Spring rowing season is getting started, although it was too cold for anyone to get out on the river today. This year we can’t row as far as usual because of bridge construction, which also impacted our course last year; one bridge recently got finished, and now another project is underway.

That’s all right, though, because we can still get as much exercise by doing more laps on a shorter course. And although the distance does not come out exactly the same, going a bit farther won’t take much longer. That’s often true of many things in life!

Word-art that says "Go the extra mile, it's never crowded." 

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.

I opened a few windows in the house on Monday to enjoy the sunshine and a pleasant breeze blowing over the spring grass (which was buried under snow by Tuesday evening). That got me thinking about how my blog entries in which I gave advice to my younger selves had let “fresh air” into my memories. Wouldn’t it be nice, I thought, if instead of always being focused on the past, I could invite an older self for an occasional visit to share her wisdom and encouragement with me in the present.

What I had in mind wasn’t the same as my recent post about having coffee with the Crone. Although I envisioned the Crone as kind and helpful, she was a cultural archetype and not a potential future self. I’ve never had a clear mental picture of what I might be like many years from now because, well, nobody really has much of a clue about the future.

The closest I ever came to imagining a future self was a post last summer about my adventures in 2083, which was intended chiefly as an antidote to stereotyped views of aging and wasn’t meant to be realistic. But then, given the fact that nobody knows what the future holds, who’s to say that my goofy sci-fi take on Future Me was necessarily any less realistic than anything else?

So I decided to invite my Fantastically Adventurous Imaginary Future Self—or Fannie, for short—to stop by for a visit. Fannie was healthy and active at age 119, due in part to taking good care of herself and in part to advances in medical science. She arrived in a small flying car, which landed on the street and tucked in its wings neatly before parking itself in my driveway.

Flying car with ocean in background.

(Creative Commons image via flickr)

Her shoulder-length hair sparkled in the sunlight as she got out of the vehicle. The base color of her hair was a deep ocean blue, and she had elaborate highlights in various metallic hues that shimmered and changed color when the sun fell on them.

“Nice hair,” I said.

“Thanks.” She took a step toward me, and the car door smoothly closed itself with a soft whir. “In 2083 they still haven’t figured out how to reverse gray hair, but nobody really cares because we have so many options for hair color. It’s very safe too—not toxic like the primitive stuff you’re using now.”

I must have frowned without realizing it, because she quickly added, “But there’s no need to worry—after all, you’re a past me, so it obviously didn’t kill you!”

She stretched like a cat enjoying the warmth of a sunny day and glanced around the yard, where crocuses were blooming in the front garden and the grass was brightening toward a nice spring green. Without asking my permission—which I supposed was fair enough, since she was another version of me—Fannie opened the gate and sauntered into the backyard, while I followed along.

“So,” she inquired in a cheerful tone, “what’s on your mind?”

“Well, lately I’ve been working on—that is, I’ve been considering how I can shift my mindset toward thinking of my everyday activities as play, rather than as work. It seems like that will take a lot of conscious effort because our language just isn’t structured to describe what we do as adults in terms of play. Just now, I caught myself saying that I was working! I suppose it can’t really be as hard as all that, but what’s making it feel like so much awkward effort?”

Rather than answering right away, Fannie took a few steps along the line of willows that I had spent so much time pruning over the past few years. She reached out to touch one of the branches that I had cut back close to the ground. Thin new growth extended from it, still leafless, with a few catkins dangling.

“It took a lot of effort to cut back these willows,” she observed, “and right now, I’d say they look a bit awkward—all bare and chopped off. But after the leaves open and the new growth fills in, they’ll look lovely, and you won’t need to do much with them. Change always seems awkward before enough time has passed to grow into it.”

A cloud passed over the sun. The highlights in Fannie’s hair went from sparkling green and gold to mostly silver and purple. The breeze started to feel a bit chilly.

“And everything is different from one moment to the next anyway,” I said, “so there’s no reason to overthink any of it. I can choose to look at it as playing with the words I use to describe what I’m doing, instead of always having to make an effort to be precise.”

Fannie grinned. “Yup, there you go. Words do matter, of course—but it’s not the end of the world if they could use a bit of editing.”

