In times of inner and/or outer turmoil I need a fixed point – a center of peace to
return to and to rest my mind in. When I feel my heart racing or my head swelling
of unwanted thoughts or emotions I do meditation in its simplest and most direct
form: I stop, close my eyes, turn my face to the sky, and breathe. I am still in
there somewhere, I just have to relax and return to my center. Storms rage, but I
am standing tall. It might take time to get through this, but I can do it, step
by step. Breath by breath.
There are also longer meditations that help in restless times. You can find guided
meditations on the Internet, like “The Lake meditation”, but you have to be comfortable
with the voice and the way of speaking of the person guiding you. Personally, I prefer
listening to such meditation instructions a couple of times before, and then guiding
myself when doing them.
For a “head person” like me the risk of getting stuck in a whirlwind of ever-circling
thoughts is big in times like these, and I constantly need to remind myself of my
physical existence. I need to return to being alive right here and now, return to
my inner center of peace, again and again. Breath by breath.
In times of inner and/or outer turmoil I need a fixed point – a center of peace to
Many of us have strong feelings about music. As an avid music listener myself I love
exploring different styles and genres of music, and it makes me happy every time I
hear a beloved tune or discover something new and exciting. Alas, I am very picky…
Either I love a tune or I literally hate it – there’s no in between. Why can’t I be indifferent, and let music I don’t like just pass by? Probably it’s because music
provokes such intense feelings in me.
This is the wonderful thing about music: it immediately evokes certain images, memories
or feelings, and they can be strong enough to catapult you right into another time and
place, or to people that are long since gone. Every time I hear “Das wohltemperierte Klavier” by J. S. Bach, I just close my eyes and see my father at his little organ down in our basement. When “Albatross” by Fleetwood Mac is being played on the radio, before my inner eye I see myself grooving with my brothers in our flared jeans back in 1975.
I love enhancing my moods by listening to the appropriate music: when I’m feeling
nostalgic I put on my old Beatles’ albums or when I’m in a melancholy frame of mind it is as if I need to listen to music like “Prelude in E minor” by Frédéric Chopin or to the
beautiful melody “After the rain there will always be sun” by Fabrizio Paterlini. When I miss my loved ones I listen to a playlist with songs that remind me of each one of them and immediately my heart fills with gratitude for having these wonderful persons
in my life.
As little girls my daughters felt such a mix of fright, excitement, and joy when they listened to the symphonic fairy tale “Peter and the Wolf” by Sergeï Prokofiev – perhaps they still do! 😉 Even now, closing my eyes, I can see them crouching under the kitchen table, listening intensely, and hiding under a blanket when they heard the french horns, indicating the wolf!
I enjoy my solitude with extra intensity to the music by Peter Scherer /Don Li in “That Land” and honestly, is there anything better than singing along on the top of your voice with a joyful tune like “Tina” by Lucio Bermudez or “Walking on Sunshine” with Katrina and the Waves when you are bursting with happiness?
Internet sites like YouTube are like treasure chests: I explore them in an unplanned criss-cross way and discover lots of new beautiful music. It’s great to create playlists for geographical areas, music genres and moods (you just have to ignore the advertising). Interested in having a peek at one of my playlists? Go to my Soundtracks or Family&Friends playlists on YouTube!
In our fast-paced, technology oriented society public spaces are no longer places
where strangers can meet in a natural way: on buses or trains, on park benches and
at café tables there are hardly any openings for a rapprochement between people
anymore. Everybody is absorbed in their cell phones or in their own little bubble
of music with headphones on, signalling “leave me alone”.
Still I have noticed that these seemingly cut off persons don’t necessarily want to
shut out the outside world: when I discreetly tap one their arms to ask a question
most often they react positively. They smile, answer my question willingly and almost
seem happy to have been contacted. Perhaps they felt a little lonely in their privacy
bubble? However, if you don’t dare to risk what might seem to be an out of the ordinary intrusion, there would hardly ever be any random meetings between strangers, and I think
that is quite sad.
