I didn’t sleep well on Sunday night. Although I went to bed at a reasonable hour, it seemed like I had already been lying awake for a very long time when a parade of my younger selves began showing up, one after another. They were all very distressed, crying about how unfairly they’d been treated on some long-ago occasion, even though they had done all that reasonably could be expected.

For a while, I did my best to comfort them with imaginary hugs, reassure them it wasn’t their fault, and sing them to sleep; but they just kept on coming. I tossed and turned, now completely miserable myself. I felt like I would never get any sleep no matter what I did, and then I’d have to drag myself out of bed for work.

Long after midnight, I got up to drink some water. I felt parched, like there wasn’t enough water in the world, even though in fact I’d had plenty to drink on Sunday. After lying back down, I couldn’t get comfortable because however I turned, my body seemed full of aches and pains, battered and worn down by many years of stress. Then the younger selves started in again with their litany of woes. It was all so unfair. I felt responsible for comforting them, almost like I was their mom; but who was going to comfort me?

This was definitely not just an ordinary night of “the blues.” There were so many layers of blues piling on top of each other, it felt like I was lost and doomed to wander forever in a deep blue wilderness.
 

Blue night clouds in Oregon wilderness.

(Creative Commons image via flickr)
 

Then I saw daylight behind my closed eyes. My first thought was that I must have gotten at least an hour of sleep. I carefully got out of bed, anticipating that something would hurt; but there was no pain anywhere. I felt healthy, refreshed, and full of energy. How could that be?

I got a cupful of water, picked up my mobile phone, and opened the Fitbit app in which I log my daily water intake. One feature of the Fitbit wristband is that it senses when the wearer is sleeping. The app showed that I had slept for a normal eight hours, with only a few minutes awake when I got up in the night for water.

Only then did I realize that I had just been dreaming. The achy, sleepless “me” who had become old, tired, resentful, and worn down from many years of taking on too much responsibility and complaining about life’s unfairness was not really me at all. Rather, she was a very literal manifestation of a wake-up call from Spirit, showing the natural consequences of such feelings.

I went into Monday morning with much gratitude, as if I had reached the end of my life and then, through miraculous grace, had been given a chance to start over.

November 21, 2016 · 6 comments · Categories: Musings · Tags: ,

Several times in the past month I had dreams that seemed like they were telling me to be more responsible. What that might have meant was not at all clear, though. As far as I was aware, I hadn’t been neglecting anyone or anything recently. I had no workplace problems, my kids had gotten through college and found jobs, my husband and I were spending more time together, both of us were doing volunteer work, and the clutter in the house was reasonably well cleaned up.

Surely I didn’t need to take on more obligations right now. What I needed, if anything, was the opposite—to slow down, relax, and clear away old stress. Taking time for self-nurturing as part of a healthy life is not selfish or irresponsible. And in that regard, I didn’t feel that I had been neglecting myself recently, either. I’d been getting regular exercise, eating better food, and finding simple ways to make my everyday life more peaceful and refreshing.

With no clue as to what I might be missing, I decided to look for an answer in my dreams. Just before I went to sleep, I asked myself: How should I be more responsible?

Early in the morning, when I wasn’t quite awake, I heard a voice speaking to me. It sounded like an angel’s voice, as I imagined an angel would sound—peaceful, kind, and otherworldly, neither male nor female. The angel said, “Caring and prayer.” Then I woke up.
 

Statue of angel with hands clasped.

(Creative Commons image via flickr)
 

That was a much-needed perspective adjustment! In today’s busy task-driven society, people often think of responsibility in terms of checking items off the to-do list. If we generally do what’s expected of us, then we can pat ourselves on the back for being good responsible citizens.

But at its root, responsibility isn’t about checking off boxes—rather, it’s a compound word that puts together “response” and “ability.” It means that when a situation comes up that needs our attention, we’re able to respond appropriately. That has a lot more to do with a caring, thankful mindset than with rushing around to get the to-dos finished. It’s about appreciating the small moments of grace in our everyday lives that gently, but persistently, invite us to rise to the occasion.