Although I started writing this post as the sun was going down, the birds are still happily chirping away outside the window. They can sense springtime in the air, the world feels right to them, and they believe that everything they do is naturally going to work out well.

I’m also feeling cheerful today because I got new glasses, which always leaves me literally looking at the world with fresh eyes because I am so nearsighted that I wear them all the time. I found some cute frames that suit my face well. So I’m in a mood for a bit of virtual chirping too!

Word-art that says "Believe you can and you're halfway there." -Theodore Roosevelt

(Word-art courtesy of Shari’s Berries)

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.

Chilly weather kept me indoors the past week, but that was all right because I stayed cozy while rereading the classic children’s book “The Secret Garden” by Frances Hodgson Burnett, which is set in 1900 or thereabouts. A disagreeable and selfish girl named Mary, who always had servants to wait on her and never learned to do anything for herself, is sent to live with her uncle in Yorkshire after her parents’ sudden deaths. The local children befriend her, although at first she does not even know how to play with other children. She finds a secret garden that has been neglected for ten years and decides to make it beautiful again by weeding, planting seeds, and pruning overgrown roses.

Red and white roses blooming.

(Creative Commons image via flickr)

Mary discovers that her uncle has a son, Colin, whose mother died when he was very young and who is even more selfish and spoiled than Mary herself. Colin was sickly as a small boy and overheard adults saying that he would not live to grow up, which caused him to worry obsessively about his health. He became afraid to go outside because he worried about catching some disease or being stared at by pitying passers-by. Staying in his bedroom all the time and being a very picky eater made him so weak that everyone thought he was unable to walk. He did not go to school, and a servant pushed him in a wheelchair on the rare occasions that he left the house.

After Mary interrupts one of Colin’s frequent self-pitying tantrums by shouting at him that there is really nothing wrong with his health—which none of the servants had ever dared to say—she tells him about the secret garden and how happy she feels being out there in the sunshine. She persuades him to let one of the local boys push his chair to the garden, where he feels so much better that he embarks on what he calls a “Scientific Experiment” to become stronger with the help of the same “Magic” that makes the plants grow. After months of exercise in the garden and good nourishing meals, Colin feels perfectly healthy. His father is very surprised, upon returning from a long trip abroad, to find a much better-tempered Colin and Mary running and playing happily in the garden that Colin’s mother once loved.

The story is chiefly about the power of thoughts to change the course of people’s lives, for better or worse. It left me pondering whether the occasional aches and pains that I’ve noticed in recent years might have to do with feelings of being too busy. Although I am not really all that busy compared to many people, or even to myself in the past, I have spent a lot of time in the backyard the past few years, pruning shrubs and small willows that got damaged by recent cold winters and dry summers. Maybe that contributed to aches in my arms (from “pushing” to get things done) and my feet (from being “run ragged” by the to-do list).

So, like Colin, I’ve decided to make this year’s gardening season into a “Scientific Experiment” to test the hypothesis that the random aches and pains will naturally go away in a few months if I don’t feel overly busy. Instead of thinking in terms of always having “yard work” to do, I plan to look at it as playing in the garden and to be cheerful about going out to play. I am even going to look at myself in the mirror before going outdoors and imitate the country Yorkshire accent of some characters in the story, telling my reflection, “Eh, lass, get you gone an’ play you!”

Of course, I don’t really have any idea what a country Yorkshire accent sounds like, even in modern times, much less what it would have been like a century ago; so, needless to say, I’ll sound quite ridiculous. That is all right, though, because play is not supposed to be serious, so it will just add to the fun!

The word of intention I chose for this year is Presence, and I’ve been reminding myself to pause and mindfully appreciate the moment. What I had in mind, for the most part, was to reduce stress by diverting my attention away from pointless worries; but, of course, there are other benefits as well.

When we become more aware of what is going on around us in the here and now, we notice incremental changes that we otherwise might have overlooked. That in turn gives us more appreciation not only of the present moment, but also of what we can discover and enjoy as time passes.

Word-art that says "The secret of life is enjoying the passage of time." -James Taylor 

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.

