Making February a bit brighter

Last week, I overheard an exchange between two colleagues who were complaining about February, referring to it sarcastically as everyone’s favourite month of the year. Many years ago, I might have agreed with them and rolled my eyes at yet another cold winter month, but these days, I refuse to join the pity party. Instead, I focus on self-care, and at the risk of sounding nauseatingly sweet and obnoxiously bubbly, I will confess that I do seek the silver lining. February is a month I celebrate. Here are a few special occasions and favourite rituals that help to make my February a bit brighter:

Aquarian birthdays. Dear reader, you might dislike astrology and think of it as bogus pseudoscience at best. Some days, I agree with you. However, I also happen to really like Aquarians and their eccentric, artsy, often off-the-wall quirky personality traits. A friend who studied astrology gifted me ten years ago with a birth chart, which showed that my Moon sign is in Aquarius. Perhaps that is one reason why I feel such a connection to these fascinating people. The youngest Wanderlust Junior is my favourite Aquarius and we celebrate his birthday this month. The birthdays of my children are as important (or perhaps even more important) to me as they are to them. The births of my children were the most pivotal moments in my and Mr. Wanderlust’s lives. So bring on the celebration. This year, it will be a small one for us, but we are making the most of it.

Valentine’s Day. Again, some of you might dislike this consumerist pseudo-holiday. And once again, I nod my head. Yet, amid the worldwide sadness, confusion, and anxiety that affects us at this time, I think we can use any excuse to celebrate LOVE. To me, Valentine’s Day is not a reason to spend money on overpriced chocolate and heart-shaped everything for a romantic partner — though that is a perfectly valid way to celebrate and I wouldn’t say ‘no’ to chocolate. Instead, it’s an invitation to reconnect to the love that resides within us and abounds all around us. It’s a reminder to take better care of ourselves, to practise self-love, and to express gratitude toward our friends and loved ones.

Shrove Tuesday. In the interest of refraining from over-scheduling our weekday mornings, we celebrate Shrove Tuesday on the Sunday prior with a fancy pancake breakfast. It helps that Sundays are traditional pancake breakfast days in our household, but we make this one ever more naughty with extra chocolate chips in our pancakes, and perhaps even a bit of Nutella on the side. Oh my!

Tea. After experiencing several health concerns that were exacerbated by coffee consumption, and after attempting to give up my love affair with java for the past several years, I have finally given it up. I still enjoy an espresso or a flat white from time to time (about once a month, to be exact), but tea has become my choice for a hot beverage. I love Earl Grey in the morning and drink green, rooibos, and mint tea throughout the day to stay warm and hydrated.

Essential oils. I enjoy using my oil diffuser to freshen the air in our home and keep the Wanderlust Juniors breathing easy at night. A few drops of eucalyptus oil work wonders for night-time congestion.

Electric blanket. At the end of the day, I look forward to snuggling in bed with Wanderlust Juniors while reading books to them before bedtime, then continuing to read my book until my eyelids become heavy. The warm fleecy blanket is a life saver on cold nights and makes bedtime reading even more enjoyable. The key is to remember to unplug it before falling asleep.

Fireside yoga. On chilly mornings, the thought of rolling out my mat in front of the blazing fireplace makes it much easier to get out of bed, and my muscles and joints thank me.

Epsom salt baths with lavender oil. This is my favourite weekly treat before bedtime, usually on Saturday nights.

Your turn! What helps to make your February a bit brighter? Please leave a comment below.

And remember, this is the shortest month of the year, so let’s enjoy it while it’s here. Spring surely must be lurking somewhere around the corner.

Little reminders

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On this last Sunday in January, I crave silence. My body wants to return to bed, snuggle under the fluffy duvet, retreat from responsibility. But the boys have politely asked for pancakes for breakfast, a favourite weekend tradition chez Wanderlust. They have been waiting patiently, playing downstairs, graciously granting us extra time to lie in. Our late breakfast, complete with leftover fruit salad the Wanderlust Juniors and I prepared the day before, is a welcome treat. Soon enough, we will get up and one of us will begin washing the dishes, then repairing the leaky faucet, while the other folds laundry with the help of Wanderlust Juniors. It’s a typical busy weekend morning.

