The cat that changed my mind

 

(This blog-post is not part of the series on Pumpkins’ life. That series will be continued soon!)

Pumpkins has disappeared.

He’s gone. Disappeared. Just like that. We went to bed like normal one night, and the next morning he wasn’t there when I woke up. Normally when I get out of bed, he will be sitting on my deck or pop up from underneath, but this time he didn’t.

I went about my morning as normal, thinking he would walk in a little later, that he had just fallen asleep in a cozy spot and hadn’t realised it was morning. After a night of prowling, he usually sleeps his deepest sleep in the mornings, on the doormat or on my lap. So maybe he was just zonked out somewhere else.

But he never walked in that day, heading for his food bowl, as he normally would.

I spent the day hoping that he would pop up in the evening, that maybe he had been wandering off too far in the night and decided to hide out somewhere safe during the day before he would walk back under the protection of the darkness at night.

I hadn’t woken up during the night from screeching cat fights or barking dogs in combination with cat screams, which could indicate that he got in trouble. None of my neighbours had heard anything alarming either. So I didn’t think he was lying somewhere half-crippled and bleeding from a dog-attack, the way we first found him, several years ago. Or maybe I was just hoping he wasn’t.

 

Prcocrastination

Last month, I was a writer on fire.

Every time I sat down to write, a great story with a good take-away came out of my keyboard almost without effort.

It was the last month of Elephant Academy—writing month. Super inspiring. Every week, I submitted two or three stories to Elephant Journal, and they were all published.

I received a lot of positive feedback from fellow apprentices who loved and shared my articles on the Facebook pages they were managing.

They cheered me on and told me I was on fire.

I felt like I had wings. I was inspired and 100 percent motivated all the time.

And then it all came to a screeching halt.

The apprenticeship ended. We were gently removed from our Facebook pages to make room for the new group of apprentices coming behind us.

We were told: “The training wheels are off; you can do it by yourselves now.” The group camaraderie changed into more individual contacts with those people I had connected with most in the last three months. Things slowed down quite a bit.

Maybe I should say: I slowed down quite a bit.

It was as if I had gone cold turkey. Without the structure of weekly meetings and writing prompts, I now failed to inspire and motivate myself. Without the whole group cheering me on, I found it hard to generate the enthusiasm to write and keep writing until I had a catchy story with an interesting takeaway for the reader.

My inspiration and motivation were gone. I had lapsed into an acute bout of intense procrastination.

I let myself procrastinate for a while. I had been working hard for three months straight, and I felt I deserved a break.

That was a pretty dumb decision. I allowed myself to lose the invaluable momentum that the apprenticeship had helped me gain.

Procrastination has a strange self-reinforcing mechanism: when we postpone something once, the next day it’s already a little easier not to do it, the third day even more. It doesn’t take long to just forget completely why we wanted to do something at all.

But I had been writing every damn day for more than a month. I knew I was capable of it.

So my question to myself was: why am I procrastinating again? Why am I all of a sudden not able to sit down and write every day, as I would like to?

I decided to dig into the strange phenomenon of procrastination itself.

“Procrastination, in psychological terms, is what happens when the value of doing something else outweighs the value of working now.” ~ Elliot T. Berkman, Assistant Professor of Psychology at the University of Oregon

Almost all of us procrastinate in some way, and none of us are very proud of it.

Basically, we procrastinate out of fear. Fear of having to work hard, fear of failure, fear for not getting a reward, fear for the discomfort that is inherent in making meaningful changes in our work and lives. Easier to put it off for a bit, right? There’s so much else we’d rather do.

By putting it off, we falsely assume that tomorrow it will be easier to do the task, that we’ll have less fear. God only knows why we think something will change overnight that’ll make it easier. It turns out that the opposite is true, according to Forbes contributor, Margie Warrell:

“Our fears grow larger, not smaller, the longer we put things off. Eventually they lead into the burial ground for unfulfilled dreams and untapped potential.

By procrastinating, we sellout on our happiness—both today and in every tomorrow.”

Ouch! We don’t really want to do that, do we? Sellout on our happiness? Bury our dreams? Leave our potential untapped?

There’s three good reasons to stop procrastinating!

The question is: how can we stop?

Here are a five ways in which we can beat procrastination and get going again, according to psychologists and other experts in the field:

1. Define our goals: The clearer our goals, the easier it is to motivate ourselves.

According to Berkman, it is important to connect our goals with our future self. Imagining how we will feel if we achieve our goals, really identifying with that fulfilled future self makes it easier to detach form the present self that just wants to indulge.

Asking ourselves the specific question: why do we want to exercise, meditate, learn to play the guitar, stop drinking, or start saving money? What is our goal?

For that matter, why do I want to write? Good question.

Because I love writing! It makes me feel alive. Because I have many unique stories and experiences and insights in my head that I want to share—they might be of benefit to other people. Because I am a teacher, but I don’t like crowds—so I’m better off writing it down. Because I have a book in me that needs to be birthed.

Because I want to reach out to the world and be of service with my words.

2. Once we have a clear idea (again) of our goals, we can look at the things we have to commit to in order to achieve them.

