“I felt my lungs inflate with the onrush of scenery—air, mountains, trees, people. I thought, “This is what it is to be happy.”
Slow progress can be frustrating, but it’s better than no progress at all, especially when it comes to our balance between tech and other aspects of life. For me, the balance is measured in the screen time and allotment time. We have signed our allotment agreement in spring here in Bristol and did not do much on the plot due to a very hot weather. The soil was a way to dry to work with even just for clearing out the grass and weeds. It’s a miracle that we have managed to grow a few fruit and veg, and some flowers early in the year, because we really cannot enjoy the plot just yet. But since we came back from Moldova I feel really determined to clear out and prepare the soil for work on it. It’s really hard to work through such a large plot. A neighbour told me that he was offered our plot but did not want to take on too much. I think, however, that with a good, slow flow of steady work, we can conquer it.
I have been visiting the allotment for the last few weeks almost daily, every day doing a little bit of hard work. I loved it. I hated it. I enjoyed it. I dreaded it. But I continued, steadily. I posted on Instagram to document the progress for myself, but also quietly hoping that our followers there would cheer me up. And so they did, oftentimes! It really helps to be supported. But as I am approaching the second phase of my work: digging up the actual beds – I am also realising that work with soil is extremely monotonous and relaxing. It gives me a lot of time to think about my therapy, therapy studies, new job, old job, new plans for an even newer job (ie. new products in my own company). On many occasions I allow myself to rest from thinking too – I rest my thoughts on the petals of our flowers or birds flying above the plot. I simply allow my subconscious to do all the work instead.
I have a vision of the final result which really helps because with every swing of the shovel I am closer to that goal. The goal is mine, self-inflicted if you wish. In positive psychology, we learn that achieving self-prescribed goals make us happy. If someone else sets you a task and you are not empowered, nor engaged, the success rate is rather small. The feeling of accomplishment comes with choosing the level of your challenge and completing it. So I get a lot of that in the allotment nowadays and I will feel really happy when the project is complete and we can start planting fruit and veg. The slow and steady rhythm of work means that I can see some results of each chosen task – I do not have to push myself too hard – and I feel really accomplished every day.
There is also something comforting in the regularity of the work. It does feel like a workout even though I am there for one to two hours each day. That is really not a lot of physical work to fit people, but I am a geek so this is my maximum for now. I can feel my body is getting a bit more resilient and a little bit stronger so I am starting to consider winter jogging once the allotment is finalised. I feel that the regular walk to the allotment and my routine of setting things up, working, resting, working more, resting, picking up fruit, taking photos, chatting to neighbours, walking back home, sharing photos online…all of this is a nice little relaxing routine.
So this slow progress in the afternoon warm sun with people equally excited about re-connecting with nature really balances out all the time I spent online or in front of screens.
I would love to hear how others manage their balance between digital tech and other areas of life?
So there is this image that I have seen on Twitter which really bugs me since over a week now. I read this exchange of tweets between my academic and life hero, Sonia Livingstone, and one of her readers. For those who are not aware of Livingstone’s life work, basically, she is one of the thought leaders of actual academic research into the impact of tech on young people and their families. She wrote books, studies, numerous articles and blog posts about the topics doing her best to demystify the current, very simplified discourse of mainstream media around tech and kids. The discourse which in many instances aims to scare parents, ban children off tech and preferably shut us down in a dark room with books and a fountain pen until we are about 18, at least. I am exaggerating, but seriously. Isn’t it about the time we look at our sentiment of conversations around the use of digital technologies of children and young people and simply calm down? Isn’t it time to finally move the tech into the category of tools and focus on the important parameters: education, parenthood, play, actual landscape young people grow up in? Not just tech, all of it together. In all its complexity.
So there is this image that I have seen on Twitter. It has really haunted me. I know something was deeply wrong with it since the minute I saw it in the rather trolling tweet-response to Livingstone’s original tweet. Look at it and think about it for a second. Do reflect on the feelings this image provokes in you. Does it bother you? Does it upset you? Does it feel balanced and every-day?
What is wrong with it and what really enters your mind the moment you look at it? I had mixed feelings. Anger to see such simplified point. Someone took a lot of time to set up this scene and we all know it’s not the reality of modern parenting. I really do not know a small child that could sit so far away from fluffy toys are would not love to mess around with paints. (I do not think so young they would go for crosswords on paper, they would indeed try it on an iPad, I agree with that). There was also guilt – because like many parents today, I do wish I had more time with my son and I do wonder if sometimes his gaming is a result of my lack of time for him. I know it really isn’t, but I still feel guilty when I look at this image. There was a lot of anger about the stupidity and ignorance of the comments included in the tweet but I have this rule: when I drink or when I am angry, I don’t tweet. I did make a note of the tweets and decided to think it over a bit.
So here is what really bothers me about this picture and the answer came the following day. I went to work (Off The Record, Bristol-based mental health charity for young people) and happened to chat with a colleague about my upcoming counselling studies. Somehow our conversation navigated towards the changes this career path tends to evoke in people, sensitivities and new radars for feelings. He actually mentioned that since his new counselling courses started, he is way more cuddly with his mum. He really appreciates the physical touch, the love shared through a simple hug. And that comment made me realise that what really bothers me about this picture is the lack of the parent. Here we are, preaching about the roots of problems with kids when yet again, we are not really talking about the role of parents in the process. Some studies conducted by Livingstone show that parents in the UK increasingly do worry about tech and kids, but also try to look for solutions. I think the sentiment of those discussions is changing. But I really do not think we need oversimplified images of children abandoned with an iPad and toys, regardless of their location. What we really need to see, are images and stories of people who sat down with their kids, made time and discovered how those new technologies can benefit their parenthoods, childhoods, family lives together. And working out boundaries, risks, pitfalls too, of course.
