Friday, September 28, 2012

Rituals in time

This Sunday past was the perfect Spring equinox. The weather had noticeably warmed, the light seemed brighter and there was a fresh blossominess to the air. Compared to Moscow Sydney's winter is far from serious, yet the one just passed was long and wet. If SAD really is a disorder I know I would have fit somewhere on the spectrum by September's close.

The wonderful thing about feeling a bit low at the end of winter is that the emergence of spring is totally delicious. The year I lived in Vancouver was the coldest winter for 50 years. While the novelty of living in the snow had not yet worn off, the day I saw a yellow blossom poke out from beneath the white blanket I did a jig on the spot, so ecstatic I was to see some colour after all the grey.

Noticing my reaction to this latest change in season had me thinking about how we consider time. So often we only observe it as linear - minute after minute, week after week, year after year going by towards some mysterious end like an accelerating trajectory. What we sometimes fail to notice are cycles that also mark time in a much softer way, bringing us back to ground and gently but consistently reminding us of the beauty and joy of life.

During my annual stay in France I always admire the way French life is lived by cycles of rituals and rhythms. No matter what time of the day, week, or year there seems always a moment to stop and mark a particular point in time with an appropriate ritual, whether it be le 4pm goûter, post church Sunday lunch or celebration of the Epiphany with King cake. Sure, many of these rituals have been born of religious observance, but all the same I find them comforting and delightful. They are the punctuation marks of time. Leaving my friend's apartment on a Sunday morning there is always a distinct smell of something yummy slow cooking close by. I'm usually on my way to a lunch gathering of my own.

Back in Australia, outside celebrating my birthday and having regular breakfast out on Saturdays with friends, I don't have many cyclical time-related rituals. Actually, to tell you the truth I'm even a bit hit and miss when it comes to my birthday. When I consider why this is the case, personally I'm not a routines sort of girl, preferring spontaneity rather than being locked into 'what we always do'. But on a broader scale it's just not an Australian thing to do. As a culture we seem to be hurtling down the American freeway at an ever increasing speed. With so called conveniences like 24/7 shopping and eating we are never forced to stand still. In contrast, I totally love that stores in France are not open on a Sunday except the boulangerie (one can't eat day old bread) and the boucherie for the obligatory rotisserie chicken.

So perhaps we could all do well to take some lessons from the Europeans and inject some time-marking rituals into our everyday, everyweek, and everyyear life. A regular monthly Sunday lunch or a quarterly party to celebrate the new season couldn't hurt now, could they!

Do you have time related rituals? Do you have any ideas?

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Tire puncture

(SYLC 37)

Tyre punctures - the bane of a bike rider’s existence. You’re happily cruising along dodging car doors and bam, it’s a flat. Something sharp put an abrupt stop to a joyful glide.

Yet just lately I’ve discovered a form of puncture that I would welcome at any time of the day. One that leads to total relaxation and relieves tension like nothing else I’ve ever experienced.

The last few months have been pretty stressful. Hang on, make that the last eight years. I’ve been constantly on the go, burning the candle at each end and along both sides at the same time. Totally unsustainable, I kept thinking there would be a time when I can wind down soon. But that just hasn’t happened.  

My good friend P pointed out the obvious need to start taking time out for myself or I’ll crash and burn and be of no use to anyone. He was right of course, but it’s difficult to change the habit of a lifetime. Still, I had to start to break that habit and P suggested acupuncture for a bit of forced relaxation.

A couple of hours spent lying around with needles sticking in my body is relaxing? As it happens it is, very! I was dubious at first as I’m pretty allergic to needles. I’d make a hopeless nurse and could never be a junkie. But James from the UTS acupuncture clinic assured me that it was nothing like getting an injection. As it isn’t – there’s a tiny prick followed by an incredible sense of peace. James giggles when I call it magic.

Since that introduction I’ve been going for a session on a weekly basis, the treatment time ranging from one to two and a half hours. I love it. Lying in the dimly lit room, some soft music playing and me without the ability to move an inch. I can’t reach for my phone and check my emails. Well I could, but it would be a really painful experience. So I just lie there and let me thoughts drift past like soft clouds and relax into the moment. It punctures my stress and tiredness.

This is my first step to carving out some time in my week for self care. I know how important it is, but have had years of putting everyone and everything else first. But I rejoice in my new analogy:

If I don’t attend to my oxygen mask first, it wont be long until I cant help those around me fit theirs. 

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

External aesthetic

(SYLC 36)

Having been a designer for over 20 years I know the power of advertising and packaging. Good design sells, it makes us feel good and makes our lives easier. The psychology behind it is fairly straight forward. Even babies have been shown to be attracted to symmetry and beauty.

