Naima Morelli

Learning to be comfortable in the empty space

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Back with some updates from my life. There is noting better than a warm, sleepy Saturday morning without super-urgent deadlines for articles, to stop for a second and ponder and reflect on the amazing ride I have been on since the beginning of the year. Basically, a moment of quiet to park the horse and smell the roses. I feel this is somewhat necessary to have a clearer picture of my narrative, because of course it’s a story, but we humans need to make sense of things, and it’s fun, and my heart longs for it! I feel that when I’m talking with friends I tend to focus on the problems, maybe because I have identify them as the alley to let it all out. But my public writing, whether for these occasional rants or even in my articles, is really the place where I feel compelled to look at beauty, while not shying away from complexity. I feel it’s my wiser self talking, and I’m happy to get raw and vulnerable. Well, most of the times!

Definitely the experience which dictated the tone for these past few months has been my month-long research trip to Cambodia. The change was apparent; the first couple of weeks I was back, all of my friend told me they noticed a new, strange calm in me. And I did felt calmer. I wrote in my journal, under the title “improvements”: “Less podcasts and Youtube / More meditation – Less music / More Silence – Less Social Media / More Books – Less questioning the craft / More learning the craft – Less indecisiveness / More jumping onto my practices / Less ninjutsu space – More work and comics space – Less inspiration – More presence – Less Fear / More Naima”. The words I wrote down with an halo were “Now” and “Love”.

This pretty much summarize what I have been trying to live, and of course, what I’m slowly dropping of, since the old routine is kicking in again. However, I want to go into the detail and tell how I did things differently from the previous couple of years, when around the same period I was back in Rome from Singapore.

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Two years ago and last year, only a couple of hours after landing I immediately jumped back on the mat to train at ninjutsu (a lesson in the morning, a lesson in the evening), feeling strong and ready to go. I resumed what I left, and honestly felt very scattered mentally and this didn’t help my life balance. This time I took the very same flight, but skipped both Friday lessons. Instead, I rode the wave of momentum and worked on some pieces my magazine needed for Art Basel. By working with joy and pleasure, I felt the connections between me and the Southeast Asian art world didn’t stop. I took Sunday off to welcome with my lover, this time without the fear that got the better of me before leaving for the Cambodia trip; that my love for him would change my trajectory for the worse, that it would bring me far from myself. However, my Cambodia experience strengthen my confidence, and proved that this is my life work, my center of gravity which this beautiful passion has nothing to do with.

What I also did differently from the previous years was taking some time before meeting a dear friend which has been my intellectual companion for a long time. In the previous years we used to sit and talk about our experiences after every trip, but this time I really felt I needed to consolidate the inner work before meeting him. So when I finally met him, it was all good and I was unshakable.

So Cambodia grounded me back into my earth and gave me a boost of excitement towards my work. My work which is about the gift of listening, the gift of connection, the gift of exploring the world, the gift of being exposed to a reality so different from my own, the gift of facing challenging situation and coming out of them through my own means, the gift of living the adventures I used to dream of as a kid. And back to Rome, it gave me momentum, the chance to think back of that world, the chance of width, the chance of looking beyond my backyard.

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I’m not gonna lie, I feel the fact the connection part of my work hasn’t been sorted out yet. The hardest bit is not having people in real life to discussing the uber interesting issues of the part of the world I’m interested in. My intellectual life is very solitary at the moment. My friends have all drifted away from art and we have almost completely cut all the useless vernissage hopping in Rome that used to be our bread-and-butter. Right now, something inside me really rebels against that mundane side of my work. I’ll go back there when it will be time, but for the time being everything it screams to me is: just sit and write. Re-elaborate everything you have already in your pocket, and then move onto the next thing, the glamour, or whatever. But for now, just do the ground work.

Tuning into my intuition rather that to my wise but self-doubt-ridden friends, I have kicked own useless existential doubts off the curb. I’m realizing fully what it means to follow the flow, which is definitely not do whatever your mood tells you to do. This is actually the recipe for disaster. Rather, use flow within a framework of commitment. This is not something that you question all the time according to your mood. Your mood can dictate what feels more exciting to tackle that particular day, within the requests of your clients and editors, but certainly not floating in a sea of equally-valid equally-important possibilities. This is also why tend to do this kind of self-reflective writing less often. Because I’m self-reflecting less and getting down to business more. Finally! Easy to know, harder to practice!

