I took another digital detox this weekend—I limited myself to a 5-minute screen time on Saturday and Sunday to quickly check my business account. I closed my social media account for the rest of the days. I spent my morning journaling, then perched myself on the couch, reading Natalie Goldberg’s The Great Spring while sipping my coffee and slurping my chocolate avocado mousse. I had a long sound-bathing session and journaled some more; then, in the afternoon, D and I went to De Klok in Spaarndam-West to have some Radlers, chill, and read. I watched people’s boats passing—couples on a picnic and their dogs.
We stopped by Mari Rasa to grab my comfort food: nasi goreng and tahu isi with peanut sauce dip. In the evening, we went to the Altini’s for a pizza dinner and a stroll at Westerpark—and I caressed their ‘guest’ Chartreux: so fluffy, soft, and cuddly. It reminded me of Moortje—the neighbor’s black cat who went missing a week ago. I used to stop and play with her on my way home from Albert-Heijn.
On Sunday, I burned incense: Lotus and Angel Dust—an homage to my roots. I once told my friend I wanted a house that smelled like a yoga shala. It was amazing how the sense of smell can transport you to a different mental state. I had another sound-bathing session under the skylight—the sunshine pouring over me, continued reading Goldberg, dove into my journaling practice, and then returned to The Great Spring. In the afternoon, Dita came over. I told her I had some Indonesian food to share. We discussed life, work, books, creative pursuit, and food upon shared Radler, coffee, and tahu isi. We both love Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones and Ferrante’s novels.
Then the thunderstorm came, bringing fierce and frightening lightning that seemed like splitting the sky open. I remember I used to be so afraid of lightning as a little girl. I would wrap myself in a thick blanket and close my eyes and ears so I couldn’t see or hear anything. My parents needed to nudge me to get me out of the blanket when the storm passed because I wouldn’t know otherwise. Under the blanket, I was numbing myself from anything external. It was an isolation, a space capsule, a shell—it felt protective and vulnerable at the same time. I still felt like that little girl hiding under a blanket some days.
I always thought I was not made for the constant social interaction and stimulation social media offered. Lately, I feel sick after scrolling social media for over ten minutes. The choice was to ignore that feeling or respect it. I used to do digital detox most weekends and wanted to do this again. No emails, no checking of DMs. I wanted to start again from Friday evening until Monday morning. To reclaim my mental space and experience the world rather than just looking at it pass by from a little screen.
I started getting my paints, pastels and brushes out. I was still too depleted to paint, but I did some color swatches while listening to Sandi’s landscape note-taking course, doing sketches from Emma’s and Sarah’s Patreon, and accepting that creativity can ebb and flow. Still, we always have a choice to do something nonetheless: to pick up that pen, that brush… ourselves. To build a habit of creating and expressing without having to end up with a finished piece, without any agenda apart from letting things out, without any expectation of an aha moment. It just is.
It had been a tough week.
I learned long ago that you cannot please everybody—but I was so wired to do so. It is in me, and I am still trying to unlearn it. I still have to remind myself repeatedly, every single day, that I only have one life—and I want to live it the way I want to… now, every single day.
D and I watched Kim’s Convenience on Sunday evening to wind down. We laughed. I brushed my teeth and took a long shower before bed. I washed my hair. I sprayed Berdoues above my pillow. I dreamed about returning to high school—at a student council meeting, planning for a school festival. I dreamed about eating together at a long table, blurry conversations.
I woke up to the Parade music from Paprika by Susumu Hirasawa. Cyan told me to watch this Satoshi Kon’s movie a few days ago, and I did. I love it.
It was Monday morning, and I still felt like marching in a dream.
I took up a personal journaling project this week: writing a love letter to myself before bed. I work on a thin A6-size handmade paper journal I got from a paper artist, Els.
The journal is thin and small enough, so it doesn’t overwhelm me. It feels like I am only going to work on a small project. However, the handmade paper, with its textures and colors, is also beautiful enough to make me feel like I want to do something with it every evening.
