22 April 2018

Stream Walks and Staying Grounded #EarthDayEveryDay

Happy Earth Day my lovely ones. For once in my life, I got ahead of myself and thought it was two days ago, so I posted the above photo on instagram and stated my hopes for #EarthEveryDay to get trending... As it happens, today is actually earth day and #EarthDayEveryday is flying free! I'd like to think I started it, but there are far more important things than a hashtag..... for example, celebrating our earth everyday in mind and action.   

From Nutella Day to National Selfie Day, it's no secret that society loves to make a day out of everything under the sun. (and no, the latter wasn't just made up for alliteration purposes: national selfie day is a thing, it's scheduled for the 21st June and the Kardashians are calling it the new Christmas). Yet when it comes to the actual sun, the sky and the soil beneath our feet, the idea of a "day" seems a bit... well, fishy! 

Do the fish just disappear when the 24 hours are up? No! Just like reindeers and christmas, the answer is unequivocally NO. I happened to make the same argument to mum last weekend, regarding my "christmas" bedding; a polar bear is for life, not just for winter! So, it's decided, I am going to pop the bedding back on this afternoon. Before that though, I'm off on  another nature ramble with Dora - our nickname for Millie when she's exploring.  
We had the loveliest walk on Thursday. The sun was shining at its 2018 brightest. My dissertation was feeling a bit less like a mountain, more like a colossal molehill. Yet I decided that the moles could wait; my wanderlust feet and furever friend could not. So I picked up my camera, popped on a podcast - Happy Place - and went on my way. (If you haven't listened to Fearne Cotton's new series, I can't recommend it enough! However, I'll save my full Fern-Fangirlign for my Got to Pick a Podcast or Two Six post next week.)

I first wrote about photography and mindfulness two years ago; it could easily have been written this week. Now that the snow has found its season - aka not Spring/Summer - the flowers are blossoming and I'm able to dance among the daffodils once more... Okay, this isn't entirely true; as much as I love Luna and her whimsical wedding dance, I didn't quite do a full Wordsworth; that being said, Millie moo embraced her inner Anton Du Bark, pranced through the grass and really became one with nature...
As for me, I loved having my camera and its nature-macro setting. By focusing in on one detail - appreciating its beauty - you truly appreciate how much wonder is on our earth. Just the earth, as it is, without any money or man involved. After taking just a few photos, I felt so much calmer and thoughts of my dissertation, degree and doubts over the future floated away. 

Of course, the thoughts didn't disappear forever. I'm not pretending that dandelions make you fine and dandy for the rest of your days! If that was the case, they'd  prescribe them on the NHS and I've not seen Mr Hunt in any Dandelion fields. Nevertheless, for a few moments I found peace. That's the thing with nature; you find peace by just being. I know I talk about being so much on here - and here and here - but it genuinely is the most important value I've learnt in the past 18 months. 

Now, can I honestly say I've found the answer? No. I have days where I feel utterly disconnected from the world. Where I can't imagine anything making me feel 'okay', let alone a daisy or a daffodil. Yet, slowly but surely, I am learning.  I am consciously trying to let myself be, in the present, and learn to feel okay with it. Towards the end of this walk, my podcast came to an end and I took out my headphones
I often listen to Podcasts when I'm walking, as silence paves the way for the not-so-silent storm of my own thoughts - Anxiety isn't one for the "rainbows and smiles" life. On this occasion, however, I decided to go with it. Go with the silence and, to my surprise, the thoughts didn't rush in and create chaos in the calm. I definitely think technology had its place. The combination of  photography and Fearne wisdom actually helped me connect with the present. Yet by the end, as my ears heard the stream and my feet touched the stones, I didn't need anything else.

 There was once a man who became unstuck in the world. 
He took the wind for a map and the sky for a clock and  
He set off with no destination. He was never lost.
- Taylor Steele, Castles in the Sky

You can have all the to-do lists in the world and chase that "productive" day; however, if can't t take a moment to stop and smell the roses, the coffee, the parchment, the freshly mown grass - or any other scent in your love potion - have any of those 'achievements' made you happy? Perhaps I'm wrong. Perhaps people genuinely do find happiness in these things and I am out of touch. What's more, with so much consumerism and technology, is it actually possible to "just be" in 2018?

That being said, I want to believe that we can make up for lost ground. From Hygge to Minimalism, Blue Planet  and my beloved The Simple Things, there is a definite move towards a simpler, more authentic way of life. Speaking of Authentic, Sarah Tasker's Hashtag Authentic podcast is another gem and accompanied me on another dog walk this week. Her instagram is filled with snapshots from nature; she celebrates authenticity, intent and real community, rather than comparison, perfection and pursuit of the #instagoals life (for more on this topic, see my recent post
For me, reconnecting with the real real world - the earth beneath our feet - has become a key part of this. At the start of 2018, I made a conscious choice to live more sustainably. As ever, I’m still finding my feet and no one is perfect; nonetheless, each keepy cup, canvas bag and bamboo toothbrush can be that little acorn that becomes an oak. Especially if it inspires others to plant them. 

