Author Archives: Katja

How are you doing?

“We might have to, sometimes,be brave enough to switch the screens off in order to switch ourselves back on. To disconnect in order to connect.”
Matt Haig – Notes on an nervous planet

For a lot of people it seems normal to pay attention to other people first. To watch and read how things are going with all kinds of people, that you may or may not know, before you focus on yourself. And because of things like a smartphone and tablets, all this information is always within reach.

Do I have mail?
Have I already received an app message?
What is happening in the world?
What has everyone I know and don’t posted on Instagram and Twitter?
How many likes do I have?
What is everyone sharing on Facebook?
Where have others been on vacation?
Which series everyone is talking about?
Which celebrity said what?
What are they talking about on the news?
What events are happening everywhere?

By starting your day like this, and often continuing like this throughout the day, you barely have time left for yourself. You pay less attention to how you feel. And to what there is to see in your garden, your street, your neighborhood. And you have little room left to let everything sink in, to process things.

Your dreams of that night.
That weird gut feeling that lingers.
The impressive film you’ve seen.
That one remark that touched you..
What you need, deep down.
That good idea that you suddenly came up with.
The beautiful book you’ve read.
The people in your life that make you feel good.
Why you are “suddenly” feeling so tired.
That funny conversation you had in the supermarket.
That memory of the past that suddenly came up.

And if you do take a moment for yourself, there is also a tendency to immediately share your experiences online. Instead of first really feeling them, let them sink in, think about it for a moment, talk about it with a good friend.

Give yourself some space first. Before you slowly stuff yourself with the messages and experiences from other people.

(The book ‘Notes on a nervous planet’, written bij Matt Haig, is also about this topic. There are so many great sentences that I would like to share from it, but I restrain myself and only share a few.)

“We can’t live every life.
We can’t watch every film or read every book or visit every single place on this sweet earth. We need to find out what is good for us, and leave the rest. We don’t need another world. 
Everything we need is here, if we give up thinking we need everything.”
Matt Haig – Notes on a nervous planet

“To be comfortable with yourself, to know yourself, requires creating some inner space where you can find yourself, away from a world that often encourages you to lose yourself.”
Matt Haig – Notes on a nervous planet

I am stil processing

So I had a vivid dream last night. I was back at Dzogchen Beara, as a visitor.

Walked around. Greeted people which I knew. There were loads of people: some staffmembers, a couple of volunteers I worked with, a few guests that I met in my time there and even someone I know from the Netherlands. I was happy to see the cats that I knew and love, and surprised to even see some new cats. I felt at home right away again. And although I was only visiting, some guests asked me questions about where to go and how things worked.

As it goes in dreams (at least in my dreams), not all the people, buildings and things where an accurate representation of the real world. But when I woke up I realized that it actually felt like a real visit.

It feels weird to be there in my mind, but not in real life.

It feels weird that now it takes planning and money and time before I’m there, the place where I lived and worked and felt so at home for 1 1/2 years.

My time there was special, grounded, relaxed, stressed, mindblowing, fun, overwhelming, comfy, hilarious, educational, frustrating, connected, exhausting, energetic and intense. I love to learn, and this was a great place for it. I learned so much about myself, people, meditating, Buddhism, the world. So much learning, in a relatively short time, like a pressure cooker.

I have been back in the Netherlands almost as long as I was there. And I haven’t processed it all yet. Maybe I never will, who knows. I think writing will help, with unraveling it all. So that’s what I will do more. Write and unravel.

(Here for the first time and no idea what I’m talking about? Read about the start of my adventure here, or about ending that adventure there, or just browse through my earlier blogposts).

Ode to my dad

In Januari 2014 it became clear that my dad had an incurable cancer. The following months were really special, intense and loving. Thanks to the way my dad is. Today 4 years ago he died. A few days later I wrote an ode to him. Today I translated it from Dutch to English:

Hi dad,

It is so great to be your daughter! Because of you I can be who I am. And it gave and still gives me the confidence to follow my own path.

