Good things turn up when you’re not looking for it

Image

I have always loved the word ‘Serendipity’- a joyful confluence of unexpected but desirable outcomes and good luck. In my previous post, I shared how I was on a long holiday and how I was (desperately) seeking inspiration for new ideas and ventures. That was till I learned how to go with the flow of the Universe, to just be and the things you were seeking (and maybe more) will come along when the time is right. I think when you are in tune with how things work, you allow things to work the way they need to. That’s when serendipity occurs and the good and/or right  things turn up when you are not looking for it.

 

I was on the final days of my trip and met up with some old friends for dinner. One of them is now a distributor for a leading brand of 100% pure therapeutic grade essential oils. She was led to it serendipitously herself; her son was a rather sickly child and these essential oils helped him regain his health. I was never much into essential oils apart from the odd bottle here and there to perfume the space and make the massage oil smell nice. Anyway, our conversation turned to the topic of abundance, luck and money ( they all happen to be on my list of favourite words) and she said, ‘Do you know there’s an oil for abundance?’ To cut a long story short, I bought a bottle of Abundance and my dear friend also gave me a bag of free oil samples for my partner who suffers from a chronic illness. No harm trying!

 

I was expecting to suffer terribly from post-holiday blues and wallow in abject misery. Well, I was not too happy about being home but overall I was feeling better than I should be. I believed that inhaling and diffusing my bottle of Abundance supported me emotionally through the first two weeks. I also become preoccupied with learning more about essential oils, leaving me less time to bemoan the absence of sunshine and ocean views in London. I bought a few more oils and tried them out. I sprained my foot while away and numerous foot massages did little to help it; but the oils mended it in a few days. I suffered from a premature case of long-sightedness and a week ago, while reading, I realized I was holding the book at a normal distance and not a mile away. I was cured and I became a convert; bolstered by the positive benefits and experiences of the essential oils for myself and my partner.

 

I feel inspired by the benefits of these oils and to my own surprise, I really do enjoy learning about them and using them. There are three key things about these essentlal oils that resonated with me and aligned with my values. Essential oils are a natural way to remedy the physical, mental and emotional imbalances and illnesses we suffer from in the course of our lives. They help promote wellness, which is harmony between the body, mind and spirit. It was through knowing and interacting with people who suffer from various ailments that I truly realize how important good health is and that things that I take for granted, like a good night’s sleep, can be so elusive to many insomniacs, with debilitating effect on their overall quality of life. As I have been helped, I would like others to be helped too and by wanting to share these oils, I was given a sense of purpose. Through sharing these oils, I also get the opportunity of gaining an income stream and generating abundance. All the boxes for an inspired venture were ticked and Providence Oils was born.

 

That was how I found my latest inspired venture; it came later than I had hoped and it wasn’t what I had expected. It wasn’t even on my list of ‘potentials’. But such is life, if you allow serendipity to work its magic, you might be pleasantly surprised!

 

You’re my serendipity.

I wasn’t looking for you.

I wasn’t expecting you.

But I’m very lucky I met you.

 

Going with the flow

naturedoesnothurry

The new year has come and gone and January has come to an end. I had the opportunity at the end of last year to take a few months away from home  to travel and take time out to relax, reflect and rejuvenate. Even before I left home, I had great plans for things to do, places to go, people to meet, experiences to have and projects to accomplish during my time away.

In the first few weeks, I managed to tick off many items on my ‘to do’ list; eating lots of good food, visiting many interesting places or simply just chilling out. For whatever reason, at the end of many days, I had a nagging thought at the back of my mind: have I lived the day to the fullest and did I manage to do all that I had wanted to do? I also started worrying about things I needed to sort out when I got home! Such thoughts cast a slight pall and a sense of emptiness on an otherwise good day and caused me unwanted stress. I told myself I’ll get my act together and ‘achieve something’ in January once I’ve relaxed and chilled out and the new year has kicked in. The past month has been good but the nagging sense of having not experienced and achieved much became more constant and stronger: ‘ I’m two-thirds into my time away and I’ve not thought of any new business ideas yet…I’ve not even written a blog post…what do I need to do about this when I got home.’ Such thoughts created  fear, worry and stress topped up with impatience; I wanted and needed things to get moving, to start happening and soon. Not surprisingly, very little happened.

