Author Archives: Katja

Where does a thought go when you stop thinking about it?

Isn’t that a most interesting thought?

The idea that we are not our thoughts, but instead we have them is not new to me.

I think the first time that I became slightly aware of that was when I read the book ‘ You can heal your life’ from Louise Hay, about 8 years ago now. My mind was always busy and the idea that I could choose my own thought was revolutionary to me! It openen up a whole new way of thinking, of living. I had some ‘control’, something to say about where I would go with my mind.

Since that time I read a lot of books, watched a lot of teachings and video’s, participated i n courses and meditated and contemplated about it.

The mysterious life of thinking and thoughts still fascinates me.

Sometime in the last months, during one of the retreats with a Tibetan Buddhist teachers (*) here at Dzogchen Beara this sentence came up:

“Where does a thought go when you stop thinking about it?”

A sentence, a thought that comes back to me sometimes. Because after all this years, this image suddenly made it so clear for me: a thought is just a shapeless ‘thing’. And as long as we give it attention, energy, it stays around. The minute, even the second, we stop thinking the thought: it is gone.

So we are in control about which thoughts we keep around. And which ones we let go.

Of course, that is easier said than done. Like other human beings I can stick to a thought, a happy one, a sad one, it doesn’t matter. I choose (most of the time subconsciously) to keep the thought around. Repeat it in my head. Sometimes exactly the same. More often in various words and shapes.

But if I let the thought go…. it is really gone. It disappeared. It is no longer there. Like it was never there in the first place.

Isn’t that the most fascinating thought?

(*)
(I can’t remember which teacher by the way… I think it might be Jetsun Khandro Rinpoche).

A year ago I made the decision to let go

Last year on this day I made the decision to pursue a longing that was with me for years already.

Although I didn’t really knew what shape or form it would be, the decision was made.

I love to think and talk about longings. Especially big ones that maybe never will happen. They make clear what someone really wants. One of the things I did as a freelancer before I went on my letting-go-adventure was guiding people with their next step in life. I coached, gave workshops and made online courses to help people with (re)discovering and acting on their talents, dreams and longings. For years I asked people questions about what they really wanted if time and money was not an issue. And in the meantime one of my own longings was formed: to go away from the things I was used to and be offline for a month.

Not the most impossible longing, but I always found excuses that seemed very real to me: lack of money, I need to be available as a freelancer, maybe after the next project that I am doing. So I kept thinking and saying it without really taking it serious.

Until that day a year ago.

A lot of things happened in the 2 years before that. Lots of ‘small’ things. Books that I read. Conversations that I had. Insights that came to me. And a few so called big things.

My father got very sick and died after an intense, heartwarming, joyous, sad, loving and mindful periode of 8 months. My closest aunt got sick in the same period and died a year later. Their warm and open approach to it all, and the heartwarming reactions from family and friends teached me many new life lessons. It made me very clear -once again- that life is really about trying to be a nice person. It’s not about the clothes you wear, how much money you make, what kind of job you have, how big your house is, the pictures you share on social media. How you are as a person, that is how people remember you.

So that all made me rethink and refeel a lot of things.

Like my working life. For years I enjoyed being a freelancer. But being honest to myself I had to admit that I didn’t anymore. I got stuck in trying to earn money and how to get new clients and projects all the time. Lots of thinking, less feeling. I noticed that I was in my head a lot. And while my attention was there, I didn’t feel like smiling to strangers. I was less present as a human being and that was not the kind of person I wanted to be.

So things shifted.

In the months before May last year I made the decision to quit as a freelancer. I went looking for a paycheck job. That didn’t go well. I wrote many application letters and only got rejections. Some of the jobs recieved more than 200 applications! And I didn’t seem to fit in their wishes.

I always believe that if something doesn’t happen, it is for a reason. That there must be something better waiting to happen. So I tried to keep that in mind, while wondering what to do with my life. It felt off and I didn’t know which way to go.

Until exactly a year ago.

