18 March 2015

Update Bits

Red flowers & spicy cake // personal picture

 Here are a few small random things I wanted to share with you lately, none of which really deserving an entire post, but interesting to point out within my simplification journey. And hopefully, interesting to yours too.

The Meditation Trick

For years now,  I have been trying to implement some sort of meditation habit in my life to increase my daily mindfulness. The habit still has to take root, mostly because I just can't stop thinking about all the things. I tried many guided meditation systems and other advice from yoga teachers, usually without success.

And then, I found something that works for me. I was having a massage in a spa, and I thought: I must be mindful, to enjoy this moment of calm and relaxation and connection to my body instead of thinking about appartment hunting and grocery lists. At first, it didn't work. After about 30 seconds of forcing myself to stay in the moment, my mind would wander again toward all these subjects that capture my attention these days.

Until I decided to describe my sensations to myself. As if I was writing the moment into a book chapter. Since I am a writer, I thought - worst case, it makes me practice my description skills. I started describing in my head, with words, the sensation of the warm hand on my legs, the faint scent of the massage oil, the calm background music filling the air. My muscles relaxing under the expert touch of the lady, my mind drifting into a peaceful bliss. And it worked! For the whole remainder of the massage, I started connecting with my sensations and feelings. I enjoyed the massage, and offered a break to my Parisian appartment searching tortured mind.

This particular trick works for me because I enjoy writing. Maybe there is another, similar trick which would work for you depending on your own sensibility? Turning sensations into images for example, imagining yourself physically taking each thought and throwing it in the bin... Only you can know, but the bottom line is: there isn't one method that works for all. If you've tried meditating and the guide's advice hasn't worked, maybe there is another way that will work for you.

The Appartment Philosophy

As you may have guessed by now, I'm currently appartment hunting in Paris. Knowing that I'm very particular about the neighborhood, the place's facilities and practicality, as well as the aesthetics of both the place and the building, it's been difficult. I have been difficult. Besides, we are looking at exactly the type of appartment and the type of price every childless working couple in Paris is looking for. Much competition is going on here.

The point is, I visited a perfect appartment the other day. In my zone (understand, 500m from where I currently live), in a 1850 building with a lot of charm and an exquisite aesthetics, a third floor appartment with a lot of light, many embedded closets and shelves, an open kitchen, a bathtub (trust me, this is rare in Paris), and. Beams. On. The. Ceiling. I'm thinking, the perfect Instagrammer lair. Not that I plan to pollute my instagram feed with beautiful lifestyle pictures. There were five other couples, with a potentially equal or better profile than me. And I thought: if I don't get this appartment, my standard will be raised so high I will compare anything else to this, and never be satisfied.

That's when my boss told me "you know, when I was appartment hunting myself, I always told myself that if I didn't get one, it's because there is a better appartment waiting for me somewhere. And that always worked, I always found better in the end". Now, isn't that a great philosophy? Not only for appartments: whenever you don't get what you want, life doesn't turn out the way you hoped, what if there was a reason for that? It wasn't meant to be, because there is something better waiting for you further down the line. I like this optimistic mindset. And I've been much less stressed about this whole appartment business ever since.

The Power of Flowers

That one is so simple. I'm sure you already know about this. One day, when I was living in Japan, I passed in front of one of these in-train-station flower shops. And there was this beautiful, cheap bouquet of purple and white flowers. That day, I bought the flowers, along with a simple glass vase. This little addition brightened my small student room in a way I couldn't imagine.

Ever since, there is a spot for a vase in my home, and I buy fresh flowers every week to brighten my mini-palace. How powerful is that small detail? Also, a proof that simplicity doesn't mean getting rid of all the unessential and living in a spartan environment. I believe it is very much the contrary, actually: removing all the clutter helps me see the beauty of what I choose to let in my home, and my life.

On Positive Psychology

I'll probably put together a full post about this, when I have more time. I attended a conference by psychologist Florence Servan-Schreiber, who studies, and teaches, about positive psychology. This is different from positive thinking for example, as this is an actual science, digging into what in our brains and minds makes us happy and whole as human beings. More science, less spiritual schmuck, that's something I'm quite sold to.

There is nothing revolutionary to this, it's basically a combination of "glass half full" with gratitude, stop comparing ourselves all the time, nurturing our own strengths of character and keep a growth mindset. Of course it is much more than that. But I'll come back to this soon.

The Jeans Anecdote

As a final bit of update, I wanted to share with you a little problem I had, and more specifically, how I reacted to it. I was putting on one of my favourite pairs of jeans, some Levi's denim bought in LA some years ago, and, as I was stretching to make them more comfortable, they cracked open at the widest of my left thigh.

