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:)

Jotting down tiny scenes

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #128

In the spirit of trying to channel inspiration for my writing, I have been making a conscious effort to be more observant of what goes on around me.  I am easily overwhelmed when there are too many stimuli and living in a busy city means that there are constantly a million things vying for my attention, as well as the need to be careful of traffic, so most of the time I feel like I am blocking out a lot of my surroundings.

However, I do find opportunities to practice noticing things, like sitting in cafés and people-watching, going for walks in my neighbourhood which is rather quiet or just staring out of the window of the tram. Lately I’ve started jotting down what I see. Nothing fancy, just the date and a few words to remember the details of the scene which can maybe serve as inspiration for my next poem or story.

Here are some recent examples that caught my attention:

  • a little boy on a bike wearing a t-shirt, blue shorts and a ski mask, pedalling wildly on the sidewalk
  • a gaggle of geese patiently crossing a busy street, head held high and unphased as cars stop to let them pass, and people on the terrasses of cafes watching the spectacle in amusement
  • delightful blossoms fallen off a tree onto the pavement, forming a pink carpet in different stages of decomposition

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Has any particular scene caught your eye lately? I’d love to hear about it!

What migraines are teaching me

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #125

I am grateful for migraines. This may seem like a very strange thing to be grateful for considering the extreme pain they bring, leaving me writhing in my bed, eyes closed against the slightest ray of light, each sound magnified, my brain banging incessantly against my skull. You would probably never hear me saying this while I’m in the throes of an actual migraine, but now safely on the other side of a recent one, I can appreciate how migraines are teaching me to respect my limits. To accept what I cannot control. To reset my overachiever expectations of what I should be able to endure and instead practise (again and again) being kind to myself.

In the (not-so-distant) past, I used to resist the migraine, then wish for it to disappear as soon as possible so I could go straight back out into the world. Recently, I’ve decided that the strategy of walking shaky-legged, weak and raw right back into the day to day grind doesn’t work for me, and I believe this reflex has been exhausting me over time. So I’m experimenting with allowing myself a day to recover after the tsunami of the migraine, to rest at home with no obligations. It gives me time to simply rest, find my footing and my appetite again and gather my strength, so I can go back into the world with more appreciation and vitality.

I realise this is not a possibility for everyone, and that I am very privileged to be in a situation where I can take paid sick leave and take time to recover.  However the reason this is a turning point for me is that for many years I believed that to-dos and other tasks had priority. I feared I may be letting people down by taking the proper time I need to get better.  But it turns out that putting my self-care first hasn’t caused the world to stop turning in any way, and I hope this might inspire others to push themselves a little less hard when possible, in order to be more resilient in the long run.

The joy of a random day off

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #123

A few weeks ago I decided to take Monday 1st of April off. There is an event I wanted to attend from 12-13:30 and at first considered cycling there and back on my lunch break from work or taking half a day off, but I didn’t feel like rushing. So I did something unexpected for me: I decided to treat myself and simply take the full day off, just like that;)

It feels so luxurious and wonderful that it makes me question why I don’t do this more often!  I am profoundly grateful for the privilege that I have (the confort of a fixed contract where I get paid leave that I can take without worry). Still, usually there are scarcity voices in my head, warning me that I should use my precious days off to visit family, to travel or that I should save days in case of some potential emergency.

Just anticipating this day off makes my soul feel delighted. Spoiling myself in this very simple way is like a deep breath of fresh spring air and gives me a feeling of prosperity. I’m thinking of making this a tradition for the 1st day of each new quarter:)

How writing helps me keep my balance

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Lately I’ve been doing a lot of writing: daily Morning Pages, writing here twice a week and weekly exercises for my creative writing course. All this writing takes time and effort, whether I am scribbling away in my journal on tram 24 on the way to work (often finishing my third page on a bench in the one heated corridor of Amsterdam Central station) or whether I am typing away and editing on my computer sitting on the sofa (or squatting Paolo’s desk, my favorite spot in the early afternoon with the sun warming my back).

