Take the pressure off

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I was initially excited at the idea of having lots of free time at home, I started thinking of everything I’d be able to do.  However rather than writing that amazing short story and making an incredible amount of submissions, as well as learning how to draw, the days are just flying by.  Nothing has come of all those plans and instead I’ve been working remotely by day, then on Skype calls with friends and family to attempt to make sense of a situation that none of us ever thought we would experience, and binge-watching episodes of Narcos to empty my mind in the evenings.

I’ve noticed lists circulating of things to fill the days with: crafts to do, films to watch, new skills to learn, and found myself stressing about not doing enough.  I noticed that I have trouble concentrating and am actually spending a lot of energy adjusting to the situation, so now I’m trying to be more mindful of taking the pressure off and letting go of my unrealistic expectations.

I realise this list of tips only makes sense because I am in the privileged position where I can work from home and receive my salary and paid holidays… I am sharing it because it’s been a mind-shift for me over the past couple of weeks and I thought it may speak to others who might also feel the pressure to ‘be making the most of confinement’.

What has helped me the most has been to dial back the DOING and give myself permission to just BE a bit more.

  • Digital detox: Sunday I didn’t connect to internet until my 7 pm skype call with my family.  That morning I didn’t switch on my computer and refresh the news repeatedly and I left my phone out of sight.  I had tasks on my to-do list I couldn’t take care of because they involved being online, so I let go of them for a while reminding myself they were not urgent. It felt very freeing. I want to try and do it one day a week.
  • Sleeping / napping: now is the perfect time to rest – if not now then when? Going to bed earlier and sleeping a little longer in the mornings since I don’t need to commute is great.  I’m glad to catch a few extra ZZZs to compensate for those nights where insomnia comes to visit with its thought-loops. Also naps are an act of resistance, it’s great to be an activist from the comfort of my own bed!
  • Taking a day off work:  I’d been saving my holidays for spring time to go see my family and explore Cornwall by train. But those plans are cancelled for the foreseeable future. I could try to power on through and save my days off to travel later, but the long winter months are behind me and there’s an on-going crisis going on, so right now taking a random day off feels like a gift to myself. I took today off and I think I’ll do it again in the next weeks when needed, to recharge when needed.
  • Doing nothing: I’ve found peace in just sitting on the rug in that square of sunlight flowing through the window, day dreaming freely for a while and letting my thoughts roam…

I’d love to know what has helped you in the past weeks. Please feel free to share in the comments!

A few moments of focus

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #172

This week I met up on a video call with some friends with who I have the joy of practicing mindfulness from time to time. It was heart-warming to share our experiences and observations of this period of crisis.  I must say lately, although in a way I have more time, I feel scattered, my mind still rushing and busy.  Just doing some short meditations together and returning to my body through breathing felt like a gift.

Among the many things we discussed, one person shared a great suggestion, which was to wash our dishes as if we were bathing a baby buddha.  I love this vivid image and how it instinctively reframes my approach to such a mundane task.  I’ve been trying to keep this in mind as I wash my dishes several times a day. Paying attention to get the water to just the right temperature, noticing how the foam feels on my fingers, handling my bowls and dishes more gently…  I’m glad for those few moments of focus, when I am fully in the here and now.

Sitting by the water

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #165

I’m grateful for the blue sky and winter sun, perfect weather for sitting peacefully by the water, without haste. A flock of white geese paddle by, as the sun warms my face. The willow branches sway in the wind.  Two moorhens putter about by the shore, before diving into the water repeatedly and snacking with gusto on their catch.  When a large boat passes by, the water brushes up on the rocks in small waves.  It’s so grounding to be focused on these simple scenes that often escape my attention.

Craving time outdoors

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Today I’m sharing another photo from a lovely walk a few weeks ago in the Utrechtse Heuvelrug.  I love how this tree sticks out of the heather and rises up to the sky with its branches.  Just looking at this picture reminds me of how good it felt to be outdoors, to be brushed by the elements, to feel the temperature shift as the clouds came and went, to be drawn to the amazing details of plants and lichens, to pay attention to the myriad of surprising shapes and textures…

I guess I’m spending a bit too much time at the computer, what with work and writing assignments/submissions, so I’m craving being nature and to slow down, undisturbed by traffic, notifications and other distractions.  I think this weekend I’ll try to make some time for a little forest bathing:)

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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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.

The sound of waking up in Australia

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For my birthday, I received a book of poetry from my Mum, called Two green parrots by Australian poet Anne M Carson. It’s a lovely gift, which my Mum took the time to dedicate to me, that short handwritten note in biro at the front making it so much more personal.

I really enjoy picking it this small volume and reading one or two poems here and there, little stories that draw me back Down Under for a few minutes as I visualise the scene from my memories with sight, smells and sounds.

I especially like her poems about birds. For me the sound of waking up in Australia is amazing, the birds are so much louder than here in Europe and their cries are completely different.  Just hearing them in a movie will bring me right back to where I grew up as a child.  Here is a little extract to give you a sense of how beautifully the poet expresses it:

“Wattle birds wake up raucous.
They don’t murmur their way into day
or carol the growing light.
They ram their voices into the first chink
that opens between dark and dawn, staking claims.
Voice as a lever, they wrench morning open for themselves.”

Extract from: Wattle Birds, Kew
                         Anthochaena carunculata

This inspires me deeply to practise writing about daily scenes around me, playing with words to capture life going on all around me. Merci Maman for this wonderful gift:)

Shooting stars

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #141

This week in the midst of a stomach bug, the general messiness of life and work tension, Paolo had the brilliant idea that we look out for shooting stars one evening, since it is the season for them.

So there we stood on the balcony wearing our jackets and breathing in the cool air in the dark, heads tilted upwards, scanning the sky until my eyes got dry from not blinking and my feet got cold, surrounded by the soft sound of drops from an earlier rainshower rolling off from the trees into the gardens below.

We gazed out above the rooftops full of hope regardless of the light pollution of Amsterdam. We scouted optimistically despite the passing whisps of clouds obscuring the few stars we could see. We sometimes remained in silence and other moments we talked. Twice we were rewarded by the appearance of a bright shooting star! The shared joy of both catching a fleeting glance of bright travelling light was magical.

A Sicilian break

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #135

When this is posted, I will be in Sicily for holidays:) If it is anything like our last trips there, a lot of time will be spent exploring, chilling and eating delicious food:)  I’m looking forward to proper sunshine and summer weather, jumping off the volcanic rocks into the transparent sea, going to the market to buy kilos of juicy plums and peaches that remind me of what fruit should actually taste like, and walking through the small streets soaking up the atmosphere…

During that time I look forward to being very little connected to internet and very much connected to the beauty of the island, Paolo and his family, and everything I will get to discover. I’ll return after a little break from posting.

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.