cyclical living

How to recover from 20+ years of exhaustion

This summer, I have truly experienced vitality again. Looking back, it has been over 20 years that I've felt this good, energised, and able to do what I loved. I think I was exhausted during my first MedSchool years already, studying and working nightshifts in an elderly home to pay the bills. I loved caring for people with dementia, it was a rewarding job, but I never got time to rest and recover and this became a pattern for me that eventually led to burnout and chronic illness.

I know that when you are not feeling energised and happy, it is a challenge to read about others who do, and it can be something to turn away from. Like it isn't possible for you. 

I should add that I still cope with Fibromyalgia and that winters are usually way more challenging for me. However, to feel aliveness, energy, and being able to hike uphill for hours, swim with my kids, and support my wonderful clients in their businesses, makes me feel so grateful. 

My goal is to tell a story about HOPE. That it truly can be better. That you have a choice. And that it is in your hands to feel better, no matter what the circumstances are. You are the creator of your life, your reality, your story. And you can chance anytime you want. 

What I did to feel better:

  • rest, rest & rest

  • learn how to set aside guilt and shame in order to be able to not only listen to my body but also act on the signals

  • change my relationship with success and productivity (success isn't the high-paying medical job that turned me into a walking zombie, it is being able to enjoy daily life, laugh, and feel good)

  • track my cycle and plan accordingly

  • eat as much organic food as possible, grow my own food in our veggie garden

  • stay away from the news and clean up my social feeds - I unfollow people who post news items, political statements, and the good thing is that the social media algorithms pick up on that and only show me positive news and things I care about like nature, diversity, equality, and eco-living

  • get support from holistic practitioners and coaches

  • work on my scarcity mindset with coaches

  • invested in personal development and healing

  • followed my joy (focusing on feeling good)

What I didn't do to feel better: 

  • rely on the medical system to cure me (I knew that the body-mind connection is unchartered territory there and not considered a 'valid' illness)

  • take supplements and vitamins, because I believe that food is medicine and supplements can never replace healthy food (although I did get myself tested for the biggest vitamin deficiencies and hormonal imbalances, and I had none according to Western medicine)

  • wait to be rescued in some way

  • punish of judge myself for not being 'there' yet

  • pushing myself over the edge

Of course, this was my personal healing path, and I'm sharing to inspire, not to prescribe. I have never been a doctor like that and now I'm not a medical doctor anymore, so I'm done with prescribing completely... (I changed my career to Online Business Manager (find me at www.willemijnmaas.com) and Energy Coach for Women and I love it!). 

My biggest AHA...

What helped me the most to get my energy back was following my menstrual cycle, and planning accordingly. I plan my business activities, projects, and life around my cycle in an empowering way. I know my 4 phases, and I know what I'm capable of in each of them. It is so helpful to be aware that when you are doing something during a phase of the cycle where your hormones aren't aligned, it will take you so much more effort and energy. 

I'm absolutely thrilled that more and more women find out about this and learn to use and look at their cycle in a completely different way.

Are you in tune with your cycle? What did you discover? What do you want to learn? Let me know in the comments!

Moving from a linear to a cyclical lifestyle - benefits and challenges

More and more people discover that there is something wrong with the way we use our energy. In an era where burnout is rampant, we are called to reflect on how we treat our body and our energy reserves. It seems like while we are having more resources available than ever before, we can’t use them the right way, or do something with it that makes us feel drained and depleted. 

While I was suffering from burnout myself, it felt like a prolonged winter. I had been working hard for years and years and I was expecting that to pay off for me in a big way. Instead, I became sick and my body and mind weren’t able to function normally anymore. 

At first, I didn’t get it. I did everything I was told to do to become successful. “Work hard, don’t be lazy, the effort you put in over time will have a result.” But it didn’t. I felt like a total failure and tried to figure out what was it was that I did so horribly wrong to end up like this, on the couch, unable to take care of my own children, get dressed, get groceries, let alone to go to work.

As I was searching for the answer, I felt like I was in a prolonged Winter and that somebody denied me the next Spring. 

That seasonal analogy and the loathing I felt for this forced Winter broke something open in me. How on Earth was it possible what I had done? I had lived my life like there was no Winter, for decades. And of course, that’s not possible. We are not above Nature. We are Nature.

