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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100 weeks of JOYFUL GRATITUDE!

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #100

Today marks 100 consecutive weeks of JOYFUL GRATITUDE! I want to celebrate this milestone and I am particularly grateful today to the people who read this blog and share their thoughts and experiences with me. Thanks so much!

Time flies! I created this series nearly 2 years ago to practise bringing my attention more to what brings me joy and what I am grateful for.  It’s been so much fun each week to look back and choose one thing, among the many things I am have to be grateful for, to write about.  It’s now a collection of snapshots of wonderful moments.  Curious? You can find all the posts here.

Last year I wrote about my findings after 12 months of JOYFUL GRATITUDE.  In 1 month’s time I will analyse the results of this past year in the same way to see if any new trends have appeared:-)  In the meantime, Paolo and I will be celebrating 100 weeks of joyful gratitude with some tasty Scottish whisky tonight! Cheers!

Let me know, what are you feeling grateful for today? 🙂

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Experiments in single-tasking

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Rationally I know that multitasking is bad, but I feel this constant drive to get more done and on the surface it seems that by doing several things at once I can reach that goal.  Also combining something boring (like cleaning) with something more fun (like listening to a podcast) makes it seem possible to squeeze some enjoyment into any task however tedious.

Lately however, I realised that I was having major concentration problems and often I actually didn’t fully enjoy the fun thing because I wasn’t really focussed on it.  More frightening was that I could tell I was numbing, multitasking is a way to automatically fill the void, where otherwise my thoughts would rush around my brain like it was a pinball machine, triggering fears, desires and anxiety all over the place.

This voice inside me kept pulling at my sleeve and pointing out that I was craving quiet, long stretches of uninterruped silence, away from the busy-ness so I could have space to make some sense of my thoughts.  So I have decided to test whether making a conscious effort to mindfully do one thing at a time will allow my thoughts have more space to roam free and be heard.

These are the daily activities I want to focus on by single-tasking:

  • drinking my coffee (without journalling at the same time)
  • talking with Paolo (without my phone or computer nearby, ready to switch focus)
  • working on one thing at a time until it is finished (without stopping as soon as it gets hard to pick up a shiny new task)
  • cleaning (without listening to a podcast)
  • doing the dishes (without talking on the phone)
  • writing a blog post (without interrupting the flow to consult other internet pages)
  • cooking (without a TED video on in the background)
  • going for a walk (without taking pictures… well I might still multitask sometimes on this one, as I still want a few nice photos to illustrate these posts 😉

I’ll write about whether I notice any effects in a follow-up post after experimenting for some time.

Tell me, what activities do you make a conscious effort to single-task on?

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.

What Google maps doesn’t teach you

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Over the years I’ve learnt from Paolo that the most interesting way to get directions when we are lost is to ask someone passing by if they know the way.  Most of the time it works and we are back on track in no time.  Even when it does not lead to the right indications, it beats looking on Google maps because it is the chance for a spontaneous exchange with people and those encounters often leave us with a smile on our face or a shared experience to remember.

Recently, as I was returning home from the Veluwe, I was cycling with my large backpack near the center of Arnhem, trying to figure out the way to the train station.  I saw a man who was walking towards me on the sidewalk, so I smiled to catch his attention and asked in Dutch how to get to the station.  He replied in English that he doesn’t speak Dutch, adding that he is from Syria, so I asked my question again in English and he kindly pointed me in the direction of the station.  I thanked him but before I could pedal off again, he indicated that I should wait and started rummaging around for something deep in his backpack.

After about thirty seconds, he pulled out a mini-snickers bar and held it out to me with a smile. My first reaction was to refuse, a sort of reflex from deep down, not wanting to take something he probably needed more than me, and then quickly I thought after all if he is handing it to me he probably wants me to have it.  So I took it, thanking him and feeling very touched. We smiled at each other, feeling the warmth of connection for a few seconds, the simplicity of giving and receiving this small gift, and then I cycled away to catch my train waving goodbye.