The experts recommend making this as specific as possible. It is easier to fulfil specific goals than vague concepts.
If we want to get healthy, our goal should not be a vague wish for “more exercise.” Specifying it into “going for a 30-minute walk every day after we’ve had our morning coffee” makes it more likely that we’ll feel committed enough to actually do that.

If I want to be a writer, I can commit to sitting down and writing 1,000 words every damn day, starting at 9 a.m. right after breakfast. I can commit to posting a short inspirational post on Instagram every day after lunch. To submitting a story to Elephant Journal every Tuesday. Three specific and doable goals.

3. An often heard piece of advice is to break the big goal up into smaller bits that are easier to handle.

If we aim too high or too big at the beginning, first of all, it will seem too overwhelming. Secondly, we set ourselves up for failure further down the road. It’s called self-sabotage.

It is also important to focus on fewer tasks and really being choosy about our priorities.

We cannot start running 10 miles when we have not moved at all for the last 15 years. We may start with a daily walk just around the block. When that feels comfortable, we add another block. The priority is moving every day, not moving 10 miles.

If I want to be a writer, I won’t crank out a best-seller on the first try. Or become a daily blogger overnight. So I start small with a weekly blog submission. I do one Instagram post a day, instead of four or more. I’m not getting into Twitter or Pinterest yet. I aim for a 1,000 words every day to begin with, instead of 2,000 or even more.

When we set ourselves tasks that are within reach of our abilities, but just a tiny bit out of our comfort zone, we are more likely to fulfill them compared to goals that are too unrealistic. Growth happens right in the middle between too easy and extremely difficult, between comfortable and too challenging, between well-known and totally unfamiliar. Choosing tasks that fit in that middle zone will set us up for success.

When we are able to fulfill the smaller goals that we have set for ourselves, we will feel accomplished. That feeling will motivate us to keep going, and move on to the next goal. Celebrate every achievement for an extra motivational boost!

4. Imagining the future rewards and understanding our intentions and motivations.

Regular exercise will bring us prolonged health so that we will be able to take our grandchildren on hiking and camping trips. That’s a reward worth working for now.

Now that I’ve lost the immediate reward of multiple cheers from my Academy peers, it’s time to redefine my reward for writing.

Getting published all the time is actually a worthy reward in itself, knowing that I only started submitting stories a couple of months ago. I’ll celebrate every 10 published articles by buying myself a book that I really would love to read as a bonus reward. I’ll write for that!

5. Take the first step—even if we’re not yet convinced that we can attain our goals.

As Lao Tzu said: “A journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step.”

Although that first step is the hardest, because it is the one that has to move us from our comfortable procrastination into action mode, it is also the most rewarding. Once we get going, the next step is already easier. We gain momentum (again) and before we know it, we are at full steam. The fact that we have taken the first step is reason for celebration of our accomplishment, which motivates us again to keep going.

My first step was writing this article about procrastination! What could be yours?

 

This article was first published in Elephant Journal

Image: Flickr/Andrew Wiggin

 

procrastination, writing every damn day, just do it
Photo: Lisa Monseglio/The Fern Feather

 

A year ago I subscribed to a 30-day creative writing challenge.

On day two, the writing prompt was a dialogue between our inner critic and our artist self.

I happen to not really have such a big inner critic, thank God, but I am a great procrastinator, so I gave my procrastination (P) a voice instead.

This is what I wrote:

Waking up at 5.15am, after a good nights’ sleep ( I went to bed at 8pm and slept through the whole night), the first thing P says is:

“Great! Only 5.15am, loads of time…what shall we do: a game of Scrabble, some reading…anything else we can do here in bed? Meditating? It is soooooo comfy in here, and there’s no money-making work waiting for us today anyway.”

Me: “Oh come on P, we talked about this last night! We were going to get out of bed as soon as we would wake up. No delays! Remember? And you know very well that meditating in bed turns into hours of random trains of thought.”

P: “OK, I forgot about that promise…but are you sure you don’t want to stay in bed a little longer, I mean, all those healthy routines you are going to be doing next, do you never get tired of all that?”

Me: “Tired? Are you crazy? It’s what makes me tick all day! It’s what keeps me healthy, and balanced and motivated!

If it weren’t for you I would be doing that every day of my life. Why do you have to try and talk me out of it every single day? Do you never get tired of THAT? Jeez! It’s thanks to you that I gave up running already, while it used to make me feel really good.”

P: “Well, I have been hired for it, haven’t I, to keep you from doing stuff? And what’s this writing thing, are you going to add that to the whole routine-machine as well? 

There’s going to be no end to all those things that you will want to do every day. You’re making it harder and harder for yourself to do it all. It must be quite overwhelming for you every day…(I can hear the sarcastic snicker in her voice)…I bet you cannot keep it up even for those 30 days, let alone for the rest of your life…”

Me: “I know you want me to think that I can’t do it, because that’s your job. Well, let’s bet your job over this: If I succeed to write 30 days in a row, you will lose your job for good. If I don’t finish these 30 days, you can hang around some more and get another chance in defeating my efforts (“but I will keep trying anyway”, I whisper under my voice). Is that a deal?”

