The Pilgrimage

“We always have a tendency to see those things that do not exist and to be blind to the great lessons that are right there before our eyes.” – Paulo Coelho, The Pilgrimage

I recently (re)read Paulo Coelho’s The Pilgrimage and, just like the time I read it for the first time when I was 17, Coelho’s writing – the depth, the colour, the honesty – blew me away (again). Unlike the time I read it at 17, the book’s message resonated a lot deeper this time. Even the way Coelho structured the book, basing each chapter on a single theme or message, impacted me in terms of my writing. I can feel how this book has inspired to write each letter based on a singular theme or lesson.

What impacted me the most was Coelho’s infusion of small wisdom about life, his insights on living a meaningful life, all the whilst weaving an adventure story. Put simply, The Pilgrimage is about Coelho’s trials as he journeys along the Camino de Santiago alongside his mentor, Petrus. Yet, Coelho’s writing provokes a compelling, deep tale of the search for meaning, and for a broader view on life.

The book taught me that every little encounter has a purpose, a meaning. The book taught me that we all yearn to find a truth, a meaning, a purpose. We think that it is all individually centred, but I’ve come to the conclusion that our purpose and meaning are all interconnected. People always arrive at the right time where someone awaits them.

“We always know which is the best road to follow, but we follow only the road that we have become accustomed to.”  ― Paulo Coelho, The Pilgrimage.

“The ship is safest when it’s in port, but that’s not what ships were built for.” ― Paulo Coelho, The Pilgrimage.

Sprinkled throughout the book were gentle reminders to take the step past the comfort zone and meet the challenge. Just like the quote above, ships weren’t built for staying in port. They were made for exploring and travelling in the unpredictable ocean. We all know the path we should take, yet we stay on the path that we are used to.

“When in doubt, just take the next small step.” – Paulo Coelho, The Pilgrimage.

In reflecting on The Pilgrimage, I can feel myself being more confident in simply taking the next step, even when I am surrounded in this quagmire of doubt about where I want this blog to go, what I want to write about. I don’t know where this blog will go, but I do know that the best thing for me to do, is to simply take a step. Focus on the path around me, because it is often the path that teaches us what we need to know and in doing so, enriching our lives.

But before I sign off, I want to leave with one quote that has resonated the most with me whilst I was reading this book.

“Why be fearful of saying no to someone or of leaving something undone when the most important thing of all was to enjoy life fully?” ― Paulo Coelho, The Pilgrimage.

Yours,
Sophia
x

 

PS: In writing this blog post, I have since realised that Paulo Coelho has become one of my favourite authors and that I have been remiss in not reading more of his work. Do you have a Paulo Coelho book I should read? Let me know in a comment below xx

Why learn a language?

They often say that if you want to learn something new and be engaged in the learning process, then you got to know the answer to the “why” question. For many, their answer to the question “Why learn a language?” is that by learning languages, more doors will open to you, and they are not wrong. For me, learning a language is a process of falling in love with that country’s culture. Sometimes it’s the musical lilt and the emotions within the spoken language that first captures my interest in the language.

For example, Swedish has this gentle, musical lilt to it, that I catch myself quite often getting distracted by when I swear Swedish being spoken. Same case for Swiss-German.

Dutch has an honest, blunt quality to it if you get past the guttural sounds. Every time I have heard Persian and Arabic, it’s the passion and the range of emotions that colour the language that captures me.

Learning languages not only open doors to new opportunities, it also opens doors into understanding not only the culture of that country in a more deeper manner but it also allows you to understand yourself better too. Since undergoing the journey to become a languages teacher, I’ve had to re-evaluate my own language learning journey, and in many ways, understand what makes me so passionate about learning languages.

Yes, it comes from growing up in a multi-lingual family, but it also comes from an openness to explore life, and in a small way, humanity. Being open to learning different languages, I have learnt to be open to understanding different people, and in the process, learn to be a more empathetic and better teacher.

So, for me, learning languages has never been about ticking a box to achieve better things, but rather it’s about the introspective, philosophical understanding of humanity.

That is why I learn languages.

