This is a hard admission for me – I didn’t quite get Christmas right this year.

The cottage was decorated with huge paper snowflakes, evergreen branches and red wooden hearts and of course there were candles lit everywhere. There were moments of hygge; wrapping gifts, drinking Schnapps and laughing hopelessly with my eldest daughter and her silly, loving man, the glow of the fire, waiting for the whole almond in the risalamande on Christmas Eve, standing in front of the tree bright with candles, looking down the length of two tables pushed together at our family and friends gathered to celebrate, sitting alone at the bottom of the stairs to keep the tree company for a little longer before bed.  I held on to those moments but my underlying feeling was of the silence and real stillness that was escaping me, possibly us all.

 

How many of us really found the peace we look for at the close of the year, the space for just a bit of contemplation and time to feel restored?  If we’re honest, could we admit to feeling compelled to uphold all those lovely winter traditions for each other but silently bear the mounting cost? I don’t just mean the escalating price of the gifts we choose to give or the pace of the festivities, I mean the fatigue of pretence. Honesty and real hygge are interlaced.

 

Hygge isn’t the ‘complete absence of anything overwhelming’ that it’s often declared to be. It’s a practical way of creating sanctuary in the middle of very real life, a way of illuminating the dark and inviting the warmth, simplicity and connection that contrast chaos and smooth anxiety.

Hygge can’t really happen if we are hiding from reality, from admitting to the strain of expense and expectation. Few of us can comfortably sustain the pretence that Christmas and New Year don’t bring enormous strain for thousands of people but with honesty and a good dose of love we can make it easier.

Lighting a candle doesn’t pay the bills, empty the septic tank or excuse spending wildly in the post Christmas sales but it can help us keep perspective and remember to celebrate the light in each other through the year to come.

 

 

Honesty and hygge
Posted by Louisa Thomsen Brits on 2 January 2013

Hygge is about what makes us happy, what makes us feel open hearted and alive.

For years I have wanted to piece together a collection of happiness lists – lists of what makes each one of us happy, lists of those things we love. I want to create a site where we can share our handwritten lists.  Simply presented, adding nothing more than our name, our age and our profession. I can see them pinned above the seats on the underground or on the wall of a bus shelter.

I know our rhythms and priorities change from day to day but each one of us knows the the small everyday details and simple pleasures that always enrich us, make us feel fortunate and whole.  Our lists are poetic. They are unique. And they are worth sharing.

Here’s mine (cut and pasted, for now, from an old Appleworks document). Reading through it made me smile:

I love red peppers, cow parsley, family, my children, stillness, friends, spirals, skulls, jade green, bare feet, open fires, street art, clogs, tails, crochet, food, the sea, trance, Africa, orb webs, Rowan trees, coffee, Mary Oliver, drumming, snail shells, Gerard Manley Hopkins, community, growing things, graffiti, the smell of new books, the smell of old books, ferns unfolding, photography, vanilla, rain on Lupins, Denmark, the moment before sleep, a kestrel slope soaring, allotments, fennel, rosaries, the seasons, dark chocolate, lying spoons, sunshine, tribal bellydance, the smell of wild honeysuckle, flea markets, fonts, Roger Deakin, simplicity, candlelight, disco balls, bones, beach combing, hygge, walking the dogs, dawn, dusk, vintage textiles, cats, Ash trees, collective nouns, ritual, children’s art, tides, home, a blank sheet of paper, Rosa Rugosa, Konrad’s hands, bonfires, freewheeling downhill, shrines, window seats, smooth stones, hag stones, orchids, wooden crosses, ground glass beads, geese in flight, notebooks, charcoal, jasmine, sex, fairy lights, hearts, earth, hot baths, dark cinemas, night walking, heavy blankets, holding hands after school, modernist architecture, cadmium red, poems on the underground, the smell of cut grass, spinning tops, sheepskins, honesty, the words drift, parched, naughty, nincompoop, yield, crepiscule, stop, kiss and coalesce, Polaroids, biros, hot water bottles, totems, Autumn, Tate Modern, dappled light, candlesticks, oil paints, carrot cake, outsider art, red wine, bell tents, lanterns, Cy Twombly, Christmas Eve, rosemary, hand stitching, flodeboller, AfrikaBurn, bed.