P: “Sure. I betcha you can’t finish it!”

Me: “I betcha you will be without a job in 30 days!”

So almost a month after I wrote this dialogue, I fired my procrastination from its job, since I had fulfilled the 30-day challenge. I had written every damn day for 30 days. I felt more alive than ever, and was gung-ho about starting my blog and book. I was going to do it!

I was so motivated, that I overcame all my fears for the digital world (I used to call myself a proper digital dinosaur), and even figured out how to make this website on my own (I became quite intimate with some of the help-desk staff of my web-provider). It took me two months, but I did it. And it looks pretty good, doesn’t it?.

In December I was ready to start blogging, and I kept it up till the end of May. I didn’t aim too high, so I only posted every 10 days or so, thinking it would be easier to crank up the frequency and boost my confidence than having to slow down, feeling defeated.

But.

Living the secluded life I live, I have reduced my social circle to the bare minimum. I am one of those people that is very happy on her own. Now that turned out to be my major handicap. I was writing loads of inspired and fun stories, with interesting takeaways, but had barely a handful of people reading them.

It reminded me of that famous Koan: “When a tree falls in the forest, but there’s no-one around to hear it, does it make a sound?”

I started to lose momentum, leaving bigger gaps between posts every time.

I wasn’t ready to give up, but I knew I needed a readership if I wanted to stay motivated. The only way to do that, was getting my ass out of my cocoon and venture out into the world to connect with people and invite them to read my words.

I was not happy about that prospect. That is hard work, and it involves social media. I have a certain disdain for social media, apart from the fact that they scare the shit out of me (link). I don’t like to be in the spotlight, and find it very hard to be in groups. Getting my words out there was going to be a major personal challenge in multiple ways.

Then I saw the ad for Elephant Academy, an apprenticeship promising me to learn everything about social media, journalism ethics, writing and (self-)editing. That sounded like the perfect medicine for my ailing writer-self.

I signed up and got very busy with it. I got more than a dozen articles published in Elephant Journal.

I took the busyness of the apprenticeship as a proper excuse to completely withdraw from my blog. I didn’t look at it for 3 months straight, and didn’t even feel guilty about it. I needed a break from it, obviously, and then recoup.

Now the apprenticeship is over. I learned a lot, feel much better equipped, and I have received a lot of validation for my writing over the last three months, so I know I should continue. Basically, there is no excuse to not pick up my blogging again, and get my words out there through social media.

So what’s keeping me, you ask?

Procrastination.

That stinky bitch—kicked her out a year ago, but she snuck back in through the backdoor. Now I have to find a way to get rid of her again.

I  have several stories going, but none of them want to evolve into an interesting, fun article with a good takeaway for the readers, so I walk away from them quickly.

I am starting to fail my writer-self big time, spending days without seriously sitting down to write creatively. I’m working half-heartedly on my social media network, but could definitely do much more there too.

I am back to procrastinating, big time. But I don’t like it, and don’t want it.

Then my friend and writer Lindsay Lock posted these words on Facebook:

“Have you noticed…how moving toward a great dream summons from life’s jungles the fiercest lions, the scariest tigers, the grizzliest bears…who eventually turn out to be the noblest teachers, the bravest guides, and the dearest friends? You’re on your way. ”

My comment was: “It’s funny when we get the courage to look fear straight in the face, its face changes immediately!”

And then it struck me: I was saying it right there, but not doing it. Walk your talk, Leontien, and face your fears, your major blocks!

So I decided literally to get back to writing and working on my social media network by looking procrastination straight in the face, investigating it, learn everything about it, and write about it. I will be looking into all the fears that lie hidden beneath it, and look each one of them in the eye, to see what they can turn into. It’s going to be fun. I’ll be breaking through procrastination in no time.

One of the quotes that came to my mind in this process, was this one:

“A journey of a thousand miles starts with the first step.” – Lao Tzu.

To break free from the prison of our own procrastination we only have to take one step. 

This blog post is the first step. The next one will tell you everything about procrastination in general and mine in particular. I bet we can all learn something from it.

See you all in a few days!

 

(a major case of procrastination)

healthy habits - procrastinationYou may wonder about the picture featuring a bag of Diatomaceous Earth (DE), a brush and a lemon press? Well, the DE became today’s prompt for me to write this post. That bag, no kidding, has been sitting on my counter top in that exact spot for about 2 months now, without ever having been opened. Looking at it this morning it all of a sudden became a very obvious symbol of my personal procrastination…..and that called for some honest writing.

Before I moved it to the counter top, this same bag had been sitting on a shelf for another 4 months at least, again, without being opened. And it isn’t just your ordinary bag of diatomaceous earth (a natural food supplement) that I bought around the corner in the nearest health food store (because there is no such thing as a health food store within a few hundred miles from here). No, this is a Very Special Bag of Diatomaceous Earth because it has been flown in from Canada on my request, and is most likely The Only Bag of Diatomaceous Earth on the whole of Little Corn Island or maybe even in Nicaragua (well, I may have a few healthy friends here and there that might have their own very special bag of DE). 

