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.”

To live in a hostel dorm for 5 1/2 months

In a few days I will be leaving Dzogchen Beara, the place where I came in August to do voluntary work for two months. Instead I stayed for 5 1/2 months.

When I leave here, I can look back at staying in a hostel for 168 days. And sleeping 165 nights in the female dorm. In which I had the dorm for me alone for 2 nights. And the whole hostel to myself for 4 days and nights (that was around Christmas, when Dzogchen Beara was closed for guests and my only fellow-volunteer at that time went to her family in Ireland). During my stay here, there were 3 nights that I slept in on the cottages here, instead of the hostel (that was a few months ago, when my family came to visit me and here.)

If you would have told me before I planned to come here that I would sleep in a dorm for months, I’d probably have said to you that you were crazy. Because it sounded like a very unlikely thing for me to do. Since I’m quite sensitive, to light and sound and well, everything. And in need of my own space and alone-time every now and then.

But I made the decision to come here. And it went fine. It is a nice hostel to be. We’re in the middle of nowhere and there is no alcohol allowed here , so people don’t stumble in drunk in the middle of the night. And most people come here for some peace and quiet time and go to bed early.

And yes, there were moments that I couldn’t stand someone with a massive flashlight (or so it seemed in the dark dorm), a loud plastic bag, talking to me when I just woke up (I need some time before I get social) or snoring next to me. But most of the time I coped fine.

I meditate almost every day here and had the pleasure of participating in lot of retreats about meditation, Loving Kindness and compassion. This all makes it easier for me to annoy myself less, to let things and people be as they are. Without judgement. Without making a whole story in my head about it.

In a few days my adventure here is over. I will go to the Netherlands for a little while and then back to Ireland to do more voluntary work in different places. I hope, and presume, that I will take some of the meditation, insights, peace and Loving Kindness with me to the ‘outside’ world!


Do I miss things?

Living for more than 5 months in the dorm of the hostel of this Buddhist center, at the end of a cliff.

Yes, sometimes.

I would like to be alone. Or go to the cinema (the closest one is an hour drive away). Or use the internet where and when I want. Or eat on my own. Or write on my laptop (which I didn’t take with me). Or talk to a specific friend who is in the Netherlands. Or walk to a supermarket (the nearest one takes only a 15 minutes drive, but since I don’t have to care, I have to find a lift or hitchhike).

Sometimes i want things like that. But I realize by now that i want them for a little while and then the longing or wanting passes by. The daily guided mediation helps. The peaceful surroundings too.

It is quite liberating to be in this place in my life where not all of my needs or urges can be fulfilled right away. Or in a few days, weeks or months. 

Because everything passes. Longings come and go. It is very good to experience that. It feels more peaceful to me. And I feel that there is more time and attention for other things. Like having really good conversations, enjoy my food more, pet the cats for a long while, read books,  write, contemplate on life, look at the stars, be amazed by the passing clouds and the sun on the sea, enjoy the Robins that come so close here.

And hopefully I can bring that feeling with me when I leave here next week, and go back to the ‘other’ world.

It’s good to have a gratitude jar

A few years ago I read something about a gratitude jar. I loved the idea and started one at the 1st of January the following year. It was a big glass jar. Every evening before I went to sleep I wrote something down that I was grateful for that day.

Some days I couldn’t choose, because the day was filled with nice and good things. Other days I really had to think hard to think about one possible thing to write down. No matter what kind of day it was: I always wrote something down. It would vary from being grateful for a lovely time with a friend, seeing beautiful clouds, having a good meal, doing nice work, reading an interesting book: it could be anything.

At the end of that year I emptied my jar and read all my little papers. It felt so good to do that. The joy of having 365 little papers, 365 memories of things, situations and memories that made me grateful.

A very interesting side-effect of collecting those papers in a glass jar is that I could see the jar filling up. So even looking at the jar and seeing all those papers, made me already more happy, grateful and thankful.

Another interesting side-effect was that it made me realize what really made me happy in my life. The year before I stopped my own enterprise I already noticed that I wasn’t enjoying it as much as I did the years before, because my work was hardly ever mentioned on one of my papers.

This year I emptied my jar in August, just before I left my home and was getting rid of lots of stuff, to do voluntary work for a while in Ireland. (read here how that came about). And a few months ago I missed my jar. So I took an empty jar and started again.

In a few days I will empty it and look back at my time here in Dzogchen Beara. And look forward, to who knows what kind of adventures and meetings in the next year.

Loads of people

You can imagine that if you life and work in and around a hostel for about 4 1/2 months, like me now, there are always people around you. Loads of them. Some are coming for one night, most for two to thee nights, some for more nights and few of them for a week, or two.

