Thursday, December 2, 2010

SNOW IN MILAN (and a peace of mind)

According to a Chinese proverb;

If you want to be happy for a day get drunk,

if you want to be happy for a week kill a pig,

if you want to be happy for a month get married

and if you want to be happy for life be a gardener.

Therefore I guess one way of being happy for a month AND a week would be by killing the pig: my husband. But lets not go into that. (actually I'm quite fond of him).

On a serious note. I'm not sure about the first three on the list but the last does seem to ring true. Pottering about the vegetable patch, knee high in mud and weeds and if lucky bean sprouts can be very medicinal even if not fruitful. However it's one of those wonderful pass-times that one simply does for the sake of it. Like dancing (the movement of the body without a final destination), singing (vibration of the voice without relaying information), painting (applying colour without redecoration) or meditation (sitting still without waiting for anything). Not everything has to have a final goal. In fact thinking about it perhaps the best things don't. Anyway - Unlike the first three, being a gardener and surrounded by nature as well as the medicinal side effect, has the ability of "lifting the mind into a state of clarity and gladness" : bringing it into a mediative state.

The contemplation of nature is a vedic (inner yoga) practice which I'd say just about anyone can attempt and be influenced by, nature is also has the advantage of being at everyones disposal. Much more "western-friendly" than the Vaishnava method (releasing the mind by idealizing someone you love be it guru, mother or god) and far more realistic than the Buddhist method (to make the mind content by feeling love and friendship towards all mankind), simply being with nature, taking in the sight of the mountains, a snow covered wood, watching the sea and waves, or looking up into a cloud dotted sky brings us away from our what suddenly seem petty problems, from mental "constriction" to a mental expansion which brings with it a sense of calm and peace. To such an extent and as such a potent "mind tool", that there is even a vedic term for contemplation of the sky: "akasha-bhavana".

For a year I lived on my own in an old farmhouse in the middle of a wood in Tuscany. There was no electricity, no running water, no telephone (before the days of mobile phones), no heating, and I had no car. Despite the material discomforts (washing my hair and freezing my scalp off in the stream outside the house),I had the opportunity of living nature to the full - I had my veggie patch (where nothing ever ended up on my plate because the deer and the wild-boar got to the veggies before I did) I chopped wood for the fire, I sat by the stream during spring and summer enjoying the smells and sights of my lush surroundings. Despite the material "hardship" I have to say it was bliss.

The good news is that one doesn't have to sell up and go off into a wood to contemplate nature or to experience such mental "gladness". One can be in the midsts of a city to do so. Just go to a park, or even less strenuous - just look up.

At the moment many are bemoaning the inconvenience of the snow in Milan. Although I too don't enjoy the delays and inconvenience of cycling through thick sludge, it is despite this, a wonderful opportunity. Instead of leaving Milan to come into contact with nature, nature has come to Milan. Sit back and watch. Enjoy. Contemplate the sky and watch the giant snowflakes fall, feel the mind expand and become peaceful.

* linguistic note for the Italians: in english "pig" when describing a person usually indicates someone slothful, lazy and/or a glutton.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010


Recently The Independent published an article on sport psychology - stating that the recent winner of the The Open Championship was won by Oosthuizen thanks to a little red dot. Yes, not so much due to talent, skill and fortune (which, according to Sport psychologist Tim Rees, make little difference when you are at professional level and at the top of your league) but due to a small mark placed strategically on his glove. The idea behind this being that whenever the mind of the champion began to wander, waver and succumb to the incredible pressure these sports professionals are under, he would see the red dot and bring his mind back to what he was doing, on his shot - rather than on what he had just done or on what he would just about to fail to do.

Other sports mental-training techniques include archiving negative thoughts in a hypothetical black box to be taken out if necessary after the game, match or shot in question. This to encourage sports men and women to move on rather than dwell on mistakes made, leading to sharpened concentration at critical moments.

What I found interesting about the dot theory is the not the red mark in itself but what it represents - remembering. We all know that all we need to do is to stay calm and focused - many of us also know how to do that. The problem seems to be for many us - remembering to do so. In times of stress we have adrenalin surging through our bodies making staying still and calm difficult, we also have our critical mind admonishing us for our pitiful and disastrous (or what seems so at the time) mistakes, and this is a recipe for forgetfulness as well as nerves.

