Minimalism ‘fast’

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Each year I pray and think about a focus for the contemplative 40 day period between Ashwednesday and Easter: so-called Lent.

Last year I went without the distraction of constantly checking Facebook for 40 days and making more time for prayer and meditation.

This year my focus will be on decluttering my physical space, making more room in my head to pray and spend time with God.

Since I struggle with perfectionism a lot, I decided to pick one thing each day that I find hard to let go of, put it on my table for a day and ask myself these questions the next day:

Is this adding value to my life?
Does it make me happy when I look at it?

If it’s a twofold ‘no’ it’s probably gotta go.

If you’d like to follow my progress, you can, on my Instagram account @simple_inspired

If you would like to learn more about minimalist living:
check out Leo Babauta’s website, one of my long time favorite sites: zenhabits.net
and if you’re Dutch, check out Jelle Derckx’ helpful and inspiring website: lijstjes.info (also on IG)

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Week 1: Being present

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Living life is like a haiku*: less is better and simple is more poignant.

This week I want to focus on getting more clarity and simplicity in my head: spiritual, mental and emotional space. Here are two tools I recently rediscovered to tame my wild and busy head: Meditation and yoga

Why meditation and yoga?

I hope (and have already experienced) to be more present in the here and now, being less busy and judgmental in my head, having less wants (vs. needs), creating a sense of having and being ‘enough’.

Meditation

A few weeks ago I resumed my meditation practice, with the help of the book Get Some Headspace by Andy Puddicombe, a British former buddhist monk. My eye fell on it, when I was browsing the bookshelves at our local library.

It was the very first book I ever read that REALLY explained meditation in a simple way. A true light bulb moment for me! I could totally pull this off!

At Andy’s website, I found a good definition of meditation:

So, what is meditation anyway? In a nutshell, meditation is the practice of paying attention and focusing awareness – in short, being fully conscious of the here and now. (…)What is meditation good for? More clarity and less stress.

Yoga

Last Saturday I also returned to my yoga practice at a beautiful new yoga school in Amsterdam. I attended a class called: ‘yin yoga’. I found it a very interesting form of yoga, focusing on body sensations during long stretching poses (5 or 6 minutes long) and looking mindfully and with curiosity to the response of the mind. My head became more still, because of the intense physical sensations and the awesome teacher that kept reminding us to go back to our body and breathing.

Starting my week right

So this week I commit to doing yoga three times, and meditating everyday at least once, during five or ten minutes. I also commit to bringing the resulting sense of (self) acceptance and (self) compassion, with me into my day.

As my dear friend says:

‘May you be happy, healthy and at ease this week!’

Peace!

Ester

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The Mindful Mother

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13 Weeks ago I gave birth to a beautiful baby daughter. Only one thing changed: everything.
This is my first post a.b. (after baby) and I’m excited pick up my proverbial pen again.
I tried my hand at writing a few weeks ago, but my life was so shaken that its particles were still swimming around in my head, making it impossible for me to see things clearly.
It’s a cliche, but motherhood is the best thing that ever happened to me, and also the most challenging thing.
It brings about a big transformational force, speeding up my spiritual growth, because I simply to have to. Postponing growth is not an option.

Last year I’ve been writing about the mindful Benedictine monks and their wise take on everyday life.
I find mindfulness a key practice for the wonders and aches of beginner motherhood and I try to practice it whenever I can.

1)
In the beginning, when I was breastfeeding my baby, I would always keep my phone handy and fidget with it. Then I got an aha-moment, when I realized with shock that I didn’t want to miss this out on this precious time with my daughter!

So I put my phone away.

In came little islands of joy, gratitude, peace and being present in these beautiful moments.

2)
One advisor of mine once said: mindfulness is being in the moment and NOT occupying yourself with:
– the past
– the future
– what other people think of you

(Or, your own self-critical voice for that matter…)

Being a mom, I find myself thinking about all three of those joy-sucking moment-stealers. Especially fear about the future (what if…happens) and questioning my abilities (am I good enough).

3)
I heard a speaker in the GTD virtual study group podcast state that time is expandable: that is: our notion of time expands when we pay close attention to details: being mindful! On the other hand, time seems to compress itself when we’re attempting to multi-task or when we’re rushing through our day.

I’m happy to have the Benedictine tool of mindfulness at my disposal. Now putting it to practice!