I mean, shit happens. But I was quite surprised at my own reaction. In the past, I would have hated myself for being so fat, and I hate my thighs, and I still haven't lost the Christmas pounds, I would have blamed myself and gone on some unhealthy protein diet immediately.

This time, I just took off the jeans and put on another pair of pants. And planned a trip to the GAP (the best place for jeans I found so far, unless I have access to a Levi's outlet in LA). I still thought about my weight and overall health, as I'd like to avoid replacing my whole wardrobe, but in a much healthier way. Am I eating right? What's the status of my sports habit? Is there any bad habit that crept back in I should be mindful of? But no body hating, no shame. All these years of simplification and positive thinking and trying to change my view on my body seem to have worked eventually...

That's it for today. I don't have much time for blogging these days between the appartment hunt thing and some writing projects I'm focusing on in French right now, but I'll be writing such posts to keep this place active until I have time for more in-depth posts. I hope you enjoyed this!


  1. Wow, that meditation trick not only is so great, but also perfectly timed. I get 1 hour massages at the time because of an aching back and I will totally do this next time! I'm not really i to meditation, but I want the massage to be maximum relaxing and thinking about the damn uni deadline and work and this and that won't be helpful inthat matter.
    This reminds me also of the flower thing I wanted to try out since you first wrote about it. I love decorating with plants rather than stuff and I'm really gotten into bigger bushlike potted green plants. Maybe a vase with flowers would be a nice addition? Never know without having tried it out.
    I really love such postings with small thoughts inbetween.

    I think, when we start to think about authentic style, we stop compairing ourselves to others. It's a slow progress. The things you did like mindful eating, mindful living, being critical about consumerism, shifting priorities away from things and all that in the end gave you a much more relaxed attitude towards your own body. If you plan to have children, this is powerful subconscious and conscious knowledge you will pass. But you already pass it to your readers and probably to your friends, family (and vice versa, like your mother's relaxed attitude).

    1. I'm happy if that meditation trick can help! I have no idea if it works for anyone else, but it was very efficient to focus on the physical sensations of the moment - which is what we want when we are getting a massage, I guess. I also like to buy a few potted plans here and there, I find it adds something to the room, maybe because I live in a city and we are not in contact with greenery that often.

      I hope you are right and I can pass on a positive mindset to my children. With social media and all these things we didn't have when we were kids, I can't imagin how far body hating (and general unhappiness and feeling of being inadequate) can go... I've been thinking about the small, gradual changes simplicity has done to by subconscious, and it's very promising. It takes time but it's really worth it :) I'm happy you enjoy this type of post, I have little time to update the blog these days so there will probably be more of these...

  2. I fall asleep every single time I meditate. And I only meditate for 15 minutes a day... and it's like my mind shuts down regardless of what time I meditate. I think I'm going to give this method a try. Focusing on my breathing or counting my breaths just lulls me like a baby because it's too rhythmic! I'm going to give this a try, using words to describe what I'm experiencing. I think it's the perfect way of being "in the moment" while still letting the mind rest. Ahhh~~

    And kudos on the jeans bit. No need to feel bad, just get new jeans and then make sure to actively start exercising again. That's exactly what I had to do recently. Relationship weight gain... lol. :\ oops?

    1. That also happens to me! We have a short guided meditation session at the end of my yoga class, and I always end up in this semi-sleeping state. I wonder if this is an unintended consequence or if it is actually the goal of meditation, resting the mind? I attended a session of sophrology, which is quite similar as it plays with breath, and the sophrologist actually told me the very goal of a session is to reach this semi-sleeping state, so...

      thanks for the jeans story. Actually I cracked another pair this week , the oldest one I had. Someone has a message for me. I'm still surprised at how calm my reaction is to this whole thing :)

    2. Brigitte, did you try not to close your eyes when meditate ? :)

      That's great, too, to be able to sleep, using meditation... I admit that I sometimes use some of these tricks to stop thinking in the bed and helping me to sleep (with eyes closed, this time ;) ).

  3. I’m curious that you would describe attempts at meditation as ‘failed’ because your mind kept wandering off. Everything I’ve read on meditation, and the app that I use for it (Headspace), suggest that it’s not about not having your thoughts wander off (it’s in the nature of the mind to wander off) but about practicing awareness to realize they have and then bringing your attention back to the breath. It can be frustrating to have to bring your awareness back to the breath dozens of times during the course of 15 minutes, and / or to realize you have wandered off for long periods of time before noticing, but as I understand it, that is the actual practice. Mind you I’m just a beginner.
    Now if describing is something that helps you stay in the moment, then of course that’s great. I have difficulty practicing awareness in everyday life, like at a concert or when in nature etc. I wonder if you just describe the sensations or if, as a writer, you feel the urge to turn the experiences into a story. Because that last part might lead you away again from the actual experience into the imagination, no?

