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
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:)
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.
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.
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.
JOYFUL GRATITUDE #131
In August last year when I was on the edge or in burnout, everything felt like too much. I wanted to do fun things that interested me, but I just had no mental space for anything except the bare minimum (which was pretty much only work). I realised this week that in the last months I’m starting to find more joy again in extra activities, like boxing, and helping colleagues who are performing the gender scan in our organisation, and of course writing…
I want to stop and appreciate how far I’ve come and how much better I feel, especially since there were moments when I deeply feared I would never feel like I had energy again. It’s not perfect, I still experience nights where I lie awake too long or anxious mornings, but I feel like by being more mindful of self-care, I’ve managed to carve out some space for the things that I enjoy or spark my curiosity. These activities do take some energy, but in return they also give me satisfaction and a feeling of contributing with my input and voice to a slightly lighter and more joyful world.
JOYFUL GRATITUDE #129
I am grateful for an intense and satisfying week in my new position at work. It was one of those weeks where you start out feeling very uncertain and clueless and then look back flabbergasted at how much you learned over the course of the last few days (whilst at the same time becoming more aware of how much there still is to figure out!)
This week I consciously tried to shift from that inner-voice that repeats like a broken record “I have no idea how to do this, what if I don’t manage and let them down!!!” to “what is the next small step I could take to move this forward? I’m curious how that will pan out”.
This is a major change for me. It starts with getting really mindful about how I am feeling, especially when anxiety holds me in its grip, making me double guess everything. It takes deep breathing and scraggly morning pages (or should I call them morning rants?) scrawled hurriedly on the tram in my green moleskine notebook. It takes the leap of faith to just show up every day, believing IT WILL WORK… and in the end, it turns out having that approach brings just a little more ease to everything.
And now, some quiet time on the weekend, to process all this info and emotions:)
GENTLE ALIGNMENT. Those were the 2 words I chose to guide me for 2018. Already at the end of 2017 I could feel that I was drained, something needed to shift and I needed to make some changes to be more aligned with my true self. The reality was I had no idea how much I had drifted nor how to get aligned again.
This year turned out to be full of exhaustion, frustration and deep questioning. Many tears were cried, hundreds of pages were filled in my journals to try and process my conflicting emotions, to feel them and get through to the other side of the dark woods.
I was reflecting with a friend recently about my words of the year and I mentioned how I felt like it hadn’t really been GENTLE at all. To which she rightly pointed out, that if I hadn’t added the word GENTLE it would possibly have been even more brutal.
The flip side of the coin was that being burnt-out meant I had to surrender, to let go, to rest. It was a powerful lesson in giving up my usual ways of reacting. I have to learn a new, more sustainable way of looking out for myself and my boundaries. Maybe the word GENTLE refers more to how I should focus on treating myself in the midst of this confusion as I try to get aligned again:)
Things I have learned the hard way:
- I need to stop pushing myself. The overachiever in me has helped me get this far but when I push myself out of alignment, too far from my values and deepest desires, it exhausts me and does not serve me in the long run
- I need to balance the parts inside me that want freedom and that want stability
- I need to look for what makes my heart sing and brings me joy, as these will give me energy
- I will practice saying my TRUTH more and experiment with daring to ask for what I need (this is going to be especially vital in the next months as I return to the office, build up my working hours again and figure out where to go from here)
Of course things are not so easy, it’s not like I will never make those mistakes again…. but hopefully I will be reminded of the lessons learnt in this period and slip less easily into misalignment.
Coming up soon, my words of the year for 2019 and why I chose them!
As the city of Amsterdam gets more and more full of tourists, one place I love to escape to for fresh air and a quiet afternoon is the Botanic garden in Zuidas. Surrounded by modern buildings, it’s a lovely oasis of calm hidden within the bustling heart of the business district.
I really appreciate that the entrance is free of charge, making it accessible for anyone to come and discover their incredible collection of plants. While I was there last I also saw several patients in wheelchairs coming from the nearby hospital for a change of scenery.
There is an incredible diversity of plants making each visit a new experience as the seasons change. Last time thanks to the Indian summer, there were still a multitude of flowers blooming in October.