The love letter is simple, concise, and short. I thank myself for what I do that day—even as simple as cooking meals for myself or taking the time to rest. I praise myself for the smallest achievement that day (like not being angry when things go wrong or treating someone kindly). On tough days, the letter can be full of words of comfort and assurance. I write all the things I wish to hear. The letter is me telling myself, “I see you. I hear you. I know how hard you try; I understand what you’re going through.”
I think most of the time, we can be too hard on ourselves when we do something we regret or when we make mistakes. We can keep talking ourselves down and replaying the scenes of what we think should not happen repeatedly.
But most of us don’t take enough time and patience to appreciate ourselves when we do something good, don’t mess things up, or make an effort at anything—no matter how small.
Writing a love letter to yourself is about acknowledging ourselves—and appreciating those efforts that we often take for granted, such as getting out of bed in the morning or making it through another challenging day.
To me, this project is a lovely way to use my tiny journal at the end of the day. It is also a calming, creative, and relaxing reminder-to-self that my effort counts—and that I am worthy of love and appreciation from myself.
“Would you like to try working on a tiny journal where you’ll write love letters to yourself from time to time?”
This is what standing up for yourself can look like:
Keep doing the things you love doing the way you enjoy doing them, even when everyone else tells you otherwise. Let your heart sing the tune of its soul; even if you’re the only one finding it beautiful. Do not let anyone or yourself crush your spirit or take away your capability to dream, to love, to wonder. Celebrate yourself.
Standing up for yourself does not have to look aggressive. It does not have to feel like a fight. It’s not always about convincing others or explaining yourself and your decisions with the hope that everyone else understands or accepts your choice.
Standing up for yourself can also look like something ordinary—something small; like a tiny wildflower sprouting through a crack on the highway. It can look like something persistent—some tiny flickers in the dark that just refuse to die. It can also look like those quiet moments when you whisper to yourself,
I was watching Kimberley’s video the other day, where she mentioned our tendency to envision our future self (or even looking at our present self) based on ‘the library of our past’—and something clicks inside of me.
I tend to do this as well: referring to my past successes, failures, experiences; or even my family background or my upbringing—to define who I am today.
Sometimes, it feels like having an explanation on why I have certain triggers or behaviors. Other times, it feels like having the foundation to decide where to go next, and most of the time, more than I’d like to admit, it feels like having a perfect excuse not to change or not to face my fears.
But, in line with what Kimberley said in her video, what if one day we wake up with no memories or attachment towards our past? Who are we today if we are not the sum of our past? Who are we today if we start our journey onwards with a clean slate? What if we no longer refer to our past hurt, past trauma, past achievements… to live our lives today, or to shape our future? How are we going to think and behave differently? How are we going to live differently?
This idea reminds me of the concept of time as understood by the Aymara people—who inhabit some of the highest valleys in the Andes, northern Chile. While most of us think of the past as something that happens behind us and the future lies ahead of us, researchers found out that for the Aymara people, it’s the other way around.
The Aymara people see the past as something that lies ahead of us, and the future as something that lies behind us.
Notice how in our concept of time, we tend to see the future as the continuation of the past, how it seems like we are ‘stepping’ into the future from the past, or ‘carrying’ the past into our future.
The Aymara’s concept of time, on the other hand, invite us to see the past as something that lies in front of us: something visible to the ‘eyes’, something ‘known’—while the future is something behind our back: something unforeseen and unknown, representing potentials and possibilities.
To me, it’s like an invitation to step back (instead of stepping forward) into the future without ‘seeing’, without knowing where to go, without following a pre-made map. Sure, we can’t erase the past. It has happened already, and their traces are right there, right in front of us.
However, as we step back into the future, the past we see in front of us doesn’t particularly give us a clue on where we should go or where to step on next, as the ‘road’ behind our backs remains unknown.
The only way we can get a hint about where we’re going and where our steps are slowly taking us is by taking a leap of faith and walking that ‘moonwalk’: stepping further ‘back’ into the future.
I ask these questions often when I am working on my journal these days:
Who am I today if I am not defined by my past?
How can I live as who I am today, as who I want to be today–without referring to who I was yesterday, without referring to my past experiences or memories? What would I do today? How would I behave today? What would I believe in based only on everything I experience today?
