Showing posts with label happiness. Show all posts
Showing posts with label happiness. Show all posts

Welcome to 2011

It's  beautiful, sunny New Years day in Luang Prabang, Laos. Yesterday we ended the year with a 34 kilometer bike ride (up mountains) that almost finished us off, a stop in a hill tribe village to take polaroids of the kids and leave them as gifts (they were amazed!), a wander through some of the most beautiful waterfalls I've ever seen, a visit to an Asiatic bear sanctuary, a lovely meal, watching dozens of handmade paper lanterns float up into the night sky, and a count down at the stunningly beautiful local bar Utopia. It was pretty much the most perfect way to end the year and I couldn't have dreamed up anything better.

We stumbled home along the river, slightly tipsy and a little bit achey from our bike ride, but happily calling out "Sabaidee Pi Mai", which means happy new years in Laotian, to passersby and settled into our little room for a long sleep. This morning I was briefly woken up by the resident rooster and then again around 9 am by the sound of monks chanting across the street. Then a nice brunch next to the river.

Dan and I have discussed resolutions a lot this New Years and I think I've narrowed mine down to a few basic shifts in behavior that can mostly be boiled down to mindfulness:

  • I want to eat less meat and when I do eat it, I want to be more conscious of what it is I'm consuming. I love animals and in a country like Laos, where water buffalo wander out into the street, and chickens are part of the community, it's much harder to divorce what I'm eating from the idea of a living, breathing animal. I just want to be more responsible and aware of what I'm putting into my body and the impact that has on the world. 
  • No more pop for me. It's bad and filled with nasty chemicals and I don't need it in my body. 
  • I want to do a better job of letting things go and spend less of my time dwelling on people and things that make me unhappy. There are so many wonderful things in the world - I don't want to waste any more time on negativity or on trying to work out the motivations of other people. I would like to master the art of throwing up my hands and walking away (in a good way). 
  • I want to do a better job of really committing to my creative writing practice. Setting tangible goals seems like an important things to do so here's mine: 5,000 words a week creative writing. Doesn't matter what it is, doesn't matter if it's any good, what matters is that I put in the time. 
  • Be more mindful of how I'm spending my time and do a better job of setting hard daily goals so that I spend less time floating around the internet without any direction. 
  • Move my body more. The bike ride yesterday was hard and I don't know that I'll be doing 30+ km uphill on a regular basis, but it felt good to by physically active. I want to spend more time walking, swimming, biking ... I don't want exercise to be something I need to go to a gym to do, but something that is just part of how I live my life. When I see the kids running around here playing, I'm reminded that our natural state is to move through the world and to take pleasure in doing it. I want to remember what it's like to enjoy my physicality. 
  • Career wise, I want to keep moving forward, keep feeling excited and inspired by what I'm doing and continue to surround myself with passionate, creative people. We started Contentini: Content Strategists this year and it's been more successful than I could have imagined (thanks clients!). I've done a lot of thinking and writing about web content - something I'm passionate about - and have had some great responses. The idea of content strategy as a professional focus is still relatively new and I am beyond excited to see how it evolves over the next year and how my own practice will change with it. 
I hope you all had a peaceful and joyous New Years and that you're as excited for the year ahead as I am. We've got another few days in this country that I've fallen completely in love with and on January 3rd we fly to Hanoi, Vietnam. I will be sad to leave Laos and I'm always a little nervous when visiting a new country but really, I couldn't be in a better place to enter 2011. 


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Life Lessons: Things I've Learned Since Turning 30

I'm not a self-help kind of gal. I'm a bit too cynical for things such as The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People , Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience or the belief that my star sign will somehow reveal some mystical path I'm meant to take. I believe that the 'secret' to finding wealth and happiness is that it's a slog every single day and nothing is guaranteed and that the best way to make friends and influence people is to be yourself; and if that makes you unpopular then bugger them all anyway. As a rule, I don't practice the act of faith and I'm pretty sure that most of what occurs is up to chance and occasionally, if you're lucky, good planning.