At home in our hallway to the surprise of many guests and distress of some of the younger visitors we have a particularly scary fierce looking buddhist mask hanging in the hallway facing the front door (I am not a buddhist - I only have buddhist tendencies- I don't go all the way). Personally I doubt he is there to scare away evil spirits (or toddlers - although that would be nice sometimes) , just as I don't believe a crucifix is there to remind us of our sins, nor that muslim's obligatory daily prayer times are implemented to honor allah, or the sound of a church bells a pleasant way of telling the time, but that these are all instruments to help us to remember. In the religious camp to help us to remember how (at the very least) to behave. Karen Armstrong a winner of the prestigious TED prize points out that belief is a relatively recent concept in religion. Originally it was about behavior about treating others as you would wish yourself to be treated - rather than about who has the "biggest and best imaginary friend" as I once heard God being described as.

Rituals and religious icons also help to bring us back to earth - to the here and now. Just as the red dot helped bring focus to a golf player I think a statue of buddha could be used to do the same. A visual alarm bell telling us to be awake, receptive focused and present. But as Dr. Rees has just proven you can be inventive, if you don't share my buddhist tendencies choose something different.

For homework this week I invite you to invent yourself a ritual or icon to use to remind yourself of BEING (rather than living in and torturing yourself about the future and or past, delete where appropriate).

Possible rituals do not have to be offerings to buddha, they could include mental focus every time you walk to and from the bus stop, every time you bring a glass of water to your lips, or you could set an alarm (on your devise of choice) to go off every hour to give yourselves an audial "keep awake keep present" instrument . If you are more of the kinesthetic type and don't give stuff about aesthetics, keep an elastic band around your wrist and ping it every hour. Use your imagination.

Icons or red dot substitutes could include something from nature as a wonderful visual visceral way to keep focused, which is why I presume everyone wants a house by and with a view of the sea (or lake, mountain, forest or at least tree, which are just as effective). If a house by the sea is out of your budget and a walk to it geographically and logistically impossible, a beautiful picture on show at your home could be an alternative -splash out - buy something you love that offers nothing more than pure beauty so every time your gaze washes over the masterpiece (photo, painting, print) you come alive. This is priceless! A plant and a fireplace would serve as both icon and ritual - Icon; aesthetic pleasure combined with the ritual of watering or lighting a fire (it appears that looking after a plant can extend your life) even better, a vegetable garden. For more portable icons the choice is yours.

I would dissuade you from tattoos on the forehead however.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010


I was fortunate enough to have frequented the Yoga Festival of Milan this year. I was particularly taken with Eric Baret - a Frenchman who holds some clout in the yogic world and for good reason. His conference was a mix of quiet slow paced practice and understated wisdom. He dedicated a large chunk of the time to answering questions and one was;

"Why is it in the yogic world that we hear so much about renunciation and austerity(no eating meat, no sex, no smoking, no this no that) there seems to be a tendency to withdraw from pleasure, is there not a more joyful path to follow?!"

His answer was that this path of renunciation in the yogic world has been put about by "Patanjali fascists" (which caused a ripple of uncomfortable laughter amongst his audience) and is unnecessary for and in the life we lead. What a relief. He suggested that Patanjali's ancient text (YogaSutra) has undeserved influence, had probably been badly translated in the first place, then regurgitated weirdly, from the West back to India where it is now practiced and preached in both. It isn't a path that he suggests, stating that one in life should not exclude nor change anything.

Tiziano Grandi who is of the same line of thought, suggests immersing ones self fully in ones life and not withdrawing from it. It's not necessary to deprive oneself and body to access a certain quality of self-awareness. On the contrary. Our life style rather than be our problem can be used as a tool. Our outside circumstances with all the trouble and strife are all but an obstacle. Talking about typical western lifestyle choices Gurdjieff for example (unconventional mystic and spiritual teacher born at the end of the 19th century) inferred that to progress along a spiritual path one would benefit from living with husband/wife and kids. Buddha on the other hand, sumised that to have children was a distraction and suggested one refrained. One of these great teachers promotes living life to the full the other to withdraw from "distractions" (which are, well.....if you think about it, just about everything). Both are valid.

I know however, which I would rather choose.

