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Friday, June 27, 2014

What meditation has taught me or The shrinking ego

Recently I took a couple blows to the ego. 

During a hike at my daughter's year end field trip, I slipped on a wet fallen tree trunk while crossing a giant puddle... and fell to my disgrace, butt first, in the swampy water, in front of a crowd of students, teachers, and parents. It wouldn't have been so bad if I hadn't just declared something along the lines of "Okay everyone, let me show you how it's done". Turns out the "hiking expert" (me) should have paid more respect to Mother Nature's quirks. Splooooosh!

But the worst blow to the ego did not originate in the physical world. It came from the world of ideas. Three weeks ago, I started a new class, a guided meditation class to be exact. After the first session, feeling slightly enlightened, I walked up to the instructor to thank her, and added what I thought were some sagacious words of my own to the already full suitcase of wisdom she had delivered that night. (My intervention had to do with running and meditation, and since our instructor used to be a runner, I thought she would appreciate.) She listened to me attentively, nodded, smiled, asked me what my name was again. When we parted I was confident I had made quite an impression on her. And I was right... to some extent. The following week, as she was discussing various ways of meditating for the benefit of the group, she quoted me as follows:

"There was a lady here last week... I don't see her today [scans the room, looks at everyone including me]... no, she's not here today... anyway, that lady came talk to me after the session and said this about her meditation practice [insert my clever words]."

I held back an incredulous look. What do you mean "she's not here today"? I'm sitting right in the front row here, staring at you as you are quoting me, instructor!

I felt like raising my hand, pointing to myself, telling everyone I was the smart cookie who those groundbreaking remarks came from.

But I didn't. I sat there silently as I watched my intellectual property being ripped from my egotistical identity.

The instructor had remembered my words, but not my name nor my face. She had focused on what really mattered, sharing my little input with the class. Who that input initially came from made no difference at all.

My instructor is the wise one. I am the shallow, narcissistic one. Why do I feel that I need to be personally congratulated for my ideas? Why isn't it sufficient that those ideas are out there to - hopefully - touch one or two souls?

But I had to be sitting there uncomfortably to realize that it does not matter whose words those she quoted are. It does not matter at all! My ego has been playing tricks on me. I can - and I should - share, but I need not claim anything.

Although I have been practicing meditation (on an off) for years now, it is obvious that I still have a lot to learn. Hopefully I am on my way there. What have I learned in all those years?

  • I have learned that slowing down, quieting your mind and finding your center can be extremely uncomfortable at first. This is because we are not used to it: "Society is organized in a way that even when we have leisure time, we don't know how to use it to get back in touch with ourselves. We have millions of ways to lose this precious time - we turn on the TV, or pick up the telephone, or start the car and go somewhere. We are not used to being with ourselves and are trying to escape from ourselves". (Thich Nhat Hanh)

  • I have learned that even with the best intentions in the world, we will encounter many obstacles while meditating; the incessant flow of thoughts that won't leave us is a common example. Our mind will play tricks on us as we try to let go. One woman in our group mentioned that she had tried visualizing floating about in the sea with beautiful fish, but that every time she starts feeling relaxed, a big, ferocious shark appears in her virtual ocean, threatening to devour everything and everyone in sight. So much for peacefulness! Other examples include an overwhelming desire to scratch yourself or to sneeze in the middle of chanting Om.

  • I have learned that if you meditate often enough, however, clearing your mind will become less of a struggle. In fact, it might even happen spontaneously. More than once I have found myself suddenly empty of any ideas at all, my mind just drifting away blissfully - but still fully conscious - when a minute ago I was still mentally putting together my grocery list.

  • I have learned that a meditative life need not be a motionless life. Yes, when you meditate, you are looking to achieve stillness. But that does not mean it cannot be achieved while walking, or running, even (hence my above mentioned discussion with the instructor).

  • I have learned that without changing anything else to your life, meditation brings about its own butterfly effect. When one meditates regularly, problems that seemed to have no solution become less overwhelming. Questions that seemed to have no answer do not bother you quite as much. Nothing has changed yet everything has changed. You have been granted serenity in the face of life's inevitable uncertainty and adversity.

