August 22, 2017 · 4 comments · Categories: Musings · Tags: ,

I went rowing with my husband during the eclipse, along with a few other people in the rowing club. That made it feel more like an adventure. We brought our eclipse glasses into the boat and, as the light faded, we stopped rowing from time to time and watched the eclipse’s progress. it wasn’t total where I live, but it got dark enough to look almost like nightfall was approaching. There will be a total eclipse in this area in 2024, so we’re saving the glasses.
 

Two pairs of eclipse glasses on a wooden table. 

On the river, we had a great view of how confused the wildlife got during the eclipse. Birds flew up to trees and wires to roost, cicadas started singing, and ducks and geese climbed out of the river and started waddling off to wherever they go at night. Then the light started coming back and many of the birds just flew around in circles looking totally befuddled. Their little bird brains couldn’t deal with the fact that it had been getting dark, but all of a sudden it wasn’t anymore.

As civilized humans who spend most of our time indoors, we don’t have that sensitivity to the natural world—at least not consciously. If we hadn’t known there was an eclipse, we might easily have looked out the window and assumed the dark sky was just some clouds blowing over. Then we’d have gone back to work and thought nothing more about it.

I wonder, though, if maybe there’s a primitive part of our brains that gets just as confused as those birds about all the unnatural things in our modern environment. Maybe our inner troglodyte peeks out every now and again, muttering to itself in a very worried tone, “Hey, what are all these bright lights in the middle of the night when it’s supposed to be dark? And why are we all staring at little glowing screens instead of looking at normal stuff like trees and fields? Eek! Too freaky! I can’t cope!”

Of course, there are many other reasons why we have so much anxiety nowadays. Mainly I think it’s because the world has been changing so fast that it can be hard to keep track of what’s going on around us, whether natural or otherwise. More time spent in nature surely would do us all some good, though.

I had a busy weekend with a lot going on. It’s all good, but it left me feeling like I need to give myself more time to just rest and breathe. Also, can’t forget to de-stress by looking at a few good cat pictures, right? Wouldn’t want to end up like this poor kitty…
 

Cat picture that says "I'm so stressed out over being stressed out that I can't even remember why I'm stressed out... and it's stressing me out!" 

In the interest of avoiding stressed-out kitty syndrome, I put a beach photo on my art display this morning, with a nice relaxing view of the tide coming in. That, along with getting some exercise rowing for an hour or so this evening, should do the trick.
 

Beach photo with rising tide 

I’m hoping that this post gave everyone visiting my blog a little bit of stress relief too!

May 14, 2017 · 2 comments · Categories: Musings · Tags:

Last weekend, I mentioned to my husband that I had noticed the water was running slowly in the kitchen sink’s tap from the reverse-osmosis filter. He changed the filters and repressurized the tank. At once, the water flow was much better. As with most time-change items, the improvement was much more noticeable than the slowly degraded performance from one day to the next had been.
 

Reverse osmosis filter unit under the kitchen sink. 

The water from the tap looked frothy all week. Even now, it still has a few air bubbles, which naturally happens as a result of servicing the system. Not a problem—it just takes a while for the air bubbles to work themselves out.

That’s true with many kinds of maintenance; it takes a little time for things to settle afterward. It’s not all that different from what goes on in our personal lives when we have to deal with changes in society and technology. However much of an improvement something may be, it’s unavoidable that there will be some amount of disruption.

Getting anxious when things look different is a natural reaction. But rather than letting our worries build up, we might do better simply to recognize that small disruptions happen and that, often, they’re no more of a problem than if they had been just a few air bubbles.

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.

On Tuesday afternoon when I went to vote, it was dark, windy, and chilly here in Ohio; the past week’s unseasonably warm weather had turned to more typical November conditions. Although I try to cultivate the habit of finding something to appreciate in each day, rather than using words such as “dreary” and “gloomy,” I was finding it hard to take a more cheerful perspective—especially after I got home and noticed this:
 

Aluminum fence bent at top by a leaping deer. 

Apparently this damage to my backyard fence was caused by a deer jumping over it. There is a small patch of woods along the edge of the subdivision, and we sometimes see deer walking across the front lawn, but usually they just amble along without causing any problems besides munching on an occasional shrub. I certainly wouldn’t have expected a deer to leap a six-foot aluminum fence! It must have been reacting in a panic to something—a coyote, perhaps, or a large dog.

Finding itself in an enclosed backyard, which surely must have left it feeling trapped and even more panicky, the deer then escaped by bursting through the fence at the back corner.
 

Aluminum fence broken by a deer. 

