It was late September when I was laying in my bed and staring at the ceiling- wondering how I would be able to fly my chock-full schedule, prepare for an in-company retraining and come to peace and relaxation in between it all. My head felt like a buzzing beehive. A hot kettle that blew out steam from both ears at high pressure. I could no longer process new information. I had a hard time verbalizing myself and didn’t understand what was going on with me.
My thinking had slowed down because I could no longer keep up with the fast pace of my life. The overload of impressions, countless talks and the many changes, to name a few. My body stiffened. It decided to go into a personal lock-down. I heard a clear “no” from the voice of my body to the fully scheduled coming 3 weeks. It was a desperate plea to be allowed to come to a stand still because I was completely overstimulated. Everything was too much. My head was fulland I had a short (or non-existent) fuse. I was incredibly irritable and desperate to unwind. I Just wanted bury my head under a pillow and heal.
I called in sick for my flight to Accra, Ghana the next day. This moment, though I wasn’t aware of it yet, was the beginning of a journey that took months towards finding peace, serenity and deep relaxation from the colossal over- stimulation I had fallen into.
‘Life’, as I knew it, was otherwise unbearable with all its stimuli. I needed to de-stimulate again, back to the Elly who starts new adventures with continuous enthusiasm. But how?
It takes a village
One of my greatest sources of happiness are the relationships in my life; my valuable friendships with several special and unique people. The connections with these people are priceless. A good friend listened attentively to my story when my life came to a standstill and lovingly said to me:
“Give and allow yourself what you need most, think of a house in nature where you can retreat to be with yourself in silence and peace. Don’t let a sum of money stop you; this is something you need to really unwind. It’s for your health. Invest in yourself, especially in this time“
I had never booked a cottage for myself before to unwind. However, I had also never been in such a situation before. Some days passed as I let the idea sink in. My boyfriend had passed a series of important exams and I wanted to give him an special gift: cuddling with cows. After all, that’s what I had also given my mother as a gift in 2018.
Then suddenly, like a flash of insight, I remembered that the cow cuddling farm in the small Dutch village called Uddel had a cottage for rent on their groundsite. I felt it in my core: that is my place. That’s where I need to be! In the fresh forrest air amongst the animals, in silent connection with nature. I sent a WhatsApp message and one day later I arrived with my suitcase on the farm that would become my peaceful refuge.
A brief introduction to the farm “De Weide Hoeve”
“De Weide Hoeve” is a small-scale and authentic dairy farm run by farmers Janny and Richard van Essen, where the love of animals takes a central position. Janny took over the family business from her father and the 23 dairy cows enjoy a very good life.
All cows have a name. Since birth they are talked to and given a lot of love and attention which makes them very tame. All their experiences with humans are positive. The harmony between man and animal is present here every day. If a cow has a sore foot, it is given a daily soda-soak in water, the oldest cow is given a blanket when it gets chilly outside and the Weide Hoeve is number 2 in the top 10 of farms whose cows reach a ripe old age in the Netherlands.
It is therefore an ideal place to come and cuddle with cows and receive a flow of love in that moment of remarkable connection. You can also enjoy the other animals on the farm; the chickens scratch around freely, the horses graze in the pasture, the turkeys come and say hello to you and hope for a slice of bread and the peacocks walk around gracefully, displaying their beautiful feathers.
Swapping my heels for boots
I arrived at the farm emotionally charged. I was upset about a nasty phone call that had taken place in the morning and I just couldn’t get it out of my head. I was already overstimulated, anything that added unto it, resulted in tears. I couldn’t stop or hide it. It was like a flowing stream.
However, upon arrival I had pulled myself together and rang the doorbell with a smile.
At the end of the first conversation with farmers Janny and Richard I was in tears again by sharing a bit of my story. Later on I thought: ‘what must they think of me?’ But instead of being judgemental, they were very understanding and reaching out to me, sharing about their own experiences with difficult periods in their life. I was led to my cottage and quickly parked my blue suitcase and went right back out: to the animals. I picked out a light blue overall and boots and asked what I could help with.
A glimpse into a nostalgic Dutch farm life
The next three days I was part of the routine of their tranquil farm life. I started at a slow pace because, after all, I was there for the restoration of my mental health and not for exertion. I had to say this out loud to myself because my enthusiasm made me want to go to gear four while I actually needed gear two. And perhaps it would be better to start in gear one.
The first day: my heart for animals overflows with love
My heart became vibrant with love from giving milk to calves Maud and Talia, from holding a yellow soft fluffy duckling, from cuddling a chicken and bringing a giant horse from the pasture to the barn. I learned about Tinus, a little rooster who wasn’t feeling well so he got antibiotics and layed snoring under a heat lamp to recover. Then there was Maartje, a chicken that did not keep up with the rest of the flock because she was ‘different’. She was socially isolated and she suffered from that. She had huddled up in a corner and felt very sad. As a result, She was supported in her recovery by being placed under another heat lamp, given extra attention daily and she visibly became stronger. Now she runs happily around the yard.
I was delighted to find out that even the smallest animals were seen in their struggles and given attention and love. Can you imagine a farm where even the chickens have names? I felt I had arrived in an animal paradise. It was a deepfelt joy to see all the animals being properly cared for.
At 5:00 pm I walked back to my cute cottage and processed all the positive feelings of the day. I prepared a large pan of fresh tomato soup for the next few days which I munched away with crackers with hummus and cucumber. Yum. I also bought a bag of caramel-salted gingerbread cookies, retreated to a comfortable chair with a cup of tea, and wrote in my diary: ‘I can’t wait for tomorrow.’
