An oasis of peace in Amsterdam

IMG_7007

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.

IMG_7018

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.

IMG_7036

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.

IMG_7021

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.

IMG_7075

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.

IMG_7069

A step back to reflect

IMG_7253

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?

Nature’s details

In September, I had the pleasure to spend a few days in nature in the Veluwe to disconnect. One of the things I noticed was how as I walked in the forest with no rush, all sorts of delightful details were reaching my senses. It was like a treasure hunt for autumn beauty.

Apart from the impressive sponge mushroom, I came across quite a few other types of funghi but none as cute as this one with a gorgeous orange stem, illuminated by a ray of sunlight in the undergrowth.

IMG_6638

The pattern created by the shadows of these leaves on the tree trunk are so delicate and reminded me of the elegant patterns on a kimono. So simple and beautiful!

IMG_6634

All along my walks, I also encountered lots of these common beetles with their iridescent blue-black shells, which were progressing with incredible speed and determination compared to my laid-back pace.  As I sat quietly at the foot of a tree to take a break, I could even hear the soft sound as the beetles made their way through the dry leaves on the ground.

IMG_6603

Experiments in single-tasking

IMG_6928

Rationally I know that multitasking is bad, but I feel this constant drive to get more done and on the surface it seems that by doing several things at once I can reach that goal.  Also combining something boring (like cleaning) with something more fun (like listening to a podcast) makes it seem possible to squeeze some enjoyment into any task however tedious.

Lately however, I realised that I was having major concentration problems and often I actually didn’t fully enjoy the fun thing because I wasn’t really focussed on it.  More frightening was that I could tell I was numbing, multitasking is a way to automatically fill the void, where otherwise my thoughts would rush around my brain like it was a pinball machine, triggering fears, desires and anxiety all over the place.

This voice inside me kept pulling at my sleeve and pointing out that I was craving quiet, long stretches of uninterruped silence, away from the busy-ness so I could have space to make some sense of my thoughts.  So I have decided to test whether making a conscious effort to mindfully do one thing at a time will allow my thoughts have more space to roam free and be heard.

These are the daily activities I want to focus on by single-tasking:

  • drinking my coffee (without journalling at the same time)
  • talking with Paolo (without my phone or computer nearby, ready to switch focus)
  • working on one thing at a time until it is finished (without stopping as soon as it gets hard to pick up a shiny new task)
  • cleaning (without listening to a podcast)
  • doing the dishes (without talking on the phone)
  • writing a blog post (without interrupting the flow to consult other internet pages)
  • cooking (without a TED video on in the background)
  • going for a walk (without taking pictures… well I might still multitask sometimes on this one, as I still want a few nice photos to illustrate these posts 😉

I’ll write about whether I notice any effects in a follow-up post after experimenting for some time.

Tell me, what activities do you make a conscious effort to single-task on?

Healing walks in the Amsterdamse Bos

IMG_6962

JOYFUL GRATITUDE #99

The Indian summer we are enjoying in Amsterdam at the moment is amazing.  I’ve been taking long healing walks through the Amsterdamse Bos, just listening to the breeze rustling through the leaves of the majestic trees which are turning all shades of orange and yellow, quietly observing the ducks, moorhens, herons and other birds go about their business undisturbed on the water, journalling as the sun warms my skin.  I am so grateful to have what feels like an unexpected extra shot of summer to charge up on fresh air and invigorating sunshine.

Tiny apples

IMG_6771

JOYFUL GRATITUDE #97

When life gives you tiny little apples from the garden, make apple sauce.

The act of peeling multitudes of these small apples is perfect for being in the moment.  You can’t rush otherwise you peel away half the apple, you need to focus because there are spoiled bits that need to be carefully chopped off, you need to accept that it will take the time it takes…  The result is totally worth it: a delicious and sweet compote de pommes and a quiet mind.

*****

Thanks to my fellow apple-picker and hand model Helena.

