The sun was coming up over bare trees and a snow-covered landscape when I sat down at my desk this morning to begin my work. I felt cheerful about the days starting to get longer again. Spring surely couldn’t be all that far away!

Although happiness can be found in simple, ordinary moments like waking up to a brighter morning, we do need to take enough time, in the midst of our busy schedules, to notice and appreciate what’s going on around us. Whether or not we feel happy on any particular day is not random like the weather, but has a lot to do with how we choose to look at things.
 

Word-art that says "Happiness is always an inside job." 

Nurturing Thursday was started by Becca Givens and seeks to “give this planet a much needed shot of fun, support and positive energy.” Visit her site to find more Nurturing Thursday posts and a list of frequent contributors.

January 15, 2018 · 2 comments · Categories: Musings · Tags:

It took me a while to get to sleep one night at the beginning of January. An angry younger self made an appearance, venting about her feelings of being unappreciated, mistreated, stressed out, and having to soldier on anyway. The triggering event was nothing more than a simple request for a copy of a document from that time period. I found it without any problems, but looking through my old files reminded me of a time when everything felt like a struggle.

After my past self went through her litany of grievances, and just before I fell asleep, I saw a mental image of a rocky, barren crater. It gave the impression that a meteor had blasted a deep hole in my emotional landscape many years ago, leaving a damaged area where nothing would grow.
 

Photo of Meteor Crater in Arizona.

(Creative Commons image via flickr)
 

“I’ll have to do something about this,” I told myself, before I finally dozed off. What that something might be was unclear, though. I couldn’t simply repair the damage by planting imaginary flowers and trees in that scarred landscape to represent abundance, or to screen off the view of the crater. All too plainly, my younger self wanted me to recognize the existence of the hurt, rather than prettying it up to hide it.

For the same reason, looking at the image from a great distance and telling myself that it was just an insignificant dip in the landscape, rather than an enormous crater, wouldn’t do. Although in fact I never experienced any actual disasters, the psyche has its own version of events, and its truth is not always literal. So the question then became: How could I honor the truth represented by the image of the crater, while not allowing old feelings of anger and hurt to take over my present-day life?

I gave the metaphor some thought. When a meteor hits, there is no malice behind it, no deliberate intent—in short, nobody to blame. A meteor is a random, destructive force of nature. Unlike our superstitious pagan ancestors, we don’t believe that a meteor strike is a punishment from the gods or an attack by evil spirits. Rather, it falls into the “stuff happens” category.

That does not mean it is insignificant or quickly forgotten. What does our modern-day culture typically do with a meteor crater? We don’t generally fill it with truckloads of topsoil and restore the area to its previous condition (unless the damage impacts high-value urban real estate). Most often, the crater is left as it is and becomes a tourist attraction—maybe even a national monument. Visitors take photos with their mobile phones, tweet or blog about the unpredictable power of nature, and then go back to their everyday lives.

Looking at it from that perspective, I decided to construct some imaginary tourism infrastructure. That would help to show Younger-Me that she had only taken a day trip to Crater Monument and was not a prisoner trapped forever in a desolate, ruined wasteland.

So I visualized the crater again, this time with broad, well-maintained concrete walkways all around its perimeter. Railings gave protection from the steep slopes, and comfortable benches were placed at regular intervals. A little shop had snacks and souvenirs. There were trash cans and restrooms. Plaques attached to the railings welcomed visitors and described the crater’s history. A parking lot with bike racks and a bus shelter—where a tour bus had just pulled up—completed the scene, along with an access road.

“Okay, that’s all taken care of,” I declared briskly to Younger-Me, handing her a Sno-Cone from the snack shop. “Why don’t you sit down on that bench over there and relax for a while? It’s a hot day out here.”

She took the Sno-Cone without really noticing it, as she looked incredulously around at the much-changed landscape. I thought for a moment that she was going to burst out in uncontrollable laughter, but she stifled the impulse and turned back toward me instead. Finally, she summed up the unlikely scenario in a tone reminiscent of John McEnroe ranting at a hapless official on the tennis court.

“You can’t possibly be serious.”

I ate a few bites of my Sno-Cone before I answered. “Serious—well, that depends on how you look at it. Right now in real life, I’m looking out the window at a January snowstorm and wouldn’t at all mind trading it for a nice tourist spot somewhere hot. But, that doesn’t mean I would want to live there. Everything always changes, no matter how we might feel at the time.”

