about change part II.

Focus your entire attention – your entire attention – on the area, the area above the upper lip below the nostrils.
Observe. Observe the sensations caused by the breath moving over this area as you breathe in and out, calmly.
Calmly, patiently and persistently. Patiently and persistently.

A ten-day vipassana course starts out with the teaching of anapana-meditation, a technique which allows one to gain control over the mind, and sharpen its attention to enable observation on a more subtle yet purely physical level.

My own mind, as I experienced, is extremely wild and stubborn, only interested in doing what it wants to be doing, regardless of whether or not that works towards my own wellbeing. As the course moved on to teach the actual vipassana technique – in which you have to sit still for at least an hour while you let your attention move through your entire body in a systematic way – I would still get incredibly distracted. I would have to plea with my mind to please shut the fuck up, and was amazed to realise that it was devising the most insane tricks to keep me from making progress as much as possible. I figured that my mind does not actually belong to me; I have to make it mine, tame it, shape it. I’m afraid I will need much more practice in that…

Vipassana meditation is commendable. It was developed by the Buddha Gotama, but it is strictly non-religious. I cannot stress this point enough: any person from any background is able to learn the technique and gain from it. Gain an understanding – if not through experience than at least on a deeper intellectual level – that everything is constantly changing, and that is simply the way it is.

My sole remaining regret in all of this, is that I chose to take the course this year instead of last year. Perhaps I would’ve been able to share this knowledge with my friend J before he had to die with a face twisted in pain and frustration. And anger. Anger that he had to die, when there are so many other people out there wasting away their lives while he was so ready to take on his. And wasn’t allowed to, for some strange reason no one could comprehend nor explain. I could’ve told him his only option was to live until he’d die, instead I was clueless in the face of his desperation.

But then again, what do I know about living with the knowledge and the full, actual realisation that my life is going to end?

Nothing.

But even that will also change one day.

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If you want to know more about vipassana meditation / where to take courses: www.dhamma.org. All courses are free of charge, including food and accommodation, and are run by volunteers + donations.

about eating your heart out, ten times over.

Because good food nourishes the soul?

1. Veganised pozzole

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2. Fusion-wrap: Rice ‘n’ Beans ‘n’ Peanut

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3. Southeast Asian Feast: Massaman curry deluxe with Indonesian stir-fried Kangkung

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4. Spicy butternut squash soup with super-chunky peanut butter and LOTS of croutons/fried chia-seed-wraps-in-strips

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5. Fiesta Mexicana otra vez: slow-cooked black beans with rice ‘n’ veggies and spicy tomato sauce

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6. “it doesn’t get any greener than this”-Noodle soup without noodles 

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==> with spicy broth

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7. Saffron rice with some kind of made-up curry

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8. Noodle soup without noodles part II: Japanese version. To be eaten with miso broth

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9. Noodle salad (with noodles!) with raw veggies cured in rice vinegar/maple syrup/ginger vinaigrette with millions of toasted seeds.

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10. For dessert: sticky date pudding. Of course with some sort of veganised butterscotch sauce, it’s just soaked in you monkeys. 

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about change.

Exactly three years ago I was on the Trans-Siberian Express on my way to Indonesia, believing I was going to take on the world.
Exactly two years ago I’d just found out that I’d graduated magna cum laude, convinced that a PhD would be the next move for taking on the world.
Exactly one year ago I withdrew my participation to a 10-day silent meditation course in Perth, because I had to monitor seedlings, or collect seeds, or do something or other that was more important for taking on the world.
Exactly two months ago, one of my best friends took his final breath after the anguish of a most horrifying illness, making me wonder why the hell taking on the world is so bloody important to me.
Exactly two weeks ago, I started drafting a matrix of PhD programs, and a proposal too I guess, which has all the characteristics of taking on the world, but actually it’s just plain self-development.
Exactly two hours ago I made vegan Massaman curry, because even when you’ve made no progress whatsoever in taking on the world, you’re still hungry every couple of hours.
Exactly two minutes ago I decided I should be writing more, because if I’m not taking on the world, what else am I supposed to be doing?

TIME TO REVERSE THE CLOCK!

I’m starting a 10-day silent meditation course tomorrow.

about figuring it out.

So I disappeared for a while.

Inside my head, and also to the other side of the world, then to the other other side of the world, then back to the other side of the world, and finally back to this end of the world, which is basically the end of the world. (yes, it means my carbon footprint is massive this year. But I plant trees for a living. What the hell are you doing?)

