“The world is full of magic things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper.” ~W.B. Yeats
For a few years of my life, I was lucky enough to have a semi-nomadic lifestyle. A lot of my stuff fit in a backpack, and it was a great joy to move around different regions of the world and have rich conversations with people. One of the most enchanting aspects of my years spent backpacking was the discovery of these magical practices that resonate deeply across cultures.
I started a precious collection of these soul-deep lessons from the various landscapes I passed by. From the bustling streets of India to the serene fjords of Norway, each destination offers unique lessons about the organic intelligence that resides in us humans and leads us to find ways of nourishing our bodies, minds, and souls.
Here is a brief guided tour and a sample taste of some of my favorite insights across the globe.
1. Jijivisha – The Joy for Life
In the heart of India, amidst the chaos and colors of its vibrant cities, I encountered the concept of jijivisha—the sheer joy for life. Rooted in ancient Indian scriptures, jijivisha embodies an innate will to live, to embrace every moment with exuberance.
As I wandered through the crowded streets, the laughter of children and the smiles of strangers became a testament to this enduring spirit. India, with its myriad hues, has an uncanny ability to infuse life with the essence of jijivisha, teaching the world the art of embracing existence with open arms.
One of the places that I explored most is India. With 1.5 billion people, twenty-two official languages, and a few hundred unofficial ones, I didn’t even manage to scratch the surface of exploring that beautiful country. I also will not cover here how difficult life can be over there. But this country has a way of infusing some jijivisha in me every time I visit, and I love it very much for this.
2. Niksen: The Art of Doing Nothing
Amidst the picturesque windmills and quiet canals of the Netherlands, I discovered niksen, a comfortable way of doing nothing—allowing oneself to be idle, to daydream, and to simply breathe. Niksen is a humorous and purposeful idleness, where the mind finds space to breathe, unfettered by the demands of productivity.
Here is how it goes: find some quiet time and intend to not do much. That’s it.
Don’t try to meditate, or relax, and definitely don’t check your social media. Perhaps just doodle a little bit, or watch people passing by, or daydream guiltlessly.
The idea is to come out of the “high-efficiency” mentality and embrace some moments of “wasting time.” The moment we try to make it into a “thing to do,” a way to relax or meditate, its effect dwindles with the idea that there is a goal to attain. It’s more like watching tulips in one of those wide landscapes of the country where niksen comes from.
This has become one of my favorite activities ever. So much so that I now teach it to my clients as a way to restore their minds and souls. My Dutch friends laugh at me. They say it is like teaching them a technique called “chilling out.” And I say: that’s it! That’s what some of us need the most.
3. Friluftsliv: The Love of the Outdoors
Amidst Norway’s majestic fjords one can learn all about friluftsliv, the love for the outdoors—a practice that celebrates the restorative power of nature, even under the whims of weather.
In the heart of nature, amidst whispering leaves and birdsong, the Norwegians tap regularly into the healing power of the wilderness. Friluftsliv is an invitation to step outside, to breathe in the crisp air, and to revel in the symphony of nature. It’s a reminder that, even in the face of life’s storms, there exists a sanctuary in the embrace of the natural world.
If the Scandinavians can love the outdoors in spite of their weather conditions, I guess so can we!
4. Hygge: Cozy Comfort, Deep Connection
Hygge refers to a sense of coziness and warmth that comes from spending time with loved ones in a comfy environment. Imagine a Scandinavian Christmas evening, candles flickering, the warmth of the fire stove, and the comfort of being surrounded by loved ones, a warm teacup in hand.
In the heart of Denmark, hygge reminds us that in the midst of life’s complexities, finding solace in the simplicity of a cozy ambiance and cherished companionship can nourish our souls and ease the burdens of the day. It’s about savoring the moment, finding joy in the ordinary, and embracing the warmth of human connection.
I also think of hygge on those Sundays when I am going to spend the day at home; getting my coziest house socks, making a tea in my favorite cup, and lighting some candles can make the difference between a day that feels wasted and a day that feels cozy and restorative.
