Make Your Dreams Reality Part 2

Consider the following:

The difference is everything. Personally, it took me a long time to realise that I didn’t want to become a world class guitarist; if I did, I’d want to practice for hours every day.

Making You Dreams Reality part 1 talked about how to tune your lens to your dreams so that you can easily attract them in the world, and touches on how to find out what you truly want. Let’s go deeper. Finding your wants and desires can be a deep process, involving getting fears and expectations out of the way.

When it comes to making dreams into reality, I tend to shy away from “goal orientated” success. Lets make it abstract: naturally we yearn to meet our basic physical needs, plus our needs for love, contentment, happiness and fulfilment. We might also want to have virtues such as generosity or kindness, but it’s my opinion that those come naturally when our basic physical and human needs are met, so there’s no selfishness in focusing on ourselves.

Ok, so it turned out I didn’t want to be a world class guitarist; I knew that because I had no desire to put in that level of practice. So what do I want to do for hours every day? Could it really be as simple as getting up in the morning, doing whatever I want, and later finding that all my dreams have been realised… well, yes.

Trouble is, doing what you want to do is not that simple.

As mentioned in Part 1, finding out what we truly want can be very difficult. For most of us, there’s a bunch of stuff in the way; mostly fears of different sorts. Many people are so paralysed by fear of failure they find it impossible to get into the relaxed state needed to be creative (The Artist’s Way is packed with processes to dismantle these fears) for example.

Part 1 gives the example of someone thinking they want a sports car, when actually they want the acceptance from their peers they believe a sports car would bring them. This, being a “displaced desire”, it can never be satisfied. After all, it’s not possible to receive a deep level of acceptance from a group of peers, based on car ownership. It’s closer to being a fear of exclusion than a desire for acceptance.

What’s important is dedicating ourselves to a process of seeking our true desires, whilst noticing and calling out the fears and expectations that get in the way.

This can also be shown in reverse: when we want something, we can notice why we want it, and therefore identify whether it’s a genuine desire, or simply led by fear.

When I first heard of the idea of doing whatever the hell I want all day long, instead of being disciplined, I thought it a barmy notion bordering on madness. I imagined I’d miss all deadlines, become unfit and never follow through and finish a project. However, having devoted some years to the matter of getting firmly in touch with what I really want, I’ve dispelled those myths. I broke through false beliefs such as the idea that I’m naturally un-motivated, or that working all hours of the day is the best way to be. Here’s what I discovered:

  • Yup – there will be quite a lot of dossing about in PJs. Go on: binge on it. You’ve never let yourself before! This doesn’t mean it’s the only thing you’ll ever do from now on. Just let it run its course.
  • No, I don’t want to work all the time. I discovered I don’t suit a 40hr working week. If I want to be highly productive I’m better off on half that. I enjoy it, and you’ll be surprised how much I get done.
  • I meet my deadlines; not sure exactly how this one works out, but I do.
  • I don’t procrastinate; there’s no such thing as procrastination anymore. I can trust my inner sense – if I don’t want to do something right now, I don’t do it.
  • When you’re in touch with your sense of what you want, that sense gets stronger. It shouts pretty loud and everything becomes clear; fears become easier to notice and let go of – snowball effect.
  • You can trust yourself to want good things. As humans we want love, connection, growth, happiness, for us an ourselves. It’s displaced desires or those based on fear that lead us to want power over each other, or for others to suffer. When we are truly in touch with what we want it the good stuff.

Before I started trying this approach I was known for my discipline. These days I’m known for my productivity, and for my energy. Of course I’ve plenty of energy now: I’m no longer wasting any of it doing things I’m not interested in.

Love and light


Related Articles: Make Your Dreams Reality Part 1, How To Get More Motivated

Also check out the Symphony For Happines Vlog

… and connect with me @:

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What I’ve Learned From a Year of House-Sitting: A Practical Guide

I’ve house-sat here and there since 2012, but 2016 is my first year of pretty much full-time house-sitting. The longest stint in a property has been 4 months and the shortest 2 weeks. Here’s what I’ve learned.

Note: This is a post about the practicals involved in living in someone’s home whilst they’re away, how to take care of a house and logistically deal with frequent moving. It doesn’t cover the host-sitter relationship or how to find a house-sit.

BTW – I’m travelling HEAVY for a house-sitter, since I have a van, but many of these tips will apply to one-bag travellers too. It also might help university goers, since what I’m doing also resembles the frequent house-moves students must undergo. Travelling heavy is a no brainer if you have a vehicle as you can move with your consumables instead of throwing out and re-buying them every time.


My personal stuff, minus bike and bike kit, which is usually stays in the van as “breakdown cover”


My music stuff (shed-loads I know, but with a van, I can)

Moving Tips: The Load-In

After months of moving from property to property and unpacking at each place, I finally realised it was much simpler never to unpack. Instead, I organise my stuff in bags in such a way that everything inside each bag is accessible. I don’t hang my clothes in a wardrobe but keep them in packing cubes. I even keep my cupboard-food in crates so when it comes to moving out I can just grab the crate as it is.