Amid the busyness — oh, how ubiquitous that word has become, and how disliked — we allow ourselves pauses, making time to enjoy a cup of tea while reading an essay in a new favourite book; rolling out the yoga mat for a quick practice; watering the indoor plants and moving one of them to a new, brighter location where it immediately assumes a grateful appearance; knitting a few rows; or plucking the strings to create a melody. Those mini pauses are sweet reminders to make space to experience wonder.

Magic is waiting to be reawakened. It’s here, in the pile of freshly washed sheets and bathroom towels, as well as in the hoodies and jeans the pockets of which I forgot, yet again, to empty before throwing them in the wash. It’s in the chaos of the kitchen, the natural heart of our home, and in the solitude of the bedroom and the meticulously made bed, which inevitably attracts two enthusiastic boys who use it as a jumping pad.

The magic is there. It leaps out suddenly from a hilarious sentence uttered amid a serious discussion, when all pretenses are dropped and we start to breathe a little easier, snapping out of that bizarre spell, wondering yet again why we take ourselves so darn seriously so much of the time when joy is our natural state.

We need to take time out to remind ourselves of the strange pleasure of returning to the chaos, to the heart of our home, ready to greet our favourite people with renewed patience and compassion. Here and now, this is our calling. Would we really rather be anywhere else?

Are you enjoying there short essays? I would be grateful if you would also share them with your friends via email or social media. Thank you for reading!

In the bleak midwinter, I shall bake muffins

The Wanderlust Juniors and I spent the first week of the new year with my parents in cottage country, where we slept in, enjoyed plenty of time outdoors in the fresh winter air, taking walks and playing in fluffy snow — almost knee-deep for me, and even deeper for them. It’s truly a pleasure to grant ourselves a vacation from the everyday bustle, to start the year on a quiet note, with a retreat from the city, immersed in silence.

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Through the wardrobe… Winter is magical.

It would be dishonest of me to say that I do not care about weather changes. Although I do enjoy winter weather, the limited exposure to sunlight does affect me, as it does many others. Yet, staying indoors for an entire day when it’s cold outside also doesn’t help to elevate my mood. That is why I do my best, whenever possible, to bundle up, pull on my big faux-fur winter boots, and head outside for a walk or to play with Wanderlust Juniors. Even 15 minutes outdoors make a tremendous difference, reminding me that the world continually changes, that nothing is ever static, and that we must grant ourselves the opportunity to slow down, take a few deep breaths, and reconnect to the greater world. Perhaps, we just might find that the midwinter is not all that bleak.

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Playtime! Snow angels in the winter sunshine.

After the outing, we go back inside for a large mug of steaming tea for me, and muffins for the boys. Here is my ‘go to’ muffin recipe:

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Banana, Blueberry, and Lavender Muffins

Ingredients:

2 cups all-purpose flour

1/4 cup coconut sugar

1 tbsp baking powder

a pinch of fine sea salt

1-2 tsp culinary lavender (In Toronto, I purchase culinary lavender from Weir’s Lane Lavender & Apiary)

2 ripe bananas

1 egg

1 cup milk of your choice

1/3 cup vegetable oil, grape seed oil, or melted coconut oil

2/3 cup blueberries, fresh or frozen

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 400F and lightly grease or line a 12-cup muffin baking pan.
  2. In a large bowl, sift together the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and lavender. Set aside.
  3. In a separate bowl, thoroughly mash the bananas, then add the egg and whisk lightly. Add the oil and milk and continue to whisk until the mixture is uniform.
  4. Carefully pour the wet ingredients into a well in the centre of the bowl containing the dry ingredients. Gently fold in the blueberries, stirring carefully until the batter is just combined.
  5. Using a tablespoon, pour the batter evenly into 12 muffin cups.
  6. Bake in the centre of the oven for approximately 18-20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean. Allow to cool in the muffin baking pan, then transfer to a cooling rack.

Notes: I sometimes substitute chocolate chips for the blueberries, if you wish. Lavender reminds me of summer in the midst of the cold months; however, if you do not enjoy lavender, you may omit it entirely. The Wanderlust Juniors also love these muffins as a school snack.

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Please leave a comment below to share your tips for staying healthy and joyful throughout the winter months. Also, I would love to read about your favourite type of muffins. Thank you for sharing this blog with a friend!

