Two years ago I was visiting with my daughter in London. It was a hot September afternoon and as we sipped coffee in her sunny flat, we began to talk about when she would next come home to visit us in Dublin. It looked like it was going to be Christmas before we’d be together again that year.
“You know mum, I look forward to the” ……… and then it sounded like she said hug “I get everytime I come home.” My confused look promted her to explain. “It’s Hygge” she said. “My friend from Denmark says it’s a Danish expression for a kind of hearth-cosy comfort.”
Little did I know how much more I was going to hear about this word Hygge, pronounced like a combination of huge and hug ‘hue-gah’ the Danish way of living which is about atmosphere and experience rathar than about things or wealth. That Christmas the shelves in bookstores were full of cute little books teaching us all how to be Hygge.
I’ve come to the conclusion, in the time since then, that hygge is where the heart is. And isn’t it interesting that the words heart and hearth are so similar sounding and of course, we expect something similar from each – we expect warmth.
On that day in my daughter’s flat, her expression of ‘hearth-cosy comfort’ brought me back to that place where we go when we desire to frame something new, into something familiar - in this case, a Christmas of my childhood.
On Christmas mornings, my family would pack up our car and set off on what was a long journey in those days, to my Grandmother’s cottage in the country. We’d be wrapped up warm for the journey and whatever new toy or present which had arrived under the tree, would have pride of place on the seat beside us. At a particular point in the journey, my dad would suggest we search the distance for the lights of Granny’s cottage through the trees and the excitement as I spotted the smoke rise from her chimney, filled me with the absolute knowledge that we were welcome to this place.
To this day, we grandchildren talk of Granny’s hugs. They were enormous and as she wrapped you in her arms and held you to her bosom, there was no other more perfect place in the world. Then holding you away at arms length and cupping your chin in her hands, her beautiful soft brown eyes would scan your face as she satisfied herself that all was well. We felt precious indeed to her as she addressed us with the Irish term of affection, a stór, meaning ‘my treasure’.
It’s easy for me to slip into that scene again now as I remember how each of my senses were filled up with pure pleasure on those Chrsitmas day afternoons in the cottage. The enormous fire in the inglenook-like fireplace where boiling pots rested on the hearth and kettles hung from the hook over the flames. Oil lamps were glowing and candles lit and over by the window, the table was set and prepared for the feast to follow. As we waited for all to be ready, we children sat up close to the fire and petted ‘Silver’ the spaniel of the same colour who lay comfortably under the big sofa, nose curiously sniffing the air.
There was pleasure for me too in knowing my parents were enjoying being together and for a time, nothing to distract them from the world of everyday life - of work and home-making and mending and keeping our lives ticking over in their fashion. Here we simply bathed in the warmth of a family Christmas.
In the evening after we dozed by the fire, the table returned to its place by the wall, leftovers safely stored away, my aunts and uncles and cousins arrived bringing blasts of freezing air through the open door to cheer us wide awake and ready for merryment, laughter and good humoured banter. And this is where the real magic began…….
Pots of tea in festive tea-cosies would be left to brew and Granny’s Christmas cake proudly revealed and admired. And while small hands would steal the little silver balls from the cake decorations, adult eyes were busy finding a comfortable place to sit for the evening of song and storytelling which inevitably came to pass on an occasion such as this. Dad would pour stout and small whiskey chasers for the men and Mum offered to share her once-a-year babycham to aunties Sally and Gretta. Kitty, my Grandmother’s neighbour would call and take up the place reserved for honoured guests – beside the fireplace. No one questioned it. Kitty was old and we children suspected that she was actually a witch. Poor lady was old and she lived alone and that was enough in those days to give creedence to the suspicion.
We children, taking our new dolls and our dinky cars to the stairway, would place ourselves, one seated below the other down the steps, peeking through the banister rails while we carefully sipped lemonade and quietly opened sweets from their jewel coloured wrappers, never chewing or crunching and making each last forever.
In the flickering flame from the hearth and the soft glow of light from the oil lamps, I can still see the contentment sit comfortably on Granny’s face. He home and her heart filled with love - her treasure all around her. There were songs and recitations and recalling of loved ones long gone. A glass raised in memory and blessings sent forth until the time came to wish ‘God bless’ as the family began to ribbon back out into the night and my sister and I turned upward on the stair to the attic bedroom prepared for us above.
