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Empathy works. It always does.

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Martin Luther King and my mission in life

This Wednesday I flew out to Atlanta to renew my passport. At first I was frustrated about the hassle, and the consumption of time and money.

Then I decided to make it an adventure and see it as an unique opportunity to visit a city, its people, and its highlights.

Image courtesy to myinterestingfacts.comSo I visited the birth home of Martin Luther King Jr., the The Martin Luther King, Jr., National Historic Site, and The King Center. I walked away with even more awe for the radical love, the ultimate fearlessness, and the relentless commitment to social justice, truth, and inclusion Martin Luther King Jr. had. Here stood a man who was dedicated to serve others, no matter the personal cost. I don’t think he spent much time hanging out in front of the television, chatting with friends, dangling his feet in the swimming pool. Here was a man on a mission , who did not waste his time mindlessly, who used every minute, every second of his life in pursuit of his dream.

My mind starts racing. “I should educate myself on philosophy, I should not watch Elementary, I should talk about big topics. I should be on a mission to convert everyone to veganism, to restorative justice, to Nonviolent Communication. I should volunteer to take the place of a death row inmate and let myself be executed or refuse to pay taxes as a statement of the injustice of the punitive system. I should not lull myself into sleep that I do enough.”

You know me well enough to imagine the rest of the drill.

Then I read Martin Luther King’s ‘What’s Your Life’s Blueprint’ in The Radical King (Edited and introduced by Cornel West, 2015, 66-67)

“And when you discover what you’re going to be in life, set out to do it as if God almighty called you at this particular moment in history to do it. (…) If it falls to be your lot to be a street sweeper, sweep streets like Michelangelo painted pictures. Sweep streets like Beethoven composed music. Sweep streets like Leontyne Price sings before the Metropolitan Opera. And sweep streets like Shakespeare wrote poetry. Sweep streets so well that the hosts of Heaven and Earth will pause and say, “Here lived a great street sweeper who swept his job well.” “

And I realize that all I need to do right here, right now is to be the best Elly possible. As a wife, a nanny, a coach. As Elly. Be mindful of everything I am. Bring joy and delight to everything I do. And take a radical stance for compassion, acceptance, and love. For myself. And for others.

That’s good enough.


Want help to take a radical stand for yourself? Contact me 512-589-0482. I would be excited to work with you.


When was the last time you honored your inner child?

Last Saturday I took my first hip hop class ever. I was so excited! I had been wanting to take classes for years, and always told myself I had no money, no time, no spaciousness. After moving, I decided to pick up one hobby, and hip hop was my choice.

I expected to be completely confused about all the moves and steps, to be by far the oldest, to have the least snazzy outfit. And yes, that was exactly what happened.

Image courtesy to what I hadn’t expected, was that I would cry for the first 15 minutes solidly. Tenderly. Tears rolled down my eyes, no drama, just a deep sense of gratefulness that I had taken the class. 43 Years after I first wanted to be a dancer.

I wasn’t the oldest, I was the youngest. Here sat the six-year old Elly who so deeply wanted to take ballet classes, and was told that that was not her thing. She was sent to girls scout instead. For 43 years that big dream got covered under home work, chores, family events, work, community commitments.

And now, after all those years, I am finally listening to the little girl inside me, and honoring her wish to be a dancer. Of course, I won’t make it to the professional stage. I don’t need to, I don’t even want to. I am happy with blogging, coaching, and mediating. That’s so me. And in the weekends I can become the best dancer Elly can be.

I didn’t get the steps right, the moves were too complicated, the speed was too fast, and when I finally mastered one move, the class applauded me. I cried again. My six year old was delighted.

January 20, I wrote a post about dying at peace, in harmony with myself. I know I am heading there, now that I chose to live my life to the fullest right here, right now.

With my six-year old. And all the other parts of me.

I am very, very happy.


Want help honoring your inner child? Contact me 512-589-0482. I would be excited to work with you.

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Bird excursion into my head

When I lived in the Netherlands, I loved to go on bird excursions. Every Thursday in April I would get up at 5:00, leave at 5:45, and bike to the dunes in The Hague. I would gather with 15 or so other bird watchers and then go off on a bird watching expedition.