Not unpacking has several advantages:

  • Whatever house I’m in, I always know where everything I own IS, because it’s in the same bag as always, not in an alien drawer.
  • Hosts live in their houses, so they may not have empty cupboards for your things too (exception pictured below).
  • It makes the load-in and load-out incredibly easy.
6 Cupboard.JPG

Everything stays in bags


Portable food cupboard

House care: What Not To Touch!

The trickiness of what to touch and what not to touch has always foxed me when it comes to house-sitting. In a longer house-sit, it’s practical to move a few things, or easy to wash up dishes and put them back on the wrong shelves by mistake. In theory this is ok, and most hosts will be fine with you moving anything you like “as long as you put it back”. The problem is, 3 weeks / months later it’s quite hard to remember what you’ve moved and where it came from. Getting it wrong could irritate your host for weeks to come, not because they mind the relocation of objects on principle, but because they can’t find their cheese grater / dish cloths / particular book.

I’ve tried several strategies to combat this problem. I used to take over 50 photos of a property before load-in, but both the photographing and the “returning to factory settings” at the end of the house-sit just proved too time consuming; turned out I’d moved so many objects without knowing it.


Tip: If a host says “read any books”, always half pull out the book below/left of the one you’ve taken so you can see at a glance where it came from.

I called a friend who’s house-sat for years and asked him how he dealt with this conundrum. Giving equal weight to each word he said slowly “I NEVER TOUCH ANYTHING!” The oracle had spoken. This became my next strategy. However this felt too restrictive. For example, in one cold house I wanted hot tea in bed before rising in the mornings, so a friend suggested moving the kettle into the bedroom. My immediate reaction was: “out of the question!” since “I never touch anything”, but reason persuaded me that the middle path was to give in. After all, I was unlikely to forget that the kettle came from the kitchen. Now I move a few things if needed, but write it down; you think you’ll remember, but you won’t!

Other tips on this matter:

If a host says “don’t use this”, seriously don’t. Integrity aside, it’s not as simple as “they’ll never know”; sod law dictates that if you do use it, it will break and then you’ll have to explain yourself. It could ruin your house-sitter-rep, which, as we all know, is worth more than gold.

On the subject of breakages, own up to every single one for the same reason. You can plan not to break anything, since you’re a careful person, but it’s not that simple. For example, in one house, two glasses were smashed by the chimney-sweep who, rotating his 10ft flue-brush into position, knocked them off the dish dryer! I’d never have seen that one coming. However, good precautions include avoiding the use of unique or hand-made crockery, and glass lamps. I also practice using fewer things within a house (e.g. one mug, one towel), since that’s fewer things to clean and remember where to put back. Having a van, I can also bring some kitchen stuff, and bedding. This really takes the stress out of it for me.

Keep all your stuff in one place/room. Don’t be tempted to hang your coat on the coat rack, or put your keys on the shelf by the door. It may seem ludicrous, but trust me, it’s better in the long run. Dotting your stuff around the house is the quickest way to get it mixed up with your host’s stuff and risk forgetting it on load-out. It also ruins your travel habits.  If you really need a dumping ground, pick a totally clear surface and use that.

House Care: How To Clean Up

Cleaning is one of the hardest things for me. I both dislike it, and have no natural aptitude for it. In fact, I rejoiced at the idea of Digital Nomad-ing as I expected that travelling would result in having to do less cleaning. How wrong I was; the properties I take care of are much larger than anywhere I’ve ever rented, and it’s necessary to keep them much cleaner. I spend a lot of time on and boy has Melissa saved me time over all!

Here are a few things I’ve learned the hard way:

Keep it clean. At first I’d imagined I’d clear up all in one go at the end of the house-sit, and do as little as possible during.

This doesn’t work.

Although less overall time is spent cleaning, it’s hard to predict how long that final clean-up will take, causing stress or rushing. Also, what happens if a neighbour pops in the day before you move out of a 2 week house-sit, and sees 2 weeks’ washing-up piled high? Well, they are likely to tell your host that on their return.

Contrary to my instincts, it’s actually better to keep the place looking as much like a show home as possible (which means daily attention) throughout the house-sit. This results in immunity to “drop-in’s”, or host’s early return. It also shortens the final clean-up; at my last 2-weeker it took under an hour.

Finally, try and leave the place cleaner than you found it, by choosing something extra to attend to… in some cases this is impossible. In most cases I find I can at least tidy kitchen cupboards, and sort through the fridge. By the way, with careful planning and strategic eating it is possible to eat down the contents of the fridge and cupboards and move with almost no food. Do this if you can; it’s much easier.

Moving Tips: The Pack-Down and Load Out:

If you’re me there’s hardly any pack-down, since everything’s already packed. If you’re a one-bag traveller, even less. But what about the things you’re using right up until you leave? Do you pack then clean, or the other way around?

One idea, which works in a safe area, is to pack an overnight bag, and load-out everything else to the vehicle a day in advance.

However, I find that the minimum disruption is to clean the room nearest the front door first, move my bags to that room, then keep cleaning (as pictured at the top of this post – my move-out-formation of luggage). That means everything is accessible right-up until the clean-up is finished, but isn’t in the way. Need a snack? Finish early and fancy playing guitar? All is possible with this method. Finally, before the 10min load out, I like to prepare the van’s front seat with accessible snacks and a thermos of tea.