Until October of 2008 my life was completely different from what it is now and then four and a half months ago it changed drastically again. In the first instance, the change included selling my house, quitting a job that I loved and leaving my family and friends to move to Cardiff in the United Kingdom. It was a huge step and I can remember how frightened and overwhelmed I felt about it and how excited I was about what my life would look like.

After moving to Cardiff I took a job that I initially enjoyed, was in a relationship and even made friends - all the things one is meant to do after moving to a new place - but I still wasn't happy. If anything, I felt even more stuck than I'd felt before leaving Canada. So I ended my relationship, began a new relationship and eventually moved to London.

It was like the children's game where one person hides something and as the others look for it they are told if they are getting 'warmer', 'colder' or 'red hot'. After this second change I was definitely getting warmer. I loved London, had some wonderful friends there and was in the best relationship of my life. But there were still things that made me really unhappy. I had some bad experiences at work with a group of mean girls (I use the word 'girl' loosely here) and was increasingly feeling stressed and unfulfilled professionally. Because of the intense negativity of that situation it began to feel like a shadow was cast over all the good things. So we decided to make a change, again. Four and a half months later I'm writing this from Melbourne, Australia in a freezing cold little room we've rented in a bustling little neighborhood called St. Kilda where we can get boiled bagels and kosher meat and see orthodox Jews walking around with their tall hats and long curls on either side of their faces. And the sea with Luna Park is only a fifteen minute walk away and there are wonderful markets. Things aren't perfect and they never will be, but so many things are wonderful and I'm so glad we decided to do something about a situation that made us both unhappy.

Image: Luna Park at Night by katclay

And that's it basically. I've learned that if you don't like the direction your life is headed, if people are unkind or going into work makes you feel sick to your stomach, you can change things and you owe it to yourself to at least try. It's scary and depending on your situation it may be more difficult and there may be greater or lesser degrees of risk you are able to take on, but it is possible to throw up your hands and say "this isn't for me so I'm going to try something different". Small changes, big changes, whatever.

Some people will try to tell you that you've got a problem, that you're afraid of commitment, that you're insecure. They will try to make you feel like you need to accept your lot and live with it. Those people are probably just as miserable as you're feeling and are terrified that you'll prove that change is possible, terrified that they'll be left behind. And some people just like being miserable and they'll cradle it for the rest of their lives. Leave them to it.

I am so deeply grateful for all the wonderful people in my life who haven't told me I'm a lunatic for traveling around the world at the ripe old age of 32: my mother, my aunt, my grandparents, my lovely friends (Jackie - I'm looking at you) and all of our clients who just 'get' the concept of what we're doing and who continue to pay us to work on very cool projects regardless of where we happen to be located in the world. Finally, I am most grateful for  Dan who is always so good to me, always an anchor no matter how bat shit crazy I'm behaving at any given moment and who keeps me warm, even in this cold little room in Melbourne in the early spring time.

Sometimes you just have to stop moving for a second an appreciate where you are. And yes, it's enough. More than enough.

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Live Where You Fear to Live

Yesterday the rain started in San Blas, the temperature dropped and the breeze picked up just enough. After six weeks in the heat of the Phoenix desert followed by nearly three in Mexico with very little reprieve from soaring temperatures, the relief we felt at the shift in weather was tangible. As we walked into town for dinner last night under a light cool mist of rain, the streets were filled with glowing puddles and, maybe it was just me projecting, but a sense of relief - a slowness for once not precipitated by the imposing heat and humidity.

Last night, I slept under a sheet for the first time in weeks and I even woke up once at dawn to turn off the fan and cover myself up because I felt a bit too cool. The amazing pleasure of feeling cool - I cannot tell you! Happily the weather has held and after a long dozy sleep-in, we've spent the better part of the day inside the flat reading and writing to the cacophony of birds who seem to be singing more persistently today. It feels like a quiet celebration.


