This week I felt like I was getting into the late-winter doldrums, so I decided it was about time for some imaginary travels. A winter photo of a castle seemed just right for my digital art display. The caption identified it as the Alcázar of Segovia.
 

Alcázar of Segovia on a dark, snowy winter day. 

I didn’t know anything about this particular castle, so I looked up the history. The castle was built over the foundation of a Roman fort in the city of Segovia in Spain, and many kings and queens ruled from it in the Middle Ages. Later it became a state prison and then a military college. The castle has been restored beautifully with its medieval artwork and is now open to the public.

Looking at the photo displayed on my wall, I could almost imagine that I had traveled to Spain and was looking out the window of a hotel in the city below the castle. That put some fun into what might otherwise have been a dull winter day!

After work this evening, I took off the nail polish that I got almost three weeks ago when I went for a manicure with my daughter and her bridesmaids on the day before the wedding. That was a good memory, and removing the polish left me feeling a bit sad, but my nails had grown enough that the task couldn’t reasonably be put off anymore.

I don’t often wear nail polish, and now it seems a bit peculiar to be back to natural after three weeks of shiny rose-gold fingertips! But I am grateful for my daughter’s thoughtfulness in inviting me to go with her to the nail salon, and glad to have the memory even though I am not literally wearing it anymore.
 

Word-art that says "Let us be grateful to the people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom." 

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.

About two years have gone by since I rewrote my money story by sending my inner Cinderella away to start a new and happier life in the imaginary village of Channelwood. I’d say that the project was a success because I feel more confident about my finances now. Although my husband and I still have the same jobs with ordinary pay raises, we feel more comfortable talking about money. Expenses seem easier to manage, and in general, we have things better sorted.

Another area of my life that could benefit from revising outdated stories is health. I’ve thought so for a while, but my internal narratives are so jumbled and conflicting that it hasn’t been easy to get a handle on where to start. Objectively, I am in good health: I eat a reasonably good diet, get regular exercise, and have no serious medical issues. For the past few years, though, I’ve felt that my health is not what it ought to be. Annoying, persistent little aches crop up every now and again, for no apparent reason, in various places where I’ve had no injuries of which I know.

Many people would say that after age 50 aches and pains are normal, and I should just get used to that. But I suspect that some of it has to do with cultural expectations of decline—that to some extent they become a self-fulfilling prophecy, as the body subconsciously adjusts its physical condition to match whatever image the mind perceives.

What was I to do, then, in rewriting my health story? The logical starting point was no different than with the money story—that is, identifying the archetypes that shaped the narrative and deciding how best to plot a new trajectory. There didn’t seem to be any single character who represented my health story when I thought about it, however.

One major positive influence on my view of aging has been a family history of longevity. My maternal grandfather, who was an active, ambitious world traveler, appeared to be in perfect health until he died suddenly at age 90 of a heart attack. If anyone had asked me then how I felt about getting older, I would have said that I expected good health and a long life. That archetype includes Star Trek’s Vulcans, who often lived for centuries and greeted each other with “Live long and prosper,” and the almost-immortal elves from Lord of the Rings, with their patriarch Elrond relating tales of long-ago battles: “I was there, Gandalf, three thousand years ago…”

Obviously that wasn’t my whole health story, though, or anything close to it. Our culture has such deeply ingrained expectations of failing health that it has become nearly impossible to think outside that box. Although I couldn’t specifically identify any older characters with aches and pains who might have taken up residence in my subconscious mind, the general old-woman archetypes have been around for millennia: the poor old lady hobbling around with a cane who depends on charity; the cackling village witch who stirs her cauldron with gnarled hands; and the Crone, who imparts wisdom to younger generations while sitting most of the day to rest her weary bones.

I decided to sit down and have some imaginary French Vanilla coffee and blueberry scones with the Crone in a sunny breakfast nook. The reason I chose coffee was because my judgmental younger self, who disliked the taste and never drank it, thought that if you needed coffee to wake you up, that meant you were old. I didn’t start drinking coffee until the long road trips to my daughter’s college soccer matches gave me more appreciation of its benefits.
 

Sunny breakfast nook with brightly colored cushions on a bench.

(Creative Commons image via flickr)
 

While I brought the coffee and scones to the table, the Crone settled herself into the brightly colored cushions. She looked sort of like me, but with deep wrinkles and thinning hair that had gone mostly gray. On the table in front of her sat a big untidy handbag like my grandma carried.

She was not one of my older selves, to be clear on that point. Every once in a while, an older self shows up in a dream or while I’m half asleep and gives me a few words of advice, but I’ve never gotten a clear view of what a future me looks like. To be precise about it, the Crone, as I saw her, represented a present-day guess as to what my younger selves might have thought I’d be like when I got older.

“I don’t mean to bother you,” I said, as she picked up her coffee cup, “but I’ve been trying to get a few things sorted in my own mind, and I’d be grateful if you can help. May I ask you to share your thoughts on what people often call the aches and pains of old age?”

“That’s not something we ever talked about in our family,” the Crone calmly noted, highlighting yet another inconsistency in my internal narratives. It was true—I had never actually heard an older person say that in real life. Although I’d seen plenty of written descriptions of old folks who complained at great length about their many ailments, how much of that was reality and how much was stereotype? And to the extent that some of it was reality, that still left me with the question of how much was culturally determined.

Sunlight streamed in through the broad window as birds twittered riotously in the shrubs. Branches waved in a gentle breeze. I ate one of the blueberry scones, which were fresh-baked and still hot, while I worked on untangling my thoughts.

“Whether or not something is part of a family story,” I said, talking as much to myself as to my companion, “that doesn’t necessarily mean it is real for people in general, or even for those in the same family. There’s so much that goes into our perceptions of reality—what we hear from family and friends, what we learn from teachers and others in authority, our own experiences, and the cultural stories that create a framework to hold it all together.”

The Crone quietly sipped her coffee, nodding as if to encourage me to go on, but not speaking.

“What I’m looking for is not so much to understand how people decide what weight to give each of these factors,” I continued. “That gets into psychology, and cultural anthropology, and the social sciences in general, all of which have their own particular research studies and metrics. Rather, what I have in mind is just to explore where I might have gotten some of my own ideas about health, and how they can be changed in the realm of imagination.”

“Ah,” the Crone exclaimed, now looking quite pleased indeed, “you want me to tell you a story!”

I thought about it for a moment before I realized that this was exactly what I was asking. “Yes, please.”

After I brought her another cup of coffee, the Crone arranged herself more comfortably in the seat cushions and began, “Once upon a time…”

(continued here)

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.