Mental cane toad invasion

IMG_1036
‘Swallow your frogs’ is a tip found in many articles about how to be efficient, meaning you should tackle the important task that you are dreading the most as soon as you start work in order to have the satisfaction of having tricked procrastination and achieved something concrete that you can proceed to cross off your to-do list.  I’ve often followed that advice and generally it works for me.

However, in the past few months, I’ve been struggling with stress and exhaustion.  I realised that a great deal of the tasks I needed to do at work daily had turned into ‘frogs’.  I kept hoping that the frogs linked to my job position would eventually turn into princes, or at least become more manageable as I gained experience, but they didn’t and I felt more and more overwhelmed.

The frogs were also following me home, in the evenings I couldn’t switch off the constant croaking of all the work thoughts and worries going on in my head and I sometimes lay awake at night. I found it increasingly hard to focus and make any type of decision, big or small, and anxiety started rearing its head. Things that previously I considered routine tasks now felt complex and inachievable. It was like my mind was being overtaken by a cane toad invasion.

For those not familiar with the cane toad, it is a species that was introduced in Australia in the 1930s in an attempt to eradicate pests in sugar cane fields, but instead became a pest itself because its venom kills any animal that attemps to eat it, meaning it has no natural predators.  Over the years, it has multiplied and is upstoppably making its way across the whole of Australia doing devastating damage to local ecosystems.

The cane toads of my mind were advancing beyond my boundaries, feasting off long meetings, stress, incessant skype messages and other notifications, frustrations and extreme self-doubt.  Though I did my best to regularly practice mindfulness, breathe and take care of myself, it was like those efforts were native marsupials being wiped out by the cane toads.

So after pushing myself for several months to continue working, while attempting to cover up the shame of being less efficient and struggling to beat the evil cane toads in my mind, I’ve decided to take time out to recover.  I’m not entirely sure how I will transform the cane toads back to frogs or even into cuddly koalas, I am going to figure it out step by step over the next weeks and months. For now rest and self-care are my priority.

*****

By the way, I don’t know what species the animal in the photo is. It was taken in Thailand, I’d love to know more about it if anyone knows:)

Self-care checklist

IMG_6555

A simple checklist to remind me of the basics today, and every day:

  • Breathe.
  • Take a few minutes to check in with yourself.
  • Loosen your jaw. Puff up your cheeks like a blowfish.
  • Listen to your body (Are you thirsty? Do you need to pee? Do you need to stretch? Do those things now)
  • Remember everyone struggles with the same questions and fears. You are not alone.
  • Take your eyes away from the screen, look out the window for a few minutes (really LOOK out the window. What do you see?)
  • Be gentle to yourself (What would you say to your little sister if she were in this situation? Say it to yourself.).
  • Put things into perspective (Will this be of any importance whatsoever in a month or a year’s time?).
  • Be ok with not feeling ok. Emotions come and go like waves.
  • Go for a breather or a quick walk outside.
  • Remember: you are enough.
  • Breathe.

What do you have on your list?

Meditating in the morning

IMG_6431

JOYFUL GRATITUDE #91

At the beginning of this year, I followed a mindfulness course for eight weeks and thanks to the accountability of my fellow class mates I managed to make time to meditate daily for a few months. I tried my best to keep up these good habits afterwards, but little by little the habit slipped and I was not as regular in my practice.

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve reminded myself of the benefits regular meditation had and I’ve been consciously making more of an effort to take those ten or fifteen minutes in the morning to calm my mind and come back to myself.  I’m grateful that I can dedicate time to my self-care before heading off into the busy world, so I can be more present to what is going on in and around me.

Tiny pineapples

IMG_4971

JOYFUL GRATITUDE #79

Just a short post to celebrate this branch that looks like it has tiny little pineapples growing on the end of it.  As we took a long walk through the dunes, there were hundreds of these bushes, with their surprising details, growing alongside the path.

*****

For more ‘things that look like other things’, check out these tiny succulents having a party:)