January 5, 2012

Back to Basics

It is hard to come back after vacation, isn’t it? To see those free, expansive days end is a kind of cruelty. But I came back to our little apartment after a holiday break, happy to be home. Even with the Christmas tree still standing and brittle and our suitcases strewn on the floor in the living room and bedroom, unpacked. Even with no milk or clean towels, it still feels kind of merry in here, if in a cluttered, post-holiday kind of way.

I’ve eased into the week trying to hold on to “quiet mind.” It’s a feeling that comes on for me during vacations or on any extended periods away from the computer or even after yoga. I’m able to focus without thoughts darting every which way. I feel relaxed. You know that feeling? Hanging on to it is the catch.

There’s so much wonderful reflecting and goal-setting happening on the internet right now. On the one hand, it’s inspiring to see, and a kick in the pants for those of us who need it. On the other, it can make a lady feel a little inadequate. I didn’t know what I wanted my 2012 to be “about.” I didn’t have a theme or a goal or a resolution or a project. And that feeling of not having something to strive for in the new year turned into a gnawing anxiety. The new year was coming: what was my plan?

The great thing about having time outside the normal daily hustle and bustle is that things can have a way of working themselves out. One day in the country last week, I went on a walk among farms in the late afternoon light, hands shoved deep in my pockets. My ears and cheeks were cold as I crossed a county line. Drivers waved, I snapped a few pictures, and it all felt so good.

The whole outing smacked me with its simplicity. My approach to the new year is as much mantra as intention. Back to basics. It’s not a goal, not a should, not a resolution, just a reminder of what I care about. Like: a fire, a soft couch, a sleeping dog. A good book, a warm bath, a knitting project. Homemade soup, singing together, and walks in the cold winter air.

I started this blog nearly six years ago (!) because I was trying to carve out a life for myself that felt better. I wanted to soften the  edges of my first job in a new city, and make a new and unfamiliar apartment feel like home. I wanted––even needed––to add some richness to my everyday. That first year, I sewed curtains (badly, but they did the job), made my first leg of lamb, put cheap flowers on my desk at work, and dropped in at a knitting circle once or twice. Each little moment of attention to something I needed in my daily life helped. My sense of loneliness, fear, and not knowing what the hell I was doing with all these big life choices I’d made eased a little. It was like smoothing out wrinkles; I was trying to get the basics of my life lined up.

And now, six years later, I feel certain that those basics worked a kind of magic in my life. They were touchstones that I could return to and refine as circumstances continued to change. It’s human nature to want more, to keep after the bigger and better. But this year, I don’t have a benchmark or milestone to reach. This year, I want to lean into living the life that’s right in front of me, right now.

When we sat and looked back at the last year, it wasn’t the big serious moments of professional or personal triumph that really stood out. Our favorite moments were far simpler: a hike to the top of a mountain, hearing about a friend’s pregnancy on a busy street corner, walking along a curving coastline at dusk. They were bursts that stood out from the everyday, but they were also so fundamental: being in nature, having adventures, connecting with people.

I wonder now if this idea of getting back to basics settled in partly because of the passage by Thich Nhat Hanh I turned to on New Year’s Eve in a book plucked from a shelf: “To love, in the context of Buddhism, is above all to be there…The most precious gift you can give to the one you love is your true presence.”

I’ve been thinking about what it would look like to be present for others––getting off the couch when our partner comes home, keeping our phones silent and out of sight when a friend is telling us a story––and also what it would look like to be more present for ourselves: paying attention to the knot in our neck, our need for another hour of sleep, or some quiet time to just be.

So that’s my intention for the new year: to get back to those basics, and to be there for all the things that really matter everyday, like love, community, creativity, good food, and taking walks––even if they’re not on cold, sunny country roads.

