A particularly dull day that was. And within a few minutes the sky opened up and the blue kept getting bluer, and the day brighter. The flowers in my garden were in full bloom. The flowers speak how delighted I was. Life was good in that moment.
This is the story of a water beetle who lived with her friends deep down in an obscure lily pond. Their life in the soft pond mud was content and uneventful, away from the direct sun and any disturbances far above. However, every once in a while, some beetle would climb up a lily stalk making its way up, up and away. Never to return. This would make all of them sad, wary and fearful.
One beautiful summer morning the sky above was still rosy, when down below, this one beetle got restless. Boredom and curiosity got the better of her and she started her climb up one firm lily stem. She was determined find out what lay beyond and to come back and share her findings with her friends below. The climb was long and steep, and she finally broke through the surface of water into a sea of gleaming lilies ubiquitous in the gorgeous sunlit pond. She was fascinated beyond her wits, but the long climb had tired her out. She lay on the lily pad in the blanket of the warming sun, soon falling into a deep sleep. She slept long, only to be shocked once she woke up. Her body had transformed during the long nap; she now had a long electric blue tail and lustrous wings, perfect for flying. The beetle was transformed into a brilliant dragonfly! She took her first flight above the pond and the lilies, rising and swooping and soaring back up again. A whole new world had opened up for her, a way superior life than that the one she had known all her life. More like a fantasy beyond her wildest imagination. Now back on on lily pad for a little respite, she remembered her life under water, and felt a pang of sympathy for her friends. In a gush of emotion to tell them all about this new world, she headed to get under water only to jolt back. Her new body was no more for the water.
A realization came upon the beetle that even if she went, her friends wouldn’t recognize her, nor believe this “absurd” tale. That they would realize it only when each one takes that step and experiences it for themselves. Poignant, but peaceful, the beetle took an deep breath and darted into the dazzling sunlight towards her glorious new life, now as a radiant Dragonfly!
In the face death, the harshest but most certain reality of life, this story assuages us that our loved one might just not cease to exist. They might just have found a glorious world beyond our knowledge. It gives us reassurance. It gives us hope.
In the face of life and the living, when I died many tiny deaths in face of frustration and failure and hopelessness and depression, it empowered me to go beyond the unpleasant and the dark. It urges to go past any complacency of a certain “just OK” life-situation encouraging for an exploration of a more meaningful and fulfilling life. It gives the hope of a possibility of something splendid, only if one resolves to break through.
‘Zen And The Art of Minimalism’ could be an alternate title of this book by Marie Kondo. It is the English translation of the original book written in Japanese.
I am part of the Generation X, and grew up when middle class was really the middle class. We seemed to have just enough to get by and save and be debt-free. We rarely discarded anything, I remember, partly because we didn’t seem to have much to discard, and partly because we could surely ‘use it in future’. Now in the age of consumerism, it is “hoarding”, and there was an urgent need to unlearn.
That point on space & time graph:
I believe that there are trying times in all our lives that sweep us off our feet and we question everything that we have – people, relationships, things. Looking around in this moment of powerful contemplation and finding meaningless “stuff” about us, we just might have the ‘and-why-do-I-have-all-this-cr@p-anyway’ moment. I did, over a year ago when, quite serendipitously, I found this book. Because it resonated with me so much, I strongly wanted spread the word. It answered for me questions like “how do I create my Happy Place?” literally, or “how to be happy”.
With systematic steps to declutter your home, what she calls the Kon-Mari method (from her last and first names), the author writes passionately and in an honest voice. Her principle is to surround oneself with things that spark joy, and discard the rest (as much as possible). She goes a few steps further in asking readers to touch everything and see if you feel good about it, to their express gratitude for their service (something she is ridiculed for). No wonder this book seems to be a hit or a miss. Yes- there is repetition, and yes-there are suggestions that might seem beyond you. But do not take it literally, if you so disagree; take it with a grain of salt so as to not miss the important underlying principle.
Being idealistic and passionate, I aspire to the ideal of minimalism. In principle, one doesn’t need to have what one doesn’t need to have. More and more, I look for meaning in things and people and relationships- quality, more than quantity. Have less things, but good ones that serve your purpose that you feel happy about. Don’t let the things you own, own you.
