The joy of letter writing

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #161

Yesterday evening I sat down to write a letter.  Though I do regularly send postcards, taking the time to write a proper letter made me realise how rarely I do so.  I was writing in response to a letter from a dear friend, written a couple of months ago. Her familiar hand-writing covering several pages of lined paper, bringing me her thoughts and fragments of her life from the other side of the globe. A physical letter that I have pulled out, unfolded and re-read since I received it, thinking of my friend, taking the time to contemplate what I’d like to answer and tell her about, the questions I want to ask her…

So yesterday alone in the quiet of my flat, I finally took out some recycled paper and my favorite pen, and got writing.  About banal things, how the holidays had been, what I’ve been up to recently and what is on my mind of late…  The pages filled up quickly, thoughts flowing and getting more personal as I scribbled them down.  I ended up with a neat pile of numbered pages, slipped tightly into an envelope which will make its way across the world.

I love that letters don’t demand an immediate reading or a fast answer. They can stray in the limbo of the postal system.  By the time my words arrive, a couple of weeks will have passed, new events will have unfolded, thoughts will have evolved. The snippets of my life contained in the letter will be about an earlier-me, and penning the thoughts helped me to figure out what they meant to me at the time.

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?

Being tourists in our own city

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As I write today, a black and white postcard of a photo by Brassaï showing a misty scene of Montmartre in the 30s, sits on my desk, a souvenir from the exhibition we visited Sunday at the FOAM museum. I hope it will inspire me to practice getting more of those atmospheric black and white shots, a challenge to play more with light.

As for colourful inspiration, we also had the chance to dive deeper into amazing art by Van Gogh, Millet and many others, exploring that quiet part of the museum at our own pace, without jostling crowds of tourists to soak up the bright colour palettes.

I am grateful for a great weekend spent being tourists in our own city with my Mum and Walter, filling our well of inspiration and of course we enjoyed many good meals, a wonderful classical concert and fun chats together.

Half the year had flown by

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #136

Half of the year has flown by, summer is in full swing and I find myself looking back at what the last 6 months brough with them, delighted by how much of it I had no inkling when the first days of January rolled around.

I followed a 2 day workshop with Julia Cameron and kept a nearly daily Morning Pages practise since (which is a great support in getting my ideas clear:), I applied for a new position at work, got it and am somehow pulling it off for two months already, I followed two 8-week writing courses and had a lot of fun getting inspired and crafting 13 pieces of stories and poems for class, and I sold a whole bunch of (post)cards with my designs to family, friends, colleagues and friends of friends…

Also, I’ve been lucky to spend lovely afternoons in (botanic) gardens taking pictures of plants, I’ve kept up with boxing practise, I’ve travelled to Cologne, Paris and Sicily to spend time with family and friends, catching up, drinking tea, eating cakes and spent good times and seen cool movies with friends in Amsterdam too. For all of these things and all the other mundane and extraordinary moments, I am extremely grateful! I am also looking forward to what the next months will bring with them.

Whirlwind weekend at home

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We spent Pentecost long weekend at my mum’s place.  The garden was lush with all the rain that has been falling, the bushes were bright green, the herbs were growing strong and the many rose bushes were and heavy with dozens of buds soon about to burst open with colour.

It was whirlwind weekend of catching up with family, eating tasty home-baked cakes, visiting my sister’s new appartment, reading with my cousin’s kids and taking a lovely walk in their neighbourhood, a tailored just-for-us guided tour of the Musée d’Orsay and attending Roland Garros for the first time.  We did so much that a week later, I’m still processing it all:) So grateful to have had the time to enjoy being in the company of my family and having these fun experiences!

Poems in the workplace

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At work, in the past few weeks I’ve read a couple of poems I wrote, out loud, in front of colleagues. If someone had told me a year ago that future me would do that, I would never have believed it. Until February 2019 I had never really written a poem (except maybe in school, but I can’t remember it).  But while taking my creative writing course, a poem suddenly became a format that was less daunting, a possible option in my repertoire like an email or a powerpoint presentation.

As I am moving to my new position at work, I’m changing teams and with new beginnings come goodbyes. I felt a calling to write poems, a voice whispering that it would be good to celebrate the precious collaboration with my colleagues before moving on to a new project. I’m not one to make a speech, but reading aloud some silly rhymes, strangely enough didn’t sound like such a bad idea.

Those poems were not deep, but writing them was a way for me to process the experience and express my gratitude for my awesome colleagues.  In the midst of burnout, I repeatedly felt that the working environment lacks creativity and surprise, everything so grey and serious with meetings, deadlines and KPIs, so I’ve decided I don’t care what people think, I’ll be the change I want to see in the world.

Because if someone else read out a poem during our team meeting I would appreciate their vulnerability and it would make my heart sing.  And I remind myself that in a few months time no one will remember the imperfect rhymes, but I hope that anchored in the moment as I read out those lines, routine was gently shaken and a sliver of creative possibility opened up for everyone listening.

