In these last few days of August, I watch the salmon battle at the mouth of the creek that runs behind the house. Little boys nudge at the slippery masses of red and black with wooden sticks. The fish struggle to crawl upstream over pebbles and rocks, aggressively pushing past each other to deposit their eggs: an irresistible yearning calling them home. Glassy-eyed carcasses line the shoreline and cormorants feast. The leftovers decompose into nitrate, providing essential nourishment to this delicate ecosystem. Fall impatiently taps her fingers, waiting to settle in. #JoyBlogging
I have always wanted to hike along the Juan de Fuca trail. I was finally able to go today with two good friends of mine, Alex and Mary. It generally takes a few days to walk the whole trail, and as we only wanted to do a day-trip together, we took two cars, leaving one at each entry point: Botanical Beach and Parkinson Creek. It was a warm and overcast day, with sunlight peaking through the clouds. The path itself runs through the forest and close along the coast line, so you can enjoy the smell of the ocean, and the lush foliage of the trees as you make your way along. We were mindful of bears, as there are many living in the area, foraging for ripe blackberries and salal: a bell dangled from my backpack to signal our approach. We stopped mid-way to rest on a sloped grey rock that overlooked the ocean: sharing a picnic lunch of cheese, salmon, peaches, dark chocolate and kitchen-sink cookies. Rested and well-fed, we continued along our journey for the remainder of the afternoon. The eleven-kilometre hike took four hours to complete and we emerged feeling happy, tired and satisfied after a full day of connection and exploration. #JoyBlogging
Tonight I went with my step-dad to see a live music performance in a garden paddock in Deep Cove. We sat out in the warm evening air, comfortably settled in our camping chairs in the grass, and enjoyed a performance of Leonard Cohen classics. The hummingbirds danced above our heads, diving in and around the trees, leaves gently rustled in the breeze. The salty smell of the ocean was in the air. Light softly fell around us until we were enveloped in darkness, broken only by the warm glow of a single spotlight. #JoyBlogging
Today I went out with my friend Mary on a kayaking adventure along the coast. It was a pleasantly warm day with a light breeze. The ocean was calm and expansive. We paddled along the shoreline for an hour and a half, talking about our kids, and life in general. At one point, a massive sea lion emerged from the water in front of us, scaring both us and him. He quickly dove back under the water, leaving behind only a light trace of ripples on the surface. As we pulled into the beach, at the end of our trip, families gathered around barbeques and gas-light fire pits. We each plunged in the water, and then walked our boats home, dripping in the twilight. #JoyBlogging
Today I watched my daughter swimming in the pool for hours. She did summersaults and flips, handstands and back walk-overs. She disappeared underneath the azure waters in a ripple of movement, and reappeared at the other end, with a slight gasp of air. I reminded myself that this is the same the child that used to require entertainment at all times, as she could not manage self-led activities. I watched her beautiful, graceful movements as she lost herself in the joy of play, and I felt so proud of the independent woman that she is growing up to be. When she was not in the pool, she read her book beside me on her sun chair, or she quietly journaled. The air was hot and dry. The cicadas sang in the olive and pine trees surrounding us. It was a truly beautiful afternoon. #JoyBlogging
Today we took an electric bike trip with Aix Bike & Go out into the Réserve naturelle nationale de Sainte-Victorie. It is the national park located just outside of Aix where the artist, Cézanne, spent countless hours painting in nature throughout his career. It was wonderful to get out of the city and explore the local countryside with a knowledgeable guide; and we were able to cover a lot of ground due to the electric bikes. One of my favourite moments is captured in the video below: when we stopped moment to enjoy the view. It was warm and the air was fragrant with wild rosemary, thyme and sage. I could hear the chirping of cicadas and see the majesty of Mont Saint-Victoire in the distance. It was a very peaceful and special experience. #JoyBlogging
The weather in Provence is beautiful. Most mornings, when I step outside of my door to walk my daughter to school, I am welcomed by a clear blue sky and a warm breeze that envelops me. As the day moves into the afternoon, it can become quite hot, which is less pleasant. Living in the city, it is a wonderful to discover quiet places to cool off. Aix is a city known as the city of a thousand fountains. Although this is not quite accurate, there are many beautiful fountains to be found here. Today I sat by this contemporary one located next to the Palais de Justice. Children, dogs and pigeons waded in its cool waters. I pulled off my shoes and dipped my feet in. The sound is very relaxing and it is a great place to read a book and watch the world go by. I truly enjoyed this little slice of heaven. #JoyBlogging
I previously posted about my social media project, #JoyBlogging, in which I visually capture little moments throughout the day that give me joy. For the last few years, I have also been privately keeping a joy journal that captures more in depth personal experiences, big and small, that are particularly special to me.
