Pancake breakfast

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #175

Though on the whole the life during the confinement is not so different to my normal life (I just have a better excuse to not go out…), this sheltering in place is not easy.  I’m 35 days in and it’s uncanny how this period feels both so long and so short.  How despite having the possibility to slow down, I still feel overwhelmed regularly.  I’ve been journaling a lot, trying to process it all, but am realising it only works to a certain extent. I often find myself lying awake at night, mind and body alert, from a cocktail of news, the latent anxiety of a simple trip to the supermarket and too many hours spent online.

My mind is a melting pot of feelings bubbling up.  I picture them like the Northern Lights, blending together into mesmerizing and ever-evolving shapes in the sky: anger at what we are doing to the planet, how we even got here, gratitude that so far me and the ones I love have not been impacted too hard, sadness for all the lives lost and how the less privileged are in fact much more at risk, joy at seeing humans remember their connection and creativity, grief because of recent changes, how life as we know it no longer exists, yearning for when I will be able to see my family without a screen between us, fear of what this crisis might lead to, hope at what might change for the better if we learn from this experience, loneliness of days of seeing next to no-one and wonder at the surreal beauty of spring blossoming all over Amsterdam regardless of the pandemic and on and on the thoughts swirl…

I know I need to stay with the feelings and they’ll eventually pass, but I find I’m struggling to with how much energy it takes.  So I’m practicing being kind to myself, reminding myself over and over again to take the pressure off, this is no normal time and it’s ok to feel overwhelmed. This morning after another night of not sleeping so well, I coaxed myself out of bed by deciding to make pancakes for breakfast.  I gobbled them up with the ingredients I had in the fridge: Parmesan, maple syrup and pear. It was just what I needed:)

One year of writing Morning Pages

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A year ago, on a cold January weekend, I attended an Artist’s Way workshop with Julia Cameron. I can’t believe one year has flown by already.  At the time I was so low on energy that I hesitated to go at all. But I’m so glad I did. Those 2 days were a whirlwind of interactive exercises and small group discussions. Julia was intense, inspiring and very funny. I connected with amazing people from all walks of life. I laughed a lot, cried a little, and was reminded over and over again how we humans are all so alike and struggle with the same things.  Since then I’ve been writing morning pages practically daily (which adds up to over 1000 pages of long-hand writing in lots of lovely journals!).

It took a while but I have now incorporated this practice into my routine, and I miss it if I don’t have time.  I write my Morning Pages, mostly on the sofa before leaving the house or on my way to work in the tram, but I also scribble them while sitting in trains, cafés or waiting rooms, a couple of times I’ve written them in the silent room at the office, and sometimes I do them in the evening if I didn’t get around to them in the day.

I’m intentionally making time to do Morning Pages because I see that they are key to my mental health and have been crucial to recovering from burn-out. It really helps me to dump my thoughts on the page. I can better observe what is bothering me and find alternative solutions faster.  Taking time to reflect also helps me process what’s going on around me and capture my learnings.  Also, I find inspiration for creative projects bubbling up, and when I write about plans I have, they seem to happen quicker.

I’d love to hear if any readers are doing Morning Pages or forms of journaling, and what effect these practices have had on you.

Books about grief

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Grief is not only the deep sorrow we feel when a loved one dies, it’s our reaction to all our losses, big and small on an every day basis.  A rejected submission, leaving a city you lived in, things not turning out the way you expected them to, heartbreak, sadness in the face of the climate crisis, losing your favorite tupperware (don’t laugh! that tupperware and I went way back and had travelled the world together!).

In a culture where life goes ever faster, grief is also not a linear process that peaks and then winds down and disappears forever.  We’d like it to be over and done with, but it often comes back at unexpected moments, when hearing a song, traveling somewhere, finding yourself wanting to turn to that person who is no longer there for advice…

Over the years I’ve read some great books about grief that helped me feel less alone, in very dark times after losing close family members I loved, and also in more banal moments when feeling sadness about the way things were going, and the struggle with burnout.  The books mentionned below are like a light shining on a path that many before me have wandered and helped give me tools to make my way by reducing the struggle and allowing the emotions.

Broken Open – Elisabeth Lesser

Subtitled ‘How Difficult Times Can Help Us Grow’, I turn to this book often as it is truly comforting, a sort of map through the dark forest of tough times to the other side.  I love learning from other people’s stories and this book is full of all sorts of anecdotes and wisdom. I highly recommend it, whatever is going on in your life.