I’ve since started to apply some counter-measures towards such unproductive thoughts and actions:

Be thankful

I’ve been focusing on things I’ve not done and the boxes left unticked. But by refocusing on what I’ve achieved and experienced so far in the last couple of months, I realized I’ve so much more to be grateful for: the lovely places, the beautiful weather, the vast spaces and the big skies, the delicious food, the relaxing massages, spending time with loved ones…I’ve been blessed with a lot more than I thought.

Be mindful

When I’m drinking my coffee and eating my meals, I make an effort to smell the aroma and taste and appreciate the flavours and textures. When I’m reading, I make an effort to read enjoyably and deeply. When I’m watching the sunset, I focus on the varied light and colours that splash across the sky. I just focus on what I’m doing and make an effort not to be side tracked by negative thoughts and things I needed to do and places I needed to be at. By living in the moment, I experienced a deeper sense of peace and fulfillment; of having lived and made the most of my day.

Going with the flow and taking inspired action

The greatest level of freedom is being at one with the Universe, of being part of its ‘flow.’ This is similar to the Taoist concept of ‘Wu Wei’ which literally means ‘Not Doing.’ It doesn’t mean we should do nothing but that we should put up no resistance to the natural energy of things- to just be. This might mean different things to different people. Using the example of water flowing over a rock in a stream- they are both acting in different ways but most importantly, they are acting naturally. The water is acting like water and the rock is acting like a rock and they both do not need to expend any energy in achieving this natural state. By forcing things along and trying to make things happen, we usually end up being worse off and no closer to our goal and destination. I have been trying to write a blog post in the last couple of weeks but hours spent sitting in front of my laptop have produced very little. I woke up today feeling inspired to write this post and I then took action and the post was written in  a short time and with little effort. So when I think about my lack of new business ideas and progress, I’ve learned to go with the flow and when the time is right, the ideas will come to me instead of me  scratching around and looking for it.

By keeping these three points in mind, I’ve learned to better live and enjoy each day as they come and in doing so, I’m certainly living life more fully and with fewer regrets.

If you are in tune with The Way things work

Then they work the way they need to

- Benjamin Hoff

To Idle is Good

Image

When asked who I am and what I do, I usually respond with: ‘I’m an inspired idler.’ This usually elicits three types of reactions in general: mild disdain (here’s another loafer with little ambition), awkwardness (she’s not ‘normal’…most of us are too busy slaving away to earn a living….she’s probably inherited money or won the lottery) and curiosity with a tinges of envy and admiration (I’ll like to be one too..tell me more!). No prizes for guessing which response I prefer.

Society today extols the virtues of busyness, efficiency and frowns upon idleness. We are all expected to be busy: busy with life, busy with family and commitments, busy working on something, busy earning money. To not be busy is usually considered an abnormaly that reflects less than favourably on our sense of purpose, self-worth, usefulness and ambition. Many of us have become busy for busyness sake. And to serve what purpose? So we can look and feel important? To reassure ourselves that we are heading somewhere? That we are achieving something? Busyness for the sake of busyness is akin to running around like a headless chicken and believe me, a headless chicken serves little purpose and is going nowhere except in circles.

Making time to idle is essential for our individual, mental and cultural well-being. Idleness is an antidote to the work-obsessed culture that puts so many obstacles between ourselves and our dreams. As people get older or move into a different phase in life, many realize that time is more important than money. Hence, we should learn how to reclaim our lives – reclaim our right to sleep, have a time-out, allow a day to slip past in the best possible way and in doing so we regain control of our time and our lives.