Over the weekend I read the book Counterclockwise by Ellen Langer, a professor of psychology at Harvard who studies how people react to social cues. She is best known for a study in 1979 of elderly men who spent a week living as if they had gone back in time 20 years, in a building that was furnished entirely with items from that time period. They read books and magazines from 1959, listened to the radio shows that were popular then, and watched TV programs from that era on a tiny black-and-white set.

The participants in the control group were told to reminisce about life twenty years earlier in the past tense, while the instructions for the experimental group were to use the present tense and discuss events as if they actually were living in 1959. The men in both groups looked and acted younger by the end of the week, with significantly more of a difference for the experimental group. They stood taller, walked more easily, spoke more confidently, and showed some improvements in objective measures of health such as lower blood pressure readings.

That study, and others discussed in the book, illustrate the effects of our environment on what we believe about ourselves and how the body conforms to those beliefs on a subconscious level. Noticeable changes can happen even if we don’t rearrange our physical surroundings in great detail, but simply reframe the way we think about them. The key, according to the author, is to be mindfully aware of the possibilities. When we realize that our habitual assumptions are not necessarily the only way to look at things, we allow ourselves—whether consciously or subconsciously—to discover other ways of being.

I’ve noticed this effect when changing the images on my digital art display. Nature scenes leave me feeling rested, while photos of interesting places abroad make me feel adventurous; and I’m likely to feel younger and more creative when I choose fanciful scenes, like this seashell picture that I displayed on Sunday. Doesn’t it look like a fairy tale illustration from which a mythical creature might suddenly emerge?

Large seashell on beach. 

As for all the things we don’t notice because we get so used to them, I found myself in one of those situations on Monday afternoon. I went into a jewelry store to get a watch battery, and one of their salespeople pointed out that the prongs holding the diamond in my ring had gotten very worn. Maybe he was exaggerating when he said that the diamond might fall out at any moment; however, once I looked closely at the prongs, there was no doubt that they really did need replacing, so I left the ring for repair.

Of course, if I had ever stopped to think about it, I would’ve realized that after being worn every day for the 32+ years since I got engaged, the ring would naturally show signs of wear. But it happened so gradually that the changes were not at all noticeable from one day to another, so my mental picture of the ring was that it had stayed the same as always. When I went back to get the repaired ring, the new prongs were much longer. It’s such a difference—I keep poking myself on them and getting surprised!

A coworker recently sent out an email with a word-art image that I thought was so cute, I just had to share it! I hope that it gives you a smile too, and that you’ve been having an awesome Thursday. It was rainy most of the day here, but I went outside to run in the rain anyway, and was glad I got out in the fresh air even though my shoes got wet in the puddles. Still a good day!

Word-art that says "Make today so awesome yesterday gets jealous." 

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.

I had some random aches and pains on Sunday, which didn’t seem to have been caused by anything in particular. This has been going on for the past few years, and I suspect it’s largely psychological, involving a combination of past stress and internalized cultural attitudes toward aging.

Whenever I get into a quiet, contemplative state and ask my body what it needs, the word that generally comes into my mind is “rest.” Well, okay, I’ve been working on that for a while now. Clearing away clutter, reshaping my life into a simpler and calmer flow, avoiding unnecessary stresses and obligations, and learning Reiki and setting aside old anger and worry—but, once again, “rest” was the word.

Given the fact that I was just sitting around on a Sunday afternoon doing nothing, it didn’t look like I needed more rest in the literal, physical sense. I hadn’t been overly busy with work or personal projects so far this year either, and I’d been sleeping fairly well. What was “rest” all about?

I considered the figurative uses of the word. Maybe I needed to be putting things to rest, such as old disappointments and outdated assumptions. Another possibility was that I had been giving something too much mental energy, and it was time to give it a rest.

I started thinking that I should write all this down as a blog post, which would help me to get my ideas better sorted. I’d have to find a nice restful image to illustrate it. A photo that I took in early January would do pretty well—a view of Tampa Bay from my hotel window.

View of Tampa Bay at sunset from Grand Hyatt hotel window. 

Then I looked at what I was actually doing in the here and now. After all, I’d made a resolution for this year to be present in the moment. What I noticed was that, instead of just sitting around resting, I was pondering the meaning of “rest” while busily composing a blog post in my thoughts. I wasn’t really “doing nothing” at all!