I went for a drink fo catch up with someone I worked with during my freelance years. I was talking about everything that didn’t work out at the moment and he asked me what I wanted. I heard myself say: “I just really want to go away for a while and be offline”. But this time it was different. It felt different. Something shifted. “Oh oh”, I said to him, “I think I actually mean it this time”. For the rest of the day I was  confused. Could I really do this? It felt so scary and in the same time so appealing.

At the end of the day it already was some sort of a plan instead of just a longing.

I could do this.  Just go. Really go. Quit my rent. Get rid of lots of things. To let go and see what happens. To be somewhere else. Just me and a few of my things. Instead of scared I felt relieved. In the next days I spoke with a few friends. Made some calculations. And a few days later I made the decision with my head as well.

But the 12th of May is the date that I really listened to my heart and decided to follow it.

So my longings became this plan: to go to Ireland to do voluntary work for at least a few months. In August I went. Read this blog if you’re new to me/my story/this site.

Collecting words and quotes

For more than 2 decades now I am collecting sentences and quotes. In this time I filled lots of journals with thoughts, observations and sentences that I heard or read somewhere. I didn’t have a special purpose or meaning for it. I just had to keep them somewhere. Later in my life -about 13 years ago- I started my first own blog. That was great! Now I could actually share some of the thoughts and sentences that I came across.

A few years ago I also started to gather sentences and quotes in an online document. Handy, this way I could find them easier when I was looking for inspiration for myself or for the workshops, talks and online courses that I gave for a few years.

Yesterday I pasted all those notes in a word document and I saw that it was 60 pages. Wow, 60 pages of words that I found worthwhile to keep them with me for a little while longer. I love to browse through them from time to time.

They remind me of who I am, what I find important in live and the things I need to be reminded off from time to time. They keep me grounded, happy, alert and aware.

Maybe other people can benefit from them too. That’s why I shared them through Pinterest and I keep updating my quotes page on this site. And today the idea was born to every now and then pick a quote and base a new blog article around it. You can subscribe to this site if you want to receive my updates.

And feel free to share – in the comments or by email- some of your favorite quotes!

In the middle of nowhere

For many years I was longing to be at a place in the middle of nowhere. In my head it was a calm place, with me in some sort of a wooden cabin, surrounded by nature, with not many distractions so that I could really feel and hear and sense myself. At peace with myself.

For a few weeks I actually was more in the middle of nowhere than I ever was.

At my last voluntary place. There were not many people and -without a car- there was not really somewhere to go. After a few days I realised that I actually didn’t like it as much as I imagined. I already read a few books in those days. Because of the rain and the winterdark evenings there I didn’t feel much like exploring in the evenings and my days off.

I actually didn’t feel as awake and alert as I imagined myself in a situation like this.

Life enrolled as it did, and after a month there, I came back to Dzogchen Beara. Compared to my former city life in The Netherlands it is pretty much in the middle of nowhere. With the Atlantic ocean on one side it feels like you are at the end of the world. Such a spacious feeling!  Buf there are also staffmembers, employers, volunteers, guests and bypassers around. And lifts and easy-to-hitchhike routes to things like a supermarket, cafés, a nearby beach and lovely teahouses. More my kind of middle of nowhere, I discovered.

And while I was reading the book ‘Living Beautifully with Uncertainty and Change’ from Pema Chödrön I read this sentence about meditating and (not) hanging on to your emotions:

The place of not rejecting or justifying is right in the middle of nowhere. It is here that you can finally embrace what you’re feeling.”

I felt touched by it.

Maybe the middle of nowhere that I was looking for all these years is not to be found in a specific place. Maybe it is to be found in myself. In the purest form of who I am. That’s where I can find more peace of mind.

And I do think that the place where I am now, with this view, the people, the meditations and the retreats will help me to find my more peaceful middle of nowhere.

 

To learn what you (don’t) want

So in the last weeks I learned so much at my voluntary place, Crann Og Eco Farm. I got to know myself better. I learned a few new skills. And to my surprise I discovered that I actually didn’t enjoy some things that I longed for since a long time. You know, those things that you think you like and you daydream about them. Sometimes you need to know what you don’t want in order to know what you do want.