Why have this stuff brought to me from so far? Because for months I had been regularly reading about all the health benefits and healing properties of it, and how I should take it on a regular basis (see below for relevant links). As if I didn’t have enough healthy habits yet, I felt the need to add the daily ritual of a glass of juice or water with DE to the long list. It was going to change my life for the better. I was going to be even healthier! Yeah, right.

I have literally drank one (1!) glass of it since I got that stuff 6 or 7 months ago, when I prepared it for my cat Pumpkins, to help him with his intestinal parasites (yes, good for pets too!). He had been bloating like a blimp, and the stuff actually helped. But I never took it again.

So how does that work then, creating a new healthy habit? 

Not by just buying the necessary ingredients or equipment (running shoes is another good example) and putting them on your shelf. Even putting them smack in your own face in the middle of the kitchen counter doesn’t seem to do the job. That much is very obvious.

So why does it not work, then?

Because there is more to it. There is a mind you have to deal with. A very resisting mind. Let’s call it ego. Ego doesn’t like change (hmm, where did I hear that before?). So first we have to convince Ego that this new habit is really going to make us feel better. In our argumentation we may have to dwell extensively on all the discomforts that we experience due to NOT having the new healthy habit yet (bloating, digestive issues, etc.). Really convince ego that you’d like to put an end to all that ‘suffering’. Get the main motivation in place. Well, that’s probably where it went wrong for me, because I didn’t feel that bad. So I didn’t have a lot of convincing arguments to win my case against ego and motivate myself. 

healthy habitsOn top of that, I (or was it lazy ego?) managed to come up with a bunch of reasons that made it even more viable not to start that habit of taking DE on a daily basis. For example: I don’t drink milk or factory made fruit juice, so I would have to mix it with water or tea which doesn’t taste too good, or make my own juice. Making my own juice is not only a lot of work, it also would involve electricity, which we don’t have until 1pm, so there was another lovely procrastination argument, because I only take fresh fruits in the morning, before I eat any other foods. So I would have to change a decades-old habit to create this new habit…..ahh, that resistance is taking on unknown dimensions by now……Also, the price of fresh fruits on this little tropical island is ridiculously high because they have to come from far, so taking a glass of fresh juice with DE would become quite an expensive daily habit. And because I have only a small fridge, I would have to go to the village more often and lug all that heavy fruit home several times a week, instead of my regular 1 trip. Whoa, taking DE as a daily supplement had grown into an insurmountable obstacle of hardships, physical and monetary discomfort and a major investment of time (which I could otherwise spend in my hammock, or on the beach). Ego won the case…..I think. I can sit back and relax and not feel guilty.

Well, actually, no. Because there is a very simple solution to wipe all these very strong arguments against the habit off the table in one swipe: just drink it with some water. The taste isn’t that appalling, just a little chalky, something I’m not used to (resistance to change, right?). I bet if I drink it a few days in a row, I won’t even notice it anymore. And hey, by drinking it with water I am saving myself tons of money and time…that’s a win:-)

What it really melts down to is this: how much importance do I want to give to all the arguments against my new healthy habit, and how much am I willing to admit that it is just another example of that infamous resistance to change, fear of something new, having to come just half an inch outside of my comfort zone….(recognize any of this?)

Now let’s look at the actual implementation of this healthy habit-intention. The most important part is remembering to do it every day (our resisting ego is very good in forgetting stuff!). The trick is to use another routine that you already have firmly in place as your daily cue. You just tack the new habit to the existing one. I chose this one:  Every day I take some supplements with some water around lunch time….now it will be: take some supplements with some DE-water around lunch time. The difference between procrastination and starting a new healthy habit can be as small as two capitals and healthy habits - procrastinationa hyphen. Sometimes it’s that simple. I’ll report back to you in a week from now…

 
The other two items in the picture at the top have gone through identical periods of sitting unused on shelves for months…but I am proud to tell you that for at least a year now I have the healthy (and very pleasant) habit of dry-brushing every morning and drinking a glass of lemon water right after I get up and have cleaned my mouth and teeth. I believe there is still hope for my Diatomaceous Earth!

So what could be your procrastination symbol? Take a picture of it, and post it in the comments or maybe just on your own social media as a confession and a commitment at the same time!

 

 

PS: A week after writing this…..I have dropped out of this midday habit, because I don’t want to drink a whole glass of water right before or after lunch. Now I’ve changed the habit to the morning. My first cup of tea has become the victim: I pour it before yoga class and let it sit on the counter getting cold. I put a tea spoon across the cup to remind myself to add the DE before drinking it. By the time I come out of class, I am thirsty, ready to drink a hole cup of lukewarm tea, with its DE! 

So with some trial and error I have found the best way to integrate this habit into my life, finding the way of the least resistance. It is all about taking away the obstacles that we like to blow up to enormous proportions in our imagination, but are actually quite manageable in reality. Go for it! Just do it!

Learn more about Diatomaceous Earth here.

Learn more about dry brushing and its health benefits here.

Learn more about the impact of drinking lemon water every morning here.