Now looking back, it seems that by asking for directions I received more than just a geographical location.  I’ll never see that man again but our shared moment has stayed with me.  Alongside the directions to the station, I also subtly received directions for life: a reminder of how generosity can be found in small gestures of human connection and how it lights us up.

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.

Reaching out

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Last week went to recharge my batteries with my family in France.  It was the perfect occasion to have lots of long chats during sunny walks in the forest and the park. Over cups of tea and home-made cake or under the duvet with my sisters we talked and talked, trying to make sense of the many things tangled in our minds, armed with angel cards to guide us, laughing at our interpretations of the what the words we randomly picked might be trying to tell us.

I love the plant in the photo above, with its hundreds of feather-like arms reaching out confidently in all directions. It is my visual reminder to keep connecting with people even if it takes some effort, particularly at the moment, because by reaching out I’m reminded that we all have our struggles, big and small,  that there actually is no such thing as ‘having life figured out’, and that I am OK.

Though I didn’t come back to Amsterdam with anything like a solution or a plan on how to move forward, it was simply helpful to see that we love each other regardless of what’s going on because there is no right or wrong way to do things, these situations too shall pass once we’ve grappled with them and learned the precious life lessons they carry on their back.

Tiny apples

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #97

When life gives you tiny little apples from the garden, make apple sauce.

The act of peeling multitudes of these small apples is perfect for being in the moment.  You can’t rush otherwise you peel away half the apple, you need to focus because there are spoiled bits that need to be carefully chopped off, you need to accept that it will take the time it takes…  The result is totally worth it: a delicious and sweet compote de pommes and a quiet mind.

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Thanks to my fellow apple-picker and hand model Helena.

Mental cane toad invasion

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‘Swallow your frogs’ is a tip found in many articles about how to be efficient, meaning you should tackle the important task that you are dreading the most as soon as you start work in order to have the satisfaction of having tricked procrastination and achieved something concrete that you can proceed to cross off your to-do list.  I’ve often followed that advice and generally it works for me.

However, in the past few months, I’ve been struggling with stress and exhaustion.  I realised that a great deal of the tasks I needed to do at work daily had turned into ‘frogs’.  I kept hoping that the frogs linked to my job position would eventually turn into princes, or at least become more manageable as I gained experience, but they didn’t and I felt more and more overwhelmed.

The frogs were also following me home, in the evenings I couldn’t switch off the constant croaking of all the work thoughts and worries going on in my head and I sometimes lay awake at night. I found it increasingly hard to focus and make any type of decision, big or small, and anxiety started rearing its head. Things that previously I considered routine tasks now felt complex and inachievable. It was like my mind was being overtaken by a cane toad invasion.

For those not familiar with the cane toad, it is a species that was introduced in Australia in the 1930s in an attempt to eradicate pests in sugar cane fields, but instead became a pest itself because its venom kills any animal that attemps to eat it, meaning it has no natural predators.  Over the years, it has multiplied and is upstoppably making its way across the whole of Australia doing devastating damage to local ecosystems.

The cane toads of my mind were advancing beyond my boundaries, feasting off long meetings, stress, incessant skype messages and other notifications, frustrations and extreme self-doubt.  Though I did my best to regularly practice mindfulness, breathe and take care of myself, it was like those efforts were native marsupials being wiped out by the cane toads.

So after pushing myself for several months to continue working, while attempting to cover up the shame of being less efficient and struggling to beat the evil cane toads in my mind, I’ve decided to take time out to recover.  I’m not entirely sure how I will transform the cane toads back to frogs or even into cuddly koalas, I am going to figure it out step by step over the next weeks and months. For now rest and self-care are my priority.

*****

By the way, I don’t know what species the animal in the photo is. It was taken in Thailand, I’d love to know more about it if anyone knows:)

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.