Besides the hostel there are the guests that stay in the rooms in the Care Centre or in one of the cottages. Also there are buildings where people stay who are on a personal retreat. Some for a few nights, some for a few months. Then there are the people who work and volunteer here. And of course all the people who just come for one of the morning or afternoon meditations, or to go to the lovely bookshop/cafe.

I have had so much good conversations, loving greetings, interesting encounters, funny moments and warm goodbyes. And although I’m quit an optimistic person who tends to like people, I also had some boring conversations, cool greetings, irritating encounters, annoying moments and awkward goodbyes. But there were less of them.

I am a person that needs her alone and quite time on a day. And even with all these people around all the time, I could find the time and place for that as well. It helps that there is a quiet meditation room here. That there are always cats to pet and sit outside with. And I also had to learn to be on my own with people around me. A valuable lesson.

Altogether I feel privileged and thankful to have met so many interesting, sweet, lovely and nice persons.

What’s also interesting to me, is that sometimes I had a great connection or deep conversation with someone that I just met a few minutes ago. It is a special place with good energy here that attracts nice and interesting people, that’s for sure.

Some people I’m still in contact with, others I will meet again someday, others are nothing less than a good memory.

And I always try to keep in mind this sentence I read in a book:

“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 man at the end of the road

On of my fellow volunteers and me were walking all the way down to the main road, as we do sometimes after lunch. All together it takes about 25 minutes to walk there and back. A beautiful walk by the way.

A while ago we saw a man in the distance.  ‘Ah, that is Alex’, I told her. Everybody here knows or had heard of Alex, the man from the donkey sanctuary, who also has a few dogs, 2 emoes, a goat,  lots of birds, a swan and a few gooses.

He was standing next to the road with an animal wrapped in a blanket in his hands. I thought it was one of his dogs. She thought it was a little lamb. As we walked closer, we saw it was a seagull, calmly in his arms. We talked a bit with him and we understood that the seagull had to go the vet, so he stood there to get a lift to town. 5 miles away. We wished him the best and walked back up.

Later I realized that it is so interesting how slowly you get used to things. If someone would tell me this story before I came to this remote area of Ireland, I would have find it a weird story.

But living here for a few months and knowing that, without public transport, the only way to get around is to hitchhike, and knowing Alex and all his animals that he rescues, it seemed like the most logical situation in the world.

That was one of my reasons to leave my house, country and lot of things: to see the world from another view that I was used to.

Disconnect to connect more

Before I came here I was used to be online most of the time. For the last years I had a mostly online business: online coaching, online courses, organizing events that required a lot of mailing. At the end i longed to be offline more and more. I planned days and weeks without internet and mail. I loved it.

And when last May a few of my longings came together and i decided to go away for a while, it was obvious for me that i also would be less online for at least a few months. No new blogs on my other site, not visiting Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn and Pinterest (I already said goodbye to Facebook the year before). And to leave my smartphone and instead bring a old mobile phone.

And then i came to this place. With only a few spots with mobile phone connection. A -very old and slow- voluntary laptop that i could use at one specific place at certain hours. A sort of secret Wifi spot where i could connect with the outside world, but only after 5 pm and at a dry but quit uncomfortable place, where the only place place to sit is on the ground.

When it is so much hassle to get online, you get so much more efficient. And lots of things are not really worth the time and effort. Typing on a little tablet screen when sitting on a cold floor makes sure that you don’t type or browse to much.

Offline most of the time. I love it.

you are hereBesides, most of the time i have to work or spend my time walking, reading, having nice conversations, looking at the beautiful view or just sit with one of the cats. It is quit a relief to be in a place where not everybody is looking at their smartphone all the time.

Since a few weeks i made the decision to slowly get more online. My smartphone was send to me, so Whatsapp is back in my life. (Although i told that to almost no one until now).And i started to share pictures on Flickr and Instagram again. And i started this new site. Everything is a bit handier because i have sometimes access to a normal computer. 

I also felt the downsides of it all again. Checking Instagram and my mail quit a lot. It made me more anxious sometimes. Until i realized again that i don’t have to do check all this all the time.  And I can always make the decision, like last weekend, to not go online for a few days.

Because disconnecting actually connects me more: with myself and the people around me.

Not just a story about just a cat

Sometimes people or animals come in your life and you feel a special connection with them. It can be beings that are in your life for years, for one brief encounter or something in between that.

For the last few months i felt a special connection with a cat. A very special cat. His name was Mucky. I am sorry to say that he died last weekend. I am happy to say that it was a very peaceful end.

The second day as a volunteer at Dzogchen Beara i  sat outside and he crawled into my lap. Later i held him in my arms. He seemed to like that as much as i did. He hold me tight. After a while he placed his arms so that each one of them was on was on one side of my neck. A cat hug. He stole my heart at that very moment.


