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.

I took a break from my work and went out for a run this morning. The weather was warmer than usual, the birds were chirping happily, and it was starting to feel like spring. Rain was forecast for the afternoon, so getting out earlier in the day seemed like the thing to do.

Toward the end of the run, I got sprinkled on a little, the clouds were dark and heavy, and the wind was blowing my hair all around—but that was okay, it was good to get outdoors and be part of nature anyway!
 

Word-art that says "And forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet and the winds long to play with your hair." -Kahlil Gibran 

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.

February 14, 2018 · 4 comments · Categories: Musings · Tags:

I started noticing an odd feeling around the middle of January. My heartbeat seemed like it had somehow gotten faster, although my pulse rate had not in fact changed and, as far as I could tell, there were no actual physical issues. As best I can describe it, my heart felt like it was knocking impatiently on my ribcage and demanding attention. I assumed this was some kind of midlife weirdness and would go away after a while.

When it still hadn’t gone away by last night, I was left wondering what sort of attention my heart might want. So I tried to relax as best I could when I got in bed, with meditation and Reiki. That wasn’t as relaxing as it ordinarily would have been. No matter where I put my hands in the Reiki positions, my heart felt like it was trying to beat its way out through my fingertips. I had no clue how there might be a message in that.

I finally just said to myself—okay, at this moment I don’t understand what my heart wants to tell me, but that is all right because I trust that my body and subconscious mind are working for my best interests and know how to communicate.

Some time passed, and I was just about to fall asleep when a thought came to mind—was there something that had hurt my heart?

All of a sudden, a furious younger self popped up from the depths of my subconscious and began yelling. “You BET there were things that hurt my heart! LOTS of them! And I’m not going to pretend that they never happened or didn’t matter because they really DID, and they were WRONG, WRONG, WRONG!”

As she went on shrieking about all the things that had been so very wrong, I felt some kind of trapped energy rising up from my heart, like dark shadows passing through my ribcage. When they stopped, it felt like I had a heap of dry, brittle weeds and twigs sitting on top of my chest.
 

Landscape with dry, brown weeds.

(Creative Commons image via flickr)
 

My angry younger self faded away, but I still had to find something to do with the imaginary dead weeds. Should I visualize myself putting them in the backyard or taking them out with the trash? No, neither of those options felt right; and although my younger self’s grievances came from a time when I lived in a different house, the backyard there didn’t seem suitable for disposing of my virtual yard waste, either.

Then it occurred to me that some time had gone by since I last visited the imaginary village of Channelwood. Surely it would have a compost heap; after all, Ella and the other girls always kept everything very tidy. That would allow me to dump my old emotional weeds in a place that wasn’t associated with anywhere I had been in real life.

I pictured myself materializing next to Channelwood’s outbuildings. Yup, there was the compost heap, not far from a shed where farm implements were stored. I scattered the dry weeds and twigs on top, and then I got a pitchfork from the shed and turned the compost over a few times, until I couldn’t see them anymore.

Just before I finished, Ella walked by on a path not far away. She was accustomed to my unpredictable comings and goings by now, and she simply raised a hand in greeting before she moved out of sight.

After that I fell asleep; and when I woke up this morning, my heart felt completely normal. Everything from last night was clear in my mind, with one exception—I couldn’t, for the life of me, remember what past events had made my younger self so upset. When I sat down to write this post later in the day, I still had no recollection of what they were. So I guess they must’ve gotten composted!

When I started writing a recent post about cultural beliefs and archetypes related to aging and health issues, I have to confess that I wasn’t quite sure where it would end up. The plan was simply to visualize my inner Crone, ask her what she’d like to say on the subject, and wing it from there. I was pleasantly surprised when she offered to tell me a story.

Closing my eyes for a moment while I sipped my imaginary coffee, I listened. She began the tale with the traditional “Once upon a time,” and then she went on speaking in a smooth, flowing cadence…

——————————

In a far western desert valley, there lived a girl named Rose. The name suited her well because she climbed all over everything, just like the big pink roses on the trellis outside the kitchen window. She climbed pine trees, getting the sticky sap all over her saddle shoes and poodle skirts; and she climbed the high cliffs on both sides of the valley.