If you’re a mother or interested in time or mindfulness I’d love to hear from you!

40 Day Devotional: Day 9: Simple Living

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From maisonboheme.blogspot.com

At the end of a working week, before the weekend starts and the hustle and bustle of life winds down a little bit, but social commitments are awaiting us, it’s nice to stand still and soak up some sound and simple advice like the above.

To consider: What do I really NEED to do this weekend? It might be less than I think. PAUSE and BREATHE for a moment, then let go of some of the things you planned.

To try: Pick one or two of the suggestions in the above image you haven’t tried before and give it a go this weekend.

Let me know what you found out!

Peace

The art of happiness

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This morning I was snoozing a little on the couch, watching my dog next to me chewing her bone. I got so much joy and happiness out of those blissful five minutes that it gave me serenity and acceptance of the fact that I was actually tired.

Over the past year, I have been discovering that for me, happiness is about being home, drinking my coffee, reading, petting my dog and extracting joy from small things.

To me, it’s not the things I buy, not the travels I make, although I sometimes convince myself it is.

So here’s an hommage to all the common little things that make me happy and feeling blessed beyond words.

Coffee

Decaf or caf, always a comforting companion to my morning, with lots of hot milk!

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Kiara, my chihuahua

Just watching her sit, lie, chew, wash herself or lose herself in enthusiasm over our daily reunions makes my heart feel lifted.

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Enjoying lovely food

Nothing beats lovingly made food: my husband’s lasagne or apple pie, a beautiful warm handmade croissant with jam, homemade cinnamon raisin cake or enjoying the juicy goodness of freshly sliced citrus fruits.

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A smile a day keeps the doctor away

Try it: smile and greet your bus driver, mailman or other people you meet. Listen, pay attention, send a birthday card. When I give small things to people it always brightens my day.

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Nature

Leaves, flowers, stone or shell,

The turning of seasons, touch, hear, see or smell.

Be still and make sure to enjoy them as well.

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Reading

British poetry about birds, a biographic novel about Vaslav Nijinsky, an inspiring blog post about writing, they can be a touch of inspiration for my day. Especially when enjoyed in my favorite comfy Ikea Poang chair with a cup of hot brew.

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What are some of the common things that make you happy?

Share them with me if you like via the comments below

and sign up for the e-mail list or via rss. Thanks for supporting me, it means a lot…
love and peace,
Ester
You can also find me on: FacebookGoogle + or Twitter.

Practicing Mindfulness and Eye for Beauty

Mindfulness techniques seem to be the new trend nowadays. Of course the concept is not new, being rooted in both Eastern and Western spirituality.

Since I’m still on a quest to integrate the Benedictine way of living in my daily life this year, in order to gain awareness, peacefulness and a healthier daily structure, I will share with you some monastic secrets of being mindful.

What is mindfulness anyway?

Let’s start with saying what it is NOT: mindfulness is NOT: sitting on your meditation pillow all day and doing nothing. Neither is it only thinking about God / a Higher Power and floating away on your boat of self-centered happiness.

Here’s a definition from an online dictionary:

mind·ful adj.

1 bearing in mind : aware

2 inclined to be aware
— mind·ful·ly adverb
— mind·ful·ness noun
e.g.: a truly considerate person, always mindful of the needs of others

Related to MINDFUL
Synonyms: alive, aware, conscious
Antonyms: insensible, oblivious, unaware, unconscious, unmindful”

Benedictine Mindfulness

Being mindful in a Benedictine way, is more about connecting than about isolation. It is about paying attention to what is right in front of your nose. It’s giving people and things their due attention and care, both the mundane and the spiritual. In that sense Benedictine Spirituality is profoundly “down to earth”, which sets it apart from many other forms of spirituality

In the excellent resource on Benedictine living: Wil Derkse’s book “The Rule of Benedict for Beginners” I found a beautiful example of two mindful Benedictine nuns in the Hildegard Monastery:

“We see [the nuns] during different moments of their daily rhythm: singing God’s praise in the monastery church (in polished Gregorian), working: the precise work of the goldsmith, the thorough cleansing of the lamp shades, meticulously teaching a private class of [philosophy] by the abdis (…) to a young novice, arranging flowers for the altar, working in the wine cellars, attentively reading private literature in their rooms, a phone conversation in the monastery hall, during which the nun retreats to an alcove to give the caller his due attention, installing new electric wiring, during relaxed leisure activities…”

What is most striking in these examples, is that the nuns give everything and everyone their undivided and due attention, whether it be cleaning a toilet or conducting a conversation, scrubbing the floor or arranging the toilets, praying and meditating or leisure activities. Everything is attended to in the right way.