He was one of the three cats that were here for about 10 years. Some periodes they lived in the hostel, now they were outside cats. They lingered around the hostel, waiting to sneak in. Or find a nice human lap outside to sit on.

Mucky had a heart failure. Because of that his body made more fluids. He got his medicine together with some food outside the hostel for a few months. He lingered outside, even when it was raining heavily he sat on the outside window still, looking inside, to the humans.

He was a special one in many ways. He had an interesting appearance. He lived at a Buddhist retreat centre and probably picked up some extra wisdom here and there, many people thought.

Two months ago i noticed a few things in his behaviour that seemed odd. The vet discovered that he was dehydrated and had an ammonia. He stayed there for two days and when he was back he had to sleep in the hostel porch, to recover. With more medicine. Since i was quit attached to him and very punctual, i was in charge of feeding him his food, medicine and water.

I was very happy that he could life inside now. He got a bit more strenght in a few days, but the porch became his new home. When the weather was good, he would go outside. Sometimes to wander for hours, sometimes to lie down in the hostel garden.

katja-2I loved to take care of him, and experienced it as quit intense, the responsibility. And i always felt sorry for him when he was inside, one door away of more warmth and people. So a few times a day I sat on the ground of the porch, with him on my lap or in my arms. Luckily the other volunteers did spend some time there with him too. The beginning of october a new volunteer came and she felt like taking care of him too. It was nice to share the care and responsibility.

He lived here for more then 10 years and in the last weeks we heard some funny and interesting stories about him. It seemed that he stole the hearts of many people. I only knew him as a slow and calm cat, but less than a year before he was still very alive, strawling around and being a bit clumsy and messy.

An evening almost two weeks ago we thought his last moment was there. His breathing became very heavy. It was really sad, also because there was nothing we could do about it. It became better later that evening, but we realised that the fluid in his belly really became too much for his lungs. just as the vet told us a few weeks ago.

In the week that followed a few people came by to say goodbye to Mucky. Me and the other volunteer monitored him closely, making sure he got his medicine, that he was warm enough and that he drank enough water. And sit with him and petted him as much as he let us. It was very special to be so close to this special cat in his final stage of his life. I’m not sure how to explain this properly: it felt as an honour that he let me take care of him. And I will never forget the powerful and loving look he had when he directly looked me in the eyes.

Last saturday during the day he came closer to the two of us than the days before. Early in the night my fellow volunteer woke me up. I went down and she told me Mucky just died. He went outside and when she called him back to close the door, he didn’t come as usual. She found him in the garden. He just walked outside, lied down and died. Quit a peaceful ending.

No matter how many words I write, it doesn’t seem enough. I suppose that’s how it is when you feel a special connection with a living being. I’m glad we shared a little bit of our lives together!20161103_134926_hdr



Yes, I am from Dutchland

One of my fellow volunteers here always jokingly said that I am from Dutchland. Before I came here I never really realized how confusing all the names for my country are.

I am from The Netherlands. Sometimes we call it Holland (although that is not really accurate, since officially that is only correct for two provinces of the country. But it is a well known word, so I use it as well). As a French girl said: ‘And we call your country Pays-Bas’.

All these words. And then the people are called Dutch. Another word.

So where do I come from? The Netherlands. Holland. And sometimes Dutchland.

By the way: I discovered where the term Dutch came from. You can read it here.

Taking your body for granted

The body is such an amazing thing. Sometimes it takes something not to work to notice that again‘, said the nice doctor. I nodded at him and looked at my right hand. So did the doctor. So did the nurse.

So it was just established: my ring finger was strained. I had a trigger finger. It had to rest for at least 7 days. Maybe 10. The nurse taped my ring finger and middle finger together, so that my injured finger could rest. No moving. No pressure. So that everything in my finger could heal. 

How did it happen?

Looking back, i realized that i carried to much heavy things for the last weeks. With just that one finger instead of the whole hand. I didn’t knew i did that, until it became a problem. My finger hurt. And i couldn’t close it totally without ‘popping’ it.

So now it had to rest. Quit a challenge when it is your job to clean. Because that is what i’m mostly doing here as a hostel-volunteer. So it was a challenge. Physically and mentally. Physically, because some things i just couldn’t do with just one hand. Like changing duvet covers. So my colleagues had to do that instead of me. That was also part of the mental challenge: i had to ask for help. I couldn’t do everything that i was used to do.

Without the use of those two taped fingers things like: tie my shoelaces, washing my hair, wash and dry dishes, cutting fruit, writing and typing were more difficult to do. That was exhausting and sometimes frustrating. Bust mostly accepting that this was how it was. And letting go.

A lot of letting go.

The visit to the doctor is about two weeks ago now. A few days ago i noticed that my finger can close again. Most of the times. The finger is not completely healed, but it’s better. Once again the amazing body is healing itself.