It’s always a pleasure to slowly walk around, spot new plants and take in the details of the various species. The splashes of colour bring me so much joy.
It’s a real celebration for the senses with all the different colours, intriguing textures and unusual shapes. The perfect way to be in the moment and feel grounded.
Tired of shopping for presents just before Christmas in overcrowded shops? There’s nothing wrong with presents as such, but I feel like the pressure to buy gifts pushes us towards quick fixes that are not always satisfying. There has to be a better way, right?
As with everything, I believe it is possible to make the whole experience much more energising and sustainable, both for the person giving and the one receiving:) By being more mindful, we end up with intentional gifts and stories that lead to more fun and greater connection.
- Experience gifts: They are the norm among my family and friends for several years already compared to material gifts. It’s a chance to offer someone an experience, based on their interests that they will remember and cherish, rather than just one more object. You can make it as cheap or expensive as you like (a home cooked meal or time spent together are great options).
Over the last years, I’ve given tickets to concerts, escape rooms and plays, offered vouchers for massages, made vouchers to spend creative time with friends and family…
TIP: if it is an activity for several people, plan a date immediately with all participants, so you have something to look forward to!
- Secret Santa: instead of buying gifts for everyone, organise a secret santa so you can focus on getting a quality gift for just one person
TIP: get people to be very specific about that they want so you get them a gift that makes their heart sing (see below on Receiving).
- Support small businesses: If you are buying material gifts (jewelry, clothes, decoration items…), think of this as an opportunity to support small/local businesses that make you enthusiastic and for who your purchase will make a difference, leading to a happy dance.
TIP: Keep a list of the small craft businesses/independent brands you come across all year around at local craft markets, Etsy or social media, so you can recall them when you need a gift.
- Books: Buy from independent bookstores, this is the chance to browse through all those lovely covers and keep local bookstores alive
TIP: Experiment with books that you don’t know but are drawn to, discover new voices or authors from other countries
- Wrapping: no need to spend money on new rolls of wrapping paper, just recycle newspapers or old magazines.
TIP: Try to personalise the wrapping paper for the recipient (it is a very mindful activity for winter nights:)
Actually reducing the number of physical presents received is quite a lengthy process as culturally we feel we should not to come ’empty handed’. In the past, I’ve written emails to family and talked with friends to try and gracefully explain that I value experiences over material gifts. Slowly the idea is making its way and I have the secret conviction that it will inspire them too;) The experiences I received and participated in were super fun and created memories I’ll not forget like going to London for an incredible workshop with my favorite author or exploring the Japanese gardens with friends:)
Another idea is instead of people searching for a gift, to tell them upfront you would prefer to receive some money for you to give to your favorite charity. Alternatively, you can ask the person to use the money they would have spent on your gift on their favorite charity or to support their favorite artist on Patreon. They have more say on where the money goes and it is a win-win for everyone.
I’d love to hear more ideas! How do will you make your Xmas shopping more intentional this year?
Some days even the most basic things seem overly complicated in my mind and something as simple as attempting to ‘breathe mindfully’ during morning meditation feels unnatural and forced. However I’ve realised there is one thing that I can count on to calm me and bring me back to myself: taking photos of details.
The biggest effort is to head out the door with my camera. Once that is done I let myself be guided by my eyes around the streets near my house or in one of the nearby parks. Looking closely at my surroundings (mainly plants, I admit;) ) I feel this curiousity and a desire to see as if for the first time, and my breathing steadies and deepens naturally as I snap the shots.
Often such an outing results in a few dozen blurry, uninteresting pictures which I can delete again as soon as I get home. Other times in a batch of pictures there are a few that make my heart sing, perfectly imperfect shots of unexpected details I’d never previously noticed or bright flowers and leaves that brighten a grey afternoon.
But I’ve realised that the photos themselves are not the point. I’m learning to trust in the process. It is not about the pictures I take but about getting out of the house to focus on something I deeply love to do, remembering how it feels like to be in flow regardless of the outcome. It is my body’s way of sending me hopeful messages that it still knows how to feel at ease when I am doing what is in line with my heart’s wishes. Now, how to apply this wisdom to other realms of my life??