2020 has been a slow year in so many ways. It peeled itself slowly, layer after layer, confining us, forcing us to stay with ourselves and finally face what, perhaps, has been swept neatly under the rug.
As things are shifting and changing on a personal level, I have taken my time this January to reflect and introspect, not only on my own personal lessons, but on the impact the past year has had on a larger, global scale.
I have to admit that I stopped making New Year’s Resolutions on the brink of a new year some time ago. Instead, I allow myself extra time for reflection, for listening and understanding, for clarity and simplification, foundations on which true change and re-shifting can happen. Without these, our resolutions and goals ultimately fail, as we have seen time and time again.
When I think of last year, I think of the simple things that brought me joy, how the confinement and isolation heightened my awareness of them; the comfort of well known routines and feel-good habits that made me feel secure in spite of the uncertainty and the unknown that kept on stretching.
The Transformative experience
The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. The most transformative, enriching and empowering experience of last year was, without a doubt, the self-guided 12 weeks course on leading a nurturing and creative life – regardless if you are/define yourself as “creator/creative person”.
I have found the self-reflective exercises from Julia Cameron‘s book to provide me with an immersive, healing experience, whose ripples I still feel, one year later. Julia has many other courses and books that delve into the same topic: of living an authentic, fulfilling and creative life that does not cause burnout, that relies on itself for self-motivation and a sense of meaning, for learning to balance the needs of the creator with those of the many roles we play throughout our daily lives. I truly don’t think you need to be an established “creator” (like a musician, writer, painter, etc) to read the book, do the work and see its benefits, but, I do think that sharing the same vision and spiritual language as the author might help since the themes of “God/Source” and “Universe” are prevalent in the book. It is not a religious book, however, in the traditional sense.
the new habit
Morning pages. I have practiced journaling on and off since elementary school, probably since I started reading and writing, and have even spoken about it on my blog, here and here. However, it was in the past year that I developed the habit of writing first thing in the morning, upon waking up. Everything and anything: dreams, plans, wishes, rants, positive affirmations, fears and frustrations. This also is a tool advocated by Julia in her book, The Artist’s Way (see above).
Implementing and keeping this habit and starting the day with writing everything down, no censure, provides the much needed psychological, spiritual and emotional cleansing that we don’t often give ourselves. We wash our bodies but we fail to wash our minds and souls.
To do them, you don’t even need to read Julia’s book (although I highly recommend it!) but just these three things:
- a notebook
- a pen
I keep a notebook and a pen on my bedside and upon waking up, no matter how sleepy I feel, I grab the notebook and I write. By hand, three pages (at least), continuous writing. Do this, day after day, and you will start to crave it when you skip a day. Cannot recommend this enough.
The greatest joy
By far, has been adopting our puppy. I have been hesitant for quite a while and reluctant to do so, for many reasons. Now, I find it quite interesting how saying “yes” to things that we might have been against of at the beginning can broaden our awareness and enable a development that otherwise would not have happened. It’s like new, fresh branches budding out of a tree in a new direction. Or like motherhood, I imagine.
Since then, I’ve come to sense the relationship that humans have with dogs as something quite special and extraordinary; a relationship that pre-dates our modern and civilized ways, that has been forged on mutual respect, need and collaboration. It feels to me that our connection is almost instinctual, primeval even.
I have spoken about the lessons our puppy taught us here but since then, I have seen even more how much dogs/pets teach us about being human: our vanities, our foibles, our constructed faux scenarios and petty grievances; our impatience. The way they love and live so unconditionally, so spontaneously, without judgment or spite, and the way they are so present in their lives – I find this so, so humbling, inspiring and endearing.
As for cooking and baking, I continued to do both and it was, yet again, one of the most rewarding and comforting experiences. Cooking is a gift that keeps on giving, and such a joyous affair, especially if I can do it/share it with others.
This past year, I re-discovered my love for soups. Starting September, I have made one soup/week, generally on Sundays. Made some old recipes, tried some new ones, but the one soup recipe that I found super comforting and delicious was this white bean soup with bacon and spiced butter. I have made this again, and again, and again. So nourishing, tasty and satisfying. As always, I raise the nutritional value of the soup by adding celery and carrots to the onions, by using fresh white beans that I soak overnight and sprinkle some green onions on top alongside bacon; when feeling lazy, I totally skip the spiced butter but, the soup is so good even without my additions and can be made without the bacon altogether. I use an immersion blender to make it creamy but you can totally use a potato masher/fork and some extra time to get the same results. And, it’s a one pot affair!
