On these long winter nights when it seems there’s not much to do, we shouldn’t be so quick to turn on the TV and distract ourselves with other people’s drama. Instead, we might do better to spend some time listening to that small inner voice offering guidance. Even when we’re not aware of it, the subconscious mind is constantly making intuitive observations, to better lead us along the path; but we can only hear them if we’re quiet enough to listen.

Word-art that says "A quiet mind is able to hear intuition over fear." 

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 16, 2017 · 4 comments · Categories: Musings · Tags: ,

We the People of the United States of America seriously need to chill out.

Among other things, that means stepping back from the political nastiness and having respectful conversations with each other, instead of yelling at each other. Calling people ignorant never made them any better informed.

We live in a modern nation with a strong tradition of democracy, not in a primitive land of warring tribes. Our fellow citizens in the next county, whatever their race or religion, are not going to attack our homes in the middle of the night. Whatever we may think of the government and the economy, we’re not dying of starvation in the streets. By historical standards, that makes us very fortunate indeed.

Word-art of a woman with an American flag covering her head that says "We the People are greater than fear." 

Fear corrodes. When we make decisions based on fear—when we go through our days full of anxiety, feeling as if disasters are everywhere and we’re about to be attacked at any moment—not only do we make poor decisions and get stressed out and unhealthy; our society’s collective health also suffers.

Yes, we have real concerns, and there is much in today’s world that needs attention. Still, that doesn’t mean we have to look at every political dispute like it’s a fight to the death. If we want to imagine ourselves charging heroically onto a battlefield, that’s what war movies and video games are for. Social and political issues, like everything else, are best addressed through kindness, decency, respect, patience, hard work, and staying true to our values.

In keeping with my resolution for this year to cultivate gratitude for life’s lessons, whether or not it feels like anything positive has come of them yet, I have been reminding myself that there are always multiple ways of looking at any situation. Often, taking the time to list some of the possible outcomes will reveal that there are plenty of good ways to look at it.

Word-art that says "A stumbling block to the pessimist is a stepping stone to the optimist." -Eleanor Roosevelt 

Such a change of perspective naturally leads to more positive feelings. After all, it’s much easier to be cheerful when looking around at a landscape that is full of opportunities, rather than obstacles!

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.

Although the days are slowly growing longer in the early part of winter, sometimes that’s hard to notice when it gets dark and snowy, without a hint of sunlight anywhere. We just have to take it on faith that spring will arrive after a while because, well, that’s always what happens.

And when those dark winter days leave us feeling gloomy, as if the good times are nothing but long-ago memories and far behind us, we also need to remind ourselves this won’t last forever. There will be plenty of delightful surprises in the future because that’s always what happens too!

Word-art that says "What a wonderful thought it is that some of the best days of our lives haven't happened yet." 

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, 2017 · 4 comments · Categories: Musings · Tags:

When I thought about making a New Year’s resolution for 2017, there was a little voice in the back of my head telling me to choose wisely. Last year’s resolution seemed harmless enough at the time: my word of intention was Coalesce, and I set myself the tasks of reflecting daily on the patterns that had been created by my past choices and writing down a question about them.

As planned, I kept notes—they weren’t really detailed enough to call a journal—in which I wrote both an observation and a question for each day. I expected that this would help me to recognize subconscious patterns and to make changes as appropriate. Well, it did, sort of; but I hadn’t foreseen some of what came bubbling up. Smoldering old anger, feelings of being trapped and unsafe—basically, all the stuff that gets stomped down in the mental garbage can and flattened to make room for more subconscious garbage.

After inadvertently letting those nasties loose, I spent much of the year feeling like all I did was clean up after them, without much energy left for writing or other creative pursuits. When would I reach that happy place I had imagined, free of old limiting patterns and bubbling over with spontaneous, joyful inspiration? Was there such a place? I kept on peeling away layers of old junk, expecting to discover something better; but I saw only quiet, empty spaces curving away into an unknown future.

Empty railroad tracks going around a curve.

(Creative Commons image via flickr)

That was how I came into December, with my creative energy more depleted—or so it felt—than when I started trying to sort things out last year. I didn’t feel much inspired to write stories or to start new projects. Sometimes I noticed little signs of a positive shift, such as my face in the mirror looking more relaxed and rested. I was sleeping fairly well, and a few small health issues had cleared up. Still, I felt tired and unmotivated by comparison to past years, and far from where I wanted to be.

Although I kept telling myself that I should feel glad of the empty spaces because I now had plenty of room for something good to show up and fill them, I couldn’t make myself feel it. So I decided that my word of intention for 2017 would be Gratitude, but not in the usual sense of looking around and counting one’s blessings—I know that I have many. The kind of gratitude I need to cultivate this year is a healthy appreciation for the lessons I learned from taking out the mental garbage. I’ll do that by writing about them in my daily notes, along with the possibilities that are unfolding.