 

Another cat had gotten air of you, Pumpkins, the new cat on the block, and had started marking its territory outside my house, in the garden, and even on my doorpost and porch bench. That freaked you out. You had to do something. So you actually ventured down the steps into the yard, and spritzed your best scent all over the place. In the mean time I scrubbed the doorpost and the porch bench. It had been another cat 

pumpkins the cat that changed his mindand a challenging situation that had made you brave enough to come out of the house and get back into the big world. Go Pumpkins! We all need a little push now and then to get out of our comfort zone, or out of our funk.

But this other tom cat wouldn’t put up with the unknown invader that was hidden in my house. At night he would come to piss all over the place again, and actually start a fight with you, through the crack under the front door. Growling, scratching and full on screeching was taking place in the middle of the night. Hmmm, not so much fun anymore to take care of you, Pumpkins, since this was costing me my precious sleep. Luckily my neighbours were coming back soon!

A few days after their arrival we transferred you to their house. I thought I was just going to carry you up there, but I had totally overrated our relationship that was barely a week old. Maybe I thought that picking you up was an OK thing to do by then, but you definitely didn’t agree. Ten metres away from my house you put up a fight and I had to let you go. Mission aborted.

 

Pumpkins the cat that changed his mind

So I had to find a box and fix it in such a way that I could put you in and close it in one smooth move, before you would find your way out. Only then we could move you to your new home. You were not pleased at all with that box-manoeuvre. All cats like boxes, but only if they can play with them in their own time. The moment you put them in there when it is not playing time, they are highly offended. As they always are when they are not being treated like the queens and kings they all think they are, you included, my dear damaged Pumpkins.

At your new home you were getting the back room and adjoining porch as your domain. There was a litter box inside, and corners to hide, and during the day the door to the porch was open, so you could be on the balcony, safe from dog attacks, because there was a dense railing all around. You could see the world, and you could squeeze through if you wanted, but no dog could come in and get you, and that was the main goal: keeping you safe from mauling dogs, that had done such terrible damage to your body and to your mind, while you were recovering.

You didn’t start off too friendly with your new caretakers, and they may have been a little impatient for you to become a sweet and cuddly house kitty, who knows. You lashed out at either one of them every once in a while, and bit them several times, so they started calling you psycho kitty, which probably wasn’t helping the situation. When we repeatedly say or hear something, it becomes a belief and then gets confirmed time and again, because we start to manifest more of it. The Universe (or God, if you want to call it that) will always provide us with what we put our energy to. So my neighbours got more unexpected scratches and bites, thanks to the fact that they called you Psycho Kitty. This is my belief. Because after enough time for you to get used to me, you hardly ever lash out to me anymore. And I have never called you psycho kitty. So there you go, theory proven right, right? Life can be so simple.

Missed the first 3 episodes of Pumpkins’ story? You can find them

here.

 

 

Read more about cat behaviour:

 

fear of changeA simple, no-bake 3-ingredient recipe that anyone can make in less than 1 minute. Whether you like it or not, that is totally up to you.

Ingredients list:

1 cup of this quote by Heraclitus: “The only constant in life is change.”

1 cup of this old Hebrew proverb: “Change can happen in an instant, but the resistance to change can last a life-time.”

1 cup of (only the thought of) change of your own choice ( for example a new job, a divorce, a new exercise regime or diet, going back to school, an accident, loosing someone close, moving to a different place).

 

changeDirections:

Fold all three ingredients gently into the recipient of your consciousness. Stirring is optional if you want to throw in an extra dash of upheaval. And Voila!: most likely you will be experiencing a variety of unsettling emotions, ranging from just slight and short-lived unease (when you’re getting a new hairstyle), to full-blown anxiety-attacks, anger bursts, depression or great sadness. All of them causing you to suffer. And nothing hasn’t even changed yet!

Change, it ain’t fun for most of us, is it? 

Change (and the resistance to change) is one of the main pillars of my blog. In these pages I will regularly explore the many ways in which change manifests itself and the many roles that it can take on for us, hoping to inspire you to look at all those things in your life that you could change to make it happier, healthier and more fulfilling. 

I bet you have heard this quote a million times: “Change is the only constant”. It is so true. There is no way denying that one! It’s the cycle of life: ashes to ashes, dust to dust. Everything with a spark of life in it gets born, grows, blossoms at its peak, withers and dies. Even concrete will crumble, stainless steel will get unstable, sand dunes shift, mountains get pushed higher by sheer tectonic force, or lower from the never-ending grind of little grains of sand. 

Nothing is forever

We all know it, but in our way of living, behaving and thinking we are constantly in denial of that natural law of change. We don’t want to grow older, get sick and die. We don’t want to lose our jobs, our loved ones, our favourite TV-show, our health, our wealth. And we never ever want to throw away our favourite sweater. EVER! Even just thinking of those changes can make us unhappy. So there we are: let’s be totally open and honest about it: we d
on’t like change. 

The second quote in my recipe rubs this in so clearly: ‘Change can happen in an instant, but it is the resistance to change that can last a lifetime.”

It is this last quote, that is less known, that spells out for us the recipe of our own suffering. Our resistance to change is what creates all our emotional upheaval.