On that note, I am also planning another #bunnyfriendlyfavourites post on plastic-free favourites. Gosh I have a lot of post ideas, don't I? Perhaps to-do lists aren't all bad.... as long as I'm still being - and bumbling - because that's the other wonderful thing about nature: it doesn't demand perfection, or expect A*s. The stream doesn't ask for gifts or gratitude, which many humans could learn from!

A flower does not think of competing 
with the flower next to it. It just blooms. 
- Zen Shin 

Even still, I have never felt so much gratitude towards the earth I call my home. I don't care if this sounds cheesy with a side of cheese fries, I truly am. Not because the world of 2018 is an ideal place to be - far from it - but that's for mankind to answer to. I want to do my bit, all 365 days of the year, because the planet is innocent. Like the animals I want to protect, the planet needs protecting too.

So that is my closing thought for Earth Day 2018. The earth isn't asking for anything, but that doesn't mean we should exploit it. A brown paper bag isn't asking the earth, but it can help protect it. It may seem small or trivial, but we only have to look at nature to know that the smallest things are significant.

17 April 2018

Tunesday II The Study Playlist

Happy Tunesday my lovely ones! I'm going to start with a confession: I don't actually have a blogging schedule. Shock of the century I know, for existing readers of my rambles; however, as I seem to always post on a Tuesday, I'm just going to pretend that this is intentional and make Tuesdays  my bee day (Bumble and Be speak for blogging day. 

For what it's worth, it will help me feel like I have my life together, which is quite helpful when you have a dissertation due in three weeks.... Forget 'the three Rs', I am in need of the three Cs: coffee, cuddles and a new calendar... So if you happen to spy one on your travels, feel free to send it my way! (top tip: I hear owl post is more reliable than the Royal Fail Mail

On a serious note, it's safe to say I'm a little frazzled! Having paused my studies for two years to focus on "more important thing", as Hermione says, I always knew that this final term of University would involve a period of adjustment. What's more, given my historically difficult relationship with academia and mental health (the past two years weren't exactly a picnic, although food was definitely involved ) it has also required changing my approach. 

I have a full post coming next week on study survival strategies I've developed this year - hello podcasts, coffee shops and fantastic beasts - but for now it's all about TUNEsday and those fantastic beats... oh dear, i've really out-punned myself - and not in a good way! So let's move swiftly onwards and begin again with my Study Playlist. Disclaimer: Taylor Swift is nowhere to be seen! 

When it comes to studying, the question of noise vs no noise is about as contentious as "to be or not to be?" , or the latest Kardashian baby name. Throughout my education, I've gone both ways. With GCSEs I played Fearless so much that I basically became a Taylor tribute act. During A Levels, I quit music altogether, only to find that the Anxiety album was ten times noisier and I couldn't even get a refund. 

As of 2018, that record still plays in my head and I am still waiting for my refund and my hogwarts letter; however, I've found a happy balance. I have been an unashamed fan of film scores for years, ever since I first watched Lord of the Rings, and since then  I've discovered pianists like Einuadi.  I often listen to them before bed, yet since starting University they became my go-to for study. 

I recently discovered the world of StudyTube and love the instrumental music Ruby uses in the background. It is so calming and, because there are no lyrics, it's far less distracting. If you're looking for chart music, this playlist probably isn't for you! When my floor is covered in notes and my typing hand is throbbing in pain, the last thing I need is Liam's bedroom floor.

On the other hand, if you're looking for calm in the chaos, nostalgic notes and motivational melodies, I've got your back John.... I received some lovely messages about my Nostalgia Playlist and, when I did a poll on twitter, a Study Playlist proved most popular. So I'm following the stats - because you know how bloggers love their stats - and spotlighting my Studify...


10 April 2018

Let Go of #LiveYourBestLife - Let Yourself Be

Hello my lovely ones, I hope that today is beeing kind to you and that you are living your better life. If these final four words sound familiar, it's likely due to the 560,000 hashtaggers of  #liveyourbestlife on Instagram. However, I deliberately changed 'best' to 'better', because #unpopular opinion... I don't buy the "best life" label. (or labels in general, but that's a story for another post - aka this one.) 