  • I have learned that regular meditation will teach you to take better care of yourself in all possible ways. Which in turn makes you better at taking care of others.

  • I have learned that when you meditate regularly, everything feels better and tastes better. Even the simplest things. You rediscover pure pleasure out of almost nothing. You stop looking for artificial ways to distract yourself or soothe yourself. Meditation suffices (as opposed to self-medication).

  • I have learned that less is more. In meditation you empty yourself yet feel the fullest you've ever felt. There is no stimulation yet you are fulfilled.

  • I have learned that "out of body experiences" have nothing esoteric or scary to them; they just happen, probably originating from the fact that our focus is completely shifted. When I meditate I often completely lose track of where my hands are and in what position. Unless I wiggle my fingers or open my eyes to look at them, I have no clue whatsoever. As far as I'm concerned I could not even own hands anymore! Feeling separate from one's whole body is only the next logical step.

  • I have learned that even though meditation calls for centering yourself and - eventually - becoming enlightened, that does not take the path we are used to. In deep stages of meditation you don't know anything anymore - you are not even aware that you are a separate entity anymore - yet somehow you suddenly know everything there is to know. There is nothing yet all is there. I wonder if it's the way babies feel in their mother's womb.

  • I have learned that you can yield all the benefits from meditation without the downsides of following some questionable teachings from some questionable religious or cult leader (or guru). In the spiritual world there is good and bad, genuine and abusive, some to take and some to leave. By all means surrender to your needs for spirituality, but never let go of your critical thinking and self-respect (and hard-earned money!)

  • I have learned that meditation needs not be solemn; in fact meditation can (and should) be joyful. Many diligent meditators smile a lot. Even laughter is acceptable. 

  • And slowly, but surely, I am learning humility.

To finish beautifully, some laughter:

For more on meditation: http://happinessdishbestsavouredhot.blogspot.ca/2013/05/when-all-else-fails-meditate.html

And on humility: http://happinessdishbestsavouredhot.blogspot.ca/2012/03/how-to-make-fool-of-yourself-101.html

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Father daughter

Pasukaru76, Flickr

I recently read, in the headlines, about a new study showing that fathers who do more domestic chores have daughters who aspire to nicer careers (click here for article).

I had also read about the importance, for dads, to remain present for their daughters (as opposed to becoming distant) at puberty and after. Some dads might feel uncomfortable during those stages, but girls still need daddy at that point, and maybe even more than before!

This echoes what Dr. Phil (yes, him!) said about the best way to prevent promiscuity and/or pregnancy in teenage girls: a present and attentive father at home, because this ensures that girls will not seek male attention at any cost outside the home.

(Whether you like Dr. Phil or not, I think he had a point there. He was also the one to encourage men to redefine their notion of success outside the boundaries of work - being a great life partner and father is as important to success as having a great career. I can only agree.)

But I don't need any studies or experts to tell me how important a father is in a girl's life. My own experience speaks louder than it all.

You see, I was blessed with a very special father-daughter relationship.

Mind you, my father was not perfect. Nobody is. But that itself taught me something. It taught me that we all have our own baggage to deal with, and that it permeates everything we do, including parenting. That we all give what we have, but that we cannot give what we don't have. That no matter what that baggage is, there is a way to handle it and move forward.

