JOYFUL GRATITUDE #130
Some days all you really need is to hang out with a friend, unrushed, just catching up while taking a leisurely walk around the neighbourhood and supporting a small business (and enjoying delicious vegan cakes in the process;).
Then taking a further stroll through the park even if the weather is grey, watching the birds and marveling at the fresh green of spring leaves, while having inspiring talks about upcoming creative plans and ideas for the next months, and plotting how to keep each other accountable…
JOYFUL GRATITUDE #128
In the spirit of trying to channel inspiration for my writing, I have been making a conscious effort to be more observant of what goes on around me. I am easily overwhelmed when there are too many stimuli and living in a busy city means that there are constantly a million things vying for my attention, as well as the need to be careful of traffic, so most of the time I feel like I am blocking out a lot of my surroundings.
However, I do find opportunities to practice noticing things, like sitting in cafés and people-watching, going for walks in my neighbourhood which is rather quiet or just staring out of the window of the tram. Lately I’ve started jotting down what I see. Nothing fancy, just the date and a few words to remember the details of the scene which can maybe serve as inspiration for my next poem or story.
Here are some recent examples that caught my attention:
- a little boy on a bike wearing a t-shirt, blue shorts and a ski mask, pedalling wildly on the sidewalk
- a gaggle of geese patiently crossing a busy street, head held high and unphased as cars stop to let them pass, and people on the terrasses of cafes watching the spectacle in amusement
- delightful blossoms fallen off a tree onto the pavement, forming a pink carpet in different stages of decomposition
Has any particular scene caught your eye lately? I’d love to hear about it!
Just a few words today about the joy of some quiet time over the weekend, spent sitting on the sofa with a coffee and my laptop, conjuring up my next writing assignment. Starting with a blank page and an image in my mind of a beach scene, engrossed in the challenge of creating a patient third person narrator and some lyrical language, I was completely absorbed and in the flow, so much so that I nearly felt like I should brush the sand off my legs when I was done for the day:)
‘Improving my writing skills’ started popping up regularly on my dream lists last year, so in January I decided to treat myself and use these quiet winter months to follow an 8-week creative writing course.
It is a very fun and interactive class, and it works like this:
- We read in detail a 2 page extract from a published writer, analysing the type of narrator, tone, mood and techniques. Then our homework for the next class consists in writing a 2-page double-spaced piece inspired by the extract. The goal is to try out the techniques that made the extract successful. I love reading, but I hadn’t looked at a text in such detail since I was in high-school. It’s fascinating to see the craft used to have an effect on the reader and how words can take us into another world in no time.
- We critique the piece written by each student. Though this sounds daunting and it is definitely outside my confort zone, it is actually really interesting both when you are critiquing and being critiqued. It’s fascinating to see in real-time how people react to something I’ve written and get feedback from fellow students and the teacher. It helps to see what people liked or didn’t resonate with. I also really love reading what other students have come up with based on the same instructions, the outcomes are so wildly different and amazingly creative.
So each week lately I’ve been spending several hours on my assignment, and I’m enjoying the challenge so much, regularly finding myself in flow. Based on the guidelines, I start getting ideas, jot them down, improve the wording and then it is like a puzzle to manage to rearrange the parts, putting them together so the story flows somewhat logically.
Though it is challenging to stick to just two pages, it’s fun to see how in so little space it’s possible to create a small world, stretching myself to find solutions and iron out the creases as the idea becomes more concrete in my head. The great thing is that having only one week between classes, I just need to squeeze writing time into my schedule and get on with it. Of course my inner critic makes regular appearances but I reassure it that these are ‘just exercises’, so no need to worry;)
The set-up is constructive because it’s a great way just to get something on paper regularly, it doesn’t need to be perfect because with feedback from the others you leave the class with concrete points to improve your piece. This course is definitely one of the most fun things I’ve done lately!
JOYFUL GRATITUDE #115
January has come and gone, with its short days and a bit of snow sprinkled here and there. It turned out to be a month for getting more grounded, with indoor activities like making mood boards, journaling, reading and writing. It feels like ‘maintenance’ on myself to recharge and set a good basis for the months to come.
A recurring theme has been creativity. I am grateful for Paolo and my friends’ encouragement as I take steps outside my comfort zone. I’m glad to be stretching myself and trying new things which I believe will help me to grow in unexpected ways.