Reading has always been a safe haven and the best kind of escapism. I find that nothing brings me more comfort quite like a good book to get lost into.
In the past year, I re-read some of my personal favorites of Rosamune Pilcher‘s like Coming Home, Winter Solstice and September, as well as others that I have not read before. I generally find her work comforting, uplifting and a balm for my soul.
One of the releases of 2020 that truly stayed with me was The Other Bennet Sister, by Janice Hadlow. There has been many adaptations and spinoffs based on Jane Austen’s work and characters, and I have read many of them, but none quite like this one.
What I absolutely loved about this book is how it takes a rather sad, disliked and dislike-able character, that seemed to have mostly lurked around her sisters’ trajectories, and give it its own journey of transformation – from inside out. This, Janice Hadlow does with great care and sensitivity. The journey is long and arduous at times for Mary, but for her to be able to gain her own spotlight, it was much needed.
Fascinating to me was to see her psychological/mental transformation along the way and I felt that the author created a realistic and authentic journey for her character. She has done it by also preserving the major themes, the language and settings of the original work from which it drew its inspiration. Therefore, the changes we witness in the character, the choices she makes/doesn’t are not (only) superficial, like putting a new dress, a new coiffure and boom! she is a new woman – there are some alterations to her exterior but they happen much, much later in the novel, and they are secondary, not primary catalysts of her transformative journey.
I think it is incredibly brave, exciting and interesting to take a minor/lesser known character, that perhaps even its own original creator neglected, and breath a new life into it, giving it the attention and care it deserves. The underdog, the unloved, the unwanted, the neglected, the hopeless; stories of true, authentic redemption and transformation – these are the kinds of stories I want to see and read more of. Janice Hadlow has done this brilliantly in her latest novel.
Okay. I have done it. I have officially joined the Nespresso Club and let me tell you: I love my Nespresso! If you enjoy cappuccinos/espressos, then the Nespresso delivers a consistently good, versatile experience that can be adjusted to your taste and liking. I have been debating about getting one for years but with the pandemic ranging and therefore, reducing the time spent at/visiting my favorite coffee shops, I have finally gave in and bought myself one.
Another selling point for me was the fact that they (in theory, at least) recycle their containers (for free!) and they are not made from plastic. In the meantime, looking into reducing the impact of the capsules even more and making this process even more sustainable, I have discovered this re-usable aluminum pod that works with my classic machine (haven’t purchased it yet but it’s on my list).
At the beginning of the lockdown and during one of my once per week excursions to the grocery store, I stumbled upon a former teacher I was fortunate enough to work with in the past. The conversation we had stayed with me ’til this day.
We were both weary, keeping our distance and our masks one, but when I asked her how she was doing, she replied simply that she was “ok”. No complaining, no hating on the virus and the chaos and turmoil it created. She continued by telling me that, well, she is ok because she is safe at home, she is healthy, she has everything that she needs/can grab it from the store, and her loved ones are only a button away. And how lucky are we that bombs are not flying over our heads and that the only means of communication are not just letters, as so many of our predecessors had to live through. Looking at things from this perspective, it is a wonder to live during times of advanced medical and technological developments that place everything at our fingertips. So much to be grateful for!
This point of view in no way minimizes all the people that have died or suffered during this pandemic, that have lost loved ones or their jobs, that have worked day and night to keep the rest of us, fed, clothed, and safe.
What it tells us is that for each of us, there is an opportunity here. A challenge even. To look at this pandemic and its aftermath and re-evaluate our needs, our wants, our relationships; what stands true and unflinching in challenging times. And what new, different questions we need to ask ourselves, to receive the answers that we desperately need.
And how in each situation that is hard, or unwelcome, we can practice becoming better at looking at it from multiple points of view. And which ones serve us better? which ones make us surrender and accept? then move on with grace and fortitude? and what opportunities we can create for ourselves and those around us, to truly help, heal and support one another? and what skills and new ways we need to unearth or learn in order to adapt to these new circumstances? and what can we offer? what is truly ours, that we can give to the others and still keep our well full?
These are just some of the questions that I have asked myself, time and again, during these last months, as so many things have been shifting on a personal and global level. Tell me about yours.
Much love and good health,
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