Although Younger-Me looked like she might have been about to say something more, she just glanced around one final time, shook her head in resignation, and sat down on the nearby bench. I thought I heard her muttering something about “consumer culture gone hog wild” as I faded out of her time.

Last weekend I traveled to Tampa, along with my husband and son, because my daughter chose to have a destination wedding. Other relatives drove in or flew in from different parts of the country. It was good to see everyone all together, the ceremony was lovely, and a weekend away from the freezing cold of Ohio was definitely a plus! Although my daughter had been stressing for months about getting the details just right, it all came together very nicely.

Having a daughter who is all grown up and married, though, will likely take a while to get used to, both for myself and for my husband. We’re still wondering where our little soccer-playing girl in braids went! But, it’s probably for the best that we can never foresee everything the future holds. There’s always more to see as time goes on!
 

Word-art that says "Go as far as you can see; when you get there, you'll be able to see further." -Thomas Carlyle, philosopher

(Word-art courtesy of ProFlowers.com)
 

Nurturing Thursday was started by Becca Givens and seeks to “give this planet a much needed shot of fun, support and positive energy.” Visit her site to find more Nurturing Thursday posts and a list of frequent contributors.

On Tuesday morning, my husband and I went to the Rec Center to work out, as we often do in the winter when it gets too cold to run outside. He was driving, and he said that he would drop me off at the front door if I wanted, but that he expected I’d probably want to walk in from the parking lot together as usual.

Although the weather was unusually cold, I was about to say, just out of habit, that I was fine with walking in. Then it occurred to me that he was trying to do a kind deed, so I should accept the offer—and in fact, I did appreciate not having to walk across the snowy parking lot. Kindness is as much about letting others be helpful as it is about doing good deeds!
 

Word-art that says "When we give cheerfully and accept gratefully, everyone is blessed." -Maya Angelou 

Nurturing Thursday was started by Becca Givens and seeks to “give this planet a much needed shot of fun, support and positive energy.” Visit her site to find more Nurturing Thursday posts and a list of frequent contributors.

January 1, 2018 · 4 comments · Categories: Musings · Tags:

For the past few years I’ve made—and mostly kept—New Year’s resolutions aimed at cultivating a better mindset. I visited a positive blog every day of 2014 and chronicled these virtual travels on my Random Kindness Blog Tour page. Then, in 2015, I resolved to get my days off to a cheerfully silly start by saying “Yay!” each morning to my shiny new red toaster, so that I would begin every day with a smile.

My resolution for 2016 turned more serious, as I wrote daily notes reflecting on how my past thoughts and actions had coalesced into present-day circumstances. Although I hadn’t set out to dig up old stressful memories, but wanted only to gain more insight in general, some unpleasant stuff surfaced anyway. I went into 2017 feeling drained of mental energy, as if I now had empty, dimly lit spaces all through my mind where heaps of old garbage had been taken out; and I resolved to write about gratitude for the empty spaces.

Toward the end of the year, though, I lost interest in writing daily gratitude notes. I felt intuitively that it was time to let go—to set aside the self-imposed obligations and the burden of always pushing myself to do more. I still wrote an occasional note every week or two, as they came to mind, but their tone had changed. Instead of expecting to discover profound life lessons on a regular schedule, I found myself writing notes that spoke of stillness and trust. I had planted new gardens in those fallow fields of the mind and left them to grow in peace, rather than behaving like an impatient child and digging up the seeds every day to see whether anything had sprouted yet.
 

Newly planted field in autumn.

(Creative Commons image via flickr)
 

As another year begins, my resolution for 2018 is simply to allow myself to be present in the moment. I haven’t created a schedule obligating me to practice mindfulness on a regular daily basis or to meditate at certain times, nor am I keeping a journal about it. I can’t see a need for all those layers of abstraction. Occasional short pauses, however they may happen, are what I have in mind—noticing the brightness of sun reflecting from snow, the stillness of bare trees without any wind moving through their branches, and the smooth wood grain of the kitchen table.

Presence, and nothing more.

Studies have shown that as people get older, they spend more time focusing on positive things. Some researchers think it happens because age brings about more awareness of mortality, and as a result, time feels like a scarce resource that needs to be used wisely.