Resistance to change……where does that come from? Resistance rhymes with clinging, right? Well, you know what I mean. So why do we cling? Why do we so badly want to hold on to all these things that we have or are, unwilling to let go of the old and familiar and try on something new? 

In comes the Comfort Zone, one of my favourite topics (it was on my list as a potential name for this website, but already taken). I will talk regularly about our comfort zone too, because it is such an important aspect of our lives. It is the nursery of our well-being. At least that is what we want to believe. Comfort feels good, warm, cozy, relaxed, familiar. 

No stress, no pressure, no worries, no hurry. 

Your favourite clothes, your favourite corner of the couch with your favourite food and drink at hand, your favourite person or pet at your side, your favourite music or movie playing……isn’t that what first comes to mind when you think Comfort Zone? All those very familiar things, always the same? Always the same……we don’t want them to change. Every day the same. The security of knowing exactly what is coming. Nothing unexpected to be feared. 

We humans are such creatures of habit, aren’t we? Your daily routines, your work, your relationship…..all very much within the comfort zone. Life seems easy, when you know exactly how and when to do something and what to expect. But routines could easily become ruts, and that already sounds a little less comfortable. Ruts can get ugly, right? 

In ruts, you get stuck. 

resistance to changeOK, I plead guilty, I have just made your comfort zone probably a little uncomfortable……on purpose. Why? Let’s look at that same comfort zone not as a nice, cozy, protective shell keeping the scary unknown out, but as an imposing, restrictive prison cell, keeping you from reaching for the unknown good stuff out there…? What if it is holding you back from exploring new horizons, new possibilities and opportunities, new talents; from personal growth? What if the happiest and most fulfilled version of yourself, your-best-you, doesn’t live in your comfort zone? In the Karma Shack blog I will regularly explore that possibility in depth. For now I want to finish with my third favourite quote: 

“Life starts at the end of your comfort zone.” (Neale Donald Walsch)

See you there!

 

 

 

If you want to read a bit more about change and the resistance to change, check these links:

We’re slowly advancing into your story, probably as slow as you were recovering. 

The cat that changed his mindKaren was going to leave the island and wanted to take you with her, but you were still in no shape to travel. Even though we have learned here on the island that it is easier for a Nicaraguan cat or dog to get into the US than for a Nicaraguan human, for sure no vet would give you a clean bill of health, mandatory to travel. So we looked at other options. My landlord was not particularly fond of cats, so I couldn’t adopt you. I asked my neighbours, who had once told me they were cat people, although they were forever taking care of dogs. They agreed to take you in, when they would arrive on the island for the season. But between Karen’s departure and my neighbour’s arrival was a 10-day gap. So there I came in. Since it was only for 10 days my landlord was willing to give me an OK on having a cat around. You were still so injured it was unlikely that you were really going to go around and make a mess everywhere and get into fights with other cats (we thought…). Under your loud protests we stuck you in a cat carrier and wheelbarrowed you to my house, into strange territory. It must have been another terrifying experience.

 

Once we arrived and let you out, you scooted under the bed, and stayed there for the rest of the day. For the next few days, the far end corner of the bed was where you ensconced yourself. Hardly visible for the outside world, but you could just peek around the corner and keep a lookout through the open door. Then, a couple of days later, you posted yourself on the far corner of the mat that Karen had given me,  it must have smelled familiar, I guess. You still did not want to go outside. The big world had really given you a good scare, apparently, and on top of that you must have felt that your weak legs were a major handicap when it would come to confronting whatever danger was lurking out there. You were happy to use a litter box, since that relieved you from the need to go outside, but your stiff legs that still prevented a proper squat sometimes made you miss the box, so I was mopping every day, sometimes a couple of times a day. My little house smelled of you, Pumpkins, and it was OK. 

The way you were taking your time to recover from your fears AND wounds was an eye-opener for me. You were constantly sitting with your fears balancing on the edge of your confidence, nudging the limits of your comfort zone. Shifting them a little bit every day, moving a little closer to that open door. You weren’t wallowing in you misery and fears, but gave them time to calm down and subside. You weren’t going to be traumatised forever, that wouldn’t work for a bush cat, would it? You had to get back out there, but only when you were ready. In the right time it would happen. An amazing process.The cat that changed his mind

Then you moved to the door mat.

And then trouble came around. 

To be continued….

 

(This story takes place on Little Corn Island, Nicaragua. You can read parts 1 and 2 of Pumpkins’ story here)

 

 

 

I pick up trash. Not for a living, but just because it’s there. And because I can. Because I want to. Because I have to. Let me explain.

I live on this beautiful tropical island in the Caribbean, Little Corn Island, off the coast of Nicaragua. It’s tiny, so everything (and everybody) is right in your face. You cannot avoid walking past trash, because there are only a few paths that take you around the island. And there is trash everywhere. 

I bet your first thought is: why do people throw their trash around in such a beautiful place? Well, there are many reasons. First of all, this is a developing country, with a lack of funds, logistics and poor education. Basically, here we have no system in place that takes care of our trash the way you are used to have your trash taken care of. All you have to do is put it at the curb, and a truck will come and pick it up. Out of sight, out of mind. You pay for the service, they take care of it. Not here. We have no municipal facility or officer here. We have no roads, no cars, so no garbage trucks. We have no central dump or incinerator. Apart from a handful of recycling bins, we have no general garbage bins along our walkways, because emptying them causes a problem: where to take it? So better not have the bins, head in the sand-strategy. Basically, we’re on our own, when it comes to trash. We DO have trash, lots of it. 