From there I started to recognize that I had been using my energy in a very linear way. Push, strive, and over time you will see results. I discovered that this way of thinking about success is an illusion, and has its roots in the industrial era, where input x time = output. There are two things that can influence output in this equation, input and time. We cannot bend time (yet), but we can influence input, by doing more, and doing it faster. 

By living my life in a linear way, I separated myself from my cyclical nature as a human, but especially as a woman with a hormonal cycle influencing my personal energy. Setting goals, working as fast as possible towards them, striving and pushing without rest was characterizing my study and career. The irony is, that the last 3 years of my career in healthcare as an operational excellence manager, I was responsible for efficiency and production within the company I worked with. 

I was convinced that pushing is the only way to success and results. Thinking that resting equals ‘being lazy and unproductive’. And I was taught (by men) that ‘waiting time’ equals ‘waste’. In a production process, that might be the case. But for our personal energy, health, and creative processes, it’s a lie. 

I am sure I am not the only one who has been severely conditioned in this way, and the burnout epidemic is showing us exactly that. We are not machines or factories, we are Nature. Nature shows us every day that growth happens within cycles and seasons. Winter is necessary to fertilize the soil for the next growth cycle. 

Now I live my life in a cyclical way, I keep track of where I am in my menstrual cycle and what the Moon phase is, and I take the season into account. The embodiment of Cyclical Living is very personal and takes practice to find out in what ways this works for you. We are not used to living this way, as a society, as women. But the benefits are huge:

-      have more energy and feel rested

-      don’t feel drained, exhausted, or depleted anymore

-      health issues connected to depletion, fatigue, or stress can heal, subside, or give you fewer symptoms

-      no more pushing past your limits

-      less stress, less resentment, and therefore better relationships as a partner, mother, friend, and co-worker

-      established and internalized self-care routine based on your personal hormonal cycle

-      move from creative block to creative flow

-      space to receive inspiration and ideas

-      reach goals effortlessly

-      use your energy towards the things you want to do and create instead of swimming upstream

-      have more impact with less effort

-      make decisions that support a sustainable lifestyle

-      be in touch with your body

-      a deeper connection to Nature.

It’s interesting to find out what your conditioning is around work and success. Changing your lifestyle from linear to cyclical can be challenging, depending on your old stories and behavioral patterns. Dive into the challenges with an open mind, and an open heart. Journal about what comes up for you. The payoff will be a life with more energy and health, less stress and fatigue, and effortless results.

Resistance

Even reading this article may have you thinking that it doesn’t work for you, or that you don’t need it. Or that it’s too difficult, or too weird. That’s resistance, and it’s normal when we are confronted with something different. 

Daring to rest

We have been told that rest is unproductive and lazy. Taking breaks should be short and kept to the bare minimum. We see this in schools already, cutting back on recess. This belief is deeply ingrained in modern life and a real challenge to overcome. Recently, Arianna Huffington and Elon Musk got into a Twitter discussion about this topic, which makes so clear that skipping sleep and rest is treated as a badge of honor in our culture. However, rest is pivotal to growth and inspiration and should be treated with respect and be allowed and even promoted. 

Troubled relationship with your body

From a young age, most women have felt that having their period is annoying, dirty, painful, or makes them incompetent. What we didn’t grow up with, is the power that lies in connecting with this personal energy cycle. Lots of women have been on contraceptives to ease menstrual pain, heavy bleeding, or don’t want to have a period at all. It takes time and self-care to connect to your body in a loving way and feel the power in the feminine cycle. Living with the cycle instead of ignoring or denying it, may even help to relieve symptoms.

Limiting beliefs and deep conditioning

You will find that some beliefs around success, work, and energy are deeply ingrained and take time to break down. You will find that when you are able to look at it with compassion and from a perspective of self-love and self-care, it’s easier to handle and change. And it takes time to create habit changes. New pathways and neural connections are being formed which doesn’t happen overnight.

Other people's expectations

When we change our habits or lifestyle, we will be different as a person. This can create challenges in our relationships with family, friends, and co-workers, because the dynamic changes. People expect you to react or behave a certain way, and if you don’t, it causes confusion. Make sure to explain what you are trying to do, but don’t fall into the trap of defending yourself, or trying to convince that this is the way to live. Focus on what cyclical living does for you and people will see the difference in your energy and maybe they want some of that as well. That’s the moment to discuss it in more details with them. 