This picture bothers me, because it is seemingly balanced, where in reality it shows a way the deeper problem with have with our perception of technology for children and young people. We, many of us, think that it is there to be added to the toy basket and kids will work it out themselves. Yes, I am sure many of them will. But just like with crafts and arts, fluffy toys and books, so with technology: they will never ever learn to enjoy the togetherness of human connection if we do not teach them, show them, lead them by example. Us, parents. It’s on us. Not on kids. It’s time we get this and start including those young humans in our joint technological discoveries. It could possibly prove to be quite a powerful way of sharing, playing, learning and connecting even more. I know it can.
“Man is the only creature who refuses to be what he is.” Albert Camus
I am back to my coffee blogging over at MyLittleCoffeeBlog.com. Friends ask me why? I simply feel like it. When I was busy building my consultancy I really did not have time to travel and quite frankly I was also stuck in a small, dull town. There was only so much I could do with coffee. My reason for blogging about it is simply enjoying and sharing the impressions about coffee places I get to discover, stories I get to hear, memories I share with my friends. So now that we live in Bristol I have endless opportunities to find a new coffee spot. We also have our first coffee festival this weekend so the coffee scene here in the city seems to be maturing. I think it is worth capturing my moments of coffee beyond my little Instagram account now. I need more space to share my impressions and learn more about this simple, yet such an inspiring drink.
Because noticing coffee and coffee places is more to me than just a hobby. Hobby is really good to have – learning keeps us happy and stimulated. New discoveries keep us entertained and excited. But to me stopping for a coffee – alone, with a friend or for a work meeting means a moment of mindfulness. The realisation that we are all OK. We are all good enough. We are doing our best. We are in this life together. Coffee experiences – shared or in solitude – ground me and put life in perspective. My morning coffee is the best example of me-time and my daily self-care routine. Sharing a cuppa at work or in a meeting in the city also means I can relax, stop, have a meaningful conversation or simply time to think.
We need time and space to notice things, to cherish life and to celebrate what we have. Coffee is a perfect opportunity to do so. So I invite you to visit My Little Coffee Blog where I begin a new phase of my coffee journey.
“I don’t want to go to heaven. None of my friends are there.” Oscar Wilde
This week was hard. I am in pain. I spent the entire week digging in our new allotment and I cannot move without pain. I am really happy though, because it’s my own project – it’s something I have decided to do this September for myself and for my family.
There are many aspects of hobbies like allotment gardening that improve our mental health so I think this project deserves a mention on my blog. First of all let’s think about the difference between projects we choose and projects we are given to complete: obviously the ones chosen by us make us feel more accomplished and happier to deal with it. Despite of what we think of passive entertainment, active challenges tend to make us feel more accomplished and happy. Secondly, the sense of achievement. What we hear on the news and see in advertising is not really happiness – it is the unachievable dream we are to chaise and crave, and pay for, of course. Happiness is actually free. It can be effortless, but it also might require a little bit of time and effort. They need our own vision, choice and commitment. When we choose our own tasks with the right level of effort and complete them, we feel truly accomplished.
I chose to clear out our allotment inspired by a garden seen in Moldova. It made me realise just how much potential is in the plot we have here in Bristol. I started feeling the passion for gardening, for outdoors, for relaxing evenings on the plot. I have a vision for the final look of that plot and my family is really supportive too. There is nothing more calming and empowering than a sunset amongst flowers you have planted yourself munching on home grown fruit and veg. So every day I go to the allotment and work really hard on preparing the soil for years of gardening. It’s really hard work because the plot was given to us in a really bad state so we need to re-claim it from Mother Nature. But the soil is really good, once you get to it. And every day I get closer to our goal. I work hard, but not too hard. I have my ups and downs but I continue and slowly start to see the big results of this work too. The plot is shaping up already.
The best element of this adventure is the balance between mind healing solitude and mind stimulating and caring socialising: both offline and online. We can all go to the allotment alone and enjoy the quiet – even in the city centre the allotment sites can be really quiet and calming! Every time we go to the allotment we meet other nature lovers, share tips, help each other, receive their crops now that we still have to do the basic work. At the same time we share our journey on Instagram where people join in, cheer us up and share additional tips. It’s really nice to be a part of a community of similarly minded people. The passion for nature, physical work, growing and enjoying results of that work, passion for nice food and time spent well together is something all alotmenteers have in common.
For me, working and sitting in the allotment, is an important aspect of my personal self-care. It’s an area of counsellor’s work that is increasingly more and more important. One cannot support others without enough of rest and energy. But regardless of your profession, I really recommend it to everyone! Especially in times when the general definition of happiness is somewhat lost and so many people feel lonelier and lonelier (with or without friends). Nature is all around us and if we look close enough we might realise that we are really never truly alone.
“I no longer believed in the idea of soul mates, or love at first sight. But I was beginning to believe that a very few times in your life, if you were lucky, you might meet someone who was exactly right for you. Not because he was perfect, or because you were, but because your combined flaws were arranged in a way that allowed two separate beings to hinge together.” Lisa Kleypas