I precede the word ‘idler’ with’ inspired’ in describing myself because idling without purpose and inspiration is simply loafing around and serves little purpose. However, when one idles with a purpose and with an open mind- we make space to wonder, explore consider and create. We facilitate access and clarity to our soul and inner self, our thoughts, our calling and is spurred to take inspired action in the right direction. Before we plan or act, we are idle; before we do, we dream and imagine. How many ideas were born out of reading a good book, listening to a piece of moving music,  wandering the streets, having a coffee in a cafe while watching the world go by, window shopping, rambling along the country paths?

The idle mind is awake but free and untethered, to roam from idea to idea, evaluating facts,  potential truths and options. Idleness is best manifested in the physical form of the Flâneur- a term first popularized by the French poet Charles Baudelaire in the 1850s and expanded upon in essays by Walter Benjamin and the book “The Flâneur” by Edmund White.

The flaneur 3A flâneur is a stroller, a loiterer, someone who ambles without apparent purpose but is secretly attuned to the history of the streets he walks and the perceptions of people and objects he comes across- and is in covert search of adventure and new experiences. Flâneurs don’t have any potential goals in mind; they are not walking to get something or go somewhere. They seem to be doing nothing but in reality, they are looking; opening their eyes and ears to the scenes, people and objects around them. They wonder about the lives of those who pass them, creating narratives about the homes and buildings around them, people- watching, eavesdropping on conversations and observing street life in general. The aim is to learn and to discover.

Idling enables us to reclaim our lives and opens us up to new learnings, experiences, inspiration and rejuvenation. It doesn’t matter if you idle for five minutes or a day- just make time to idle.

Make time to idle.

What I’m happy to give up for freedom

goldfish jumping out of the water

This goldfish picture has always resonated with me since I first came across it many years ago. The simple yet powerful imagery embraces themes like ‘being free'; ‘breaking away to find one’s own path'; ‘pursuing one’s dreams'; ‘seeking a new world'; ‘in pursuit of solitude'; ‘being brave…or being stupid?’…and the list goes on . You get the drift.

It has been a year since I flew out of the corporate cage and left cubicle nation behind. A year filled happiness, hope, inspiration and fulfillment; tempered by periods of doubt, uncertainty and restlessness. It was during this year that I embraced simplicity and minimalism and started this blog to document and share my journey; that I started a new business; that I idled with purpose and inspiration and spent loads of time enjoying my time at home and also exploring London (during the week when most people are at work). Not surprisingly, I don’t seem to look forward to  Fridays and the weekends that much anymore.

It was also in this year that I deepened my understanding of myself and what is truly important in my life. Yes, it includes the joy of spending more time with myself and loved ones, enjoying my nice and de-cluttered home, doing stuff and being in places that inspire me, living more freely and authentically, working on projects that inspire and fulfill me. It definitely excludes things like early mornings and commuting, energy-sucking work and people, pointless meetings, a life revolving around meeting expectations that has no personal meaning and keeping ‘people high up the chain’ happy and looking good. At the most basic and fundamental level, when everything else has been stripped down, the one thing that I truly value above almost anything else crystallises: it is my freedom.

In the process of this self-discovery journey, I came to the conclusion that I don’t want to work till my fifties/sixties or retirement (which in this day and age might never come round) so that I can live and enjoy life and own my home after paying off  the mortgage. Life is too short and precious for all that waiting and living for tomorrow. I want to live and enjoy my life now; I want to be free of financial commitments now. Which brought me to the question of what I needed to do or give up in order to attain a life of freedom. The answer that came to mind wasn’t desirable nor pleasant; it would involve giving up something which I love dearly and it would mean changes across areas in my life.

I love my home in central London- it was the first home I owned and I have spent eight happy years in it. But I love my freedom even more. It is a lovely flat and a great investment especially when I bought it relatively cheaply and am selling it in a property boom. The capital generated will allow me to buy another home (likely to be further away from the city centre or even outside London or even outside the UK) and live mortgage-free for the rest of my life. Unlike most people my age, I will not be upgrading and keeping up with the Joneses. But then, I have stopped being like ‘most people’ since I embarked on this ‘simple and minimal’ journey.