Like peace and quiet. One of those things I always  wanted more off. And now I am here, at this place with just a few people, and I actually miss more people around me. Or at least the possibility of people to observe or talk to. Somehow it makes me more connected to myself.

Another thing is that I imagined myself in a little house in the woods, maybe even off-grid, back to nature. And at my current volunteer place I actually had the change to stay in a carabin (wooden house and caravan combined) in the big garden. And I passed. To actually make my own fire to be warm at night and to leave the building to go to the toilet, nope, that didn’t sound tempting at all. So I stayed in a bedroom in the main house.

One thing I never realized before I went here, is that I need the possibility to look in the distance. Like at the sea, cliffs or near a big river. My souls needs it. I need it. I like the forrest and the garden here, but I miss a bigger view.

Crann Og Eco Farm

All this, and a few other reasons, made it clear to me that I wanted to go to another voluntary place after a month here. So about two weeks ago I browsed through interesting projects at HelpX and Workaway. There are so many possibilities!

And with my new knowledge about myself, I knew better what to search for. I got in touch with few places. Most of them didn’t have a place in the timeframe I was looking for. Others didn’t really match I discovered after some mailing. In the meantine I was also in touch with my former manager at Dzogchen Beara, the place were I volunteered for almost half a year.

And end of this week I am going back there to volunteer! A few weeks working and living in the hostel again. And a few weeks assisting with accomodation manager tasks when someone is on holiday. I will also get a more private place to life then. I am really looking forward to that place that feels like home, the people, the meditating, the great lunches and the beautiful view. Time for new experiences on a familiar place. And I take all the new skills and nice memories I made at the places where I am now with me.

The cliffs at Dzogchen Beara

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The power of Loving Kindness

I believe that thoughts are some kind of energy. Negative thoughts will bring more negative in the world. Positive thoughts bring more positive in the world. To simple? Maybe to some people, but it is a fact that you can only have one thought at a time (although it may seem like more if you have a busy mind, I know how that can feel..). And as a human being you’re almost always having thoughts anyway, so why not choose to have more loving ones once in a while?

For the last weeks I had the opportunity to be more online and I followed the news and Twitter more than the months before. A bit was inspirational and for the rest I felt sometimes powerless and overwhelmed about a lot of things that are happening around the world. And with people. Big things. Small things. Just lots of things. Until i suddenly remembered the Loving Kindness meditation. Yes, that’s what I always can do! Send more positive thoughts into the world. I have a reaction anyway, and at least I feel better myself when I make it a more positive one.

During my stay as a volunteer at Dzogchen Beara -Buddhist retreat center in Ireland- I got to know the power of Loving Kindness meditation. I had to get used to it, and after a whole weekend retreat about it, realised how loving and powerful it is. For myself and others. What it is?

It is a timeless spiritual truth that we all have an immeasurable treasury of love within us. 2,500 years ago the Buddha taught his disciples the meditations on Loving Kindness as a way to reconnect with that inner wealth. In modern times these meditations still provide gentle yet powerful tools for opening our hearts and minds. (source: Dzogchen Beara site).

To simplify it: the basic form is to sit quiet, connect with the universel love -or a holy person that you feel connected with- and repeat phrases like: ‘May I be well, may I be happy’ to yourself in your head. You can later expand it by saying ‘May you be well, may you be happy’ to other persons. (I’m not an instructor, so if you really want to know more about it, go follow a good course, or read a good book about it, like this one from Sharon Salzberg).

So instead of looking at the news and feel annoyed or flabbergasted by someone or something, I send Loving Kindness to that person. ‘May you be well, may you be happy’. And if I feel that a whole group of people are acting in a way that I don’t think of as loving to others (or themselves), i’ll say something in my head like: ‘May you all be well, may you all be in harmony with each other’. In this form I don’t sit down to meditate for a while first, I just focus on those sentences.