 

A lot of the people living on this island have not grown up with the same concepts about trash in nature as you and I have. It’s a cultural thing: I have learned that trash does not belong in nature, and I have learned why it is bad that it is there. So I know. I cannot walk past trash sitting in nature without feeling bad about it. A lot of the people here have not learned that (yet). And let’s be honest, our developed countries took ages to establish this attitude towards trash. I remember I was tiny, when we had only one black and white channel on TV, seeing a government campaign about taking care of the environment. So it was barely 1970 when they started educating us about the environment in the Netherlands. It took us well into the 90’s before there was a firmly established system of recycling and diminishing our trash, which now has become second nature to most Dutch people. So if a well-developed, rich country with a good education system, municipal services and government campaigns needs a whole generation to get this environmental attitude in place, we cannot expect that a poor country without all that is going to get on top of their trash problem in a couple of years. I let go of that dream a while ago.

Here reality is that a lot of people throw their trash wherever they go. Because they don’t know any better. And because there is no real option to put it anywhere anyway, apart from plastic bottles and aluminium cans that are collected and shipped off the island for recycling. At their own homes they may burn their trash, but when it rains (and this is the tropics), that is not an option either. So then it is the bush. Where the chickens will scratch through it, and neatly distribute it all over the place. Dogs will scrounge and find the edibles (including disposable diapers). So what’s left is plastic, loads of it, and cans, everywhere.

Then I walk by. I see the trash. I used to get angry at the people for throwing it there, even though I didn’t know who had done it, a pretty senseless waste of my emotional energy. When I started to understand the complexity of this problem better I managed to stop blaming them, and I also tried to stop thinking that the local government should do something about it. Because they won’t, because they can’t. The person who throws plastic in nature is guilty of a crime against Mother Earth, and in a way that is a crime against every organism on this planet, which includes me. So that could give me a good reason to be angry and upset. But when I walk by and I see that trash sitting there, KNOWING THAT IT IS HARMFUL TO MOTHER EARTH and then not picking it up, I become as guilty of a crime against nature as that person who threw it there in the first place. I should be mad at myself then too! Once you know, you cannot leave it there, can you? That is the most important reason to pick it up: I do not want to be guilty of leaving it there, passively condoning these crimes against nature, which are also crimes against me. So I pick it up, and take it to the recycling bins. I throw the non-recyclables in there too, that is my silent protest to the municipality  and government for not providing some kind of trash-bins and a system to take care of that street trash.

How I got to start this blog….

For my very first blog post I have chosen to do a bit of a free writing exercise and just let the words flow. I have spent a good two months preparing the website, and now I am ready to publish it and start writing and posting the stuff that I am passionate about. That is a lot, so this blog might end up covering a lot of ground over time. From meditation and yoga posts to nutrition, skin care and healthy habits. I will explore the phenomenon “comfort zone” and invite you to check in with yours. There will be posts about fear and what it does to us, about karma and how we can use that as a tool in our lives. I will talk about creative living, trash and doing something different, about patience and compassion, self-love and mindfulness AND I will write with regular intervals about Pumpkins the cat.

 

Pumpkins

It’s all his fault. Blame it on the cat. When he walked into my life and I reluctantly let him stay, so many things happened and fell into place for me that I felt a compelling urge to start writing about it and create this website. I had been playing with several ideas for blogs in the last couple of years, but never got the guts to start one. A case of major laziness and procrastination, of not wanting to get out of my Karma Shack comfort zone (that is 4 blog topics in one sentence). 

 

I love writing, always have. Already as a little kid I would write 8 pages for an essay assignment in the time that other kids barely managed to squeeze out 4 sentences. I used to have pen pals (yes I grew up in an era of snail mail, and it was so much more exciting to come home from school and find a letter on the doormat, than getting non-stop notifications popping up on your phone!). I journaled for years as a teenager (and burned those diaries years later when I found it too embarrassing to even finish reading through them again) and never procrastinated writing a paper for a school assignment. All of my ex-boyfriends would receive one or more long letters after we broke up, in which I would explain exactly how I felt and what I thought about them (I wonder if any one of these guys has kept one?). 

 

alice

My father was an art critic for a major Dutch newspaper, my uncle director of the Royal Library in The Hague (and he co-wrote a Dutch translation of Alice in Wonderland, how awesome is that?), my brother has had his own advertising and publicity agency where he has been doing all the copywriting himself for probably 25 years now. So I guess the writing runs in my blood. And even though I am making  a living as a yoga instructor and body and energy worker right now, it seems that writing has edged itself sideways into my life after all, in a similar way as the cat has. It snuck into my life so subtly that there was no one point where I could say no! And now it has become a heartfelt YES for writing (and for Pumpkins the cat)!

