Less distracted by your mobile phone

I shook my head back and forth in amazement. Why would you leave everything on your mobile phone on if it is your intention not to use it? Why would you make it so difficult for yourself?

I watched a documentary. It contained a piece where a teenage boy had agreed not to use his mobile phone for a week. It is in the kitchen. Switched on and online. After a few days he sees a notification from the corner of his eye that catches his attention and of course he can’t help but look. After that he becomes completely absorbed by his mobile again.

Not wanting to watch your mobile while you hear and see all kinds of things happening there is very difficult. And unnatural. We humans are made to respond to stimuli. And all apps aim to constantly grab our attention.

You can teach yourself to be more aware of your own reaction to stimuli. By observing your own behavior. Through meditation. Practicing mindfulness.

But of course you can also just ensure that there are fewer stimuli.

I myself am always working on figuring out how to best stay in balance. How to keep hearing myself in this busy world that wants attention on many fronts. And after years of practice, trying and fine-tuning, I know the following things help me with my mobile phone use :

  • The internet on my mobile is turned off by default and I sometimes consciously turn it on.
    Someone once asked me why I don’t switch off my mobile phone more often, but that is really different for me. First of all, I want to be available when someone calls me. And secondly, I feel that my energy is drawn to my mobile as long as the internet is on and therefore messages can potentially come in.
  • Almost all of my notifications are off anyway.
    Except Whatsapp. Because bleeps and moving things on a screen only distract me and anyway: is it really necessary that I know immediately when I receive an email? Someone likes an Instagram photo? I received a message on LinkedIn? The answer is: no.
  • I don’t need my mobile for everything.
    For example, I have a separate alarm clock. I listen to music via my laptop, stereo or tablet. I also have a paper English-Dutch dictionary (I read a lot of English books and every now and then a word comes up that I don’t know).
  • Offline Sundays.
    I have them intermittently. The last few months almost every week. A day like this helps me to use my mobile phone and the entire internet more consciously on other days. Because I change the habit of immediately needing/wanting to do something online. And it gives me peace of mind not to have the option to watch a movie or an episode of a series for a day anyway.

A mobile phone and social media are simply addictive. At the same time it makes a lot possible and it can be extremely useful, and fun. Often you just don’t realize how much it takes up your attention, until you spend less time on it.

How aware are you of the amount of attention, time and energy you spend on your cell phone?

The documentary I watched is called “The Social Dilemma“. This documentary includes interviews with technical experts who have worked at companies such as Google, Facebook and Instagram and who have become aware of the dark side of their own creations. It shows how social media reprograms civilization (also offline!). Recommended!

Do I let this sound bother me?

I’m very sensitive, especially when it comes to sound. I have good hearing too, so I often hear a distant sound that people next to me don’t hear. Or notice.

There were times that I wanted all sounds and noises that annoyed me to stop. Ofcourse that’s not how it works.

Luckily I found other ways. Thanks to meditation and all sorts of mindfulness.

I take a deep breath and feel if it really bothers me, or of it’s just an old automatic reaction.

If it does bother me I can choose from a variety of options:
– focus on something else so it diffuses
– go sit somewhere else
– stay were I am and put headphones with music or affirmations on

It feels so much better to know that I have a choice in how to react and respond, instead of feeling overwhelmed. Or putting energy in directing negative thoughts towards the sound/person(s) while hoping that it stops soon.

I choose how I direct my attention. I choose how I direct my energy.

The invisible line that plays a major role in life

There is a – often invisible – line that plays a major role in your life. And in how you experience the world. On the one hand, there are things that concern you, that touch you, that you notice, that you pay attention to. On the other hand, there are things you do not know, do not see, do not notice, do not find interesting or important.

How a person’s line is formed is a combination of personality, social circle, education, environment, experiences, habits, phase of life, family members, friends, neighbors, education, sites, books, magazines, films and TV series. This line also shifts during a person’s life. How often and how far and which way all depends on the aforementioned things.

My line has shifted in recent days. In the field of black oppression and white privilege.

Where it all started for me: Pentecost weekend I participated in an online meditation retreat. Except for those sessions, I was offline. No news. No social media. No Whatsapp. Nothing. That Monday afternoon I spent some time on Instagram, for the first time in days. I saw a lot passing by about the BlackLivesMatters protests and demonstrations. And to be honest, something in me found it all a hassle at first.

Until I kept watching. And reading. And couldn’t stop anymore. I was curious. Sad. Angry. Surprised. Shocked. I viewed personal stories and experiences. Documentaries. Facts. Pieces of history. Intense videos. Heartbreaking stories. Opinions. Opposing opinions. Silent protests. Screaming fighters. Defeated people. Frightened people. Brave people. Angry people. Hopeful people.

I watched the documentary “13th” and I was taken aback by it. This documentary clearly shows how the American legal and prison system works. And how much it is intertwined with racial inequality, which has been consciously built and maintained throughout long history. And the major role of the political and commercial world in this.

I live in The Netherlands. And everything that happens in Amerika may seem far from here. But everyone in the world is influenced in many ways, consciously and unconsciously, by everything that can be seen in the news, TV series, movies and online. In any case, I found it clarifying to gain more insight into the history and background of what is going on now by watching that documentary.

For me, apparently it was necessary to see a lot of people – worldwide – write or tell about this subject before it really came to my attention. And I started to study it. I am looking at news and social media messages with a different view now. Against the background of what I have heard and seen in recent days. It has my attention.

My line has shifted visibly.

For those who want to learn more about this topic:
– The documentary 13th (on Netflix and they made it (temporarily?) available on Youtube.)
– Document: Anti-racism resources (booktitles, movies, articles, podcasts and other resources)
– And do look around for good resources in your own country/your own language (in The Netherlands there is for instance a site Wit Huiswerk (‘White Homework’)

(I also posted this blog in Dutch on my Dutch site. )

To go within, especially in times of change and uncertainty

Always, but especially in times of change and uncertainty, it can be helpful to go within.

To take a step back from the world. To even take a step back from what you think you know and believe and feel. And be aware of what’s happening inside yourself. Beyond the surface. With as much kindness as possible. No matter if you like what you notice, or not. Try not to judge. Even try not to judge if you’re noticing that you are judging. Just notice and observe. Be aware.

That can be unsettling and scary, at first.

Most people are conditioned to always keep moving. To suppress feelings that come up, to directly form an opinion, to only aim for happy and joyful experiences. It can lead to feeling disconnected from yourself and others. It can lead to feeling stressed and incompetent. It can lead to feeling scared and angry. It can lead to feeling confused and tired.

So if you start (again) to make some time to just be, you have to adjust to that. At first your thoughts might roam wildly. Or your body gets very restless. Those are actually signs that you don’t have enough just-be-time.

I do believe that it is crucial for us human beings to take some time to go within. It is not a luxury. It is not selfish. Quite the opposite. It helps you to see things more clearly, to feel more grounded, to make room for more kindness. It helps accepting that life is always changing and includes everything: the good, the bad and the ugly. So go within. Even if it’s just for a few minutes a day.

Take a few deep breaths. Meditate. Stare out of the window. Write down some thoughts. Read a bit in a book that feels good. Listen to a nice song with your eyes closed. Make a drawing. Go for a little walk.

“The path to unshakable well-being lies in being completely present and open to all sights, all sounds, all thoughts – never withdrawing, never hiding, never needing to jazz them up or tone them down.”

Pema Chödrön – Living beautifully with Uncertainty and Change

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.