Know your value, know your self

Hi All,

I hope to be back posting on a regular basis. I have spent the month of March travelling and spending time with family. I managed to get another article published with Together magazine, entitled ‘Know your value, know your self’. It’s on p. 15 of the pdf link to this month’s issue. We often hear experts telling us to “know our value”, “appreciate our worth” etc., but I wonder what these phrases actually mean. I hope to shed more light on the subject in the article. I hope you enjoy reading it.

together-47

On my 24th birthday, my Dad quoted part of the poem Nosce Teipsum (“Know Thyself”) by the Elizabethan poet (also a lawyer and politician) Sir John Davies in my birthday card. My Dad dedicated the following lines to help me in my journey throughout life:

We seek to know the moving of each sphere,
And the strange cause of th’ ebbs and floods of Nile;
But of that clock within our breasts we bear,
The subtle motions we forget the while.

We that acquaint ourselves with every zone,
And pass both tropics and behold the poles,
When we come home, are to ourselves unknown,
And unacquainted still with our own souls.

These lines inspired me to write this article. If we are ever to truly know our value, we first must know who we are.

Thank you Dad for providing such inspiration.

See you all soon,

Gemma

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My first magazine publication

This week, a Brussels’ lifestyle magazine Together published my article ‘Three deep breaths’. It is about how leaving space in our lives can help us make more positive and healthier choices. Just click on the image below and it will take you straight to a Pdf version of this month’s issue. My article is on pp.15-16 of the Pdf version.

Together magazine

I hope you enjoy reading my first ever magazine publication and do let me know what you think!

Your love keeps lifting me higher

“When I sing, I am taken out of the mundane world into another place – and it is always a pleasure to return to that place.”

– Michael Bourke (from a case-study in ‘Flourishing’ by Maureen Gaffney)

One of my absolute favourite things to do is sing: I sing when I cook; I sing in the shower; I sing in front of my computer screen at work. I love it.

I was an active singer at school, being part of the school choir and occasionally singing my own songs for music class. If I felt inadequate in other areas of my life or even in music (I always felt a bit rubbish at playing the piano, for example), I knew that I could sing.

During most of my twenties, I did far less singing. I never properly found an outside opportunity to sing. I thought that choral choirs were too stuffy, serious and much better suited to an older generation. What I wanted was a choir that did traditional and modern pieces. I wanted a full range (or near enough to it).

But it wasn’t solely that I found it hard to find a suitable, easy-to-get-to choir in London, I also felt like I could not spend the time being part of one. My working hours were split between work and studying, my free time was spent commuting or preparing for classes. As I have written previously on this blog, London living was hard, and I did not have enough energy to expend it on something I really loved doing.

What a mistake that was! What I have learnt about passion is that I should never forgo, suppress or give up on what gives me great joy in life. I believe that part of the reason why I felt so unhappy at times living in London was because I wasn’t in a choir. And science has shown that singing in a choir is one possible secret to happiness. The author Stacy Horn does a brilliant job of describing the wonderful effects and release singing in a choir has on your brain, body and well-being. She says that it doesn’t matter if you can’t sing well as long as you can carry a tune, which according to the BAFTA and Emmy award winning choirmaster Gareth Malone, anyone can.

Since moving to Brussels, my return to choir-dom has been gradual, first in a choral group at work to now in a choir at one of the music schools in the heart of Brussels. My choir is a mix of students and non-students, young and old(er), Belgian and other nationalities. We sing a range of music, from Bach to the Beatles. Our choir director is charismatic, vivacious, motivational and not to mention funny. The rehearsals are filled with laughter and energy. It is my dream choir.

When I sing in the choir, I experience flow. ‘Flow’ is a term coined by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi to describe the experience of deep engagement in an activity, in other words, losing yourself in what you are doing. The psychologist Maureen Gaffney describes in her book ‘Flourishing’ that when someone is in flow, their mind is “completely and effortlessly focused on the next move. The experience is poised at the sweet spot between conscious (but not effortful) concentration and being on automatic”.

“Singing reflects the innermost of your soul,” my Dad said to me most recently. In fact, his words provided me with inspiration for this week’s post. Gareth Malone says that the choir is an expression of something that is deeply personal and that is deeply human. When I sing, I often reach a state of ecstasy: my mind is empty; I am wholly and completely lost in the moment; my sense of time has altered. I feel like my true self has come out to shine. In the choir, I sense that I am part of something bigger than myself. We breathe together, we work together, we play together, our hearts may even beat in synchrony. It is said that singing in a choir is likened to a spiritual experience. Amen to that.

I may have convinced you to join a choir. But even if singing is not for you, here is my hope for you: that whatever interest, hobby or work that reflects the innermost of your soul; that lifts you higher and higher (as the song goes) – you keep doing it.*

*Lawfully and the “highs” are natural, of course.