It probably will be a while before a contractor can get us on the schedule to replace those damaged sections, and in the meanwhile my husband zip-tied some pieces of wood across the gap to discourage any more deer from getting into the backyard.

I suppose I’ll never know what made that deer so frightened. Maybe when a subdivision was built in the middle of their natural habitat, leaving only a little strip of woods, the whole herd got more anxious than they were before. Even if they didn’t clearly understand what was changing as the houses went up one after another, they might have had a vague sense that something didn’t match the way they remembered it.

That’s probably the best explanation I can come up with for the current state of our politics, too. The world has been changing so fast that our mental maps can’t keep up with all the newly created landmarks that diverge from our expectations, and sometimes we just get spooked.

A contractor is going to come out tomorrow and estimate the work. Unfortunately, it won’t be as easy to quantify and repair the damage done to civil society by the scorched-earth politics of recent years, which has cost a lot more than money. One of the saddest things about it is that the younger generation won’t even remember that there was a time when politicians were expected to behave decently and work together to serve the community. We need to set the bar much higher—not only for the behavior of those who want to hold public office, but also for our personal responsibility to set a better, more respectful example.

September 28, 2016 · 2 comments · Categories: Musings · Tags: ,

Twice recently I’ve had a dream in which I am sitting in a parked car with the engine running, and it suddenly starts rolling backwards. I try to brake and to turn off the car, but the computer is malfunctioning and won’t take any input. The car keeps on rolling away no matter what I do, and I know it’s just about to crash into something when I wake up.

A car wouldn’t really do that, of course, and there is nothing scary happening in my life right now. So I’m guessing that the dream reflects a fear that I might somehow “roll back” to stressful times in the past when I felt like I wasn’t in control. How to deal with it? Well, mainly I’d say that I just need to take a few deep breaths and stay focused on the safe, straight road ahead.
 

Straight road with colorful autumn trees on each side.

(Creative Commons image via flickr)
 

Also, there’s no need to keep a narrow focus and look only at the pavement. Much better to slow down and take enough time to appreciate the pretty landscape, the soft sound of leaves rustling in the wind, and the crisp autumn air. There is always something in the moment to enjoy!

Sometimes I spend too much time ruminating about what people’s motives might have been for saying or doing things that baffled me. When I have no clue what they were thinking, it leaves me feeling anxious about what kinds of unpredictable stuff they might do in the future. Of course, that is a silly worry because we can never really understand what goes on in other people’s minds, and much of the time they don’t even understand it themselves!

So when a coworker sent an email with this joke about a chicken crossing the road in a better world, it gave me a good chuckle:
 

Word-art that says "Dream of a better world where a chicken can cross the road without having his motive questioned." 

Next time I find myself getting sidetracked by anxiety about what somebody might have been thinking, I’ll remind myself that there’s no need to squawk about other people’s motives!

May 31, 2016 · 4 comments · Categories: Musings · Tags: ,

Modern life is so complicated and full of things that need to get done, it can feel overwhelming at times. Not so much because of the existence of the to-do list, which is simply an unavoidable fact. What causes to-do anxiety is the feeling that there’s just too much on the list to ever get it all done.

And, you know what? There probably is. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, however. Much of the stuff that ends up on the to-do list wouldn’t be a calamity if it never got done. Chances are, nobody would even pay enough attention to notice. It may feel like it’s been hanging around embarrassingly on the list forever; but the fact is, nobody else cares because it’s not a big deal and never was.

So I decided to write a “who needs to do it list” where all the annoying stuff that has been buzzing around on my to-do list for years can go take a nice long nap. Preferably on the ancient couch in my living room that is #1 on the list.
 

old couch 

When I say ancient, I mean it has been around since my two college-graduate kids were little preschoolers gleefully jumping on it when I wasn’t looking. After they inevitably broke something and left a sagging spot, my daughter (who was full of good practical ideas even as a child) helpfully suggested putting an old pillow under the cushion.

Replacing the couch was something I wanted to do for a very long time. But, even though we are not paying tuition anymore, it still hasn’t gotten done. My husband doesn’t seem to have much interest in looking at furniture—like many guys, he’d rather buy gadgets and do fun stuff.

And I started thinking, well, what difference does it really make? Who needs to do it? After all, my husband is the one who sits on the cushion with the old pillow underneath; my side of the couch is not as broken down. If it doesn’t bother him enough to want a new couch, then why should I care?

I was going to finish this post by listing a few more “who needs to do it” things; but after writing about the couch, while sitting on it with a notepad and pen, I felt like I’d really rather take a nap instead! And of course, the list itself is another “who needs to do it” because it wouldn’t matter one iota if I never wrote it. Ditto on finishing the blog post at a particular time or writing a certain number of words; it’s just for fun and to reflect on whatever’s on my mind. No biggie!