Work life

One of the more difficult things when it comes to change from linear to cyclical living is how to move with it the workplace. There is so much linear conditioning in work that you can be pulled back into it easily. The 9-5 rhythm is based on the masculine, solar (daytime) energy cycle and we have to move with it in a way when we are an employee. For self-employed women or entrepreneurs, it can be much easier to implement cyclical living, and it can be taken even further into projects (which also have a growth cycle) or marketing strategy (e.g. based on the Moon cycle). If you are an employee, make sure that you are at least aware of your hormonal cycle and honor that as much as possible. For example, if you have the chance to schedule your appointments or plan important meetings or events, try to line them up with your mid-cycle and avoid them during your (pre-)menstrual days.

As said above, cyclical living has many advantages, but can also be challenging to leave the old linear lifestyle. Journaling and meditation can help to discover resistance and patterns. It’s important to find other women who are on the same journey of honoring the body and their cyclical nature. When you feel stuck in dismantling limiting beliefs around success and rest, you may find it helpful to get a coach, to help you to move forward into a more effortless way of living. 

Cyclical living to prevent and recover from burnout

I have been paying attention to the Moon cycle my whole life. When I was a child I often looked up to look for Her, and when I found Her I would marvel at Her brightness and Her shape. Sometimes She was full and round, sometimes barely visible, a small crescent. 

At a young age I learned what the waxing and waning Moon looked like (see RESOURCES for an explanatory e-book). It wasn't until my late twenties that I discovered that the Moon phases had their own energy and purpose. 

The Moon has been a guide for ages. Every year, a Farmer's Almanac is published, which lays out the Moon phases and the best days for planting, sowing, doing labor on the land, harvesting and more. When aligned with the Moon cycle, farmers have bigger crops, better harvests and less waste. People have lived with this wisdom since the birth of agriculture. 

Somewhere along the way we forgot. We run on a treadmill of achieving goals, always pushing, striving and making deadlines. New ideas, growth, and success are valued more than the stillness, where fertilization and incubation happens. This skipping of an important phase in any project, from a start-up business to writing a book to creating a successful product, seems efficient. It saves us time, and we can go on faster to the next thing in life. However, living in overdrive like this, and skipping rest and recovery, has a huge downward risk. At first, we don't notice. Until we collapse.

I had lived my life in this running, linear way for 38 years before I crashed. When I was in dire shape, in the midst of my burnout, I discovered something important. I noticed that my exhaustion was the worst at New Moon (and when I was menstruating). The depletion of cosmic and physical energy took so much that I wasn't able to move or sit up for days. 

Because I was following the Moon already, I found out quickly. I never thought this effect could be so profound, I was aware of the esoteric meaning of the Moon phases but I never really paid attention to the physical effects (or any bodily signal, to be honest). But when I started to connect the Moon energy to my own energy levels, everything clicked.

We are so used to living in 5th gear, never taking a break or allowing our body to rest. But we forget that we are cyclical beings. Especially women, because we have a menstrual cycle on top of it. 

Everything in the Universe consists of spirals, circles, and cycles. Galaxies, the solar system, the planetary movements, the Earth when spinning around its axis and thus creating the seasons, the Moon cycle, but also the cycle of life, growth, death, rebirth. Molecular structures move energy around in a cyclical motion. This is the basis of oxygen-dependent life, it's called the citric acid cycle (and it was a pain in the ass to memorize for my Med School exams, I tell you).

So, when everything is cyclical, why do we think we can just skip a phase? How can we systematically skip Winter? We need rest, recovery, contemplation, allowing new ideas to form, hibernating under the surface in order for the cycle to complete itself and start over again.

We can't skip the Winter, but we do it on a systematic basis. We have labels rest and recovery as 'laziness'. We think contemplation is 'unproductive'.

When we follow these voices, judgments, beliefs, and we continue to skip it, it leads to burnout. Burnout is nothing else than a very long Winter enforced on you by your body. When you are experiencing burnout, start with rest, not a weekend, not a vacation. What you need is real prolonged rest. This can be very scary, just have faith your nature. The cycle will start over again one day.

When you are planning a new adventure, start with rest, contemplation to be more successful. When you just finished a big project in your business or job, celebrate your success, then rest and evaluate. Learn from your experiences, and integrate them. 

Start paying attention to your energy and your cyclical nature today. Awareness prevents problems and it will help you to be more successful, and live a sustainable life. 

If you want to talk with me about this subject to find out what it can mean for you, feel free to book a complimentary discovery call with me. 