My goal for 2017: Create Magic

Last year, I set out to focus on being Present in 2016. This year, my intention continues to build on the themes of presence, awareness, and mindfulness, to pay close attention to and seek out the magic that surrounds us every day. I also acknowledge that often, magic is in a spark that lurks just beneath the surface, waiting to be reawakened by our inspiration to live a life that is more robust, reaching beyond the bleak, dust-covered exterior, allowing ourselves to mine deeper with our own curiosity toward a greater potential.

And so, my goal — or mantra, if you will — for 2017 is to create magic.

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I will make more time and space:

  • to read
  • to write
  • to sit in silence
  • to meet a friend for tea and heart-to heart conversation
  • to laugh with my loved ones
  • to enjoy family hikes
  • to practise yoga, moving with ease
  • to make music
  • to dance
  • to play with fun recipes in the kitchen
  • to make cosy, pretty pieces using luxurious yarn

When we make self-care a priority and consciously clear space for what matters most, we create magic.

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What I do not want is to rush, to feel scattered, and to waste time. To me, those actions are the antithesis of magic. They dull creativity instead of stoking its precious embers.

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Do you have a goal, mantra, or word for 2017? To help you fine-tune your focus, you may wish to reflect on the following:

What practices worked for me last year? 

What actions and/or habits did not serve me last year? 

What do I want more of in the new year? 

Spend some time journaling, then read your responses and look for key words that show up on the page. Use those words to create your goal statement or mantra, or choose one or more words on which to focus this year.

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If you would like to share your word / goal / mantra with me, please leave a comment below. Here’s to a creative 2017!

Wrap-up: Top 11 posts of 2016

Depending on where in the world you reside, you might already be well into your festivities. I wish you a warm and cosy week of celebrations with your dear ones. I also want to thank you for your support over the past 12 months. Mindful Daydreamer is forever evolving as I continue to learn and mature in my writing and exploration of ideas. I’m grateful to have this platform to share my thoughts and for the support of my loyal readers. I bow to you in deep gratitude.

Happy holidays! I am taking a mini retreat from blogging and social media, but will write again in the early days of 2017. Until then, may we all bask in the quiet peace of these final days of the year before welcoming the new one. Enjoy every moment! 


If during the holiday week you have a few minutes to relax with a cup of tea and would like to catch up on some reading you might have missed, or re-read a few favourite posts, allow me to share with you the 11 most popular Mindful Daydreamer posts of 2016:

1.  Mindfulness for the introvert business traveller, published on February 22nd

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2.  Transformation through discomfort, published on February 24th

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3.  Our mindful Disney vacation, published on March 4th

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4. The best version of myself, published on April 21st

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5. Deciding to simplify, published on June 10th

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6. A story of commitment, dedication, and love, published on June 17th

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7. Anniversary, published on July 22nd

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8. Milestones and memories, published on August 4th

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9. On Friendship, published on November 10th

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10. Festive season yoga time-out, published on December 15th

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11. The top 11 books I read in 2016, published on December 22nd

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Kindest wishes,

Katia (Mindful Daydreamer)

What I learned in the past 10 days

I’m a bit late with the publication of this edition of the blog, and I apologize. You see, yesterday, I excitedly awaited the return of Mr. Wanderlust from a long business trip.

Today, although rain is in the forecast, I want to dance around the kitchen à la Debbie Reynolds, Gene Kelly, and Donald O’Connor, singing, “Good morning, good morning…” I am happy, and not only because it’s Friday but because Mr. Wanderlust has returned home. Over the past 10 days, I have regained an appreciation for single parents who do it all, every day.

It was also a valuable learning experience, with the following to add to the list of odd skills I have acquired:

– I learned how to add an HD channel to our digital TV tuner (no, we do not have even the most basic cable) in order to spend Sunday evening cosily watching the Toronto Santa Claus parade with Wanderlust Juniors. The mad wind did not help, but after spending several minutes standing still in front of the TV, holding the antenna in my right hand at shoulder height for a clear picture, I found a solution that worked surprising well: placing the antenna careful atop two rolled yoga mats snacked one on top of the other. Oh, how I wish I had taken a photo for your amusement!

