Sunday, May 31, 2009

Arnhem, a bridge too far. Four tourist spots worth seeing.

Arnhem was the allied nemesis, the stumbling block on the way to victory in WWII. Arnhem is also my hometown. In this post I'll be highlighting my hometown a bit, invite you to take a look at the old cellars, the museums, the parks and the attractions that make this place special.

Arnhem sits between a great National park, the Veluwe and the Rhine river and the Posbank, another great nature preserve. One of the greenest city's in the Netherlands, it has a varied terrain, including huge fields of heather, forests and lowlands by the river, all a short bikeride away from whatever spot in Arnhem you are.
The veluwe is a great spot for observing wildlife, it has a "free bicycle plan" that allows you to ride one of their bikes from anywhere in the park to anywhere else and leave it there.
The Posbank is known for it's beautiful hilly heather fields. The infrastructure is excellent and the terrain provides a great challenging workout for cyclists.
The city itself has a lot of parks and greenzones as well. You can walk from my house about 5 miles, all the way to the Veluwe's edge through green terrain all the way. You'd never know you're in the middle of a city.

In addition to the beautiful landscape Arnhem has one of Europes greatest zoo's. Burger's Zoo has tropical gardens, bush landscape, a sealife aquarium, safari, desert, and even a mangrove. There's a jungle greenhouse with a hanging log bridge in it that is host to an incredible array of animals as well as beautiful flowering plants and huge ferns and trees. It has many educational fascilities and has breeding programmes and exchange of animals with many European Zoo's.

In the center of Arnhem there's a set of unique cellars that is a must see! The cellars were built from the start of 1400 until the middle of the last century, with constant redecorations going on well into the year 2000. In 2002 city council bought a large number of these historic cellars and connected them all underground to form a truly magical trip into ages long gone. See where in the middle ages they raised pigs, right under their houses and stores. Marvel at the fact that the pigs were brought in as piglets and left the building as porkchops, the first examples of bio-industry. The oldest cellars are closest to the entrance, as they were built close to the city gates at the time. In later times more cellars were dug and walking through them is a trip through 5 centuries. Every wednesday and friday there's guided tours with the guild of Arnhem.

The open air museum is another great way to explore the history of the region. Buildings spanning some 250 years have been rebuild in the large park, in a nice sampling of the Netherlands through the ages. The topical exhibit this year is esspecially interesting for any expat's: Immigration to the "new world". It's great for kids too, as they offer scavenger hunts and they can try their hands at some of the old crafts being shown around the museum.

Helpful hint: "The map is not the territory"

Friday, May 29, 2009

Seven books on how to live joyfully

There is no manual on life, or if there is any it got lost in translation. In a way this is a good thing because it allows us to live our lives as a journey of discovery, instead of having a preemptive path towards an final goal. Chaos and turmoil are part and parcel of every day living. It's how we respond to chaos and turmoil that makes the difference. These are seven of the most amazing books written on "being human". Without fail they are enjoyable to read, shake your view of the world and can catapult you into enlightenment... if you allow them to.

1. The Art of Happiness, Dalai Lama with Howard C. Cutler.
These days the Dalai Lama needs no further introduction I suppose. However Howard Cutler makes this book into a very re
adable book for sceptics and believers alike. As a psychologist he has seen human frailty and he questions the Dalai Lama indepth where others might take his answers for granted. The result is a very thorough book on the pursuit of happiness. "I believe that the very purpose of our lives is to seek happiness."

2.Non violent communication, a language of life, Marshall Rosenberg.
The definitive work on communication. It redefines what communication is for, it teaches us how language can be used as a tool to create empathetic connection
between people, rather than a way of getting your point across. In doing so it gives us a real, useable tool for improving relationships and furthering understanding between people. Move beyond judgement, demand and diagnoses into heart to heart contact. "What I want in my life is compassion, a flow between myself and others based on mutual giving from the heart"

3. Saying yes to life (even the hard parts), Ezra Bayda with Josh Bartok.
A charming little book of quotes, teaching you how to live in the happy acceptance of everything. A great nightstand book, to read when you la
y awake worrying. "Happiness has no cause, it is our natural state of being when unobstructed".