Yours,

Sophia
xx

 

Dear baking

Today I did something I rarely ever do – I baked for the sake of baking. Not baking for a friends birthday, or for a class, but baking because I wanted to. So with the rain in the background, I decided on baking something I hadn’t done in a long while – an apple crumble.

I could go on a massive tangent about the recipe, and write a long post about its amazingness and how yummy it was, but I won’t. I’ll just share the recipe below, and let you jump on board on the Äppelsmulpaj train.

I grew up in a family that bakes. My maternal grandma bakes ALL the time, and the cellar (especially in holiday seasons) often has cakes resting in the pantry. I think it annoyed and amused (in equal amounts) my grandma whenever the grandkids (and often son) were around because there would be pieces of cake going randomly missing. I inherited Dutch baking recipes from my Oma from she used to bake and inherited her sense of quiet happiness seeing the kids enjoy the baked goods.

Despite my mum being those “bake-from-packets” type of baker (much to the dismay of her mother), I inherited her love of Scandinavian baking. So this morning, I opened up my favourite Nordic Cook Book, flipped it to deserts and found the Äppelsmulpaj recipe.

Once it’s finished, I’ll take the Äppelsmulpaj over to some mates for afternoon tea … because that’s something I’ve grown up with, and something I try to do often.

It’s cultural tradition from where I come from, that if people are over around afternoon tea time, you offer them coffee and cake. If you don’t have cake, then you scramble a platter of biscuits together.

I’ve often asked mum and my grandmas why they put so much effort into afternoon tea and sprinkled amongst the “Because it’s nice to do something like this!” and “It’s what you do!” answers, was the real reason – you do it because you love them. Afternoon tea gatherings are moments of time where we all sat down together, being present in the presence of the people that we love.

Bonding over shared food allows us to break down barriers, share our heritage and culture with others and provides an opportunity to build stronger relationships. Bonding over shared foods, be it afternoon tea or mealtimes, reminds us of our own humanity and for me, that it includes the values of neighbourliness, hospitality and welcoming diversity.

We all need reminders of our common humanity, so bake a cake, put the kettle on and invite friends and family over for afternoon tea.

… just make sure you have a sneaky piece or two before everyone gobbles the Äppelsmulpaj up.

Yours,

Sophia
x

PS: Because I love this recipe for Äppelsmulpaj, I decided to share it with you. The recipe is originally from Magnus Nilsson’s The Nordic Cook Book.

Orange Minimalist Recipe Card.png

Love, over hate.

This letter has been sitting in my drafts since October 2017. I wrote in the evening after I was verbally harassed because I didn’t give someone my attention as I was walking down some stairs on the way home

It sat in my drafts because I wasn’t sure if I should post it, and had several doubts about it. But I’ve decided to post it because I don’t want to let a single post control my doubts.

So without further ado, here is the letter:

Today, I was yelled at for simply walking downstairs at the train station. Words like “b*tch”, “c*nt” and “I’ll kill you” were lobbed at me. All because I walked down the stairs with earphones in my ears, listening to Paul Kelly.

Did it make me scared? Did it make me feel vulnerable? Yes, it did. It made me assess where I could sit on the train, where I should stand on the station for protection because I did not know if the person would follow through on their threat or whether the person (like I suspected) was all bark, no bite.

Yet what makes me mad, is that this is not a one-off moment, but rather a common occurrence for women. Far too many nights have I walked home in the dark, or walked through Northbridge alone with keys in my hand as a self-defensive measure, being aware of everyone around me.

I don’t get harassed, name-called often to my face, but I know that I am privileged and that for my sisters of colour, it is a common occurrence.

We all need a bit more love in the world, less hate and more acceptance of who we are as humans.

So I didn’t dwell on today’s occurrence for long because I don’t need that negativity. I’m only posting this because I need to see written proof that I’m not at fault, nor should yelling at a person for choosing not to give your their attention be acceptable.

But I wanted to leave these words here – let’s share the love more than the hate. Because we all are important and valued, no matter our gender, sexuality, or background.