– I learned to pump air into the tyres of our car when, after a cold weekend, while on my way to work on Monday morning, the tyre pressure light showed up on the dashboard. This might sound typical, but I tend to leave car repairs and maintenance tasks to Mr. Wanderlust. This was a new challenge for me and I must say I am proud of myself for facing it without too much trepidation.

– I became better at air hockey, which Wanderlust Juniors and I played at the local children’s hairstylist’s in-between their appointments last Saturday. In case you’re wondering, Wanderlust Juniors won every time (of course), but I enjoyed plenty of practice.

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I must confess, I am excited about the start of the Christmas season. The Toronto Christmas Market is one of our favourite annual festive traditions.

I also broke a few rules by decorating for Christmas much too early. I believe that the season officially starts on December 1st, but I broke my own rule and in seeking ways to keep Wanderlust Juniors entertained on a rainy Saturday, pulled out the Christmas decorations. We enjoyed a delightful afternoon rediscovering our favourite ornaments, and truly, the extra sparkle and bright lights are a welcome sight on these grey days. We normally get a real tree, but this year, simply because it’s already up and in the interest of keeping the season simple, we might just leave the little artificial tree that Mr. Wanderlust and I first purchased for our apartment 11 years ago.

Your turn: What did you learn recently? What have you done to break your own rules for your and your family’s benefit? Please leave a comment below. 

Wishing you a wonderful weekend!

The in-between month

 

November. Living in Ontario, I acknowledge solemnly that this typically grey month is my least favourite time of the year. I call it the in-between phase when the trees stand bare, having been disrobed of their fiery leaves, awaiting the coming snow. This year, however, I’m choosing to acquiesce to the changes. Instead of resisting the transitions of nature, I welcome them. I retreat into the cosy comfort of the interior of my home, with its warm blankets on the sofa, the aroma of chicken broth steaming on the stove, bottomless mugs of tea and thick books, and laughter-infused living room dance parties with Wanderlust Juniors before the quiet of story time snuggles in the ‘big bed.’ I choose to delight in the in-between time as the sun continues to wane, remembering that soon enough, it will reawaken again and a new cycle of its year-long journey will begin just before Christmas. That idea in itself is heartwarming for me.

If you live in the northern hemisphere, how do you feel about November? Do you have a strategy for making the most of this time of the year?

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I learned something about stress

Last week, during a drive to and from cottage country for a work-related event, I listened to The Upside of Stress: Why Stress is Good for You, and How to Get Good at It by Kelly McGonigal. The idea that stress is not dangerous is relatively new to me. Ten years ago, I used to avoid difficult situations and experiences because of the stress and anxiety that they most often connote. Since then, I have learned that when we try to avoid potentially challenging situations, we often do so to our own detriment. Instead, by accepting each scenario as it comes, responding to it accordingly while keeping a focused and calm mindset, we can deal with stress in a mature and mindful manner. Our response to a situation determines our experience.

Yet, our mindset is only one piece of the puzzle. As a yoga and meditation practitioner and guide, I have learned that the state of the mind influences our physical and emotional states. As a student of Ayurveda, I have also learned that our physical energy and the energy of our environment have a tremendous influence on our emotional and mental wellness. If I spend a quiet evening at home, by 9 p.m., I feel blissfully tired, both in my mind and body. If, instead, I spend several hours before bedtime running errands and doing housework, my mind is abuzz due to my physiological state.

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Making time for apple picking at a local organic orchard.

September has been a busy time for our family. I typically avoid the use of that ubiquitous word because of its myriad convoluted meanings. For most of us, life moves fast and we must prioritize. The autumn Vata season is a time when we tend to start new projects, take on too much, and generally run ourselves off our feet, feeling spaced out and far from grounded. For me, whose dominant dosha is Vata, this is a time of year when I especially must make self-care a priority, eating warm and unctuous foods, keeping up with my daily warm oil massages, drinking hot liquids, moving slower, and enjoying plenty of rest. Yet, over the past few weeks, with changes to our family’s routines, I have not had many chances to slow down. Instead of going to bed earlier, I catch myself loading the washer and cleaning the kitchen at a late hour. We have been working diligently to avoid over-scheduling, paying no mind to the expectations of our fast-moving society and the priorities of the people who surround us. It has not been easy to completely isolate ourselves from those expectations, to heed only to our own directions. Yet, we remind ourselves that we know ourselves best and must continue to prioritize self-care, creating a schedule that feels intuitive and logical to us, whenever possible setting aside less important tasks for another time.

