For those of you who are winding down after a long day, or even those of you who are waking up and unfolding the blinds to a sleepy, hazy morning, this playlist may just be the one thing to nourish the soul.
It reminds me of sweet cinnamon and nutmeg potpourri, the gentle flickering of candles in a darkened room, the light scratching of a gramophone on vinyl, misty walks, old films and spiced hot chocolate.
With this in mind, I hope you have a gentle, bright and wonderful day.
I feel like a fraud because no matter how much I try to live like a homesteader, I am but a city girl, born and bred.
You see, I was born in one of the largest cities in the world. I’ve lived in cities all my life. I work a city job, do city things. My home is a rented two bedroom flat with musty, hand-me-down IKEA furniture, rows and rows of empty wine bottles from corporate events and not a single plant in sight. The last time I tried growing an onion on my balcony, it died on me after two days.
My world is not one of fields, farmhouses and pumpkin patches. I haven’t the faintest how to milk a cow, identify edible foliage, or sow seeds. No. My world is one of sprawling metro stations, skyscrapers, and theatre shows.
My idea of inconvenience is not being able to receive my one-day deliveries because they always try to deliver them while I’m at work.
I can show you how to navigate the exits of Shinjuku station in Tokyo, but I couldn’t tell you what fruits are in season, or how beehives make honey. Heck, I’ve never even owned a dog!
I do not wish to sound ungrateful. It has been an incredible experience living in one of the most global cities in the world. In many ways it feels like you are living in the heart of the world: as the city pulses, electric sparks light up the veins that stitch the continents together and trace the world like railway tracks on a map. And you, you are the heartbeat that keeps the Earth going.
Many of the things I’ve learnt, I’ve learnt only because I was given the privilege of being a city girl. That much is true.
But the older I become the more I am starting to realise that I have missed out on so much in life because I grew up as a city girl.
An unfortunate consequence of growing up as a city girl is that I was never taught the kind of essential life skills that were passed down from generation and generation.
My grandmother uses a pestle and mortar to grind spice pastes and would make her own dresses with a sewing machine older than herself. My mother inherited these skills, but chooses instead to whirr spices in a blender and only uses a sewing machine to mend clothes now and then. And me? I buy pre-made spice packets and can’t remember where I put my tiny needle-and-thread sewing kit.
There are so many important things in life I don’t know. I don’t know the first thing about farming, or where my food comes from. I don’t know how to make my own table or fix a broken stove. I don’t truly know how to survive on home-grown food, and I don’t know what it’s like to wake up in a rustic house and open the door to the smell of something other than smog and car fumes.
But I want to learn. I want to build my own little house someday and live somewhere close to nature.
I have such a long way to go, much further than anyone else I follow on the internet, but I’ll keep learning and trying. And every little thing about the world of farms and homesteads I learn, I see it as a small victory and me being one step closer to where I want to be.
And this blog is going to chronicle that journey. If you’re with me … I invite you to come and experience it with me. I can’t promise you that I’ll get there soon, but I can promise you that I’ll get there someday.
Back in January I decided to live more intentionally.
But back in January I also didn’t actually know what this meant.
What I now understand is the following: that to live more intentionally is to live more mindfully. And to live more mindfully is to live more meaningfully. And to live more meaningfully is, by definition, to ensure that whatever you do in life has meaning.
And to ensure that everything in your life has meaning means that you need to have something to live for.
And what you live for is, in essence, your life values.
It took me a long time to understand this. It took months and months of introspection, of trying to understand myself, of navigating both the best and most trying moments of my life, of continually asking myself what principles I wanted to live by … that I finally understood my core life values and the role they played in my life.
As I understand it at this very moment, my core life values are the following (in no particular order):
My life values are my life values because I feel in alignment with the truest meaning of my life when I act according to those values.
Sustainability, Enjoyment, Longevity, Fulfilment: together they form the basis of understanding my SELF.
What you will notice, however, is that all my life values are necessarily selfish.
It may not necessarily seem that way at first glance: my push towards sustainable living would no doubt be beneficial to the planet in many ways, and my quest for enjoyment involves spending time with and loving those around me.
