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.

Following the spark of curiosity

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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.

Changing mindset

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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:)

Is this what you call gentle??

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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!

An oasis of peace in Amsterdam

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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