Next to that I’ve realised recently that I’m finally starting to feel less anxiety, after many rough months. There are several reasons for that: less work pressure, results of getting to know myself and my boundaries better through therapy, better self-care… but I am convinced that writing is one of the key factors leading to this improvement.

When I write I am most often in flow, that magic state where I don’t feel time passing, ideas are coming naturally and I’m problem-solving in a concentrated state. Especially with creative writing, I seem to lighten up and find myself having a little fun with the process, not so worried about the results.

It’s up to me to choose what I focus on, and these days I prefer not to spend my energy worrying about whether what I said in that meeting might be misinterpreted or other petty concerns, when instead I can enjoy the challenge of coming up with a two-page text based on nothing less than Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses, using a similar omniscient god-like storyteller narrator…  Life is a question of priorities;)

Daily morning pages

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #119

Since the Artist’s Way workshop I attended last month (given by the wonderful Julia Cameron herself!), I’ve been writing Morning Pages daily again.  Last time I did Morning Pages that regularly was in 2011 for several months as I made my way through the chapters of Artist’s Way book. After a while the habit faded and I went back to journalling several times a week, but not in the morning and not so consistently.

Though on the surface it may seem like a tedious task to write three pages by hand first thing every day, noting down whatever is passing through the mind, Julia Cameron describes this as a spiritual practice and I would agree.  Trusting in the process and being open to where it will lead makes it much more enjoyable.

When doing Morning Pages daily, you can’t really avoid the big things that are going on in your life or those voices inside your head that speak up about how you really feel about things. I feel like writing these thoughts on paper gives space to the ugly stuff, things I might be in denial about and just don’t want to see so I bury them under busy-ness.

Julia Cameron explains that Morning Pages push us take action. It’s true that after noting down frustration or discontent on the same topics day after day, you become more aware of what is important to you. You can then make a change to your attitude or take a small step towards altering the situation.

I am grateful for some recent aha-moments delivered through the pages: for example noticing how much happens in one day on all different fronts (at home, at work, with family and friends, creative endeavours…). This highlighted to me how much stimulation, conversations and events there are to process daily and therefore the need to make time for this (I am now attempting to spend less time mindlessly surfing on the internet to have more space to reflect).

I am enjoying cultivating this constructive practice again and am very curious to see where it will lead me:) Have you ever tried Morning Pages? How did you experience them?

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.

When the well goes dry

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Sometimes ideas about what to write here come seemingly out of nowhere, and I list them sacredly in my Little Prince moleskine notebook to return to when I’m out of inspiration. Some days, the photos lead me to the content of the text. On others, I’m processing events from day to day life and writing helps to bring clarity on how I feel.

But today I’ve got nothing! Or to be more exact, I’ve been channeling what I have to my weekly assignment for the creative writing course I’m taking.  It seems that while toiling on those two double-spaced A4 pages of fiction that need to be ready by tomorrow, I must have emptied the well, pulling up more buckets of ideas and energy than my brain had time to refill.

So today I leave you simply with this picture, taken after a rain-shower during one of my walks in the neighbourhood last Autumn. I hope that many drops of water, gleaned from everyday observations and rest (and a still-to-be-planned Artist Date), will fill my inspiration well again soon:)

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! 🙂

Permission to relax

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Last Friday, on my day off, I gave myself a wonderful gift.  It didn’t cost any money and I didn’t even need to leave the house. It was a grey rainy day outside and I knew I had an intensive weekend ahead, so I spent a large part of the day just lying on the sofa, reading.

I let myself be swept into the characters’ lives and was completely absorbed in another world for hours, while totally ignoring my real-life to-do list and not feeling like I needed to stop reading to do something more important.  It was wonderful and it recharged my batteries much more than ticking off items on my to-do list ever would. I plan to do this again soon. Here’s to giving ourselves permission to relax and recharge in whatever way works for us, regardless of what still needs to be done!