But they are are selfish because the most important — and in many cases the only — reason as to why I choose to live by these values is because they are crucial to my peace of mind and my contentment.
All of my life values are thus egocentric and revolve primarily around me: my health, my well-being, my success. Whatever benefit they may or may not have to others around me is absolutely peripheral to the impact my values have on my own sense of self.
It is a bit of an unusual thing to say out loud, I think. For in this day and age we prescribe values on dedication and service: it is often proper to admit that we live for others: for our spouses, our colleagues, our children, our work, our craft, our projects, our planet … to the point where we are living with an unprecedented number of codependents and yes men. In the same vein (and often in the same breath) egocentric people are shunned as being egotistical psychopaths.
However, if I don’t live primarily for myself in accordance with my values, how else would I be able to present the best version of myself to others? How else would I be able to be truly at peace with myself, if I do not put my own self-care and my own life before attending to those around me?
What do I do if I continually put the needs of others before my own? What if I eventually crash and burn, wallowing in a pool of resentment and frustration at something not being right. But what could possibly go wrong if I was following the guidelines of being a good human being, of turning the other cheek, of giving freely, of serving the needs of others above my own?
But if I live according to my own self-centred life values, yes, I may be selfish and self-seeking, and I may be a quote-on-quote ‘bad’ human being, but I will be living the truest possible version of myself. I will be living with integrity, and I will be content. And a content version of me will eventually spill over to my relationship with others and my work. I will be able to present the best version of me to others, because I value myself enough to put me first and to live according to what makes me me.
Here’s a thought or two for this week.
In some ways, perhaps being categorically selfless is one of the most selfish things you can be.
And perhaps the most selfless thing to do … is to be a little selfish.
So before anything, before love and life, before family and friends, before glory and fame, before health and well-being, before knowledge and wisdom, when I grow up, I hope to be selfish.
My mother, who is currently living in Hong Kong, called me yesterday.
A good 20 minutes of that phone conversation was spent on her lengthy diatribes on the month-long youth protests against the extradition bill. Among her many deliberations were moans about how Hong Kong was in perpetual decline without any plausible future, and how the youth of today are neglecting their societal responsibilities by engaging in senseless civic mayhem.
All I could do was mm and ah throughout.
This brings me to my biggest confession of the year:
I have not consumed a single piece of news since … since late 2017 or early 2018.
At least not deliberately. I cannot discount incidental exposure while browsing the web every now and then. And I do occasionally find out what major events are shocking the world from listening in on conversations with colleagues, friends, and, of course, my perpetually disgruntled mother, who is far more clued up on world events than I will ever be.
I have no idea what Trump is up to and have elected not to care. Despite living in Britain, I was only aware Boris Johnson became Prime Minister a week or two after the event. And despite working in an industry that will be irredeemably changed as a result of it, I haven’t the slightest as to what the latest goss is on Brexit. I had only found out today that the Amazon Rainforest is in flames, three weeks after the blazes had begun. And I most certainly haven’t the faintest about Hong Kong’s latest happenings, despite my mother assuming I did.
In short, I have chosen to disengage with news about anything else other than what concerns me and my immediate loved ones, and the price I have to pay is coming across as stupid and uninformed in conversations.
Call it ignorance if you will. But it is conscious ignorance. Mindful ignorance. Willful ignorance.
Is it necessarily a bad thing?
I don’t know.
Yuval Noah Harari, in his iconic book “Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind” mentioned in his opening chapters that throughout history, people were necessarily concerned with only the most local of news. There were no structures, no devices, no architecture of any kind that would allow the average human centuries ago to be aware of what was happening hundreds or thousands of miles away.
And even if there was such technology, it is arguable whether they would even care: when you are concerned only with your immediate surroundings and immediate needs, what use is it to you whether there was a war waged a continent away, or whether there was an earthquake in your neighbouring country?
In saying this, I do not want to suggest that people in the past lived easier or better lives — that is a dangerous fallacy and I do not wish to idealise an era that was devoid of the kind of luxuries and necessities (like peace, law and order and sanitation) that many of us take for granted today.