My initiation and rediscovery of Feminine Wisdom

The first time I read about Feminine Wisdom was well over a decade ago. At the time I just transferred from a clinical resident job to a research position in psychiatry. It was a very hierarchic and linear environment, which I didn't notice because I was so used to it. My background - my parents were elementary school teachers - had been infused with linearity. Work hard, study, achieve goals and you will gradually grow and climb the social ladder. 

Anyway, there I was, 26 years old, a young doctor, trying to do the best I could for my patients. What I didn't notice was that I totally forgot to care for myself. I was dedicated and meticulous, and I would never fail anyone, although sometimes, I was exhausted. That's why I got a research job, to take a break from the never-ending responsibility and pressure, the night shifts and the ongoing administrative burden of the hospital. 

A few months in, I was invited to go on an educational retreat program in epidemiology with my research mentor. She was a very ambitious woman and I looked up to her, although I could also feel her pain because she missed out on motherhood because of her demanding job. She always seemed to hide behind a mask of performing and being 'equal' to her male colleagues.

I traveled abroad for the program where we stayed for a week to dive into the subject of clinical research and study design with a promising group of researchers. I had some spare time in a railway station where I had to wait to change trains. I came across a bookshop. I wasn't really looking for something to read because I figured that it would be a busy week anyway. But there she was. This small book with a black cover and small calligraphed letters in burgundy... Although the cover could be easily overlooked, this book seemed to call me. I couldn't see anything else and I was so drawn to it that I bought it without reading the back cover.

This book, 'Book of Shadows' by Phyllis Currott, took me on a journey that forever changed my life. This autobiography described the discovery and initiation into the Divine Feminine of the author, an NYC lawyer, her initial hesitation and skepticism, and the wisdom and connections she found through ritual and women's circles. 

For me, it uncovered a world that I didn't know existed. With every word I read, I felt like I was coming home to myself. I was completely captivated by it and I used every break during the week-long program that I was attending, to go to my hotel room and read. 

I remember feeling torn between this totally new magical world of the Divine Feminine and the masculinity of the statistical theories and assignments I had to go over. 

I have felt torn between those energies many times after that, but I never had the courage to dive right into what felt more aligned, so I tried to mix some of the practices I learned from the book into my busy life. I read many more books on this subject; women's circles, the elements, energy, rituals, mystical practices, meditation, esoterics, the Moon and the cosmos, herbalism and so on. I performed small rituals in my bedroom, I drew oracle cards to gain more insight, I watched the Moon and recorded my own cycle for years. I began to feel that attuning to the Cycles was nurturing me. But I also felt that every piece of wisdom I gathered created a bigger schism in my Soul. 

Over the next 10 years, life happened. I changed careers trying to find a solution away from the overachieving, overpressuring world of hospitals and research. I became a mother and my time and energy were flowing towards my children and my job solely. I went through a divorce and became a single mom. There was no time to follow my own cycle, the Moon or the seasons. Life was overwhelming and everything I had worked so hard for, came crashing down on me. 

I was so exhausted, navigating burnout and depletion that I decided to quit my job as an MD, not knowing what would be next. One night, when I couldn't sleep, I scanned my books to see what I medical books I could let go of. Suddenly my eyes came across the 'Book of Shadows' again.

It was like a flash lightning struck me. I immediately realized that life would continue to happen to me in this devastating way if I didn't embrace the Divine Feminine. The only thing that I felt certain about on that night, was the presence of the Moon, the Sun, the Universe. I knew that They were my medicine. And indeed, over time, I healed by following the Moon, and my own Moon cycle. I started to connect with nature again, walking outside, feeling the breeze, touching the trees and the leaves, digging into the garden, smelling the flowers, looking at the sunset and listening to the birds. My Soul was so tired of living in a linear, masculine way. She yearned to be balanced with the Sacred Feminine energy of receiving, nurturing, loving, connecting to my body and the body of Earth.

Finally, I began to heal. 

Today, I am so acutely aware of the importance of our natural Cycles and how we can learn about ourselves through these cyclical motions. Our lives are seasonal, women cycle with the Moon, all hormonal processes in our bodies are flowing in a circular way. Like ebb and flow, rising, expanding, falling and diminishing. From Dark to Light to Dark. Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter. Death and Rebirth.

We go through an array of cycles in so many ways. Personally, collectively, on a small level and on a cosmic scale. 

My mission now is to make people aware of these cycles, of the importance of cyclical living in order for them to feel supported and connected to Nature and to their own nature.