Love,
Sophia
X

Analogue photography’s magic

When I was 13, my sister was just a wee-baby wobbling around as she got used to walking. But that wasn’t the only thing in my life then – my family still enjoyed vinyl and a very old grammar phone. Digital cameras were only starting to appear in the photography scene, and my family were still resisting – we still loved the analogue Canon camera. By “we”, I should really mean “my parents”.

They were capturing family life on the camera and printed off copies to send to family members across the world. Every now and then, I would be allowed to take photos and it was these moments that laid the foundation for the love of analogue photography that I still have.

When I was 18, the Canon camera reached the end of its life, which gave room to this beautiful, heavy East German Praktika camera that I found in this wonderful camera shop on the Krämerbrücke in Erfurt.

I fell in love with that camera and would take it with me everywhere. Then my dad’s old Pentax camera (alongside several lenses) joined my small camera family. My heart became bigger and I’d take analogue photos whenever I could.

But, then all of a sudden, I fell out of love. I lost confidence in my analogue photography skills. It didn’t help that, for some reason, two film canisters came back blank – no photos were captured. So I gave up. I couldn’t bring myself to part with these cameras, so they just collected dust on my mantelpiece.

For years I stared at the cameras, longing to pick them up and take photos (and for it to work). But I never dared to. I was a student, I couldn’t justify the cost. So I left them on the mantelpiece collecting dust.

Then, several years later, I walked past the Red Cross op-shop in Fremantle. In the shelves laid a point-and-shoot Kodak analogue camera. It couldn’t hurt to try again? I thought. So I bought it, walked to the camera shop a few blocks down and bought a film.

I started to take photos again, albeit haphazardly as if I was gingerly testing the waters, of the various moments in my life. Today I picked up the photos I got developed. Needless to say, I fell back in love with analogue photography – and I learnt something.

It’s okay to fail, it’s okay for things to not work – but the important thing is to keep trying because you won’t get anywhere if you just give up if things do not work – there will always be a solution to your problem. Just keep trying, and don’t give up on things that you love.

Yours,

Sophia
x

PS: Because I’m that proud of these photos – here are some of them:

C001971-R1-04-5C001971-R1-11-12C001971-R1-07-8

Why it’s important to listen

Sitting in the back of a car, drinking tea out of my passenger camping mug, I sit reflecting on life, and this guilt that accompanies taking time out to plug off and enjoy life.

I wonder if our lives are consumed by this need to work. That our identities are defined by our work.

I wonder if we’ve lost our natural curiosity for our lives around us. I wonder, that in my teaching, how I can get teenagers and young people to be curious about the world and the people around them.

I wonder if we can get empathetic communication back between all of us, and then I wonder did we ever have empathetic communication?

Then I wonder how do we develop and learn empathetic communication? Then I realise that it’s all about accepting the person as they are, with their life experiences and treating them as a human being.

Because we have a lot to learn from each other and we can make the world a better place by learning from each other.

Yours,

Sophia

x

Being okay to say “I’m afraid”

Learning to be comfortable and okay with being vulnerable on a daily basis has been a challenging journey this year.

I needed to learn to be comfortable with acknowledging my fears. In doing so, I needed to move beyond my comfort zone to face those fears.

Yet the most challenging thing this year has been letting go in order to grow. Letting go of fear, of insecurities, letting go of worries and learning to trust me in the face of the unknown. I haven’t been good at that recently, and it’s not going to be an easy road ahead.

They say that growth comes from reflection and vulnerability. They say that perfectionism blocks us from self-acceptance. I’ll be honest – acknowledging and seeing these barriers that my scarred and hurt heart has put up has been the scariest.

There’s this episode in Doctor Who, where the 12th Doctor is stuck in a tower within a time loop, and he is forced to find his way out. The only way he can get out is by punching his way through a solid wall of diamond, all whilst retelling the story of a bird who sharpened his beak in a mountain of diamonds. By the end of the episode, it took him over 51 million years until he finally broke through.

Whilst my barriers aren’t as thick as the barrier in the Doctor Who episode, nor do I have a time guardian monster chasing me, but fighting those fears, insecurities that are these barriers, feels a lot like that episode. At times it feels like no matter what I’m doing, the punches to break the barriers seem ineffective.