One of my favourite tricks, since I bring my own bedding, is to transplant the whole thing like this.

moving-day-hack copy.jpg

Hope this unapolagetically long post has helped you in your house-sitting/travelling/nomadic lifestyle. Do please send me more tips, especially any on housework!


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Unlocking The Healing Power Of Envy


Excerpt from Hoggart’s wonderful book shaming round robin letters designed to invoke envy

Everyone experiences jealousy or envy… well everyone except me. I’m not joking. For years I’ve been baffled by envy, what it is and why other people feel it when I don’t seem to. Recently I’ve understood that I DO feel it, it’s just that those feelings so quickly transform into positive information that I barely notice them. I’m not trying to make you jealous. Here’s how to do it.

The truth is, listening to what our envy is trying to tell us can be the key to unlocking our lives. Jealousy or envy are messengers, just like anger is. The quicker you get the message, and act on it, the quicker the unpleasant sensations that come with these emotions evaporate.

Anger tells us about something we don’t want – behaviour towards us or others, injustice in the world, unfairness, inconsideration, aggression. Envy (and lets focus on envy rather than jealousy) tells us about something we do want, specifically when we see that someone else has it, and we feel “discontented or resentful longing” as a result.

This is as far as most people get, but did you know that envy occurs when we see someone who has something that we ourselves could bring into our lives? It tells us about something we do want, but are failing to pursue. In this way, envy is a gift: it lets us know what our desires look like, through someone else. It puts our eye on the prize. Envy alerts me to wherever I’m blatantly failing to notice an opportunity, or desire: “Oh, I didn’t know I wanted that. Best reach out and grab it.”

Unfortunately most people never get this message. They feel envy, but couple it with a statement such as “I’ll never get what they have”, and therefore take no action. The envy continues unabated, gnawing at them for years.

To unlock the healing, transformative power of envy is simple: listen to what it’s telling you, then take positive action.

At its simplest level, the process can be summarised through the “I wish I’d ordered that” phenomenon. At a restaurant, envy occurs when you see what your friend ordered and say “I wish I’d ordered that!” They ask you, “Then why didn’t you order it?” Of course you respond, “I didn’t know I wanted it till I saw it!”

Great, you’ve got the message. Now you can take negative action: eschew the restaurant forevermore, never order it, never eat it, be nasty to your friend, try to steal their food. Or you can take positive action and say, “Hey, I’ll have the pistachio ice cream next time. Thanks for showing me that it exists so I could find out I want it.”

Often, a resolve to order it next time makes you feel ok about this time. Your friend, instead of being alienated by the force of your envy, will have a better time with you and might even share with you (although that shouldn’t be your motivation of course).

Ask yourself, “What do I want that she/he has, and where in my life can I take positive action towards it?” You’ll be able to tell when you’ve hit the nail on the head, because all negative feelings will dissipate. If you believe you’ve got it because you feel motivated towards your goal, but underneath you’re muttering “Screw them! I’ll show them next time, and rub it in their face! ”… then you haven’t really got it.

To go into more detail on how to get the message from your envy, first, let’s distinguish it from “admiration” and “awe”.

Admiration is when we think someone’s great, but we don’t feel bad as a result. It doesn’t bother us that they are great. They may even have achieved exactly what we’d like to achieve, but knowing that gives a us warm fuzzy glow inside.

Have you noticed that someone having what you want doesn’t automatically result in envy? That’s because there’s no message to deliver. You’re cool with wanting what they have; you’re already working towards having it some day too. You’re in touch with what you desire! Envy serves to identify blocked desire.

Awe too is good. We don’t need to do anything about it  – it’s already positive. I’m in awe of professional dancers. I’m inspired by their discipline. What they do is like magic to me. But, whilst I might say to myself “I wish I could dance”, I don’t feel upset that I can’t. I’ve no desire to rehearse for 10hrs a day either, so I think we can safely say I’m in awe of dancers, rather than envious of them.

The funny thing is, we often don’t feel jealousy for something if it’s totally way out of the realms of our lives, it has to be much closer to home.

I’ll give you a very literal example from when I last felt envious. For about 6 months, I’d been trying to get a gig in the UK which paid enough to justify travelling from France for it. I’d created a pitch, approached venues: no joy. Then one day a UK friend told me they’d been offered a gig in France, with such a good fee they couldn’t turn it down, but were complaining about the hassle of travelling. Straightaway I told them, “I’m so jealous. I’m TRYING to get a gig just like that, whilst you’re complaining that you have one!”.

My feelings of envy quickly evaporated when I remembered that I hadn’t been trying. I’d given up months ago. Immediately I sent out emails to the same venues as before. Guess what…not one, but three of them said “YES”.

Ok that’s a very literal example, but what about something more difficult to decode? What about feeling envious of someone who’s won a prize for example, or the lottery? After all, you can’t plan those things, or take action towards getting them yourself.

Again it’s likely that feelings of envy are highlighting something which is both close to home, and that you can take immediate action on. In the case of the lottery, you might covet financial security, and this feeling could alert you to a financial issue you can easily address.