October 17, 2015 · Write a comment · Categories: Musings · Tags: ,

Instead of going on holiday, a phrase that brings to mind adventurous excursions in long-ago fanciful tales, here in the United States we simply take vacation—that is, we remove our rear ends from our desk chairs and vacate our workspaces. Vacancy is a rather dull way of describing time away from work; and what’s worse, often those vacation days don’t even include play or relaxation. Instead, they are used to catch up on postponed chores and projects.

That’s not to say we shouldn’t work on creative projects or fix things around the house while on vacation, if that is what we genuinely feel like doing. Personal projects, when they’re moving along easily and without stress, leave us feeling refreshed and joyful. But often that’s not what happens when we have an overflowing to-do list at the start of a vacation week. All that mental clutter interferes with relaxing and builds pressure to get things done while we have the time. Even things that ought to be fun end up feeling like chores. Lurking like spiders in gray dusty corners of our minds, those to-dos keep on spinning their icky little webs of time pressure and anxiety.
 

Spider in its web with a gray background.

(photo credit: publicdomainpictures.net)
 

When I started writing this post, I noticed a few of them peering out from their usual haunts. “Better hurry up and get finished, otherwise there might not be time to do it for days,” chuckled one big fat imaginary spider, well fed from sucking the life out of things that should have been fun. Another whispered from its dim dark hidey-hole, “Writing that post is taking so long—wouldn’t it make more sense to check a few chores off the to-do list instead?”

I told them to shut their collective yap. Then I set the half-finished post aside, picked up my Kindle, and spent some time reading NeuroTribes by Steve Silberman, a thoroughly researched historical work setting forth the various perspectives on autism in the modern era. This bestseller is a fascinating book, filled with engaging anecdotes and richly detailed descriptions that bring the cultural context to life. I serve as a board member of a nonprofit organization, the Autistic Self Advocacy Network, which is briefly discussed toward the end of the book; thus I’ve had the privilege of becoming acquainted with several people the author mentions.

After I wrote this post’s first few paragraphs, I actually did take days to get around to composing the rest of it. That wasn’t caused by an overload of chores, but was simply a result of other things (some fun, and all good, yay) that ended up getting my attention instead. When I sat down to finish the post, I wondered why I had ever imagined there was any reason to hurry. My reasons for blogging are, first, to reflect on my experiences and clarify them in my mind; and second, to share with others and make a small contribution toward creating a better world. Neither of those purposes is well served by rushing through my posts.

Usually I take most of my vacation days in November and December, and this year will be no exception. But unlike in the past, as I go into this year’s holiday season I intend to make sure that those pointless old time-pressure scripts don’t spoil the fun. I’m going to sweep the dusty cobwebs out of my brain, send the imaginary spiders on their way, and hang out a “No Vacancy” sign!

After wearing my worry beads as a bracelet last week in hopes of gaining more insight as to what was going on with a sore wrist, I did a body-awareness meditation in which I asked my body whether it wanted to tell me anything. As I focused on listening to my body, I began to notice little achy feelings not only in my wrists and arms, but also in my ankles, knees, and hips—as if I had been holding up something much too heavy for much too long.

“I don’t want to bear the weight.”

This sentence flashed into my head. It wasn’t a reference to anything literal; I rarely carry heavy things, and I am not overweight. Whatever my subconscious mind was trying to tell me about weight had to be meant in the metaphorical sense. There are plenty of metaphors relating to weight—overburdened, weighed down, carrying the weight of the world.

Where might that have come from? At present, things are going pretty well for me; I have no problems that I would describe as heavy burdens. But like everyone else, I “bear the weight” of all those cultural expectations and past criticisms that sit in the back of people’s heads passing judgment on whatever thoughts go by. Trying to push them aside can feel like standing under a huge tree in a forest, with branches looming overhead everywhere, and trying to push it out of the way.
 

View of large tree from directly underneath it.

(Creative Commons image via flickr)
 

Of course, in a forest there are always paths around the trees, and the same is true of the barriers created by limiting thoughts and attitudes. We don’t have to let them block our paths or weigh us down, and there’s no need to be constantly in fight mode chopping at them with battle-axes either; we can simply choose to walk around them.

Instead of trying to push or drag obstacles out of the way, often it’s best simply to take a step back and look around for other paths. Just like trees in the forest, they’re not blocking the only way through, and they won’t be there forever. As time passes, nothing will be left but old forgotten trees with vines thickly covering the branches, until the rotten wood falls and there is no one around to hear it.