In fact philosophizing about passion recently it was clear that there are different schools of thought amongst yoga teachers and practitioners. Many promote the "path of the monk" which means living a simple life void of as many distractions as possible (and "passion" is seen as a pretty major one) so sex, alcohol and eating meat to name just three are frowned apon. This path I personally think is more suitable for....well....monks. It seems a little unfair to request this from those living in 2010 and in a metropolis. Although if one is able to follow this path in the midsts of Milan - well, hats off to them. I have the maximum of respect for these resilient few.

I don't think the problem is renouncing as such, but being attached to that renunciation. To give an example Baret said in his conference, if someone formally meditates every day - fine (although he didnt seem particularly impressed with this formal meditation suggesting instead that it is brought to everyday life rather than to a cushion) and can't live without doing so - then meditation itself becomes a problem. Lets take choice of diet. Buddha was a vegetarian, although there were occasions recorded of when he ate meat. Usually when it was offered to him. This is indicative that he was a vegetarian but not attached to being so. He wasn't going to lose sleep nor beat himslef up about his "mixed values" just because someone had offered him a bit of Sheperd's Pie. For to do so (lose sleep) surely would have made his renunciation an even greater mental distraction than eating a sausage or two. Renunciation can be a useful tool to (amoung other things) create non-attachement, as long as it doesn't become an attachment in itself.

*Eric Baret follows the Kashmir yogic tradition

Wednesday, October 6, 2010


I just wanted to remind you all (if I haven't gone on about it enough already) that Milan's yearly yoga festival is taking place this Friday, Saturday and Sunday (that's the 8th, 9th and 10th of October) at Superstudio PiĆ¹, in via Tortona 27 (Metro Porta Genova).
Check out the website here;

or go straight to the programme here;

Note than some of the conferences need to be booked before hand.

Go, learn, practice, enjoy and come back to tell me all about it!
See you next class or even perhaps directly at the festival itself.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010


I was horrified when during a recent yoga retreat the yogi Kakuji Maharaj informed me that I would have to stop….eating meat? No. Stop drinking wine? No. Meditate 3 hours daily? Flirt with sleep deprivation? Fast till I fall? Flagellate myself with a cat-o-nine-tails? No. Worse. I was asked to stop RUNNING.

This may not seem like such a tragedy to the couch-potato types among us, risible to the Real yogis out there who spend most of their time in challenging zen like immobility. Surely it's like asking a rabbit to stop eating steak? not a particularly demanding nor daunting task? Well… to me it wasn't just daunting but bordered on the devastating. I was ashamedly proud of my amateur running achievements, having started last winter I had managed to do the 10k StraMilano much to my amazement and joy, and was diligently working my way up to for the half marathon when an obstacle in the shape of a white bearded indian stood in my path to (fake) gold (medals).

Ok - he did not threaten to hang, draw and quarter me had I declined, (I think that would be against his religion) it was a free choice. It was also a battle with my ego of immense proportions (size indicative of both the battle and my ego) but luckily the latter lost and I started slowing down. I was told that for three months I should avoid whipping my heart rate up into a frenzy and on the contrary, should keep it as low as I could, so no running for the bus, no lifting of heavy weights, no aerobic sports, cycling ok but at a gentle pace.

A few questions come to mind including and above all;


1. According to Patanjali "if breathing is to live, breathing well is to live well" - hence gaining a certain amount of control of your breathing pattern cannot be a bad thing.

2. According to Maharaj and yogic tradition each one of us is born with a set amount of breaths - get to your last one (which ever number that may be) and

the lights go out. You may reach your allotted number of breaths aged 60 or with a little training and control one may be able to draw them out till death at 107. Or so. Large vehicles on icy roads, unforgiving diseases and stubborn fish bones (to name but a few) permitting.

3. Going against the grain. By challenging your ego to do that which ones ego would really rather not (in my case stop running) disentanglement from this tyrant's bonds begins to occur. Who wears the trousers around here? Me or the ever changing tide of my desires and dislikes? The idea is not to get rid of ones ego but come face to face with it close up, if necessary through constant challenge. For to know ones ego is to glimpse the other side of the coin; oneself (and therefore ananda) - the two are intrinsically and closely linked. Yoga is all about knowing oneself.