A prize shows that someone is recognised for their merits by an esteemed body. Envy could indicate where you feel unacknowledged, perhaps within your own family, and give you the impetus to talk to them about it. Alternatively it could be a feeling that you’ve let yourself down in areas which might have otherwise landed you the prize. Strangely, once you start to put effort into those areas, it probably won’t matter to you at all whether you’re given an award for doing so.

Interestingly we tend to project skewed images of those we envy. For example, the lottery winner may not be feeling financially secure, but thinking “Oh no, I’ve got all this money and I bet I’m going to fritter it away and be skint again in no time.” Likewise, the prize winner might not experience a warm sense of acceptance from their peers but feel embarrassed and pressured. This is how we know that envy is a messenger for our own desires, because it does not consider our victim’s true feelings, only how we imagine we’d feel if we had what they have.

This final point is very important. It’s easy to think that if we had what they have we would be happy. But, buy the car they bought, the clothes they wear and find out it’s not true. This is of course, how advertising works: look how happy that family are eating breakfast cereal together!

It’s very important to focus in on how we imagine we would feel if we had what they had. Would we feel content, loved, secure, grateful, appreciated? Whichever it is, envy is telling us to look for actions we can take that would bring us more of that feeling.

The Minimalists have a great example which they use in their talks. Ryan had a domestic cleaning job with his dad and he noticed that the people who’s houses they cleaned seemed really happy. I have no idea if he felt envy, but nontheless he found out how much they earned, $50k p/y, and decided to make that income his number 1 goal. When he reached it, the penny dropped: happiness didn’t come as standard with $50k. In fact, it turns out it the penny didn’t fully drop there, since Ryan assumed the problem was inflation, but that’s another story.

To recap, if you experience envy, here’s what to do. Ask yourself:

  • How would I feel if I had what that person has?
  • Would I feel like that if I too had what they had?
  • If yes, is having what they have the only way I could feel like that?
  • If no, what would make me feel that way?
  • What actions can I take to bring more of that feeling into my life?

Hope you’ve enjoyed this article and find the process useful. I’m afraid it’s not referenced as I haven’t read about this process, it’s just the one I use myself. Please let me know if you find any existing literature that relates to it. For me, the actions I take as a result of listening to my envy tend to be the most exciting breakthroughs of my life, like a dam breaking. Why? Because there was a block I didn’t notice and envy pointed it out.


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Gendered Clothes – Men’s clothes are boring?

kimwei-beard.jpgIt’s been a couple of years since I’ve been dressing almost exclusively “as male” (but not trying to “pass” as male).  You know what I’ve discovered? Men’s clothes are boring.

Isn’t it weird that clothes are so gendered? Trousers, no longer. A woman wearing trousers is not “cross dressing”, but apparently, a man wearing a skirt is???


and need I add “everything in-between”?

For those of us who are gender fluid, transgender or who simply don’t want to be defined by stereotypical gender boundaries, clothing and image are effective tools in sending a message about who we are, since they are both visible and instantly communicative.

I’ve two friends especially struggling with this right now, who will go unnamed. One has a female body and the other a male body. My female bodied friend identifies as non-gender-binary, but looks extremely feminine. She rings me up in frustration at trying to express her masculinity through image, whilst being blessed with curves and delicate features.

My friend in a male body is firmly cis-gendered, but thinks women have all the fun in terms of nice clothes. He is very worried about what male friends or potential female partners would think if they saw him dressed in the clothes he really likes, which are stereotypically worn by women. Is he a transvestite? I wouldn’t say so.

In the words of designer and gender-superhero Arian Bloodwood, I would say more that my male bodied friend simply wants to wear clothes that he likes.


Arian models Charles’ handiwork

My two friends and I all want the same thing – to be perceived as ourselves. Since, in one way or another, we don’t fit within conventional gender boundaries, it’s difficult to work out how to “present” as who we really are.

When my male friend walks out the door in his favourite outfit, some people will see a guy who just looks fabulous and knows how to dress. However he also fears attracting negative attention if perceived as a gay or transvestite by people who view those groups negatively. Essentially, when he dresses as himself, he worries about being seen as someone else entirely.

My NGB trans friend in a female body doesn’t like being seen as a very feminine woman, whilst the masculine part of her goes unnoticed, since she struggles to send the “right” signals through her mode of dress.

But what ARE the right signals? We’re in a strange intermediate phase as a society, where gender boundaries have started breaking down, but they haven’t snapped completely. Dressing as male has helped people to better understand my gender, yes that’s true. But, would I need the label of non-gender-binary transgender if society’s ideas about gender were blown wide open? If that happened each person would meet me as me, without applying a set of parameters to my personality based on the gender of my body? Would I need to “dress as male” then? Probably not.

Kimwei shirt.pngI’ve thought a lot about the signals I send out through image and my decision in a couple of years ago to only wear “what I would wear if I had a male body”. Out went strappy tops, bras, anything that showed midriff or accentuated breast size, and in came tailored shirts, waistcoats and… no that’s all really. Told you men’s clothes were boring. And the truth is, if I really did have a male body, I’d wear dresses skirts and other “female” clothes here and there, because they just look fabulous are great fun!