Dad, you made a difference in the woman I became in so many ways:

  • By sharing your love of the outdoors and of "roughing it"; thanks to that I am not afraid to get dirty; I can put up a tent, start a fire, use a compass, and generally speaking enjoy a "low-maintenance" kind of life.
  • By sharing your love of water in general, and of swimming and lifeguarding in particular; thanks to that I had the best student and summer job ever!
  • By sharing your love of physical activity, and by taking me on father-daughter dates such as afternoons of hiking, downhill skiing, or simply a game of tennis; thanks to that I am still active to this day.
  • By sharing your love of the intellectual pursuit, more specifically the importance of 1) science, 2) critical thinking, 3) accurate and precise vocabulary; thanks to that I have an insatiable hunger for knowledge.
  • By sharing your love of the spiritual pursuit through yoga, meditation and spiritual readings; thanks to that I see further and deeper than the visible and the tangible.
  • By being enthusiastic, funny and witty; thanks to that I know that humor is a great antidote to tension and worry.
  • By telling me I was smart, mature, strong, capable, and beautiful, and that you were proud of me... over and over and over again; thanks to that I am confident in my own value and abilities.
  • By being so open about discussing feelings and opinions; thanks to that I have become emotionally fluent, and not afraid to share my thoughts.
  • By being strong enough to say "I'm sorry" when you had been impatient and shown your annoyance at my own imperfections; thanks to that I expect respect and openness in all relationships.
  • By teaching me how to treat others with dignity and kindness, especially the boys who had a crush on me when that crush wasn't returned; you taught me that males can be vulnerable and that it's not okay to take advantage of that vulnerability; thanks to that I - hopefully - treat others better.
  • By not judging my - sometimes poor - choices in boyfriends, but then being the first to comfort me when those relationships ended; thanks to that I "might" be able to shut my mouth when my own daughters introduce me to their first love!
  • By showing your love and affection and support to mom daily, which set the standard I would be looking for in my life partner later. (I have been with him 16 years now and he hasn't failed my - high -expectations! He's also, guess what... a great father to our two daughters!)

Dad, the only thing you really did wrong was to leave my life way too soon. But you still managed to teach me something through it:

  • That I better enjoy the presence of my other parent while she's still here (hey mom!)
  • That people are never really gone, even when they are not in this world anymore.

Dad, I don't know if you can hear me, but I definitely still talk to you, and sometimes, well, it really feels like you are still talking to me too.

Friday, June 13, 2014

This crazy society

Moyan Brenn, Flickr

Happy Friday!

I'm in a good mood today, yet I feel the need to rant about our crazy society. It happens once in a while. I hope you bear with me. What I hope even more is that you will share your thoughts in the comments.

But first a little parenthesis, the answers to our literary quiz:

  1. Dumas, Alexandre: The Count of Monte Cristo (1844) - b
  2. Fielding, Henry: Tom Jones (1749) - d
  3. Fitzgerald, F. Scott: The Great Gatsby (1925) - g
  4. García Márquez, Gabriel: Chronicle of a Death Foretold (1981) - f
  5. Homer, The Odyssey (Antiquity) - c
  6. Scott, Walter: Ivanhoe (1820) - h
  7. Steinbeck, John: East of Eden (1952) - e
  8. Tolstoy, Leo: Anna Karenina (1877) - a

Now on to the rant. Here are the topics that irk me.


It seems like nobody cares. I keep seeing idling cars everywhere. I could understand when it was minus 25 ºC (-13 ºF) outside, but the temperatures these days are between + 10 and the early twenties (between 50 and 75 ºF). You stop your car for a minute? Shut the engine! That applies to:

  • waiting in line at the drive-through
  • dropping something or someone off
  • stopping to chat with someone
  • etc. 
  • Do it!


This takes me to the next topic, consumerism. Last night I was doing something I rarely do, i.e. watching TV. Since I almost never sit in front of the tube, I haven't reached the "blasé" mindset when it comes to commercials. I still pay attention. The message, the images, still reach my conscious mind before they make their way to the unconscious level. And I can tell you, if you didn't know it already, that we are a full-blown consumerist society. It's scary, really. Stuff, stuff, stuff, and more stuff. Everything material, superficial, and bad for either the environment or our health (or both). I can't stand it! Please don't fall prey to advertisement. It's there to get you, and all it wants is your money, NOT your well-being!