4. Why should I allow a yogi/guru to impose his will instead of making this decision myself? Because the idea is to take ones ego out of the equation. If my ego has no choice she has no power. Maharaj taking the decision for me was putting my ego in the back seat - allowing me to see close up how much this hurt, and just how petulant she is. What's wrong with my ego making decisions? They are often not the right ones for a start. We tend to base our decisions not on what is right, rational, or wise, but on our whims - the mood we happen to be in at the time. In this way our mind is constantly being thrown around like a beach ball on a windy day - there's no balance, poise, reflection, observation and direction is haphazard. Just mental and then physical bulldozing forward as we act on our appetites and aversions.

The good news is that my three months at snails pace are finally up so I can start running again. What has the experience taught me apart from the huge size of my ego and the easy deterioration of the body "sans" sport?

Well…on a practical level:

- that going slowly is actually very medicinal. I found myself planning my day so that I didn't have to rush anywhere. Detaching myself from my computer screen a little more than five minutes before it's time to leave for a class/work. So arriving at the yoga center and the journey towards it, is/was a pleasure. The same for picking the children up from school. Arriving not in a frenzy and a coat of sweat is actually quite nice. And for them too.

- Using my spare time to walk in the mountains rather than run gave my "Me Time" a meditative feel.I was able to discern detail and really enjoy it, the colour of the sky, the movement of the clouds, the stones under my feet, the noise of the trees, and best of all the wonderful smells of the woods.

- Having ones heart rate at a relatively low pace makes breathing slower and calmer - therefore my response to difficulties (screaming kids, hurt cats, tortured lizards, unwashed dishes, lost keys etc)were in terms of actions rather than reactions (well…most of the time). On the domestic front (or at work) running around like a headless chicken is a dangerous recipe for multitasking and therefore disaster on the focus front.

- Taking it slow I found myself strangely being more organized (I thought I was genetically immune) and getting more done. I felt more clear headed and even my memory seemed to improve. Breathing slower ones attention is redirected towards the inside rather than the out (DHARANA - the basis of yoga; fixing the mind on the body center) and this is the only way one can learn more about oneself.

It's been a very interesting (if frustrating: I was holidaying in the mountains and seeing many a runner sprint along pollution-free roads skirted by mountains, filled me with yearning for my trainers) and I wish to extend the period of slowness. But interspersed with times when my running shoes are once more attached to my feet.

Try it at home; For 24 hours try to take things down a gear or two. As you find yourself speeding up breathe slowly. Notice how this makes you feel. Create more windows of time between one activity and another so you can afford yourself the luxury of going at a pleasurable pace. As someone once said - it's not that we don't have enough time, but that we waste so much of it.

Notice your state of mind after a day of going slow. Did you do more? Less?

Ego exercise; notice what your ego clings onto most - what would you really rather not give up? Forget smoking (too difficult to start with)and sex (unreasonable and unnecessary)and start with small things , Early morning coffee? Afternoon nap? snack mid morning? checking email before breakfast? Early morning run? What habit is your ego hanging on to? Contemplate doing without and notice what you feel.

Sunday, September 19, 2010


It appears that neither does one any good. According to the papers last week (and scientists of the school of "Stating The Blindingly Obvious") exercise does little to combat obesity (one has, wait for it.....reduce the amount of food/calories eaten! Dah, dah!) but hats off to the scientists who did come up with something slightly more surprising - sitting can speed one to an early death.

And even more surprising - no amount extra-curricular sweating and exercise can prevent the inevitable magnetic pull towards the six feet under, if you're keeping it cushy. Sitting for 6 or more hours a day can reduce your chances of survival by 37% it appears (less so if you are a man), and yes, even if you do go for a swift jog around the park before stepping into the death chamber (oops! I meant the office) it won't make much difference.

Very susceptible to news of this sort, being particularly enamored with life, I immediately started to reduce my sitting time drastically. I placed my computer on a chest of drawers (but for a more chic alternative try height adjustable desks here - and took to the rest of the day propping up and against large bits of furniture instead of being propped up by smaller ones. At the end of a particularly computer -heavy demanding day (yes, yoga instructors have them too) I was completely and utterly SHATTERED. Try standing for six hours and see how you feel. It makes sense; apparently one uses up double the calories by standing compared to sitting. So if you want to reduce your waistline, get off your butt. Literally.

