Outdoor time in the Utrechtse Heuvelrug

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #163

Last Saturday I went with two dear friends for a walk in the Utrechtse Heuvelrug national park as a belated experience-gift for my birthday.  As we walked away from the station with its noisy traffic, and entered deeper into the woods, time seemed to slow down. It felt so good to breathe in the smells of the humid forest.  I felt my legs getting more energised with each step on the path.

The landscape kept surprising us, changing from oak forest to pine trees, to sandy open spaces, to paths winding through mossy forest floors…  Also we were graced with a wide range of different weather in just a few hours: sunshine, clouds, rain, rain and sunshine at the same time, and even hail, as we continued to put one foot in front of the other, without haste.

As always it felt really good to be away from the bustling city, not to mention the snacks and thermos full of boozy tea that we had along the way, which took the experience to another level;)  But mostly it was our chats and laughs that made my day.  I’m so grateful for sharing this calm afternoon, talking about what’s on our minds and catching up in such a relaxing setting.

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Winter walks in Putten

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #160

I am so glad that during the busy December days I took the time to plan a short trip away from the city with like-minded friends.  Even though we were just a couple of hours from Amsterdam, it was nice to explore an area I’d never been to and recharge my batteries before going back to work.

Our long walks in the woods sparked all of our senses: breathing in the wintry forest smells, observing the mosses, lichens, fungi and other details, noting the undergrowth that had been upturned by boars (or so we think;), fingers getting cold as the sun dropped below the horizon, hearing the wild-geese flying by in the sky… We were lucky to have several days of sunny weather and the low winter light shining through the mist and the trees was magic.

I also particularly enjoyed our walks because they were fueled by real conversations, and also by deliciously rich brandy-fed Christmas cake and hot chocolate! The bar is now incredibly high for the coming walks in nature in 2020;)

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Dreamy sights

Over the Christmas holidays, one afternoon I felt the irresistible need for some fresh air, my body craving to make the most of the little sunlight of the short winter days. So I grabbed my camera and went out, with no other plan than to walk along the streets close to home, open to capturing whatever inspired me. The light was beautiful, though I was clearly working against the clock to actually take some photos before darkness fell.

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This simple window caught my eye, the colour and texture of the shutters with their half-moon crescents and the stack of mixed-and-matched plates drying in the rack. In my imaginary it brings up a feeling of home, cosyness, like everyone was off having a nap after tidying the kitchen together and in a few hours preparation for the next family meal will start…

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I walked further, along the old walls of the village. A few families were out and about, several generations together walking dogs or most probably taking a digestive stroll in the chilly air. The last rays of sunshine lit up these bare trees, so it seemed like they were in the spotlight.

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As the sun disappeared, I loved the sight of these pretty lanterns lining the street against the last colours of the sky.

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My last find was this incredible mansion with its tower, the wooden beams in different tones of blue, perfectly colour-coordinated.  It’ s a private house so I could only peer semi-discreetly from behind the wall, but I can imagine settling there to write a book, a steaming coffee by my side on an old wooden desk by tower window, overlooking the garden while birds flit in and out of the trees…

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.

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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!

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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.

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Healing walks in the Amsterdamse Bos

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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.

Look up

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #98

It’s easy to forget to look up, as concentrated as we are on the things to see at eye level. I am so grateful for the gorgeous colours on these trees, contrasting against this morning’s blue sky.  This is a reminder to myself to be in the moment and focus on the beauty of nature in these precious next weeks of transition, as the autumn leaves change colours and float down to cover the ground.

Forest bathing

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Being in my hometown means I have the luxury of being in walking distance of the forest.  Yesterday I made the most of a rain-free afternoon to go for a walk. Though the trees have no leaves yet, the branches carry tiny buds and white flowers are growing on the forest floor, a glimmer of hope that spring is finally on its way.  The path is a little muddy, winding up and down the slopes and along old rock walls.  At some stage, we are deep enough in the forest to no longer hear the road, the sound of cars is replaced by the birds singing and the crack of the branches under our feet.