As we slid into the enormous, creaky bed, prewarmed by hot water bottles and a mountain of cosy blankets, my sister and I would murmer sleepy words of contentment to each other. And as we drifted off to sleep we knew without a shadow of doubt that within the thick walls of this ancient cottage, lay the centre of the universe. People came and they went and they shared stories and played music around the fire in the room below, but what we felt that night, was that no matter where we would go in the world or who we would give our hearts to, the feeling of warmth and belonging we felt as we snuggled down to sleep was the measure by which all other riches would forever be measured.
So what is hygge?
Hygge is where the heart and hearth is.
Hygge is when you are made to feel treasured.
Hygge is seeing those you love being shown love by those they love.
Hygge is a better understanding of who you are in the world no matter where you are in the world.
Hygge is created with words and warmth and affection.
Hygge is created when it tends to the comfort of all the senses.
Hygge is a feeling that you are treasure beyond measure and rich beyond your wildest dreams!
It’s blankets and flickering light, and hugs and snoozing and cake and shared festive cheer and chimneys through trees. It’s cousins and old neighbours and blasts of cold air as they come through the door. It’s loving eyes reflecting the sparkle of treasure they see before them…..
My daughter returns home to us for her Christmas visit this weekend. She’s looking forward to the hugs. At least I think that’s what she said. I think she said hugs………
What's not to love about being a Goddess? According to Dr. Christiane Northrup, Goddesses Never Age. I've downloaded her book of the same name on the Audible app and I listen to it (read by the author) in my car as I drive to the gym. I listen to it on other journeys too but somehow I feel I'm contributing more powerfully to the goddess image on gym trips and Dr. Christiane's words get to carry greater impact. Let's be honest, driving about getting sweaty about getting sweaty isn't inspiring in the least and my mind is more likely to drift into the mundane lane than to elevate my sense of higher purpose but from time to time, some juicy goddess guidance hits home nicely.
ABANDON YOUR AGE
Dr. Christiane has done all the research on the science of ageing and it seems to me that the two main components of ageing are chemical and mental and the connection to, and effect on, each one to the other. Put super-simply, 'we think, therefore we are'. Our bodies believe every word we say. So - tell it some superpowered steroid pumped new truths. Now dear UpStarts, I'm assuming you are one of our over 50's (but the earlier you start the following practice the better ) - so - When asked how old you are, check in with your body and assess how old you feel. Then answer with sincere conviction "I'm 33 today" or "42 today" or - go for it - "22 today". It doesn't matter what the enquirer thinks but your body will love you for it. "Thank you" it will say. "I like that look on you". Everything will fall into place so much more easily when you assume the age you feel 'today'. And skipping to the park to take in a couple of laps will seem so much sweeter. Go Goddess!
Most of us reach a stage in life where we realise we have less years ahead of us than behind us. I have a little trick where I imagine the number of years I can reasonably expect to have ahead of me, and then check back to where I was in life the same number of years in the past. I convince myself that I was a mere youngster at that stage and so it seems, I have a fairly reasonable length of time to…… what? Fulfil my destiny? Write the novel? Move to Fiji and sip cocktails forever? Recently, I found myself asking the question, Do I want to live thirty five more years? Or do I want to live one year, thirty five more times?
The actress Jane Fonda describes life, not as a bridge-like arch with the rise of youth, the plateau of nurturing and the decent of old age, but instead, an ascending stairway. Taking each stage and building upon it, rising all the time. So where does that put those who choose to live the same year over and over again?
About two years ago, I came across Danielle LaPorte’s “The Desire Map - A guide to creating goals with soul”. Already an enormous fan of Julia Cameron’s “Artist’s Way” and a daily Morning Pages* writer, The Desire Map is a self-development programme with a sassy, funky attitude and its reflections and guidance, offers an inspirational and lit-up application to life. I made the decision to award myself a three day retreat and hit a delicious spa resort where I worked my way through those shiny-bright pages. Powered by my Core Desired Feelings and with a road map to my soul, I was transformed and rejuvenated. I departed that resort with the firm conviction that there would be no contented decent into old age for me. From my elevated position on Jane Fonda’s ascending stairway, I would make a new start. I was an UpStart.