That may be so; but I would say that no matter what length of lifespan we expect, our perspective is likely to broaden as we gain experience. We discover that whatever we got so upset about when we were younger wasn’t the end of the world after all, and we’ve taken away useful lessons. Instead of looking at every missed opportunity as a terrible calamity, we understand that there is always something more to be found.
 

Word-art that says "If opportunity doesn't knock, build a door." -Milton Berle 

Nurturing Thursday was started by Becca Givens and seeks to “give this planet a much needed shot of fun, support and positive energy.” Visit her site to find more Nurturing Thursday posts and a list of frequent contributors.

December 27, 2017 · Write a comment · Categories: Musings · Tags:

This was another year when our daughter couldn’t be home on Christmas because she had to work, as the low nurse on the totem pole. So my husband and I decided to go visit her instead, at her house in Cleveland. We drove up there with our son and all the family’s presents, which went under our daughter’s tree.
 

Brightly lit Christmas tree with presents 

After we opened them all (there was nothing really big this year, but everyone enjoyed them), we sat on the rug next to the tree and played games for a while. Our daughter’s little dog jumped up on the couch and watched us sleepily, looking so contented to see the family all together in one place.

We didn’t stay the night, and it got kind of late driving back after dinner; but it was definitely worth it to get everyone together at Christmas. We had a great time, and all was well with the world!

I went outside to run at noon. The sun was shining brightly, though it was still chilly. I generally feel better when I can get some exercise outdoors—not just because of the physical fitness benefits, but also because it puts the to-dos on hold for a little while and sets the mind free to wander peacefully.

When people talk about why it’s good to exercise, they usually don’t add daydreaming to the list; but I believe that exercising the imagination is just as essential to a healthy life as exercising the body. After all, the stories that we tell ourselves shape our view of the world, just like physical exercise keeps the body in shape. Taking time to explore new stories helps keep the mind from getting too flabby.

Wishing all my readers a peaceful holiday season with plenty of free time to daydream!
 

 

Nurturing Thursday was started by Becca Givens and seeks to “give this planet a much needed shot of fun, support and positive energy.” Visit her site to find more Nurturing Thursday posts and a list of frequent contributors.

As the end of the year draws closer, I’ve been reflecting on how things went with my resolution of gratitude for the empty spaces left behind after clearing away mental garbage. Even if those spaces hadn’t yet filled up with healthy positive energy, they were still an improvement over stagnant feelings of anger and fear; and I resolved that this year, I would appreciate them as such.

Although I never did wake up one morning to find myself unexpectedly bubbling over with fresh enthusiasm and feeling like a completely new person—or anything nearly that dramatic—there were subtler shifts as the year went on. Those old subconscious dramas slowly faded away, no longer appearing to be present-day obstacles. In their place came quiet confidence and trust in a stronger future; and then, after a while, problems started to feel as if their solutions always had been there.
 

Word-art showing Dorothy's feet with the quote "You've always had the power my dear, you just had to learn it for yourself." -Glinda, Wizard of Oz 

Nurturing Thursday was started by Becca Givens and seeks to “give this planet a much needed shot of fun, support and positive energy.” Visit her site to find more Nurturing Thursday posts and a list of frequent contributors.

December 13, 2017 · 2 comments · Categories: Musings · Tags:

All was quiet on the younger-self front. A few weeks had gone by since I took one of my past selves on an imaginary hike near Channelwood Village. I had hoped that she would relax and enjoy the peaceful surroundings for a while. Since then, she had been exceptionally quiet, much more so than I’d anticipated.

To some extent, I had been unfair when I nicknamed her Drama-Queenie because of her volatile temperament. Still, there was a reason for it. Many times, she had unexpectedly popped up from the depths of my subconscious, moaning about mysterious emotional pain. Quiet wasn’t something I associated with her. I concluded that I’d better go check on her and make sure that she wasn’t in—or causing—any trouble.

When I arrived in Channelwood on a bright, crisp morning, I found her returning with a basket of eggs from the village’s new chicken coop. I almost didn’t recognize her. During our recent hike, she had been wearing cheap sneakers and an ugly discount-store sweater and pants. Now she had on a long gingham dress, in keeping with my rather arbitrary decision to set Channelwood’s time period in the year 1897. The ends of her dark braids hung below a neat, clean bonnet. She looked like she had just stepped out of a Little House on the Prairie episode.
 

Farm-fresh eggs in a basket.