Here is today’s lesson: Stress is real and inevitable, and to avoid feeling overwhelmed, we must continue to approach life with a lighter attitude. Nevertheless, we must also make space for ourselves to slow down and pay closer attention to our own physical and emotional signals, instead of trusting the power of the mind to get us through challenging situations. Self-care must always remain a priority.

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Apples: a favourite Vata food. While raw apples are okay in moderation, baked apples with cinnamon are most Vata-friendly.

More information on Vata:

In a recent podcast episode of Yogaland, Andrea Ferretti and her guest Niika Quistgard discuss excellent tips for self-care during the Vata season for people with Vata dosha and for everyone else who lives in our fast-paced society.

How Ayurveda is helping me change my approach to exercise, published on April 13, 2016

Self-care tips for the Vata Season, published on September 16, 2014

If you have additional self-care tips to share, please leave a comment below. Thank you for sharing this blog with a friend.

Let’s talk about the mundane

I might never be less busy than I am today, and I am learning to accept this idea. If I am busy, it’s because I’m taking care of the people and the home I love. There will always be meals to prepare; sinks and toilets to scrub; clothes, towels, and bed sheets to wash, dry, iron, fold, and stack in the closets and dressers. There are always hungry mouths to feed, stains to wipe, and the laundry hamper doesn’t remain empty for long. You might be rolling your eyes, wondering why I am writing about something so mundane. The mundane is real life. We don’t discuss everything we do on a daily basis, but it’s there and it occupies many hours in the day. It’s a matter of fact. I used to think of the cleaning, laundry, and cooking routine as unpleasant, a waste of time that could be better spent at the beach, on the trail, or on the sofa with my journal and pen, a book, or knitting needles. Today, I remind myself that service is inescapable.

We clean, cook, and wash clothes for ourselves and our families. We prepare dinner in order to fill our bellies with delicious nourishing warmth while sharing it with our loved ones. We wash dishes after consuming a scrumptious meal. We mop the floors and scrub the sinks in order to continue to benefit from the space in which we spend so much time every day. I want my family to use a clean bathroom. I want them to wear clean clothes. I long to see the sparkle in their eyes as they walk into the kitchen and inhale deeply the scent of the yogurt cake or chocolate chip banana muffins rising in the oven.

On the days when the routine feels too heavy, I choose to cultivate gratitude. Gratitude, in turn, reminds me to move with intention, to pause to smell the chemical-free lavender-scented laundry soap, to breathe deeper as the vegetables simmer in a pot on the stove. Mr. Wanderlust is quiet as he vacuums the carpets and mops the floors, but I sometimes like to sing while wiping dust off furniture. We work as a team, each contributing to the beauty that we strive to maintain in our home.

Some days, if the pile of laundry to be ironed is too high and seems overwhelming, I resist the urge to grab my audiobook. Sometimes, it works, and the choice to approach the task with mindfulness is a rewarding one. At other times, that audiobook is the best company. I make decisions as I go along, making choices that are right for me and my family right here, right now.

We are busy, yes. We are busy taking care of whom and what we love. We also, however, value our ‘slow time,’ and when we set aside time to pause and savour this moment that we have created by serving, it feels all the more rewarding. It’s a delicate balance and to keep it, we must continue to exercise our creativity, re-adjusting as needed, always returning to Gratitude.

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Down time. My parents’ garden is a perfect spot to rest while listening to the sounds of birds and watching busy squirrels running to and fro.

Do you have tips to share for managing a busy daily routine? 

Not missing out

On a particularly cold Saturday evening, two winters ago, and I was suffering from PMS-induced sadness. Wanderlust Juniors were tucked into their cosy beds and I sat on the living room sofa beside Mr. Wanderlust. Instead of breathing through the sadness, as I know I ought to have done, I sought to escape the dark feeling by averting my attention. I feel embarrassed to admit this now but there I sat, mindlessly eating pretzels while scrolling through my Facebook newsfeed on my smartphone. I suspect I’m not the only one to have done that in the (possibly a very recent) past. It occurred to me only later that I was mindlessly checking my social media account not because of a genuine interest in what my contacts were doing at that time. It was merely a method of distraction that did not make me feel any better. Instead, it highlighted the fact that I was sitting on the sofa, snacking, while ‘everyone else’ appeared to be having a great time. Here’s a not-so-hidden secret: If we allow it, social media has the power to make one feel like the most popular person (particularly on our birthdays, provided that we keep that information public on our profile), then several days later squash that feeling with no remorse.