5. Wu Wei: Effortless Flow, Harmonious Living
From the heart of Taoism, wu wei teaches us the art of effortless action. It’s about flowing with the currents of life, embracing the path of least resistance. In the serene gardens of Suzhou, we learn that by aligning ourselves with the natural flow of the universe, stress dissipates, and harmony prevails. Wu Wei invites us to trust in the wisdom of the unfolding moment and find peace in the midst of chaos.
This is my go-to when things are not going quite my way, and I find myself trying to force a solution. Wu Wei reminds me to go with the flow and adjust to what life presents.
6. Meraki: Infusing Passion into Life’s Tapestry
From the sun-drenched landscapes of Greece emerges meraki, the practice of infusing passion into every pursuit.
Whether it’s preparing a meal, crafting a piece of art, or engaging in a conversation, meraki invites us to pour our soul into every endeavor. It’s a reminder that life is not merely a series of tasks but a canvas waiting for our creative touch. Meraki teaches us that in passionate engagement, stress transforms into purpose, and every moment becomes a masterpiece.
Meraki is my favorite mindset when I am cooking. Experience has really proven this to me time and again: food tastes so much better when baked in relaxed meraki.
7. Gökotta: Awakening with the Dawn’s Tranquility
One more Scandinavian concept that I love: gökotta in Swedish. Gökotta invites us to wake up with the first light of dawn. It’s about embracing the stillness of the early hours, listening to the world awakening around us, especially the birds.
Gökotta teaches us the art of starting the day in tranquility, setting a harmonious tone for what lies ahead. In the hush of the morning, we find clarity in the quietude of the dawn, reminding us of the beauty in beginnings.
I would be lying if I said that I manage this practice often, but on those days when I do manage to wake up before most of the world and can step outside and listen to the birds, I know the swedes got some things very right.
8. Dolce Far Niente: Embracing Sweet Idleness
This list of cultural practices would be woefully incomplete without the inclusion of il dolce far niente. Amidst the rolling vineyards of Tuscany and the historic streets of Rome, Italy gifts us with this poetic concept, one that invites us to revel in the exquisite pleasure of leisure, reminding us that life’s most profound moments often arise in the unhurried corners of existence.
The luxury of time unfilled, and the sheer bliss found in the simplicity of existence, is a reminder that sometimes the most meaningful moments occur when we allow ourselves to simply be, unburdened by the demands of the world.
I find this works best sitting with friends by the beach or on a picnic—any chance to sit around enjoying slacking around without a trace of guilt.
9. Sobremesa: Cultivating Connection, One Conversation at a Time
In the bustle of Spain, la sobremesa teaches us the art of lingering at the table after finishing a meal and cherishing the warmth of meaningful conversations. Sobremesa reminds us that in the unhurried moments after a meal, bonds are deepened, laughter is shared, and stress fades away. It’s a practice that celebrates the richness of human connections, reminding us that in genuine conversations, we find solace and understanding.
Next time a waiter tries to rush you out of a restaurant, remind them that you are still having your sobremesa…and that your meal is not worth a cent without it.
10. Acurrucarse: The Coziness of Cuddling
I cannot think of a time when I have not cherished this word. In my country, Puerto Rico, as well as in many places in Latin America, acurrucarse refers to cuddling with loved ones. It often describes cuddling with one’s children or pets, or watching a film on a sleepover with cozy blankets. It is a term laden with subtle nuances, encapsulating the essence of togetherness.
For me, it is my daily ritual of cuddling with my dog after work or taking a reading afternoon with my teenage daughter surrounded by lots of cushions.
Each of these practices has a different flavor to it. Each is influenced by the geography, the history, and the landscape of each place, but each speaks to me of self-care, of a life filled with connection and purpose.
If it is true that we humans share a lot of common troubles and concerns, for me it is worth noticing that we also share an organic intelligence that leads us in all parts of the world to cherish the quietness of rest, of connection and of tapping mindfully into the present moment.