Her favorite spot to climb was the steepest part of the cliff, right next to a little stream that flowed out of the rocks and through her family’s small farm. A smooth ledge, almost all the way up, made the perfect place to sit and watch everything that happened in the valley. Sometimes she would lie down on the ledge and look at the clouds drifting by.

When her parents saw her up there, they scolded her about the danger. Rose had no fear of falling, and she imagined that she would keep on climbing to her favorite ledge forever. But eventually she grew up—as we all must—and her days of climbing cliffs became a distant memory. She spent time with friends, but she never married; and when her parents died, she inherited the farm and lived there alone.

She rarely felt lonely because she had a big shaggy dog, Jack, to keep her company. There were days when she felt unsettled, though, as if she had lost track of something that once had meant a lot to her. On a hot summer day, after going for a long walk with Jack, she came back to the house feeling tired and achy. A hawk passing over the farm made her glance up, toward the ledge on the cliff.

“I am starting to get old,” she said to herself, wondering what had become of the little girl who loved to climb. Had it really been that many years? Wanting to get such thoughts out of her mind, Rose impulsively decided that she might as well just go and climb that cliff right now. After all, there was nobody around to tell her to act her age.

She set off toward the cliff, taking long strides across the rocky ground. Jack happily trailed along, though he didn’t look as cheerful when Rose began to climb. She ignored his whine of concern as she pulled herself upward, searching for the handholds that once had been so familiar. It took a lot of effort. Sweat dripped down her face. The ledge still looked far away. Could this be the same climb that had felt so effortless in her younger days?

Nowhere to go but up, Rose told herself. It can’t really be that hard—after all, people say you’re only as old as you think you are.

The sound of splashing water soothed her as she climbed higher. On her right, the stream that sprang out of the cliff was flowing steadily. She placed a foot carefully to avoid a mossy rock that looked slick, and then she reached for the ledge.

Just as she started to pull herself up with aching arms, Rose lost her grip. The ledge hadn’t been as dry as she thought it was. She tried to catch herself, as she always had been able to do before; but she wasn’t nearly as slim or as limber as she once had been. She tumbled all the way down the cliff, breaking several bones in her feet and ankles.

Slowly, nudged on by Jack, she managed to crawl back to the house and reach a phone to call for help. The doctors at the county hospital patched her up as best they could; but even after they told her the bones had healed, putting weight on her feet was still painful. To get around the farm, she took slow, difficult steps, leaning heavily on a walking stick.

Almost every waking minute—which now included much of the night because her aching feet often kept her awake—Rose berated herself for having been such a fool as to think she could still climb that cliff. She also had a lot of anger toward the doctors, at first because they hadn’t completely fixed everything and, later, because they cut off her pain meds out of concern about addiction. Soon after that, she stopped going to town. It was just too hard, and she didn’t want to see anyone’s pitying faces. In fact, she didn’t want to see anyone—period.

Giving up any hope that she might ever be healthy enough to farm again, Rose leased much of her acreage to the power company for wind turbines. She arranged for her groceries and other supplies to be delivered. If there wasn’t anything perishable, she might leave the boxes on the porch for days. Nothing seemed to matter anymore.

After a while Rose’s old truck rusted out, and brambles grew around it. Weeds filled the yard. A cold snap one winter killed most of the climbing rose on the trellis. Rose didn’t care—she had no interest in looking out the kitchen window because that was the direction of the ledge on the cliff. She kept the curtains drawn and spent most of her days lying on the couch.

Jack, who faithfully kept her company, was by now an old dog. A veterinarian living nearby, whose name was Henry, was kind enough to make house calls. The day came, however, when Jack fell gravely ill, and there was nothing to be done.

When Henry came back with the urn after having Jack’s remains cremated, he also brought—much to Rose’s surprise—a small brown mixed-breed puppy.

“One of my clients was giving away the litter,” he explained in a deep, gruff voice, looking somewhat uncomfortable as he shuffled his big feet on the dusty hardwood floor. “I thought you might want him.”

