The Simple Life

Deep down it’s what most of us yearn for and yet in our fast paced lives and our frenzied pursuit of material things what most of us have lost sight of.

Simple Joys
Simple Joys by Jayel Aheram courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0

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Count your blessings if you have:-

  1. A place to call home.
  2. People who love you.
  3. Enough food to stay healthy.
  4. A reason to get up in the morning.
  5. A passion that drives you.
Grateful
Grateful by Sharon Sinclair courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0

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Life is simple. We’re the ones that complicate the hell out of it, mostly because of our unrealistic expectations or our misguided sense of entitlement. I am as fond of material comforts as the next person but I recognise them for what they are – a way to make my life more comfortable. They are an enhancement. A choice. Would I be able to survive without most of them? Probably.

The acquisition of material things should not be what drives us and if it is then maybe it is time to step back and recalibrate.

Oxford Street
Today in Oxford Street by Lars Plougmann courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY-SA 2.0

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It’s time to think again when:-

  1. Your smartphone is more important than your partner.
  2. You are slogging your guts out to pay for a mortgage on a property you never get to spend any time in.
  3. You are maxed out on your credit cards just so you can drive the latest car when an older model would get you from A to B just as well.
  4. You eat at the hottest places in town because they are the hottest places in town not because the food is any good.
  5. You and your friends are engaged in a constant battle of one-upmanship about clothes, shoes, bags and holidays.
Smartphones
Man Woman Smartphones Restaurant by David van der Mark courtesy Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY-SA 2.0

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Most of us come back from a holiday refreshed and relaxed because we are able to step away from the white noise of our everyday lives and just be. It gives us a chance to think, to feel, to breathe away from the pressure cooker of a nine to five existence. How nice it would be if we could carry that sense of freedom back to our everyday lives. The first step to doing so comes from within. Life will always throw us curveballs, stresses and strains are part of being alive. We learn from them and grow but if you can spend a little time each day counting your blessings and reminding yourself of what is important and crucially what is not, the simple life may not be as far away as you imagined.

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Quiet please by Paolo Fefe courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY-ND 2.0

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99.9% Perfect

Perfection is hard to attain and impossible to sustain so for those who pursue it we are constantly setting ourselves up for failure. What is it about giving ourselves permission to be less than perfect that we struggle with? Is it the fear of being judged by others? That niggling doubt that everyone is better than us so we must therefore try harder?

Try harder
Climb by Efren courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY-SA 2.0

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Being a perfectionist is exhausting. You are caught in a never ending loop of striving to achieve whether it be the perfect outfit, the perfect house, holiday or job. Take your pick. A perfectionist can drive themselves nuts arranging a bunch of flowers quickly forgetting the beauty of the individual blooms, focusing only on their own inability to get the flowers to look ‘just right’. Chances are anyone visiting would see the flowers and think how wonderful they looked but our own perception is forever skewed by the battle we had arranging them. We beat ourselves up for not achieving our own ridiculously high standards.

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Tattered and Torn by Becca courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY-ND 2.0

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The moments when perfection is attained are so brief that the pleasure we derive from them is fleeting. How much better it would be if we could learn to find harmony and beauty in the less than perfect. It’s okay to strive for perfection but how much better it would be to take pleasure in something even if it falls a little short.

Perfectionists would be wise to study the Japanese tradition of Wabi Sabi – the art of appreciating beauty in an imperfect world. It embraces three simple realities: nothing lasts, nothing is finished and nothing is perfect (Richard Powell – Wabi Sabi Simple).

The much loved but chipped vase is wabi sabi. The plant that refuses to be symmetrical is wabi sabi. You and I are wabi sabi.

Wabi sabi
Wabi-Sabi by Kelly Teague courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY-SA 2.0

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So instead of trying to make everything bend to our will, propagating our own particular brand of perfectionism why not step beyond the confines of the perfect. Life is wabi sabi and always will be so we may as well get used to it. How much easier it would be to live in harmony with an imperfect world by appreciating it for what it is instead of disliking it for what it isn’t and never will be.