If anything, I feel better myself if I choose to do this, instead of being grumpy or angry or fed up with others. And if I feel better, than I am developing me inner peace and bit by bit that also leads to a more peaceful world. And the most powerful thing for me is: there is always a choice. You can always choose how to react on things and people. Isn’t that a wonderful and strong idea in a world were we get so much information all the time!

“Every good thing you do, every good thing you say, every good thought you think, vibrates on and on and never ceases.” Peace Pilgrim

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Overcome hatred with love

“This is the way of peace- overcome evil with good, and falsehood with truth, and hatred with love” – Peace Pilgrim

Did you ever notice how news is delivered? It mostly negative, zooming in on what’s going wrong and what’s not working somewhere in the world. Lots of people think that this is a good representation of how the world is. I am not so sure about that.

I do believe that the world is how you look at it. So if you think the world is mostly a bad place, you’ll find loads of examples that match your view. And if you think that the world is mostly a nice place with good people in it, you’ll find proove of that everywhere.

A few weeks ago the book of the Peace Pilgrim came into my life, while browsing books at a secondhand market. And I love every word of it! She decided to walk for peace -and ended up doing that for almost three decades, walking more than 25.000 miles. Her motto was: “I will walk until given shelter and fast until given food, remaining a wanderer until mankind has learned the way of peace.”

I am so moved by her words and actions, that I will share a few of my favorite parts of the book. This is one tiny small act of bringing more love in this world. And I do believe that all tiny and big acts of all people together go a long way. So why not go a peaceful way?

“When enough of us find inner peace, our institutions will become more peaceful and there will be no more occasion for war.”

“If you realized how powerful your thoughts are, you would never think a defeatist or negative thought.”

“The situation in the world around us is just a reflection of the collective situation. Only as we become more peaceful people will we be finding ourselves living in a more peaceful world.”

“I am not concerned with racial or ethnic background or the color of one’s skin; all people look to me like shining lights!  We people of the world need to find ways to get to know one another – for then we will recognize that our likenesses are so much greater than our differences, however great our difference may seem.”

 “The medicine this sick world needs is love. Hatred must be replaced by love, and fear by faith that love will prevail.”

“Every good thing you do, every good thing you say, every good thought you think, vibrates on and on and never ceases.”

Want to read more? You can download her book -for free- on the site about her.

It is easy to learn something new

I realised that today, when I was weaving living willow. I had never done that before, up until this morning. And at the end of the day I knew how to do it and already had a few hours of experience.

Ofcourse, it is easy for me to learn new things, because my life is a letting-go-adventure since I left my house last August. It is easier for someone to learn new things when you’re not surrounded by everything and everyone that you’re used to. At least, that’s how it works for me. In a new environment it is much easier to think ‘I might be able to learn this new skill’, because everything is changing all the time anyway.

This way I give myself room te explore myself more and more.

Although today, while weaving the willow, I realised that it is actually this easy to learn something new. You just have to start somewhere. Help someone with something. Decide to take a first step. Ask a friend if you can see how they do it. Read a book about it and go do it. Watch a video and practice. Improve your skill by be a volunteer. Ask your colleague to explain a new thing.

And you don’t have to be good at it from the start.

It is about learning. Practicing. Playing with it. Exploring if it is something you would like to learn more about. Or not.

I am giving myself loads of opportunities at the moment, because since a week I am volunteering at a new project in Ireland: Crann Og Eco Farm. Already in one week I know so much more about ecological living, animals, cooking and gardening.

So, what do you want to learn and when will you start with that?

I got rid of my television 7 years ago

Not because I never watched, but because I couldn’t stop watching once it was one. When I was a kid I loved music clips and series. I have to say that my knowledge of the English language improved by that. And there was much less broadcasting when I was younger, so yes, I also had plenty of time to play outside with friends and read a lot.

Later in life I still liked to watch. And I always got sucked into other storylines as well, while zapping in the commercial breaks.  I didn’t have enough self-control not to watch. At a certain point I decided to get myself a monthly subscription to a package with loads of tv-channels and the possibility to record programmes.

