Outdoor time in the Utrechtse Heuvelrug

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #163

Last Saturday I went with two dear friends for a walk in the Utrechtse Heuvelrug national park as a belated experience-gift for my birthday.  As we walked away from the station with its noisy traffic, and entered deeper into the woods, time seemed to slow down. It felt so good to breathe in the smells of the humid forest.  I felt my legs getting more energised with each step on the path.

The landscape kept surprising us, changing from oak forest to pine trees, to sandy open spaces, to paths winding through mossy forest floors…  Also we were graced with a wide range of different weather in just a few hours: sunshine, clouds, rain, rain and sunshine at the same time, and even hail, as we continued to put one foot in front of the other, without haste.

As always it felt really good to be away from the bustling city, not to mention the snacks and thermos full of boozy tea that we had along the way, which took the experience to another level;)  But mostly it was our chats and laughs that made my day.  I’m so grateful for sharing this calm afternoon, talking about what’s on our minds and catching up in such a relaxing setting.

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Good times with friends

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #162

I am grateful for the good times with my friends based here in the Netherlands.  As I don’t live in the same country as my close family,  I appreciate how vital it is to be surrounded by people who I can really connect with and be myself around:)  I hope these first weeks of 2020 set the tone for the rest of the decade.

We’ve had the chance to spend quality time exploring the Veluwe, inspiring each other, chatting about our hopes and intentions for the new year and making collage dream boards, having good laughs, watching a great documentary and sharing our thoughts about it afterwards until we got kicked out of the room, motivating one another to go for lunch walks together to refresh our minds amidst busy work meetings… I feel blessed to have such wonderful people by my side to make the days a little sweeter!

How to organise a dream board session

I have always loved making collages, and in the last few years, I’ve started sharing this practice with family and friends by organising dream board collage sessions.  I find those few hours spent together are always very engergising and inspiring.  Below I’m sharing how I organise these sessions as an inspiration to anyone who would like to do the same:)

Why create a dream board?

Browsing through the magazines, it’s a time to reflect, to switch off from our phone and computer and do something by hand.  By identifying and visualising your dreams, they are much more likely to happen.

You can create a mood board by yourself, I do so regularly.  However, it’s also really nice to do it with others. When you share your dreams with those around you, they will also be rooting for you and you’d be surprised how they will connect the dots to help you make them come true.

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What do you need?

  • Scissors and glue
  • Paper (though you can also use a page from a magazine as a backdrop)
  • Magazines (any magazine will work.  I particularly love Flow magazine, Simple things and travel magazines, but think of your own hobbies and interests)
  • Tea and coffee, and some biscuits or a good slice of cake (optional, but definitely nice!)

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How to make the dream board?

We usually start by choosing a word/words to guide you during the next year or next 3 months. Think of what you want to bring into your year and would like to focus on.

Take a magazine and look through the pages, cutting out whatever attracts your eye: photos, words, illustrations, colours, shapes… Don’t censor yourself, you can always decide not to paste it in.

When you have a pile of images and words, you can start moving them around on the page, and when you are satisfied stick them on.  The beauty is that there is no right or wrong.  You don’t need to be ‘creative’ to do this, the key is to let yourself be guided by the colours and your instincts.

Everyone’s collage will be unique (it may contain mainly words, or only photos, it may fit on one A4 page or spill out over several pages sticky-taped together into a large poster, or you can paste them into a notebook specially for your dreams, year after year).

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What next?

When you’re done, you can present your collages to each other, mentioning what word you chose and how these images inspire you.  You don’t have to, as you may prefer to keep this to yourself if it feels vulnerable. I enjoy sharing because it is very interesting to see what others are busy with and get ideas from other people’s dreams. Also you get to know each other better and it’s a lovely way to connect. Then you can put your collage in a place where it is visible in your day to day life, as a reminder of your dreams.

Winter walks in Putten

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #160

I am so glad that during the busy December days I took the time to plan a short trip away from the city with like-minded friends.  Even though we were just a couple of hours from Amsterdam, it was nice to explore an area I’d never been to and recharge my batteries before going back to work.

Our long walks in the woods sparked all of our senses: breathing in the wintry forest smells, observing the mosses, lichens, fungi and other details, noting the undergrowth that had been upturned by boars (or so we think;), fingers getting cold as the sun dropped below the horizon, hearing the wild-geese flying by in the sky… We were lucky to have several days of sunny weather and the low winter light shining through the mist and the trees was magic.

I also particularly enjoyed our walks because they were fueled by real conversations, and also by deliciously rich brandy-fed Christmas cake and hot chocolate! The bar is now incredibly high for the coming walks in nature in 2020;)

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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…

Quiet processing time

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #139

Last weekend I got to spend quality time with one of my sisters and with different friends, people who I had seen recently and not so recently, catching up and talking about all sorts of things, enjoying good food and good talks about our lives, how the world is and how we’d like it to be…

As an introvert I find myself both drained and recharged from such interactions. Aferwards I feel tired and have a deep need to have time to myself, where I usually just potter around the flat, read, journal or do nothing, and basically in that quiet space I’m processing all we discussed and the emotions of being together.  I feel deeply grateful to have such fun and inspiring people around me, who take me as I am, who I can laugh and be real with and who encourage me to step even deeper into what lights me up.

Walking meditation

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #132

Last Monday with some friends we did a walking meditation, 20 minutes of very slow walking in a small park in the city, focussing carefully on each step, lifting my foot, moving it forward, the shifting my balance, placing it down, trying to feel every part of the movement.
It had just rained, the air was fresh. After a while it became like a trance, sometimes managing to block out the noise of traffic around.  I became more aware of everything around me. The wet grass at my feet, the drops of water on a seesaw, beautiful roses of different colours and the way tiny caterpillars were roaming on their petals. The goal of the exercise was not to focus on the caterpillars but they were very cool, bobbing their little heads up and down.

I felt so calm when we were finished.  It reminded me of how often I am caught up in a rush to get from A to B, and how much there is to feel and see when we are in first gear instead of at full speed. I am grateful for these lovely mindfulness sessions and deep connection with a bunch of kind and open friends. It was amazing to share this experience together and get back in touch with my meditation practise.

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! 🙂

Dreaming up the new year

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #113

Last weekend, with a few dear friends we spent the afternoon reflecting on last year and making dream boards for the new year.  A calm afternoon, hot tea and coffee in our mugs, accompanied by delicious vegan (and not-so-vegan) cakes as we sat around the kitchen table. It was great fun to look back at the dream boards we made together a year ago, discussing the words we had chosen for the year and how reality had panned out.  We celebrated the successes and achievements of the past year, and acknowledged the tough stuff that happened too.

Afterwards we got quiet cutting out pictures and words from tattered magazines that have been cut out from many times over and pasting the colourful images and inspirational snippets to create new dream boards…

I am so grateful for these lovely friends who embrace the dream board concept with joy, and who inspire me so much with their stories, dreams, perseverance and achievements.  Just spending a few hours together really energised me, we could simply be ourselves and dream up all sorts of wild ideas for 2019, manifesting our desires visually and calling in synchronicity and support from the universe:) I can’t wait to see what this year brings us all!

Birthday celebration

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #90

I feel deeply grateful to have celebrated my birthday with my community of lovely friends yesterday. It was a heart-warming evening, full of joy for life and great humour, around delicious hummus and good beers at the amazingly laid-back brewery the Butchers Tears.

I am so appreciative of how my friends respect my aversion for materialistic presents and came up with creative solutions to spoil me regardless, with wonderful experience gifts like delicious food, cards, a drawing, poetry and vouchers for quality time to spend together:) I look forward to many more celebrations together!