Despite knowing this, when it comes to designing myself I've been much more focused on my inner development, afterall,
It's what's on the inside that counts.

Yet I know my focus has been on the inside as I've never felt overjoyed with my exterior. For me packaging myself is a much less fun exercise than improving the contents of the box. We all have things we don't like about our appearance. I've had my weight fluctuate over the years, let exercise fall off the radar, slopped around the house in my trackies and often made the minimal effort when I go out. My wardrobe looks like twenty random people went shopping each with different briefs. There are a few pieces I love, a lot that's ho hum and a greater amount I'm holding onto that fall into the 'I paid too much to throw it out/one day I'll fit back into this' category.

The problem is I don't have a clue as to what my aesthetic is. I have four french style striped long sleeve t-shirts (yes, I wear them all), too many pairs of black pants, some 60's style shift dresses, wrap dresses, 40's style dresses, the list goes on. But no signature looks. Do I need some? Does it bother me? Yes, as these days I'm struggling to pull together enough decent outfits for a week at work.

When I do put the effort in and wear something that I love it feels great. So it's time I built a wardrobe full of pieces I love to wear, and where at least one item goes with one other. It might take some time, but now is the time to start.

To build up some ideas I've started to use Pinterest to collect looks I love. I also regularly checkout my friend M's Sleekit blog for ideas (love her cheeky style) and Stockholm Street Style.

What's my plan of action?
  1. Get everything out of my wardrobe and be ruthless. If it doesn't scream 'me', is well beyond it's use by date or if I'm seriously unlikely to fit into it ever again, it's time to go. 
  2. Get some clear ideas as to what I need to buy. I need to think about occasions, be realistic about my shape and what looks good on me. 
  3. When I go shopping I'll keep these visuals in my head so I can focus on what suits me and where the gaps lie.
  4. I'll put the extra effort in to get ready when I go out. I know it makes me feel better, so its definitely worth the time. 
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Saturday, September 8, 2012

Life lessons

(SYLC 35)

Anyone who's been reading my posts lately knows I'm a bit obsessed with Sarah Wilson and her blog. Ever since I spotted her I Quit Sugar program and the fact that she's a bike nut I've been following her reflections.

A few months ago she took off for some time out in Europe and it read like a journey of discovery. I know the power of solo travel, it's a raw experience that can give you the space to reflect on life without the usual distractions. My trip to Europe in March was the first time in many years I'd been away without having to study or work during the trip. Liberating, to put it mildly.

Stockholm archipelago, Sweden

The amazing thing was while away I totally relaxed which is something I'm not at all good at. There were days at a time where I had no distractions other than a book, no internet to suck my time so I just got on with soaking in my surroundings and moving with the rhythm of wherever I happened to be. I'd sit in a cafe for hours at breakfast, drinking tea and watching the locals go about their lives. In Sweden I fell into their relaxed pace of life. There was no plan, no agenda, I went with the flow and listened to my body. Wonderful.

Ax-les-Thermes, France

Vow as I may that when I get back from these trips I'll keep the feeling of being relaxed and alive, it never happens. I just fall back into the same pattern of running running running.

But I'm tired of running. I yearn for an inner calm and that feeling I had when the sun warmed my back on those chilly mornings in Stockholm. Lately more than ever I feel like I've been taking on the weight of the world - especially at work.

Three weeks ago I cracked and decided enough was enough. A friend suggested acupuncture which has been pretty amazing. I hate needles so was skeptical but I've found that two hours lying in a dim, quiet room with needles all over me is unbelievably calming. 

Yet what I really need to address are the feelings that I am responsible for the work of other people who are not performing, and that I need to carry the load where no-one else will. When I look back I've been doing it all my life. Talking to my friend P the other day he said some wise words.

"Sometimes in life things keep coming back to us 
until we learn the lesson they are trying to teach us"

I was stopped dead in my tracks. I knew what it was. I don't like to fail. As simple as that. Letting work from my area go undone even though it's not mine would be like a failure. Leaving work to go to the gym when things are needing to be addressed would letting others down - a kind of failure. But the reality is the only person I'm failing while I continue on this path is myself. Big time.

So I need to fail. Openly. I need to admit I can't do it all and just let it not get done. I need to hold others accountable as while I continue to cover for them they will continue to under perform. I need to let them fail. I need to let work not get done and make it evident that the staff shortage needs to be addressed.

Scary thought for someone like me but also strangely freeing. Its really time I spent less time trying to make things right for everyone else, to slow down and make them right for me instead.
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