Our approach to health is so completely misguided I don't even know where to begin. We avoid gluten yet eat bacon (and big portions of red meat). We cut on the fruit (too much sugar) but drink pop. Regular or diet, as if the latter was healthier (think again!) We think produce (especially organic produce) is too expensive, yet we order $4.75 lattes. And even when we do manage to eat relatively healthy, we still eat too much (see more on this and Dr. J's "3 word diet" here).

Instead of dealing with things we eat our emotions. Instead of going to bed earlier we snack late at night. I know because I do it. I'm a healthy woman yet it's a constant battle. Hopefully being aware is the first useful step.

And I'm not even talking about our sedentary lifestyle. We can't even walk a kilometer, we have to take the car. We don't even have time to go to the gym, we're too busy wasting precious hours online. We don't have enough energy for exercise... but exercising regularly is precisely the best way to feel more energetic!

We're lying to ourselves in all impunity (yet the consequences don't lie). Sometimes I think we don't even want to know what's healthy and what's not. I was once talking to a friend about how I limit my consumption of "cold cuts" (nitrates) and of cleaning products (relying instead on baking soda, lemon juice and vinegar); she dismissed me with a short sentence: "Let's not freak out!"

The next generation

One thing that strikes me about the next generation is that they "should not and cannot be made uncomfortable". Or upset. At any cost. Their life has to be pleasant. And easy. We do everything for them. We expect little of them. They are not to be held accountable for their choices and behavior. There are no consequences. It's all la-la land and let's all smile and skip around and eat marshmallows! We even "drug them" with sweets and screens so that they won't ever experience boredom or sorrow or frustration or anger.

Before you call me a grumpy old lady, look around, and you will see. I am all for making childhood (and teenage years) enjoyable and wonderful, but I am also all for building our kids' strength and confidence and resourcefulness and work ethic and selflessness. This won't happen without a certain level of discomfort, believe me.


We might be trying to convince ourselves of the contrary, but gender categories are still very rigid and mutually exclusive. In many environments there is a tacit segregation of genders: women hang out with women, men hang out with men. Children's birthday parties are gender exclusive: all girls or all boys. Gender roles in the house, at work and in our hobbies are still very stereotypical (ask yourself if the chores you do, the job you have and the hobbies you enjoy are typical to your gender or not; observe your own demeanor, the way you present yourself, the choices you make - is it really based on your personal preferences, or do you unconsciously go for what is expected of you?) We might tolerate a little bit of experimentation outside of gender boundaries, but not that much, and we feel the need to put a tag on it: "Oh, she's a tomboy". What's for sure is that we cannot tolerate gender ambiguity. Why? For goodness' sake, people always assume my dog is a male because her collar is blue!!! Can't we be a little bit more flexible?

Inequality, poverty and prejudice

We are so suspicious, distrustful and even scared of difference, we don't even begin to try to understand (plus, we can't envision losing any of our privileges). We want to put everyone in neat little boxes. We negate historical, economic, political, cultural and personal context. And if someone else suffers, it's always their own fault, right? Well here's my two cents: when people act a certain way, there's always a reason. Always. It might not be a good reason, and the consecutive behavior might not be acceptable, but punishing without looking for the cause is like putting a band-aid on a malignant tumor.

We are sometimes so busy being judgemental of others we fail to see how imperfect we personally are. We are sometimes so busy criticizing what strangers do that we tolerate things that hurt us directly in our own homes.

Louis CK about racism and inequality
Funny but not so funny at the same time

The antidote to it all: back to the basics

The meditation series I registered for began this week. Our wonderful instructor reminded us that when you add meditation to your life, when you find your center and welcome stillness, all kinds of things happen and fall into place:

  • you have a quieter mind (i.e. you feel less anxious about all the little stresses in your life)
  • you spontaneously treat yourself and others better (i.e. you take care of your health, you take care of your relationships)
  • you are more serene and peaceful (i.e. you can wait in line or in traffic without feeling impatient)
  • you feel more connected to what is inside of you (i.e. you make the right decision by listening to your intuition)
  • you feel more connected to what is outside of you (i.e. you have compassion for other people and everything that is alive on this Earth)

When I drove back from my first guided meditation session, not only was I utterly calm, I noticed my surroundings like never before, namely the beauty of the forest on each side of the road, the glimpse of a smooth lake, the bird songs.