It appears the reason for this is that muscles need to be held under tension, muscles enjoy being used, and suffer along with our metabolism, when forced to jelly like immobility.

It is also due to this that one of my particular bees in my bonnet ( "fixations" - sorry that's a note to my italian students to whom these "bees" may be a little too abstract) when it comes to yoga is - STRENGTH. Yoga is not just about sitting (honest!!) and "om-ing". Huge benefits are gained from working under physical tension thanks to both increased absorption of nutrients to your bones - thereby staving off osteoporosis and promoting a healthy skeleton, but also at a muscular level; lipoprotein lipase (a molecule that helps process fat) can only be produced when a muscle it is being employed. The plank position is a wonderful lipoprotein lipase promotor, for example!

Back to the office .......the good news is this: it appears that taking short regular breaks throughout the day, polka dotting your six hour sitting stint with little bouts of walking and stretching is enough to counteract “Death by Desk”.

So at every opportunity get up and walk around. As Hugh Wilson in his very interesting article about the subject in the Independent suggests;

- Deliver messages to colleagues personally rather than via email

- Go out for lunch and take a walk around town rather than munching a sandwich at your desk,

- Conduct meetings and take phone calls standing up

- If you have any say in office lay out, place printers, fax machines(do they still exist?!) coffee machines far from desks, forcing one to walk a few steps extra.

I would suggest too;

- Keep a big bottle of water at your desk - drink more and take more regular trips to the toilet.

- Take up smoking and go ouside on ciggie breaks (that's a joke)

- If you are He o She Who Must Be Obeyed (the boss) implement a five minute walking time per hour where workers can get up and go for a mingle. Do wonders for legs, the spirit, productivity, life expectancy and possibly romance. And install an exercise bike (why not?!) where one can get up and go for a quick peddle (why do small mice on spinning wheels suddenly spring to mind?!). A skipping rope may be cheaper (do I sound completely MAD? probably). Or to improve general mood and encourage sense of humor, a small trampoline.

But totally serious now, if I were a boss and had the space I would definitely have a small recreation yoga and or muscle promoting space for employees.

For your homework I suggest you reduce sitting time as much a feasibly possible, implement your own regular up-and-about breaks.

And for yoga strength try the following; dolphin plank pose, Chaturanga Dandasana -four limbed staff pose, utkatasana - chair pose, virabahdrasana - warrior

Monday, August 30, 2010


The turning point of our holiday (in the sticks, on a mountain surrounded by goats, mud, country folk and rather a lot of rain - at least on the weekend in question) came when we were invited to the village festa. This in itself was a success of sorts - we'd rented out a little humble abode in a village that during the harsh winter months has a live-in die-hard population of ….one. In the summer all the occupants under the admittedly very picturesque stone-slate rooves topping the fifty or so houses, reaches metropolitan proportions of at least 200. Our holiday home chosen could be described as a cross between a tent (temperature and comfort) and a wooden hut (aesthetics and size). However what our live-in shed lacks on the inside as far as material comforts go (no washing machine, dishwasher nor hot water in the kitchen) was compensated for richly on the outside, in terms of mountains, human warmth, companionship, wine, cheese, and a beautiful view.

I say that our invitation was a bit of a "result" as anyone venturing in from surrounding cities is considered an outsider: here we were in a minuscule ever green corner of Val Sesia, a family of "Milanese" including no less a South African Brit. It wasn't exactly a passport to making friends and influencing people. However we managed after a week not only to be invited but to "take part" in the annual village fete. I nearly failed the test from the start when the infamous "Leader of the pack" and village glue in human form: a sprightly elderly gentleman named Alfonso, informed me that I would be given the chance of making a cake for the grand occasion. I rather pathetically declined, mumbling that my cake making ability was comparable to my skills in synchronized swimming. ie. zero. He sighed at me with a disappointed look yet with kind eyes as I awkwardly tried to make up for my lack of cooking skills and the gaffe by promising to buy "a really good one".