I love the feeling when my body gets into the rhythm after walking a while and my feet just carry me along, step after step with no particular goal, as I take in the beauty of the forest.  I could walk for hours like this, until my body is tired and my mind is clear.  In Japan they acknowledge the healing benefits of spending time in the forest and call it forest bathing (what a perfect name!), it’s even part of the national public health program. Imagine what the world would be like if every country did that?

The view aligned with my mind

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This was the view of the canal at the end of the street, on my way to work this morning.  The dark atmosphere and the naked trees reflecting on the water were the perfect backdrop for how grim I felt waking up today in the new timezone of daylight savings, really missing that one hour of sleep.

I was about to call this post ‘misty morning’ but I just googled the difference between mist and fog for the sake of accuracy, and if I am not mistaken this is fog which is more dense than mist (glad to learn something new every day:)

 

Mindful commute

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #71

This week in our meditation course, we made a list of our daily routine activities and were asked to indicate which ones we find depleting and which ones nourishing. A very interesting exercise, especially because many of those activities turned out to be depleting on one day or nourishing on another, depending on circumstances or state of mind.

An example for me is cycling to work. Being within cycling distance of work is part of the life choices I’ve made, and I am so grateful to be able to do so.  I particularly love the 10 minutes of the ride through Vondelpark.   As I cycle through the park, I find myself tuning in to admire the frost on the grass, focus on how the slanted rays of sunshine come through the trees, spot the storks that have come back to nest and feeling the fresh air on my face as I pedal along.

However some days I am less in tune to the nourishing side of my commute than others. When it is extremely cold, raining cats and dogs or simply still dark, I often find it hard to enjoy the ride and focus mainly on getting to my destination. Also, part of my commute involves riding through the city center with lots of traffic, not to mention the major road works that have been going on outside our office for 6 months. I experience that part as loud and stressful, and very depleting. My challenge is to be more mindful in this part of the ride and to accept being in that moment, instead of wishing it was different. Let’s see how that goes!

Grow sustainably

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At the start of every year I choose a word to guide me throughout the next 12 months and encourage the universe to send vibes relating to that word my way. Beginning of 2017 the word I chose was GROW. I was imagining the universe sending me gentle nudges to get out of my comfort zone, try new things and become a better version of myself…

Instead, I was reminded to be careful what I wish for… as the universe delivered big time and gave me many opportunities to grow. Amongst others, the task of being the celebrant at the wedding of two dear friends in Thailand, and a challenging new position at work that never seems to ease up. This year I’ve felt stretched way beyond expectations, often exhausted by work and the ‘growing pains’ were sometimes intense. At the same time I appreciate how much I’ve grown my comfort zone, and I’m proud of having done things I could never imagine daring to do.

At our Christmas lunch, I was having a chat with some colleagues about what their word for next year could be. It was beautiful to hear what they were thinking of choosing, a lovely way to get to know them better over a slice of kerstbrood. As a cautionary tale, I told them about what my word for 2017 had been and how I sometimes experienced it as grueling.  One of my colleagues cheerily suggested that I should simply have added the word SUSTAINABLY behind GROW.  (I was flabbergasted! How did I not think of that myself??! It could be that easy. It was a total moment of reframing for me.) He then proceeded to explain how trees in the forest grow very slowly under the canopy and in that way they become strong. If they develop too fast, ever reaching upwards for the light, they are thinner, weaker and less healthy in the long run.

At this year end, I feel like a little sappling who strived to grow no matter what, without growing sustainably. So during these holidays, while I’m taking the time to reflect on the past 12 months and thinking about my word for next year, I’ll keep in mind the power of words and intention. I haven’t chosen my word for 2018 yet, but it may turn out to be 2 or 3 words to be a little more specific on where my focus will be:)