Imperfect
Imperfect by Seaternity courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY-SA 2.0

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Be kind to yourself

Are you guilty of offering good advice to friends who are in need but failing to follow that advice yourself? I know I am. How many times have you replayed a conversation in your head and thought that was great advice, I should try it some time! We give ourselves such a hard time trying to be all things to all people, never wanting to let anyone down. It is an admirable sentiment but in order to never let anyone down someone always has to come at the end of the list and that someone is usually you.

Me time is a concept that all of us are familiar with but how many of us actually indulge in it? Instead of viewing it as a beneficial part of our lives, we see it instead as something shameful to be whispered from the side of our mouths. We say ‘I had a little me time’ as though it is unacceptable and to be frowned upon. That’s if we even allow ourselves to take time out for ourselves in the first place. It seems somehow selfish and so we feel guilty about doing so. But we shouldn’t.

Chillaxing
Chillaxing by Christopher Michel courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0

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A little me time in each day should be achievable without the world of families, work and chores collapsing in on itself. You may think all will crumble around you if you don’t step up to the plate every minute of every day but it just isn’t true.

A little me time could be that first cup of tea or coffee when the day is fresh and new and the rest of the house are asleep. A precious little window of time, just a few minutes long, to daydream and clear your minds of all the twenty-first century clutter. It could be a walk in the park at lunch time, play time with your kids or your dog. It could be a soothing bath or ten minutes with your favourite book. It doesn’t have to be hours out of your day.

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Reading by Vladimir Pustovit courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0

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A few minutes as many days of the week as you can manage will make you feel calmer, more centred, able to face the world refreshed. It is quality that matters not quantity.

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Peaceful by Twentyfour Students courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY-SA 2.0

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So next time when you are feeling overburdened and stressed try to be your own best friend. Step outside of yourself and imagine what advice you would give if you saw one of your friends in a similar situation. And then – this is the tricky bit – act on it. We already have a lot of the answers within us but most of the time we just don’t listen.

A little me time is a blessing to be treasured not a guilty pleasure. So try it! You’ll feel better for it – and the world won’t end, I promise!

Relax
Relax a While by Shawn Rossi courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0

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The Return of Happiness

Some of you may be familiar with a flower called Lily of the Valley. It is a woodland plant which thrives in dappled shade. With its delicate, bell shaped flowers and sweet scent, Lily of the Valley is a welcome sight in the northern hemisphere, heralding the time when spring begins to slowly transform into summer. The scientific name for Lily of the Valley is Convallaria majalis. Majalis meaning ‘of or belonging to May’.

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Little Kiss of the Sun – Lily of the Valley by Anje Pietsche courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0

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There are many stories that surround this beautiful plant. Some say it derived its common name of Our Lady’s Tears from the story that as the Virgin Mary shed tears at the crucifixion of Jesus her tears fell onto the ground and the Lily of the Valley sprang from the ground where her tears had fallen.

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Lily of the Valley by Jim the Photographer courtesy Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0

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The plant is also said to signify the return of happiness. Legend has it that the plant fell in love with a nightingale and became utterly enchanted by the bird’s pretty song. When the nightingale left the forest the plant was sad. It was only when the nightingale returned the following May, filling the forest with its beautiful music, that the Lily of the Valley bloomed in delight at the nightingale’s return.

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The Woods of Lilies of the Valley by Claudia Dea courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0

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Whilst the return of happiness is always something to be celebrated, how much better it would be if happiness never went away in the first place. An impossible thing to achieve? Probably. One way to achieve if not happiness then at least a level of contentment, would be to take pleasure from the small things we see, hear, touch and feel as we go about our everyday lives. The pleasure in listening to a child laugh or watching a puppy play. Running our fingers over a lavender plant and then smelling the scent on our fingers. Watching the breeze play across a field of grass, pushing it one way before pulling it another as if orchestrating a dance for our delight. The feel of sinking into the crisp, clean cotton sheets of a freshly made bed at the end of a tiring day.

Child Laughing
Child Laughing by Cheriejoyful courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0

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All too often we are weighed down by our cares and woes, wishing the week away to hang on to every weekend but to do so is to live only half a life. To live a whole one we need to be fully engaged. Mindfully aware and ready to acknowledge beauty whenever we see it.