As the day came and the event unfolded we walked around and through the five cobbled streets and numerous gardens of the village stopping at various stalls offering Sangria and goats cheese, to cakes and cola. I was introduced to everyone by our friendly adopted neighbor Alfonso (I'd obviously passed the cake test despite the oven unused) including to the young Sindico ( the a town mayor). At one point an old lady (who had she been a brit would have donned blue-rinse hair) came scurrying up to me and surreptitiously, sweetly asked who I was, adding that she had been sent by "the villagers" to find out. Actually had she been a Brit she would have simply peered behind quivering net curtains before weaving a story from what she'd observed over a bone china tea cup. One 90 year old woman was sitting on the flowered draped balcony in a rocking chair observing the proceedings in the little field under her house, and being visited by the neighbors in droves - ok I guess "droves" is an overstatement considering they number about 15 - anyway she was treated like royalty. It was all wonderful to see and to take part in.

The next day the vice-leader-of-the-pack and unofficial -events organizer - younger than Alfonso yet rounder and with a passion for the mountains, the village, social get-togethers and wine (all on equal footing ) invited us no less, to the village outing taking place the following day. A two hour walk up the mountains to be rewarded by a plate of polenta, stew and liters of "vino" on offer at the rifugio at the top. Obviously we accepted and it was one of the nicest walks we'd gone on so far. Even Nina our four year-old loved it.

The next two social events were held on the same day - the most important was the children's play - organized by two roman actors "Midsummer's night's dream" was shown at the local cupboard-like theater. We'd decided to go as the local goat farmer's daughter and friend of Melitta's was in it and …well….it just seemed a nice thing to do. But it was more than that. It was fascinating. A real lesson of life.

Whilst I sat wet and shivering on the theater chair, Nina perilously perched on my knees, Valerio (back at the ranch) was taking part in the another community effort - "la cena delle miacce"(miacce are a kind of crepe, a speciality of the area - folded around gorgonzola, or Toma and ham, they are delicious). Valerio witnessed neighbors taking it in turns to cook the miacce over an open fire with use of a metal pingpong-racket shaped instrument with a long handle. Miacce were cooked with lard, effort and sweat before being offered around and swigged down with a glass of red. The whole village had been invited and then most of them, full and merry made their way down through the torrential floods to the next village to see the children's play.

As I looked around at the audience, excited kids who the night before had played hide and seek noisily under our window until past midnight, proud grandparents whom I had seen pottering in the gardens of Grampa (the village name - how cute is that?!) pruning basil , parents merry making in the aisles with toddlers weaving between the chairs, it suddenly after less than 10 days all felt very familiar and homely. Warm.

Through the clapping and laughter I suddenly realized that THIS was what a "sense of community" was all about, everyone doing their bit (even if only as spectators). The young mayor was there to take photos (ok, his twins were IN the play so I guess that's normal) Anna the local teacher and goat farmer (yes, both) dishing out homemade cakes and the elderly compliments to the young. A net of support that at Grampa and Mollia is wound so tight it becomes a security blanket, giving everyone a sense of being needed, being useful and above all being PART.

I wouldn't have swapped the children's village play for an opening night at La Scala. It (plus the other events we had been invited to) wasn't about performance nor charity but about Community.

And it is this knowledge and meaning that I hope extend and to take back post-vacation with me to Milan. Along with a generous chunk of Toma. Thank you Val Sesia.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010


Last sunday I was immensely enjoying the sunday papers* (one of those simple and rare joys of life, where the ratio of cost versus pleasure is deliciously disproportionate). I was minding my own business hopping from one entertaining article to another when I suddenly hit upon one in The New Review by Nina Lakhani which stopped me in my tracks and brought me back to earth rather than with a bump, with a blood curdling scream. The article was so brave, raw and incredible that it tinted my mood for the whole day (mass understatement of both emotive state and duration). I couldn't shake it off.

What bothered me almost as much as the article itself was how sad it made me feel. I dragged around this painful shroud trying to forcibly rid myself of it which only rendered it more weighty. Like wet wool.

Then I thought "hold on a minute - my sadness at my sadness is bringing me more trouble the original state of sadness itself - this can't be right!". And I came to a standstill.

So, I decided to employ one of Buddha's famous maxims which smacks of Regan's 1980s anti-drug campaign but both precedes him by a long way and proves to be actually effective. The maxim being "do something different" to get one out of a mental mind trap (rather than heroin addiction - which was maybe pushing it a bit too far).

