Do Your Work And Then, Step Back

A while ago, I spent a few months travelling across the USA and one of my favourite places was the rather laidback city of Portland, Oregon. There is a thriving food, art, music and craft beer scene and it’s also renowned for its slightly hippyness. What’s not to like?

Maybe I could sense something in the air, but it was while wandering around this wonderful city that I started thinking about the words ‘Do your work and then step back’ by Lao Tzu, the founder of Taoism.

From my point of view, everything gets done and works well in Portland but there seems to be this wonderful consciousness there that whatever you are doing, your intention is to do it well even if it takes a little longer and this includes everything from working on one of the infamous (and rather fabulous) food trucks to making coffee which is practically an art form there.

Yes of course, there are the overly pretentious, hipster places as depicted in TV comedy Portlandia, but it’s even the ‘regular Joe’ coffee shops where there is a sense of pride in everyday work. Community is very important there and after only a few days you really notice it. Portland has a downtown/centre, but the heart of the city is not there, but in the thriving centre of each local neighbourhood.

One of the barmen I met there said one night: ‘The slower you chill the ice, the fewer bubbles you get and you have clear ice’
or as I interpreted it:
‘The more slowly and mindfully you live your life, the fewer obstacles there are and so, the clearer things become.’

Being in Portland reminded me of the benefits of being more conscious and mindful of things you do each day, however small they may seem. It doesn’t have to take time, just a momentary awareness and focus on what you’re doing. A kind of mindful meditation I guess.

It was lovely hanging out in Portland and I can see why people want to live there. It’s a quietly inspirational place which encourages you to do your own thing in your own way whatever that may be. Again, what’s not to like?

Do Your Thing, Then Step Back

I recently spent a few months travelling across the USA and one of my favourite places was the rather laidback city of Portland, Oregon. There is a thriving food, art, music and craft beer scene and it’s also renowned for its slightly hippyness. What’s not to like?

Maybe I could sense something in the air, but it was while wandering around this wonderful city that I started thinking about the words ‘Do your work and then step back’ by Lao Tzu, the founder of Taoism. 

From my point of view, everything gets done and works well in Portland but there seems to be this wonderful consciousness there that whatever you are doing, your intention is to do it well even if it takes a little longer and this includes everything from working on one of the infamous (and rather fabulous) food trucks to making coffee which is practically an art form there.

Yes of course, there are the overly pretentious, hipster places as depicted in TV comedy Portlandia, but it’s even the ‘regular Joe’ coffee shops where there is a sense of pride in everyday work. Community is very important there and after only a few days you really notice it. Portland has a downtown/centre, but the heart of the city is not there, but in the thriving centre of each local neighbourhood.

One of the barmen I met there said one night: ‘The slower you chill the ice, the fewer bubbles you get and you have clear ice’
or as I interpreted it:
‘The more slowly and mindfully you live your life, the fewer obstacles there are and so, the clearer things become.’

Being in Portland reminded me of the benefits of being more conscious and mindful of things you do each day, however small they may seem. It doesn’t have to take time, just a momentary awareness and focus on what you’re doing. A kind of mindful meditation I guess.

It was lovely hanging out in Portland and I can see why people want to live there. It’s a quietly inspirational place which encourages you to do your own thing in your own way whatever that may be. Again, what’s not to like?

Sitting Still To Move Forward

I’m a big fan of using to-do lists to help me get things done and may even be a tad dependent on them, however, I recently saw this quote on one of my favourite websites which made me think about them differently:

“Life isn’t a big to-do list.” Leo Babauta (Zen Habits)

Of course, it’s a very simple idea and yet it can be a challenge to remember, as we often get so caught up in planning for tomorrow and getting things done that we don’t appreciate what we have or where we are today.

The irony I guess is that sometimes in order to move forward we need to just sit still.

How To Smile Loudly

I was travelling on the bus today on the way to a class and we got stuck in traffic but fortunately, it didn’t last long, nobody got particularly stressed and soon enough, we were on our way, but it did remind me of a similar experience in London last year when I was stuck on the Tube one morning.