Rather than writing the post right away, I decided to let it wait while I took a nice relaxing soak in my whirlpool tub—which I’ve rarely used because I spent so many years feeling rushed and taking showers. I have to admit, the tub literally got dusty on more than one occasion.

By the time I got out of the tub and put on my pajamas, my mental gears had downshifted and I wasn’t in a mood for writing anymore. That was okay, I told myself—that blog post could just as easily get written on Monday. As it turned out, though, Monday was sunny and warm, and I did a little yard work in the afternoon because it seemed much too nice to sit indoors. Besides, I needed to pull grass out of my daylilies, which were coming up fast. I ended up playing a computer game with my husband in the evening.

On Tuesday, when I finally started writing this post, I looked up the origin of the word “rest” and discovered that it came from the Latin for “stand back.” There was also a digression about the word “restive,” which originally described unruly animals such as mules that just stood around and wouldn’t do as they were told. While that was interesting to learn, it didn’t seem to give me any useful perspective on what sort of rest I might need, unless what I needed was to stand back and let others do more.

So, after writing this much of the post, I left the rest of it (while noting that “rest” also means a portion remaining) for Wednesday. While I didn’t get around to finishing the post on Wednesday, it turned out to be a good day. Without getting into the details, I discovered that I had been mistaken about something that happened four years ago, and I hadn’t actually caused a problem that I had blamed on my bad judgment. Putting that self-blame to rest definitely did me some good, whether or not the mysterious aches might have had anything to do with it.

I generally haven’t used the word “miracle” in my writing because it is so overused in today’s society. We see advertisements for “miracle” products, sports stories about “miracle” victories, and so on. It always struck me as kind of silly to describe ordinary things as miracles just because they were better than expected.

Lately I’ve been giving the word more thought, however. There’s probably something to be said for cultivating a mindset of expecting to find miracles in our everyday lives. Appreciating small moments of happiness in simple, ordinary events as if they were miracles can lead to a more hopeful, optimistic outlook—and then who knows, maybe something truly amazing will show up.

Word-art that says "Where hope grows, miracles blossom." -Edna Rae 

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.

This past week I’ve been posting calm, soothing nature scenes on my digital art display, looking for healthy and nurturing images in a world that often seems to lack them. The picture shown below, which was captioned “Serene,” gave me a particularly peaceful feeling.

Pond fountain with green trees in background. 

As I’ve mentioned a few times before, I generally avoid political issues on this blog because I prefer to discuss the broader cultural stories that shape our perspectives, with a view toward reflection instead of argument. However, this does not mean the two can’t overlap sometimes.

I am referring to guns, which in the United States have gotten so totally out of control that just discussing the cultural issues is nowhere near enough. People often say that the problem is the culture rather than the guns; but, of course, it is both. While I don’t dispute that our culture is full of violent images, the fact that there are real-life guns everywhere blurs the line between fantasy and reality.

Although millions of people play shooter games on their computers and watch dramas with gun violence, those games, TV programs, and movies do not in themselves cause mass murder. There are also millions who enjoy empire-building games and watch epic movies with armies of swordsmen and archers—but when have we ever seen a news story about a mass killing committed with a bow?

Archery and bow hunting are common sports, even in today’s world, and anyone who wants to buy a bow and arrows can easily do so. Guns also are commonly used as sporting equipment, for target shooting and hunting. So, it’s not just the availability of weapons that leads to mass murder, either. Nor does it depend on the speed of the weapon; in medieval times, skilled archers were very quick and effective.

I think what’s different is that bows, unlike guns, are never used to kill people in the modern world, so pictures of archers at war seem very far removed from what anyone might imagine doing in real life. Nobody has a basement arsenal full of bows and arrows. But in the United States there are many people who buy military-style weapons, thinking they may someday need those weapons for self-protection. Violent crime rates are in fact very low and continuing to fall, but everyday images of violence make it feel otherwise.

If military weapons were not sold in gun stores and kept in people’s homes, that in itself might change the culture enough so that guns would chiefly be seen as sporting equipment like bows, rather than as tools for killing other human beings. It’s true enough that the United States is awash in guns, and destroying all assault weapons would take many years. But frankly, that strikes me as a good reason to start now.