Roadside flowers
Roadside Flowers by Kurt Bauschardt courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY-SA 2.0

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If we can learn to take pleasure in the small and simple things we can find a reason to rejoice every day and not just when we hear a nightingale sing. Wouldn’t that be a nice way to live?

Happiness
Happiness by Moyan Brenn courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0

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Never Judge

It was Thomas Gainsborough’s birthday on 14th May. Born in 1727 he was equally skilled as both a portrait and landscape painter and many of his paintings hang in the National Gallery in London.

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Landscape in Suffolk by Thomas Gainsborough by Josephine Rutherford courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0

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It is his landscapes I particularly enjoy. The country scenes have a rustic charm about them which brings the subject to life. Whilst not over-romanticising the scenes, he nevertheless captures their bucolic attraction. I am particularly drawn to his landscape work because it covers a part of the countryside that I am familiar with and so there is an added bonus to recognising a little of what you see, some of it little changed from his time.

Cottage door
The Cottage Door by Thomas Gainsborough by Josephine Rutherford courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0

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It got me thinking about how we are influenced by the surroundings in which we grow up beyond the family home itself. For those of us lucky enough to have had a happy childhood the influence of those formative years will stay with us forever. A fond remembrance of the places of our childhood indicates a time we are glad to revisit in our minds without hesitation. But can the memory really be trusted?

All those warm and happy feelings have inevitably added extra layers to our memories, colouring them more beautifully because they have such a cherished place in our hearts. Our fondness has taken the original memory and made it larger, brighter, better. Is it possible that reality could ever have lived up to that?

Dream
Dream by Moyan Brenn http://www.moyanbrenn.com courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0

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It is because of the disconnect between our memories and the reality that we should always pay heed to the sage advice to “never go back”. Why suffer disappointment and the trampling of reality over your memories when they can continue to exist without disturbance in the realms of your mind?

The struggles of everyday life can make looking back with nostalgia to earlier times attractive. But we should not forget what may have been halcyon days for us were someone else’s tough time. When I happened to remark on my fondness for my home village to a friend I grew up with they looked astonished and told me how they couldn’t wait to leave and never looked back. It made me realise that whilst I found the familiarity of a small community comforting, they found it suffocating.

Ultimately we all experience life through the prism of our own memories and experiences. It is why we should never rush to judgment on someone else. We are looking at their actions through our own prism not theirs. Their experiences might have been very different to ours, their perception at odds with our own. As the saying goes ‘Never judge a man until you have walked a mile in his shoes.’ Sound advice indeed.

 

Post used to take 38 hours to arrive now we’re inbox junkies

On the 6th of May 1840 the Penny Black stamp went on sale for the first time. “…A bit of paper just large enough to bear the stamp, and covered at the back with a glutinous wash” was how Rowland Hill first described the Penny Black stamp.

Until the introduction of the Penny Black postal rates across the country were high and usually based on distance travelled. The recipients were often expected to pay the cost of the postage although some items were free.

Penny blackjpg
Penny by Kevin Walsh courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0

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The image of Queen Victoria which appears on the stamp was based on a sculpture by William Wyon. This came from a sketch of the young queen at 15 and was to remain the image on the stamp until the end of her reign. Hopefully this made up for the fact that Queen Victoria’s free privileges where the post was concerned were withdrawn with the introduction of the new postal rates and the Penny Black.

What began in 1635 with young boys carrying letters between ‘posts’ evolved to include the first mail coach which ran on 2nd August 1784 between Bristol and London. The journey took 16 hours. Before mail coaches it would have taken up to 38 hours.

Mail coach
Royal Mail Coach by The Postal Museum courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY-SA 2.0

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The mail coaches themselves eventually gave way in the 1840s and 1850s to the ever expanding railway.

Progress never stands still.

Nowadays we send the majority of our ‘post’ by email. With the tap of a button our email can arrive in someone’s inbox on the other side of the world within seconds of us pressing send. We can even receive their response straight back. The speed of email would have amazed our ancestors but it probably would have alarmed them too.

Email is wonderful in so many ways but it comes at a cost and I am not talking about your internet service provider. We have all experienced the stress of a full inbox, a rising sense of panic that we are never going to get on top of all the messages especially as new ones pile in.

