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Sonder-Ponder

sonder
The word Sonder is defined by the wictionary as ‘the profound feeling of realizing that everyone, including strangers passed in the street, has a life as complex as one’s own, which they are constantly living despite one’s personal lack of awareness of it’.
The reason you might not have hear the word before is that it was actually coined by graphic designer John Koenig in 2012 for his project ‘The dictionary of obscure sorrows’. Chances are however that you recognize the feeling. You might have felt it while sitting in a restaurant or the train observing someone else for a moment.

Now I would like to invite you to come along on this meditative/contemplative practice. Take a moment and follow me on a conscious Sonder-Ponder.

Sit down in a crowded restaurant, train-car, tramcar, bus, train-station, airport or somewhere with a lot of people. Start observing people around you (discretely), Try to let go of judgement (toward yourself and others) and just watch how their lives play out in front of your eyes. Realize deeply that each and every person you see has a life as vivid and complex as my own. Every person! Let that sink in for a minute…
They also see, hear ,smell,  taste, feel, think & experience the world around them, much like you do. They have a more or less complex network of relationships, conditions & circumstances that guide their daily life, much like you do. They have passions, drama, thoughts, feelings, ticks, quirks, desires, aversions, worries & fancies, much like you do.
They have the idea that what they see and experience is in fact ‘objective reality’, much like you do. They have a stream of consciousness, one or more voices providing them with a near constant live commentary, much like you do.

Some moments I feel like the whole world revolves around me, and in a way I am right. The reality I see and I experience does revolve around me. In the same way the people I am watching sometimes feel like the whole world revolves around them, and in a way they’re equally right. The reality we create together contains 7 billion individual realities interlaced and interconnected in an increasing number of ways.

Realize that you hold the power to influence these realities at any given moment, and that you often do, whether you are conscious of it or not. Other times you pass unseen through the little kodak moments of other peoples lives. Just an extra. Uncredited.

I believe that using Sonder-Ponder as a meditative/contemplative practice can have a powerful effect on our lives. I can only speak from experience, but it has helped me cultivate a higher sense of compassion, connectedness, community & curiosity.
Try it for yourself and turn the next trainride into a moment of connection with the dancing light of humanity in all of us. If you know someone who gets stuck on a train, tram or bus right from time to time, share this post with them.

Love, A

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Morning-Routine

morning-05
On my journey to make my own life simpler and less stressful, as well as my work with supporting others in doing the same, I have identified a healthy morning routine as one of the most important aspects of leading a slow, yet productive lifestyle.
This claim shouldn’t be a surprise to most of us, since parents, teachers & productivity gurus have most likely been telling you this for years. But if you’re like me chances are that you didn’t bring real awareness to this essential step.
I used to create my morning routine according to the least amount of time I needed to get from bed to work. At my best/worst I used to set my alarm 40 minutes before I started work. In that time I barely had time for the bare minimum. I skipped breakfast, threw myself in the shower and was out the door while my brain was still half asleep and I often needed the first hour of work just to land in reality.
Recently I started experimenting with my mornings, taking enough time for everything that I need to feel awake and ready for the day. In this post I would like to share my morning routine and explain the thinking behind some of the steps.

Sleep
I suppose this goes without saying. We all know the difference a good night sleep can make for our wellness and productivity. The use of a sleep tracker has helped me establish that I need between 6-8 hours of sleep to feel rested. I try to not eat or drink anything for the last hour of the evening before so that my body can get the rest it needs.
I can also recommend having 3-5 air-filtering plants in your bedroom to make sure you get enough oxygen and less airborne toxins. I use Sansevieria Trifasciata since it specifically produces oxygen during the night.

Hydration
During the night our bodies often become dehydrated and it is important to rebalance your liquid levels as soon as possible. I start the day drinking 2-3 big glasses of water before I do anything else. This will help kickstart your body and replenish fluids lost during the night. If you want to give your body a further boost squeeze half a lemon in each glass of water. Lemon Water helps to cleanse your body and gives you a healthy dose of vitamin C to boost your immune system. Keep in mind that after drinking a large amount of water, refrain from eating for 30 minutes. The water will dilute your stomach acid and make it more difficult to digest food.

Stillness
If I start my day with stillness that serene feeling stays with me all day. I find it much easier to deal with challenges coming my way and I can keep an even mood and energy level throughout the day.
How you do this is up to you. Yoga, Pilates, Meditation or Contemplation are all practices that help you slow down and center yourself in being. In my experience 15-20 minutes of meditation is all I need to feel calm. Please don’t be concerned with different dogmas of meditation.
Everyone can do it! You don’t have to sit a specific way, do it for a specific amount of time or think of absolutely nothing. Just make yourself comfortable, with a straight spine if possible, relax your body and focus on your breathing. Thoughts might come, and that’s ok. Look at them with kindness and refocus on your breathing. Even 5 minutes will help!