The world felt soft and quiet when I looked outside this morning. We had snow last night—flurries were forecast, but it was enough to cover the ground. Formless gray clouds still hugged the horizon tightly, blurring into the gray tops of leafless trees. The air had gone completely still, without even the slightest wind stirring the neighbors’ flag. All down the row of houses there was only silence. Like a child yet to wake, a young Earth pulled her comforting blankie closer around herself and settled more deeply into her slumber.
 

Row of suburban brick houses on a snowy day. 

Sometime yesterday afternoon, I had changed the image on my digital art display to a church window. I don’t know where it came from—the person who uploaded the photo simply titled it “Quiet.” The foreground is a wide expanse of dark textured floor; it leads back to a nook under a tall window, where a narrow desk sits empty, the chair pushed into a corner. Sunlight slants through the window to the right of the picture, barely illuminating the first few steps of a black staircase. An electric lamp on the desk is turned on, as if inviting a passer-by to sit and read a devotional text. There is another light that hangs from the ceiling, but it looks tiny and insignificant next to the window.
 

Flat-screen display showing a church window with a dark and quiet area beneath. 

When I sat down to write this post, I could hear birds chirping; they know spring is not far away, even though today’s monochrome landscape gave few hints of it. The weather app on my phone said “cloudy,” which was accurate enough. I would have liked to see “cloudy with brightening skies,” but I doubt I ever will, as that phrase would be too long for a busy person’s quick glance. Occasionally when the forecast calls for a dark day with a thick, heavy cloud cover, it uses the word “dreary.” I wish it wouldn’t, as that comes across to me as more of a value judgment than a weather term. Sometimes we need life’s dark spaces with their peaceful stillness, reminding us to pause and reflect, to fully appreciate the present moment of grace.

I recently read an article about a “Burger Bot” that is being developed to automate fast-food restaurants. The author lamented that because so much work can be done with machines, it won’t be long before there are no jobs left for real human beings.

Of course, that line of thought has been worrying people ever since the Industrial Age got underway. Advances in technology have been displacing large numbers of workers for centuries. Our society no longer needs blacksmiths, carriage makers, or many other occupations that once were commonplace. Most of us don’t live on farms in small towns anymore. So, we have to find a niche in today’s complicated economy, and that’s not easy.

Although increased production has made more resources available for new industries to develop, it has been a continuing struggle for this expansion to happen quickly enough to create all the jobs we need. Because of population growth, even in years when many new jobs were created, we’ve always had more workers competing to fill them. Modern transportation and communication technologies have made it possible for companies to move jobs anywhere, bringing even the most remote areas into the global economy. Civil rights laws also have increased the number of people in the workforce—in particular, women.

That’s a lot of transitions to deal with at once. No wonder there is so much anxiety among today’s workers. Although lower birthrates will eventually reduce the number of people seeking jobs as the global economy continues to expand, we’re not there yet.

I remember taking part in a conversation on a forum about ten years ago, started by a woman who enjoyed having a lot of projects to work on. She wrote that when she reached the end of a project and hadn’t yet moved on to another one, it always left her feeling anxious. “The Betweens” was what she called that feeling—a sense of displacement and uncertainty, wanting to do something more but not knowing what came next.

Right now, I would describe our society as mired in the Betweens. Many of the old ways of doing things have outlived their usefulness, but it’s not yet clear what will replace them. All that uncertainty leaves us with vague feelings of impending calamity, as if we need to fix everything right away and it’s going to turn into a huge disaster if we can’t get it all sorted now.

But the upside of the Betweens is that they give us an opportunity for valuable reflection, if we can get past the anxiety and look calmly at what’s going on around us. The Betweens are always happening on a smaller scale in our everyday lives, when we finish a task or errand and haven’t yet moved on to the next one. Often we get in the habit of rushing from one thing to another, without taking time to reflect. Even though we may not consciously notice the anxiety, it’s there anyway as we hurry through our days juggling a schedule packed with chores and obligations, getting distracted and annoyed whenever something slows us down.