Luckily there are still are people who openly look for communication with strangers,
and luckily there still are places that promote such interaction. One of my favourite
meeting places in the sense off connecting strangers is the Tiny Lumberjack Café in
Lund, Sweden. It is indeed a tiny café, located downstairs in an old house close to
the railway station in this charming city. The interior consists of miscellaneous
pieces of old furniture put together, the decoration is simple yet carefully selected,
and the pastries are few, but home made and delicious (their lemon pie is a dream
and I highly recommend it!).
All this speaks to me, but the main reason why I always return is that this lovely
café is one of very few places in the city where people naturally meet. Partly because
it is so small – you can’t avoid speaking to the other guests on these 15 m2 – and
also partly because the owners are very welcoming, open minded, interested and
interesting people (both of them work as film-makers), who promote communication.
At almost all of my visits, there have been stimulating meetings and conversations,
and I have left the place with a big smile: interaction with strangers is still
possible in our individualised world!
I’d like to strike a blow for small, cosy cafés, where we don’t just retire into our own
private corner, but open up to surprising meetings with The Others. If I had the
financial possibilities I’d open up one myself! ☺
We all know it: we think too much. We spend too much time and energy in our heads,
which leads to everything from headaches to depressions. At work and for solving specific problems it may be necessary, but at least in our spare time we should give our brains
a rest every now and then. When we always think, we forget to feel.
What happens when I actively lead down the “thinking energy” from the brain to the
heart? It becomes “feeling energy”. Give it a try:
• Stop what you are doing and close your eyes
• Take a deep breath and feel the energy that buzzes around in your head
• Visualise a shining channel from your head to your heart
• “See” how the energy from your head slowly slides down behind your face and throat down to your heart, filling it completely
• Notice how your whole body relaxes when the energy flows downwards.
• Notice how your head feels wonderfully empty, light, and calm, vibrating of freshness.
• Feel how your heart expands with all that energy, how it gets warm and shining.
• Feel how that energy warms up not only your heart, but your whole physical being.
I think it’s important to free your head from the heaviness of “thinking energy” every now and then. Doing this beneficent, relaxing exercise to unload your head and fill your heart will make you feel light, fresh and ready for new beginnings.
The difference whether you slouch, or sit and stand straight is very noticeable. Apart of
it being very visible to the rest of the world, you can really feel the difference yourself: the straight position both shows and feels like being filled with strength, self-confidence, energy, and stamina – and a poor posture more or less indicates the opposite.
Somehow a poor position seems to demand less effort, I wonder why? Well, the effort to straighten your back is always worthwhile, as you will see below. So whenever you catch yourself slumping, even if you feel tired and like “I don’t care”, give yourself a push,
take a deep breath and straighten up. Immediately you will feel stronger, happier,
and more confident!
There are physiological reasons behind these changes: sitting or standing in a slouched position forces all your internal organs down, making your stomach protrude and causing physical discomfort. When you slouch, your head and shoulders come forward. This can
lead to jaw pains, headaches, to shoulder and back pains. A bad posture also affects your
energy output, makes you look heavy and out of shape, it causes stress and cuts off
your blood circulation.
Here’s the posture we should try to keep, when standing up: keep your gut sucked in and
hips rotated backward. Keeping our legs completely straight is wrong, because locked
knees may cause trouble for your lower back. Try to keep a slight bend in your knees so
that weight is distributed among your thighs and hips, instead of your spine. Whenever
you’re standing, walking, or sitting, try to keep your head in perfect alignment with
your shoulders and keep your chin tucked in.
One thing that has helped me in getting a better posture is meditation. To be able to
hold my position on a cushion for twenty minutes, concentrating on keeping my mind
silent, I have to sit straight, or there will inevitably be (even more) restlessness
and pain in my body. And as with all the other beneficiary effects of meditation, this
too has a huge influence on the way I live my whole life.