Image courtesy to“Shush… I hear a nightingale.” Everyone freezes in their movement, attentively listening to what might be a nightingale. Or a lark, a robin, a tomtit. Whispering. Quiet. We don’t want to disturb the birds and spoil our fun. We are always equally excited, however mundane or unique the bird. Every bird seems a treat from heaven. And even if we see none, we enjoy the elevated anticipation.

Not once did I have the inclination to mediate between birds quarreling over their domain. Not once did I feel the urge to interfere on behalf of the bird that didn’t attract a mate. Not once did I step in to portion out the food more fairly.

I just watched, carefully observing their behavior, their colors, their sounds. I just had this sincere longing to get to know them.

This Monday during an empathy session I realize how differently I treat my own thoughts and feelings. I judge, evaluate, criticize them constantly, and most of all I want to change them. Into more acceptable thoughts and feelings. I talked about how my back pain had kept me up at night. I interrupted myself, saying I was babbling. I didn’t even notice the judgment in that word. My empathy buddy did. With a shock I see how harsh I can be about myself, thinking my thoughts and feelings are not good enough, thinking I am not good enough.

And all of a sudden I imagine how open, relaxed, compassionate, free flowing my life would be if I watch my own thoughts and feelings with the same openhearted curiosity as when I watch birds. “Oh, here is a flock of grackles. They are loud and chase the other birds away. Fascinating.” “Ah, there is a Caroline wren, her little tail pops up as she sits. So cute.” “Wow, there is a cardinal, I wonder where his mate is.” Accepting whatever comes along, or doesn’t come along.

All these thoughts and feelings flying in and out of my head. On a rainy day, a sunny day, through wind and hail. What a delightful image. I am happy to welcome and observe them.


Want help to practice observing your thoughts and feelings with acceptance? Contact me 512-589-0482. I would be honored to help.

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Dying at peace

Let me talk about death. Not because it is my favorite topic, but because it was why I was in the Netherlands after all.

My aunt died 76. Seems a reasonable age, not too young, not too old, and yet I startle. That would only be 26 years away from where I am now.

Image thanks to ShutterstockMy goodness, only 26. That’s the same time from here back to the end of my University life, a period I most vividly remember. What happened in these 26 years, what did I accomplish? Not much. Nothing that will gain me an award, a prize, a television interview.

I know, I shouldn’t be attached to these signs of public recognition. I should be satisfied with a life of service, grounded in understanding of our interdependence and impermanence. I should not be afraid of death either, for that matter. With all my Buddhist practice and trust in G*d, I should be beyond that.

I am not. The truth is that I am desperately seeking for ways to earn love, belonging, acceptance. I find it hard to imagine I am worthy of love for my own sake, that I matter just because I am me. I think I have to contribute and make a difference to belong. Gosh, after all those years, that didn’t change.

The good thing is that I had an interaction with an uncle, which highlighted with extreme precision how strong this habit energy is. It was most liberating. I have an automatic reflex to help, whether I am asked or not, whether I have the relationship or not, even whether it is helpful, or not. “Here, let me help you, I so much need to know that you love and accept me, and I think helping is the best way to get that.”

Hum. Not too bad for a two minute interaction. Quite an insight. Enough to reflect on for the next 26 years. Quite an invitation to better understand my intentions, and to free myself from patterns that are no longer helpful.

Maybe I will die at peace, accepting whom I was after all. Sounds good enough to me. No prizes necessary. Just honesty and love.


You want help to free yourself from habitual patterns? Contact me 512-589-0482. I would be honored to help.

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What are you doing?

Have you ever asked yourself “What am I doing?”, while you’re doing the dishes, riding your bike, listening to a friend? And then answer truthfully?

I hadn’t. I had heard the question before, but I always thought it was a trick question. To test that you really, really understood the Buddhist teachings. Like: “I am taking a shower, but actually, there is no self, so I cannot talk about an ‘I’. The shower and I interare, there is no separateness between me and the shower, so the shower and me are both taking each other.” And so on, till I got so lost, that I had no clue how the question was supposed to be answered.

Thich Nhat Hanh, Plumvillage.orgYesterday, I read ‘The Heart of the Buddha’s Teachings’ by Thich Nhat Hanh:

“Sometimes I ask one of my students, “What are you doing?” to help him release his thinking about the past or the future and return to the present moment. I ask the question to help him be – right here, right now. To respond, he only needs to smile. That alone would demonstrate his true presence.”