Male and female bodies and brains are different in some ways, yes. But ultimately, I believe we need to throw out our expectations of what people should be like/should do/should be treated based on the gender of their bodies (or clothes). Only then, will both transgender and cis-gendered people alike be free to express and be accepted as who they are fully. In some parts of the world this is a mortally serious point*.

We can contribute to moving this issue forward by opening up to it on a personal level. Support the cause by cross dressing this Christmas, but don’t call it “cross-dressing”, just call it wearing clothes that you like.


* Each year Amnesty International run the Write For Rights campaign, which is a wonderful thing. Cases are varied and it’s worth noting that each year there are some cases relating to gender/sexuality. Click here to participate in the campaign.

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BuyMeOnce stocks things that last a lifetime: Brilliant for Christmas Shopping!

Most who know me would be shocked to hear that I’m actually recommending a shop, but this one is really something special! When it comes to my issues surrounding buying brand new “stuff”, Christmas and otherwise, solves all of them, with their commitment to sell products that will last a lifetime. This website gets the Symphony For Happiness seal of approval!

Screen Shot 2016-12-07 at 13.48.17.png

The stress of “what to buy” seems like such a “first world problem”, and of course it is, but this is why it’s so important. As western over-consumers we can make a huge impact when we make the decision to consume responsibly, so let’s do it.

When I buy something new (meaning I can’t make it or find it 2nd hand) there are a number of things to consider.

  1. Is it ethically made?
  2. Is it sustainably made (both processes and materials)?
  3. Will it last?
  4. Does it serve my purpose?
  5. Is it reasonable value for money?

Figuring all this out can be a real nightmare, both in terms of getting the info and weighing it up. How do you know if a product will last? What good is buying something made from sustainable materials if the damn thing just breaks and has to be thrown away? What if something’s ethically made but actually doesn’t work very well? I’ve also seem plenty of sustainably produced disposable items, which seems to me to defeat the point. BuyMeOnce takes the headache out by having done the research for you, weighing up these factors and presenting the info on a plate.

It’s worth bearing in mind that whilst some of what’s listed is sweatshop free, sustainably produced, or recycled, the main focus of the website is longevity.

“Buying once” makes sense in so many ways. On a personal level it can save both money and time, since you’ll never have to re-buy, and over a lifetime this will be cheaper if you can afford the initial outlay. On a planetary level, long lasting goods are naturally more environmentally friendly, since less units are produced, saving on materials and other polluting factors involved in the production line.

In terms of Christmas presents, buying from this website would ensure that you’re giving a loved one something that won’t break on them, but as a personal note, I’d recommend discussing your gift with the receiver before ordering. After all, if they are going to be stuck with it for life, you’d better check if they’d prefer the red socks or the blue ones!

My only criticism is that there are plenty of categories that BuyMeOnce doesn’t yet cover. However this in itself is a symptom of one of their core strengths – taking the necessary time to rigorously research every item before making the commitment to list it. I’ll be watching as they grow and expand.

When I have to buy something I’ll often scour Digital Nomad Kit Lists, since our breed are terrifying testers of our possessions. We carry few things and no spares, so we can tell you exactly how well each thing performs, how reliable is it, and how long it lasts under relentless daily use. I wonder if in future I’ll start seeing collaborations between buymeonce and digital nomads. Brands I see both referring to already include Darn Tough and Patagonia.

For more of my thoughts on Christmas Shopping, click here: Christmas Gifts – I saw this & thought of you / I thought of you… I saw nothing.


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Christmas Gifts – I saw this & thought of you / I thought of you… I saw nothing.

How do we get back to the true spirit of giving and receiving through this haze of Christmas shopping?

xmas-shop.pngAs an anti-consumerist, each year I freak out a little about the Christmas Season’s enforced gift giving. Gifts and generosity are beautiful things to behold, but the push – the pressure to give objects on a particular date, feels driven by commercial industries that want to sell. It’s lovely to be able to say to someone “I saw this and thought of you”, down right embarrassing to say “It’s the thought that counts, because I thought you’d like it but you clearly hate it” and totally taboo to say, no matter how true “I thought of you… but I saw nothing”.

I am notoriously difficult to buy non-edibles for, as a minimalist, traveller and anti-consumerist. If anything, I’m hoping to reduce the contents of my backpack, not increase it! I even looked through “ideal gifts for Digital Nomads” articles and couldn’t see anything I wanted, so goodness knows how anyone else is going to fare.

Having said this, almost paradoxically, as a traveller I’m incredibly sentimental. Many things I own/use/carry are from loved ones. This helps me feel connected to my friends and family wherever I am. Right I’m wearing, pocketing or using 12 things that were given to me. Not all were necessarily “presents” wrapped up for a birthday or Christmas. Some were also given as an alternative to donating, or bought for me onthe spot. It really doesn’t matter to me if it was expensive, wrapped, or presented on the “right” date. What matters is being given something I’ll use, by a loved one, so I can be reminded of them every time I use it.