If meditation in its "purest form", i.e. sitting still and thinking about nothing (or letting your thoughts pass like clouds in the sky) is intimidating at first, you can start with guided relaxation, breathing exercises and/or visualization exercises. Relaxing music or nature sounds can help. You can also do yoga postures before you actually settle down to meditate. Not to forget that meditation can also be done (or will sometimes spontaneously happen) if you walk or run at a regular pace for long enough.

Try it! And feel at one with yourself and the universe.


Sunday, June 8, 2014

Classics on the side of the road

David Masters, Flickr

It was a hot, sunny day. (Proof: I was wearing sandals, a rare sighting. I even considered trading my eternal jeans for shorts.)

I was tired physically. (I had spent the previous night at a bachelorette party that took us from a spa to a wine bar to a dessert bar ... and finally to an underground, "clandestine" bar, complete with hidden passages, secret signs and passwords... in all legality my friends!)

I was tired mentally. I was driving my youngest daughter A to the third swimming pool of the day. (Swimming lessons at 8:30 am. Birthday party at the wave pool at 10:00 am. Other birthday party in a backyard pool at 3:00 pm.)

Then, something nice happened.

As I was dropping her off, I noticed what looked like a pile of junk on the side of the road. As I got closer, I realized there were boxes full of books. I kneeled beside the first one, half expecting to find titles such as "Birds of the Southern Shore of Nova Scotia" and "How to Prepare the Best Shepherd's Pie in Town". But familiar names and titles soon caught my eye. Wait a sec, I thought. There's a goldmine of classics in there!

Not one to let such gems toast in the sun, and definitely not one to let those end up in the garbage, I made a selection and went home with my treasure.

(Yes, I know I said in a recent post that I already own too many books! It's my Achilles' heel!)

I want to share my finds, but I won't stop at that. The teacher in me wants to give you readers a little challenge. I will provide you with the list of titles and respective authors, then with incipits - the first sentence(s) of each novel. You will have to pair them. I will provide the answers in my next post. Good luck!

In alphabetical order of author:

  1. Dumas, Alexandre: The Count of Monte Cristo (1844)
  2. Fielding, Henry: Tom Jones (1749)
  3. Fitzgerald, F. Scott: The Great Gatsby (1925)
  4. García Márquez, Gabriel: Chronicle of a Death Foretold (1981)
  5. Homer, The Odyssey (Antiquity)
  6. Scott, Walter: Ivanhoe (1820)
  7. Steinbeck, John: East of Eden (1952)
  8. Tolstoy, Leo: Anna Karenina (1877)

Now the incipits, in random order:

a) All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.

b) On the 24th of February, 1815, the lookout at Notre-Dame de la Garde signalled the three-master, the Pharaon from Smyrna, Trieste, and Naples.

c) By now the other warriors, those that had escaped head-long ruin by sea or in battle, were safely home.

d) An author ought to consider himself, not as a gentleman who gives a private or eleemosynary treat, but rather as one who keeps a public ordinary, at which all persons are welcome for their money.

e) The Salinas Valley is in Northern California. It is a long narrow swale between two ranges of mountains, and the Salinas River winds and twists up the center until it falls at last into Monterey Bay.

f) On the day they were going to kill him, Santiago Nasar got up at five-thirty in the morning to wait for the boat the bishop was coming on.

g) In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I've been turning over in my mind ever since. "Whenever you feel like criticizing any one", he told me, "remember that all the people in this world haven't had the advantages that you've had".

h) In that pleasant district of merry England which is watered by the river Don, there extended in ancient times a large forest, covering the greater part of the beautiful hills and valleys which lie between Sheffield and the pleasant town of Doncaster.

Time to put your answers in the comments (or simply comment on anything else this post inspired you)!

What is your favorite excerpt, and why?

What classics (or what books in general) have made a difference in your life?