There are a few authors that I've been obsessed with over the years; some of these have stuck and others have fallen away as I find new sources of inspiration. I've loved Sylvia Plath since her Ariel poems and journals sustained me about ten years ago. I had embarked on a misplaced romantic adventure to Northern British Columbia to go to university in a town that literally made my lungs close up from the pollution churned out by the local pulp mills. I'd imagined it would be like living in a Margaret Lawrence or Alice Munro book but instead it was a strange kind of nightmare; we were poorer than I've ever been in my life (or ever hope to be again), I was constantly sick with sinus and bronchial infections and the town and university held a deep hostility towards women and girls that I'd never experienced before. The town was located along the highway of tears and we were always aware of the young women who disappeared - some of them found, their bodies mangled alongside the highway like discarded refuse, others just vanished. Within the town and even the university, women were afraid. I worked in the Women's Centre and so many Monday mornings were spent listening to crying women who had been drugged or raped over the weekend; on one occasion a girl had been chased into the woods behind the school by her boyfriend who was wielding an axe he'd broken out of an 'In Case of Emergency' container in his dorm. She hid in the woods until he finally gave up looking for her or until the police came, I can't remember which.

Over the Christmas holidays that year, I was called at home by a representative of the student's union. He wanted to know if I would participate in a search of the isolated woods on campus for a Russian exchange student who had been missing for over a week. We set out under a cold, steel December sky and finally found her, hanging by her neck from a tall fir that had been felled and was leaning over a big rock. It was declared a suicide, but I've never been able to work out how she managed to get herself up there.

It was a dark, long year. For weeks the sun barely came out and most days, it was through a thick cloak of fog - partly natural and partly pollution from the nearby pulp mills. Sylvia Plath got me through that winter.

A few years later, back in Saskatchewan, I came across Rumi . I think my interest was piqued by the Kate Winslet film Hideous Kinky (story of a young mother played by Winslet who moves to Morocco in search of something meaningful in life), which had a few scenes with whirling dervishes. I've never been a religious person and definitely don't relate to the tangible Sharia laws of traditional Muslim society, but here I was drinking in the words of this mystic poet and completely transfixed with the notion of whirling dervishes - dancing their feet off in ecstatic celebration. I haven't thought about Rumi in awhile, and today I came across this poem quite randomly, on a blog I've never visited before:
…We must become ignorant of what we have been taught
and be instead bewildered.

Run from what is profitable and comfortable.
Distrust anyone who praises you.
give your investment money, and the interest
on the capital, to those who are actually destitute.

Forget safety. Live where you fear to live.
Destroy your reputation. Be notorious.
I have tried prudent planning long enough.
From now on, I’ll be mad.
I feel like I've been trying to find ways to live more fully for years; even though romance has been the excuse for so many of my adventures (to Northern British Columbia, to England), it has really been an excuse for tumbling, albeit a bit naively and blindly, into the world. When my lovely fiancee and I made the decision to begin this around-the-world trip months and months ago, we were on a train between Cardiff and London. We were exhausted and unhappy with so many things and ground down by unkind acts by a few negative, ruthless people (at the time it seemed like there were so many of them, but with distance, I can see that there were actually only a small handful); as it became a real possibility, this journey became a way of finding places and experiences to remind us of how exciting and fresh life can taste - to reconnect with the possibility of life as an ecstatic and slightly crazy celebration.

I don't know where we are going to end up or if we'll find any answers this year, but more and more, I am beginning to believe in this notion of reckless abandon mentioned above by Rumi. Even in the darkness of my year in Northern British Columbia, I came away with experiences that continue to change me, in ways that I couldn't have imagined or planned for.

Here's to a little bit of madness, with gratitude for the rain fall, the birds songs, this quirky small Mexican town, and for the sighs and keyboard tapping of my love working away in the adjoining room.

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Where I Am Right Now

"The place where you are right now, God circled on a map for you." Hafiz

I am generally not one for inspirational quotes or God talk but I read this quote today on the lovely Meg's blog and it jarred something in me. I've been fighting Mexico a little bit; the physical discomfort, the strangeness and the inconvenience of so many things compared to what I'm used to. But today, I'm feeling really good about being here. It's the first truly overcast day we've had since arriving so the weather is cooler, there's a sea breeze making the curtains next to my bed float up and down and I've discovered some beautiful, strange things about this town in the last 24 hours that have my brain buzzing with ideas for creative writing and photography projects.

I feel really grateful for a lot of things today and for the first time in nearly a month, in this moment, I feel like I am pretty much exactly where I belong.

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