My goodness, after all these moments of trying to come up with a smart, carefully crafted answer, I read that the question is only meant to bring my attention back to what I am actually doing.

I usually am actually doing something different than what I think I am doing. I am meditating, but I am actually planning my evening. I am in conversation, but I am actually watering the seeds of fear, disconnect, and judgment. I am writing my blog, but I am actually thinking about the letter of condolences I am gonna write.

And you know what, the question is a fun game! “What am I doing?” helps me to stop, breathe, and check in with myself. And then make a choice. “Do I want to continue planning for tonight, or do I want to pay attention to my breath?” “Do I want to water judgments, or do I want to use words that inspire confidence, joy, and hope?” “Do I want to contribute with my blog, or do I want approval?” The question opens up a whole world, that was previously unknown to me. It helps me to connect to and understand my attention and my intention. And that is a delight.

What are you doing?


You want help pausing and making new choices? Contact me 512-589-0482. I would be honored to help.


Tante Ria

This is a tribute to my aunt. Tante Ria. She died last Monday. Peacefully. Trusting that she would enter Heavenly Paradise, and be welcomed in the house of her Father.

I am flying out today to attend her funeral.

I feel a deep sense of sadness and loss.

And more deeply than that, of gratitude and appreciation.

Image courtesy to

She offered a warm, welcome home every Summer holiday for my sister and me. She organized fun events, exuberant barbecues (and even now, being a vegan, I enjoy thinking of those gatherings), and special activities. I always had such a sense of love, acceptance, belonging, appreciation, and delight, whenever I visited her house, at a time when I didn’t experience much of that in many other places.

She never talked about my troubles. She never asked about my pain. She just offered love and acceptance.

Teyber and McClure call that a restorative emotional experience. Through tante Ria I knew that love, acceptance, belonging, understanding, and joy were possible. Also for me.

We cannot always prevent children from feeling pain, hurt, loneliness. We can’t always repair the damage done by neglect, criticism, and ignorance. But we can always offer our open heart, welcoming hands, and radiant smile to let a child know how delighted we are that they are in our world.

Tante Ria, thank you, for inspiring me to bring out those qualities in myself for all the children and grown-ups in my life.

I love you.


Small commitments, big successes

My new year’s commitment for 2015 is simple: when I’m getting angry, I am gonna put my hand on the spot in my body, where the anger sits, and just breathe into it. Nothing more. Just connecting to my anger and bringing awareness to it, if even for just a split second.

Last year I made a much bigger commitment, and failed at it at least 150 times, if not more: “When anger is manifesting in me, I am determined not to speak. I will practice mindful breathing and walking in order to recognize and to look deeply into my anger.”

At the end of 2014, looking back at all those failures, I realized I was practicing at PhD level. My mindfulness practice is not strong enough to prevent myself from slashing out when I am angry. I nurtured the habit energy of anger for such a long time, that I probably can’t stop myself when anger overwhelms me. The habit energy of my anger is like a tank, firmly grounded in the solid course of its pain and hurt. It might take a while to steer it in another direction.

So I decided to set myself up for success and commit to a practice I most likely can keep, and trust that just a little nudge of the rutter will change the course of my tank in a more wholesome direction.

Small commitments, big successes

Image courtesy to

I accept I am a toddler, wobbling on the path of mindfulness and compassion. Sure, I mastered standing up. And sure, my goodness, am I excited to walk and get somewhere. And yet, I fall all the time. I am not ready to run with the elite. Let me first learn how to walk with a stroller. And then, maybe, without. And then maybe, go a little longer, Till I can run as fast and far as I want.

But now, start where I am. Right here. Right now.

Put my hand on my body where the painful feeling arises. Breathe into it. Embrace it with compassion and acceptance. Speak to it: “Hi precious anger, I now you’re there. I’m just as angry as you are. I’m just as scared and confused. I don’t know how to help you yet, but I’ll stay with you. I won’t leave you alone, I’ll hang in here and hold your hand.”

That’s my commitment for 2015. What’s yours?


Want help making a commitment that leads to big successes? Contact me 512-589-0482. I would be honored to help.