The sound of waking up in Australia

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For my birthday, I received a book of poetry from my Mum, called Two green parrots by Australian poet Anne M Carson. It’s a lovely gift, which my Mum took the time to dedicate to me, that short handwritten note in biro at the front making it so much more personal.

I really enjoy picking it this small volume and reading one or two poems here and there, little stories that draw me back Down Under for a few minutes as I visualise the scene from my memories with sight, smells and sounds.

I especially like her poems about birds. For me the sound of waking up in Australia is amazing, the birds are so much louder than here in Europe and their cries are completely different.  Just hearing them in a movie will bring me right back to where I grew up as a child.  Here is a little extract to give you a sense of how beautifully the poet expresses it:

“Wattle birds wake up raucous.
They don’t murmur their way into day
or carol the growing light.
They ram their voices into the first chink
that opens between dark and dawn, staking claims.
Voice as a lever, they wrench morning open for themselves.”

Extract from: Wattle Birds, Kew
                         Anthochaena carunculata

This inspires me deeply to practise writing about daily scenes around me, playing with words to capture life going on all around me. Merci Maman for this wonderful gift:)

Not-quite-end-of-year book recommendations

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The first snow has made its appearance in Amsterdam this weekend, and it is the perfect weather for cupping a warm cup of tea with two hands with a good book in my lap. It’s not quite time to review the statistics about all this year’s reading, so for now I’ll just share three recommendations from the last months, as inspiration to read during the cosy evenings of the Christmas holidays!

All the birds, singing – Evie Wyld

I came across this book at the library by chance and it kept me in its grip for the few days I spent reading it.  The story telling is well done and you can really feel the heat of the Australian bush as if you were there. It brought back very clear memories of a trip we took with my family over 25 years ago to a farm in Australia where we saw sheep being sheared, it’s amazing how those images remain ingrained in some deep corner of the brain after all those years!

Tattoos on the heart: the power of boundless compassion – Gregory Boyle

I found this book in a little free library, and though it is written by a pastor it is not at all the ‘religious’ as I thought it may be. This book will warm your heart. It is a bundle of anecdotes from Father Gregory’s time working in Los Angeles in a neighbourhood with high gang activity and his amazing project to find concrete solutions.  It’s a powerful mix of down-to-earth, hilarious stories and deep reflection about hope and how to value every single person whatever their situation. It’s inspiring to read about the effects of acknowledging our common humanity and approaching it with unconditional love.

Vox – Christina Dalcher

This is the latest book we are reading in our book club (great suggestion by Paolo!), about a world very similar to ours, except women can only say maximum 100 words a day, after which they receive an electroshock for every extra word.  The frustration and anxiety you feel just reading about such a situation is a serious reminder of how precious our voices are and a powerful call to activism.

*****

Previous book recommendations: books I enjoyed lately, books about creativity, non-fiction books, discovering new voices.

Leaning in

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #105

Growing up as a child in Australia, I was fascinated by empty cicada shells, perfectly formed and dry, gripping onto trees, long after the cicada had pulled itself out of its cramped skin to take its new form.

That image came back to me while meditating yesterday.  I feel like I am gripping the tree, white-knuckled, pushing against my edges, trying with all my might to crack the shell around me, to extricate myself from its tight grasp and be able to breathe and spread my wings.

On the surface it may seem like a quiet time in my life, a rare moment where I have very reduced working hours and can spend extra time to care for myself, rest and recover.  However, inside me it is far from peaceful, I feel like I am being stretched further than I have been for a long time.  Waves of emotion crash over me for seemingly no reason, I feel in turn sad, then anxious, then afraid, then restless and back again. I crave relief so deeply. I ache for clarity, for lightness, to feel better, more energetic, enthusiastic, happy…

I’m filling page after page in my journal, trying to get the swirling thoughts on paper, to see if I can make some sense out of them, as I know this has helped in the past.  And in the midst of the rants and anxious complaints in my journal, the wise voice from somewhere deep inside comes out to tell me, again and again, to trust the process.