4. Journey to center, Tom Crum.
A well written book of stories describing the authors journey to awakening throughout life, and translates them into concrete and practical tips for every day enlightenment. The stories are humorous and direct, real life experiences that everyone can relate to. "Each moment the true warrior cuts through his story and steps forth from his vision. In this there is true power."

5. Love is letting go of fear, Gerald J. Jampolsky.
A charming book written in the late seventies that in a clear and simple voice explains what the course in miracles is really all about. Concise, poignant and useable in it's simplicity and honesty, it leaves other guides to personal transformation far behind. This charming little book speaks from the heart and to the heart. "Teach only love, for that is what you are."

6. Actualizations, you don't have to rehearse to be yourself, Steward Emery.
Derived from the EST seminars this book leaves behind the rather rigorous methods used there and successfully translates the insights gained through the training. Taking a look at the paradigms that have shaped our thinking and how to tackle them. Chapter titles include: "If you make reality your enemy, you lose" and "I am you, and I love myself".

7. The hero with a thousand faces, Joseph Campbell.
Through exploration of mythical stories the book sheds light on what it means to be human. All mythical heroes are metaphores for the trials and tribulations of every day living. Rather than an instruction manual (as many selfhelp books are) a good story sticks with you and changes you from the inside out. Heroic stories have throughout the history of mankind served as examples for what it means to be human. ""the function of ritual and myth is to make possible, and then to facilitate, the jump--by analogy"

Helpful hint:
"Be who you are and say what you want, because those who mind don't matter and those who matter don't mind."
~Dr. Seuss

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

They took the heart out of China.

This is part one of an ongoing series of people who at some point were an inspiration to me. Through their words, music, actions they inspired me to be the best I could be. It took me a long time to realize that the best I could be would have to be something to do with me: My personal strengths and what I want to put forth into the world. For the longest time being the best I could be had to do with emulating my heroes. Judging myself for not being as environmental as John Denver, or as compassionate as the Dalai Lama. Not as articulate as Jean Houston nor as joyful as Chungliang al Huang. As I grew through my association with these individuals I also learned to love myself.

I attended a seminar by Chungliang al Huang once during the Windstar Choices for the Future symposium in Aspen, back in 1989. He was one of the speakers at the inspiring three day meeting of the minds and a memorable one at that. He got the audience to stand up and do an exercise called: “Embrace tiger, return to the mountains”. At that time, I think very few people in audience had heard of Tai Chi much less done any.
Tai Chi means something like: "ultimate best" and it's art is evolved from Chinese fighting techniques. Most teachers of this art teach the form, the technique. Chungliang is different in this respect that he teaches the joy of the movement, tapping into the energy of the Hara, the gut. He got us all to belly laugh together, reach up to the sky to reel in all the sky’s energy. Reach down to the earth and draw in
all the earths energy as well and then pat our bellies to blend it all together in our Center. It was absolutely magical to see 1500 people, mostly Americans join in this dance of energy.

Then he told us about China, and the audience got very quiet. This was only days after Tiananmen Square massacre had happened and Chungliang told us about what had been happening in the homeland in the past decades. He drew a Chinese character on a flip-over: the symbol meaning China. His writing was as joyful a dance as his Tai Chi had been. Then he explained the meaning of the different parts.

He explained that what he had written was in the traditional Chinese language, the first character meaning central, the second symbol country or nation. Inside the protective square is the symbol for the heart and the people.
Then he drew the new, simplified symbol for China. The people symbol had become more rigid and they had taken the heart out of China. A real heartbreak moment. The symbolism of this spoke more clearly about what was happening in China than any blurry newscasts about the massacre.

Language is what we have that separates us from other animals and here they changed the language, taking out the heart of China. The simplicity of his message, the sheer joy of this person in spite of his personal grief over the massacre in Tiananmen Square. I fell in love with the man from China. The old China, full of heart.