Finally, when you sit or stand straight your chest opens up, the outside air enters freely
into our lungs and Qi – life energy – can move unhindered through you. Your field of
vision is lifted up from the ground and the daylight can enter through your eyes into
your soul. Now, if that isn’t worth the little extra effort….!
Sometimes I feel overwhelmed by my own request to write one blog post a week.
It doesn’t seem much: one small text of around 300 words – that’s nothing! However,
there’s a whole process behind it, and my problem is the starting point: to find a subject. That’s by far the most difficult part. Once I have a subject that speaks to me, the words
come by themselves, more or less.
Often when I sit down to write, my head feels completely empty, as if a heavy wind had
passed through it, swiping away every single thought or idea. There’s only stillness and
the basic vibration of energy. Luckily, most often I come up with something after having
let the pen wander over the paper for a couple of pages. A little idea has been born. Well, what if I don’t push myself to write when the emptiness buzzes in my head? What if I only
close my eyes, feel my heartbeat and stay there? Then no words will be written.
I give myself tasks, or am given tasks by others, and I want to fulfill them. I don’t want
to disappoint anybody! For me, not fulfilling a task I gave myself feels just as bad as not fulfilling one I got from a boss or a colleague at work: as if I’m not living up to my own expectations or my own calling, because “that’s what I’m here for”. Yes, I still let myself
be defined by what I do…
Now, perhaps I have nothing to share this week, nothing to say. Perhaps I’ll just let my
head stay empty and retire into my heart, accepting that I cannot live up to my demand
and that there will be silence. After all, that silence might even be fruitful for next
week’s blog post.
Perhaps you, my readers, have suggestions for themes or topics to write about…? I’d be more than happy to hear them, and I’ll do my best to fulfil those requests – without too much pressure! 😉
When we freeze, we tense up. Is that why people living in warmer southern countries
seem to be so much more relaxed than their brothers and sisters up north…? A good
way to prevent us from spending the whole cold season – basically half the year – in
a constant state of crispation, is to dress up warmly. It seems like an elementary
fact, but it’s often neglected. As I myself am quite a frozen person I long ago realised
that I much prefer to wear the right materials and to put on an extra layer, even if
elegance has to be put aside, than to living in a cold, tensed state.
The main issue is to keep heat in and moisture out; you want to stay warm and dry.
Belonging to the “cotton generation”, I lately rediscovered the wonderfully warm wool.
For winter sports wool is perfect. First of all it retains (body) heat, and secondly
it doesn’t soak up and keep your transpiration, like cotton does. Instead wool absorbs
moisture vapour from your skin and releases it out into the drier air, so you don’t
remain wet. Having a layer of wool next to my body I don’t freeze when I make a pause
during my snowshoeing, as I would have done wearing a cotton T-shirt, that retains
humidity and quickly gets cold.
For outdoor activities the layer principle is king, and nowadays (almost) all my layers,
except the outer, wind-stopping one, are made of wool. Slowly but surely I have replaced
cotton or synthetic sweaters, cardigans, tops and even underwear with woollen ones.
The only clothing item I haven’t yet found in wool are trousers 😉 Any tips on where
to look for woollen trousers?
In the evenings, when I cuddle up on the couch, a soft woollen plaid warms me until the
fire in the chimney has developed fully, and today, everything I knit is made of wool –
except for potholders!
We all have different biological clocks. There are people who aren’t really awake
until after lunch, even if their working schedule forces them to be up and running
already at 7 AM. Other people enjoy waking up with the birds, and start feeling
sleepy in the evening when the party has only just begun.
I definitely belong to the second category. For me, there’s almost a magical feeling
about getting up when it’s still dark outside and everybody else is fast asleep.
The whole world seems to “belong” to me, and when the light slowly returns I already
sit at the breakfast table, greeting the new day with a cup of fragrant tea. Getting
up early makes me feel like I have all the time in the world, and that my energy
level is on top.
I know I’m privileged: our society is built for the early birds, and alas, the night
owls have to adapt. However: most kinds of entertainment start late at night, when
the early birds have already been yawning for quite a while.
