The first one is:

“The more I’m thinking, the less I’m working.”

This point really resonated with me because I tend to sit down and think out all the fine details of what will happen after I do the thing I am thinking of doing. I let my fantasy take me away, imagining where the project will go, what it will look like, what people will say about it and how I will feel as a result of how awesome it will be (obviously it will be a global success that will make me a financially independent world traveller the second it goes out).

But then I never actually do it. I never start the project. I never put the pen to the page. Because that’s where the real work is. That’s where things actually get hard.  And who wants hard when it’s so much easier to sit on my couch and imagine all the not hard things that will come from all the hard work I am not doing?

It’s the act of doing the work that make things happen. 

That’s where we’re are actually up against it, slugging through, trying things out, seeing what fits, experimenting, playing, but most importantly, working. Thinking about how awesome it will be at the end will never get the project up and running. Ever.

It’s a massive illusion to think we can predict where things will go, what a project will look like once it’s done because it will shift the second we actually start working on it. Then you’re in a tricky situation where you have built up expectations (remember, these are no bueno) and you begin comparing the actual work with what you think it should be. This is not a good combo.

You cannot think your way through a project. You have to get involved to see what it wants to be, where it wants to go. That’s when you get a feel for the essence of it – what elements of it elevate your soul and make your smile wider. You can only feel these things when you’re actually doing the work.

This brings me to the second piece of advice:

“When I have an idea, I write it down. If I don’t ACT on that idea within a few weeks, I delete it.” 

Because I am really bad at learning lessons, when I read this I thought, “Yes!! That makes so much sense! I would feel so light and free if I threw out my stale ideas and allowed room for new ones to grow. Won’t that be lovely!” and then I went off happy and proud of myself for doing such a liberating thing.

Had I actually done it? Nope. Not even close. I watched a movie instead (Big Fish, if you’re wondering – I really like that movie).

This morning, the real work came.

Armed with the first piece of advice, I dove into the second challenge: delete outdated ideas

It was really hard to start on this. I was a little bit pissed off that Paul suggested it because I couldn’t bear the thought of throwing some of these things out. Still, I wanted to give it a try because, well, he knows his shit and he’s done his work and pushed through and made things that he is proud of, and I want to do that too.

When I began, I felt like I was throwing myself away. I felt like I was erasing hours of work, hours of thought and creativity. It was pretty difficult.  But now that it’s done, I see that I wasn’t erasing any work at all. I was erasing things that took away from my actual work. Things that distracted me. Things that weighed me down.

Some of my notes have been a weight on me for years. I kept past ideas around because I thought I would reference them at some point. I thought I would come back to them and be reminded of what I really want in life, what I want to do, where I really want to go. I thought I would read these old, worn scraps of paper like tea leaves and bear witness to some kind of revelation about my ultimate purpose in life.

But outdated ideas are the opposite of insightful. 

Instead of pushing me toward the future, they pull me to the past. They anchor me to times and places that are no longer relevant to my life and the work I need to do right now. They are heavy. They are stressful. They are unnecessary. And they need to be cut out.

The funny thing is, it wasn’t until I started throwing things away, throwing the weight off, that realised I had been carrying it in the first place. I felt so much lighter, so free and liberated. I felt so much creative space opening up. It was amazing.

No longer linked to past ideas, I am now free to engage in the ideas that are coming from the present. The things that are relevant to me NOW. That are meaningful to me NOW. That excite me NOW.

When I set out on this mission this morning, I wanted to think that I knew better than Paul; that he was wrong about this; that his advice wouldn’t apply to me because I’m a different person.

But he is totally right.

It’s essential to diligently keep our creative slate fresh and clean. 

Holding on to stale ideas binds us to the past and inhibits our growth in the future. Deleting them allows the really relevant ideas – the ones that matter most to us right now, in this moment – space to breathe and grow. For me, that is the definition of creative freedom.


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Choose Three Things….any three things

Hello again.

It’s me again.

And I need your help.

I’ve been tinkering around a lot with the book I mentioned last time – making lists of people whose work I admire and lists of the people they find inspiring so I can read them all as soon as possible; spending excessive amounts of time perusing graphic novels and making note of which styles appeal to me most; sketching a very rough layout of the key points of my story…I’ve been busy.

As I mentioned previously, I have no real history in illustration. I doodled a lot when I was younger and I sketch here and there when I journal, but I haven’t really tried to publicly express myself in a visual form before.

This is where you come in.

I need practice drawing. And I want it to be a real challenge – something that will push me forward by changing my frame of reference and force me to work with new concepts while I learn this new skill. I don’t want to get boxed in. I want to play with different forms, different styles, different ways of drawing. I want to try lots of things.

So.

I have 24 postcards sitting on my desk. I want to send one to you. All I ask of you is that you tell me three things to draw on the postcard. Any three things (obviously within socially appropriate bounds) for me to ponder on and decide how to stick together on one card.

Two examples so far are:

  • a mermaid, a hula hoop and a glass of wine
  • bunting, One Direction and Marmite.

I’m still working on that last one…

Anyway. I would love to make a card for you and use it as a way to practice this whole drawing thing. So click this link and tell me three things (any three things) I can draw for you. The sky’s the limit.

I look forward to staring at the screen in bemusement and trepidation when I receive your request.

Love,

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PS. For those of you who have requested cards already but haven’t received them, first, my apologies. Secondly, I will use the ideas from the brilliant descriptions of yourselves you gave me to make a special card for you.

Thanks for sharing about yourselves, by the way. Your stories make my day every time!


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Fluffy Sofas and Domestic Bliss (or not)

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A strange thing happened this morning. I woke up giddily excited about the day. The day. Not anything it contains, not anything that will happen in particular. Just the day itself. The fact that it exists. I haven’t felt that way for a very long time and I am pretty excited about it.

