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Keep climbing into my head without knocking, and you fix yourself there like a map pin

Dogwood Blossom - Fionn Regan

There is life before Normal People and life after.

I have just finished the screen adaptation of Irish writer Sally Rooney’s widely acclaimed and loved novel of the same name that spun the internet (and me) into a frenzy when it came out two years ago. It was the soup du jour read of our generation ― passed around from friend to friend and eagerly awaited at every library. The story made me fall back in love with fiction and yes, I was basic enough to post a book in hand review on my Instagram.

Normal People is about that person who you first loved or made you feel most alive, the one you are inextricably entwined with for life. Whoever you first thought of when you read that, it’s probably them. The two central characters Marianne (Daisy Edgar-Jones) and Connell (Paul Mescal) are twin flames ― a concept that has fascinated me for a long time. In the show, hair fringe envy (her) and male sensitivity kudos (him) ensues. The plot is steeped in the intensity of infatuation, the beauty and brutality of relationships, and ultimately our biological yearning for emotional and physical closeness with another.

It’s not like this with other people, she says. Yeah, he says. I know. ― Sally Rooney

Marianne and Connell are young and in love, and it’s complicated. What most fascinated me over the 12 episodes is watching their undeniable chemistry and kismet-like connection unravel. Their conversations are unabashedly honest, innocent, and earnest (even though you want to scream half the time: ‘tell them how you really feel!’) and their intimacy is profoundly raw and beautiful. They are best friends and soul magnets attracted to each other despite remarkable differences. I call it ‘friendship on fire’ and if you’ve had it, you know it captures your mind and spirit like nothing else.

At times he has the sensation that he and Marianne are like figure-skaters, improvising their discussions so adeptly and in such perfect synchronisation that it suprises them both. She tosses herself gracefully into the air, and each time, without knowing how he’s going to do it, he catches her. ― Sally Rooney

Even though I am freshly in my thirties and the story is set at the end of high school and the beginning of their twenties, it is relatable for anyone who has ever loved, lost, lived in the rapture of someone, or wished for it.

For a few seconds they just stood there in stillness, his arms around her, his breath on her ear. Most people go through their whole lives, Marianne thought, without ever really feeling close to anyone. ― Sally Rooney

I warn you now ― watching Normal People is very addictive and will get under your skin.  The series will do seven more things to you:

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joyiscoming

I'm in love with how your soul's a mix of chaos and art, and how you never try to keep them apart

Outnumbered, Dermot Kennedy

I live by a theory that life is circular in that ‘for every high, there is a low’ and vice versa. When I am having a peak experience or feeling totally alive and connected — I tell myself to enjoy it and truly savour the moment because it will end, it’s just how it works. The universe is constantly balancing things out and aiming for equanimity.

In the same way, when I am in a low mood and all my highs are forgotten or feel far away, I remind myself that an upswing is coming and I will be back on my feet again.

I was just in a valley myself recently and seemed to have forgotten my own advice.

A friend reached out and asked me: what is bringing you the most joy at the moment?

I was struck by the simplicity of the question.

Joy felt quite far away that day. And so I started to really think about it.

Being happy is not the same as a feeling of joy. Happiness often comes from an outside situation whereas joy comes from someplace inside of you. On closer inquiry, I found the quality of joy to be a more soul-stirring and pure presence. Joy is unforced and comes about in a moment of noticing or being swept away by a moment.

Once I started to dig deeper, it got addictive rather quickly.

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purposeanxiety-image

Can I sail through the changing ocean tides? Can I handle the seasons of my life?

Landslide, Dixie Chicks

Time flies, whether you’re having fun or not.

All our lives have been simultaneously turned inside out. I hardly ever know what day of the week it is and now it’s April.

Most mornings I feel sprightly and hopeful, excited for the possibilities ahead. Then by late afternoon my energy drops and I feel deflated and a little lost. The sun was out and then the clouds came. I take this as a sign to get outside for a walk and fresh air or do some quick yoga stretches in my kitchen.

Like many of us, I’ve been itching to help and feeling useless that I am not a doctor, or nurse, or a journalist right now.

I’ve been wondering: what is my purpose in all of this?

I don’t want to create a Method, start a movement, or make a famous meme (although massive kudos to those people who make it look far too easy!). I just want to make meaning in this crisis.

The 1918 Spanish Influenza pandemic went for two years and infected a third of the world’s population at the time. I don’t say this to be alarmist, I’m pointing to the perspective that this has happened before in human history and it’s worth mentioning that social distancing isn’t a new idea.

We are in a rebirth of our planet and this is a spiritual test for us all. I’m sure of it.