“Well, you thought wrong,” Rose snapped. “Take him away.”

“Maybe just think about it for a bit, then. I’ve left a bag of puppy food on the porch.” Putting down the puppy, Henry scooted backward and was out the door before Rose realized what he was up to. By the time she struggled up off the couch and got to the door, Henry’s van was roaring away.

Rose’s first impulse was to shout something very nasty after him; but she didn’t want to frighten the puppy, who wasn’t to blame. Instead, she just said, “Oh, for pete’s sake!”

The puppy wagged his little tail happily, in the evident belief that she was talking to him. Rose couldn’t help but to smile at that; and then she told him, “All right, so it looks like we’re stuck here together for now—Petey.”

Although she gave him a name, Rose had every intention of giving him back to Henry at the first opportunity. The last thing she needed, as she saw it, was the nuisance of having a puppy around. She had to take Petey out for walks because he was small enough that he couldn’t be put outside unattended, or he’d be a tasty snack for a hawk or coyote. Leaning on her walking stick, she trudged along painfully on cold winter mornings while Petey, at the end of his leash, gave impatient yips.

As hard as it was, though, she had to admit that by the time Henry finally showed up about a month later, she was doing better. The more she got off the couch and moved around, the easier it seemed. By then, Petey was fairly well housebroken, and she had gotten used to seeing his perky face every day.

“I might keep him,” she allowed grudgingly. “Not making any promises, mind you.”

Henry just grinned.

Winter soon turned into spring, and Rose found that she had enough energy to start cleaning up the house and yard. She whacked weeds, cut back the half-dead rose on the trellis, and got rid of the old truck. Instead of just heating up random food from a can, sometimes she cooked a nice dinner and invited Henry over to eat with her.

Now that she was in better shape, Rose didn’t need to lean on her walking stick like she had before. She still carried it out of habit, though. Her pain, although no longer constant, hadn’t gone away. She still had twinges during the day and bone-deep aches that left her tossing and turning at night, often with her mind troubled by those old angry thoughts.

On a warm evening in midsummer, Rose was throwing a tennis ball for Petey to fetch. He had grown a fair amount but, still, he was a small dog—mostly terrier, she thought. She threw the ball especially far, and Petey dashed eagerly after it. Just then a large coyote bounded over a rise, heading straight for him.

The panicked dog fled toward the nearest cliff and somehow managed to scramble most of the way up. Rose ran toward the coyote, shouting and brandishing her walking stick until it ran away. Shaking in terror, Petey sat huddled on a ledge. It was the same ledge from which Rose had fallen; but, with her thoughts entirely on rescuing her dog, she didn’t even notice that until after she had climbed up. With Petey tucked under her arm, she carefully made her way back down to solid ground.

It wasn’t until Rose got back to the house that she realized she had climbed the cliff without any pain or difficulty. Climbing had felt natural, in fact—just like when she was a young girl. She hadn’t even remembered to pick up her walking stick, which still lay at the base of the cliff where she’d dropped it when the coyote ran off.

Just as soon as those thoughts came into Rose’s mind, the pain came back. But this time, instead of letting herself get overwhelmed by stale feelings of anger and helplessness, she opened the curtains wide and gazed out at a beautiful evening.

Rose sat down at the kitchen table, with a contented Petey wagging his tail at her feet. She sat with the pain until it faded into the last gleams of sunlight on the cliff, the pale blooms of the rosebush, and the stars coming out across the desert sky; and then she went to bed and slept soundly.

——————————

I put down my empty coffee cup and said to the Crone, “Thank you for the story, and for taking the time to visit with me. Both are very much appreciated!”

The Crone rummaged in her handbag for a dark red lipstick and touched up her lips before she answered. “Any time, dear. I’ve quite enjoyed your company.”

Although valentine cards, holiday gifts, and thank-you notes are common ways of showing how much we appreciate our loved ones, often it’s the ordinary days that end up being more memorable. Even when it doesn’t seem as if we are doing anything in particular, but simply relaxing and enjoying others’ company, they feel appreciated because we chose to spend time with them.
 

