Prioritising down time

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #147

After participating in the climate strike last week, I felt a deep need to rest.  Luckily I had guarded my free time in the weekend like a watchdog and had scheduled a full day and a half with no absolutely zero plans, no where to go and no one to meet.  I realise how privileged I am to have so much free time, and I am very grateful for that.

I know I write a lot about how much I like quiet time, so if it sounds repetitive feel free to skip this post.  However I will continue to write about it because sometimes it’s important to stop and observe.  We live in this flurry of a world where everything is a click away and instant notifications increasingly pull at our attention, where we feel we should satisfy everyone who wants a piece of our time and FOMO is just around the corner making it extremely hard to say NO to things.  In this context, I want to normalise carving out down time for ourselves. I want to be able to say “I am available that day, but actually I prefer to rest” without feeling like I’m letting people down. Because really, even if I were say YES to everything, there would still be people I let down, and more importantly I would be letting myself down by not getting the down time I need to recharge my batteries.

In that day and a half, I did things that were important to me, like writing, and I did them without being in a rush, with enough time to procrastinate by baking a delicious apple cake, stare mindlessly out the window and write three different drafts of my assignment before choosing the first one after all…  On Sunday evening, I realised I was still in my pyjamas and went straight back to bed in them. It was perfect.  On Monday morning, I felt completely renewed. Those sleep-ins and taking time to reflect while pyjama-lounging on the sofa set me off to a positive start of the next week and I had more energy to give to those around me.

Searching for green

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We are finally enjoying some warm summery weather in Amsterdam and that’s the moment when I most wish I had a garden.  A small green space of my own where I could relax in the shade without needing to face all the other Amsterdammers who are out and about also searching for their own few square meters of greem.

Luckily the Botanical garden is just a 7 minute ride away, a lovely place to escape from the masses. On Saturday I took refuge there for a few hours, sitting on a rock amongst the blossoming plants, feeling the light breeze on my skin, listening to bumble bees buzz their little hearts out whilst feasting on pollen:) It was a moment of slowing down, breathing deep, being surrounded by nature, just noticing all the simple beauty of the many varieties of plants that grow side by side. I hope one day to have a garden of my own just like that!

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.

Spring in the Amsterdam Hortus

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Spring time in the Hortus Botanicus in Amsterdam is enchanting! The garden is coming back to life with buds and blossoms everywhere you turn, from the sprawling beds on the ground to the trees, peering out from in between rocks and on flush bushes.

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I love how the changes with the seasons means every visit is really different. This time we took a tour, led by a guide who shared her knowledge and fun facts about different plants around the garden.

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But my favorite part was afterwards, walking along the winding paths with my camera, unrushed, spotting colours and textures of the new bursts of life, emerging under the sunshine, reaching towards the light.

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When, despite the sunshine, it got a bit chilly, I went to my favorite spot in the greenhouse to warm up and admire the captivating cacti… but I’ll write more about that soon;)

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:)

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!!!

As day breaks

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During the holidays or on a day off, I sometimes like waking up at dawn to go on a mini-adventure.  I won’t pretend it is easy, but once the ten first minutes after waking have passed (where I curse my body for needing so much sleep), I am usually excited to go explore.  Those are the mornings I tend to remember best when I look back, since they break the routine.

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So one morning, during our recent trip to France, Paolo and I woke up when it was still dark, swallowed a quick breakfast and drove to the beach.  It was such a gift to get to witness the world waking up. We spotted a family of deers on the road which promptly skittered off as we slowly drove by, not wanting to scare them.  There were barely any other cars and the silence was broken only as we approached the beach, by the relentless crashing of the waves on the shore.

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I loved being in the moment with nowhere to rush off to.While Paolo was fishing, I had time to wander and observe the plants on the dunes with their pastel colours blending with that of the soft sand.  The vast expanse of dunes overlooking the long empty beach, surrounded by the sky changing colours, were breathtakingly beautiful and peaceful.

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Summer treats

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #89

I am extremely grateful for the calm summer days where there is enough time to walk aimlessly along a wide empty beach as the tide goes out, to watch clouds moving through the sky and find improbable shapes (do you see the seahorse??!), to spot footprints in the sand that must belong to tiny animals and imagine them running up and down the dunes when no one is watching, to read for a few hours uninterrupted and indulge in blissful naps while the sun is high, to feel the cool breeze as you stroll through a local village at the magic hour…

 

Ideas on intentional tourism

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While we were in Lisbon I realised that in certain areas there were so many tourists that it took all the charm away from the view and I felt an urgent need to get away.  Street art showing annoying hipsters taking selfies being put in their place by a granny with spraypaint, and posters around the city explaining ‘How not to be a horrible tourist’ are telling of a situation that is spiralling out of hand.

Unfortunately I can’t close my eyes and pretend I am not part of the problem. I am torn because on the one hand I love to travel to new places and enjoy how easy it is to get from Amsterdam to most cities around Europe for short trips. On the other hand I see the effect that mass tourism is having on Amsterdam and the places I travel to, making me feel both guilty and frustrated.

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There is no straightforward answer, so I’ve been wondering what small steps I could take to be more intentional in the way I travel in order to make my explorations more sustainable. I realise that these points won’t solve the issue, however I’m hoping that keeping these points in mind are a step in the right direction:

  • Slow down: I can get a superficial idea of a place in a couple of days, but spending more time there allows me to see more than the main sights. Planning a longer trip means I can really soak in the atmosphere, return to the places I enjoyed and get to know them better
  • Stay slightly out of the center:  those neighbourhoods have more local life in them,  I’ll explore streets that I would otherwise never come across, it also allows me to experience the public transport
  • Explore without a plan: life is not about ticking things off a must-see list. When traveling my favorite moments are always when I wander the streets, without direction following an alleyway to see where it will lead, stopping for a coffee and people-watching…
  • Ask locals for tips: Paolo is my master in this. He easily asks shopkeepers and passers-by for directions and recommendations, they usually guide us to places we most probably wouldn’t have discovered by ourselves
  • Buy souvenirs from local crafts markets: as much as I can I want to avoid buying from the mass-produced tourist shops. Craft markets and independent shops are a nice way to both get unique gifts and support artists that are putting their independent and original work out into the world

This list is far from exhaustive and I plan to keep adding to it. Any other tips to add to the list?

That post-holiday feeling

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Our trip to Lisbon was great! It was wonderful to have 9 days to explore the city slowly, having the time to head out without a real plan and just discover new places or return to ones we particularly liked, soaking up the atmospheres of different neighbourhoods.

Now that we’re back in Amsterdam, I can feel the benefits of having had some time off, I feel lighter and in a better mood. Also in a way the trip is not entirely over since I now have the joy of quietly letting all the impressions of the past days sink in: the tastes, colours, smells, conversations, laughs… It always takes me some time to process all the experiences from when I travel, to reflect on them in my journal and see what inspiration and ideas come up.