So work-wise I have found a solid basis in daily showing up at the coffee shop in the morning with my laptop. To have a physical place to go to helps a ton. Also, since the beginning of the year I’m experimenting in hiring people and in the future building up a small team to support my the architecture of my projects. I have already done some mistakes and learned a couple of lessons, which means that I’m definitely expanding in that directions, which really excites me. It’s a ever-evolving process and I’m gearing up to bring my writing business, my passion for journalism and contemporary art to a whole new level. But – not surprisingly – it is going take some time.

And then there are my water, my comics, which are what really lights me up. There are the place where most of my experiences and learning are converging. I am really seeing how senseless I was in thinking I had most of it figured out already, and I still have oceans to learn. I’m now integrating my way of realizing them, as it evolved naturally throughout the years. Publishing Fronn’ ‘e Limon’ MAESTRALE on the One More Red Naima Facebook page and the Positano MyLife blog also gives a continuity to the evolution of my work, and allows it to grow and open up possibilities for itself in the world. And of course I’m, as Instagram would have it, I keep on #drawingeverydamnday.

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In the ninjutsu department, I feel I need to put things back together in a different way. I have dropped to 7 lessons a week to three lessons and one day training with the jo with my friend Andrea. Which I won’t call slacking off by any means, but I’m a bit stuck there. Well, I feel I was stuck also when I was doing the 7 lessons a week actually, and right now decreasing the number of lessons and having them in the evening I feel my life gained a lot in terms of balance, and my body doesn’t feel tired all the time. During training concentration has overall increased, perhaps because practicing for almost two years and a half with such commitments, I don’t have to sort out things from zero.

My biggest hindrance in the martial arts is not mastering the basis yet because, well, I wasn’t thought the basis first: our batch of ninjas was an experiment where we all started off training with the green and black belts, and learning different techniques right off the bat. I can now see how this caused big gaps in our learning process. But of course, at this point it’s only up to me to improve, and the fact that I have a trip to my sensei’s sensei in Japan ahead, pushes me to nail down the basis and just try to absorb everything. The key is of course in practicing with absolute presence, as if every lesson is a unique opportunity and most importantly, try to have “produced something” as my sensei said, at the end of every lesson. Then of course, the learning stratifies, but in the meantime I’ll make sure to have given your best every freaking time. Only then you will see progress, and establish a great habit to transfer in every area of life. Not because it’s necessary or you need to stress. But because the more you learn the rules of a game, the more fun you have. So a reminder for dear Cali: once you are on the mat, be really on the mat.

Overall, I’m still spending a lot of time at the dojo anyways, since I have added two post-ninjutsu yoga sessions with the wonderful teacher Aria. Her version of hatha yoga is really meditative, based on relaxation, augmenting the perception of the body and focus on the sensations, so it’s a bliss after an intense session of ninja training. It just feels so good.

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Of course, speaking of yoga, it’s now three years I also have a regular at-home yoga practice which is evolving more and more, and 30 to 45 minutes of yoga every morning are now a staple. In my at-home practice I’m having fun in practicing difficult asanas and balancing postures when I feel I need energy to wake up, or simply having a great flow and stretches to feel embodied first thing in the morning. Yoga, like meditation, it’s now a non-negotiable for me. I practice all days of the week except the Sunday, where I have my lover waking up next to me, and it’s the day dedicated to just being and let go, without any pressure. #Sundayisforthespirit kinda of mood. I’m also looking at the relationship as a spiritual practice, as Eckart Tolle would put it, and navigating to the challenges, learning beyond intellectual knowledge and culture, but through being, through beauty, through love. Slowly shredding the barriers which hold me back. Looking to drop, change, evolve the categories which no longer serve me.

If I step out from my own narrative and the mundane things that make my reality “normal”, and see it with a bit of an “exotic” eye, I can safely tell that life feels like a complete grace. I have a number of practices that allow me to pursue my sadhana in the “doing” realm. I’m slowly learning about the being, and seeing – especially through my art, though love, through meditation – that was there all along, it just had a different form. Indeed, “that thing” I now attach to the word spirituality, or to the martial arts, but in the past it was in jumping into the sea from super-high rocks, or reading South American magical realism books, or dancing solo on the terrace. I kind of feel I’m traversing already the third phase of Kierkegaard’s Don Juan; I went through the aesthetic (which is still my default outlook fo sho), in Australia in order to built a structure for my work, I strengthen the ethics parts, and in ninjutusu too until it became a bit of cage, and now I’m delving the realm beyond the categories, beyond the aesthetics. Even if those are the pillars, the doors which allowed me to get there.

