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!

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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Leaning in

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #105

Growing up as a child in Australia, I was fascinated by empty cicada shells, perfectly formed and dry, gripping onto trees, long after the cicada had pulled itself out of its cramped skin to take its new form.

That image came back to me while meditating yesterday.  I feel like I am gripping the tree, white-knuckled, pushing against my edges, trying with all my might to crack the shell around me, to extricate myself from its tight grasp and be able to breathe and spread my wings.

On the surface it may seem like a quiet time in my life, a rare moment where I have very reduced working hours and can spend extra time to care for myself, rest and recover.  However, inside me it is far from peaceful, I feel like I am being stretched further than I have been for a long time.  Waves of emotion crash over me for seemingly no reason, I feel in turn sad, then anxious, then afraid, then restless and back again. I crave relief so deeply. I ache for clarity, for lightness, to feel better, more energetic, enthusiastic, happy…

I’m filling page after page in my journal, trying to get the swirling thoughts on paper, to see if I can make some sense out of them, as I know this has helped in the past.  And in the midst of the rants and anxious complaints in my journal, the wise voice from somewhere deep inside comes out to tell me, again and again, to trust the process.

This is the transformation in preparation for the shedding of the skin, it cannot be rushed.  I am exactly where I need to be.  My job right now is to stop resisting, to let go of wanting things to be different, to practice accepting that I feel the way I feel and that it is OK.

What is there to be grateful about in all of this, you may ask.  Well, I know deep down that every day that I lean in to the turmoil, rather than resisting it, brings me closer to coming out the other side, to breaking out of the tight shell.

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?

Mushroom wisdom

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #103

As I write this, the rain is pouring down outside. I am indoors, warm and watching rain drops slide down the windows, with a delicious cup of coffee by my side.  Like every week, I’m wondering what I want to write about.  I have a lot I am grateful for, so it is never a problem to come up with some ideas, but sometimes inspiration brings strange ideas with it.

Today I am grateful for this mushroom, spotted in a local vegetable garden on one of my afternoon walks, to get out of my head and into the fresh air while looking for some interesting details to photograph.  I felt so drawn to this beautiful mushroom and I believe it has wisdom to share with me. What is so special to me about this mushroom, you may wonder…

It stands tall and dignified, not wondering if it is sticking out or whether it looks funny.  It does it’s mushroomy thing, confident and unencumbered by the way other mushrooms look and behave. It is not questioning whether it is doing things right or well enough, and does not care what the leaves around it might say.  It is centered and grounded, fully in the present moment, unafraid of the rabbit that may come and nibble on it in the future.  I want to be more like this mushroom. These are the precious lessons that I am tucking away in the folds of my mind this week, to bring up again when the inner critic raises its head.