Yet I’m determined to continue to let go of my perfectionist nature, and simply grow, no matter how bumpy the road gets. Because this year is about growth, and I need to make some tough decisions ahead if I want to get where I want to be.

Love,

Sophia
x

Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it. – Rumi

Holidays + Routines

December rolls around every year, and accompanying December is the process to reflect, and if necessary, change or modify any personal goals. You know, that end of year routine common to many people.

We, humans, are creatures of habit and we seem to really like our routines. Routines let us understand what is coming up and can act as a comparison stick in case anything out of the ordinary arises. Just like in a maths equation, once we know the variables, we can solve the equation. Routines help us figure out the variables.

The lead up to the holidays often means that our routines get interrupted, with all the planning, cooking, that last minute rush to sort out presents and fitting in as many social events before the year ends getting in the way. We are so busy looking out for everyone else, we forget to look after ourselves.

Don’t get me wrong, looking after others is an important part of our lives because it builds empathy. It helps us connect with people, and we learn from each other. Yet empathy can’t be developed on an empty tank. One really important part of building empathy is self-awareness, the ability to distinguish between our feelings and thoughts with the feelings and thoughts of others. As such, we need to connect with our own thoughts and feelings, not neglect them.

One thing 2017 has taught me is that it is okay to take a step back from the chaos of life, all the competing pressures in your life and to look after oneself. It is okay to take that 10-minute break enjoying the seaside, or that 10-minute meditation practice or simply to sit down with a cup of tea enjoying the nature around you.

Because in looking after everyone else over the holiday season, we also need to connect with ourselves. So over the next 19 days left in 2017, and in the 12 days up until Christmas, schedule some time with yourself on a daily basis.

Yours,
Sophia
x

Sea breezes and home

Something I’ve realised, now that the craziness of the Graduate Diploma of Education pressure has eased for the year, is how important the salty sea breeze is for me.

It has anchored me, letting a wave of healing flow through me. It calms me.

Over the past year, whenever I took the train to uni, I’d look up and see the ocean, and I would feel calmer, more anchored to meet the challenges of the day.

I have different places where I feel truly at home, and the ocean is one of them.

So, here’s to the places that make up your home.

Love,

Sophia

x

Books, art and love

 “The best love is the kind that awakens the soul; that makes us reach for more, that plants a fire in our souls and brings peace to our minds. That’s what I hope to give you forever.”
– Nicolas Sparks

I’m often silent on social media when it comes to my affection, my feelings for my significant other. My partner, my boyfriend.

He is the one more likely to take a photo of us than I would. He is more likely to be able to describe us with metaphors, despite him being the artist, and I the writer.

It is not because I want to hide him and the part he plays in my life; quite the opposite, I want to share that with the world.

But I am often silent because I could never find the words appropriate enough to describe how important he is to me. He once asked me if I could ever describe the way I think who he is, and I replied that I wasn’t sure – and if I could, it might not be for years.

Because how do you start explaining how you feel to the man you never expected to fall in love with?

I never expected to fall in love with a man I enjoy having philosophical discussions at 8 o’clock in the morning on the way to uni. I never expected to fall in love with a man, whose imagination colours his story so that I get lost in them.

A man who, when I doubted myself, reminded me to believe in myself. When I’ve been down, he’s made me laugh.

A man who willingly sat through my brokenness and darkness, and helped me become a little bit more whole. A man who challenges me to be a better person.

A man who without judgement or negativity, and with such large patience, holds onto me when my anxiety causes a breakdown.

A man who loves me for who I am.

Last year, in a year surrounded by darkness, I found a man I never expected to fall in love with. Yet fall in love with him I did, and it’s made me a better person for it.

Yours,
Sophia
x

Dear life.

Dear life,

It’s been a while since I last wrote. I’ve had my head down to the grindstone, as the saying goes, making sure I meet deadlines. So my life has become all about the routine. Getting up at the same time, having a morning tea, making a tea in my keep cup to drink on my way to prac. So, nothing at all exciting. Nothing adventurous. (Yes, I know you’ll be saying – that’s just a matter of perspective.)