Usually my "doing something different" consists of going out alone preferably somewhere greenish and relatively silent. At the moment I am in the mountains so leaving the family fast asleep I ventured into the fresh morning air to tackle a cross country ski track winding its way through a wood posing as a Brazilian rainforest, and next to a river. But clad in shorts rather than skis (seeing as summer is incompatible with the latter).

Striding forth deep it thought, bare thighs tearing through the invisible early morning cob threads strewn across my path, legs smarting with the cold I suddenly realized my mistake. I'd forgotten that positive thinking and sadness are not mutually exclusive. Positive thinking does not render upset illegal. For to feel the latter is (or should be) a HEATHY and APPROPRIATE reaction to certain negative to shocking input (be it actions,deed, articles, news, traumas etc) or material. To feel sad is to be human and healthy. (Where as to feel depressed is a to have a disproportional and destructive reaction to an event which warrants neither.)

The problem is not sadness itself but two other factors;

1) if it's out of proportion (as I once read somewhere - "I knew my feelings for him had died when one morning his reaction to losing a sock was comparable to that of being told he had cancer".)

2) if it overshadows and influences everything else negatively for a disproportionate length of time. Think of deep southern Italian widows permanently mourning, dressed in black and victimhood, sexless and alone until death.

So instead of chastising myself for my unexpected downturn in mood, instead of trying to mentally trick myself out of this healthy reaction in order to mistakenly find respite, I decided to let it in. I allowed the mood to seep through me (like a water drenched sponge), I watched it develop and almost swallow me up whole, but to my suprise it didn't. It started to subside and drain away. Leaving me alone and mentally refreshed with my rainforest pathway and cobwebs.

Walking on the way back is always far more pleasurable as the sun at that stage in the morning has started to peep over the mountain drenching me in its light and warmth and this alone seems to cleanse the mind. Anyway the point being - It's ok to be sad .

That's it folks.

So for your homework this week if and when you find yourself feeling blue ask yourself: why? Once the root cause is uncovered try to figure out if this sadness is indeed warranted, then allow it to co-exist as is simply is. Try to avoid pushing it away or feeding it. Feel, observe and wait.

I wanted to formally thank Nina Lakhani for her bravery in writing this article and to The Independent for publishing it on a Sunday, when more people will surely come into contact with it. It's hard but everybody should read it.

And good luck to Rebecca Moran may all your wounds heal - god knows you deserve it. To read the article go to the Independent website; and look under the section "People". I tried to include the link but it doesn't seem to work.

*Forgive me Italians, I'm afraid I'm talking about English Newspapers which on a Sunday are huge gems of entertainment, knowledge and information - the same cannot be said for the ones found here - please do not take offense. I find Italian papers are all politics, reported speech and boredom. Although the only thing I cannot do without (and I acknowledge it's a completely different kettle of fish) is Vivimilano of Corriere della Sera. And not only because I have been mentioned within its pages!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010


The two guys leapt up, laughing and shouting they hugged each other, lots of pats on the backs ensued and tears of delight. Meanwhile on the other side of the world a black woman stared into the distance, tears of desolation streaming down her face. Why? Are we talking of the birth of a child, the celebration of marriage or the mourning over the death of a loved one? No, of course what we are talking about is football. The World Cup to be precise. The two men from Uruguay ecstatic in their victory the Ghanaian woman seeped in sadness over a goal too few, immobile and apparently impassive to the world around her, to the noise, the people, to reality.
And this is the point is it not?For a moment, for a match, it feels like the whole world is suspended as we channel emotions usually left aside for times of life and death, towards something, as Akhandadhi Das recently pointed out, which is a nothing but an illusion. This is why according to the sacred text Bhagavad-Gita, these crashing waves of euphoria and pain are experienced: due to the immersion into illusion, deciding to live something which is not real. And The World Cup is a good example of this, as it does not touch our lives personally nor directly (unless you are Maradona, in which case tears may be more than applicable). We find ourselves moved by matches normally avoided like the plague (even my MOTHER is watching football, which is synonymous with David Beckam taking an interest in crochet. Ok my mother wouldn't be seen dead with a crochet needle either, but this is besides the point) played by people we have never met in a country which most of us have never been too. We are not talking about the electricity bill that cannot be paid, a promotion at work, a broken bone, a financial gain on the stock market or loss during the recession. The world cup is a dream we choose to dip into. "Choose" ( or "choice")being the operative word. Exactly as we can choose elation or anguish for a match won or lost we can choose joy or misery for all our daily ups and downs.