How would I treat the people in my life today if I do not feel the need to adjust my approach based on my past experiences with them? How could I relate to them as my present self, instead of my past self?
Because, sometimes, we don’t have to figure everything out to start something.
Because, sometimes, not knowing is part of the journey, and knowing how the story ends is merely an unwanted spoiler.
Because, sometimes, striving for perfection only takes the fun out of everything we do.
Because, sometimes, we don’t need to know exactly where we’re going.
Because, sometimes, we just need to be on our way: knowing that we can pack our bag and leave, but also knowing that we can change our destination, or stay longer somewhere, or… we can come home.
Because, sometimes, we don’t have to be able to do and be everything.
Because, sometimes, we can stop, or cry, or get frustrated.
Because, sometimes, we are allowed to feel tired and exhausted.
Because, sometimes, we can give up on some things and slowly pick up the pace to start new ones all over again.
Because, sometimes, we don’t have to aim for success.
Because, sometimes, failing is also an option.
Because, sometimes, we just need to try things out and make mistakes and go back to zero.
Because, sometimes, we don’t have to live the idea of a big flashy life if we’re not resonating with it.
Because, sometimes, we can live one tiny step at a time: to wake up slowly and smile, to sniff the rainy clouds and serve our simple lunch on a pretty plate, to fall in love and wash the dishes and be goofy, to pluck our brittle nails and laugh at our Pinterest fails.
Why do we have the tendency to feel guilty when we have to stop, to give up, to rest, to slow down?
Maybe because we’ve been brought up believing that to be ‘productive’ we need to keep going, keep trying, keep moving, keep running…
But sometimes, to travel further, we need to stop and rest to recharge ourselves. When things are no longer serving us, we need to give them up instead of holding on. When we want to enjoy the journey, appreciate the experience, and make memories, we need to slow down.
This month, let’s give ourselves the time to do all of them–when we need to, unapologetically. Let’s give ourselves the ultimate permission to dedicate this month for ourselves, so we can have the chance to stop. To give up. To rest. To slow down.
This was the thing that didn’t go as planned: we’re supposed to reach Munich, Germany, in 8 hours.
It was Friday afternoon—the first day of our 21-day road trip in Europe. We were supposed to pick up our rented car earlier at Schiphol Airport, Amsterdam, but we went into some last-minute frenzy and arrived a bit later. When we left Schiphol, already behind schedule, it started raining. With thunders.
We applauded ourselves for ‘leaving this rain behind’ and decided to adopt our happy, sunny summer mood. So off we went, accompanied by Despacito blaring from the stereo.
We should be in Munich by 7 PM. Or maybe, on the pessimistic side, 9 PM. But the reality was this: we didn’t reach Munich on our first day.
Entering Germany, we got caught in a horrible traffic jam.
I told D that the traffic jam made me feel as if I was on Jagorawi highway, back in Jakarta. I never thought there could be such a long and massive traffic jam in Germany. Sure, we started off in the middle of July, when summer vacation was in full swing and everyone was out with their campers and caravans. But there must be something more than this.
We sat in the traffic jam for hours: talking, singing, making jokes, and trying to find some means of entertainment until we got tired of them all. We also found out the culprit of the traffic jam: massive road works.
The good news was that recently, in June, the EU was set for free-roaming. This means we can use our Netherland or Italian SIM card to access the Internet without any roaming charges, all across the EU!
With the help of Google Map, we decided to find a detour—leaving the highway to avoid the road works. This detour led to another detour since the alternative road suggested was also undergoing road works and (un)welcoming us with roadblocks.
At the end of the day, we found ourselves being on a detour of a detour of a detour, driving along small and winding countryside roads.
That was when we realized that we would not be in Munich by the end of the day. Surrendering to this, we decided to adjust our plan and tried to find a place where we can camp, put up our tent, and sleep for the night before continuing our journey the morning after.
That day, we ended up in a small town called Frickenhausen.
Early in the morning, we left the camping ground and found out that the highway was not getting any better.
The traffic jam was still as bad as yesterday, so we had no choice but to leave the highway and once again, took the small countryside roads. This wasn’t all that bad, actually. I had to admit that I liked it more than the boring highways.