The second day: from cleaning out airplane lavatories to cleaning out stables
I got up at 07:30, had my breakfast with a cup of tea, put on my overalls and assisted with mucking out the cow and horse stables for the first time ever.
I can tell you: cow manure is heavier than horse manure. Droplets of sweat rolled down my back from filling several wheelbarrows with dung. I used a manure fork for the first time in my life and learned what “spreading up” means. The wonderful thing about this physical chore is that you are completely in the moment; in a kind of meditation, with the only focus on scooping out flans of shit. ‘It really doesn’t get any more humble than this,’ and then a little voice said, ‘cleaning flight lavatories is also a humble task.’ ‘Pfff,’ I thought, ‘thank goodness I don’t have to haul wheelbarrows of shit out of there’ and wiped the sweat from my eyebrow.
The cows return in the afternoon to their clean stalls and filled feeding bowls. They are tame so you can just stand among them. A cow named Mara saw my hair bun as hay and tried to pull it off my head, whereupon I laughingly said: “Mara, no, my hair could indeed use a hair mask but it’s certainly not hay yet, thank you very much”. She looked uninterested in my words as she took another bite of straw and chewed it away.
In the evening I lay down against a cow for half an hour, in the stable, which had been cleaned by myself, now provided with fresh flans, while the other two cows were quietly ruminating. How calm and soothing this is. A lump of warmth that you lie against. I thought of nothing, I was completely absorbed in the moment. I felt gratitude make room in my heart. I felt that this was exactly what I really needed with this overstimulated mind. I received an insight and heard, as if a voice said to me: return to love and simplicity, think less and experience more, be in the moment where you can experience joy. I needed that and I was in the most ideal place to be allowed to relax.
The third day: from international dynamics to a healthy daily routine
The flying life is adventurous and dynamic. Every flight is different and therefore the working days are filled with a dose of spontaneity. Every working day offers all kinds of surprises because you don’t know what to expect. You can’t help but go with the flow of the flight and the events on board.
The downside of this is a disrupted sleep rhythm and maintaining your own tight schedule is impossible. For the past five years, I have therefore not stuck to any particular daily routine. I listened mainly to the needs of my body. I’d ask my body: Do you need sleep? We will sleep. Do you need movement? Then we will move. Are you still with your head in another dimension because of lack of sleep? Get your pajamas on and let’s have a chill day. Now I got a glimpse of a responsible and orderly daily routine.
Janny and Richard get up at a fixed time every day to milk the cows. This is followed by the manual work they do repetitively each day. The day is divided into clear tasks and defined breaks: moments of rest and being together with a cup of coffee with fresh cow’s milk or tea (for me, of course). It’s very peaceful because it’s orderly.
When break time comes, Janny rings the bell next to the door, which can be heard in the farthest barn. The main meal is also taken in the afternoon because by then, 6 hours of intensive work have already been done. The routine is the same every day, which is incredibly beneficial to the body. Even the animals feel an internal clock. They are allowed in at 15:00 and are already waiting in unison for the gate to open.
The coffee breaks are connecting moments: the events of the day are discussed, personal stories are shared, the news also passes by. Because of the nice exchange, we had run out of time and the punctual pony, Kevan, didn’t like that. He decided to bring himself to the barn by going under the power cord. He likes everything to happen exactly on time. This really made me laugh and marvel at the strong internal clock in this animal. He feels the time, the daily rhythm and that works well for him. I realized that a routine was hard for me to do because of the great dynamics in my “normal” life. Now I could hopefully create healthy patterns as well. There was time and space for that.
An invitation to becoming a regular volunteer: weekly animal therapy
The three days I had spent at the farm were imprinted in my heart. What a joy I had felt. Love and simplicity. Love and simplicity. Love and simplicity. I cannot say it often enough. Love and simplicity. I was out of my head by just being “present” among the animals, doing simple tasks and having minimal contact with people. I was in a very special therapeutic place. So I was filled with joy when Janny asked if I wanted to go through part of my reintegration process here. I had visibly changed in her eyes these three days. From crying on the sidewalk with a suitcase on the day of arrival to a content heart through the blissfull peace on the farm.
I take care of myself
I am writing this story 4 months after this all happened. Before that, my head didn’t cooperate as well. Concentration? Difficult. Resting after some exertion? Several times in a day. I noticed that when friends asked me how I was doing, I had trouble putting it into words at all. The thing that always was my strong point. Eleonora who has difficulty expressing herself verbally? That is not the normal way of doing things. In conversations with several people, a psychologist or therapist was recommended, however, this is still on the mental plane and that was where I needed to bring peace, relaxation and happiness by just “being” in activities that were good for me. Instead of getting absorbed in conversations. Talking elaborately and deeply was still a challenge at this point. I felt clearly: talking doesn’t work for me now. At a later stage it might. But at this moment it was important to feel, to experience, to enjoy moments of happiness and peace. And fortunately I did that in my step-by-step road to recovery.
Do you want to come and cuddle?
The nice thing about this is that you can join us for an afternoon at the farm and enjoy cuddling the sweetest cows. The happiness I have experienced is also open to you. Throughout the entire year, you can book a cow-cuddling workshop as a gift for yourself or for someone else, or experience this with your group of friends or as a special family outing. Janny and Richard share fun facts and stories about their cows and offer you a cup of raw milk at temperature – fresh from the cow. In their stable shop you can buy free-range eggs, bottles of cow’s milk and even funny cow socks.
More information can be found on their website: www.deknuffelboerderij.nl
Maybe I’ll see you there.
I thank you for reading, for traveling with me in this new experience in my life. Feel free to leave a comment: I would really appreciate it because it’s a vulnerable moment for me and it took me a bit of courage to post it.