Minimalism is not as much about figuring and discarding what you don’t want as it is about diving deep within to find what you really do. Gnothi seauton: Know thyself. Quite simple. And very difficult. When you let go of things, I think, you practice “letting go” in general, a very handy virtue. When I give up/away things with-out, it frees up energy that sort of comes back to me within. This is highly empowering. Pointing to this truth is the beauty and the value of this book.
In defense of the book:
What is an ideal? Some thing that is perfect- a highest attainable degree of excellence. Are or can humans be ideal? No-not generally. So, do we need ideals? Yes, absolutely. Because we need something to aim for. Something to go by. I wonder if religion had a similar purpose with its tenets- all point to some basic ideals (and ideally keep out of trouble with the Church and one another- but that is a whole ‘nother complex topic). A particular example that I grew up knowing is of Sri Ram in Indian mythology, called maryada purushottam, the ideal man; though no one could be all like him, the society has Him as the model to aspire to.
While The Life-Changing Magic Of Tidying Up contains tactical steps and a method to tidying up your stuff, the book is not really about things; it is actually about the ideal of living very consciously and having your home/space as an expression and extension of it… with the things that spark joy. Now what a beautiful, inspiring and life-changing idea that is!
I picked up the book after listening to this segment on NPR’s On Point. Loosely translated, “hygge” (pronounced Hhyuoogah) would mean something like cozy + intimate + joyful. I’d say it’s a book about how to feel Christmas-like, all the time. It is interesting to note that the weather in Denmark is not what you’d ask for: continual rain with truly no dry period, very short days during winter and mostly cold weather in general. Despite this, or because of it, the Danes are so good at the art of hygge. The more adverse the weather, the more one feels the security of the warm indoors, safe from the hostile outdoors.
The author of this book Meik Wiking is the CEO of The Happiness Research Institute in Denmark. He tries to bring the reader to understand how it would look and feel to hygge (BTW, hygge can be used as a verb or an adjective). He gives a list of “things” that bring about the required “feeling” and effect: the lighting (like use of candles and diffused lamp lighting, and a wood fireplace, of course), clothing (socks, scarves, woolen jumpers and such), foods (a hot drink, cakes) and the company of a small group of like minded people. How he talks about cake, convincing “scientifically” how our brains are wired for sugar to make us feel good! (All the diet theories out the door I thought to myself; good thing I didn’t have any cupcakes in the fridge.) Reminds me of another such ostracized food, and do excuse my ghee propaganda here: In Ayurveda the meda dhatu, one of the seven fundamental elements in a human body physically representing the fatty tissue, when well nourished, gives the person a feeling of love, compassion and abundance. No wonder the chocolate binging when one is sad or depressed!
It is always simple rustic things that bring about the intimate cozy feeling; hygge is inversely proportional to bling. Surely, the soft touch of wool or the look and feel of rustic wood is much more welcoming than the sterile feeling of steel and glass. The author has an interesting list for ‘hygge on the cheap’. And a list for things to do every month and during the winter and during the summer. Actually, it is a book of lists, and for a list-ful person that I am, I kind of like it. Ok, so moving on, another list has some interesting Danish recipes, but what I loved the “elderflower cordial“, or just the idea of it, bringing to my mind smells and colors of sunshine and lemons! (Pic below).
Denmark, consistently a top ranking country for happiness of the people is concerned, is a welfare state. The Danes worry less creating space for the feeling secure and happy, which, I think, is just wonderful. People mostly bike in Copenhagen instead of using cars. It is all about slowing down and enjoying the now, which, for most us, is but an academic goal set in future time.
What I loved most is to google the list recommendation of places to visit in and around Copenhagen. Below are some pictures from the web. The book is peppered with graphs (no, not intimidating at all) and illustrations which are minimalistic and beautiful, just like the book cover.
To tell you the truth, I started the book in a lot of excitement and expectation that was vaguely in line with Power of Now or Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up, books I found phenomenal. This book was nothing like that, and didn’t give me those “aha” moments must’ve been looking for. Useless, I thought a few pages in, much disappointed. However, as I read on (I always try to finish a book I start), it dawned upon me that the book is about the art of creating hygge and thats what it does, and does it alright. Recalibrating my expectations, I found the book written in good humor about good feelings in life and how to go about it by transforming your space. I must say, if not anything else, it certainly makes a beautiful coffee table book with a benign cover and short sections for a quick read. The Little Book Of Hygge on a rustic living room table, some candles, a fireplace and a couple wool blankets thrown in, can’t not add to the hygge factor of one’s space!
