Yearning for more calm

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #157

With the air being cold and crisp, as well as night falling around 4.30 pm, my body feels ready to go into full hibernation mode.  All I seem to want to do is curl up and rest deeply for a while, with no obligations and nowhere to rush to.

However life has other plans. Instead of winding down, the weeks leading up to xmas feel very full, despite a more simple approach to gift giving and my efforts to prioritise by consciously saying NO. Probably because of the holiday now being so close, I feel like I have no more energy to give.

So I am grateful for the privilege of having some proper time off over the xmas period.  While I’m in France, I’m really looking forward to the quiet days at home with my family.  I foresee lots of sleeping in, cooking and eating good food all together, watching movies under soft blankets and catching up over steaming mugs of tea.

Curled petals

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Late this autumn, I planted some mixed seeds into the soil of the empty looking pots on my balcony, and to my surprise some these lovely orange flowers came up. I can see them every day, through the glass of the balcony door when I sit at the kitchen table.  Their hardiness and bright colour have been giving me so much joy in past weeks.

Normally the petals reach straight outwards from the center, but recently, maybe because of the cold, they started curling slightly, making the flower even more beautiful.  One morning last week I decided it was ok to miss the usual tram I take to work, to spend a few quiet moments to photograph its fleeting charm in the first rays of daylight. So glad I did!

Three years of JOYFUL GRATITUDE!

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #156

Three years ago I decided to write weekly about what I was grateful for.  The idea was to  focus more on what I was lucky to have, rather than what I may feel I was missing.  These weekly posts have turned into a journal of sorts, a way to record what I’ve been up to while paying closer attention.

I enjoy regularly taking a moment to stop and reflect on the past week and stood out, be they big or small things, taking walks, people I get to share moments with, travelling, spending time in nature…

To celebrate, I looked back through the list and chose some of my favourites from the last 3 years:)

Writing these posts about what I am grateful for has turned out to be a very grounding and joyful practice for me. They are a way to be both more present as I go through my days and to re-live the sensations as I pen a few short paragraphs about what I experienced.

I’d love to know, what are you are grateful for today?

My snow globe brain

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It’s been a busy weekend here getting lots of writing done. So much so that even cleaning the bathroom felt like a welcome break from searching for the right word or coming up with logical plot evolutions. Scrubbing the shower walls and mopping the tiles felt wonderfully simple and grounding.

Though having deadlines and self-chosen submission goals helps to encourage me, I realise I have to be careful no to overdo it. I imagine my brain to be like snow globe that’s been shaken and that calm time is needed for all the small particles to settle back down in their new place.

Like with everything, I feel that I really need time recharge after pushing myself and stretching my comfort zone, especially with the vulnerable act of submitting a piece of writing.  I need to remember to schedule in a buffer of down-time where my brain feels like it does not ‘have to’ do anything for a while, to give it time to process what it’s experienced.

Serendipity and writing opportunities

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #155

Recently during a meeting at work I mentioned to a colleague of mine that I do creative writing in my free time and it just so happened that she was looking for submissions for a project about Amsterdam.  As I’ve actively decided to seize the opportunities that come across my path and aim to do at least two submissions per month, I asked her for the guidelines and promised I’d send her a piece.

Even though working on this creative non-fiction piece really stretched me, I thoroughly enjoyed the process. I am very grateful for this chance, as each concrete assignment helps me to practise working within certain guidelines and to improve my skills.

I also really appreciate the serendipity of hearing about this project just now that dare to call myself a writer in the presence of other people:-)  Here’s hoping that there will be lots of interesting coincidences and writing opportunities in the near future!

Outsmarting the inner critic

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In order to progress on my different writing projects this weekend, I spent a lot of time attempting to outsmart the shitbird (as my writing teacher so poetically calls it). For those unfamiliar with the term shitbird, you may know it under another name such as inner critic or personal sabotager.  It’s that voice inside your head that says writing (or any creative activity) is not worth the effort, that it’s very tiring, that what you’ll write will be mediocre anyway, that no one will ever want to read it and so on.  The shitbird also kindly recommends less threatening activities to distract yourself, such as reading other people’s writing online or watching another couple of episodes of Casa de Papel.

Despite the fact that the shitbird makes a systematic appearance, I know that once I sit down and write, I will get into the flow. When I am actually typing the details of a scene, thinking of what happens next in my story or figuring out how to make my dialogue work, the fear melts away and the shitbird goes quiet.

Some of the tricks that work for me are the following:

  • Setting a timer for 25 minutes and telling myself all I have to do is focus uninterrupted or that amount of time. Usually when the timer rings, I feel entitled  to stop, however more often than not, I’m immersed and happy to continue for a while longer.
  • Working on different types of pieces in parallel, like fiction and non-fiction. The positive thing being that I can procrastinate on one with the other depending on where the shitbird is being more vocal.
  • Planning a fun activity/treat I can enjoy only once I’ve spent a certain time focussed on writing.  This works really well for me.  Most of us do this intuitively to some extent and I learnt recently that this strategy carries the beautiful name of ‘temptation bundling‘ (term coined by Katy Milkman from the University of Pennsylvania). Basically it means linking an activity with short-term benefits you like to do, with an activity with long-term benefits you should do, in order to feel motivated to do the latter.