What migraines are teaching me

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #125

I am grateful for migraines. This may seem like a very strange thing to be grateful for considering the extreme pain they bring, leaving me writhing in my bed, eyes closed against the slightest ray of light, each sound magnified, my brain banging incessantly against my skull. You would probably never hear me saying this while I’m in the throes of an actual migraine, but now safely on the other side of a recent one, I can appreciate how migraines are teaching me to respect my limits. To accept what I cannot control. To reset my overachiever expectations of what I should be able to endure and instead practise (again and again) being kind to myself.

In the (not-so-distant) past, I used to resist the migraine, then wish for it to disappear as soon as possible so I could go straight back out into the world. Recently, I’ve decided that the strategy of walking shaky-legged, weak and raw right back into the day to day grind doesn’t work for me, and I believe this reflex has been exhausting me over time. So I’m experimenting with allowing myself a day to recover after the tsunami of the migraine, to rest at home with no obligations. It gives me time to simply rest, find my footing and my appetite again and gather my strength, so I can go back into the world with more appreciation and vitality.

I realise this is not a possibility for everyone, and that I am very privileged to be in a situation where I can take paid sick leave and take time to recover.  However the reason this is a turning point for me is that for many years I believed that to-dos and other tasks had priority. I feared I may be letting people down by taking the proper time I need to get better.  But it turns out that putting my self-care first hasn’t caused the world to stop turning in any way, and I hope this might inspire others to push themselves a little less hard when possible, in order to be more resilient in the long run.

So many things to be grateful for

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #124

I am sitting on my sofa, with the sun streaming through the wide-open window, warming my skin and I am wondering what to write about today.  After a few false starts where I type and delete a couple of paragraphs, I decide to consult my angel cards and see if they have any suggestion about what I should focus on. I shuffle the cards carefully and choose one of the 80 glossy cards from the tiny stack spread out in my left palm, I turn it over and… the word on the card is GRATITUDE!  Hahaha, OK, so much for that;) I guess it is a luxury problem not to know what to concentrate my gratitude on.

So here are a few things from the past days that I am particularly grateful for:

  • having time to write Morning Pages at home while drinking coffee (and feeling light anxiety release its grip when I lean into it and write out my thoughts, making the day ahead so much easier)
  • seeing a gripping and original play about 9/11 terrorist attacks (and the subsequent discussions with Paolo about it)
  • gorgeous sunshine (and enjoying a lovely walk with a dear colleague and her son, discovering favorite spots in their neighbourhood)
  • attending an intimate Q&A with author Kristen Roupenian (and learning all about her approach to the craft of writing, extremely inspiring!)
  • keeping up the rhythm of writing two pages per week (and getting precious feedback from Paolo about which parts work and how to move the piece forward)

Wishing you all a great weekend!

The joy of a random day off

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #123

A few weeks ago I decided to take Monday 1st of April off. There is an event I wanted to attend from 12-13:30 and at first considered cycling there and back on my lunch break from work or taking half a day off, but I didn’t feel like rushing. So I did something unexpected for me: I decided to treat myself and simply take the full day off, just like that;)

It feels so luxurious and wonderful that it makes me question why I don’t do this more often!  I am profoundly grateful for the privilege that I have (the confort of a fixed contract where I get paid leave that I can take without worry). Still, usually there are scarcity voices in my head, warning me that I should use my precious days off to visit family, to travel or that I should save days in case of some potential emergency.

Just anticipating this day off makes my soul feel delighted. Spoiling myself in this very simple way is like a deep breath of fresh spring air and gives me a feeling of prosperity. I’m thinking of making this a tradition for the 1st day of each new quarter:)

Getting my energy back

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #117

This is the season where the hours of daylight get ever so slightly longer after the long Dutch winter.  I’m slightly confused and happily surprised to find it’s not dark at 5pm.  As the days start to get longer, I’m also noticing my energy levels are gradually getting better after many months of struggling with burnout and a sense of constant exhaustion.

So what has changed? I’ve rested, a lot, taking it very easy over the last months.  But also I’m much more aware of what I need, I’m not pushing forward like a robot as much as I used to. In the mornings, I stop to think whether I feel like cycling to work through the hectic city center or whether I feel like choosing the confort of the tram where I can read, look out the window or write my morning pages.  I’m trying to spend less energy worrying about how things will go. I’m saying NO to things that I think will take more energy than I feel I have available, and YES to creative things that make my heart sing or open new horizons.

It’s not perfect, I still get the occasional headache if I don’t give myself a break on time or feel totally drained after a long day… But on the whole I’m putting more regular deposits into my energy bank, doing more things that are good for me and less SHOULDS and I can feel the difference. I’m grateful that the steps I am taking towards healing are bearing their fruits.