Slowing down

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #170

In these strange COVID-19 times, I feel thankful for the fact that some preventive measures have been put into place and it means life is slowing down in an unprecedented way.  I know this crisis is negatively impacting thousands of people, and that many health professionals will be working overtime in extremely difficult conditions.  So I appreciate that this feeling of gratitude comes from a place of privilege (I am not in the most at-risk group; I have a safe place where I can keep my distance and that is also the case for my family; I can easily work from home and keep receiving my salary etc).

Only time will tell how the next weeks and months will turn out.  In order not to get too anxious, I’m trying instead to focus on the upsides of seeing what life is like when dialling back from the frenetic pace we are used to.  For now, I’d like to embrace this slowing down as an opportunity to rest and reflect.  I may use some of that down time at home to simply declutter the appartment, do some writing and work my way through the pile of books waiting to be read on my nightstand…

Sitting by the water

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #165

I’m grateful for the blue sky and winter sun, perfect weather for sitting peacefully by the water, without haste. A flock of white geese paddle by, as the sun warms my face. The willow branches sway in the wind.  Two moorhens putter about by the shore, before diving into the water repeatedly and snacking with gusto on their catch.  When a large boat passes by, the water brushes up on the rocks in small waves.  It’s so grounding to be focused on these simple scenes that often escape my attention.

The joy of letter writing

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #161

Yesterday evening I sat down to write a letter.  Though I do regularly send postcards, taking the time to write a proper letter made me realise how rarely I do so.  I was writing in response to a letter from a dear friend, written a couple of months ago. Her familiar hand-writing covering several pages of lined paper, bringing me her thoughts and fragments of her life from the other side of the globe. A physical letter that I have pulled out, unfolded and re-read since I received it, thinking of my friend, taking the time to contemplate what I’d like to answer and tell her about, the questions I want to ask her…

So yesterday alone in the quiet of my flat, I finally took out some recycled paper and my favorite pen, and got writing.  About banal things, how the holidays had been, what I’ve been up to recently and what is on my mind of late…  The pages filled up quickly, thoughts flowing and getting more personal as I scribbled them down.  I ended up with a neat pile of numbered pages, slipped tightly into an envelope which will make its way across the world.

I love that letters don’t demand an immediate reading or a fast answer. They can stray in the limbo of the postal system.  By the time my words arrive, a couple of weeks will have passed, new events will have unfolded, thoughts will have evolved. The snippets of my life contained in the letter will be about an earlier-me, and penning the thoughts helped me to figure out what they meant to me at the time.

Catching the last light

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I’m enjoying these quiet days with my family,  baking cakes, chatting, eating delicious meals and of course napping.  This afternoon, I decided to get some fresh air before nightfall. I wandered with no particular destination in mind, turning into random streets in the neighbourhood, open to whatever I may come across. When I set out, it always takes a little while for me to start noticing details. At first, everything seems uniform, I just see houses, walls, gates, sidewalks…

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However when I start to look more carefully, interesting colours and textures appear.  Hanging from long vines, these beautiful dry flowers caught my eye, so in the last light of this overcast day, I played around trying to capture the simple delicacy of their unruly petals, while they were blowing lightly in the wind.

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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.

Off to Cologne for a few days

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #126

By the time this is posted, I will be in Cologne spending a few days visiting my sister for the long Easter weekend. I cannot wait to explore the city together, organising our adventures around nice places for drinks and food:) We’ll be catching up over amazing veggie meals, open to discovery and chilling in the park while chatting about everything and nothing!

Slowing down to notice

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One thing I love about photographing plants is that there is just such a profusion of possibility to explore and play with.  With the seasons passing, the plants and their textures evolve so much. There are new buds appearing and fresh shiny leaves, perhaps flowers, rough bark, apparent roots, unusual seeds and pods, rugged surfaces, uncanny spikes, odd stems, gorgeous color combinations as the light evolves and changes the aspect of the backdrop…

I am astounded that even without wandering far there is always more beauty and unusual details to be found, an infinite amount of inspiration.  Look at these star-shaped pods that I came across in the Amsterdam Hortus a few weeks ago, aren’t they delightful?!

Cosy times

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #102

Last weekend we spent a lovely, slow-paced weekend with my Mum and her partner who were on a visit to Amsterdam.  I must admit, for many years I wondered why my Mum would systematically come to visit at the end of October, when the wind is icy, the rain always ready to tumble from grey clouds and the days are getting shorter.  But I think I’ve finally understood:)

It’s because with this weather no excuse whatsoever is needed to walk just 200 meters before feeling justified about going into the next cafe and indulging in some delicious cake, and staying cosily indoors while we catch up with each other and discuss possible travel plans for next year.  Also, spending two afternoons in the dark of the cinema, being transported to other worlds through movies, is a totally acceptable pastime and way to keep warm.  It offered the perfect occasion to discover a talented young pianist in the small room of the Concertgebouw and be moved by her stories and music, shielded from the cold outside.  So grateful for these fun moments spent together!

More theater

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #96

Lately with Paolo we’ve started going to the theater quite regularly. It turns out that at the moment this is a good way to spend the evening, without using up too much energy since seeing a play is less draining to me than having a drink in a loud bar or going to a concert.  Also, the story lines tend to unravel more slowly than in most movies, meaning there is more time for me to process the plot and emotions.

There is real inspiration in seeing people doing what they love and being vulnerable and creative on-stage.  I also enjoy the discussions Paolo and I have afterwards, about our favorite characters and new thoughts triggered by the play.  I look forward to what new shows we will discover together.

Solo cinema

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I like going to the cinema with other people and though that’s what I do most of the time, going by myself from time to time feels like a treat.

Firstly, it means that I can go see whatever film I want at exactly the moment that suits me, deciding at the last minute based on my mood (I’m lucky that in Amsterdam there are tens of movies on at anytime).  I love sitting quietly alone in the theater, waiting for the room to go dark and movie to start, watching the other movie-goers coming in or just lost in my thoughts.

Most of the time I choose those arthouse and coming-of-age movies that are beautifully shot and quite slow. At some point I often have tears rolling down my face and being alone I can unabashedly cry at the tough situations the characters are in, completely taken by the story, without worrying about whether anyone else is enjoying the film.

Afterwards, I can let the movie sink in and reflect on it without talking about it immediately with others and hearing their thoughts. The whole experience leaves me feeling recharged, like I’ve lived a sliver of another life for a couple of hours and opened to new horizons.