Even if I can’t feel it yet, writing each day about the potential for good things in those empty spaces ought to attract positive energy to take up residence there. I don’t yet have to choose from among the many possibilities; it is enough, as a new year begins, simply to recognize that they exist.

Once again it’s time to make resolutions for a new year—and yes, they can be kept, so don’t let any of those pesky doubts sneak in! One of my coworkers shared this motivational graphic in an email recently, and I thought it was a good fit for the season. Wishing everyone a successful, can-do year in 2017!

Word-art with a picture of a beverage can that says "Success comes in a can not a can't." 

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 didn’t plan to have an imaginary conversation with one of my younger selves when I went to the Rec Center this morning with my husband. We just wanted to get in a quick workout before the facility closed early for Christmas Eve. While he walked over to the rowing machine in the corner, I went upstairs to run around the indoor track.

As usual, the track had both runners and walkers. I got into the outside lane designated for runners and settled into a good comfortable pace, listening to the music from the wall speakers. The radio was set to a station playing a mix of new songs and oldies. When a song from the 1980s came on, it triggered a memory of running around the same track about nine or ten years ago, listening to a different ’80s song called “Invincible” by Pat Benatar—a fight song in which life is a struggle to survive in a world of enemies.

Only one line came clearly to mind: “We’ve got the right to be angry.” Much more vividly than the lyrics, I remembered the emotional content of the song and how much it resonated with my younger self. Anger, stand and fight, do or die.

The culture is full of such messages, of course. Angry, dramatic life-or-death struggles get a lot more attention than calmly going about one’s business. In a fast-paced world where we are constantly surrounded by media, it can be harder to distance ourselves from the drama than it was in ancient times, when villagers sat around the fire on a dark winter night while a bard spoke of heroes and dragons.

Dragon breathing fire in a night sky.

(Creative Commons image via flickr)

My younger self didn’t seem to understand that even though anger and drama can make us feel stronger, after a while they get seriously unhealthy. Maybe we have the right to do something unhealthy, but that’s kind of beside the point. The Rec Center seemed like as good a place as any to set Younger-Me straight, since I still had plenty more laps around the track to go.

“It’s just a song,” I told her, imagining that the words in my thoughts echoed from my time to hers. “Real life doesn’t always have to be a fight, you know. Chill.”

She didn’t give me any response, but the memory of her strong emotions when she heard the song faded until I couldn’t feel them anymore. Something in that recollection shifted, settling into a different place in my mind—or perhaps a different category, rather like stripping a tag or category off an archived blog post and replacing it with another one.

Because the past largely consists of what we tell ourselves about it, my imaginary conversation left me feeling as if I had gone back and changed the timeline to give myself a healthier worldview in the past, even if I didn’t literally do so. Time-travel mission accomplished!

When the winter days are dark and still, and the usual workday routine has been put on the shelf till January, self-doubting thoughts can start popping up in the quiet moments. Even when there really isn’t anything that needs to be done right away, we’re so used to having tasks and goals, it feels that there is always more left unfinished—that whatever we did wasn’t enough.

In truth, there is always more we could be doing in this busy world, so full of possibilities. But without having the quiet, reflective, self-nurturing moments to center us, we likely would just scurry around aimlessly, rather than making meaningful choices. No need to rush through life—whatever might be happening at a particular moment is probably okay, and there is always more to explore, learn, and enjoy!

Word-art that says "Live freely. Learn obsessively. Work happily." 

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 winter solstice draws near, staying cheerful doesn’t always come naturally. The lack of sunshine can leave us subconsciously feeling as if all the light has drained out of the world. Our ancestors dealt with such feelings by lighting candles and bonfires as symbols of longer and happier days to come, a tradition that has carried over into our modern-day Christmas decorations. This morning I put a sparkly purple Christmas tree animation on the art display in my dining room.

Animated art of a purple Christmas tree with sparkling stars.

The star on top twinkles while other small stars appear and then fade slowly around the tree, like fireworks, cheering up an area on the north side of the house that is otherwise dark and still for much of the day. Wishing you lots of fun sparkly things to brighten your home too!

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 10, 2016 · 2 comments · Categories: Musings · Tags:

I sometimes have imaginary chats with my younger selves, as I’ve described in past blog posts. That can be a helpful way to gain insight. One of those past selves has not been much fun to be around, though. Like a ghost, she haunts creepy corridors of the mind that lead away into darkness, wailing about long-ago hurts and betrayals. Her world is full of lurking enemies who might strike at any moment. Put in psychological terms, she is what Jung called the Shadow—that part of the subconscious where anger, fear, and other unpleasant emotions are kept for protective purposes, rather like a bad-tempered watchdog.

My Shadow-self roams at will through various time periods; she is not tied to childhood or to any particular incident. I generally picture her as thirty-something and angry about having been treated unfairly in one way or another. She doesn’t offer much in the way of constructive suggestions, given the fact that most of her grudges inhabit the distant past and there’s nothing useful that can be done about them now. All the same, that doesn’t stop her from wanting to yell about them anyway.