This is the transformation in preparation for the shedding of the skin, it cannot be rushed.  I am exactly where I need to be.  My job right now is to stop resisting, to let go of wanting things to be different, to practice accepting that I feel the way I feel and that it is OK.

What is there to be grateful about in all of this, you may ask.  Well, I know deep down that every day that I lean in to the turmoil, rather than resisting it, brings me closer to coming out the other side, to breaking out of the tight shell.

Mental cane toad invasion

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‘Swallow your frogs’ is a tip found in many articles about how to be efficient, meaning you should tackle the important task that you are dreading the most as soon as you start work in order to have the satisfaction of having tricked procrastination and achieved something concrete that you can proceed to cross off your to-do list.  I’ve often followed that advice and generally it works for me.

However, in the past few months, I’ve been struggling with stress and exhaustion.  I realised that a great deal of the tasks I needed to do at work daily had turned into ‘frogs’.  I kept hoping that the frogs linked to my job position would eventually turn into princes, or at least become more manageable as I gained experience, but they didn’t and I felt more and more overwhelmed.

The frogs were also following me home, in the evenings I couldn’t switch off the constant croaking of all the work thoughts and worries going on in my head and I sometimes lay awake at night. I found it increasingly hard to focus and make any type of decision, big or small, and anxiety started rearing its head. Things that previously I considered routine tasks now felt complex and inachievable. It was like my mind was being overtaken by a cane toad invasion.

For those not familiar with the cane toad, it is a species that was introduced in Australia in the 1930s in an attempt to eradicate pests in sugar cane fields, but instead became a pest itself because its venom kills any animal that attemps to eat it, meaning it has no natural predators.  Over the years, it has multiplied and is upstoppably making its way across the whole of Australia doing devastating damage to local ecosystems.

The cane toads of my mind were advancing beyond my boundaries, feasting off long meetings, stress, incessant skype messages and other notifications, frustrations and extreme self-doubt.  Though I did my best to regularly practice mindfulness, breathe and take care of myself, it was like those efforts were native marsupials being wiped out by the cane toads.

So after pushing myself for several months to continue working, while attempting to cover up the shame of being less efficient and struggling to beat the evil cane toads in my mind, I’ve decided to take time out to recover.  I’m not entirely sure how I will transform the cane toads back to frogs or even into cuddly koalas, I am going to figure it out step by step over the next weeks and months. For now rest and self-care are my priority.

*****

By the way, I don’t know what species the animal in the photo is. It was taken in Thailand, I’d love to know more about it if anyone knows:)

Familiar plants

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During my recent visit to the Botanic garden in Amsterdam Zuid, I was excited to see lots of plants that reminded me of those years of my childhood that I spent in Australia. I would not be able to tell you their names but they looked so familiar, like coming home.  It’s funny how as a child you take in so many details without realising.

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As I write this, I wonder how at the botanic garden they manage to get these plants that are so specific to the Australian ecosystems to grow in the Dutch environment. And whether the plants have adapted to bloom in our season or are still aligned with that of the southern hemisphere.

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As always, I’m fascinated by the details. This tiny pod looks like it is made of metal. Such perfection!

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And of course the collection wouldn’t be complete without some lovely bright wattle, Australia’s national flower!

Perfection in the tiny details

This time two years ago, I was in Australia on a wonderful trip. I was very lucky to go Down Under for work and then I took the occasion to travel and spend time with friends I hadn’t seen for many years. I can’t believe 2 years have passed already! I will be digging out some pictures of that trip from the archive to celebrate what an awesome trip I had:)

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For now some details from walking along the sand on Cable Beach with my dear friend Alex at magic hour. I was mesmerised by the beauty of these patterns of tiny perfectly formed round balls of sand spreading outwards like fireworks.

Futher along the beach on I saw this simple footprint turned into a magical looking tree, which reminds me of the many boabs that we saw on our trip. So gorgeous! I love nature’s tiny beautiful details.

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