Do you have any Summer readings planned? 

Do you believe in serendipity?

Quite another Tom Jones!

Saturday, June 7, 2014

An annual pilgrimage

Peggy's Cove

Almost 7 years ago, we moved to Nova Scotia (for D's job).

One of the main reasons I accepted to leave my natal province and one of my favorite cities in the world (Montreal) was the irresistible call of the ocean. I had always had a fascination for Poseidon's world and his delightful offerings, but had only had occasional access to it. Apart from the 3 years we lived in Senegal (Western Africa), where we could go to the beach every weekend and eat fresh fish every day, my contact with the sea was a yearly happening: we would go to Boston for Easter, or drive further down to the Carolinas during the summer. Each time it was a big event. As soon as we would get the first glimpse of the "great blue soup", we would become all excited in the car and start singing ocean songs:

La mer, by Charles Trenet

The first time we came to Nova Scotia was 4 months before the actual move. We only had a few days to find a house, but we managed to squeeze in a visit to my friend Poseidon. Not sure which coastal spot to go to, we opted for Peggy's Cove, a well-known touristic place not far from the city. We were not disappointed: this tiny fisherman village with huge rocks and a big lighthouse overlooking the deep blue sea truly is a must see. I remember standing there looking at the horizon, listening to the sound of the waves, smelling and feeling the sea spray on my skin after a wonderful (and cheap) lobster meal, and thinking "I can't believe we're going to live less than half an hour from the ocean from now on!"

Since then we have explored many nooks and crannies of our new province, bays, coves and inlets, cliffs and promontories, piers and docks, beaches and hiking trails. Each spot we visit provides us with a unique and renewed appreciation for the ocean. I am not tired of it yet.

With a new life come new traditions, and one of ours is to travel back to Peggy's Cove (a half-hour drive) every month of June, usually around my birthday, for a lobster supper and a hike on the rocks. We were there yesterday. Today I am sharing some pictures we took on this occasion, plus other views of the Nova Scotian salt waters. Enjoy!

(As usual, click on a photo to enlarge it.)

Peggy's Cove, 2014
Walking to the lighthouse
Poseidon is in a bad mood, and so is Aeolus!

Peggy's Cove, 2014

On a nicer day...
Halifax, 2010

Halifax, 2010

Pictou in the winter
A slightly different view of the ocean

And a favorite spot, the Cabot Trail!!!
(Cape Breton Island)

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Simple living: do it your own way

Tammy Strobel, Flickr

As my readers know, I've been interested in simple living (also called minimalism, or voluntary simplicity) for a while. In fact, I read my first book on the topic, La simplicité volontaire (Serge Mongeau - click here) more than 10 years ago. The seed was sown; I was gradually going to make choices that were consistent with the ideal of simple living.

That being said, I think it's important to note that I did NOT sell all my stuff, become a penniless artist, start raising goats and move into a tiny trailer (or whatever your stereotype of simple living is).

You see, simple living can take many forms. 

Myth #1 To live simply, you have to be poor

First of all, simple living is, by definition, a choice. You do it because you want to, not because you have to (although a large section of the population has been forced into it). Second, embracing simple living does NOT mean demonizing money. Money is not evil in itself. Money is a great tool when used properly. It can provide access to freedom and comfort and pleasure, which are valuable endeavors of the human life. There is nothing wrong with having money... as long as this money does not come at the cost of something else that is important to you. Two examples that come to mind are 1) making a lot of money by working too hard at something you don't enjoy (and missing on life as a consequence), and 2) making a lot of money at the expense of other people. 

The big question here is: can one really make A LOT of money by doing something meaningful and without exploiting others? Is it acceptable that so many people will never be able to afford a concert or hockey game because the tickets are too expensive, all the while professional singers and athletes are so wealthy? You'll tell me it's the way capitalism works, supply and demand and blablabla, but still. As for "traditional business": according to Forbes, "CEOs earn 331 times as much as average workers, 774 times as much as minimum wage workers" (click here for article). And that's without mentioning the effects of globalization on pay and work conditions. Who's comfortable with that state of affairs? Not me!