Inbox
Mr. Popular by Jason Rogers courtesy of Flickr licensed by CC BY 2.0

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Clearing the inbox becomes a matter of pride for some people. You feel better once it has been decluttered and messages in response fired off. Deleting emails which are of no interest can feel cathartic.

It takes skill to be in charge of your inbox rather than your inbox being in charge of you. It is however a skill we should all acquire. Don’t leap to open the inbox the second you hear the telltale sound of another message arriving. Instead try to have planned times of the day when you look at your emails. If you respond every time the message symbol appears you’ll be forever pulled away from the things you should be doing and only giving half your attention to them whilst you wait for the next message to appear.

Files
Mounting Bills Project 365(2) Day 142 by Keith Williamson courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0

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The days of waiting 38 hours for the post to arrive are thankfully long gone. But don’t go to the other extreme and be an inbox junkie. Checking it once every few hours will be enough to keep on top of the urgent stuff and, crucially, give you the head space to get the more important things done.

 

 

What you give you get back2

Once a week from the beginning of autumn to the end of spring I feed the birds. It’s a little ritual I have. However busy my week has been, however cold it may be, I always make time, early in the morning, to feed the birds.

My dad always fed the birds and I have taken over his routine and when I do it I feel very close to him. It’s my opportunity to take a walk around my garden and discover what new delights have arrived that I might have missed in the course of another busy week. Whilst I am topping up the food I can hear the birds chattering in the nearby bushes and trees and on the roof tops. I imagine them passing the message down the line “She’s putting the food out, it’s going to be a good day!”

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The birds enjoying the fat balls

The birds in my garden are spoilt. There are fat balls high up on the garage wall for them to enjoy, peanuts in a holder and no mess bird seed on the table. Something for everyone and they all come. From the pigeons who, I fear, if they get any larger will find it impossible to fly, to the gorgeous doves, to the sparrows, tits and blackbirds. The starlings usually arrive en masse at a predetermined time of their choosing and all the other birds quickly vacate the area as my garden turns into a scene from Daphne Du Maurier’s The Birds. They descend, squawking and chattering away to one another and then depart in a cloud at some mysterious signal only they recognise. As peace is restored all the other birds come back.

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One of the pigeons waiting to be fed!

What do I get out of it? I get the beauty of watching the fat pigeons precariously balance themselves on the roof of the bird table or waddle along the paths. I watch the smaller birds flutter and circle, land and explore. I watch the blackbirds strut about like they own the place and I watch the delicate doves sit on the back fence and wait until the rush is over to grab a bite or bathe themselves in the bird bath.

Watching the birds is a sort of nature meditation. Whatever the stresses and strains of the week, they dissolve. A ten-minute break enjoying their company leaves me feeling calm and refreshed.

I don’t feed the birds all year round. Just like it’s not a good idea for us to eat take out every week, it’s not good for them either (my pigeons may not care about their coronary health but I do!) so when the current supplies are used up it will be time to stop again until the autumn.

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The wait is over

I’m lucky though because even once the bird table has been tucked away, the birds still come in numbers to enjoy the garden. The doves often nest in one of my trees. Better there than the sky dish which they tried one year. It didn’t end well for either of us. I’d lose the signal just as we’d reached a gripping point in The Blacklist and they would discover that because of the angle of the dish their hard work would eventually reach a tipping point and another dishevelled nest would slip out of the dish and on to the drive. After three attempts and much disruption to my TV signal, they gave up and went back to the tree to the relief of everyone involved.

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Breakfast time

But the joy of watching the birds is not my own reward for feeding them. They bring me presents, too. I have a number of additions to my garden, plants and flowers I have never planted that suddenly arrive courtesy of the birds dropping seeds or wiping their beaks on the stones and soil. As is the way with these things, the plants they bring often thrive whereas the plants I choose and nurture with such care don’t always live up to my expectations. Some of the flowers they have bestowed on me are unknown to me and even more beautiful for that reason.

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Unknown but very pretty gift from the birds

Ours is a symbiotic relationship. I give them food, they give me joy and free plants. Personally, I think I get the better end of the deal. They have taught me a valuable lesson: it’s so important to give something of yourself to others. As with me and the birds, what you give you get back2