Little victories

I had a little victory this week: I created Living room philosophy’s new website (with a little help from WordPress)! I call it a little victory because I guess it is a relatively small achievement. But, as I will explain, a little victory still counts.

In his article Small victories, Oliver Burkeman writes about how small victories can yield better results of well-being than big ones: they are easier to achieve, and they can also break down the big ones into manageable pieces. One poignant illustration is his reference to the organisational theorist Karl Weick, who claimed that some of the big shifts in society came about through small victories. That in fact, having big goals can be so daunting that they tend to put people right off having them, let alone doing anything about them. He sums up Weick’s advice like this: “Want to change the world? First stop trying to change the world.” Advice, which no doubt chimes with me.

I had a day of little victories last October. My friends and I participated in a relay marathon, with each of us running a part of it. When it was my turn, the heavens opened up and showered me in all their glory, lasting the full length of my run. Not only was I getting soaked to the bone; I was trailing miles behind extremely seriously-minded and fast runners; and I had a big hill waiting for me at the end of my route. Naturally, there were moments when I was close to hyperventilating with panic, but I knew that the only way I was going to get through it was to focus on my breathing, try to enjoy the green scenery and possibly the rain. I completed my run: little victory no. 1.

I had not brought a change of clothes. My team-mates were all stationed outside in the stadium warming up, warming down or cheering on others. Being drenched and beginning to feel the chill, I headed to the changing room to seek warmth. It was fairly small and cramped with people desperate to get dry. There were two big, bare radiators beside the showers. I wondered why they hadn’t been snapped up by bodies or wet clothes. Like a shot, I flew over to them. They were stone cold. Assuming at first that they were broken, I was about to walk away, crestfallen. I then noticed that the dials were on zero. I twisted them: the heat began to warm me up and dry me out. Little victory no. 2.

Once I was dry, my team-mate suggested getting a complimentary massage. In the queue, we started talking about relationships when she asked me what I look for in a man:

“Well, er, someone, ” I hesitated, “nice?” I replied meekily.

“What do you mean by nice?” She retorted, “like, nice – as in – nice and boring?!”

“No!” I exclaimed and then I began to fumble my words, coming up with a vague description of my ideal man.

“You need to be specific,” she advised, “it’s all about visualising what you want and sending it out there, because that’s how you’ll get it.”

She then pointed to the three male masseurs and asked me which one I liked. There was one guy who stood out, he was about 5ft 11, with a pale complexion, tightly cut auburn hair and slightly scruffy stubble. He looked French. I pointed to him. She then did some clever manoeuvring in the line in the hope he would massage me.

As if the Universe was proving her theory, the cute masseur did end up giving me a massage. His name was Olivier, he was from Brittany and had recently moved over to Brussels. We had a nice chat. When my massage was over, my team-mate remarked how Olivier had spent longer with me than her masseur had done with her. She patted me on the back and called it a little victory.

At the time, I thought that my encounter with Olivier was my first little victory of the day, but actually it was just one of several. It is important to recognise and remember the little victories – no matter how trivial they appear – since they are victories nonetheless.

29

29 was the age when Buddha left his family, his palace, his old life in search for enlightenment. I have not taken such drastic steps but at 29 I realised that I was not being true to myself. A couple of years before, I was in a WH Smiths (a newsagent) in London looking at what to get my brother for his birthday. I am ashamed to say that in the bargain bin I came across a small picture book called, “The way of F**k It” by John C Parkin. I  flicked through it and thought it looked pretty funny. The book was about saying a big f**k it to things that don’t really matter so much and to encourage us to let go and be free. I bought it and gave it to my brother, not really thinking anything more about it.

Last summer, when I was 29, I came back to London for a job interview. I had convinced myself that this job was going to lead me to the career I wanted, a career that I had been building for the last six years. Six years spent doing internships; studying; working; seeing the world; and meeting extraordinary people. After the interview, which I knew wasn’t successful, I came back to my brother’s place and lay on the bed, exhausted. I noticed that on the bedside table was the F**k It picture book. Drawn to it, I picked it up and read it. After reading the funny yet bold captions, I decided that July 2012 would be my f**k it month and I would apply the principles of letting go, being honest with myself, enjoying the moment and not taking things so seriously to every situation in my life.

One year on and many great changes have happened in my life. Changes for the good. I am trying to live a life true to myself and be the best possible person I can be. I have realised that the more you give, the more you get back. So that is why I decided to write this blog. I was thinking about what themes or topics this blog should have and then I just thought, “Why not write about the things I have learnt over the past year and get the message out?”. So this blog is about self-help, philosophy, well-being, spirituality, health and anything else that I think is worth writing about! I hope that what I write can provide inspiration to those of you who want to live the fullest life possible.

At 29 years of age Buddha started his journey, and so did I.