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So my morning routine these days looks like: I wake up, most days around 7.30, though I’m always aiming for 6.30 and still spreading around the legend of myself as someone who wakes up at 6. First thing is breakfast, then I watch Marie TV YouTube channel who gives me a lot of good business tips to get me in a good mind-frame for work later in the day. I’m not 100% happy with it, perhaps would be better to watch it in the evening while I have dinner, but for now it still gives me a more inward experience than the NPR radio I used to listen to, but still, not too inward or navel-gazing to start with. Breakfast is three or four cappuccino or cacao-flavoured Biscottoni by Grondona or Duca D’Alba with some Vanilla black tea or Chai tea. This is the most constant and satisfying breakfast I had in years, so I’m probably going to stick to it for a long time.

Then meditation for 15 minutes. I have to admit the daily feature of the Headspace app keeps me going back there. In the future I’m looking for dropping the app, but for now I feel I still need to learn how to meditate, and in the lack of a physical teacher, an app can do. Often the topic the meditation daily treats is very much tied to what I’m thinking that morning. Then yoga, and sometimes, if I have time or feel compelled to, I journal. While washing myself and brushing my teeth I have always a book or a comic book to browse through. I have many books on the go, and I’m so happy to have finally find a way to welcome books back into my life. Right now in the morning I’m reading Open Wide by Melissa Ambrosini – one of my favourite podcasters. I’m also reading Cerami’s book on writing stories for my comic book, and have Narciso e Boccadoro by Hesse and Gabriella Garofano e Cannella by Jorge Amado also as an inspiration for my comic book. I admit I’m not reading so much for work at the moment, but when I’ll find a way to, I don’t know, integrate the body-mind or something, I won’t perceive work-related readings as something to do in my work-time. I’m looking forward to overcome this limiting mental constraint when it will be time, but right now I’m good. So nxt I can reconnect to the world and check the notifications on Whatsapp, and send message around out of my excitement, usually. While I dress up for the day and prepare the bag, I usually either listen to music – after having binged on Elisa’s Lotus, I’m now back into Tropicalia2 by Gilberto Gil and Caetano Veloso, but I definitely need to find some new tunes – or listen to uplifting short podcasts by, again Melissa Ambrosini or Elizabeth Dialto.

As you can imagine this whole routine takes anywhere from 1 hour to 1 hour and 45 mins, so you can see why I really want to wake up at 6 in order to be at the cafè at 8, which hèlas, never happens. But I’m also always try to overcome my mental strain around time, so even if some day I’m slower than usually, or went to bed late so I wake up at 9, so be it. Yoga is shorter, but I try to be still fully and then I’ll head to the coffee shop and sit to work at whatever time I arrive there, even if it’s 10.30, without stressing out. The important thing in the end is that I show up for work. And, just like in ninjutsu, having produced something, even if something very small that will add up over time. Tending to the roots of my three is uber important, so every hour counts – not to mention that time can expand where concentration is there.

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Funny enough, through meditation, I realized that every morning my mind tries to knock me down from my state of grace by providing me with some minor thoughts, preoccupation or brooding on past, insignificant event to bring me to uneasiness. I guess this is because discomfort feels more comfortable to me than relaxation and a state of just being.

I still call stillness boredom at times. So I attack my lover for being sleepy or not conversational, as if I was waiting for him to provide the stimulation I could easily find elsewhere. And as always, his silence, his presence, his natural non-responsiveness to my attacks shows me that what I’m really fighting against is the empty space. D’Annunzio said that you always have to fill your life with “new imaginations”, and this has always been my greatest gift. To create beauty through imagination. And I’m forever grateful to have received this power. However beauty is already there, if you sharpen your senses to the point to feel the subtler movements of reality, not just necessarily go for the epic all the times. Otherwise you end up becoming numb to the inherent beauty of the world. And bliss becomes something that you need to run after all the time, never resting, oblivious to the fact that bliss is there all along. Energy, curiosity, intellectual, physical, emotional exploration is always great, and it’s my – our nature. It is fun. But in order to enjoy the ride you have to be comfortable in stillness.