As expected, my house sold in no time at a price above what I asked for. On the flip side, we have yet to find another place that we would be happy to call home. In a nutshell, I’m in limbo. That would have driven the old me crazy and fluttering around in all directions. The old me would not have sold the house in the first place!  I find that sometimes we are pushed out of our comfort zones, stripped of our security blanket so that we are forced to explore new and positive situations and opportunities and which we would never have contemplated otherwise. Sometimes, the Universe has to give us a little shove for better things to come into our lives.

But you know what, I’ve been rather calm and laid back throughout this whole process (I’m waiting for the shock to hit me when I hand over the keys!) to the surprise of myself and those who know me well. Thanks to my simplifying and de-cluttering efforts, I don’t own much anymore so will not be taking much with me. Being a reformed Homebody these past few years (a result of an overdose of living in different countries and travelling frequently and widely previously), I am quite surprised that I am quite comfortable with living out of a suitcase for a while and even undertaking a prolonged period of travel again. I guess it is one of the outcomes of a simplified life. I know by now the Universe can work in miraculous ways so I am not chasing and hurrying the sales process nor am I desperately seeking a new home. The new place has to be one we’re happy with and it will turn up somehow- what is meant to be mine will be mine.

Till then, I’m living a day at a time and just letting things take their time and course. That in itself to me is freedom.

Doing what you like is Freedom.

Liking what you do is Happiness.

Top 10 Books on Simplicity and Minimalism

LessIsMore

Books have been a key motivator and resource in my journey towards simplicity and minimalism. I did not have any mentor or friends who were on a similar journey and books on simplicity and minimalism and the authors who wrote them served as my inspiration and opened up links to ideas and like-minded people. Below are ten of my favourite books on simplicity and minimalism- the list is certainly not exhaustive as I’ve read many more good books on the subject. The editing of titles to pick out the ten has not been easy, and I had to keep reminding myself that the process of evaluating and selecting is one of the building blocks for simplifying one’s life and belongings.

  • Minimalism & Simplicity Essays by Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus (a.k.a The Minimalists)

The Minimalists were the ones who really inspired and fired up my decision to take simple living and minimalism seriously as a lifestyle. I guess it was because I shared quite a lot in common with them: left a lucrative career (they also worked in the telecoms industry), decluttered many of my material possessions and started focusing on life’s most important aspects in order to live more meaningfully and passionately. Their two-book essay collections contain very personal, compelling and incisive short essays on why and how they embraced minimalism and what they learned along the journey. They have also written two other books on the subject- all just as inspiring. Read more about their books here.

  • The Power of Less by Leo Babauta

This book by Leo, the creator behind Zen Habits- one of the world’s most popular blogs, introduced me to the idea of simple living. It consists of 6 essential productivity principles that will change your life. These principles are put into practice in short and simple chapters pertaining to goals and projects, time management, commitments, daily routines etc. This book serves as a good introduction to simplifying one’s life and taking easy practical steps to making it a success. Find out more.

  • The Joy of Less by Francine Jay

I needed to find out more about minimalist living after devouring Leo’s book and The Joy of Less- a minimalist living guide was just the book for me. In it, Francine or Miss Minimalist provided loads of inspiration and ideas to embrace minimalist living. I love the way she summarized the process through STREAMLINE:

S: Start over
T: Trash, Treasure, Transfer
R: Reasons for keeping each item
E: Everything (kept/stored) in its place
A: All surfaces clear
M: Modules (for organizing and storage)
L: Limits (no. of each item owned)
I: If one comes in , one goes out
N: Narrow it down
E: Everyday maintenance

 

  • Voluntary Simplicity by Duane Elgin

I consider this book to be the bible of Simple Living and a brave example of non-conformist thinking. It was first published in 1981 when pursuing and living the American dream and Consumerism were key building blocks of success and the good life. It emphasized that voluntary simplicity is not about living in poverty (that is mostly involuntary!); but about living in balance- making adjustments in everyday living to bring about a positive response to the environment, consumption and personal growth. Read more about the book here.