On Grief and Grieving – Elisabeth Kubler-Ross & David Kessler

This book is written by two doctors who worked alongside of people who were dying.  With many short examples it runs through the different stages of grief around death and giving examples of things that may be felt and the way others

The Year of Magical Thinking – Joan Didion

I read this book many years ago, and I will never forget it’s amazingly beautiful title.  It’s  based on Joan Didion’s own experience. I don’t remember the details but rather the atmosphere, the brutal honesty of life after loss, of the absurdity and necessity of going on, the magical daily moments that make up life.

Glad No Matter What – SARK

SARK’s books are not necessarily for everyone, but I really enjoy her colourful handwritten style. I am inspired by how she challenges the reader to reframe things and I love the serendipitous stories she shares about people she encounters. At the same time, she is real about how she feels and the need to allow ourselves to pass through layers of grief. She also shares many resources at the end of each chapter, so there is much more to dive into.

*****

And if you are more into podcasts, in this amazing interview Elizabeth Gilbert talks about grief after her partner passed away. The whole recording is fascinating, but skip to 44mn for her beautiful description of grief.

Counter-intuitive

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Lately I’ve been noticing a pattern whereby when I react to things counter-intuitively, I am positively surprised by the ease of the outcome. In the spirit of my words of the year IT WILL WORK, here are some examples to remind myself when I am tempted to go back into autopilot!

  • When I have lots of things to do and start to feel overwhelmed and exhausted, my tendency is to panic and tackle random tasks immediately like a headless chicken, leading only to more stress.
    Instead, when I stop, go for a walk to get some fresh air, have a nap or read a book, I find that after I am better able to prioritise and that there is always plenty more time to do things later.  Taking some distance, then focusing on the most important next task creates space for the rest (and it turns out lots of things are less urgent than they seem!)
  • When I feel an emotion I don’t like, such as sadness or anger, my go-to reaction is ignore and numb it, filling my thoughts with anything as long as I don’t have to feel it.
    Instead, I am trying to become more aware of the emotion, to lean in and feel the feelings and be curious about what triggered it. Usually if I just acknowledge it, the emotion will disappear surprisingly fast as the next one comes along.
  • When my inner voice is telling me that I am letting people down or I worry that I am not enough, I just want to retreat and avoid people.
    Instead if I have a chat with a friend or a colleague, I’m always reminded of our shared humanity, that I am OK just as I am however much (or however little) I am able to do. Turns out others don’t have unrealistic expectations of me like my inner-critic does.

I’m curious if there are other counter-intuitive reactions you have come across. Please share in the comments, I’d love to read about it! 🙂

Is this what you call gentle??

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GENTLE ALIGNMENT. Those were the 2 words I chose to guide me for 2018.  Already at the end of 2017 I could feel that I was drained, something needed to shift and I needed to make some changes to be more aligned with my true self. The reality was I had no idea how much I had drifted nor how to get aligned again.

This year turned out to be full of exhaustion, frustration and deep questioning. Many tears were cried, hundreds of pages were filled in my journals to try and process my conflicting emotions, to feel them and get through to the other side of the dark woods.

I was reflecting with a friend recently about my words of the year and I mentioned how I felt like it hadn’t really been GENTLE at all.  To which she rightly pointed out, that if I hadn’t added the word GENTLE it would possibly have been even more brutal.

The flip side of the coin was that being burnt-out meant I had to surrender, to let go, to rest. It was a powerful lesson in giving up my usual ways of reacting. I have to learn a new, more sustainable way of looking out for myself and my boundaries. Maybe the word GENTLE refers more to how I should focus on treating myself in the midst of this confusion as I try to get aligned again:)

Things I have learned the hard way:

  • I need to stop pushing myself. The overachiever in me has helped me get this far but when I push myself out of alignment, too far from my values and deepest desires, it exhausts me and does not serve me in the long run
  • I need to balance the parts inside me that want freedom and that want stability
  • I need to look for what makes my heart sing and brings me joy, as these will give me energy
  • I will practice saying my TRUTH more and experiment with daring to ask for what I need (this is going to be especially vital in the next months as I return to the office, build up my working hours again and figure out where to go from here)

Of course things are not so easy, it’s not like I will never make those mistakes again…. but hopefully I will be reminded of the lessons learnt in this period and slip less easily into misalignment.

Coming up soon, my words of the year for 2019 and why I chose them!