There are a few reasons I think this might have happened (and hopefully will continue happening). I’ve been really focusing lately on the way I think about the events in my life and how I chose what things I do (and don’t do). I have learned a few things since moving here (ok, re-learned the same things again, for the millionth time) that have made me approach my life and my attitude differently. It feels good. It feels fresh. It feels like I am walking through a forest, smelling the pine trees and fresh dirt and feeling happy to be alive. It’s really nice.

I’ve been wanting to share a few of these ideas with you (I’ve missed our chats!), but as I started writing about each one they got long enough to be their own post. So I will just start with the one that is on my mind most today: expectations.

Moving to London

When I moved to London, I was SO freaking excited. I could barely contain myself. But in the last couple of months leading up to the move, I also felt some serious fear and frustration because, although I was DYING to get there, I couldn’t picture what my life would look like at all. I had no idea how to envision it. I knew I would be studying and that’s about it. I had no idea where I would live, who I would live with, what friends I might meet, what my classes would be like, what my university would look like, nothing. Absolutely nothing. And looking back, although that really caused me a huge amount of stress in the lead-up to the move, it was the greatest gift I could have been given.

I walked into London with no expectations at all. Not one. It was amazing. I truly made every day my own. Everyone was a new friend waiting to be met. Every street was a little present waiting to be unwrapped. Every walk was an adventure. I watched every day play out however it chose to and not only appreciated that I was there for it but experienced unbridled joy at the thought that I was lucky enough to be in the middle of it all. It was really one of the most incredible experiences I have ever had.

Now, let’s compare that to my most recent change. Continue reading

We're Here!

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We’re finally here!

Ok, we’ve been here for about two and a half weeks now, but we’re officially here in blog world. It’s been plenty of time to learn a few things about the place and to start exploring some of the hidden spots nearby.

Three Things I Have Learned About Living in Oman So Far

  • I will learn patience by being here. I hope.
    • Things happen slowly here. I know, I know, I am meant to be the one who touts the ideals of slowness, but sometimes slow is frustrating. It’s particularly frustrating when there is not a thing you can do to influence the speed in any way. You have to just accept that it will take twice the time you think it might, even if you have already prepared for double the amount of time you think it will take. That’s just the way it is. Have some tea and relax into the phrase insha’Allah. This is good practice for me, but man is it hard sometimes!
  • Winter is a relative term.
    • Someone yesterday asked me if I agreed that it was a little too cold. I did not agree (although I pretended to to be friendly). In the deepest darkest of night last night it was 65F/18C. We slept under light blankets with the window wide open. It is not cold.
  • I really like it here.
    • Despite frustrations about flat hunting, bureaucracy about visas and general disagreement about why some things must happen the way they do, I am really enjoying it so far. The aforementioned frigid temperatures are just right for me. I have met a lot of really lovely, very friendly, totally laid back and enjoyable people. We might have a flat to live in in the next couple of days; a little home of our own after years of temporary living. That might even happen today. Insha’Allah.

Our First Official Hike

One of the things I am most excited about doing in Oman is exploring the natural wonders it has to offer. There are wadis that need hiking, dive sites that need visiting, and sand dunes that need Jeeping. So much to do! My best Christmas present may have been this stack of books and maps about Oman. I am dying to start working through them!

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We have been flat hunting on the weekends, so we haven’t had a lot of time to get out and about yet, but we did manage to sneak in a little hike in the city last week and it was beautiful. We saw incredibly dramatic scenery and stopped to watch lots of little creatures going about their days. Plus, we had the whole place to ourselves. Without anyone else around or any sounds from the city, it felt like we were in the middle of nowhere and yet we were still home in time for lunch. Continue reading

We’re Here!

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We’re finally here!

Ok, we’ve been here for about two and a half weeks now, but we’re officially here in blog world. It’s been plenty of time to learn a few things about the place and to start exploring some of the hidden spots nearby.

Three Things I Have Learned About Living in Oman So Far

  • I will learn patience by being here. I hope.
    • Things happen slowly here. I know, I know, I am meant to be the one who touts the ideals of slowness, but sometimes slow is frustrating. It’s particularly frustrating when there is not a thing you can do to influence the speed in any way. You have to just accept that it will take twice the time you think it might, even if you have already prepared for double the amount of time you think it will take. That’s just the way it is. Have some tea and relax into the phrase insha’Allah. This is good practice for me, but man is it hard sometimes!
  • Winter is a relative term.
    • Someone yesterday asked me if I agreed that it was a little too cold. I did not agree (although I pretended to to be friendly). In the deepest darkest of night last night it was 65F/18C. We slept under light blankets with the window wide open. It is not cold.
  • I really like it here.
    • Despite frustrations about flat hunting, bureaucracy about visas and general disagreement about why some things must happen the way they do, I am really enjoying it so far. The aforementioned frigid temperatures are just right for me. I have met a lot of really lovely, very friendly, totally laid back and enjoyable people. We might have a flat to live in in the next couple of days; a little home of our own after years of temporary living. That might even happen today. Insha’Allah.

Our First Official Hike

One of the things I am most excited about doing in Oman is exploring the natural wonders it has to offer. There are wadis that need hiking, dive sites that need visiting, and sand dunes that need Jeeping. So much to do! My best Christmas present may have been this stack of books and maps about Oman. I am dying to start working through them!

IMG_8922

We have been flat hunting on the weekends, so we haven’t had a lot of time to get out and about yet, but we did manage to sneak in a little hike in the city last week and it was beautiful. We saw incredibly dramatic scenery and stopped to watch lots of little creatures going about their days. Plus, we had the whole place to ourselves. Without anyone else around or any sounds from the city, it felt like we were in the middle of nowhere and yet we were still home in time for lunch. Continue reading