I have been travelling a lot of late. It was my goal for this year and so far it’s proving to be incredibly easy and I have travel options in abundance! It is definitely the top reason why living in Europe is amazing. But I think it also says a lot about the power of setting an intention. It is something I set out to do and I have been very good at putting aside money and not spending it on clothes or going out, and that gives me reason to feel some sense of accomplishment.
My first destination this year was Italy. I went to visit a beautiful friend who lives in Parma (where Parma ham and Parmesan come from) but I got to see Milan (where I flew into and out of) and Santa Margherita Liguria (where her holiday home is) as well.
I lived and worked in Italy in 2008 and it was the first place I travelled to on my own. It is a symbolic home away from home but it is also a place of true inspiration for me. Admittedly, I find the culture differences in Germany to be very tough but in Italy the culture differences are experienced as welcome and enjoyable. I love how Italians do everything differently to me because they do it BETTER. There is something in the air there because from the second I arrive I instantly get in touch with a level of enjoyment I do not feel elsewhere and I become like a cat lazing in a shard of sunlight, purring with delight.
Instead of writing a travelogue though, which this blog is not really about, I thought I would share what I have learnt from being in Italy. It’s a lesson about sensuality and I think you should give it a go. Thanks to Italy, I know how to connect to the sensual side of my nature and I would like you to see how it is done.
1. Open your senses
I have written before about mindfulness. It is the practice of coming into the moment and really being in tune with your experience without distraction. I have found that the best way of getting in touch with the present moment is via the 5 senses.
In Italy you are forced to do this because their culture is entirely centred on being in touch with what Freud referred to as your Pleasure Principle. They actively practice enjoying life!
So… imagine the smells of freshly brewed coffee, freshly baked bread, and good quality perfume. Imagine the sounds of people in animated conversation, the sounds of scooters whizzing past, and the sounds of the word “Ciao” being thrown about. Imagine the warm colours of terracotta, the beauty of ancient frescos, the symmetry of cobbled streets, the glamour of marbled tiles, and the infinite array of beautifully arranged foodstuffs bursting out of shop window displays. Imagine the feel of warm sun on your face and the touch of cool marble under your feet. Imagine the taste of fresh tomatoes so sweet they can be eaten alone, the taste of the shortest, most aromatic espresso, and the icy deliciousness of gelato on your tongue.
Now don’t just open your senses to the possibility of these experiences. Your job is to let it linger. Elongate each moment so that it stretches out to reveal its fullest potential. Become your tongue as it tastes that sweetness, be only your eyes when you drink in those sights, imagine all that you are is your skin as it feels the cool breeze rush past, hear as if you only have ears and nothing else with which to experience the world, and focus on the smell experienced by your nose like you never have before.
2. Give yourself time
What I love about Italians is that they do not rush to do anything and yet you never feel annoyed with their slow service or bored because of nothing to do. Each and every moment is lived to the fullest and yet there is no urgency and no pretense about having to “achieve” anything. An errand in town involves stopping to chat and have a coffee with everyone you know and a meal is taken over many hours, because life –according to Italians – is about the sharing of quality food with your favourite people at least three times a day. In between there is time for work but it must never get in the way of a good meal or a quick café.
For those of us who do not have the option of taking 5 espresso breaks a day along with a two hour lunch break, we have to find other ways of incorporating the Italian’s well known practice of “Il bel far niente”, which means ‘the beauty of doing nothing’. My advice is to find or create moments of nothing in your day, and really try and practice savouring them just as if you were enjoying a gelato in the sun or sipping from the richest espresso. By making time in your day for a pause, for a moment of nothingness you will give your brain a chance to rest. And by nothing, I don’t mean scrolling through Instagram or checking Twitter. I mean doing sweet nothing. Follow step 1, connect with your senses, and relish the moment.
Along with this newly instituted pause, I suggest you also try and take a more relaxed and leisurely approach to life in general. I am guilty of being someone who is always in a rush. When I used to drive, I drove fast. When I walk, I walk fast. And often, I will try and take the shortest or quickest route purely out of a desire for efficiency. But I have actually worked this out, and on average one only saves around 5 minutes when one speeds or takes short cuts. So…leave the house 5 minutes before you need to and take the journey at a leisurely pace. Take a stroll and soak in the sights and sounds of your neighbourhood. Take a meandering bike ride and really feel the air brushing your cheek, really listen to the sounds of traffic and life around you.
3. Moderate abundance or abundant moderation?
This step is probably a bit superfluous but that’s the point! When it comes to enjoying things like Italians, you need to remember that being in touch with your sensuality means being in touch with the part of you that wants all good things in abundance. Italians are incredible eaters. They serve three courses that start with pasta for goodness sake! All things sensual are to be enjoyed in a way that leaves you feeling satiated. This means that you eat, drink, and enjoy to the fullest without being left with the feeling of wanting or needing more. It’s about generosity of spirit!
Interestingly, Italian culture is also exactly opposite to American culture in this way. Gastronomically, the idea of abundance is not about super-sized portions or excess. It’s about eating an array of fresh, quality, and well-prepared dishes with ‘abundant moderation’. And I think this is a good notion to be used to direct you through life as well. Life should be drank in to the last drop and yet it’s just as important to know when to stop, when to stop asking for more. Italy has taught me that anything experienced with this generosity of spirit – anything that is about quality not quantity, is always “just enough” and never leaves you with the feeling of wanting more.
4. Celebrate your particular tastes
This last step is more about a specific quality that I recognize in Italian culture because of how it resonates with my own sensibilities. I have always been someone who can tell you exactly what I like and don’t like. I have often been compared to the story of the “Princess and the Pea” because of my extreme sensitivity and my ability to pick up on minute details in my environment that cause distress or irritation. I have also got very specific tastes with regards to clothing, food, music, etc. “I like what I like” kinda thing…
Most of my life this has been something I have either tried to hide or have felt uneasy with because it means I don’t always “fit in” and often I just go with whatever everyone else says to keep things moving along or so as not to rock the boat.
But what I love about Italians, is that they talk about people who are very particular or particolare in a way that highlights and celebrates this quality. I think it is because of the fact that they value sensuality. If you are in touch with your senses and if you truly experience yourself in your surroundings then it would make sense that you would also be more attuned to what you like and dislike. And this is something to be conscious of and even promote! Gala Darling often talks about getting in touch with your weirdness because this is where you will find your magic (i.e. this is where you find the essence of who you are). For me, it’s about getting in touch with your particolare parts! Find out what exactly floats your boat, what tickles your fancy, what makes your mind zing with excitement. And when you do, don’t shy away from it. It is a celebration of who you are and what you love about life!