Please let me know your techniques for dealing with the shitbird in the comments. I’d love to try them!!

Human connection

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #154

I want to savour this week, which was rich in interactions of all sorts, in person, on paper and online, big and small, that made me feel I belong and warmed my heart.  I’m privileged to be surrounded by such wonderful human beings.  With their humour, questions, intelligence, struggles, ideas and imperfections, they help me to be as true a version of myself as I can be.

A chat with a colleague by the coffee machine about hair-styling and therapy; talking with my Mum on the phone about a very interesting course she attended and ideas it gave her; a semi-spontaneous catch-up after work with a dear friend over cake and tea;  discussing work decisions at 3 a.m. under our duvet; celebrating the birth of a new baby and exchanging about sustainability with my boxing-class mates after our workout; connecting with my cousin with whats’app messages; taking a walk to do the plastic recycling from the office letting the cold air revitalise us for the afternoon; reading a long awaited letter all the way from Western Australia; chatting over naan bread and delicious vegetable korma before watching a great play…

Positive procrastination

With Paolo we’ve been joking recently about how many random things I can get done when I am procrastinating from doing my writing assignments.  I’ve been found baking spontaneous apple pies for instance, cleaning the bathroom or sorting out and tidying the attic (something that was on my to-do list for at least 6 months).

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When I’m feeling blocked and just can’t seem to find the way to start writing, I try and remember that taking a walk, while it does not contribute to getting words on the page, is generally a good cure for break my mental resistance. In the worst of cases, I tell myself that even if I still don’t write afterwards, I’ll have at least stretched my legs and gotten some fresh air.  In the best cases, I come back with a sliver of a new idea to work on.

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Saturday afternoon was one of those days, so after sitting frustrated for a while and uselessly distracting myself by reading other people’s writing, I decided to go out and catch the last of the afternoon light.  I set myself the challenge to attempt to capture the colour contrasts in that lovely low autumn light. So with my ISO set high, I looked around for bursts of colour to photograph while trying to hold my camera as still as I could.

 

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When the light faded and the cold got to me, I headed home, clear-headed. I even saw a beautiful pink sunset that I would most likely have missed were I staring at my computer screen.  My inner-critic probably also got a bit frozen, because it left me enough space to sit down and start typing when I got back.

Taking time to just be

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #153

Last Sunday I kept an entire day free of plans, so that I could recharge my batteries.  I had some work to do on my writing assignment and plenty of other to-dos, but I decided to first take some time for myself.

I spent an hour meditating, sitting in silence and trying to focus only on my breathing (which in reality ended up being more like becoming aware of my incessant thoughts and letting them come and go).  It felt like a reset for my overstimulated brain, a welcome break from constant inputs.

Afterwards, since the sun made a welcome appearance after some very rainy days, I took the chance to go for a slow walk in the neighbourhood. I did my best to stay as much as possible on the sunny side of the street to soak up lots of vitamine D and watched people enjoying the good weather as I ambled along.

The autumn colours were beautiful, with colourful leaves holding tight to their branches and covering the pavement.  I also enjoyed observing the details of the last flowers remaining in people’s gardens, like this purple flower with its silky petals emerging from the strange black and green pod, and the petals around the remnants of this bordeaux-coloured flower.

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Books about walking

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Hibernation season has decidedly arrived and as the cold settles in and raindrops hit the windows, I’m happy to live vicariously from the comfort of my sofa, while I wait for the right season to pull on my hiking shoes and go for a long walk. Here is a short list of books about walking to accompany you in these cold months.

Wild – Cheryl Strayed

Cheryl Strayed’s beautiful memoir of how walking can lead you back to yourself in times of deep loss and grief.  It doesn’t sugarcoat the experience of long-term hiking, and it’s funny, desperately sad and hopeful all rolled in one.

Walking: One step at a time – Erling Kagge

I read this book in Italian, I was drawn to its title which is translated as ‘Camminare – un gesto sovversivo’, meaning ‘Walking – a subversive act’,  and therefore appealed to the rebellious part of me. It’s a poetic ode to walking on a day-to-day and a reminder of how slowing down and walking is a powerful way of resisting being pulled into the vortex of ever-increasing speed.

Walking to listen – Andrew Forsthoefel

The true story of how Andrew set out to cross the US by foot and actively listen to people’s stories. He shares stories from people from all walks of life, races, ages, who were generous on his way.  I enjoyed how it reveals a lot about privilege and how stereotypes are put to the test when we realise we are all simply humans trying to live our best lives.

Without ever reaching the summit – Paolo Cognetti

Cognetti’s account of his hike at the foot of the Himalayan mountains makes you feel you are right there with him. I like this book because with no intention of conquering the summit it is focussed on just experiencing the landscape at 4-5000 meters, observing its nature and wildlife, and describing the inhabitants and the human connection born on such a trip.

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*****

Putting together this post, I took a dive in my photography archive to look for some relevant pictures from when I was walking the Camino along the Northern coast of Spain.  Just looking at these photos I am drawn back to the remote places along the path, I can feel the weight of my backpack, the exhilaration of having no other task than to walk 6 to 8 hours a day and the repeated joy of overlooking an amazing landscape after an upwards climb.