I was at a talk with Elizabeth Gilbert in Perth recently and she said a term that resonated right away: purpose anxiety. I nearly jumped out of the chair with my hand in the air like it was a question.

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DoTheNextRightThing

Things could be stranger but I don't know how

Changes, Langhorne Slim

You really couldn’t make up what is going on now if you tried.

Every day is an avalanche of new information to integrate and act on: Stay in. Keep your distance. Stop seeing friends. No more touching. Restaurants closed. Libraries and yoga studios too. Travel is off the cards until further notice. So are weddings, live music, cinemas, art galleries, festivals, retreats, events, and sport. Even the Olympics have been postponed.

With everything that is happening now, I feel like nature is being returned to Earth. You’ve seen the pictures of the Venice canals running with clear water and reports of wild animals making their way into deserted cities. For this to happen, humans needed to get out of the way. The question everyone wants to know is, how long is this going to last?

We are feeling the same things — panic, fear, loneliness, exhaustion — and a whole bunch of new states such as ecological distress, anticipatory grief, and everpresent anxiety.

I dropped some food to a friend and I got a bit emotional in my car afterward. It wasn’t because I couldn’t hug her (which felt strange), but it was because I didn’t know when I could again. Now that not knowing is the new normal, being okay with it is a superpower.

Everything’s on hold. So hold on. – Nick Miller

I recently was making my way across North America and when you’re travelling — the unknown is all you’ve got. I didn’t know where I was going the day after tomorrow, where I was sleeping the next night, how I was going to get from here to there, who I was going to meet, and where life would take me. It’s a lot to think about it! Even though uncertainty is exhausting, it is also thrilling and pushes you forward.

I should be in Guatemala right now. Or I would be if I didn’t follow my instincts.

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New Word for 2020

Time and again, it's time to be brave

Faith, Bon Iver

Travel is a thousand unseen hands and a whole lot of snacks. So much of what happens is not Instagrammable and the high highs and low lows are often unexplainable – which sums up the second half of 2019 when I left Australia to embark on a spirit quest to America.

Looking back on last year, it was a beautiful and bewildering chapter, full of uncertainty and mystery. It has taken me longer than usual to write about it because I’ve been so immersed in living it.

Let me take you back to mid last year. I had a job, house, beloved cat, incredible friends, and my brother, sister-in-law and nephew had moved back from Copenhagen so my family was finally all living in the same city. To the outside, life was great (and it was). But on the inside, I felt an everpresent emptiness in my soul.

You are going to know failure if you are brave with your life. You can’t take criticism or feedback from people who are not being brave with their lives. - Brene Brown

In May, I spent seven days at a silent retreat in Bali hoping to get some clarity and direction. A few days after, I went on an adventure to the island of Nusa Penida and had a near-death experience when I almost fell off a cliff I was climbing up. Nice metaphor. The feeling of intense presence combined with terror, adrenaline, and the high of being alive afterward certainly left an imprint.

Death is the best invention of life, your time is limited so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. - Steve Jobs

I couldn’t deny it anymore: I needed to go. On a quest for truth. I felt if I didn’t do it, a part of me would die. Everything that I thought my life was to be — career, place, lifestyle — wasn’t going to be anymore. And I had to wander deeply into the world to find it.

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There's always a place for you here in my wild heart.

Part of Me, Good Old War

I love to jump into the energy of a new year. But not before closing the loop on the previous one, as a way to make sense of it all.  Recently I went camping by myself on a permaculture farm in Margaret River in the last week of the year. Time in nature to get clarity and your thoughts in order should never be underestimated.

To make an end is to make a beginning. - T.S. Eliot

Looking back, 2018 was quite a year – I started a tea circle, became a marriage celebrant, travelled on over 40 planes, read one book a week, spent seven days in silence, tried nude yoga, ate at Noma in Copenhagen, sang Toto’s Africa in an Athens karaoke bar, and became a woman of 30 in Tuscany. In this time, I also ruthlessly prioritised my emotional wellbeing, exercising, and getting as much sleep as possible.

The greatest gift you can give somebody is your own personal development. I used to say, ‘If you will take care of me, I will take care of you.’ Now I say, ‘I will take care of me, if you will take care of you for me. - Jim Rohn

It was also – hands down – one of the most challenging and exhausting times of my life with a lot of unanswered questions still lingering. Making self-care and wellness a central part of my life was the magic bullet for survival, and as such, I feel the healthiest – mentally, physically, and energetically – that I’ve ever been.

I also lived the word soften – my word for 2018.

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Seven Days of Silence

They say what's buried in the winter is found again in spring

When I’m With You, Joshua Radin

Humans really cannot do two things at once. The majority of times that I try to, like talking to someone while sending a quick text or typing on my laptop and trying to listen (or my pet hate: someone scrolling on their phone while we’re talking) – I invariably miss something, or most likely – everything.