(Creative Commons image via flickr)
 

“Good morning!” I gave her a friendly wave and then fell into step beside her while she carried the eggs to the kitchen outbuilding. Channelwood’s tiny houses in the treetops, all connected by narrow little walkways, did not have their own separate kitchens. Something smelled tasty, and when I turned a corner, I found twelve-year-old Sara toasting thick slices of brown bread on the hearth.

Looking up from the toast, Sara gave me a great beaming smile. “Thank you ever so much for bringing us a wonderful new friend! Ella and I are so happy to have her!”

Sara was known for her good cheer; but, to be honest, this wasn’t the reaction I had been expecting. Given Queenie’s history, I had thought it likely that she would be a sulky and unpleasant guest, tolerated out of pure charity.

“I’m glad to hear that you have been getting along so well with Queenie,” I answered, returning the smile.

Putting down her basket of eggs, the subject of the conversation turned to me and inquired, narrowing her eyes a little, “Why are you calling me Queenie? I’m not any kind of royalty.”

“Oh, I just thought it suited you,” I said breezily, settling myself into a comfortable kitchen chair while Sara spread the toast with apple butter and Ella started frying some eggs.

While Queenie set the breakfast table, I went on talking to her, in a more serious tone. “I’ve been thinking how brave it was of you, being honest about feeling pain. Our culture severely punishes that sort of honesty. It demands that we keep our true feelings to ourselves, hiding the pain behind a happy-face mask so that we don’t make anyone else uncomfortable. If we let the mask slip, other people get nasty, no matter how much we might try to please them and do everything they want—just as you said in the woods during our hike.”

Braids bobbing, Queenie nodded silently as she poured hot cider into thick clay mugs from a large jug that she had picked up from the edge of the hearth.

“I got nasty, too, telling you to shut up because I didn’t want to hear anything more about your pain. And I certainly ought to have known better.” I put a red cloth napkin in my lap as Ella gave me a plate heaped high with eggs and toast.

Queenie finished pouring the cider and sat down to eat her own breakfast. She took a big bite of toast and chewed slowly, thinking over her words before she answered.

“I know this isn’t a real place,” she began, “and that means I’ll have to go back to my old life, always falling short of everyone’s expectations because I’m not perfect, no matter what I do. But I wish I could stay here forever. To me, it feels much more real here. When I go out to the chicken coop to get the eggs, I don’t have to pretend anything. I’m not expected to compete every day to be a great success, never show any weakness, and keep everyone around me happy at all times.”

“That’s fair,” I said, as the steam rose from my cider on the table between us. “And the way I see it, there’s no requirement for you to go back. This is not a dream from which you have to wake up; it’s more like an alternate timeline. In the so-called real world, other versions of you checked off those modern-adult-life boxes many years ago—and they did a reasonably good job. It’s done and taken care of.”

After sitting motionless for several seconds with a look of total amazement, Queenie suddenly started bawling all over her breakfast. Big fat tears rolled down her cheeks and splattered all over her fried eggs.

Ella, who had been just about to sit down to her own meal, gave Queenie an alarmed glance and remained standing next to her.

“It’s all right,” Queenie gulped, managing to get a few words out. “I’m c-crying because I’m huh-huh-happy.”

“Well, of course you’re happy! Why shouldn’t you be?” Sara declared. “Everyone ought to be able to live someplace where she’s happy!”

Although Ella finally sat down, she kept a suspicious gaze fixed on me, as if she thought I might change my mind at any moment and snatch Queenie away. I didn’t take her distrust too personally because, after all, writers have to get used to characters who decide they’ve had enough of plot changes. Besides, I had a different kind of surprise in mind.

“Because you were so brave, Queenie, I think you deserve a medal.” I reached into my pocket and held out my hand toward her. A brightly polished gold circle glinted on my palm, with the word ‘Courage’ in elegant script above a raised image of a crown.

Looking down at the table and blushing, Queenie muttered, “But, but I wasn’t, not really…”

“Yes, you were,” I assured her. “Sometimes we can be at our very bravest when we see ourselves as not doing much of anything. It takes great courage to go against society’s demands and to say instead—this is wrong, this is hurtful. You had that courage, and it’s only fair that you should be recognized for it.”

The medal was attached to a braided gold chain, which I fastened around Queenie’s slender neck. Then I finished my eggs and toast (which were delicious) and thanked the girls for their hospitality. As I returned to what I called real life, I couldn’t help but to wonder just how much more real it was anyway.