A few days later I got the news that I was picked to live at my own room within a communal house. I was going to live on the second floor on a building with high rooms, so there were lots of stairs. I decided then and there not to drag anything up that stairs that I wouldn’t consider as useful.

And I made the choice to get rid of my television. And you know what: I never missed it.

There were some times that I really wanted to watch things on a screen and then there were websites where I could watch tv series and programmes. Or I would watch a dvd. I never wanted to learn how to download movies or series, because I know ther was a big change that I would watch way more than I would actually like.

In the last years I occasionally stayed in houses of friends for a few days, to mind their house and cats and or plants, and if they would have a tv, I would eagerly go for it. After a while I always got bored, annoyed or overwhelmed by it.

A few weeks ago I was in the Netherlands for a week or two. Because I quit my rent before I went on my lettin go adventure  I stayed with several friends. The last week I stayed at the house of friends who were going on holiday.

They had Netflix.

And I discovered that I still was drawn to watching tv more than I think I would like. A part of me was ok by that, also because this was after all my holiday in between working as a volunteer with less private space for months on a row. A part of me was not ok by that, because I also could spend more time on meditating, reading and writing.

So I watched 22 episodes of a serie, the history of hiphop (I thought it was only 45 minutes instead of 4 episodes of 45 minutes… Of course I had to watch them all), a great documentary about background singers and a cheesy and nice comedy about love.

It was all quit informative, entertaining and interesting, but I also realised why I don’t want to watch that much: it all takes space up in my head and it sips into my dreams, so I’m partly processing other people’s stories instead of my own. And it also messes with my sleep: I went to bed later than I would feel like kt, because the thing I was watching wasn’t finished yet.

Since a few days I am at my new voluntary project in Ireland. With no television. So more time for other things, like enjoying the view, reading a book or writing this blog.

Which wish is bigger than my fear?

A few days ago I was browsing through on of the boxes that I left in The Netherlands and I found a note that I wrote to myself a few years ago. Translated from Dutch it says: “Which wish is bigger than my fear?”. I totally forgot about it and it took me by surprise to see it again. Because I was actually living my wished life for the past months. I overcame my fear. I took the step.

Last summer I decided to follow my heart and combine a few dormant desires: quit my rent, get rid of loads of stuff and leave The Netherlands for a while. I decided to go to Ireland to do some voluntary projects for room and board. No idea what would follow and when I would be back. I ended up as a volunteer for 5 1/2 months in the beautiful, interesting and great Buddhist Retreat centre Dzogchen Beara.

Since a few days I’m back in The Netherlands. Just for a week or two, then I’ll go back to Ireland to do more voluntary work. For lots of people this probably doesn’t sound like a life you would (day)dream about. But it was for me.

Before I went away, one of the things I did for years in my then own company, was coaching people with their dreamed (work)life. In the sessions and also in personal conversations I had, a lot of the same questions came back:

What do you do?
What do you really want?
What is the worst thing you think could happen if you follow your heart?
What would you gain in your life if you would follow your heart?
What would you do if you would win the lottery?

Of course I asked these questions to myself as well and for years I answered: I want to go away for a while, be more offline and experience how I am without the things, people and habits that I’m used too.” That was my wish, my longing. And then there was the fear. And insecurities. Can I just go away? What if I don’t like it? Will I miss things after I get rid of them? How do I do that with money? How do I arrange all the practical hassle?

That stopped me from thinking seriously about it. And, as it goes with longings, last summer a few things didn’t work out for me and it all collapsed. And in that, everything came together and became clear: this was the moment. I am going to do it.

The interesting part for me was that the moment I made that decision, most of the fear and insecurities faded away. They were just not relevant anymore. It was all replaced by answers, excitement and a deep knowing that it would all work out. And that this was the best possible thing to do at that time. I never regretted it for even a second.

I also realize that fear is never a fixed state of mind. If you face it, it moves. You can try to hang on to it. Or explore and play with it. It’s up to you.

“Life doesn’t stay in place even for a moment.”
Gampopa