You never thought you knew everything about anything. That way you always remained open and willing to learn. Very modest. Sometimes in a unrealistic way.

For example, we talked about music at home recently and you reacted with ‘but I am not a musician’. You, not a musician? As long as I can remember there are instruments in our house. You always played in a band. We were always surrounded with music.

Dad, you were a real musician. I will take your love for music further into the world.

What I also find illustrative of you is that you leave people in their value. For example, as a starting student I died my hair bright red for a while. Just like a traffic light. You did not really like it, but you did like that I just did it. When someone said to you: “But you can not allow that as a father,” you answered: “Well, she is the one who has to walk around looking like that.”

I always had a lot of questions about everything and we had good conversations about that. When we were doing the dishes together. Or when you were fixing things in my house again.

At the end of last year we heard that you were seriously ill. From then on, these conversations became even more intense. And they got another layer. You were not afraid of death and that’s why we could talk about it. With openness, humor, amazement and wonder.

You were truly amazed by all the sweet cards and visits from people during the past months. You had no idea that you made an impression on so many people. Such a beautiful gift for you, to realise that while you were still alive.

When I got home at the beginning of last week, it was clear that you were in the very last phase of your life. You were there. And you were not there. Fortunately, I feel that we have talked about everything we wanted to say.

Being sick by itself didn’t seem to really bother him a lot.  As soon as something changed in your body, you adjusted in such a way that you could continue with doing your things. With your life. You really have enjoyed your life until the last day.

That last phase was something you really dreaded. You didn’t feel like experiencing that. So it did not really surprise me that in the middle of the night, while it was my turn to stay awake to be with you, you suddenly, very calmly, stopped breathing. No fear. No struggle. Your body was just done living.

Being great without shouting. That’s how you were. And that’s how you went. They say that you live on as long as people talk about you. Because of all the cards, conversations and messages we have received in recent months, and last week, I know for sure that you will live on for a long time.

Bye sweet dad,
there you go, on your way to the unknown.
I will continue my path in this world.
And I will always take your calmness, love, peace, trust and humour with me.

Why leave when you feel at home?

Why would you leave somewhere when you feel at home there? That’s the question I have contemplated about for weeks at the beginning of this autumn. Because I do feel so at home here, at Dzogchen Beara, Buddhist retreat centre in Ireland. And yet, I made the decision to leave. This week. Back to the Netherlands, as a new starting point for whatever comes next.

So why am I leaving? Because after almost 1 1/2 year here I feel to isolated in this far away part of Beara. I don’t have a car and there is almost no public transport in this area.It was a difficult decision.

I love this place, the work, the people, the cats, the overwhelming nature and the energy. It’s nurturing and challenging at the same time. But by time I realised that there are parts of me that don’t feel nurtured. Like the part of me that wants to be more independent. Which is quite difficult if you even need a lift to get to the nearest supermarket or bus station… I also like to be on my own in a busy place, to observe people, contemplate and write. Sit in the library and go to a museum. And there is a part of me that likes to be with friends: go for a drink, a dance, a walk, a movie. And when I am out and about I would like to go back when it feels right for me, instead of when the person with the car wants to go back.

I arrived as a volunteer in August 2016 and for some reason I felt connected right away. I took my cleaning- and hosteljob serious and grew naturally into doing extra tasks. Felt responsible for things. Had a deep longing to take care of this place. So instead of the usual 2 months, I stayed longer and longer.

My habits and assets fit so well here. For instance: they appreciate that I notice a lot and mention it, even the others managers and directors. An amazing feeling. I had many (voluntary) jobs in live where my awareness wasn’t appreciated. Here it was. Here I was. So I grew and learned and thrived even more. I gave a lot, and I gained a lot.