There are certain ideas surrounding Christmas gifts, largely from advertising, which I’ve always found odd. At their worst, they can make gift exhange feel like a form of tax. As follows:

  • It’s not a proper gift if it’s used (especially if it’s been used by you).
  • Something bought is better than something home made (I’ve heard home made cards referred to as “cheapskate”).
  • Consumables are not gifts unless they are a special “gift box” of soaps, biscuits, chocolates which often are over-packaged and overpriced. Honestly, show me a chocolate lover who would rather receive 100gms in the shape of Santa rather than 200gms the same stuff in squares!
  • The “how did you know” factor, is all that matters. Yes, it’s lovely when it works, but there’s also an assumption that if you can’t get someone a surprise gift they’ll treasure, there’s no magic (possibly Santa’s to blame for this one – but seriously guys, he had a list!).
  • Presents must be un-wrappable (although digital gifts are getting more normal now).
  • Cost matters. Seen exactly what your Gran would love on sale for a fiver? Well, better hope she doesn’t find out it cost you so little.

It’s exactly these ideas that left my mother despairing and simply buying everyone a white bath towel one year. “Well, they can’t say it’s not useful” she said, “and if they don’t like the colour, they can dye it”.

Returning to my original question: How do we get back to the true spirit of giving and receiving through this haze of Christmas shopping? Many people just want to forget the whole thing, but my experience is that it’s a baby bathwater situation, in which loved ones are blocked from being generous. I would seriously recommend breaking the above taboos wherever needed, by having a talk with friends and family about reframing gift giving and receiving. Many people would be relieved by the suggestion of a “consumables only” rule, a spending limit, the “ok” to buy 2nd hand, or even guidance on what sort of gift you would like. Other ideas include agreeing to give handwritten personal vouchers such as “I’ll take you out for a curry”, “A massage from me”, “Breakfast in bed – redeemable Boxing Day”. Have whatever conversation it takes to take the stress out Christmas shopping/making, and free yourself from the pressure. After all, we all know the embarrassment of going to the shops, thinking of you, but seeing nothing!

Whilst this article is about attitudes, check out my next post on sustainable/anti-consumerist gift ideas at, here: BuyMeOnce (stocks things that last a lifetime): Brilliant for Christmas Shopping!


Also check out the Symphony For Happines Vlog

… and connect with me @:

Music @:


Also check out the Symphony For Happines Vlog

… and connect with me @:

Music @:

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Digital Nomad Tips – Work, Play, Travel

Academy Crowdfund Pic.pngIt’s been my most digital nomad trip yet – 10 days, 7 UK cities giving Crowdfunding/£0 Talks and teaching in person. Also did 8 Skype tutorials, not to mention phone calls, email and paperwork to keep up with whilst constantly moving. Did it all on public transport, carrying one backpack and a guitar, washing clothes in the sink and travelling as light as possible, staying with friends where I could and sleeping somewhere different almost every night.

Although I’ve had digital nomad status for a while now, it’s been in the form of long house-sits supported by my online teaching. This trip is much more packed and transient – classic digital nomad-ing like I’ve only ever heard about. Ok, so you could say it’s a bit like being ‘on business’ or ‘on tour’, but this particular cocktail of travel, offline work, online work, non-work life and normal day-to-day is pretty new. It’s a 20-teens phenomenon that feels like hippy backpacking/couchsurfing, but with full digital kit and the need to turn up smartly dressed and well rested. At times these factors seem at complete odds with each other! So, what did I think of the experience and what are my top tips for surviving it?


Reading student’s essay drafts whilst the band soundchecks

Never let your ‘nomad’ get in the way of your ‘digital’. In other words, create your schedule around work – put it first. After all, it’s your digital work that makes it possible for you to travel. Say you’re in Paris, about to enter the Notre-Dame and a work call comes in. Do you take it? Yes. Sounds crazy at first, but without your digital work you wouldn’t even be in Paris. Today, you might not getting inside, but you’ll get be ‘at work’ with a view of the Notre-Dame! See you work something which allows you to travel rather than something that gets in the way of your sightseeing. It’s that way around.

Prioritise your bodies needs – sustenance, sleep, exercise. You’re not on a hedonistic weekend, you’re living normal life. Put your body first and you’ll be able to enjoy this and keep it sustainable (easier said than done!)


Burshing my teeth at a cafe bathroom – fortunately the mirror doesn’t judge me


Do stuff when you can. Don’t wait till you ‘get there’, cause you never know when you might be delayed. In a queue? Answer an email on you phone. Nap on the bus, even if it’s just 15mins. Do some yoga on the train platform. Take little snippets of time and do what you need to, and you’ll find yourself much more resilient to the unpredictable nature of travelling, both in terms of getting work done, and meeting your bodies needs. You’re at home wherever you are, so don’t wait to relax when you get to your destination. Take your time. Other people may be commuting, rushing around you but you are effectively in your living room/office/bedroom whether you are waiting for a bus, strolling through a city. I try to never spend time “waiting” for the next thing.

Create habits around your stuff, so that when your disorientated, rushed or tired you’re less likely to leave things behind or be unable to locate them in your bag. My habits include, putting my wallet and keys in my shoes when I take them off, making it impossible to miss them on the way out, keeping my bag packed whenever possible and always putting things back in the same place within that bag (same for jacket/trouser pockets). I back up any digital documents I work on every time I use my laptop, just in case.


How to sleep on the train: alarm set for 5mins before my station, with idiot proof list so I don’t forget anything!

