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.

Walking along the sunny canals

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #118

Despite the underlying worry regarding climate change, I’ve been enjoying these precocious Spring-like days that we have had recently.  I found myself naturally drawn to walk part of the way home after work, strolling through Amsterdam’s city center, crossing bridges to be sure I was on the side of the canal which the sun shines down.  As I go, I like looking at the details of the steps leading up to the fancy houses, peering into the basement offices and shop windows, watching cyclists just avoid tourists stepping unexpectedly onto the bike path to take pictures…

As I move my body after a morning of mostly sitting at the computer, I also start to process what happened during the day on the way.  I think of the conversations I had, information received and try to make sense of how I feel about all this busyness and complexity.   When I process my thoughts during the day as I take one step after another, I realise I tend to sleep better too.  Usually I catch the tram for the last stretch of the way home, and by then I already feel more in touch with my mind and can let go of the work things. The power of walking is incredible:)

Quiet time

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #94

Sometimes it’s necessary to break away from daily routine and take a step back to rest, reflect and let the busy-ness subside. I am deeply grateful to have that time and be able to escape for a few days and connect again with myself in the beautiful nature of the Veluwe.

Of dunes and mermaids

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Most days I love to take a walk by just heading into my neighbourhood of Amsterdam Zuid and roaming my usual paths.   However weekends offer more time to get out of the city for day-trips a little further afield.  This weekend for instance we took the train to Castricum station and went for a walk in the Noordhollands Duinreservaat, a place we regularly return to with great pleasure.

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I like the fact that the landscape changes a lot as you go along. The first part is in the shade of the trees with bluebells lining the path. Then when coming out of the woods, you find yourself in the flat, sandy landscape, peppered with windswept bushes of all different types creating beautiful colour contrasts, and lakes on which birds gather and play.

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After following the winding path, you end up at the final steep dunes which hide the North sea.  I love this colour palette of beige and grey sand, dry dune grasses and blue sky with passing white clouds.  We took a long walk along the beach, enjoying the sea breeze and the sound of the waves… Paolo exchanged a few words with a fisherman casting his rod from the beach, who when asked what he was trying to catch, answered “Platvis… en zeemeerminnen natuurlik” (Flatfish… and mermaids of course!).

Lunch by the lake

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Seeing that there would be warm summery weather over the weekend, Paolo and I planned a day-trip to go for a long walk in the dunes near Santpoort Noord.  The dunes were beautiful, coming back to life with the first leaves growing on the trees, large grey snails slowly making their way through the grass and small birds insistently calling to each other all around us.

Enjoying the rhythm of walking along the sandy paths that wind over the hills of the dunes and feeling the sunshine warm my skin after these long winter months was exactly what I needed.

We stopped to eat lunch in the shade by this small lake.  As we savoured our picnic, we took in the gorgeous surroundings.  It was so peaceful, the wind was rustling in the trees, carrying the lovely smell of pine needles reminding me of summer holidays past.

 

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?

Simple pleasures of Brighton

*The amazing colour palette of the cabins by the beach

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*Amazing cakes. I love that most cafés have home-made cakes. There were so many different types, leading to serious dilemmas on what to choose (and the risk of overdosing on sticky toffee pudding… but that’s another story)

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*Waking up to the sound of the seagulls. Whether it was raining or shining, there was no denying that we were close to the seaside

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*Walking on the beach, accompanied by the sound of the waves, no matter what the weather

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Healing walks on the beach

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #69

In Brighton, we enjoyed long walks along the beach, each step keeping us firmly in the present with the crunch of the pebbles, the cold sea wind on our cheeks, the waves crashing over and over again on the shore… We looked for pretty stones  until our pockets bulged with their imperfect shapes and their fascinating greys, oranges and blues. After a cloudy day, the sun came out, illuminating the abandoned pier with its last rays. It was good to be reminded how deeply healing being by the beach, no matter the season.

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Catching up

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #63

I’m very happy that Paolo is back from his month away in Italy!  For a while he didn’t have a return ticket and I wasn’t sure he’d even come back;)  Though I must say I wouldn’t have blamed him for staying, considering how warm and sunny the weather was over there! It’s a pleasure to catch up with each other whilst eating amazing Italian delicacies and to hear all about his time soaking up the culture in Rome and Sicily with friends and family.

In particular, Paolo’s latest stories about hiking on Mount Etna with his dad, have me aching to pull on my hiking boots and go straight there to feel those sensations again! This is a picture from our trip in August 2013.  It’s so impressive to see where the lava rolled down the side of the hill, destroying everything in its path and leaving only a few tree-skeletons standing.  Up high on the mountain the air felt surprisingly crisp and cool, and I loved the unique crunch of dried lava beneath my feet, as we walked through the majestic and desolate landscape… I have the feeling we will go there again soon:)

Enjoying Autumn

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I’m just back from a blissful weekend visiting my family in France. Three days of intense chatting and laughing over cups of tea, baking (and then devouring) cakes shamelessly full of butter and sugar, celebrating milestones over delicious Lebanese food and sipping champagne, and generally just enjoying spending precious time together:)

I snuck out for a few hours on Saturday for a walk in the forest by myself. The colours of the trees were soooo beautiful (these pictures taken with my phone don’t do justice to their splendour at all), it was breathtaking! As I walked, it was like my senses were waking up from indoor life… I enjoyed seeing little birds flying from one branch to another and singing nearby, treading along on the muddy path and the smell the fallen leaves slowly decomposing at the feet of gorgeous trees was wonderful. It was the perfect environment for some quiet time to process my thoughts:)

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