Take the pressure off

IMG_0948

I was initially excited at the idea of having lots of free time at home, I started thinking of everything I’d be able to do.  However rather than writing that amazing short story and making an incredible amount of submissions, as well as learning how to draw, the days are just flying by.  Nothing has come of all those plans and instead I’ve been working remotely by day, then on Skype calls with friends and family to attempt to make sense of a situation that none of us ever thought we would experience, and binge-watching episodes of Narcos to empty my mind in the evenings.

I’ve noticed lists circulating of things to fill the days with: crafts to do, films to watch, new skills to learn, and found myself stressing about not doing enough.  I noticed that I have trouble concentrating and am actually spending a lot of energy adjusting to the situation, so now I’m trying to be more mindful of taking the pressure off and letting go of my unrealistic expectations.

I realise this list of tips only makes sense because I am in the privileged position where I can work from home and receive my salary and paid holidays… I am sharing it because it’s been a mind-shift for me over the past couple of weeks and I thought it may speak to others who might also feel the pressure to ‘be making the most of confinement’.

What has helped me the most has been to dial back the DOING and give myself permission to just BE a bit more.

  • Digital detox: Sunday I didn’t connect to internet until my 7 pm skype call with my family.  That morning I didn’t switch on my computer and refresh the news repeatedly and I left my phone out of sight.  I had tasks on my to-do list I couldn’t take care of because they involved being online, so I let go of them for a while reminding myself they were not urgent. It felt very freeing. I want to try and do it one day a week.
  • Sleeping / napping: now is the perfect time to rest – if not now then when? Going to bed earlier and sleeping a little longer in the mornings since I don’t need to commute is great.  I’m glad to catch a few extra ZZZs to compensate for those nights where insomnia comes to visit with its thought-loops. Also naps are an act of resistance, it’s great to be an activist from the comfort of my own bed!
  • Taking a day off work:  I’d been saving my holidays for spring time to go see my family and explore Cornwall by train. But those plans are cancelled for the foreseeable future. I could try to power on through and save my days off to travel later, but the long winter months are behind me and there’s an on-going crisis going on, so right now taking a random day off feels like a gift to myself. I took today off and I think I’ll do it again in the next weeks when needed, to recharge when needed.
  • Doing nothing: I’ve found peace in just sitting on the rug in that square of sunlight flowing through the window, day dreaming freely for a while and letting my thoughts roam…

I’d love to know what has helped you in the past weeks. Please feel free to share in the comments!

A few moments of focus

IMG_0916

JOYFUL GRATITUDE #172

This week I met up on a video call with some friends with who I have the joy of practicing mindfulness from time to time. It was heart-warming to share our experiences and observations of this period of crisis.  I must say lately, although in a way I have more time, I feel scattered, my mind still rushing and busy.  Just doing some short meditations together and returning to my body through breathing felt like a gift.

Among the many things we discussed, one person shared a great suggestion, which was to wash our dishes as if we were bathing a baby buddha.  I love this vivid image and how it instinctively reframes my approach to such a mundane task.  I’ve been trying to keep this in mind as I wash my dishes several times a day. Paying attention to get the water to just the right temperature, noticing how the foam feels on my fingers, handling my bowls and dishes more gently…  I’m glad for those few moments of focus, when I am fully in the here and now.

Budding leaves

IMG_0897

If you are cooped up indoors and can only go to the supermarket and back with a self-written permission slip, this post is dedicated to you. You may be wondering what spring looks like out there,  well let me tell you it is magnificent!

IMG_0885
In between the flurry of zoom meetings and skype calls, I’ve been taking walks in the parks around my neighbourhood.  On Friday, the sky was overcast and it was cold and windy, but I went deep into the Amsterdamse Bos and walked for a couple of hours in no particular direction, letting myself be guided simply by interesting-looking branches with budding leaves.

IMG_0900

From afar there was not much to see, but when taking a closer look, the textures and colours were amazing.  Soon the trees will be green again, and I am so glad to have the possibility to witness the transition of the seasons and observe these wonderful details.

IMG_0967

How quickly we adapt

IMG_0730

JOYFUL GRATITUDE #171

In trying times, it becomes even more obvious how much there is to be grateful for.  Here are some thoughts on my seventhth day of social distancing.  I am so thankful for the fact that I am safe and healthy, and so is my family.  Also, I can work from home quite easily and I am lucky that I don’t have to juggle work and taking care of children like many people do.

I’m impressed by how fast we can adapt to a new reality, however unexpected.  The initial ‘hamstering’ of pasta and toilet paper now seems to have slowed down.  Seeing so many neighbours come to their windows at 8pm, to clap for the medical staff and others performing vital jobs, is heartwarming.  When I watch series, I catch myself feeling surprised when I see characters shaking hands or hugging each other, because I am so aware of the need for physical distance.

This week has been a remarkably social one. I’ve had increased digital contact with family and friends, near and far, from all over the world. I’ve connected with friends online to catch up over a glass of wine, I’ve seen pictures of my colleagues’ home-offices and pets (one has a bat who nests in his house!), as well as received and passed on an inordinate amount of memes.

So far, in Amsterdam we are not in lock-down, so I am also taking lots of walks while I can. I’m deeply grateful each time for the freedom to leave the flat and witness spring unfolding.  Those walks are definitely helping to keep me grounded and I’m sharing these photos for those who don’t have the possibility to go outside as they wish at the moment.