Sure, you would need to drive slower and it might even take a longer time to reach your destinations, but I love the view from the window of my passenger seat. The houses, the farms, the hills, the fields, the mountains, the charming old towns… I thought suddenly I understood the meaning of the sayings: the journey is the destination. It’s the moment when you stop counting the hours to your point of arrival; realizing that you are somehow enjoying these in-between hours to get ‘there’.
And then, I screamed.
I screamed when everything turned yellow.
We passed rows of sunflower fields!
Not many people are aware of this, but I have dreamed of standing in the middle of a sunflower field since I was a child.
For this reason, I love sunflowers. When I started a photography business with a friend of mine a few years ago, we called it Sunday & Sunflowers. We launched the business by sending pots of sunflowers to our friends and colleagues.
So, I was smiling and laughing and screaming uncontrollably when we were passing a random town that day and seeing sunflower fields along the way! It was like finally having your childhood dream in front of your eyes! Seeing this, D stopped the car in a quiet patch of road, and let me absorb the beauty of the flowers while jumping and dancing around happily.
I didn’t walk to the middle of the field, though, because the sunflowers were planted very close to one another and I was afraid that I might harm them. I just walked around back and forth sniffing the sunflowers and jumped backward in surprise when a huge bee was buzzing from one of the flowers, almost kissed the tip of my nose. I giggled. My heart was filled with a simple kind of joy, a simple kind of happiness.
Maybe, sometimes, things don’t go as planned because we need a detour.
Because maybe, if all goes well, we won’t see the things we would love to see, we won’t experience the things we might be happy to experience, or we won’t grow to be the person we could have been. Maybe things need to go wrong before it can get right. Maybe we are forced to go on a detour because we are too comfortable riding along the wrong path. Maybe it’s about surrendering instead of fighting, about trusting instead of fearing.
I wish you all a happy summer. And may you, too, find your sunflower field anytime soon.
PS. Could you remember a time in your life when things did not seem to go as planned; and later in life found out that it had actually help you to be who/where you are right now? I would love to hear from you!
Because you’re independent, and always seem to be so confident going about your days by yourself. Because you seem fine all the time. Because you’re the one taking charge when everything goes out of line and making it all once again calm. Because you’re the one that keeps trying to find the way out when the other has given up. Because oftentimes you would refuse a helping hand being offered your way by saying, “It’s alright, I can do this.” Because you always seem so happy and full in your own little world, even if you have to wake up and go to bed alone, every single day.
They called you a strong woman.
You, who forever postpone your dreams to ensure that the ones around you can chase theirs. You, who make sure that everyone has enjoyed their meals before picking up whatever is left on the table. You, who always let everyone else voice their concerns and opinions first, before starting to speak. You, who will only cry when nobody is looking.
You, who always be the one retreating from a relationship when they begin the conversation with, “I know you’re a strong woman,”—as if being a strong woman makes you immune from heartbreaks.
You, whom they called a strong woman, sometimes wish they do not see you as someone strong. You wish you could rest because life can feel so exhausting. You sometimes imagine how wonderful it is to be the one others are fighting for, instead of being someone who is constantly fighting. You wish someone else would want to carry your life’s burden without you even asking, and not the other way around.
You, whom they called a strong woman, sometimes wish you could shed some tears when you’re sad, explode in anger, or pour your heart out whenever you are in doubt. There are days when you feel like crying—but you simply forget how to: it has been too long that you force yourself to smile whenever you’re feeling down.
You, whom they called a strong woman, sometimes want to cry out, “I want that!” and let others withdraw to give you what you want. You want to be a bit spoiled and stubborn, to have others give way to your will, not the other way around.
Sometimes, you want to be the one who gives up.
You, whom they called a strong woman, sometimes want to admit the fact that you are lonely. That after facing such a backbreaking world, you would love to come home to loving arms, that would envelop you in their embrace. Sometimes, you wish to be the one being protected; you wish you could be this vulnerable being that would invite endearment and affection.