When later I snapped out of the delirium and plugged in my phone to be recharged overnight, it occurred to me how much time I had wasted ogling other people’s selfies taken at concerts or pictures of the meals they ate in upscale restaurants. And then, there have been times when I was the one posting photo after photo of my carefully styled display of freshly baked muffins, or of a fun day at the beach. That’s the game of social media participation. We either share photos of impeccably crafted moments or we spend time looking at similar images posted by others. Sometimes, those pictures serve as inspiration. At other times, they can contribute to a fear of missing out (FOMO – not that I need to provide this acronym, since I suspect the majority of you are well familiar with it and have probably experienced it at least once). When we share pretty, staged photographs on social media, we do not disclose the behind-the-scenes mess that might have occurred before, during, or after the photo was taken. We also don’t share how many tries it took to finally get the perfect share-worthy selfie.

Shortly after that sad experience of Saturday night FOMO, I made a decision to spend less time on social media. I chose to do so for myself and my family. I stopped touching my phone before 8 a.m. on most mornings and after 6 p.m. on weeknights by leaving it to charge downstairs in a special basket that I set aside specifically for that purpose. Sundays became tech detox days during which I did not open my laptop or touch my phone, unless absolutely necessary to do so for a few minutes. After starting to practise a more mindful method of social media use, it became apparent that a joy of missing out (JOMO, as coined by Christina Crook in her book by the same title) started to replace FOMO. I reveled in the beauty of going out for a walk without checking my phone for updates or sharing a picture of the sunrise. Instead, I remained present in the quiet, cherishing every nuance of the experience as it unfolded. I have been practising to stay with the experience, facing what is before me, acknowledging the moments when I don’t feel joyful, without seeking distractions.

I found an almost secret pleasure in going out for dinner and not posting a photograph of the food. I felt a rush of excitement at the realization that I could travel anywhere in the world and if I did not share any updates on social media, no one had to know where I was at the time. Then I realized that most likely, no one cared in the first place, and I am perfectly okay with that. As an introvert who values privacy, this notion felt liberating. Missing out? Not really. 

The less time I spent on social media, the more odd the thought seemed to me of documenting for others every outing, every meal, and every funny saying overheard throughout the day. In fact, I started to feel a pang of sadness each time the idea of logging into my Facebook account merely crossed my mind. I continue to document my experiences, but I do it for myself, in my journal, and I share stories selectively in person and via email with my family and friends.

A few weeks ago, I took the plunge and deleted my personal Facebook account, keeping my business page, which I visit briefly several times per week. I also post photographs on Instagram from time to time. I do not miss sharing and seeing what others have shared. Instead, I choose to meet with my friends face-to-face and communicate via old-fashioned email or phone calls in-between in-person meetings. When I sit down with a friend for coffee after two months, we often feel we have plenty of catching up to do because we haven’t been seeing each other’s frequent updates via a screen. Our conversation can then run deeper. I would guess that not many people share their not-so-positive news on social media, because such updates tend to be considered a drag. Yet, when we meet with close friends, we feel comfortable and supported to speak about what is on our minds and in our hearts instead of needing to filter the message before posting it for hundreds of contacts to read and judge.

I do not discount the merits of mindful social media use. I continue to publish updates about this blog and also enjoy reading news from other bloggers via their pages. When it comes to friends and family, I prefer to connect with them through more direct and intentional pathways. I take photographs for myself and my family. I write stories about our travels. From time to time, I selectively choose to be brave by sharing with the world some of those photographs and snippets of the stories, if I feel that they reflect who I truly am and serve to inspire others. The rest of the time, I continue to pursue life with all its messy and imperfect fleeting moments, seeking joy in what is before me.

Do you wish to contribute to the conversation? Please leave a comment below. Thank you, as always, for reading, and for sharing this blog with a friend.