Yearning for more calm

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #157

With the air being cold and crisp, as well as night falling around 4.30 pm, my body feels ready to go into full hibernation mode.  All I seem to want to do is curl up and rest deeply for a while, with no obligations and nowhere to rush to.

However life has other plans. Instead of winding down, the weeks leading up to xmas feel very full, despite a more simple approach to gift giving and my efforts to prioritise by consciously saying NO. Probably because of the holiday now being so close, I feel like I have no more energy to give.

So I am grateful for the privilege of having some proper time off over the xmas period.  While I’m in France, I’m really looking forward to the quiet days at home with my family.  I foresee lots of sleeping in, cooking and eating good food all together, watching movies under soft blankets and catching up over steaming mugs of tea.

Serendipity and writing opportunities

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #155

Recently during a meeting at work I mentioned to a colleague of mine that I do creative writing in my free time and it just so happened that she was looking for submissions for a project about Amsterdam.  As I’ve actively decided to seize the opportunities that come across my path and aim to do at least two submissions per month, I asked her for the guidelines and promised I’d send her a piece.

Even though working on this creative non-fiction piece really stretched me, I thoroughly enjoyed the process. I am very grateful for this chance, as each concrete assignment helps me to practise working within certain guidelines and to improve my skills.

I also really appreciate the serendipity of hearing about this project just now that dare to call myself a writer in the presence of other people:-)  Here’s hoping that there will be lots of interesting coincidences and writing opportunities in the near future!

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…

Taking time to just be

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #153

Last Sunday I kept an entire day free of plans, so that I could recharge my batteries.  I had some work to do on my writing assignment and plenty of other to-dos, but I decided to first take some time for myself.

I spent an hour meditating, sitting in silence and trying to focus only on my breathing (which in reality ended up being more like becoming aware of my incessant thoughts and letting them come and go).  It felt like a reset for my overstimulated brain, a welcome break from constant inputs.

Afterwards, since the sun made a welcome appearance after some very rainy days, I took the chance to go for a slow walk in the neighbourhood. I did my best to stay as much as possible on the sunny side of the street to soak up lots of vitamine D and watched people enjoying the good weather as I ambled along.

The autumn colours were beautiful, with colourful leaves holding tight to their branches and covering the pavement.  I also enjoyed observing the details of the last flowers remaining in people’s gardens, like this purple flower with its silky petals emerging from the strange black and green pod, and the petals around the remnants of this bordeaux-coloured flower.

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On setting boundaries

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #152

Today want to express gratitude to the Universe for kindly giving me plenty of opportunities lately to practice setting my boundaries.  I often wish it was a one time thing, that you just set your boundaries once and for all, and then they were there, stable and protective forever.

However it is not so, and I keep realising that I have to figure out my boundaries anew.  Which makes sense of course, because I am constantly learning and evolving, what I may once have accepted no longer feels OK or that the ‘should’ that pressured me in the past is clearly not my monkey to take.

Setting boundaries is hard for me as a people pleaser. Speaking up about what doesn’t work for me is a weak set of muscles that need to be trained, over and over again.  I would love to say that with all this practice I’ve got it figured out, but I keep on struggling to hear the truth my intuition whispers to me, amongst the noise of ‘I should’ and ‘might be cool’. Actually, I don’t want ‘cool’ and if I find that I’m trying to convince myself to do something, I realise I’m pushing my boundaries and I am the only person who can respect them for me.

When I set my boundaries it is far from elegant, I find it scary to put my needs out there, not knowing how people will react.  But regardless of the way my message is delivered, it does feel empowering when I identify my boundaries and stick up for myself.  I have to keep reminding myself the short-term effort is worth it for my future self.

Half-day holiday in Utrecht

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #151

It turns out it doesn’t take much more than a few hours exploring another city on a quiet weekday morning to get a holiday vibe:-) I am grateful for a wonderful half-day spent in Utrecht with my friend Eva. Our initial plan was to go and visit the Oude Hortus (the old botanic garden) and we made it, though not before making a few spontaneous stops on our way through the city center.