  • Your Money of Your Life by Vicki Robin & Joe Dominquez

One of the most common questions or concerns raised about pursuing a simple life and pursuing your passions (which mostly entails quitting your much-hated day job in cubical nation) is ‘ So what do we do about the money?’ Your Money or Your Life is a good follow- up to Voluntary Simplicity and it will hopefully answer our financial concerns with the 9 Steps to transforming your relationship with money and achieving financial independence.

  • Choosing Simplicity by Linda Breen Pierce

In our journey towards simple living and minimalism, we tend to crave for the experiences and support from people on a similar quest. Choosing Simplicity is about real people from all stations and walks of life finding peace and fulfillment in a complex world. Pierce is the founder of The Pierce Simplicity Study, a three-year study of 211 people who simplified their lives and she complied their stories into this very personal and insightful book.

  • Less is More by Cecile Andrews & Wanda Urbanska

This is a compelling collection by people who have been writing about simplicity for decades. Through their words, they bring to life a vision of Less: less stuff, less work, less stress, less debt. Which in turn offers a life of More: more time, more satisfaction, more freedom, more joy. This book is not just about just how simplicity brings benefits to individuals, but also to the wider community, economy and environment.

  • Walden by Henry David Thoreau

One finds it quite hard to write a list of books on simple living and minimalism without including Walden by Henry David Thoreau. This famous piece of work is not the easiest to read but it offers great nuggets of wisdom and observation which has inspired many to ‘go into the woods.’ Such as the following:

I went into the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover I had not lived.

Simplify, simplify, simplify!

  • Timeless Simplicity by John Lane

John Lane is a painter, writer and educator is well-positioned to share his thoughts on creative living in a consumer society. He shares the advantages of living a less cluttered, stressful life in the mostly overcrowded and manic-paced consuming environments many of us find ourselves in. It is about having less and enjoying more- more time to spend with loved ones, to pursue creative projects, enjoying more time for good eating and enjoying time just to be. It is also about the bigger picture of adopting a more frugal lifestyle to sustain the viability of our planet. Thoughtful piece of work.

  • Simple Pleasures

We can end up so busy with work, people, things and even simplifying our life that we neglect the little things that make life worth living. Simple Pleasures serves to remind us of these little unconsidered things by sharing what gives pleasure to writers such as Carol Ann Duffy, Alain de Bottom and Sebastian Faulks amongst many others. Their pleasures are not derived from ultra-sophisticated , expensive or complex situations but from the simple reality of everyday tasks (like a hot bath) nature, architecture, the view, the garden or family and friends enjoying time together.

What are the books that most inspired you on the road towards simple living and minimalism?

Every Little Thing That You Think You Need

 

 

I think this song by Peter Doran is great for those moments when we think and ask ourselves: ‘do I need this?’, ‘do I want this?’, ‘should I buy this?’….

‘Every Little Thing’ Lyrics

Every little thing, you think that you need
Every little thing, you think that you need
Every little thing that’s just feeding your greed
Oh, I bet that you’d be fine without it

Every little thing that you’ve gotta have
Every little thing that you’ve gotta have
That you’ve got to reach for and you’ve got to grab
Oh, I bet that you’d be fine without it

So tear your eyes away, oh tear your eyes away

Every little thing that sparkles and shines
Every little thing that sparkles and shines
It’s driving you sweetly out of your mind
But I bet that you’d be fine without it

So tear your eyes away, oh tear your eyes away

Every little thing that you’re lusting for
Every little thing that you’re lusting for
How did you ever get along before
Oh, I bet that you were fine without it

So tear your eyes away, oh tear your eyes away

Before you’re tripping over junk that’s lying scattered on your floor
The dusty and discarded toys that don’t shine any more
Every one you had to have, every one you swore
Would satisfy your greedy heart for now and evermore

Every little thing that catches your eye
Every little thing that catches your eye
Gets under your skin and it won’t be denied
Oh, I bet that you’d be fine without it

Oh, I bet that you’d be fine without it

Who am I and What do I do?