When a relationship went wearisome, you would like to hear: “I need to stay with her, I cannot imagine hurting her,” instead of, “She’ll certainly be fine without me, she has always been a strong woman…”
You, whom they called a strong woman, carry so many burdens, so many dreams, so many responsibilities on your shoulder. You, whom they called a strong woman, sometimes question the fact: that if you are not the one to be strong, who else could carry all these?
But, you, whom they called a strong woman—yes, you: you deserve to be happy as well.
You deserve a break, to sometimes be a bit ‘selfish’, to ask for what you want, to say, “Help me, I cannot do this alone.” You are allowed to let your tears fall without having to be shadowed by a smile, to be someone who is being kept—instead of being released.
Because you, whom they called a strong woman, you are not always as strong as they may think you are.
Recently, this was the first thing people said to me–especially if they haven’t seen me for quite a while. Then the follow-up questions soon ensue: Are you on a diet? What have you been doing, are you exercising a lot? Are you a vegetarian now? The fact is, I did lose some weight these past 2 years, about 10 kilograms all in all. Which, when you look at it that way, is not that impressive, really, as this means losing only around 0.5 kilograms per month. That’s quite slow–at least compared to the promises of various dieting programs out there. But, this is not the point. The point is this: I started losing weight when I had given up on losing weight.
For those of you who have been following this blog for quite some time, you know that I used to have issues with my body image. There were times in my life when I hated the way I look; and up to this day, I could still recall that memory of feeling ugly, worthless, unloved, and unwanted.
When I looked into the mirror, I only saw a girl who was overweight, with an oily face and bad acne, straight oily hair, with excess fat here and there and I hated what I saw. I thought I wouldn’t be able to wear a certain dress or carry on a certain hairstyle or following a certain fashion trend because it would only make me look even more ridiculous as if I was trying too hard. There were times when my diary was full of harsh comments I uttered to myself–again and again, repeating the self-pity rants about how ugly I looked, about how ugly I felt.
I tried various diet pills and herbs to no avail. I used various acne creams and capsules and went on painful facials but the pimples kept coming. Until a few days before New Year’s Eve 2013; when I took an impulsive decision to travel with a guy I liked to Penang. I thought it would be fun, to actually celebrate New Year’s Eve with someone, some place new.
We arrived in Penang quite close to midnight. On the ferry, we met a couple who was about to head in the same direction as we were, and so we decided to share a cab. The cab driver brought his wife along with him, so the front seats were occupied. Thus, the four of us squeezed ourselves at the back seat, but the space was quite small, so the guy I liked decided to have me sat on his lap, to give more space for the couple–as they brought some huge bags with them. After a while, he laughed and said, “Wow, you are heavy like a fat whale!”
Maybe he was joking. Maybe he didn’t. But at that very moment, I hated him for what he said; and on the following days, I hated myself because I realized that I had said that kind of things to myself too, quite frequently. Why did I hate him for saying the same thing I had been saying to myself when I had called myself names worse than “a fat whale” and had become my own worst bullies?
That was when I started looking at myself (the bullied self) with a wave of compassion like never before. For the first time, I had this strong urge to stop being mean and harsh to my body and committed to stopping trying to change it. If this was the body I needed to live in for the rest of my life, so be it. I better started to accept it as it was. Because it was too tiring, depressing, and sad, to call yourself names worse than ‘a fat whale’ and play victim all the time. This was the time when I couldn’t care less about my body. I decided to shift my attention somewhere else: my work, my personal projects, my writings, my arts, my love of books, cultures, and languages. I left my body alone. I accepted it but did not befriend it.
At the end of 2013, my father got a lab report presenting his high blood-sugar and cholesterol level. Good food has always been the heart of our family. And I have always believed (still am) that the kitchen should occupy the largest space in a house. But having that lab report changed something: we needed to alter our lifestyle. Yes, our. It didn’t seem so supportive to have me eating all those food we used to love while his options were limited. I looked at the long list of food my father was not allowed to consume (basically everything we usually savored), and the short list of what he should consume. This should be a team effort.