I had left this end of the world with the straightforward idea that, elsewhere, I would be able to figure it out. You know, it. Turns out ‘elsewhere’ does not enable you to figure it out. Yet for some strange reason, in time – and after you’ve already backtracked to that point where you initially started from – things do figure themselves out.

And usually not in the way you thought they would.

When I first signed up for this end of the world, it was because of a denied research visa and well, a boy. When I finally got here, I had received the research visa after all and I was no longer talking to the boy. Instead, I got propelled into a career which miraculously enough does not just consist of evaluating plans and writing reports. I get to work hard and get shit done. The fruit of my labour sits there. It may not be much, but it’s tangible and measurable. And it’s growing.

It’s not easy. In fact, it’s bloody hard work. It includes frustration, anger, disappointment and even rage. So much you start doubting yourself, asking yourself, What the hell are you doing?

WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING?

DOING? DOING? DOING? DOING?

ARE YOU REALLY TRYING? AS HARD AS YOU CAN? REALLY? REALLY?

Bang. You’ll figure it out.

On to the next.
workingant

about living in words.

- So you never get sick of hearing your own voice in your head?
I don’t actually hear my own voice in my head…
- Are you sure? Whatever – whenever – you think, you use your voice. To shape the words in your mind, right?
I guess so… but whenever I hear it on tape it just sounds so different from what I hear in my head.
- Yeah.

It’s just so crazy to realise that your whole reality is shaped by the concepts that are available in the language you speak.
- Fuck yeah.
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That’s why you don’t know what you’re feeling until you read it in the book on your bedside table.
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That’s why this is not really the same as:
“Als de wereld niet zou zuigen, dan vielen we er allemaal van af.”
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That’s why you didn’t feel saudades, until you learned about them on Wikipedia.

about your mojo.

So you’re crouched in front of the fridge pulling out the 3-week-old celery and blackening mushrooms and suppressing a wailing moan emerging from the innermost depths of your body – your coccyx [new word! new word!] to be more precise – because last night you got really drunk and somehow managed to sit down beside rather than on your chair, and it was still hurting when you woke up way too early with a slight headache on top of everything, but you pulled yourself out of bed anyway to – hold your horses – prune your rose bushes.

And as you were then trying to stuff the pruned branches down the garden waste bin you were getting pricked all over, but somehow you didn’t care, because you were too distracted by that fucking throbbing coccyx, fortunately no longer with a headache but unfortunately with bad cramps jamming down the left leg too. Hence by the time you’ve finally actually managed to stuff those thorned branches down the bin, it’s about lunchtime and you are crouched in front of the fridge pulling out the 3-week-old celery and blackening mushrooms and suppressing a wailing moan.

And then everything changes.

You marvel at the fucking awesome colour of these purple carrots that you bought yesterday at the farmers’ market, and you realise just in time that the missing ingredient is indeed some cinnamon, and half an hour later you’re stuffing your face with cumin-leeks potatoes and a smashing Moroccan-flavoured lentil curry – which indeed has the 3-week-old celery and blackening mushrooms in it and actually also some recently expired tomato sauce – and you know that, today, you fucking win.

And the tiger balm makes your ass smell like magic.

Win.

about happiness, or not-unhappiness.

2011 taught me an important lesson. I finally understood that life is quite vicious and cruel, which is not a lesson schematically drawn on a blackboard. Instead  it comes smacked in the face, slap after slap until the walls of naivité built around everything believed in finally start to crumble.

I can hear your thoughts all the way here. ‘Coming from someone who’s trotting around the planet as if life is a never-ending vacation.’ But let me tell you: I am not happier than you are. And you are not particularly happy. If you tell me that you are, you are probably lying. I may coarsely be persuaded to believe that you find yourself in a certain state of contentment, but it is way more likely that you chose not to think too much about your life and hence not to feel too much about it either.  Or, you are telling yourself over and over that you have nothing to be unhappy about, until you actually believe that you are not-unhappy, therefore happy. Or, perhaps you are convinced that you are on your way to your happiness, and you can already see it shining on the horizon. All you need is a better job. Or some more money. Or a child. Or a lover. Then you’ll finally get there, destination happiness.

Wrong. You’re chasing rainbows.

I am not happier than you are. But, just like you, I refuse to settle. I consciously and willingly choose to battle. For every nanosecond of pure bliss. Shooting right up to the stars, way beyond the fucking rainbow. This war is not about winning. It’s about fighting and getting up over and over again. For all the small victories of joy, laughter and pleasure. Bear the pain. Suck it up. This is life. For everyone.