 

I tell you all this, because it is actually quite significant. This blog is the living proof that every now and then you have to open your mind to new and scary things (a cat!, taking a 30-day writing challenge!, starting a blog!), to give your innate passion a chance to come out and express itself.

If I would not have let that cat edge himself into my life I would not have started to contemplate on myself and life in general the way I did when I was observing him and commenting to him (well, to myself, basically) on his process of domestication. His evolution from wild bush cat into loving and loveable house cat seemed to mirror and relate my own process of learning to love myself and be loved.

The longer Pumpkins hang around and the closer he got to me, the more I caught myself thinking that between him and me we had some serious write-worthy material going on…… Then a friend visited. A musician, poet, song-writer and singer. I told him about Pumpkins and about my personal parallel journey. He said: “Girl, you got a book there!”.  And that’s when I knew I wasn’t making things up. It was a story worth writing, and I started the very next morning. Soon I realised that this cat story could consist of a whole series of short chapters, each with their own theme, which is perfect for a blog. And having to keep up a blog would be the ultimate accountability trick to keep me writing and not let the whole project end in a writer’s block or the lame excuse of not having enough time. With a blog, you have an obligation to your readers to show up regularly. Now I cannot avoid writing that book, one blog post at a time. So yes, Grant Peeples, you are another cat-alyst that made me start this blog by telling me I should write that book.

 

A few days after I had decided to write the book, I received an email announcing a 30-day online creative writing challenge. The timing seemed significant and it wasn’t too expensive, so I signed up for ‘Write Yourself Alive’. And boy, did I write myself alive! It was so much fun, at times liberating or very challenging, going deep into myself or just making it all up in the spur of the moment. It was a month of being totally immersed in bringing out my true self, in writing. The connection with other participants was encouraging, and I felt inspired and motivated every day, just by the act of sitting down and writing for a couple of hours. I learned that some creative action every day actually creates inspiration for your whole day, for all the other things you have to do that don’t seem very inspiring, like laundry, shopping and working to pay the bills. Although I have been a creative throughout my life, I had never consciously learned to use creativity as the motivation-tool that it totally is.

So after the cat and my poet-friend, this 30-day writing challenge became the 3rd and decisive cat-alyst to start this blog. Now I had a peer-group that encouraged me and which could hold me accountable, since I wrote on the group-page that I was starting a blog. There was no way back, I was going to be a blogger…

 

Starting a blog involves creating a website, which you can make as simple or as complicated as you want. I had never done such a thing before, and identify myself as a total digital dinosaur. (I always explain how I left the Western world in ‘the last millennium’ which sounds so awesomely ancient. People had just started to use hotmail accounts then, e-commerce had still not really taken off and less than a third of our population had a cell phone (I bought my first one a year ago). Just to give you an idea).

computercrash

I have always nurtured quite a bit of fear for computers and other digital gadgets, because they tend to shut down on me, freeze in my hands or even die when I just look at them (I was glad when I found out a couple of years ago that there is a scientific explanation for this phenomenon, and that I am not a witch again, as I apparently was in a former lifetime). My last computer outlived its one-year warranty by nineteen(!) days before it passed away from one day to the next. Beyond repair.
So yes, the digital world has me somewhat daunted. Which meant that wanting to start a blog/website was quite a bold decision, which definitely got me Out Of My Comfort Zone big time. I googled “How to start a blog”, found a helpful website written for dummies, and got a tip for a web host that has user-friendly templates. They said that creating your website would be as easy as drop-and-drag……..well, kind of, but not completely. Being the writer-formerly-trained-as-designer I will of course not settle for the simple bloggers template. I need more personal input, AND I have a business, that I might as well put on that website now that I am making one. Add to that all the interesting stuff related to the Karma Shack and everything that I learned through it….This should be much more than a cat blog. The project started to take on serious proportions.

Scary digital design for a good-sized website….and I was still not giving up? Wow, where did I find that motivation I hear you ask? I know, I was quite surprised and amazed myself.

 

Of course it went wrong many times, and I got quite intimate with several of the chat help desk assistants of the web host. Most of them are quite patient. Only a couple of them started throwing code at me, which I just whacked back at them immediately. There is going to be no code in my life! Thank you.

At a certain point I had been messing up so much, that I decided to start all over again. Mind you, we’re talking days of work here…. and somehow I was still motivated to keep going. At one point I gave a friend a little preview. She said she was impressed and I realised only at that moment that I was as impressed by myself as she was. Which made me laugh, proud and determined to finish!

 

steep-learning-curve-ahead-1

The learning curve so far has been steeper than your average Nicaraguan volcano hike, and will continue to go up for quite a while longer (note to self: learning as a blog topic). But for now I am just happy that this website is up, and that I am blogging. A new phase in my life has just begun, and I am very excited about it!

 

I hope you will get a little enthusiastic for me as well, that would be very helpful, thank you so much. Some cheering on, some constructive feedback, a little pep talk, some appreciating comments,…you know, the small stuff that makes or breaks a person’s ego and related motivation……Go on, you spent probably about 8 minutes reading all this, you might as well take another two minutes to write a little comment……I dare you to do some creative writing yourselves, it’s very refreshing!