“Let’s do it,” I said to him. “From tomorrow, let’s start by replacing white rice with brown rice.” We did not reduce the amount of food we consume, we just made a healthier choice. More fruits and vegetables in the form of smoothies, soup, green juice, salad, or stir-fry (with olive, canola, or coconut oil). Less red meat and more fish. Less coffee and more lemon water. Less sugar (now almost to the point of no sugar), less salt, and more healthy spices and herbs. Eat dinner before 6:30 pm.
I browsed through dozens of healthy recipes, along with some vegetarian options.
Since I went to Bali quite frequently those days, I started getting myself familiar with the world of raw desserts, and when I got back, I started making those healthy treats for my father’s love of sweet things. The only difference is that we’re using dates instead of sugar, butter, and egg, as well as unsalted nuts and shredded coconut instead of flour.
We have our weekends when we sometimes eat meat (but cooked it in a healthier way) or pig out on that delicious chicken noodle we love, but 5 out of 7 days, we were pretty comfortable with our new habit. My father started swimming again, and I did, too. Plus I did a bit of yoga (home practice by using YouTube videos–thank you Adrienne and Tara Stiles–apart from one or two Kundalini yoga retreats per year) and introduced my father to Lee Holden’s qigong.
Getting in touch with yoga made me feel more comfortable with my own body, especially because my yoga mentors were always highlighting the fact that yoga is not a competitive sport. Just because a friend can do a headstand it doesn’t mean that you need to do it, too. You just need to follow your own pace and listen to your own body, and it will evolve with you. You don’t have to compare yourself with others or parade what you have achieved. I love how yoga has become such a serene and personal practice for me, a time and space I can dedicate to myself every now and then.
I started learning to befriend my body and thanking each part of it every day. When I am in the shower, I talk to various body parts of mine as I cleanse, rinse, and wash them. I say my gratitude and telling them the reason why I am grateful for having them, then sending my wishes and blessing them accordingly.
This can be something like brushing my teeth and saying: “Thank you, my mouth, my teeth, my tongue. Because of you I can speak and eat and taste good food. Because of you I can smile and laugh and sing. May you only speak good words, kind words, may you only speak things that people need to hear, kindly. May you bring out good things and bring in good things–in the form of words, food, drinks, or voices. Be strong and healthy, my teeth, and bless you all.” And then I move on to the next body part: face, hair, arms, legs, stomach, shoulders, back… everything. I walk out of the shower feeling grateful, relaxed and refreshed. How can I NOT be thankful? How can I not look at my body in a different way, with loads of respect and admiration?
I couldn’t remember when it was exactly, but there was this one day when I looked at myself in the mirror and I started liking what I saw. I could really see that I am beautiful–not based on society’s or industry’s standard, but simply beautiful as a human being who survives her ups and downs and keeps marching along, happily. I hadn’t been weighing myself for quite some time–and when I weighed myself that day, I was surprised knowing that I had lost 10 kilograms. I didn’t expect that at all.
On the other hand, my father’s recent lab report has also shown great progress. All the alarming numbers have gone down, returned back to normal, and even turned out really good for the blood-sugar level.
These days, I do not weigh myself. I don’t really care. I have enough comfort, confidence, and positive body image now to say that I just want to live healthier and to love my body more–for whatever it is. I do not want to be measured by numbers on a scale. Do I lose weight? Yes, I do. How much do I weigh now? I don’t know for sure.
Today, I am measuring my body’s performance through the way I feel: do I feel happy and energized or tired and sleepy? Do I wake up in the morning feeling calm and inspired, or greasy and in doubt? Do I move a lot and create many things, thinking and reading, or lazying around a lot and wasting my time scrolling my Facebook newsfeed?
I am also getting better and better at not to let other people’s compliments or critics determine the way I feel; because what’s really important is not what other people think or feel about us–but what we think and feel about ourselves. It’s about looking at the mirror when we’re all alone and pose that defining question: “How can I love You more?”
Because at the end of the day, that’s the only question there is.
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Hi. I'm HANNY
I am an Indonesian writer/artist/illustrator and stationery web shop owner (Cafe Analog) based in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. I love facilitating writing/creative workshops and retreats, especially when they are tied to self-exploration and self-expression. In Indonesian, 'beradadisini' means being here. So, here I am, documenting life—one word at a time.