WhoAmI

These two questions are simple and commonly asked but behind their harmless facade lies an expansive area of identity and status definition, comparison and anchoring.

When you first meet someone, one of the questions is likely to be, ‘What do you do?.’ Behind this simple question lies a minefield of complexity and many of us (myself included) would tend to fall back on using our day job/profession/vocation as an answer, ‘I’m a Director at BigBucks Company ‘, ‘I’m a Writer’, ‘I’m a Chef’…Nothing wrong with these answers but is your job/vocation YOU? Is how you define yourself also what you are PASSIONATE about? If your answers to the above two questions is ‘Yes’ -that’s fantastic! But alas, it’s not the case for many of us- including myself a couple of years ago.

When I embarked on my simplicity journey, some of the questions I asked myself was ‘Who am I?’, ‘Who do I want to become/stand for?’ and ‘What am I passionate about?.’ I knew the answers to all the above questions would not include my title and my job description in the corporate firm I worked for. These questions helped me to really think about who I am and wanted to be, and in the process clarified my passions and priorities and instilled a deeper sense  of meaning and self worth to my life. After this exercise in self-introspection, when asked ‘Who I am’ or ‘What do I do’, I tend to answer ‘I’m an Inspired Idler’ (more of that in another post) or ‘I’m a passionate entrepreneur’ or ‘I’m a bookseller’. These answers feel so much more meaningful and authentic because they describe who I think I really am and what I’m passionate about. We are so much more than our day jobs.

I gave these answers not only at social occasions but frequently at work too. The answers tend to throw many people aback initially as they were not expecting such a response but then it tended to turn the conversation around and I’ll get responses like ‘I’m a happy Dad’ or ‘I’m a Gaming Geek’ – and they are so much more truthful and interesting! Having said that, obviously there were many occasions at company meetings where I actually had to declare what I do: ‘I’m so and so (job title) and this is why I’m here (i.e. why I’m important).’ Thank God they tend to be few and far between.

Apart from the fact that our job (especially one we dislike and which we are merely doing for the paycheck) does not define who we really are, what we stand for and aspire to, it also tends to become a status anchor. Think about it this way, when you tell someone you’re a Director of BigBucks Company, the other person would be forming an impression of who you are, your qualifications and experience, how much you earn etc. immediately. We tend to become addicted to the status and perceptions that come with the job title and  if we were to lose our job one day, we not only suffer in the financially, but also an identity and confidence  crisis: I’m no longer a Director…so who am I? A nobody?. That’s why so many people hang on to jobs they dislike, not only because of the money but because of the identity and worth it bestows upon them.

So when I left the corporate world, I wasn’t so much affected as liberated. I am still who I am as an inspired idler, entrepreneur and bookseller- nothing’s changed. The job and title? They were not who I am nor was I passionate about the work- so nothing’s been lost. In this case, detachment really means freedom.

I was inspired to write this post by different ideas, events, articles etc. and one of these events was the recent review of the British Class System (you know, in the UK we are quite obsessed about the class we fall into). Anyway, someone up there thought the current class system (upper, middle, lower/working class) was quite outdated and needed a revamp to take into consideration factors like social contacts, mobility, new professions etc. So the New British Class System was born. Obviously for a system to work and to make sense, some of us has to be up there, most of us in the middle and many down at the bottom- or it wouldn’t be a class system would it? It would be communism (in the pure form it was originally intended to be). Unfortunately where you fall under is still largely determined by what you own, how rich you are, what you do and who you know. I did the test and fell under the new and rather elite (read ‘small’) Technical Middle Class. Interested? You take the British Class Test here. They even have a section on what the Americans think- fascinating!

So who are you?