Create focused work and play time. Your day will require you to switch in and out of work mode frequently. For me, the key to doing this is using alarms and what I call ‘blackouts’. If I’ve got 45mins with a friend, or 30mins for an online tutorial, I’ll set myself an alarm so I can totally focus on where I am without having to worry about the next thing. If I have to switch from one mode to the other, sometimes I’ll use a ‘blackout’ – a timed 5mins of no stimulation – eyemask, noise cancelling headphones, lying down if possible. I might do this just before a work Skype, or when I’ve finished my laptop time on a train and am moving onto reading for pleasure. It’s amazing how refreshed I feel after just that short but total break from the world!


Yup – backpack over 10kg – time to stuff guitar with clothes then

Be ready to run! I’ve had several sprints for public transport this week. Being prepared for that really makes a difference. By default this means travelling light, and getting everything in the bag securely. Backpacks are the easiest type of luggage to run with, and I find 10kg and under manageable. This trip I travelled with 12kg (plus guitar) and really felt the difference. For me it was almost unworkable. Instead of being able to make decisions on the fly and carry my pack all day, I was strategising where/when I could dump my stuff. The main problem is that I use everything I carry, so without upgrading to lightweight kit it’s hard to get the weight down any further without leaving things behind that I need.


My luggage obviously feeling tired too.

How successful was I on this trip? I’d say 80%. I aimed to keep up with all my work, and stay rested and presentable. Today is my last day and I’m pretty tired despite my efforts to prioritise rest. I’m up to date on all my digital work, which is fantastic. My habits are getting better – I didn’t lose anything. I’ll be seriously considering lightening my luggage even further for my next trip. But all in all, I’m thrilled – really enjoyed work, play, friends and adventures. This feels like the future!

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I Carry Your Heart (Poem Setting) – Video

Although originally set as a duet, I enjoyed recording this version of my setting as a solo version for youtube. I’d love to do a video collaboration with someone being the other voice. Click here for original duet version and writeup.


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Why I’m Spiritual But Not Religious


Digital Nomad Moment 132 – Ok airport prayer room, show me what you can do!

I often wonder what a pagan would do if they saw my rune-bag with an Om symbol on it. What would a Buddhist say if I they saw me using runes? Would the Cathedral staff have kicked me out if saw me doing yoga in the chapel, on my way to work? What would my colleagues have thought if I told them I’d just been praying in a Cathedral?

Most people I know have no objection to my mixed and practical approach to spirituality, since this kind of thing is becoming more and more common. There’s even an acronym for it SBNR (spiritual but not religious), and my broad stance has allowed me to connected with religious and non-religious people alike. Last weekend I was at an army base and ended up “showing and telling” my meditation mat (above) to some military band members. One Christmas Day, I spent the morning with Christians, went to a Buddhist lunch and had dinner with an atheist.

At the heart of my spirituality are essentially Buddhist ideals:

  • To love all living things (which are all connected)
  • To lead a meaningful and joyful life
  • To value compassion
  • To live intuitively
  • To value the profound things I experience, even if it may be invisible or unexplainable.

What’s very interesting to me, is that I know religious folks, agnostics and atheist with whom I share these common ideals. As Bill Bailey puts is “if pushed, most people will write Jedi.

Notice that I haven’t mentioned God?

Well, my father has a theory that people are so distracted by modern life that they are never truly with themselves. Then, one day, they might sit down quietly in a church or sacred building, and in that quiet, profound thoughts that have been waiting for years to be heard, fill their mind. They are suddenly overpowered by waves of joy and feel totally present.

They might assume this to be a religious experience, and attribute it to the religion associated with the church they are in, and maybe join that religion. This is natural, yet its easier to believe that such a deep and experience must comes from God, rather than from within us…or are they the same? Or is it a particular God? Or is it one of many gods? How do we name that experience? If it is a religious experience, then that implies it is connected to the principles of a particular religion… but if it is a spiritual experience, it can simply stand alone and mean whatever it means to you, and I find this much freer. It means trusting ourselves and our own personal sense of “God” (a.k.a. gnosis).


Approach a Prayer Room with “Caution” and “Attention”… I couldn’t agree more.

To me, whether we call it God, or source, or the Buddha within, or being present, or a feeling of awe, or simply the joy being ourselves, doesn’t matter. Whatever we experience which is profound, joyful, powerful and deep is of great value. It is to be pursued, sought, followed and respected.

That profound feeling is our compass. When we feel that feeling we are led to be the best we can be, and do the best we can for ourselves, the planet and all living things. It’s my opinion that everyone can find this inner sense, but religious people can potentially be distracted from it by the rules and regulations of their religion, whilst atheists are more likely to struggle to put their “intuitive sense” at the center of their lives. However, I do see being religous, agnostic or atheist all as legitimate paths to finding this same “internal sense” or “internal compass” which I would call spiritual, as in “aligned”.

This sense of alignment is so important right now. To work together and secure our future on the earth will require every single one of us to follow our inner compass. We don’t need to be religious to do this but we do need to be spiritual.


Also check out the Symphony For Happines Vlog

… and connect with me @:

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Can’t Take Criticism? Good For You!