Word-art that says "Joy is the simplest form of gratitude." -Karl Barth 

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 is Part 22; click here to read Breaking the Ice from the beginning.
 

Ocean waves rolled gently along a virtual beach on an outgoing tide, with seagulls squabbling on the sand and a soundtrack to match. The air had a salty tang, and the thick carpet looked enough like sand that it would have taken a close inspection to tell the difference. If the sole inhabitant of the spaceship’s rec room had gotten out of his lounge chair, he could easily have imagined that he was walking on real sand; the carpet’s texture created an almost perfect illusion.

But as usual, nearly all of Woods’ attention was on the tablet in his hand. Four months had gone by since his accidental discovery that he could communicate via telepathy with an extraterrestrial creature taken from Europa, and he was still trying to work out just how the alien language functioned. With no background in linguistics, he was baffled more often than not. His subconscious mind had taken up a fair amount of the slack, however, converting some of the language’s visual images into what sounded like spoken English in his thoughts.

“The base layer of the language consists almost entirely of mathematical metaphors,” Woods said out loud, summing up the observations that he had been entering in his tablet. There also was a complicated overlay that looked like a graceful, flowing calligraphy, but by now he had given up on ever understanding any of that. It wasn’t for lack of trying. Last month, he had laboriously repeated an image of unbroken ice—which meant zero, the unknown, and probably a few other things too—in connection with parts of the calligraphy, using the ice-image to convey the question “What is this?”

About all he had gleaned from that tedious exercise was that the alien’s name was not in fact Tiny Leaf, as he had thought it to be. Rather, if he’d understood the translations with any degree of accuracy (which was certainly debatable), it was Six and a Half, Added to the Thirty-Second Part of the Whole that is Forty-Nine, Divided by Seven, Added to Three, Divided by Seven, Added to Four.

His overtaxed brain had rebelled at that and just kept on translating the name as Tiny Leaf anyway. Maybe all those numbers signified a genealogy, some kind of tribal identification, or the region where a particular family group lived. That went far beyond Woods’ realm of expertise, and he had no problem with leaving it for the linguists on Earth to sort out.

Assuming, of course, that he could find an effective way besides telepathy for the linguists and other scientists to communicate with Tiny Leaf. She had no eyes and apparently formed images of her surroundings by way of sonar, emitting high-pitched squeaks like a bat navigating through a jungle on a dark night. Although that ruled out teaching her to read by conventional means, surely a communication device suited to her needs could be built.

“Something with raised symbols,” Woods said, thinking out loud again; that would allow Tiny Leaf to identify them by touch. How to get started with such a project? He had no experience designing or building communication devices, but the ship had a capable engineer. Maybe Hioki, despite having shown some reluctance to discuss the telepathic images, could be persuaded to help. Even if he had been intimidated by the captain’s skeptical remarks or was a skeptic himself, Hioki might be willing to look into the matter further.

On the wall screen, the tide had just started to turn when Woods exited the program and left the room. He made his way along the ship’s main corridor and soon found Hioki in his small office just off the main engineering area. Evidently Hioki had spent more time than usual styling his long hair, which stuck out all over in elaborate spikes.

Stepping into the office, Woods got directly to the point, not having thought of any suitable small talk. “I believe it’s possible to communicate with the creatures who live on Europa by simply teaching them to use a waterproof numeric keypad, with both the input and output in raised symbols. Much of their language is made up of arithmetic-based metaphors.”

“Don’t say such things with the door open!” Hioki hissed, as a look of panic flashed across his face. Jumping up from the desk chair so fast that it almost toppled over, he shut the door before Woods even had time to completely process what he had said.

“It shouldn’t be all that hard to do,” Woods continued, without any clue as to what might explain Hioki’s odd reaction. “The technology exists, surely. We could…”

We,” Hioki was quick to interrupt, putting strong emphasis on the word, “are not going to do anything. And if you have the least bit of sense, you’ll forget that you ever thought about it.”