This year I’ve been making an effort to change my perspective—to reframe those small daily moments of waiting in long grocery checkout lines, etc., as natural pauses in life’s busy flow and to practice mindfulness when they occur. I want to appreciate the Betweens, to cherish them—to feel grateful for the little unplanned gifts of grace with which they bless my life. Having time to slow down, get my thoughts in order, and be present in the moment really is a blessing, even in the checkout line!

And I am hopeful that our society will develop more creative appreciation for the Betweens, too. Changes and transitions aren’t necessarily bad; we just need time, perspective, and mental energy to deal with them. We have so much power to shape both our personal lives and the world around us into better and healthier patterns, but first we need to take enough time to consider where we want to be!

As workforce growth slows in the coming decades and the global population begins to drop, we’ll likely find ourselves in a much-changed world where companies struggle to cope with persistent labor shortages. Industries that rely on having large numbers of unskilled low-wage workers, such as fast food, will crash unless automation can fill the gap. I believe it’ll turn out to be very good for future workers, having Burger Bots make their lunches while they pursue better-paid and more interesting careers.

I’ll also note that although the Millennial generation often gets criticized for having a sense of entitlement, they generally understand that they are in control of their own lifestyles and career choices. We could all use more of that.

August 6, 2014 · Write a comment · Categories: Musings · Tags: ,

Among the hot fashion fads of 1969 was a lacquered wooden purse with assorted bright and colorful decorations, which always included a shiny penny on top. My mom had one, and I coveted it with a passion, especially the tiny Ace of Hearts next to the penny. I wasn’t really all that interested in carrying a purse to kindergarten—but oh, did I want a deck of miniature cards! I must have driven my mom to distraction with my begging. But of course, in those days searching for odd little items was a lot harder than it is now. My mom did look for them, but Christmas came and went without any miniature cards in my stocking.

The mysterious ways of Providence brought me a deck of tiny cards in January, neatly enclosed in a plastic capsule from a bubble-gum machine. They even looked like the card on my mom’s purse. I was thrilled! Of course, my sister and I promptly lost half the deck while pretending that our dolls were playing card games; but it was great fun while it lasted.

Many years later, my sister remembered how much I had liked the wooden purse, and she bought a similar one as a gift for me. This one has no miniature card on top, and of course the 1969 penny is no longer bright and shiny; but otherwise it’s much the same. I keep it in a corner of my study as a decoration and smile whenever I look at it.
 

Wooden purse with stickers and 1969 penny. 

As children, we don’t stop to reflect on the little miraculous events in our everyday lives. We’re much too busy playing; and life seems magical anyway, so why shouldn’t the things we want just pop out of a bubble-gum machine? But after we grow up and develop task-oriented adult minds, our sense of everyday wonder doesn’t come as naturally as it once did. We may not even notice the moments of grace in our daily lives unless we carefully cultivate habits of appreciation and gratitude.

And when we do, we’re likely to start discovering unexpected blessings everywhere.

July 7, 2013 · Write a comment · Categories: Musings · Tags: ,

I recently exchanged emails with someone I knew from a writers’ group several years ago. We’d had great fun sharing stories with a lively, imaginative circle of friends. Even the silliest stuff usually found an appreciative audience who understood it in the playful spirit it was intended. But after a while, we just got busy with other things and drifted away. We talked about how much we’d enjoyed the group and how we missed those days.

“Sometimes my husband asks if I’m ever going to get back into it,” my friend told me, “but I don’t know that it’s possible to recapture magic in a bottle.”

After the conversation ended, I thought about all the moments that we don’t fully appreciate until after they have gone by. We chase around after our kids when they’re young, and we feel exasperated because they’re so noisy and they make such a mess. Maybe we snap at them, “Grow up!”—and then they do, and we’re left looking at their empty places across the quiet dinner table.