Earlier this year I had two choices: go to Sri Lanka or experience intense presence in silence. My curiosity won and I went on a 7-day silent meditation retreat with Spanda School in coastal West Australian bushland.

There is such richness to be lived offline. I found it incredibly humbling and healing to not speak for seven days, and I experienced a lightness of being I cannot explain.

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside, you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing. - Naomi Shihab Nye

However, being completely in silence did have its challenges. The list of what I couldn’t do was long (no talking, no reading, no phone, no music, no eye contact, no internet – to name a few). Only writing was allowed. And write I did.

My intention for going off the grid was to ‘unravel’. I filled up an entire Moleskin notebook with words from my stream of consciousness. In it is one attempt at poetry, lists, personal explorations, some things I probably don’t want to reread, and letters to the great loves of my life (I knew there would be an ex-boyfriend day!).

Every next level of life will demand a different you. - Leonardo DiCaprio

A lot of people have since asked me if I was bored or challenged or scared. Yes, yes, and yes. I have been doing Vedic meditation for two years, and yet I was still quietly worried if I would ever feel my legs again after four to six hours of meditating per day on the retreat. I had willingly signed up for no connection, no communication, no screens, no books, and essentially – living in flight mode. I quickly realised there was no way to Command T my way out of this.

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New Year, New Word for 2018

Must've been forces, that took me on them wild courses

00000 Million, Bon Iver

2017 was the year of being my #bestself, living the word reverence, and discovering that my name means ‘apricot tree jewel fruit’ in Japanese. Winning.

I tried to not force things (2016 word: flow), finally understood what all the fuss is about gin (delicious), tried to find the perfect mustard (still looking), and landed an exciting job in tech and marketing (Uber Eats).

I did quite a few things alone – like travelling to Japan in cherry blossom season and hiking in Muir Woods near San Francisco – and learning how to navigate solitude like a pro. I had my own back. In essence, I’ve spent the last twelve months focusing on self-care and self-study to, as Ram Dass says, get my own house in order:

I can do nothing for you but work on myself… you can do nothing for me but work on yourself.

It has been the first year in many that didn’t have major heartbreak. I did have a few disappointments with timing and romantic failures though. Key takeaway: thank them for their honesty and walk away. The other day I wrote: “I have gained more than I have lost” which I think best sums up that it won’t always feel good, but it will teach us something.

So, how will life unfold in the year ahead?

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Ichiego-ichie-life-curator

Be here in this moment. Sacred, I'm saying your name.

Give Me Tonight, Dustin Tebbutt

The Japanese have a saying ‘ichi-go ichi-e’ (一期一会) meaning ‘one time, one meeting’. It roughly translates to the idea that we live ‘each moment, only once’ and that the value of each encounter is that it happens only once in a lifetime.

I was introduced to the concept of ichigo ichie at a Japanese tea ceremony in Kyoto. Being a tea lover, I jumped at the opportunity to sit inside a century-old tea room and experience the artistic display of tradition and hospitality. Our tea hostess was captivating – a graceful lady in her sixties with an unhurried elegance and a quiet passion. I intently watched her transfer the hot water from a cast iron cauldron with a wooden ladle into ceramic bowls before whisking the matcha tea and serving us. I was overcome with the feeling of beauty and intense presence.

The Japanese have a way of doing things – it is slow and measured, with everyday gestures being undertaken with reverence and intimacy. I frequently got goosebumps while traveling in Japan, like when watching someone gift wrap something for me in a shop or when sitting at the counter of a tiny restaurant and seeing my meal being prepared.

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Curated-Japan

But you’re still, and you’re bright and you’re quiet

Unwritable Girl, Gregory Alan Isakov

Japan is a truly incredible place that is both years ahead in some ways and centuries behind in other ways. It is also one of the most culturally fascinating and culinarily interesting countries to visit.

I fell in love with basically everything from the sakura cherry blossom, to onsen bathing, to the kindness and reverence of Japanese people, and the ‘what just happened in my mouth?’ food experiences. Think: yakitori, inari, sashimi, miso eggplant, ramen, soba, unagi, umeboshi, plum sake, mochi, bento, okonomiyaki, and green tea galore. Hungry yet?

Japan caters to everyone. If have a lot of money to spend, you can in Tokyo or Kyoto. If you want to eat street food that blows your mind but not your budget, you can in Fukuoka.

And then there’s the nature. It’s a little-known fact that 60% of Japan is made up of mountains all the way along the Northern ‘horse’s back’ when you look at a map. The untouched forests, majestic cliffsides, and lush tea fields are some of Japan’s best-kept secrets.

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