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  • Kim: Perfectly stated, Sarah. Life has a way of getting unnecessarily complicated, thank you for the reminder that it doesn’t have to be.6 years ago

  • Kelly Jeanne: I love this, Sarah. Just lovely.6 years ago

  • Tricia A: Fantastic! The perfect post to begin the new year. It’s as if I feel YOUR calm and quietness and when I read your post. I walk away feeling just a little bit more like that. That is sure wonderful and quite possibly your intention. Thank you Sarah and Happy New Year! My favorite: leaning into this life……….oh so perfect : )6 years ago

  • Lana: After a whirlwind “vacation” to visit family, I came home feeling totally exhausted. I love traditions, but sometimes I feel that we try so hard to keep them going that they become more stressful than wonderful.
    A few days after coming back to reality my girlfriend and I took our girls to her farm. I stood there wishing with every ounce of my being that life was easier. That there wasn’t so much hustle and bustle and the only deadline I had was getting all my work in before the sun set.
    I hate that there are so many things we think that we “need” and that we depend on, when all we really need is good company.
    My resolution was just to be still. To enjoy the small things and not overexert myself. It’s going to be hard for me (I’m a tad bit of a control freak!) but so far so good!
    Happy New Year!6 years ago

  • Cadi: *Le sigh* So well stated, Sarah. We could all benefit from leaning into this life a little bit more. I’m going to keep this one in my mind as I try to simplify and pare down this year.

    I wrote an open letter to 2012 this year, asking for it to slow down and give us all time to just ‘be’, instead of always rushing and running for more more more. I really hope 2012 pays attention, because I think we all need it.

    Happy New Year, and welcome back! I’ve missed this corner of the world while you’ve been away. 🙂6 years ago

  • Sasha: Happy New Year Sarah! Such a nice new year’s resolution! Cadi, I think you’ll get your wish; don’t know if you’re into astrology but both Mars and Venus are going Retrograde in the first half of the year, and Retrogrades usually mean we’ll all get a little more R & R. Have written more on my blog if you want to check it out. Have a great 2012 everyone!6 years ago

  • Julie: Sarah, that top picture looks like it should be in Whole Living magazine!

    If back to basics means more fresh cut flowers, walks outside and nights by the fire (dvd), I think you’re in for a lovely 2012! Happy New Year, my friend!6 years ago

  • Alexis: I was anxiously awaiting your post on the new year and everything you wrote just clicked. My resolution was to “simplify” – seems we are on the same wave length.6 years ago

  • BethP: I too have been waiting for your new years’ post and as usual, it spoke right to me. More than basics, I think these things are essentials, and they are much on my mind as I make my big career change and work towards a new (old) way of living.

    I’ve had this folk song chorus ringing in my ears these early days of the year: “What can you do but work and hope / that your dreams bind your work to your play / What can you do with every moment of your life / but love till you’ve loved it away?”6 years ago

  • Amy --- Just A Titch: Oooh, I love this. LOVE this. Amazing.

    P.S. I will email you details, but I’ll be in NYC/Brooklyn in March. Cocktail?6 years ago

  • Evon T.: Sarah, you could not have said this any better.6 years ago

  • domestikate: Oh, I hate new year and the way we all feel we should be making resolutions and setting goals and improving ourselves and our lives. Much better to set goals when you feel inspired, make resolutions when you feel they are needed, and recognise that not everything will be better if you lose weight/write more/make that pinterest project you’ve been putting off. I love that your goals are to simplify, slow down, look after yourself. My life has been through some major changes in the last few months so any goals I have at the moment are more related to that than to the new year, but here they are anyway: be braver, take care of myself, have adventures. Adventures might be trying that new zumba class or speaking to someone new in the pub, or they might be travelling around the world, or skiing, or hiking – I’ve yet to figure that out!6 years ago

  • geek+nerd: Yes, yes, yes! Lovely post m’dear!6 years ago

  • Karen: I love the tea mug picture. Setting aside time for tea is a nice way to slow down, simplify and regroup.6 years ago

  • Caitlin Martell: Dear Sarah, What a perfect post for the new year! I’ve been reading your blog for almost its entire existence and its been a constant source of inspiration. Thank you so much for sharing your reflections and your creativity. Happy New Year.
    Caitlin6 years ago

  • Katie @ cakes, tea and dreams: My prep for the New Year has come slowly – and it’s been less about goals and resolutions than in the past. I did finally find a word – “shift” – that I’m hoping will inspire me to make the little changes I need to make, and I’m also planning to simply savor what I love.

