Mindful walk in the Amsterdamse Bos

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I’ve been enjoying some time off to explore near and further afield in the Netherlands.  Last week, I took a walk in the Amsterdamse Bos which is just a 10 minute bike ride away from my house. Initially, I was disappointed, having just returned from the Hoge Veluwe I was expecting lots of colourful mushrooms on the side of the path, but this was not the case.

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As often happens with expectations, it was just a question of realising I was holding on too tightly to them and letting them go. I reminded myself this is a different ecosystem and I should stay curious and keep walking along patiently. In the end, the mushrooms turned out to be much more discrete. Either a multitude of teeny tiny ones on a dead stump, or huge ones that push up from the ground covered in leaves and therefore harder to spot.

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I also tried to alternate looking very close up for details and staring out over the fields at the autumn colours and menacing clouds on the horizon.  It always takes a while to get into the creative flow and start to ‘see’ patterns, textures, combinations…

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My favorite find was this tiny little snail, perfectly camouflaged amongst the seed pods of this plant. Can you see it? Such a gorgeous colour combination!

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.

Getting my energy back

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #117

This is the season where the hours of daylight get ever so slightly longer after the long Dutch winter.  I’m slightly confused and happily surprised to find it’s not dark at 5pm.  As the days start to get longer, I’m also noticing my energy levels are gradually getting better after many months of struggling with burnout and a sense of constant exhaustion.

So what has changed? I’ve rested, a lot, taking it very easy over the last months.  But also I’m much more aware of what I need, I’m not pushing forward like a robot as much as I used to. In the mornings, I stop to think whether I feel like cycling to work through the hectic city center or whether I feel like choosing the confort of the tram where I can read, look out the window or write my morning pages.  I’m trying to spend less energy worrying about how things will go. I’m saying NO to things that I think will take more energy than I feel I have available, and YES to creative things that make my heart sing or open new horizons.

It’s not perfect, I still get the occasional headache if I don’t give myself a break on time or feel totally drained after a long day… But on the whole I’m putting more regular deposits into my energy bank, doing more things that are good for me and less SHOULDS and I can feel the difference. I’m grateful that the steps I am taking towards healing are bearing their fruits.

Counter-intuitive

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Lately I’ve been noticing a pattern whereby when I react to things counter-intuitively, I am positively surprised by the ease of the outcome. In the spirit of my words of the year IT WILL WORK, here are some examples to remind myself when I am tempted to go back into autopilot!

  • When I have lots of things to do and start to feel overwhelmed and exhausted, my tendency is to panic and tackle random tasks immediately like a headless chicken, leading only to more stress.
    Instead, when I stop, go for a walk to get some fresh air, have a nap or read a book, I find that after I am better able to prioritise and that there is always plenty more time to do things later.  Taking some distance, then focusing on the most important next task creates space for the rest (and it turns out lots of things are less urgent than they seem!)
  • When I feel an emotion I don’t like, such as sadness or anger, my go-to reaction is ignore and numb it, filling my thoughts with anything as long as I don’t have to feel it.
    Instead, I am trying to become more aware of the emotion, to lean in and feel the feelings and be curious about what triggered it. Usually if I just acknowledge it, the emotion will disappear surprisingly fast as the next one comes along.
  • When my inner voice is telling me that I am letting people down or I worry that I am not enough, I just want to retreat and avoid people.
    Instead if I have a chat with a friend or a colleague, I’m always reminded of our shared humanity, that I am OK just as I am however much (or however little) I am able to do. Turns out others don’t have unrealistic expectations of me like my inner-critic does.

I’m curious if there are other counter-intuitive reactions you have come across. Please share in the comments, I’d love to read about it! 🙂

Inspiration is everywhere

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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…

It will work

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #114

I’ve finally chosen the words that will guide me for 2019: IT WILL WORK. It’s not quite as poetic as the words most people choose, but after lots of reflection, this is what I’ll go for.