The Continuum Concept is a book that blew my mind; I had read nothing like this before! The author Jean Liedloff spent two and a half years deep in the South American jungle living with Stone Age Indians of the Yequana tribe. This experience demolished her Western preconceptions of how we should live, and led her to a radically different view of what human nature really is. She shows us how we have lost much of our natural well-being and suggests practical ways to regain it for our children and for ourselves.
The continuum theory: “In order to achieve optimal physical, mental and emotional development, human beings, especially babies, require the kind of experience to which our human species adapted during the long process of our evolution.”
That said, the book brings forth ideas in stark contrast to the prevailing practices in the western world. I have to write this: there were some excerpts which were quite unsettling to me that I had to stop, collect myself and with all the courage go back to reading it; who wouldn’t be vulnerable to the idea of babies suffering? The worst part is, this ‘mistreatment’ happens at the hands of parents/ caregivers with much misguided ideas. And that is precisely why it has become my mission of sorts to strongly recommend this book to new mothers or mothers to be.
The book gives some basic practices during the initial moments, weeks and months after a child is born: constant physical contact with the mother/caregiver, co-sleeping, breast feeding on cue (and not trying to ‘discipline’ the baby at this stage by feeding at intervals that you set for them), carrying the baby around in arms, immediately responding to the child’s signals and so on. Is this not something that a mother would instinctively do, only if she is allowed to do so and not ill-tutored otherwise? Of course! However, we have some popular theories to care for the newborn that are just the opposite!
Postpartum depression: The moment the baby is born, the mother is keyed in to hold the baby, nurse and caress it. If this stimulus is not met with this right response and those moments missed, then when hours or even minutes later, the baby is finally brought to her, the mother has already gone into a psycho-biological state of mourning. The result is often that she feels guilty about not being able to ‘turn on mothering’, or to ‘love the baby very much’ as well as suffering the classic civilized tragedy called normal postpartum depression, just when nature had her exquisitely primed for one of the deepest and most influential emotional events of her life! How unfortunate is that!
It was after reading this book that I could make sense of the what was going on with me after my first child was born (more about it in another post here).
Ancient postpartum care:
Some olden cultures have practices that are very much in line with the continuum, like the ones prevailing in India for a few thousand years (though the ‘modern’ winds are changing these ways for the worse). The mother is exclusively available for the newborn as she and the baby are assigned and confined to a room that’s not too bright (so as not to inconvenience the newborn, I guess) for 40 days. She nurses him on cue, co sleeps with the baby, gets her daily body massage, not allowed to use cold water, served fresh off the stove nutritious meals (fresh hot food is much easier to digest, especially when the new mothers digestive system is still weak) and she is assigned no housework. Elderly women – be she a distant relative, friend or even a neighbor – would come to live with them and assist the household with chores, caring for the baby and the new mother, and offer a wealth wisdom for the two. What a fantastic system it used be in the olden days! Anyway, that’s a topic in itself.
Some important continuum ideas:
The book talks about several concepts like: what the baby feels before he can think is a powerful determinant of what kind of things he thinks when thought becomes possible, and how the child’s general outlook towards life and living is shaped. Many psychological patterns, addictions, attitude, including possibly homosexuality, Liedloff believes, have their roots in the treatment of the child during their stages of infancy and childhood. Its remarkable how the Yequana treat their children that shows inherent respect and intrinsic trust. It’s all so wonderful and gives us a hopeful solution for our entire society.
The book spoke to my heart. Theories come and theories go. But what is important, I think, is that parenting in general should never be influenced by these external hypothesess, but always be guided by one’s instinct within. Be assured, with it you’ll be right on the money!
Important questions to ask oneself:
Am I (like perhaps most others), a victim of incomplete childhood? Is there something missing that I am continually looking for – an innate sense of well being and happiness-‘a natural state of being’- that seems elusive (e.g. the idea that ‘being in love would make it all right’)? Is there some emptiness that doesn’t seem to fill me up? I found some amazing perceptions that I never found in the myriad spiritual and self-help literature I’ve read for over two decades. The book put to rest some questions that had plagued me forever.
My last word:
I strongly recommend this book for two groups: those who are going to be new parents and those who have been babies at one point or another. I can’t emphasize enough- it’s a book not worth passing.