Oh, and speaking of being poor, who's the poorest, between the one who owns a lot but who's in debt, and the one who owns little but has not debt? Food for thought...

Myth # 2 To live simply, you have to DIY

If that was true, I would be in deep trouble since neither D nor I are very handy. As I like to say, we mostly live in our brains: many great ideas, but no clue how to actually do or make or build things. We do grow fruit and vegetables, but we're far from being self-sufficient. Very far. We highly admire our friends and neighbors who show resourcefulness when it comes to manual work. To be honest, we are almost envious of them. But we won't let our flaws detract us from living simply.

Myth # 3 To live simply, you have to renounce life's pleasures

If it was the case I would be the last one to embrace simple living! But rather than renouncing pleasure, simple living reorients it toward things that might be less material and more meaningful. Simple pleasures are less expensive and less complicated, like really taking the time to admire a sky, or borrowing some good books at the local library (two of my free guilty pleasures). I also love listening to the silence or to nature sounds (real ones, not on a tape!) When was the last time you did this? Embracing simple living might also mean spending the money you do have on things that really mean something to you and have more chances of making you happy in the long run. In my case, that would be traveling (on a shoestring, indulging only occasionally - and NOT bringing back any souvenirs! The experience and the memories are the source of pleasure, as opposed to anything tangible.) By moving pleasure from the material to the non-material sphere, not only do we lower the risk of becoming encumbered with stuff (which usually requires space and maintenance), we also get to focus on what matters. I remember my father-in-law mentioning an acquaintance of his whose main topic of discussion is usually his latest material acquisitions: "Look at my new car!" "Did I show you my new back splash?" "Wait 'till you try my new jacuzzi". There's nothing wrong about being excited about stuff you like, until it becomes your central interest in life.

When you simplify your life, a funny thing happens: you start enjoying things that you used to not even notice. Life's pleasures take on a new meaning. Currently, most of us are deafened by the "noise" of abundance and constant stimulation, so much that we often are unable to appreciate the simplest things in life. As a consequence, we need a lot to remain happy and entertained (or sedated from our daily frustrations): purchases, activities, electronics, media, alcohol and other drugs to name but a few. Simplifying has taught me that well-being is inside of me, not outside, and that the most basic things can fulfill me. As I said to D recently while we discussed wilderness camping plans: as long as I'm warm and dry and fed, active, learning new things and having meaningful human interactions, I will be happy. I don't need much else.

Kyle Taylor, Flickr

Practical exercise # 1:

Here's a little exercise for you: for a month, refrain from talking about your stuff at all. You are not to mention any shopping you've done or anything else you own, including clothes or decorative objects or things you got for your kids. Instead you will talk about non-material topics. Let me know how long you last!

Truth # 1 Simple living changes your life completely... for the better

Because I refused to hop on the bandwagon of materialism, I have made choices that maximized my quality of life. Unlike the majority of women of my generation, I did not focus on my career and send my kids to daycare. Coming from an ambitious and capable feminist, this decision struck some of my friends as peculiar. I had to remind them that feminism has given us women the option of either having a career or not. When my youngest child entered school, I started instilling some more time and energy into my career, and I have been upping the input ever since then. But freedom and quality time with my family has remained a priority. Sure, I am not where I would be (career wise and money wise) if I had focused on paid work from the start, but believe me, I have never regretted my choice. I did what felt right for me (I understand that other women might feel differently) and enjoyed it aplenty. 

Other non-conventional habits I have are to avoid TV and women's magazines like the plague, because they are the modern "sirens" who lure us into consuming and consuming and consuming. I am also wary of shopping malls and stores in general, because I know how they make me feel: they make me feel like there are so many things I want (or worse, need) when in fact I had never thought of them before seeing them in shop windows!