    1. You have a good point actually! Perhaps the point is to keep trying and bring the thoughts back to the present moment, and as we get better it happens fewer times... In that particular case I wasn't meditating but having a massage, and I thought it's really too bad to let my mind wander off as I should be enjoying that rare moment, be in the present. It is only after that I made the connection with meditation. But thanks for your input, maybe I should see it that way to keep meditating despite my mind's unruliness.
      To answer your question, I often do tell myself stories from the present, let my imagination take over, and that's how I create inspiration for my writing, so I cherish this! But in the particular case of the massage, I didn't let a "story" take over, I really focused on the idea of describing this scene as if a book character was having the massage and I was describing the scene to a reader. This may sound like a weird mindset but it worked for over 20 minutes!

  4. Love the meditation trick, I'll definitely have to try that out!
    Also I feel you on the apartment hunting. Moving in a big city can be an absolute nightmare, but I love your boss's suggestion. My mom always says the same thing to me :) "Obviously that one wasn't meant for you, just keep at it, you can only have one [apartment, job, boyfriend... ] at a time" or "You only need someone to say yes once" It definitely helps keep my head on straight.

    1. Oh I can imagine it's the same in New York indeed! When there are a lot of people and few appartments at an affordable range, it's all about luck. I like your mother's advice, it's interesting indeed. I remember saying that to my fiancé when he was looking for a job in Paris: he was complaining there were so few jobs in his area available at once, and I used to answer "but you need only one job, one person to say yes". I guess it's the same for appartments :)

  5. Est-ce que je peux commenter en français (j’ai lu ton interview… ;) ). Je parviendrais sans doute à bafouiller quelques trucs en anglais mais cela serait un peu plus laborieux pour moi, et pas dit que cela serait très agréable à lire pour toi !!...
    Bravo pour ton site, que j’ai découvert il y a peu de temps. Je me retrouve dans pas mal de tes derniers articles. :)
    C’est très sympa ces petites brèves en vrac.

    J’ai commencé la méditation à petites doses il y a quelques semaines, tellement j’en avais assez de penser sans arrêt, d’être préoccupée, d’avoir ces choses pas forcément utiles qui tournent en boucle dans ma tête (oui, moi aussi j’ai tendance à penser que l’objectif de revenir maintes et maintes fois à sa respiration et ses sensations lors de la méditation est, à terme, d’essayer de rester plus longtemps attaché à cela et donc d’avoir les pensées qui divaguent moins).
    Lorsque je ne fais “rien” (méditation), j’ai l’impression de pouvoir commencer à libérer un peu d’espace dans ma tête, quelques secondes par-ci par là, mais je serais aussi intéressée par des méthodes de “méditation active”, de “méditation alors que l’on fait quelque chose” (il me semble que cela se trouve moins ??)… J’ai beau lire que c’est bien de se concentrer, lorsque l’on fait la vaisselles ou je ne sais quoi d’autre, sur ses sensations, ce que l’on voit, ce que l’on fait, j’ai beaucoup de mal, pour le moment (les conseils sont souvent moins concrets que le tien).
    L’autre jour, je taillais mes hortensias et ce n’était pas très fun, j’avais un peu froid... Le “self-talk” était insupportable et inarrêtable… J’ai remarqué que, sans doute par manque de confiance en moi, j’imagine souvent que quelqu’un critique ce que je fais et j’essaie d’échafauder un discours pour me justifier, expliquer pourquoi je fais comme cela etc. Cela pourrait éventuellement sembler constructif, vu comme cela, mais en fait, ça ne l’est pas.
    J’essayais, comme toi, de me raccrocher à ce que je faisais ou voyais (la couleur des feuilles, le bruit du sécateur, la lumière sur les branches…), mais je ne parviens pas du coup à faire comme si j’écrivais à propos de cela. Déjà, dicter un texte à mon ordinateur, j’en suis incapable… ;)
    Est-ce que tu arrives vraiment à penser comme si tu dictais un roman ou un texte poétique ou s’agit-il plus de décrire ce que tu ressens ??

    1. Bon je vais répondre en deux temps du coup :) Merci beaucoup pour ce partage, au contraire c'est très intéressant de lire les expériences et questionnements d'autres personnes! Je me suis aussi penchée sur cette "méditation active", j'ai retrouvé des astuces sous le thème de la "pleine conscience", en fait les exercices de pleine conscience consistent à se forcer à être dans l'instant présent pendant des tâches quotidiennes, comme faire la vaisselle par exemple. Je trouve l'idée très intéressante, mais toujours difficile à mettre en place, surtout pour les gens qui, comme moi, sont tout le temps en train de penser à mille trucs.