Lots of people were staring at the floor desperately avoiding eye contact with each other as you do in London and there were a few passive-aggressive tuts when the driver announced yet another delay due to another reason nobody really cared about. There was the usual sense of bored resignation in the air. And then the train driver made an announcement.

He started smiling. You couldn’t see him on the tannoy obviously. That would just be silly. But he started welcoming us (his passengers) with a most unexpected “Good morning everybody. Welcome to the this wonderful morning on the Circle Line. I know we’re at a bit of a standstill at the moment but just imagine what beautiful glory awaits you when you arrive at your destination in just a few minutes. I hope it will make you as happy as you can possibly be. Have a fantastic day!” And then something rather odd happened. I noticed the person next to me smiling. And then I saw another.

Amidst the headphones, Ipads, books and newspapers, some people had actually heard the train driver (unusual in itself perhaps) and this group of people, myself included, were all smiling, sharing something together that was so full of positive energy, it had overwhelmed us enough to smile and even laugh. Sharing a moment together in the big city. Who’d have thought?!

We all then went on our (now) merry way, looking forward to the day ahead, instilled with a positive energy that had taken us by surprise. Although technically nothing had actually changed. We were all still on our way to work on a grey, wet day in London and the Tube was still delayed, but it somehow now felt easier to deal with. Just a happy demeanour from a train driver who chose to be positive that day. It didn’t really take much.

It may not be a perfect world and sometimes (especially in the city), it’s just a bit too easy to be cynical, but there are good things around and many things to be thankful for. We can all smile more loudly than the cynics if we choose to. It’s there if we look for it. If we’re open to it. We just need to give things, people and perhaps even ourselves a chance. It doesn’t take much. Just ask our train driver…

Cortado

How Spending Time In Cafes Adds To Your Life

It’s Tuesday morning, the sun is shining and I’m spending time in a cafe near my flat watching the world go by. I’m not doing anything else per se, but this ‘freedom’ helps my mind to wander and think about new projects. I always find new ideas come to mind spending time in cafes because I’m kind of giving myself the space and ‘permission’ to empty your mind and ‘just be’. I don’t meditate but perhaps it’s my way of meditating.

Some people prefer to go for go for walks, run, cook or got the gym, it doesn’t really matter what you do but what does matter is to give yourself the permission to spend just a few minutes ‘doing nothing’. Go on, You know you want to. And to quote L’Oreal, ‘you’re worth it’. And if you do, you’ll be amazed how much you end up getting done…

Open Door

Leave The Door Open

A friend of mine recently told me how she had been on a tantric meditation course. To be honest, I had no idea what this involved and then I realised that my only reference point for all things tantric was Sting talking about sex many years ago which freaked me out a bit.

Anyway, once I had managed to get that image out of mind, she started to explain that it was simply about leaving yourself open. Mentally, emotionally and physically. To opportunity. To an awareness of yourself and to an awareness of everything and everyone around you. And how potentially enriching this could be. It got me thinking about the consequences of this way of thinking and being.

So many people close their minds and hearts through fear of being hurt or rejected, which is completely natural and understandable. People want to feel safe. It’s a human instinct. However in the long-term, does this fear ultimately hold you back from experiencing a more beautiful life full of all the highs and lows that living can bring?

Perhaps being vulnerable and leaving yourself open is a risk but in reality, people take risks every day and always have. Simply crossing the road can be a risk if we are not careful. However I am talking about a more considered risk as opposed to anything which could be seen as supposedly reckless. Sometimes it works in your favour and sometimes it doesn’t, but when you are in your rocking chair in your 90s looking back on your life, what do you want to look back on? The things you did that you tried which had succeeded? Or maybe failed? But at least you gave it your all. Or regretting the things you didn’t try and now you’ll never know?

Yes, perhaps leaving yourself open to life and experiences can be a risky business, but from time to time, isn’t that a risk worth taking?