Truth # 2 Simple living is environmentally friendly

I feel like by consuming less, I'm doing some good for the environment. I buy less, reuse more. Speaking of which, I have recently started shopping at thrift stores and I am amazed at the discoveries I've made. I knew I had to try when I realized the most stylish friend I have shops almost exclusively in thrift stores. There, high quality items (that look new) for a fraction of the price await the keen eye. You should give it a try! (Keeping in mind that shopping is not a pastime, but rather something you do when you really need something.)

Truth # 3 Simple living means making informed choices that are consistent with your personality and values

We are bombarded with temptations to consume. If we were to trust the media on it, there is so much we need in order to finally be happy! I refuse to fall prey to advertisement. I also refuse to fall prey to keeping up with the Joneses. Whatever I acquire, I acquire it because I am certain it's worth the price, and certain that I will like it and use it a lot. Interestingly, when you really take the time to stop and evaluate your purchases, very few of them answer those criteria. Truth is, we can make without most things. We already have all that we need, and the only reason we are looking for more is because it will provide us with a short-lived thrill that has nothing with long-term happiness.

Here are examples of things D and I don't have that 90% of our friends have:

  • a smart phone
  • a second car, TV or phone
  • high-end appliances (they're rather low end if you want to know)
  • kitchen accessories in duplicates or that we don't use on a daily basis
  • a collection of innumerable cosmetic products (with one exception, see below)
  • a finished basement
  • a garage
  • a paved driveway (we live in the woods anyway!)

Honestly, I don't miss those things the least. 

On the other hand, and since this is a work in progress, I probably still own too many:

  • workout clothes
  • bathing suits
  • lip balms
  • earrings
  • pens
  • books (although I have slowed down drastically and made public libraries my best friend)

I could probably go for a very long time without buying any of those. And many other things, come to think of it.

What do you think you have too many of, and what do you think you're doing a great job at keeping in check?

Practical exercise # 2:

Here's another little exercise for you: for a month, refrain from buying anything at all, with the exception of necessities such as food and toilet paper. You are not to acquire anything new. Instead you will focus on finding your pleasure in the non-material sphere. Let me know how and when you become enlightened!

How does it feel to live simply?

By consuming less and by focusing on the simple, meaningful things, I feel

  • light
  • peaceful

A wonderful feeling for sure!

Practical exercise # 3:

These next months, try (or bring back into your life) a simple activity that helps you feel light and peaceful. I have just registered for a series of meditation sessions and for outdoor yoga classes, but those are only 2 examples. What are your examples?

The million dollar question:

Here is a new twist to the eternal "lottery winning question": If you had little money but all the free time in the world, what would you do? To me, things that come to mind are:

  • spending time with family and friends (without having to watch the clock)
  • reading to my heart's content
  • writing to my heart's content
  • listening to music
  • listening to the birds or to the rain
  • running
  • hiking
  • doing yoga
  • sitting on the beach or by a campfire
  • volunteering for causes that I find important
  • cuddling with my dog
  • just daydreaming

All things that I do right now, but not quite as much as I wish I did.

Some final inspiration

Before we part, I would like to recommend this short video of a couple who's chosen to live very simply. Those people (especially the young woman) were tired of commuting for 2 hours every day, doing a job that's not fun, feeling the need to drink every night and being rather unhappy. Without becoming as extreme as them (unless you feel like it, then why not), their testimonial is refreshing and inspiring. Some quotes:

"Time is a non-renewable resource that you don't get back."

"Do you really want to spend your time working at a job you hate to buy crap that you can't afford?"

"What I do for money now is fun. I don't think a lot of people can say that about their job. The only reason I got here is because I made really conscious choices."

You can see the video here (click on link): http://www.theatlantic.com/video/index/372029/the-american-dream-is-alive-and-its-really-tiny/

Sunday, June 1, 2014

I spy...

... signs of spring!

Apple blossom...

Plum blossom...



This mysterious plant...

But the sure sign that spring is here is the following: while I was taking all those pictures around the house, I was being devoured by a swarm of black flies. Welcome to our cold latitudes!

What do you like most about spring?