IMG_0843

A quiet walk in the forest

IMG_0773

After spending too much time reading the news on Saturday, I decided to go for a walk to get some fresh air, as it is unclear how long we will still be free to do so.  I took my camera along and did what is best when my mind gets overworked, which is to enjoy forest bathing and focus on details.

IMG_0696

So far in Amsterdam we are still allowed walk outdoors freely, as long as we keep our distances from others.  There was a cold wind blowing, but the sky was bright blue with wispy clouds floating by. Spring is progressing undeterred by what is going on for us humans.

IMG_0709

It felt really good to be among trees that are coming back to life after winter, with tender leaves budding and catkins of all sorts. I liked how the sun shone through the leaf above, creating a tiny scene with the shadows.  As I was walking quietly, a male pheasant crossed the path and disappeared into the undergrowth, leaving me just enough time to admire its bright colours.

IMG_0813

I was also captivated by this surreal-looking fungus which looks like very delicate skin. A quick google search leads me to think it might be a Wood Ear Mushroom – but I’m not sure and would love to know more about it if there are any experts reading this:)

Slowing down

IMG_9881

JOYFUL GRATITUDE #170

In these strange COVID-19 times, I feel thankful for the fact that some preventive measures have been put into place and it means life is slowing down in an unprecedented way.  I know this crisis is negatively impacting thousands of people, and that many health professionals will be working overtime in extremely difficult conditions.  So I appreciate that this feeling of gratitude comes from a place of privilege (I am not in the most at-risk group; I have a safe place where I can keep my distance and that is also the case for my family; I can easily work from home and keep receiving my salary etc).

Only time will tell how the next weeks and months will turn out.  In order not to get too anxious, I’m trying instead to focus on the upsides of seeing what life is like when dialling back from the frenetic pace we are used to.  For now, I’d like to embrace this slowing down as an opportunity to rest and reflect.  I may use some of that down time at home to simply declutter the appartment, do some writing and work my way through the pile of books waiting to be read on my nightstand…

Unexpected charm

IMG_9882
BEHIND THE SCENES #2

Often I find myself drawn to plants that are slightly past their prime or have suffered under heavy rains.

IMG_9863
I really enjoy capturing the details of an rebellious cowlick petal, dried-out leaves, a slightly wonky flower or fragile frozen petals…  In a world where beauty is often constricted by strict norms, symmetry and fitting neatly into boxes, I love how nature has its way of showing that beauty can take many shapes and has nothing to do with perfection.

IMG_4608

Striving to ignore the messages of the media and being mindful of unrealistic expectations is a daily practice.  The unexpected charm of these plants is a wonderful reminder for me to be more accepting of my perceived flaws and loving myself as I am is probably the best way to resist a system that is not doing us any good.

IMG_4613

*****

This is a theme that I keep coming back to. You can find previous musings on the topic here, here and here🙂

That spring feeling

IMG_4798

JOYFUL GRATITUDE #169

Even if it has been a very mild winter, this week I clearly felt the sparks of joy linked to the first signs of spring.  Like realising that I feel a tiny bit more energetic, and how lovely it feels to cycle through the city when it is still daylight on my way home from work, and feeling the sun’s rays a little sharper on my face during my lunch walk…

I am grateful for winter and its quieter days, but I am also glad that spring is on its way.  I can’t wait not to have to wear two pairs of socks to keep my feet warm and to bundle myself in layers of clothes and scarves.  I’m ready to watch nature waking up and bringing to the world its colourful buds and fresh green leaves, to hear bees buzzing among tiny flowers and watch ducklings by the canals.  I look forward to the simple pleasure of sitting in the park to read in the sun.

What is it you most look forward to about spring?

Break it down into small steps

IMG_0448

BEHIND THE SCENES #1

For a while I’ve been toying with the idea of writing more about what goes on behind the scenes on Cultivating Joy and personal take-aways I’ve picked up along the way about writing, photography and creativity in general. I already scribbled on a piece of paper a list of topics I want to reflect on and share that I’ve been carrying around in my journal since January, but perfectionism came along and I found myself setting unrealistic expectations.  I felt like if I wanted to make a new series, I should have a clearer idea of which direction I want to take it and have drafts about several topics ready to give it a cohesive feel.  I put the stakes so high, that I just ended up procrastinating.

So this week I decided to try another approach. Applying the agile techniques I’ve learnt at the office, I decided to break this ‘big’ task into small achievable steps.  In my weekly accountability email (which helps me to plan and complete my goals), I changed my objective from ‘start new series’ (which is vague and led to me putting pressure on myself) to ‘write one post‘.  Just one post! And so here I am, sharing this post:)  I’m really looking forward to working on the next ideas and really hope you will enjoy this new series!

Morning walk in the Vondelpark

IMG_4765
JOYFUL GRATITUDE #168

I am grateful for meeting up early with a friend, on my Friday morning off, to take a walk in the Vondelpark.  It was a lovely way to start the day, feeling the wintry air on my face, walking along the paths trying to avoid getting too muddy, watching energetic dogs playing together, as we chatted about how our week had been and all sorts of things…  As someone who usually takes a while to get out of the house when I don’t need to go to the office, it felt like a great way to kick-start to the day by moving and connecting with my body.  I must remind myself to do it more often, either by myself or with the added bonus of going with a friend:)