“To attend and get things right” –

Iris Murdoch

A specific area of attention that comes into view if you look at the nuns is the beautyfying of their environment:

“Beauty and order are contagious” and the reverse is equally true.

“A Thing of Beauty is a Joy Forever” – John Keats

Monasteries are an oasis of care and cultivation, the proverbial neat handwriting of the nuns or monks, carefully arranged flowers, every tool put in its own right place.

Little things do matter; they contribute to an atmosphere of peacefulness, order and beauty.
Outward order creates inward order and inward order paradoxically creates space for focus and creativity.

How can I be attentive/mindful in my own life?

  • by being fully aware in the present moment, taking care of the very task at hand, ignoring distractions as well as possible, yet being responsive to what the situation requires at a given time.
  • by treating every task as equal, and as an opportunity to give God (/your Higher Power) praise, be it scrubbing or praying. Everything done with an attitude of gratitude.
  • by making sure to practice outer order with love and an eye for esthetics, especially in the small things.

Goal

Today I will be mindful by: acknowledging urges to procrastinate or otherwise follow my impulses, doing my household chores with as much love and care as my writing, making sure my living room looks orderly, pretty and inviting.

Are you on board with me?

Please share with me how you practice Benedictine mindfulness today. Do you have tips and tricks?

You can do so in the comment section below or on Facebook.

In gratitude,

Ester

The Benedict Project 2012: a Sneak Peek

Simple & Silent

A few years ago, I first read ‘the Rule of Benedict for Beginners’ at my first silent retreat.
That’s where the seeds for my quest for the simple and the silent were planted…
Quickly I forgot all about it, and was constantly trying to swallow a river of information from a garden hose, driven crazy by multi-tasking, never satisfied, never feeling good enough…
I needed a break and some guidance. That’s when I started looking for a template for my life in order to attain three ideals:

  • a healthy disciplined structure
  • a quiet mind
  • an intimate relationship with God – listening more than speaking

Bliss of Benedictinism

My fascination for Benedictinism was finally rekindled in 2011 when, after a difficult year of pain, grief and growth, I started to live my life instead of merely surviving.

A search for a new way of living led me into reading about the monastic life of the Benedictine monks again.
I started to wonder whether I could apply some of what they had into my ordinary daily life.The simple bliss and down-to-earth practicality of Benedictinism increasingly captivated me, as I was researching it.

Benedictinism is the most down to earth of all Monastic Spiritualities, the most stripped down form of spirituality there is. It is about doing the same things differently and not to aim for “higher spiritual highs”. A potent antidote to my mind, which always strives to complicate things as much as possible.

Mindfulness & Beauty

Attention to details, to the beauty of ordinary things and mindful action can change any mundane task into a work of art dedicated to God. It’s about going Back to Basics: ‘Ora et Labora’. So ‘Pray and Work’ instead of the somewhat hedonistic and self-centered motto ‘Eat, Pray, Love’.

Simple & Inspired

That sounds like (Gregorian) music to my little overstimulated ears and overwhelmed mind. So it was only a logical next little step that I decided to change the name of my blog from: ‘Inspiration & Productivity’ to: ‘Simple & Inspired Living’ to better fit my changed focus. Recently, I also got the new domain name: simple-inspired.com.

Presenting: The Benedict Project

You are warmly invited to join me as I embark on my road to applying Benedictine spirituality and way of living into my daily little urban life and sharing about it this year. I proudly present to you: The Benedict Project.

Sneak peak at my plans for 2012:
  • Practicing Benedictine principles in my life and regularly blogging about my experiences.
  • Offering suggestions and exercises for you to practice.
  • Visiting a few Benedict Monasteries this year and taking you virtually with me.
Stay tuned for my next post!

Questions, comments and shared experience are more than welcome in the comments-section below, on Twitter or via Facebook.

If you like this, please forward it to a friend. I am very grateful for word-of-mouth sharing!

* The title was partly inspired by great author Gretchen Rubin‘s #1 best-selling, lovely must-read book: the Happiness Project., available at Amazon.