      Au final je pense qu'il doit exister des "trucs" personnels qui marchent pour chacun. Dans mon cas, en effet, je décris ces sensations, mais comme si j'étais en train d'écrire un paragraphe descriptif dans un livre - comme si le personnage principal était en train de se faire masser. Au final, il s'agit en effet de décrire mes sensations, ce que j'entends, ce que je ressens. J'ai trouvé cela efficace parce que ça me force à réfléchir à ce que je ressens, donc à me concentrer sur mes sensations, et ça force mon esprit à se concentrer sur trouver les mots justes pour décrire ce que je ressens, ce qui fait qu'il reste concentré sur la tâche au lieu de partir ailleurs. Mais je peux comprendre que ce soit compliqué pour quelqu'un qui n'a pas forcément l'habitude d'écrire des textes descriptifs! Peut-être qu'une méthode en images marcherait mieux par exemple?

  6. Je continue mon petit partage d’expérience. :)
    Ce n’est pas grave si c’est un peu long ?? (hihi en fait si, il y a une limite de caractères pour tes commentaires… Pas grave, je contourne !! ;) )

    Hier, je jetais des cartons à la déchèterie (on saura tout, décidément !! :p ) et j’avais vu sur des sites traitant du minimalisme que certaines personnes comptaient les possessions dont ils se débarrassaient, sans doute pour se motiver et faire que chaque chose compte.
    Du coup, je comptais mes cartons en les balançant dans la benne et cela m’a rappelé ce truc de compter, aussi, en méditation, pour accrocher notre esprit à quelque chose d’abstrait… Ainsi, je pense que la prochaine fois que je ferai une activité répétitive et que mon esprit divaguera vers ses idées noires et ses justifications inutiles, j’essaierai d’associer un comptage à mon activité. Je compterai le nombre de branches coupées, le nombre d’épluchures de pomme de terre enlevées, le nombre d’objets sortis du lave-vaisselle… Tu crois que ça risque de devenir un toc, lol ?! :)
    En tous cas, si tu as d’autres idées ou ressources sur la “méditation” alors que l’on fait quelque chose, je suis carrément preneuse.

    D’ailleurs, il y a quelque chose qui me chiffonne dans la plupart des pratiques que j’ai vu, c’est que l’on ne fait toujours que remplacer des mots par des mots : remplacer nos pensées par les mots du monsieur qui dit de sa voix douce et posée qu’il nous faut inspirer et expirer et sentir le contact de nos pieds sur le sol, les remplacer par une description que l’on fait à nous même de ce qui nous entoure et de la manière dont on ne perçoit etc.
    Evidemment, c’est déjà un grand pas de remplacer les auto-discours rabat-joie par des pensées plus positives mais sais-tu si certaines personnes parviennent à se dégager des mots ou accéder davantage aux sensations pures ?
    Une approche purement cerveau droit. ;) (peut-être est-ce que j’y arrive un peu lorsque je dessine ou que je fais des photos ? Il faudrait que j’essaie d’être plus “mindful” pour m’en rendre compte)

    Merci à toi pour ces partages vraiment de vécu, pas moralisateurs mais au contraire tout à fait enrichissants.
    J’attends avec impatience les futurs développements que tu annonces sur ces différentes thématiques. :)

    1. Merci beaucoup pour tout ça, je suis bien contente si ce que je partage peut aider d'une manière ou d'une autre! C'est pas mal cette idée de compter, ça fait un peu penser à la technique ancestrale de compter des moutons imaginaires pour essayer de s'endormir; C'est une façon de focaliser l'esprit sur quelques chose pour l'empêcher de divaguer, donc pourquoi pas? D'autres méthodes similaires font compter les respirations par exemple, pour rester dans l'instant. Une autre idée que j'avais lue est de se focaliser sur un point particulier. Par exemple allumer une bougie et se focaliser sur la flamme. L'idée est de trouver un point d'ancrage dans le réel qui permet d'y revenir quand l'esprit tend à partir ailleurs. Mais j'ai encore à tester beaucoup de ces pistes! Je suis tellement focalisée sur mon écriture en ce moment que je teste moins de nouvelles choses en ce moment.

      Dans les ressources, j'ai également assisté à une introduction à la méditation dans une association qui s'appelle l'Art de vivre. Je crois qu'ils ont plusieurs antennes en France, si tu en trouves une près de chez toi ça peut être pas mal pour essayer - la séance à laquelle j'ai assisté durait une heure et on a exploré plusieurs méthodes.

      Dans ton cas, où tu as l'air d'être plus visuelle (photo, dessin), une autre solution serait peut-être d'avoir recours à l'image - soit t'imaginer en train de regarder la scène présente de l'extérieur par exemple, ou bien se faire une image mentale, d'un lac calme par exemple, et chaque respiration serait un petit remous sur la surface du lac ou quelque chose du genre? Je pense qu'il faut tester et voir ce qui marche le mieux :)