What I mean by IT WILL WORK is that for 2019 I want to spend less time assuming that things will go wrong and reduce the energy I tend to waste on ‘what if’ scenarios, trying to anticipate everything that may not work. I commit to showing up and doing my part by being organised and speaking my truth, and next to that I’ll let go and have faith that things will go as they should.

Already in the last couple of weeks I’ve noticed a positive shift, a feeling of ease in little daily things and bigger events that would have caused me some worry not so long ago. I am grateful for the feeling that these things now seemed to have happened seamlessly or at least with a great deal less stress than usual.  I have the feeling I will channel that worrying energy to more useful (creative!) purposes:)

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I wrote about my word(s) from the previous years in the links below:
2018 – GENTLE ALIGNMENT
2017 – GROW

Everything is intertwined

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The end of the year has arrived, bringing with it some quiet days. I’ve been reviewing this whole year and taking a step back to journal and reflect on the 12 last months, as well as look at what is coming next. For me 2018 was both incredibly tough and very healing. It’s always the same, we have to go through the dark woods to feel better on the other side. Despite the difficult times, I’m grateful for the learning that 2018 brought me.

Like the teeny tiny spiderweb threads, intertwined in the ‘fingers’ of this plant, everything is linked: maintaining boundaries, slowing down, experimenting, generosity, being true to our authentic self, mindfulness and acceptance, letting go of perfectionism and busy-ness, cultivating creative practices, self-compassion… I’m still not out of the dark woods, but I know that giving attention to one aspect opens space and possibility for another as they build on each other step by step.

I’m looking forward to what 2019 will bring. I hope that I can apply the lessons learnt in 2018 for more smooth sailing and I trust that there are exciting times up ahead:)  I wish you all a wonderful new year!!!

Beautiful forest details

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Just a five minute drive from the house where I grew up, there is a forest where I love to take walks.  There are several options: you can take the tarmac path straight into the heart of the forest, you can explore muddy side paths or you can walk right at the foot of the trees, your shoes sinking with each step into the deep layers of fallen leaves.

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Today I mostly ignored the paths and spent the morning deep in the humid undergrowth, guided by every splash of colour or unusual shape, looking at the tiniest details to see what I could find. I was welcomed by trees, mushrooms, mosses and lichens of all types, as well as slugs patiently gliding along and snacking on mushrooms.

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On my treasure hunt for beauty, there was just the sound of birds calling to each other. I felt perfectly in the moment, taking in all the beautiful colours and textures.  I experimented with photographing what I came across, until my jeans were dirty and humid from kneeling down to get close to the forest floor.

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Forest bathing is so healing. Looking at myself in the mirror when I got home I was glowing like I’d just had a long nap or a restorative massage, my body kindly reminding me, yet again, that I should surround myself with nature more often:)

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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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A step back to reflect

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #104

Today marks 2 years of writing weekly about JOYFUL GRATITUDE, so like last year I am taking a step back to reflect a little on this practice. 

Writing the weekly post has the benefit of bringing me joy by re-living the moment and exploring what it was exactly that delighted me. Recognising those special moments helps to consciously create more of them in the busy day to day rush.  

I’d like to bring up one point however. It may seem when reading the weekly posts like everything is always rosy, as I focus on the good times, creating something  that may seem like a mismatch between real life and my tone here. In reality, I am struggling like everyone. Though I realise I am very privileged, I must still work hard to find mental balance and peace.

This weekly practice is an exercise in training my mind to zoom in on the positive, big and small things that bring me gratitude. Like everyone I struggle with bad moods, fear and doubt, but there is also a wise voice in me, like in all of us, and I trust that by writing regularly here, this voice is somehow guiding me step by step. I am deeply grateful for this voice tapping into a deep pool of wisdom somewhere beneath the surface:)

When having a quick look at the main themes that came up over the last year, there were no surprises. The top 3 can be categorised like this:
     1. Nature / Outdoors / Plants
     2. Quiet time / Reflection
     3. Mindfulness / Self-care

So that’s where I’ll continue to focus on the coming months:) Tell me, what will your focus be?