The most magical mornings are the very early ones in summertime. I remember getting
up at four in the morning at our summerhouse, quietly leaving the sleeping family
behind, and sneaking off to the sea. There was nobody down at the vast, flat, sandy
beach and the soft, peachy light welcomed me like a warm embrace. Flocks of seagulls
loudly greeted the day as I briskly walked along the shoreline, and beginning the
day like that was like a promise of wonderful surprises. Because of this start,
that day already had a golden shimmer that nothing really could rub off.
However, I still haven’t greeted the day up on a mountaintop. My dream is to spend a
night under the bare sky, and to wake up when the light returns and tinges the peaks
with a warm hue. The whole earth must be glowing with vitality! Now, for safety reasons,
this specific experience needs to be made in company, and I am still looking for the
right persons. Who would like to join me…?
On certain days, when admiring a solitary tree along my hikes; or nights, when gazing
at the distant moon in the vast sky, a certain melancholy overcomes me. More than
otherwise I realise the fundamental fact that I Am Alone.
Now why should that elemental truth trouble me? Deep inside we are all alone. We are
born alone and we will die alone. In fact, the very fabric of our lives is made of
loneliness, or better: solitude.
(For the difference between loneliness and solitude, click here)
Throughout our lives we eagerly look for others to alleviate the feeling of having to
deal with all this fullness by ourselves. We look for the compassionate words from
someone we feel understands us, a steady shoulder to cry on, the smile from a friend
who participates in our happy moments, a warm embrace to hide in. For even if we’re
fully aware of the inherent loneliness in human existence, we can still be equally
aware of our deep need to share the experience of living, to communicate our worries
and joys with people with open eyes, ears and hearts, and to feel the soothing closeness
and warmth of this kind of sharing.
Luckily the positive sides to a chosen solitude prevail over the (few) negative ones.
I truly believe that I would never have been able to “find myself” the way I have done,
living in a tight couple. My creativity is blooming when I am totally free to explore it,
and I deeply enjoy being able to form my life according to my own innermost wishes.
As for companionship, I find that I appreciate it much more if I do not have it all
the time. Absence makes the heart grow fonder.
Living alone is to constantly float in this contradictory state: knowing and enjoying my
human solitude, but softening it in moments of closeness and understanding. Like the black needs the white, the shadow needs the sun and Yin needs Yang.
Standing next to that particular tree with a slightly heavy heart, I start balancing out
the melancholy from inside: I fill my chest with air, push the corners of my mouth
upwards, and try to put some joy into the sad pool of my eyes. After a while the light
enters again, my spirits are raised, and my smile becomes genuine.
Significant for the lifestyle I’ve adopted up here in the mountains is that I spend
hours and hours outside each day. Just like the slogan of a German sports brand puts it: “Draußen zuhause” (At home outdoors).
However, every now and then I allow myself a real House Mouse day, enjoying my cosy
home to the fullest. Then I indulge in all the indoor activities that I adore: writing, reading, drawing, knitting – and cooking.
This year for Christmas I received a wonderful vegetarian cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi,
and during my latest House Mouse day I tried out three very tempting recipes. Afterwards,
as I shared the stunning caramelised fennel with a friend, I remembered a lovely quote by Maya Angelou: “Writing and cookery are just two different means of communication”.
Cooking with passion means that I am aware of what is healthy, that I adore working on
my cooking skills, and – crucial! – that I put all my love and care into each part of
the process. It’s not just a question of nourishing human bodies; it’s also about a deep
wish to communicate lovingly through food with others. When I use healthy and nutritional ingredients and cook with passion the dishes will satisfy both body and mind – down to <
every tiny thankful cell.
When you cook with passion the way you touch a tomato, cut an onion, stir a sauce,
or the seasoning – every gesture – is infused with your love and care. A dish that
is prepared this way will communicate the chef’s care for the food and the dinner
guest indulging in it.
They say that the way to a man’s heart goes through the stomach. I think that goes
for all of us. 😉