Started assisting my accommodation manager within a few months. Left here after almost half a year. Tried other things and came back within 2 months, to fill in while my manager had a holiday. Felt deeply that I wanted to stay longer. Got and took more responsibility. Got a part-time paid position in the general office as well as assisting my manager. And when she got sick I ended up as the fulltime accommodation manager. And the last two months I divided my team as manager and in the general office.

I joined so many meditation retreats and lots of guided meditations here, guided by wonderful people. And I had the good fortune to join retreats with these teachers: Sogyal Rinpoche, Tsoknyi Rinpoche, Jetsun Khandro Rinpoche, Chagdud Khandro Rinpoche, Ringu Tulku en Dzigar Kontrul Rinpoche. And all in this beautiful place, with an overwhelming coastal view.

It is quite special to live and work in a Buddhist based environment. And every time I leave this nice bubble, I am so surprised by how the reality can be for others. That so many people react to all their feelings and thoughts, with no awareness (or believe) that there is a choice not to do that. That there is always a choice to be more peaceful and kind.

What I want in live is to learn and grow as a human every day, while trying to be a good person. This is the perfect place for it. An open, confrontational, loving and kind place. With place for humour too! At the end of the world, at the cliffs, so really no place to hide from yourself.

So soon I am going back. Although this going ‘back’ actually feels more challenging then when I left the Netherlands to go on this Ireland adventure. I will have to find my way again, in a world that I knew, while I have changed. Feeling and deciding how I want to live, where I want to live. Because right now I have no idea.

I hope to bring lots of mindfulness and Loving Kindness with me! And plan to live my life in such a way that I can come back here regularly, back to this place where I feel at home, at the end of these cliffs.

 

– Do have a look at my earlier blogs, where I write about living in the hostel and other experiences.

– And I post pictures on my Instagram.

 

 

Inside or outside

Yesterday I decided to have a day without checking my email, Instagram or anything else on the internet. I did that regularly when I was still living in the Netherlands and I felt it was good to do it again.

This morning I went to the guided morning meditation here in Dzogchen Beara. Later I had my first internet-time this day: I had a look at Instagram. I saw pictures of my friends and other people I follow. And this time I was very aware of how much it affected me. An hour before, when in was meditating, I was connected with myself, my inside. Now, by seeing all these pictures, my awareness went outside of me. 

Within a few minutes my attention went from people in the snow to concerts to travelling. And my mind had a lot of thoughts, associations and reactions. It wasn’t a nice feeling. It felt so restless all of a sudden.

It was quite fascinating though, to be so aware of these changes in myself.

It also became clear for me, once again, that although I do like to be in touch with other people, and the things internet has to offer, I have to find a way not to be carried away totally with it all. To find a way to stay in connection with myself, my inside, as much as possible.

My first experience of mindfulness after my throat tonsils were removed

My thoughts just went back to a time, more then 20 years ago, when I experienced for the first time how it felt when there was a gap between my thoughts and saying something out loud.

I was 18 years old and my throat tonsils had to be removed. It was my first (and only) time being in a hospital to stay for a few days. I wasn’t really in agony, so I actually quite enjoyed myself there. It was important that I drank a lot to keep my throat moist, so I was allowed to get lemon lemonade as much as I wanted. My parents and some family visited me sometime and that was nice, although they had to do most of the talking, talking was quite painful. For the rest I was reading, sleeping and watching tv.

Eating was a bit painful because I could only chew and swallow very slowly and mindfully (although I don’t think I knew the word ‘mindfully’ back then already) even though my food was chopped into very little pieces to help me. After 4 nights I was released back home again. I did live in a student house at that time, but still was at my parents place often. Just like then. It was the week before Christmas and my sister was at home too. And I remember family visiting now and then.

What I mostly remember though, was that I wasn’t able to join the conversations.

Talking was painful (and I probably was advised to keep it to a minimum), so I didn’t do it much. I did have pen and paper with me, to I could write things down.