Helpful hint:
“Does your path have a heart? If it does, the path is good, if it doesn’t it is of no use.” ~ Carlos Castaneda


Adulthood came to me when I was 25. I was living in Aspen, Colorado at the time and my life was fully dedicated to having fun. Even though I worked 3 or 4 jobs just to stay afloat, it felt like I had taken a long vacation from living the responsible, adult type of life. I decided that it was time to get serious about my life and ambitions. Playtime was over, I needed to buckle down and decide what my future was going to be like and then create it.

Aspen is the single most wonderful place to play. Sitting in the middle of the Rocky Mountains, some of the most pristine landscapes in the world it seems as far away from reality as you can get. Even the Aspen Daily News at the time sported just a half a page of news from anywhere else, appropriately named "the real world" at the very last page. There was live music happening every night, winters filled with apres ski parties (skiing too but I never got into that much) summers full of sunshine, art, music festivals. Famous artists from all over the world came to Aspen to perform.
There's symphony's and concerts on the lawn with live performances from students of the Aspen Music School.
Summer was my favorite time also because of the Windstar Symposium, in which I was involved as a volunteer, bringing together some of the most innovative thinkers on sustainable energy and social responsibility. When you got tired of all the excitement, all you had to do was take a walk into the mountains and you'd be surrounded by beauty. The air is crisp and clean, every turn of the trail showing another amazing vista.

Working as an illegal alien has it's drawbacks. Since I was getting ready to really build a life for myself, I felt I couldn't afford to be an illegal alien. What if I had just bought a home or a car and I got deported? I decided that if I were going to make a go of it I had to go back to Holland, finish my education and come back legal. Of course, as is often the case with ambitious plans, it didn't quite happen that way. I got back to Holland and everything I had been running away from came crashing back in. I slumped into a depression that lasted for two years. Life as an adult sure turned out to be more difficult than I had expected.

What I learned from that nervous breakdown is: you can't run away from the demons that live inside you. But what I learned from living the good life in Aspen is that there is joy in the world as well, life is full of possibilities and wonder. That wonder never left me, even in my most self-destructive moments. In the six years I lived there I built up a storehouse of positive images and anchors to help me through the rough stuff.This has proved to be an important skill in the art of living.

Helpful hint:
"Remember the good times, especially when going through the bad!"

A brief personal history of computer use.

How important has the computer become? Shockingly!

First time I ever blogged, about two years ago my internet connection froze on me. I was amazed at my own reaction...

I was talking with my friend Angie about it when we went out to dinner the other day. I've known her since highschool and we sat and talked about old times, having a good time. Her husband was the very first person I knew who had anything to do with computers. They had a Commodore 64 with a matrixprinter with the chainfeed, remember those?
I recall how impressed I was: You could type something and correct it and then it would print it all out without any typo's. For all you younger people who grew up with computers: the 64 in commodore stands for 64kb, the entire memory of that computer. A far cry from today where a 4 gigabyte memory stick is in practically every pocket.

Personal computers have only been around some 20 years. Angie and her husband gave me my very first computer ever, a 268 from IBM. Green letters on a black screen, floppy disks, WordPerfect, Windows 3.0, they are all ancient history now. Angie remembers reading an article back then about a way in which computers could be tied together to form a network. The article stated that it should be possible to do this worldwise. Those were wild futuristic notions...

So I started my blog two years ago and a computer failure was enough to completely ruin my day. I went to a friends house and typed up this blog on her computer immediately. On another occasion my monitor broke down. That was at 7.00 PM. By 9.00 PM I had replaced it with a brand new flatscreen. Lot's has happened in the past 20 years and like many others I have noticed that I've come to depend on the computer, perhaps more than I should.

There is a part of me that "lives" on the internet and that is looking for selfexpression. The balance between my "real-life" personality and my "netizenship" is sometimes hard to find. I use the fact that I work through the internet as a counsellor as an excuse, but it's no more than an excuse. I can hardly imagine life without a computer, internet and cellphones.
How did we get by in the olden days, some 10, 20 years ago?

Helpful hint:
"Change is inevitable, except from a vending machine"
~Robert C. Gallagher