    Thanks for this, Sarah. So restful and true. Happy New Year to you. xoxo6 years ago

  • Sara Rose: Amen sister. Amen.6 years ago

  • Kristina: There are no words for how much I needed this this week. Thank you.6 years ago

  • Liza in Ann Arbor: So far, my favorite “New Years” post. You’ve somehow captured my exact sentiments, and judging from the comments above, others’ as well.6 years ago

  • Laureen: So good — and so apt & well written — that I had to read it twice. I love the idea of trying to be more present for ourselves and those we love, and to getting back to basics.

    Cheers to the amazing little community you’ve created here, Sarah–and to the New Year!6 years ago

  • Kathryn: We would be perfect hang out buddies! Let’s rent a cabin somewhere and go and enjoy some silence and mindfulness.
    Beautifully expressed.6 years ago

  • Tami -- Teacher Goes Back to School: happy new year, sarah!

    my word of 2012 is surrender. or could be shhhhh. whichever one quiets the voices in my head about getting things done or making things happen. i’d like to just quietly rest in the here and now and enjoy the time with my new baby. this time that will not last forever.6 years ago

  • Anne-Liesse: Bonne année, Sarah !

    I love reading you, again and again. I don’t have much time on my hands these days, with 2 kids, including a new-born, to care for, but I never miss your posts. They make me appreciate life more. Thank you !6 years ago

  • Sharon @ Currently Coveting: Thank you for yet another lovely and inspiring post. I identify so much with the description of blogging to help aid in the transition of becoming a New Yorker as I celebrated my one year New York anniversary only last November. My blog has definitely helped to remind me of the reasons why I love it here and has served as a diary for myself to go back and see the things that I’ve discovered since moving here.

    The beginning of this year feels so much more positive and exciting than years past. I don’t whether it’s because I’m in my thirties or because of a general positive mood I’ve noticed from those around me. Significance placed on the simple and basic joys in life and the human experience seem to be a common theme with me and my friends right now, especially in the midst of leading an always busy and fast moving life here in New York.

    I recently discovered something pretty amazing. Did you know that the human heart’s electromagnetic field is 60 times stronger than the human brain? And that when we experience a positive emotion such as love or contentment in watching a beautiful sunset, the shape of the electromagnetic field from the human heart actually changes. One can map human emotions by recording the electromagnetic field structures and changes of the human heart. Pretty amazing, right? What is important to note is that having a positive attitude and mindset actually changes the environment around you via your heart’s electromagnetic field. Powerful stuff. I decided that this year I will choose to be positive, to show compassion for my fellow human beings and to lead with an open and loving heart.6 years ago

  • Stephanie: happy new year, sarah! such a great post and so true for me as well. getting back to those basics is something i’m trying to do as the busy (yet fun) holiday season finally came to an end.6 years ago

  • Katie: Sarah,
    I have been a reader of your blog since I graduated from college in 2008 and was whisked away to the midwest, 100s of miles from my extended family, friends, and past life. I had been a devoted reader of the sadly no-longer JANE magazine, and after they went under, I searched out the writings of Katy McColl online. She lead me to you.

    From the very beginning, I was so grateful to have found it. I always appreciated your positive outlook, delicious recipe ideas, and beautifully simple decorating schemes. It allowed me to help begin to plan for the life that I was only just beginning.

    It has now been 3 and a half years since my move. And yet, it is hard for me to believe how long it has been. To some extent, I feel settled here. I have a small but cozy apartment, fulfilling but exhausting job, and a painfully patient and loving man. With all of that, I can’t imagine asking for more.

    Your post today reminded me so much of the many reasons why I constantly come back to your blog. Despite my lovely life, it is hard to not get caught up in the bustle, drama, and information overload of every day life. And I resolved this year to slow down a notch myself to stop and enjoy every minute of my day with my man, the new friends that I still wish I knew as well as my old ones, and in the apartment that I am still painstakingly trying to pull together. Thank you so much for helping me remember.6 years ago

  • Oh, how I’ve loved reading all these comments and subscribing to all of your blogs!

    I also feel a bit dotty because I forgot to mention one of my main purposes in getting back to basics: being frugal!6 years ago

  • Forgetting and Remembering « Pink of Perfection: […] and proving oneself, and then home again to something more meaningful. I circle back to the same ideas over and over and declare “aha!” each time. But maybe that’s just the […]5 years ago

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