But I noticed that most things that I wanted to say, didn’t seem so important anymore after a few minutes. The momentum of them passed. So I listened more. I read a lot. I was in the room with people, but I really wasn’t contributing as much as I used to.

And I found it fascinating. Sometimes annoying, sometimes pleasant.

Looking back, I think this was my first experience of mindfulness.

Imagine them to be family

I arrived as a volunteer in Dzogchen Beara last year august and my first period here I stayed for 5 ½ months. In that period I worked with a few volunteers and staffmembers. Living and working in the hostel (having a bed in the female dorm), I also met loads of other people every day. 

Not everyone was to my liking: some were to noisy with bags in the bedroom, or they cleaned different than I did, they didn’t care enough for the cats here, they asked me questions at the wrong moments. It took me some time, practice, conversations and contemplation to realize that that were all thoughts in my mind.

All of my thoughts and what I might see as ‘facts’ is actually saying something about myself, not about the other.

With some help I came te realise that all the people around me were here to give me a possibility to learn something. I like this quote about that:

“Imagine that everyone is enlightened except you. The people you meet are all here to teach you something.”

Richard Carlson-  (Book: Don’t sweat the small stuff.)

The longer I worked here, the better I understood that when a new volunteer came I automatically thought: “No matter what my first impressions are, we are here together. We are part of a team. We work together. We live together. We are family.”

Some volunteers felt like people I really connected with, others were like an annoying little brother and another one was more like the irritating aunt I would avoid at family gatherings. Still: I tried to accept them all, because that’s what you do in a team, a family.

And you know what: ideally you could do that with every person in the world, we are all connected anyway. But let’s start small, with the people around you. And work with that.

Work with your own habits, your reactions, your assumptions, your prejudices, your preferences, your view.

And spread more love, acceptance and Loving Kindness. Also to yourself. Because yes: some people of them will trigger you. That’s how you practice.

And be honest…. You might as well be someone else’s annoying sister or irritating uncle… Wouldn’t you like them to give you a change, to see you from a more loving perspective?

Related posts:
To live in a hostel dorm for 5 1/2 months
Loads of people

We humans are in this together

Everyone you meet has their own battles, joys, doubts, pleasures, worries, questions, insecurities and achievements.

No one on earth is here to do you wrong.

You are the one that can think so.

What do other people trigger in you, ‘good’ or ‘bad’?

What lesson may their being, their presence, their long or very short stay in your life tea8ch you, if you allow it?

If you think you have all the answers, you are not open to learn more.

Other people and situations are like mirrors: they are as they are. You are the one that gives it meaning, a background, a story.

Stay open to learn, appreciate everyone you meet.

Because you never know who or what will give you a valuable lesson or insight to keep growing as a human.

“Imagine that everyone is enlightened except you. The people you meet are all here to teach you something.”
Richard Carlson-  Don’t sweat the small stuff.

The boy alone and my thoughts

The more I meditate, the more I am aware of my thoughts. I find it very interesting to notice them, they come so quickly.

For instance: one day I saw lots of schoolchildren walking around in the streets (in Ireland you can recognise them easily because of the school uniforms they are wearing). Groups of two, of three, of four, of more. And then I saw one boy walking on his own.

My thoughts were: “That’s so sad, all by himself. Is he ok? Does he have friends? How is he feeling about being alone?”

Then I noticed these thoughts. And realised that I was projecting something on this situation, like we humans easily do, most of the time even without noticing it.

Maybe the boy was fine alone. Maybe he had a big group of friends waiting back at school. Maybe he was bullied. Maybe he was a bully. Maybe he preferred to be on his own. Who knows. It could be any of these thoughts, or none.

What I think I know for sure is that I saw a human being walking on the pavement. The rest were merely thoughts, projections and ideas.

And I find it fascinating to be aware of the fact that most of my world is actually just my thoughts, projections and concepts.

That’s one of the reasons that I like to mediate, to help myself to be more aware of them.

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).