If someone asked me to describe my own 'best' life, I may as well hold up a  a blank slate, because I don't believe it exists. Alternatively, I could start playing  Blank Space on my phone and really speak now to the hashtaggers. That being said, I'm going to stay true to "my best literature life" and reveal what I really think when I "blank space": Exit Red, enter Rousseauthe 18th Century Swiss philosopher, who talked about "noble savages" and a tabula rasa - aka, a blank slate. See what I did there?

... and on that note, Sophie lost 99% of new readers. Whoops. Please stay stay stay with me, dear reader, and I solemenly swear I will explain (and try to stop mixing my Reds with my Rowlings. 

Once upon an ancient time - for all those millennials out there -  JJ Abrams Rousseau concluded that "man is born free and everywhere he is in chains"; in other words, we enter the world in magical ignorance, only to realise that the Hogwarts letter isn't coming and that mankind is the muggliest of "muggles"; in other words, Rousseau was either light-years ahead of his time, or developed a time machine before Dr Who and telephone boxes existed

Perhaps the "chains" part is a bit extreme. For what it's worth, I don't picture myself in chains as I'm rambling through the meadows with my Millie moo. That being said, we can't deny the fact that life happens. Just look at Ms Swift. 2016 Taylor was "living her best life" with Tom and the Girl Squad on Instagram;  fast-forward a year and her Instagram feed is, well, dead. The snakes came out and suddenly everything changed. Life happened. Like I said, it may not be as literal as chains, but it's still an external force that we can't control. 
Either way, can we conclude that Rousseau 'got' 2018, more than 99% of 2018. For at the risk of being a negative Nancy - or a jaded Jean-Jacques - can any of us actually live our best life? From beach yoga to sunset cocktails, with a sunshine filter for good measure, the idea of 'living your best life' is a bit, well... it's not really 'life', is it? In the words of my other main guy, Mr M.Webster, best means "excelling all others"It's a superlative or, to quote my recent essay on romantic poets, the "summit of earthly experience'. 

Fun fact #1 
Jean-Jacques was cordially invited to this particular tea degree party. 

Perhaps I am reading too much into this hashtag. After all, it isn't the best life - it is "my best life'. In this sense, it is subjective; it isn't directly competing with anyone else... except yourself. If we're saying the present is really 'as good as it gets',  where do we go from there? Where do we walk, if there's no ground between between our dream and where we actually stand? 

What's more, it's almost inevitable that we will fall into the comparison trap. For the mere mortals among us, #instagoal flat-white-lays, aesthetically pleasing porridge bowls and mountaintop views are the summit by which we reflect on our own lives. As a lifelong perfectionist, I hear "live your best life" and I lose myself in panicI think about how I can't possibly achieve that. Something will always tarnish the picture - stain the blank slate - and I will fall flat white

Fun Fact #2 
I spilt a flat white over my notebook last week and attempted to dry it on the coffee shop radiator. 

It certainly wasn't a #liveyourbestlife moment. However, I do feel that #thehonestlens would have been fitting, along with #liveyourbetterlife. I may not have "got the gram", but I did at save my dissertation references and lived to tell the tale - without encountering a single mountain troll. It wasn't perfect, but in that moment it was life. Nothing more, nothing less. No filter, no explanation, or #instavalidation needed. 
By the same token, I don't need to kid myself that life will always be "the best." Some days, I have to accept that it's okay not to be okay. Allowing myself to have a bad day - without guilt or shame - is the best thing I can do for my mental health

By dressing my mind in a filter, I am only denying how things truly are. The world and his/her instagram may go to bed, with the image of a golden carriage in their head, but once the clock strikes midnight the screen goes dark. The filter fades and, like Cinderella, the carriage is a pumpkin once more. The hashtags may sleep, but my mind lies awake and my eyes will not shut.

When I browsed #liveyourbestlife on IG, I saw the following quote: "if you realised how powerful your thoughts are, you wouldn't think a negative thought again." This clickbait mantra is, in itself, a lovely thought, but it's just that - a thought. It will go away with the flash of a screen, but it won't leave the filter behind. It does not realise that some thoughts can't be silenced by a hashtag. 

As I said, I'm not trying to be a negative Nancy I'm not suggesting that you can't have amazing experiences! For what it's worth, I truly believe we can all  live a wonderful life; it's why I wrote Sock it and Set Yourself Free for Eating Disorders Awareness Week. Yet anyone who has seen It's a Wonderful life will know that it doesn't mean "excelling all others." George Bailey would not describe his "best life" as standing on a bridge. What he does describe is the sound of a bell ringing - a man who says "I want to live again. Please God, let me live again."

And he does. Life doesn't have to be perfect to be wonderful. On those days when you feel okay, or good, or even wonderful, live it. Whether you are buzzing through the world, or simply trying to bumble along,  live your BEst life. Let it be.
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