 

 

Happiness lists
Posted by Louisa Thomsen Brits on 1 October 2012

Behind a wrought iron gate, just beyond glossily renovated King’s Cross, is a small nature reserve.  On a mound of grass, looking down on low wooden buildings and the canal, The School of Life had laid out green and white tablecloths beneath a blue bell-shaped canopy. We were meeting to enjoy, ‘rich conversations about things that really matter in life’ inspired by the ideas of Henry David Thoreau and led by Neil Ansell – author of Deep Country.  Like Neil, our evening was unpretentious and memorable.

For five years, Neil Ansell lived in an isolated hillside cottage in Wales to learn how to be alone and find out just how little he needed in order to lead a fulfilling life. Neil’s experience of solitude and the natural world that he shares in Deep Country didn’t breed the kind of introspective thought that Thoreau shared over 150 years ago.  Alone, Neil found no need for identity or for self-definition. The thread of his own story became so subtly woven into the countryside around him that it almost disappeared.

His book flows from one moment to another. Like the hawks he quietly observes, it soars, circles and rests with an easy, natural rhythm.

His days were spent outside, led by the seasons and the inevitable cycles of nature and not the, ‘requirements and expectations of others’.  He invited us to imagine taking time out of life to slow down enough to reach a state of attentiveness, ‘a state of being free of thought’.

In Deep Country he says, “My attention was constantly focused away from myself and on to the natural world around me. And my nights were spent sitting in front of the log fire, aimlessly turning a log from time to time and staring at the flickering flames. I would not be thinking of the day just gone; the day was done. And I would not be planning tomorrow; tomorrow would take care of itself. The silence outside was reflected by a growing silence within. Any interior monologue quietened to a whisper, then faded away entirely.”

His message and his stillness were a contrast to our sociable chatter.  But our evening was about both exploring solitude and sharing our thoughts. The School of Life is adept at creating the kind of casual intimacy that makes it possible for complete strangers to gather in a tiny pocket of wildness at the heart of a buzzing city to celebrate each other, the determined, delicate presence of nature and the delicate bonds that bind us all together.

With a glass or two of wine, we began to lose our inhibitions. A black cat sidled about. People cycled past on the towpath. The sun went down. Candles were lit in old jars. Neil read from his book. We leaned towards him to listen.

I think we all felt enriched by the evening we spent together; enlivened by the enthusiasms we reflected in each other and by the possibility of retreat from our busy lives.

I began to think about my long train ride home.

When it was time for Neil to return to conventional life, he carried a core of peace with him and the knowledge that he would, “always value those brief snatched moments of calm that can be found in any life if you look hard enough for them”.

 

The School of Life: http://www.theschooloflife.com

Neil Ansell’s Deep Country: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Deep-Country-Years-Welsh-Hills/dp/0241145007

Simplicity
Posted by Louisa Thomsen Brits on 20 August 2012

We packed the green van with quilts, sheepskins, beer, firewood, lanterns, strings of white lights, thick socks, candles and wellies. We rolled mattresses, found a fruit crate for a table and disappeared into a park of rolling hills and ancient forest. We were there to give – time, love, food, fire, kisses, music, energy. And to spank that dance floor.

With only ourselves to consider, we ate and drank when we felt like it – Manchego cheese and quince paste, apple juice, vodka, slices of warm pizza, dark sea salt chocolate, grapes, croissants, curry, fresh mint and darkly roasted coffee.

We found orange things to dress up in and danced through the nights.

Rain fell. The dance tents filled with water, hot bodies, mud and hay.

We floated from one space to another to find the right rhythm and each other. There were moments when we stood quite still in the middle of a heaving dance floor, feeling the music pulse through us and finding the beat of each other’s hearts.

It was so good to share that wonderfully wild weekend – fifteen of us for three days – a small family in a big, beautiful tribe. All there to celebrate, play, dance, expand, explore, give and receive; for camp fires, silliness, morning coffee, joy and communion.

Before the festival, we were sent an email that quoted Bede Griffiths:

“We become more ourselves as we enter more deeply into relationship with others. In our ordinary consciousness we are all separated in time and space, but as we go beyond the limitations of time and space we experience our oneness with others. We do not lose ourselves, but we lose our sense of separation and division and discover our integral oneness in the One Reality.  This is essentially a mystery of love”.

And the power of friendship, fire, privacy, trust, awesome tunes and the odd outstanding menu.

 

Give
Posted by Louisa Thomsen Brits on 12 July 2012
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