But I think it is fair to say that life was certainly simpler back then.
Life today is frantic, complicated, obsessive. In our frenzy, we are continuously bombarded with messages, news, connections, instantaneous and unrelenting. We are continuously exposed to everything and unable to disconnect.
I wanted to live a slower, simpler life. Which was why I decided that it was not in my best interests to engage with what I feel is not necessary.
My life has changed surprisingly little since I chose the path of conscious ignorance.
I wake up every morning, make a cup of coffee, prepare a meal or two, go to work, and come home.
Even in my job, where I am expected to be ‘clued up’ all the time, no one has noticed that I don’t actually know or care about what is going on. Perhaps because my mailbox is automatically fed the stories that I need to be aware of to do my job properly. But perhaps it is also because I have learnt that people won’t even be aware that you haven’t done your ‘BBC due diligence’ if you just let them talk and opt instead to listen.
My life has been quieter.
If anything, I actually feel like I am the winner here.
How do you reconcile the desire to continuously strive for excellence with the need to be compassionate and gentle with oneself?
I know that at first glance they do not appear to be diametrically opposites, and that the simple answer is that improving oneself can be a sign of self-love and compassion, but that unfortunately does not seem to be the case for me.
For the longest time I have struggled with (and am currently struggling with) striving towards goals, be it to save more, spend less, eat healthier, lose weight, read x number of books. But my personality is such that I always end up being incredibly disheartened and self-destructive when I inevitably fall short of the unrealistic standards I place upon myself.
It had got so bad that my all-or-nothing mindset propelled me towards the very same destructive behaviours I was trying very hard to change by embarking on the goal in the first place. The best analogy I could describe is the snapping of an elastic band: instead of sticking to a weekly budget I would just give up and impulse buy as many unnecessary things I could. Instead of sticking to a healthy diet I would binge on all the processed sugars.
After a while I understood that setting difficult goals was incredibly counter-productive to my all-or-nothing mindset, and tried to adopt a gentle approach with myself. Giving myself unfettered freedom to do as I liked, in the hopes that I would end up intuitively making the choices that my soul needed at any given point in time. However, that left me feeling unfulfilled and unmotivated, and did nothing to assuage the destructive behaviours from happening, as I was still impulse-buying and binging.
I would like to get myself to a point where I can find a mindful balance between continuously moving forwards in life, without sacrificing my mental health and feeling restricted.
Any ideas on how to do this would be most welcome.
Ever since I started making hiking a more regular part of my lifestyle I have been in back in Epping Forest twice, with all intentions of completing the famous Oak Trail.
For those of you outside the UK, Epping Forest is located in the outskirts of London and is probably the closest hiking destination city dwellers are able to reach from the inner bowels of the capital. There are many trails in and around Epping Forest, but one of the easiest and most famous is the so-called Oak Trail.
According to the map of the local council, navigating the Oak Trail could not be easier: starting off at Theydon Bois station, you would walk along Forest Drive into the Great Gregories, somehow head north turning inwards into the Epping Thicks, within which you would walk downwards past the Deer Sanctuary, looping back to Theydon Bois station.
In reality, it is not often that easy to navigate.
The first time I attempted the hike, we managed to get past the Great Gregories, only to get lost in some wheat fields due to the lack of signage. After meandering within Epping Forest itself, we ended up forging our own trail down to the Deer Sanctuary and found our way back to the station. It took twice as long as the local council initially theorised, but we had a great day out.
A few pictures from our first hike for a bit of context:
Today, I attempted the hike for the second time, alone. I was determined to finish the Oak Trail this time. In one piece.
I strode through the Great Gregories full of purpose, armed with my waterproof jacket and hiking boots. However, when I reached the stables with grazing horses (the third picture from my previous hike above), I discovered that the fence that would allow me to continue on the Oak Trail had not just been cordoned off, but electric fencing had somehow been installed.
I was stuck, not even a tenth through my hike.
Sod the Oak Trial; at the end of the day I decided to forge my own path and ramble through Epping Forest on my own terms.