By the time you get this letter (ha, such a cliché saying in a letter), I’ll be finished with prac. In fact, I’ll have slept the weekend away – that’s how exhausted I feel right now. I’m trying to keep perspective on my uni workload, but I’m finding that hard to do right now. A small part of me is questioning whether I’m doing self-mental-health-care right if I feel this exhausted, and that’s just one of many questions I have for you.

So, next time we meet up I’ll ask you all of them. They’re too many for this letter. But one question I’ll ask now – am I doing okay? I know it’s a funny question, but I need an outsider’s perspective – I get so caught up with the what ifs, that my perspective gets blinded most times.

You asked me in your last letter, if I am loving uni, and the answer is yes, I am loving uni right now, I travel down by train every day and see the beach every day. Although that part of the trip is always accompanied by a pang of longing – I’d rather be soaking up the salty air and the sand between my toes than be sitting in an 8:30-morning lecture. I’ve never been a morning lecture person.

I’ve got several assignments coming up in quick succession, something that I’m not terribly looking forward to because it means the same-old routine of long hours studying, early starts and the creeping exhaustion.

Although, I’m also not looking forward to that same-old routine because I’d rather be enjoying the nice weather we have right now. You can tell summer is slowly coming to an end – days aren’t boiling hot anymore, instead, the weather is more commonly the warm temperatures mixed with the endless blue skies. So I’m trying to make the most of it by walking or running most days.

Talking about running, I ran the other day after months of not running. Ran a 1km! Hurrah! (Walked 800m though, so win some, lose some.) This is the part where I write the same old promise I make every year – “I’ll try to run more regularly, and it’s the perfect weather to start this.”

We’ll see how well that works out this year.

Anyway, I am writing whilst I’ve got food in the oven, so I have to finish here. I’ll try to write soon.

Lots of love,

Yours,
Sophia x

 

Home, Rain and Soil.

 

Over the past weeks, I’ve been re-reading Frank Herbert’s Dune. It is considered the godfather of the sci-fi realm, despite its storyline (a disinherited prince reclaiming his land and restoring honor to his befallen house) almost being as old as time.

As I’m reading about the world of Arrakis – a harsh, unforgiven planet where there is nothing but sand and water is a luxury – I’ve been thinking about my home. About growing up in a country where summer water restrictions exist, where summers stretch to almost 6 months.

As I’m following the journeys the characters take forced to move homes in a large game of politics, I’m thinking about what makes a home and how home is a funny concept.

It’s a building with walls, floors, doors and a roof to keep you sheltered from the weather, and yet the concept is so much more.

I’m asking myself, what makes a home, a home?

Does a building make a home? Or do you make a home out of a building?

People say home is where the heart is. Home is where I feel safe, with the people that I love, a place where I can put my roots in the soil. It is where the smell of coffee, mixed with homemade dishes, mixed with the sound of German rising and falling in the background.

Home is the place where my roots have found themselves a place where they can grow.

It’s the feeling of sea breeze over the Indian Ocean. It’s the late night cuddles and talks about life with my man. Home is the smell just after it rained. It’s the soil of my plant pot that I’m trying to nurture.

Home is what I’ve made in the four walls of my rented apartment. Home is the feeling of lying in the hammock, with the sun shining through the leaves in the garden of my childhood home.

Home is where I am safe, surrounded by those whom I love.

As I’m thinking about all this, I’m reminded of a passage in Dune. I’m reminded how interconnected we are all are, how people can make up what “home” means for us.

There stand I, [Thufir] Hawat thought.
‘Thufir, what’re you thinking?’ Paul asked.
Hawat looked at the boy. ‘I was thinking we’ll all be out of here soon and likely never see the place again.’
‘Does that make you sad?’
‘Sad? Nonsense! Parting with friends is a sadness. A place is only a place.’ He glanced at the charts on the table. ‘And Arrakis is just a place.'”
Dune, Frank Herbert, p42

So next time someone asks me how I’d define what a home is, I’d answer like this:

“A place is a place, a home is what you make out of that place and the people you meet.”

Yours,
Sophia x