I couldn’t shut her up with positive thinking and reminding myself that all is well in the present. She just kept on muttering and grumbling to herself as she paced those dark hallways of the mind, occasionally rushing up to the ramparts in great alarm to scream about an invading horde of barbarians. When that wasn’t enough to get my attention, she resorted to splattering my dreams with nasty, gory nightmares. I finally decided there wasn’t much choice but to sit down and have a talk with her.

Because of her perspective that the world is always full of battles, I decided a suitable place for this conversation would be the landscape of an old computer game, Age of Mythology. It’s an empire-building game in which the armies include mythological creatures.

Screenshot of ancient village from Age of Mythology game. 

Bright sunshine blazed from an ancient Greek sky. Birds sang in the soundtrack. A centaur, armed with a bow, stood sentry duty near a temple of healing. Watch towers overlooked quiet fields where peasants picked berries and goats grazed. The scene was about as peaceful as it could get in a war game.

Spreading out a blanket on the soft grass beside the temple for a picnic, I gave the centaur a fresh fig and looked around for Dame Shadow. Garbed like a warrior queen in a deep blue dress with a dagger in her belt, she was striding impatiently from one tower to the next, gazing up at the soldiers inside to make sure they were properly attentive. When she came my way, I gave her a wooden plate with bread, cheese, olives and figs, in keeping with the surroundings. Two cups filled with wine sat on a stone; the centaur looked longingly toward them, but because he was on duty I didn’t offer him any wine.

Dame Shadow bit into the crusty bread and chewed for a while, scowling at a far-away smudge of dust on the horizon where an enemy army was on the march. Then she turned abruptly to face me and snapped, “It’s about time you started listening to what I have to say. You’re always acting like everything is fine and it’s all just a game—but the world really is a dangerous place, I tell you! It’s full of nasty enemies, and if you let down your guard for so much as an instant, they might get you!”

I put down the olive that I’d been about to eat. “Okay, so you want me to be more on my guard by doing what, exactly?”

“Trust no one!” Dame Shadow shrieked, jabbing an accusing finger toward me. Startled, I flinched out of reflex, and the olive rolled into the grass. A raven perched in a nearby tree screeched as if answering.

“Haven’t you learned by now that whenever you expect people to be kind and helpful, they end up hurting you instead? Maybe you think they have good intentions—but even if they do, how long is that going to last? Besides, what’s to stop them from doing something bad out of carelessness, ignorance, and wrong assumptions, even if they mean well? It happens all the time. You’ve heard that old saying about what the road to hell is paved with.” To illustrate the point, Dame Shadow stamped a dusty, sandaled foot on the stones of the temple courtyard. A peasant who was praying to an idol gave her a nervous sidelong glance.

I picked up my wine cup and drank slowly, putting my thoughts together before I gave her a reply. “Yes, things are always changing and people make mistakes. That’s all true, as far as it goes. How well or poorly something turns out in the long run depends on your time horizon, though, and how far you go in tracing the chain of cause and effect.”

She frowned in response, turning her head to gaze once more toward the blur of hostile soldiers marching in the distance. The dust had started to settle as they moved on by.

“You can be sure they’ll get here after a while, even if it doesn’t happen right away,” she said, waving her right hand generally in that direction. When it came back down, her fingers rested lightly on the hilt of the dagger. “They always do.”

A marauding army wasn’t likely to roam through my quiet suburban neighborhood, I thought, unless maybe it was a herd of hungry deer attacking the shrubbery. Of course, a snide remark like that wouldn’t have been at all constructive, so I just ate another olive while reflecting further on what was going on here.

“Building these defenses must have been quite a lot of work,” I finally acknowledged, as I looked around at Dame Shadow’s towers and military buildings. “You certainly put plenty of time and careful planning into them. Wanting to be recognized and appreciated for your effort is only fair. I haven’t shown enough gratitude for all your hard work on my behalf; and for that, you have my apologies.”

Her face softened, as much as it could with the rough frown lines etched into it. “Everything that I’ve done, for so many years, has been for you,” she declared, holding her hands widely apart to encompass all of the surrounding landscape.

“Yes, I understand. From now on, whenever you have something to say, I promise to give it respectful and fair consideration.” Picking up my wine cup, I raised it in a pledge.

Just then, a horn sounded in one of the watch towers. Dame Shadow glanced quickly in that direction before turning to give orders to the centaur. “Manticores are attacking! We must loose the Medusas!”

After the centaur galloped away, his hoofbeats echoing from the rocks of a nearby cliff, Dame Shadow turned back toward me with a cheerful grin. “A few stone manticores would be just the thing to strike fear into the enemy’s hearts, wouldn’t you say?”

“Definitely, and I’ll keep in mind the importance of having suitable defenses going forward.” Smiling back at her, I started to clean up what was left from the picnic, getting ready to make my way home.