And given that it was mid-autumn, Epping Forest had suddenly evolved into a hotbed of shrubs boasting ripe, beautifully juicy blackberries!
I ended up spending three hours bracing prickly thorns and picking as many ripe blackberries as I could find, before heading home with stained hands and a full heart.
No, I didn’t end up completing my hike … the second time. But in the process I had learnt a few things:
that life will always find ways to offer you little surprises if you look hard enough;
that even though you may go back to the same place twice, doesn’t mean the place will be the same as you remember it;
that it is important to just go with the flow and live in the moment.
that just because something is unfinished does not make it a failure;
that just because an experience is unfinished does not mean it is not complete;
that things can sometimes just be left unfinished and that’s more than okay.
With that in mind, here’s to more unfinished hikes, unfinished conversations and unfinished experiences. Because life wouldn’t be life with all its little surprises and imperfections.
The most natural starting point for this blog, it seems to me, would be the beginnings.
The plural is not a typo.
Most people will agree that it is hard to identify an ending. This is true in the sense that no matter what journey you’re on, it is a most difficult exercise to determine that a journey has reached its end. Journeys are often understood to be a transformative process, with shifting goals and ever-morphing perspectives such that the ending initially envisioned would look almost nothing like whatever point is deemed the end goal.
But I think that these same people would struggle much less to identify a beginning. They would look at a certain date, a certain conversation, a certain feeling they had at a certain moment in time, and think: “yes, that is the moment when everything changed“.
But is it?
Think of all the moments that led up to that certain date, certain conversation, or certain feeling at that certain moment in time. That fleeting thought, that fleeting remark, that chance encounter … the agglomeration of happenings that eventually result in the moment that one thinks of as the beginning.
In most cases I think it would actually be more accurate to say there are multiple beginnings.
These beginnings do not have to occur at a linear fashion, nor do they necessarily have to bear any relation with one another.
It is January 2019. I am lying in bed, caught up in the the restlessness that usually consumes people during the New Year, the kind of restlessness that propels you to make all kinds of (mostly unnecessary) changes in your life. For me, it was a desire to live differently — more purposefully, if you like, or more intentionally — but differently.
It is 2012. It could be April, or May, I do not remember the exact month. But it was the moment when I was introduced to the person that would become my best friend. She would later go on to run an enormously successful Tumblr website, and later an equally successful Instagram business.
It is December 2015. I am a student at my final year of university. I am holding in my hands a job offer at a law firm promising not just a steady paycheck, but a career. The job is to begin in August 2018. I felt like I had made it in life.
It is 2007. I must have been about 12. I had just discovered a website called Livejournal, and proceeded to create my very first space on the internet. This space would later become my very first blog, and introduce me to friends and penpals that I still keep in touch with to this day.
It is October 2018. I am on YouTube, and I have just stumbled upon the minimalist/sustainable living community. I realise with a jolt that I wanted to live like that. Live a little bit simpler, live with a little bit less, but with each less meaning so much more.
It is July 2019. I am nearly a year into my very first adult job at the law firm. I must have been in and out of court about seven times that month. I am exhausted, close to tears, feeling the first trickles of what I would later come to recognise as burnout.
It is December 2017. I had decided to go on a date with someone who would later become my boyfriend. Throughout the years he would wistfully recollect moments of his childhood spent in rustic summer cottages, tending after dogs, growing produce, exploring forests, picking berries and rosehips.
It is June 2019. I am travelling in the Scottish Highlands, surrounded by seemingly endless cliffs and coastlines. I find myself dreaming of running barefoot along the neverending landscape. I had seen many things up until that point, but that was probably the very first moment that I realised with a jolt that nature could be so beautiful.
All of those beginnings – and quite possibly many many more – eventually culminated in the creation of this blog. None of these beginnings are more important than the other, but at the same time all of them are in some way the most important of them all.
So, if you have managed to read this far, welcome to my blog.
This is a space for me to document my journey to my truest life.
What that looks like, I do not know, and I do not care. Sometimes it really is about the process of getting there.