Workout
I have found that doing some form of body work every morning not only helps me wake up, but keeps my mind clear and focused throughout the day. I try to mix things up so I don’t get bored. I go for morning walks, lift weights, exercise on my fitness ball or do a couple of rounds on the 7-minute workout app. You have to adjust this to your own level of fitness, energy and commitment, but even a little goes a long way.

Nutrition
There are many claims that breakfast is the most important meal of the day and probably as many sources claiming the opposite. You have to feel for yourself what works for you. I can only speak from my own experience. I try to eat a light meal packed with good energy to keep me awake and focused until lunch. A healthy smoothie of Kale, Fruits, Nuts & Seeds is part of my standard morning and depending on how hungry I am I might also have a bowl of muesli with fruit & yoghurt or a couple of slices of wholegrain bread. I try to not consume refined sugar in the morning as this is likely to produce a dip in my energy levels.
I like a good cup of green tea for breakfast since it also helps to rehydrate and gives me a much more stable energy than coffee. However, I find coffee a delicious treat so I try to feel each morning which will work for me.

Brain-start
After taking care of my body, I also like to give the brain a good workout to start the day. I might take a moment to write in my journal or read a book/article. I find that 15-20 minutes help me think fresh and get new ideas. If you are not used to writing or don’t know what to write, try stream-of-consciousness writing. Basically this means you start writing and just keep writing everything that pops into your head without worrying about making sense or progress. It really helps with finishing your thinking and getting out of mental loops & recurring thoughts.
When reading I try to read longer articles or from a book I find interesting and I avoid news-feeds since consuming small bits of information makes my thinking unclear & unfocused.

Planning
In order to feel ready for the day ahead I take a moment to check my calendar and to-do’s every morning and pick 3-5 items from the list that I want to get done that day. I also check my email to see if anything urgent came in since last night. Whenever possible I start working on these MIT’s (Most important tasks) right away. When I manage to get them all done in the morning the little victories give me more energy and I feel like everything else that happens that day is a bonus.

I wish you good luck in establishing your own morning routine and I’m sure you will find what works best for you. Perhaps some of my tips can be of help. If you have other tips please leave a comment below so others can take part of your wisdom as well.

Love, A

Change-Is

be-the-changeThis is an introduction to my view on change and personal innovation. In my previous post I talked about how all things are as they are, or the general is-ness of everything. Realizing the is-ness of your world can indeed be a powerful tool for acceptance, and I also want to tell more about what is really is. It is the only constant in this world. Change!

As often happens, an idea is born in many bright minds seemingly at once. Around 2500 years ago the greek philosopher Herakleitos coined the expression “the only constant is change”. At the same time another wise man in northern India called Gautama Siddharta spoke of the “impermanence of all things”. In China another philosopher named Lao Tzu, perhaps most famous for the profound spiritual text the Tao Te Ching said: “Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them; that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.”

Although this idea has been largely ignored for hundreds of years, it has crept its way into general acceptance over the last decades. Perhaps this is because the rate of change seem to accelerate. Until quite recently it seemed the recipe for success was to keep doing what always worked. Life was passing by in a slower tempo and tomorrow was more or less predictable. Today the world seem to be changing at an ever-increasing rate and the innovative idea of yesterday is already old news by tomorrow.

The first step in making change a companion in my life is of course acceptance. This is what I talked about in the previous post about is-ness. Acceptance that change is a constant will make me ready for change, but this is only half of the way. When I am facing a situation that requires change I have two possibilities: Either I undertake a helped change or a voluntary change.
The helped change means that I am not making a decision to change myself. Rather someone or something external helps me by making the decision for me. In other words, I didn’t take the initiative and my action is not the cause for change. This usually makes the change more difficult to accept and integrate in my life. One example of helped change would be that I start enjoying life when I am old, because I now realize that I have very little time left.
A voluntary change, on the other hand, means I made the decision to change myself. My initiative and my action caused the change. As a result I have fewer negative consequences and the change is much easier to integrate.
So the trick here is to migrate from being ready for change to being a creator of change. You can also call this being pro-active, as opposed to reactive, showing personal leadership or personal innovation.

Love, A

Is-ness

SandMandalaBeing OK with what “is” can be a powerful way of finding peace in your everyday life. It can be tricky though, and thankfully there are ways to not get stuck in a mental loop. For many of us, being OK with what “is” sounds like an impossible dream some times. In this post I would like to dive a bit deeper into this subject.
Generally my perceived reality unfolds in this way:
Something “happens”, i.e. I get faced with a situation. In a split second I feel a bodily sensation (emotion) which I, in turn, interpret with the less than conscious part of my mind (we can call this intuitive thinking) as either desirable (good) or less desirable (bad). The result of this lightning quick calculation affects my attitude, about the given situation, almost immediately.
If the situation is judged as “bad” my thinking and emotional response fuel each other, a mental loop is established and my attitude turns sour.
Maybe Shakespeare said it best when he proclaimed: “there is nothing good or bad in this world, but thinking makes it so.”