I find it really useful to have a record to look back upon, and it is amazing how many of these experiences I would forget about, if I did not write them down. Every entry reflects a tiny, lovely moment, and collectively, these memories form a powerful tool; it fills me with happiness every time that I read through them.
The positive impact of this practice is backed by neuroscience. As Dr. Rick Hanson shares in his book Buddha Brain, “What flows through your attention sculpts your brain. Therefore, controlling your attention may be the single most effective way to shape your brain, and thus your mind. You can train and strengthen attention like any other mental ability; mindfulness is well controlled attention.”
There are things that we can actively do to internalize the positive and counter negativity bias:
Turn positive facts into positive experiences. Bring mindful awareness to them.
Savour the experience. The longer something is held in awareness, and the more emotionally stimulating it is, the more neurons fire and wire, and the stronger the trace memory.
Pause and imagine the experience entering deeply into your body and mind.
Dr. Hanson contends that every time that you can shift positive feelings and views into painful, limiting states of mind, it builds a little bit of neural structure. If you call up positive emotions and perspectives, while implicit or explicit memories are active, these wholesome influences will slowly be woven into the fabric of those memories.
In the spirit of actively savouring life, I am going to start sharing some of my joy journal entries with you, with the hope that it will inspire you to start your own practice. Here is my first one:
Joy Journal #1: May 9, 2022
My dear friend Elise arrived in to Aix yesterday. We met almost twenty-eight years ago when we attended art school in Lacoste together. Provence will always be an important part of our friendship, as this is where we met, and we both maintain a special connection with the region. Elise is a painter and I am a writer.Part of our commitment on this visit is to spend time each day being creative and making work.
Today, we wandered in the old part of the city, where we came upon a little café in Place Richleme, and found a table in the shade. It sounds funny but I had never thought to go to a café to work; and I have been staying in the apartment most of the day to write.It turns out the French have a lovely caféculture. You can order a coffee, and stay put for several hours, watching people, enjoying the sun on your face, and working. We had a really nice waiter who brought us each a “décaf allongé” with a little almond cookie on the side. We worked quietly, across from one another, for some time. It was a really lovely experience.It is definitely going to become a part of my daily practice from now on. #JoyBlogging
“Where some people have a self, most people have a void, because they are too busy in wasting their vital creative energy to project themselves as this or that, dedicating their lives to actualizing a concept of what they should be like, rather than actualizing their potential as a human being.”
~ Bruce Lee
The state of the world is pretty overwhelming these days. There is a lot of negativity and fear circulating: both in the news and general talk around the water cooler. There is also so much pain and damage being inflicted daily, on a global scale, by fellow human beings: not only on each other but to animals and the environment. It is heartbreaking and I often feel such a deep sense of helplessness.
I am also barely keeping my head above water in my personal life these days. I work full-time. I am a single mother. I have a student living in my home. I volunteer in my community. I care for my relationships with friends and family members. And…I am trying to make new space for writing and creativity…It is a lot to hold together. My body is currently telling me, through sheer exhaustion, that I cannot sustain this pace – no matter how hard I push myself. As Kate Kerr says: “I can count on my body to know where I am.” And my body is saying: “Slow down baby. Breathe. Simplify.”
In our society, a lot of value is placed on getting things done. There is praise for productivity; and great importance is given to action and the ability to multi-task. As I start to pay closer attention to my own habit of busyness, I am also noticing the discomfort the arises when I am still. It is a useful and enlightening practice. Speeding up and slowing down – noting the way each feels in the body.
I was talking with a friend about this recently. She put forward a perspective that made me think. She believes in the deep importance (and pervasive undervaluing) of self-care; and she contends that self-regulation and core awareness are radical acts in themselves. With many of us living disembodied and fragmented lives, it disconnects us from knowing our true selves. This ultimately leads to living our lives half asleep, which is of no use to anyone.
The things that most of us aspire for and work so hard to achieve are a reflection the collective values of our society, rather than the authentic calling of our own hearts. The truth is that we are all here, not to fit in and to be like everyone else, but to discover our own unique gifts to share with the world. When you slow down and become still, it is hard to ignore this calling: one that most of us have known clearly since we were very young.
For me, part of reconnecting with my core self is to start paying attention to what gives me joy. What are the things that light my inner fire? What makes me feel alive and connected? I recently started a visual journal on my social media channels to capture these things, under the hashtag #JoyBlogging. I am enjoying this exercise immensely so far. It is a positive daily practice and it is wonderful to see a beautiful tapestry unfolding: one that reflects my true and most authentic self.
As I become clearer on the things that I value and love, I can see what I need to make more space for in my life: the things that make my heart sing. My hope is that by regularly sending out these love notes into the universe, I am not only serving my own internal journey, but I am also doing my own small part to be a force of love and positive energy in the world at large. I would love for you to join me. #JoyBlogging