We spent a perfect slow morning sipping delicious coffee in a cosy spot, then finding treasures in a great second hand shop, before enjoying a tasty lunch and chatting as the rain poured down outside. When the sun came out again, perfectly timed with the end of our lunch, we headed over to the Oude Hortus and strolled through the lovely garden showing off its autumn colours.  We also explored the laid-back green houses, home to succulents, cacti, waterplants and giant ferns. I felt my senses come alive with the smells of soft fuzzy japanese citrus fruit, the incredible textures of the plants, the splashes of sunlight falling on the foliage.

Mushroom season

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #150

In the past few weeks, I’ve been thoroughly enjoying mushroom season, not so much for eating them as for observing them.  I am blown away by the sheer number of different types I had the chance of coming across, from the typical red ones with white spots that you see in cartoons to the sponge mushrooms, from clusters of tiny mushrooms on a mossy tree stump to orange ones pushing up from the ground, from ones that look to me like bread buns straight out of the oven (like these two photos from a lovely walk this week the Amsterdamse Bos) to wise mushrooms that stand mindfully, unphased by what goes on around them.  I’m very grateful of the diversity of nature that keeps on surprising me and especially for having had some quality time lately to be outdoors and wander, without being in a rush, eyes peeled for these astonishing shapes.

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Short trip to the Hoge Veluwe

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #149

I am just back from a few beautiful days in the Hoge Veluwe with Paolo where we had the joy of exploring the National Park and the surroundings of Hoenderloo by bike. Of course, mid-October in the Netherlands there is no guarantee with the weather and we did get soaked a few times, but on the whole it was not cold and we even got some sunshine here and there.  The key was simply to be equipped with good rain gear at all times;)

Actually Autumn is a great time to go because of the amazing colours.  The trees are shifting to orange and yellow, bright leaves strewn on the undergrowth and there are bursts of colours everywhere. I am also obsessed with the many different mushrooms popping up all over the place on the forest floor and at the foot of trees (prepare yourself to see many pictures of them here in the next posts;). It was a wonderful breath of fresh air and a good reminder that just a couple of hours from Amsterdam by bus and train we can easily immerse ourselves in stunning nature.

Wall of art

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #148

Last Thursday, at work, we had our annual talent show.  The acts were fantastic, often poking fun at the absurdities of our organisation and we laughed a lot. I love seeing colleagues showing up in a new light and being vulnerable. It’s heartwarming and a lovely way to get to know colleagues just a little bit more.

I contributed some photos to the wall of art and I really enjoyed this mini-exhibition alongside the pieces of my talented photographer, painter, illustrator and sculptor colleagues. For me, it was particularly interesting to see my pictures printed, as opposed to only on screen, to note how the details and colours work in the physical photograph.

I’m grateful that we have this opportunity to celebrate people’s artistic qualities and discover what they like to do in their free time. If it was up to me we would do many more creative activities in the workplace;)

Prioritising down time

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #147

After participating in the climate strike last week, I felt a deep need to rest.  Luckily I had guarded my free time in the weekend like a watchdog and had scheduled a full day and a half with no absolutely zero plans, no where to go and no one to meet.  I realise how privileged I am to have so much free time, and I am very grateful for that.

I know I write a lot about how much I like quiet time, so if it sounds repetitive feel free to skip this post.  However I will continue to write about it because sometimes it’s important to stop and observe.  We live in this flurry of a world where everything is a click away and instant notifications increasingly pull at our attention, where we feel we should satisfy everyone who wants a piece of our time and FOMO is just around the corner making it extremely hard to say NO to things.  In this context, I want to normalise carving out down time for ourselves. I want to be able to say “I am available that day, but actually I prefer to rest” without feeling like I’m letting people down. Because really, even if I were say YES to everything, there would still be people I let down, and more importantly I would be letting myself down by not getting the down time I need to recharge my batteries.

In that day and a half, I did things that were important to me, like writing, and I did them without being in a rush, with enough time to procrastinate by baking a delicious apple cake, stare mindlessly out the window and write three different drafts of my assignment before choosing the first one after all…  On Sunday evening, I realised I was still in my pyjamas and went straight back to bed in them. It was perfect.  On Monday morning, I felt completely renewed. Those sleep-ins and taking time to reflect while pyjama-lounging on the sofa set me off to a positive start of the next week and I had more energy to give to those around me.