For example, my flight is delayed. This can easily upset the best of us, but if we look objectively at the situation it is neither “good” nor “bad”…it just IS. There can be a million reasons why the flight is late and it is impossible for me to grasp the whole picture of the situation. It is utterly pointless to dwell on these reasons, because the reality I am presented with is a late flight. Thinking about what caused it and what it might lead to cannot change the situation at hand. Reality is as it is…or simply, reality IS!
Since the external conditions are as they are and no amount of judgement will change them I am presented with a choice to let the situation be as it is. We can call it acceptance of our external reality. There is an all-pervasive peace and calmness in acceptance.

Sometimes however, my emotional response is so quick that I fail to catch it before it affects my attitude. At this point it can feel difficult, if not impossible, to accept the external reality as it is. I have already passed my judgement and made the situation into something undesirable.
Trying to accept the external reality while I am in this state can easily start a mental loop where I judge my own judgement. I shouldn’t be feeling bad about this. This, however, adds another layer of misery. Now I judge both the external and internal reality as bad. This loop can be very difficult to escape.
Here I am presented with another choice. If I can/will not accept the external conditions (late flight), I can accept the internal conditions (my judgement/attitude). Some situations will trigger your anger and there is no point in being angry about the anger.

When I let the reality be, I quickly follow.

Love, A

Surviving-Striving-Thriving

thriving
Like many others I meet on my path, I have spent years of my life focused mainly on surviving. When I talk about surviving I think about enduring, pulling through or just to continue existence. Stay on the hamster wheel. Work, eat, keep working, get paid, pay bills, eat, drink, consume & repeat. For many of us, myself included, it seemed like the only way to keep going. The more I work, the more I get paid and the more I can consume. So around it goes, the never ending cycle of disillusioned ‘growth’ or ‘development’.
At some point I got angry, and many of us do, and decided that this life of survival cannot be the only thing I am meant to do. I left my home and moved to a new city, in a new country, because I had heard of a school where I could find my passion and make more of myself. It was a 3 year intense process, both personally and professionally, but as I started to unlearn old patterns of living I saw another way. I was told that I am capable of amazing things and if I was just ambitious enough and found my passion, I could change the world.

This started a new chapter in my life. I finally had something to strive for. I started a few more-or-less successful businesses and projects, with the aim of making my world a better place and feeling better about life. I had transcended surviving, found ambition and started to set goals. Goals were broken down into milestones, milestones were broken down into actions and actions flew on and off my never-ending to-do lists. I was a machine! Actions were taken, milestones passed and goals reached, but I was still missing something essential…Quality of Life. In a way I was still on the hamster wheel. I had just managed to convince myself that since I was working for myself I had “beat the system”, but I was still going through the motions. Work, eat, keep working, get paid, pay bills, eat, drink, consume & repeat. Only difference was that now I was working towards my own goals so I was working more and harder than ever before. I had problems with my heart, I lost all the hair from the left part of my head, I couldn’t sleep and yet I continued to work hard, in the name of my ambition and passion until I finally broke down. I couldn’t be productive anymore and I needed a long break from the hustle. I took some time off. I walked a lot. I spent some time in solitude. I started writing and reading more and I took a lot of time to just sit with myself and reflect on the years that passed while striving.

It was a strange period in my life. I dove into spiritual texts trying to find answers and something I came across in both Taoist and Buddhist tradition was that ambition & passion are forms of suffering. I could feel this as deep truth, but then I couldn’t figure out how to make plans for the future while still enjoying the present moment. In the productivity trainings I still hosted sometimes I told people that we have to switch from being efficient to being effective, meaning doing the right things as opposed to doing a lot, but what were the ‘right things’?
During this period I was only doing the bare minimum, working just enough to pay for my expenses and as a by-product I was consuming very little. This started me on my path towards minimal living and I am grateful for this period of gestation. But by trying to avoid ambition I had robbed myself of enthusiasm. My pace started to slow down.
When I wasn’t constantly working I found time for other things. Reading, writing, meditating, walking, seeing friends and most importantly seeing my enthusiasm. The things in life that make my heart smile. I didn’t have to look for passion, because my enthusiasm was always there hidden under layers of ambition.

Here I would like to recommend an article written by fellow writer, lifehacker and minimalist Mark Manson called ‘Screw finding your passion’! It helped me to put words to the feelings I had, and eventually led me to write this blogpost.