What’s the point of saying to someone “Your problem is you can’t take criticism”?

  • If this is true, how do you expect them to take the comment on board?
  • The statement itself falls under the bracket of plain ol’ criticism, not constructive criticism.
  • Most often this comment is levelled by someone who wants carte-blanche be insulting.

It’s not a useful phrase in my book.

I personally am proud to say “I can’t take criticism” – if it’s not constructive. Yet, truly constructive criticism is rare.

As an Undergraduate Mentor , I criticise for a living. Whilst I don’t always get it perfect, I’m dedicated to giving good quality criticism. I want my students to feel positive after our feedback sessions – champing at the bit to go back to their work with a new game-plan. They should walk out feeling un-stuck where they were stuck, and keen where they may have felt disheartened. If my criticism doesn’t make the receiver feel great, I need to re-think my approach.

I’ve been on the receiving end of incredibly helpful feedback both personally and professionally – its pure gold. But careless criticism, or tactless, incorrect remarks, claiming to be constructive, I have no time for. They infuriate me, and why shouldn’t they? After all, these remarks are essentially negativite whilst professing to be on your side.

There’s no place in my personal and professional relationships for criticism which is not fit for purpose. I’d go so far as to say that ideal feedback contains no criticism and no negative statements. In my book, it should be called “constructive commenting” – with no “criticism” in sight.

“Constructive criticism” is simply a contradiction in terms.

Which of these approaches would you rather be on the receiving end of?

“I’m on your side so I’m gonna be blunt and tell you what’s shit so you can improve it. You’ll be grateful because if no-one ever tells you, you’ll just keep being shit!”


“I’m on your side, and this means I’m excited about everything you’re doing so well, and even more excited about the potential you have to improve even more. Let’s identify the areas with the most potential for growth and create a plan together!”

There are big differences between the two. Even though the tough-love approach could be helpful, it’s inherently negative. It’s based on the idea that people get better when they focus on how badly things are going. In reality, the opposite is true. I believe people improve when they are charged with self-belief and totally focused on a positive goal. In that state of mind they will tear through anything in their path to get to it.

Ironically, to demonstrate what I mean, I’m going to criticise an example of what I think of as “bad” criticism, from an article about people who “can’t take criticism”. This is one example of what the author calls “constructive”:

 Boring is death. Never be boring. Be provocative, be entertaining, be enlightening, be educational. Never boring. Unfortunately, right now, you’re boring.”

There are SO many discouraging factors I don’t know where to start. The overall message – “your writing has some good ideas but would be more engaging if…” – is in there somewhere, but is couched in such a way that it comes across as an insult. This is partly because it confuses the subject’s work, with the subject, by saying “you’re boring” instead of “your writing is boring”.

The advice too is impossible to follow, because if someone’s writes “boring” stuff, a logical conclusion that they don’t know how to “be entertaining”. Simply telling them to do it won’t help. The result – the message sent is “you’re rubbish and should get better”. Not very useful, but unfortunately I can’t provide any suggestions for more useful feedback in this context, because I didn’t see the original work.

I can however, suggest a different approach. I’m not talking about pussy-footing around weak spots, or being afraid to mention them – I’m talking about an overall positive attitude. The above excerpt is like advising someone on how to sculpt an elephant by saying Chip away everything that doesn’t look like an elephant.” True, but unhelpful. Really good feedback however, says “That bit over there doesn’t look like an elephant. I have some suggestions on how you could chip it away.”

This approach requires a lot of attention. For a start, you’ll need to know which elephant the artist is aiming for. No use giving feedback on how to sculpt an Indian elephant if it was meant to be an African one all along. Also, avoid confusing the artist’s desired elephant with your desired elephant (by the way, the elephant is a representation of someone’s desired goals, be they personal/skill development, or completing a project).

Next, be specific and accurate. Avoid personal likes and dislikes such as “I don’t like the tusks”. If the tusks need more detail, say “tusks” not “head”. If you’re not sure what would improve said tusks, don’t try and say more than you know. Try “I think the tusks needs something. If you agree, can we explore what that might be?”

Here are some helpful phrases to deal with areas that need improvement:

“I know you really want this result and I have an idea that might help you achieve it…”

“This aspect of the work has improved so much you should be really proud! It throws this other aspect into sharp focus, which could be brought up to the same standard to make the over all product water-tight.”

“I’d like to explore whether it would take you closer to your goal if this aspect was changed or omitted.”

“Since you’ve told me you’re aiming for X, my reflection is that the biggest obstacle to achieving X is Y. How does that sit with you?”

But more than phrasing, the key is attitude. Even clumsy comments can go down well with the right intentions, whilst (as seen above), cutting accuracy can be ineffective depending on how its offered.

Check with yourself – why are you giving feedback? The most genuine reason to do so is a real commitment to helping someone achieve their goals. As the critic, you are the space holder.

Common misaligned reasons people criticise include wanting to look like an expert, wanting to take someone down a peg, or wanting someone to behave more like them. There’s nothing quite like the person who tells you you’ve offended them by saying “Can I give you some constructive criticism? You offend people.” No doubt that they’ll soon be saying “some people can’t take criticism”, to which you can respond “No, I can’t take criticism and I won’t.”

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