A New Dawn
Some of you will identify with the following excerpt from my Morning Pages* from over a year ago, dated Thursday February 19th (4.35am). My mother had passed away after a long illness just a few weeks earlier.
Sleep has been and gone and the mellow smooth jazz on my iPad is deliciously comforting as I write these pages. The music slips over me like the softest cashmere and I know that in this darkest hour, I am not alone. The start of my day now, so utterly different in its cool simplicity to those other mornings not long gone. I think of all the mad, frustrated, delightful, anxious, rewarding mornings over the years when my primary role was that of mother. I could never, in those days, have contemplated the serene scenario my morning rituals have become. The haven my beautiful old writing desk affords me with my scented candle lit, my pens and paper at the ready, and the barely audible ambient music. My coffee aroma wafts and I not only catch my breath, but I breathe it all in.
I’ve been thinking about it all a lot lately though. How the mother-life dynamism fades. All those head-spinning super fast decisions made, opinions offered, aid administered, kindness extended, explanations demanded and corners fought. The kisses-better, lunch boxes filled, waffles toasted and sharp pleats ironed. Trainers found, keys lost, fees“chequed” , car defrosted, traffic negotiated, school, school, school! And then all over again. Pick-ups, homework, food, food, homework, grocery shopping, dinner, sports wear washed, ironing, more decisions, lectures, permission slips and rules enforced. This life was not for the fainthearted! It was a ride we dreamily climbed into and then hung onto for dear life as it spun faster and higher. Terrifying and exhilarating all at the same time.
It’s come back to earth time for me now… and I find myself on a whole new ride. I’m neither daily mom or daughter now. Nothing would go terribly wrong if I took to my bed for a week or packed myself off somewhere. Heavens!!! We got them safely here. Mum has gone and thoughts of her comfort and care no longer fill my waking moment mind-scan. Those days are over. And so………I find myself on stand-down now. The trick of course is to accept that today I’m a tall building and no longer a bouncy-castle. A bouncy-castle is inflated for a purpose. It’s perfectly adequate as a means of entertaining and occupying its inhabitants for a period of time. When the occupants leave, it is deflated and no longer useful. No! Now I must remember I’m a tall, majestic, sky-scraper. Each day I’ve added bricks and mortar, interesting corners and viewpoints, levels of support and areas of comfort, warmth and security. A community has developed within it and my sky-scraper grows taller still. It’s very walls are the structure of our world. My girls can come and stand at the top with Alan and me anytime they like. They can take shelter, sleep peacefully, protected and safe and then spot something in the distance which sings to their soul. Waiving as they run into the sunlit street below, they joyfully begin the construction of their own world.
My role is not diminished. My role is to maintain that beacon atop my sky-scraper. We have built majesty together and I sit comfortably upon my throne.
A New Day
Today I am a Licensed Desire Map Facilitator and I run workshops and retreats for women and UpStarts of all ages. At the heart of the programme is the excavation of our innermost desires, our unique and profound calling in this life. How we want to feel and bringing those feelings into the light, making them central to our choices and most importantly, finding opportunities for their expression in our daily lives.
“Knowing how you actually want to feel is the most potent form of clarity
that you can have. And generating those feelings is the most powerfully
creative thing that you can do with your life.” Danielle LaPorte
My Core Desired Feelings are Beauty, Freedom, Inspiration and Shine and I find these at the heart of every choice I make and everything I do. It is my delight to share this map and these tools for a liberated and transformed life. The life you were meant to live.
The day I decided to leave the descending arch of the bridge and step onto Jane Fonda’s ascending stairway, I found opportunities for growth and expansion presenting themselves in every direction. Ms. Fonda, uses the language of an actor in the discussion of her theory on aging. She calls that post-nurturing phase, “the third act”. I believe that Act one is lived with the permission of others. Act two is lived in the consideration of others. But Act three? That’s for me!! Act three is when it’s time to write your own script and claim centre stage of your own life.
For UpStarts…………….magic happens…
*Morning Pages is one of the twelve step exercises to reclaiming your artistic self in the hugely popular, Julia Cameron’s 'Artist Way' books. It is the practice of writing longhand in stream of consciousness, shortly after waking - about three pages. It is not intended as a diary or journal but more a thought depot and a safe space for nudges and niggles to struggle to the surface. This is where a thought can be examined and discarded or indeed to spark an idea to life.