The difference between ambition and enthusiasm can be found in the etymology of the words themselves. Ambition comes from the Latin ambire (going around, canvasing) and Enthusiasm comes from the Greek enthous (possessed by god or spirit). I could clearly see the difference now and this made it possible for me to live, work and act from my own spirit as opposed to my thinking mind, which will often create suffering and feelings of ‘not enough’. I had found a way to thrive.

I am now working on the things that matter most to me and I believe that by doing so, I am doing the best I can for the world around me. I work less, eat less, consume less, live more and sleep well. The world needs people to thrive, to feel complete, and in doing so, sharing their gift with humankind. This is what I can do best…support people around me to thrive in their lives. How can I support you?

Love, A

Two-Problems

Future-Present-Past-1680x1050During my second year at Kaospilots in Rotterdam we had a workshop host from KaosPilots in Aarhus, Denmark coming to guide us through the workings of Process Design. Kristin Birkeland is an inspiring, caring woman who always manages to get to the very essence of a group and their process and I greatly admire her work as a coach, facilitator and artist. In the week we were blessed with her presence we talked about many things that matter, and one of the most insightful things she told us was this simple phrase:

There are really only two types of problems in this world. There’s the ones you can do something about, and there is no sense worrying about them. Then there’s the ones you can’t do anything about, and there is no sense worrying about them.

This simple phrase has helped me take distance from worrying about any so-called “problem”. It has encouraged me to take action when I can and let go when I can’t. The wisdom contained in this statement continue to deepen inside myself over the years.
Consider the fact that problems always arise in the dimension of time. You tend to make problems of situations that concern either the past or the (imagined) future. If an emergency situation manifests in the present moment, we don’t have time to make it into a “problem”, but we spring into immediate action. Now I see that this is also what Kristin spoke of. The problems you can do something about belong in the future. The reason there is no sense in worrying about them is that you will, no doubt, handle them when they arise in the present. You can take action. The problems you cannot do anything about belong in the past. There is no sense in worrying because the situation cannot be changed. It happened how it happened and no amount of worrying can change that. In fact the act of worrying is what makes a situation into a problem!

Whenever I feel myself making a “problem” out of a situation, I know I can get out of it by bringing my attention into the present. Like anything it gets stronger with practice and the statement from Kristin has helped me greatly in this. Thank you!

Love, A

(This post was originally posted to my old blog in 2014)

Notebook Harvest

journalThe habit of keeping a journal cannot be overstated. Research has proven it to be an incredible tool for self-reflection, perhaps even more so than psychotherapy and meditation.

2 years ago I went to a silent retreat in Wapse, NL. I went there to spend time on my own, reading and writing in silence. I brought my journal, and I even brought an extra one just in case I would write so much I’d fill the first. As it turns out, I did finish it and as I transitioned from one book full of thoughts, insights, ideas, dreams and memories to an empty one, a wonderful feeling of blank slate came over me.
I was given the opportunity to start anew with more original thought, fresh ideas and memories waiting to be lived and recorded. I felt very satisfied leaving the old notebook behind and in true minimalist spirit I considered throwing the old journal away, maybe even burning it in a ceremonial blaze of glory!

Before embarking on such an endeavor I decided to read the old journal once more. While reading it became apparent how many unfinished thoughts and underdeveloped ideas these pages of life contained. Most probably this meant that all my old journals had the same kind of scribbles, smelling of underlying wisdom yet to bloom fully. When I came back to civilization, I looked through my old notebooks. I noticed that because I had not carried these unfinished thoughts forward, I had sometimes reached the same conclusion (albeit in different ways) over and over again.
I believe I am posed with the challenges needed for me to learn certain lessons in life. If I fail to take wisdom from an event, the challenge will manifest again in different form, and I will be playing out the same pattern over and over in my life until I learn the lesson I need to move on. Experiencing true “flow” is when I constantly move forward because of taking full learning from every challenge and integrating said learning in my life.

This was the moment a new idea started to form: The Notebook-Harvest!
Whenever a journal is “finished” I will go through it again and take all these unfinished thoughts and record them in the new empty journal so I can take them with me in my consciousness and develop them further.
After a full year I can say that this has really helped me to keep developing my thoughts, internalize the arising wisdom without anything falling back into my subconscious.

Here are the steps:
1. Fill a journal with all your amazing thoughts, reflections and ideas.
2. Read it through and underline/highlight the wisdom you want to develop/internalize further.
3. Record your findings in the first few pages of your new journal.
4. Expand the thoughts further in the coming weeks as you fill the new journal with more magic.
5. (Optional) Burn the old journal in a ritual of your choice, freeing your mind to think anew.

Love, A