Albert Einstein said "There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle."

Akhandadi Das in his recent comment suggested that ALL life is an illusion, so nothing is really worth getting so het up about. I agree with him but for us mere mortals acceptance of this fact is hard to figure, and implementing such a carefree attitude is as difficult as goal scoring in the world cup.
Therefore for your homework (or "our" homework) I suggest instead of attempting total passive accepting calm in all circumstances, that we work towards choosing emotions to events so that they (emotions) work for us rather than against us. Especially in occurrences which may seem negative, don't allow emotions to out-weigh the event itself. Remember emotions are not something you passively experience but something you CHOOSE.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010


In one of the stories from the book "Sum: forty tales from the afterlives" David Eagleman imagines us reliving our lives with events not in chronological order, but in an order of commonality - so acts which have a similar quality about them get grouped together and are re-experienced together - so that one would spend say 6 days clipping nails, 7 months having sex, 15 months looking for lost items, the list goes on.

This I found fascinating and worrying at the same time. How much time would I personally be condemned to walk to and fro from the fridge?! How much time would I spend on Google (there may be those who envisage 7 continual months of searching internet more palatable than 7 months of having sex - but this is your problem) Looking for the kids shoes and other lost objects would take up a far larger percentage of my life than I am willing to admit. Shouting at the children? Ok - I think I'll just stop my own personal list right there.

The thought of being condemned to reliving events and habits clumped together puts a different perspective on what we do. Exactly like death does in general. Imagining Eagleman's events-orientated afterlife and the months envisaged smoking, or drinking, or arguing, or even commuting, spending time on the computer or phone, one is able to quantify the quality. Or qualify the quantity. It helps gage the importance, the damage, the utility, futility or absurdity of our actions and gives us a further time indication , the underlying suggestion being "to do more, or less?".

Questions such as: Do I really want to spend so much of my time emailing? Watching T.V? Sitting in a car? arise, prompting ideas of change. What action can I take to ensure that in my hypothetical afterlife I spend less than 8 months looking for keys and trying to disengage with people around me?

According to Tal Ben-Shahar, author of the book "Happier", our actions/activities can be divided into 4 types;

1. those which bring us present benefit (enjoyment) but to future detriment (regret it later) - think massive chocolate cake.

2. those that afford us future benefit but to present detriment - think colon cleansing and enemas.

3.those which provoke present and future detriment - Think seventh pint of beer.

4. activities which bring present enjoyment and which lead to future benefit/fulfillment. Think - YOGA!!!!

This later is according to Tal Ben-Shahar the key to happiness (yoga only indirectly!).

If Eagleman's thought provoking ideas give us an idea about how much time we (should) spend doing something, Ben-Shahar gives us a clearer idea about WHAT those actions should constitute.

What actions/activities do you do that bring you present AND future fulfillment? How much time do you spend on these?

And of Ben- Shahar's other three activity types?

Alastair Campbell, communications advisor/spin doctor to Tony Blair during his golden years, has just published his latest diaries. They are transcriptions of private conversations between political party members during Labour's "reign". It appears that often Campbell's political colleagues do not come out favorably , and some of the detail is downright damning. When Cambell was asked what conversations he'd decided to leave out as content was just too sensitive, he commented "I left out dialogues spoken by those who had since died, as it didn't seem fair."

This is the beauty of death: it's the ultimate judge of what we do and how we behave in life. Death is a very effective moral compass (and if Alastair's moral compass suggested to him, as it did, that with death these conversations should NOT be published, it is indicative that morally in and with life, the other dialogues too should have remained private). Death is a healthy indicator of where we should go and what we choose. If only we remembered a little more often that death may be just around the corner.

Death too, is a refrainer from doing harm to others. If you knew your difficult co-worker/boss/child/mother-in-law/teacher/neighbor were to die tomorrow, would you speak to him/her differently? How would your behavior change?

In life, death is the only certainty we have. And it's a precious one. Start using it rather than negating it. (Alastair's political colleagues will ALL die. Ignoring this fact does not turn something he thought morally suspect, into something acceptable.) Think of it and incorporate it in your every day life...."how would I react if?" Think of your actions and activities and alter them as death would indicate.