Lately I’ve noticed how when I give creativity some more attention, it starts to infuse everything. Taking the tram to the office becomes a chance to observe people and become aware of how the city is changing, rather than just a boring commute. Sitting in meetings at work is like watching improv theater, unscripted human interaction in an ecosystem complete with its unwritten rules and often incongruous behaviours. Cleaning the bathroom becomes a quiet time to search for memories hidden deep in my brain as inspiration for my next writing assignment. I can’t wait to see where these creative paths will lead me…
JOYFUL GRATITUDE #101
Today I am grateful for the fact that as humans we have the capacity to imagine and create a better world. Since JOYFUL GRATITUDE 101 sounds like the name of an introduction course, I started to imagine over the last few days what the world might look like if practicing gratitude was taught as a class in schools and universities, rather than a topic we gleaned from self-help books later on in life.
Imagine if practicing gratitude was presented to young people as an important activity for mental health, just like doing regular sport is for physical health? What if a fraction of the time spent on advanced math, was dedicated instead to learning how it is beneficial to take time to appreciate everything we have?
Imagine if instead of fixating on what we were lacking, we learnt early on to shift our focus onto what we are blessed with. Imagine if we learnt from a young age the subversive act of mindfully resisting the feeling of scarcity and FOMO, and trained ourselves to zoom in more systematically to all that we do have going for us.
Maybe it could help turn tough periods into slightly easier times (particularly adolescence and being a young adult, but also later in life) and allow us to more readily reframe the messages we constantly receive from (social) media and advertising about how we are not enough. Maybe it would allow people to bring their precious creative gifts more freely into the world. Maybe it would create space to be aware of and help those who are not as privileged. Probably there are many other side effects I cannot even dream up.
At this stage I don’t have the keys to change the education system, so all I can do is ‘be the change I want to see’ at my own level. I’m loving writing weekly about the big and small things I am grateful for, and hope maybe it can inspire some readers out there:) Even so, to be honest I still easily get sucked into feelings of scarcity and comparison if I don’t watch my mind, so I’m trying my best to be mindful over and over again about looking out for the good things.
I’d love to hear your thoughts, how has practising gratitude impacted you?
JOYFUL GRATITUDE #88
Last week I came across this TED talk which I really enjoyed. It put into words what I have intuitively felt and developped with this blog: how paying attention to beautiful, colourful things around us brings joy and can make such a difference to how we feel.
Photographing beautiful plants and colours is something that I am spontaneously drawn to and where I find myself in flow, so it was interesting also to realise that certain things are universally joyful and understand the reasons why. It also shed some light on why the bright colours of the buildings in Lisbon bring me so much joy:)
Check out the TED playlists, such as How to notice and build joy into your life, for wise words and inspiration…
Our trip to Lisbon was great! It was wonderful to have 9 days to explore the city slowly, having the time to head out without a real plan and just discover new places or return to ones we particularly liked, soaking up the atmospheres of different neighbourhoods.
Now that we’re back in Amsterdam, I can feel the benefits of having had some time off, I feel lighter and in a better mood. Also in a way the trip is not entirely over since I now have the joy of quietly letting all the impressions of the past days sink in: the tastes, colours, smells, conversations, laughs… It always takes me some time to process all the experiences from when I travel, to reflect on them in my journal and see what inspiration and ideas come up.
JOYFUL GRATITUDE #83
I am deeply grateful for having every Friday off. Today I am alone at home, the appartment is completely quiet, there is nowhere I need to be. I am enjoying a cup of coffee and I can slowly come back to myself and process the many experiences that string together to form every ordinary week.
Usually in the morning on my day off my thoughts are a-flurry, then little by little they calm down and new channels seem to open in mind, unrelated topics start to come together and ideas that hadn’t properly been worked through take on a new meaning.
Working 4 days in a busy office and then being off for 3 days is for me a much better balance and I can really feel the difference. I feel like I have much more time to recharge as an introvert and that gives me space to do things that are important to me, and in the end that is what life is all about!
Fun things to do on a day off:
I’m back home after this wonderful escapade to France and Italy, and I feel like I’ve been away for ages though it’s only been 2 weeks. It’s a pleasure to be back in the flat that smells like natural soap and find that all my plants have survived perfectly despite the cold. I feel energised and inspired. Being away and seeing new horizons has taken my mind off the day-to-day and it feels like new spaces have opened up in my mind. I can hear more clearly that small voice saying “I want more exploration and curiosity, less stress, more adventures, more creativity and connection with those dearest to me”.
Every year for the past 5 years (or maybe even more??) I’ve chosen a word to guide and inspire me throughout the year. After my 2017 epiphany, I’ve realised one word may be too vague, so this year I’ve decided to experiment with a couple of words to see if that helps:) My guiding words for 2018 are GENTLE ALIGNMENT. What exactly that will look like, I don’t yet know… All I can say is I hope to make tiny steps and adjustments so every day I can find inspiration from all different sources, as well as many laughs and fun and sparks of joy!
What word(s) will guide you in 2018??