Or we complain about trivial annoyances at work, even though it’s a pretty good job and we get along well with our coworkers. We let the small stuff get blown totally out of proportion, and we grumble about every careless or inconsiderate thing someone does. We fantasize about how much better a new job would be. But after we’ve moved on, we don’t remember the little annoyances; it’s the good times that stick in our minds.

Of course, we learn something every time our circumstances change. Our perspective broadens, and we become more resilient. Even though change is stressful, we’ve come to expect it, as creatures of our busy modern society. If we stayed in the same place doing the same things all our lives, as most of our ancestors did, we’d get bored and restless. Besides, we have much longer lives than our ancestors, so naturally we’re going to fill them with a greater variety of experiences.

The way I look at it, those magic-in-a-bottle moments aren’t really lost. They just get moved farther back on what I envision as a memory shelf, as present-day moments take their place. We write more stories and find other groups of readers who enjoy our creations. When our kids are grown, we still have conversations with them, even though they live somewhere else and we talk about different topics. Maybe we become grandparents, as more time passes. We find new jobs that challenge us to develop our skills in unforeseen ways, and after a while we discover that we’re pretty good at them.

Before we know it, we’ve built up a lovely collection of antique bottles sitting proudly on the imaginary polished hardwood of the memory shelf. They sparkle in different colors, glowing inside with fragments of the magic they once held. Here’s one that gleams softly in warm green-brown hues, holding memories of a beautiful summer morning at the river. There’s another, flickering a bright fiery yellow like the candles on a birthday cake. And look at that perfect red—it’s just the color of the roses around grandma’s porch, fragrant and humming with bees on a Sunday afternoon.

The magical moments we encounter in our daily lives can easily go unnoticed. We rush from one activity to another, worried about completing our tasks and staying on schedule. Often we don’t pause to be mindful of the dazzling sunlight coming through the window after a dark gray morning, the soft comfortable fabric of a new pair of blue jeans, or the affection in a loved one’s voice greeting us when we return from an errand. So many little details don’t find their way into our conscious awareness until many years later, when a scent or sound unexpectedly triggers a wonderful memory.

When we take the time to notice life’s small details as they unfold around us, we’re opening a door to invite the magic into the present.

Like most people who start a new blog, I’ve had moments when I felt unsure as to whether I could write enough new material. There are always plenty of things going on that might be worth writing about; the challenge is in finding meaningful ways to describe and relate to them. It can seem overwhelming at times—so many experiences and perceptions to draw from, so much going on in the world, and the inevitable doubts about what has been overlooked and whether one’s small efforts really have any meaning to others.

When I stepped outside a few days ago to bring in the mail, I noticed that the crocuses and other spring bulbs in my front garden had started to come up. There were no flowers to be seen, but only the blunt green tips of the leaves, pushing their way through the hard snow-dusted ground. The garden was quiet and still, except for a slight breeze that moved the tips of bare branches almost too slowly to be noticed. This scene left me with a strong feeling that if I had been closer to the ground, and if my ears had been sensitive enough to hear what was going on below the surface, there would have been a tremendous amount of life and activity to which I could listen.

Many of the people I’ve met online are social change activists of one sort or another. Sometimes they feel that it is an overwhelming struggle and that the world is too full of injustice for their work to make much difference. They despair of ever being able to get enough people to understand their point of view. They wonder how they’ll find the energy and resolution to keep on speaking out regardless.

Both anxious bloggers and overworked activists can benefit from a slower pace every once in a while, rather than struggling to be in control of the narrative at all times. We can’t control everything that goes on around us, and that is not necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes it’s enough, like the crocuses, just to send up a few hardy shoots into the sunlight while waiting for nature to take its course. Sometimes it’s enough just to stand still amidst birdsong and gentle breezes. Take a breath, taste the changes in the air, feel the energy of life all around, and listen.

Listen.