January 22, 2019 · Write a comment · Categories: Musings · Tags:

I sometimes do a meditation where I imagine myself turning slowly in a clockwise circle and looking to each of the four directions. Then I consider what messages from my subconscious mind there might be in the various images that pop into my thoughts.

Usually it’s like a silent film or a dream without conversation, but yesterday—without having planned it—I found myself imagining that the four directions were speaking to me and offering blessings.

Weathervane showing the four directions.

(Creative Commons image via flickr)

I started in the East, as I always do—the direction of the dawn and new growth. I pictured tiny green leaves sprouting up from the cool, damp spring earth, confidently owning their surroundings. “You are safe here,” the leaves told me repeatedly as they kept on multiplying, with more and more voices joining in their chorus. “You are safe.”

I gave them my thanks and went on to the South, representing fire and summer. Warm pebbles on the dry ground reflected the early afternoon sun. I pictured myself sitting down to look at them more closely, like a child searching for the prettiest ones. Huge tree roots stretched before me, and I felt drawn to touch them. “You are becoming,” the roots announced, when I put my hands on them.

Thanking the roots, I turned to the West, where leaves were falling from tall white birches, swirling in a graceful motion through the crisp air. The autumn winds surrounded me comfortably, like old friends walking with me. “You are part of this world,” they said.

I thanked the winds before moving on to the North, the land of quiet darkness, cold rain and snow, winter’s rest and replenishment. Drops of water fell gently all around me. “You are healing,” they assured me.

Once again I gave thanks, and then I returned to my imaginary starting point and let the circle dissolve into the air around me. I pictured its energy flowing into the world, full of blessings for all.

I didn’t really go for a walk in the woods today because it was very cold and icy here. I can tell when I’m getting cabin fever this time of year, though, because I spend more time browsing through outdoor photos. Over the weekend I downloaded some Creative Commons landscape photos from Flickr and put them into the library for my digital art display. This is the one I chose yesterday, after a snowstorm.

Snowy path between tall conifers.

Seeing a snowy path through my imaginary “window” makes me feel as if I could get bundled up in warm clothes and go play in the snow, like when I was a kid. I haven’t actually gone exploring in a winter wood in a very long time, and I must confess that I don’t even own a pair of sturdy winter boots anymore. The snowblower is my husband’s domain. When we have a winter storm I’m usually sitting at the computer, or maybe reading a book on the couch.

Still, it puts me in a cheerful mood to see something that looks like a window onto a vast wild forest where I could spend many hours happily wandering around, even if it’s only an illusion.

This evening I got distracted and, instead of writing my usual Nurturing Thursday post, I put on my pajamas and chatted with my husband for a while. Then I got in bed and was still awake, looking at the brightness behind the window shades where light was reflecting from snow, and had a vague sense that there was something left undone.

The internal to-do list never fully came back after its mysterious disappearance over the holidays, it seems. I did eventually remember that it was Thursday and I hadn’t written a blog post, so I got back out of bed and sat down at the computer. Oh well, nobody’s perfect, and anyway, Nurturing Thursday is about gradual self-improvement rather than getting it right every time.

Word-art that says "Continuous improvement is better than delayed perfection." -Mark Twain

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, 2019 · 2 comments · Categories: Musings · Tags: ,

After taking down all the holiday decorations in my house, which included some evergreen cuttings that I put in a kitchen corner (as shown here), I felt like things were awfully plain and bare! So, when I was at the supermarket, I bought a new houseplant to brighten up that corner.

Kalanchoe plant with red blooms in a small pot with red tissue paper.

The plant is a kalanchoe, which is in the category of succulents and thus doesn’t need much water. It is commonly sold as a winter houseplant because it needs even less water than usual in the winter, and it actually flourishes in the dry indoor air.

I would say it’s a good reminder of how changes in our environment affect us. That little splash of red in the kitchen cheers me up when I get my breakfast on dark winter mornings; and because I’m not as well adapted to winter dryness as the plant is, seeing it also reminds me to turn on the aromatherapy diffuser on my desk, which improves dry sinuses by adding both humidity and helpful essential oils.

And, looking at it from a broader perspective, the plant has me subconsciously feeling more in control of my environment because I put it there, which in turn should improve my perception of how capable I am of making other positive changes. It’s all good!

One advantage of getting older is that every passing year comes with more perspective. The list of entries grows longer in what I call the Portfolio of Past Problems. Just like we keep track of our job accomplishments by writing resumes to show employers how proficient we are in our jobs, solving problems in our personal lives also gives us valuable experience and makes us more capable. Rather than feeling gloomy because not everything came out perfect on the first try, we should give ourselves credit for work well done!

No matter how troubling a particular situation may be, the chances are good that when looking back on it many years later, it’s probably just going to be another one of the many things that worked out all right.

Word-art that says "Problems are like washing machines. They twist us, spin us and knock us around. But in the end we come out cleaner, brighter and better than before."

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.

My daughter and her husband came to visit for a friend’s gender reveal party. The friend has two daughters and was kind of hoping for a boy. As the designated revealer, my daughter picked up the ultrasound photo from the doctor’s office and was the only one to know until the party a few hours later (which was at a pizza restaurant yesterday).

Although I’d heard of such parties, I had no idea how they went, so it was fun to watch. My daughter decorated a clipboard with cute drawings, and everyone voted on it with tally marks for “girl” or “boy.” Then the reveal was done by putting a little toy duck into a bowl of water; it had a chemical that made the water change color. The ducks are sold online in packs of two, with a “boy” duck that turns the water blue and a “girl” duck that turns it pink. The revealer brings the appropriate one to the party after taking off the identifying sticker.

The water turned pink, so there will be a third girl, much to the delight of her sisters. My mother-in-law came to the party too; she adores the little girls. We had a good time, except for getting sideswiped by a careless driver on the way to the restaurant, which left my husband with the unwanted chore of buffing the scraped fender and applying touch-up paint. Could have been worse, though.

This morning my daughter, her husband, and their dogs packed up and left, and the house seemed very quiet again. After an unseasonably warm day, it had gotten much colder overnight, with snow flurries and howling winds. I put this image of a lonely canyon on my digital art display.

Dry, lonely canyon under an orange sunset.

Even though it’s not a real window, changing the landscape to match the feeling of a particular day seems to improve my mood by making clear how quickly everything changes. Just like the image on the display, a lonely house and the winter blues won’t stay too long.

I did some after-Christmas shopping and got a new electric skillet yesterday, with nonstick ceramic coating. It replaced a worn-out skillet that wasn’t keeping food from sticking anymore. Last night I cooked hamburgers to try out the new skillet, and it worked very well and was easy to clean up afterward.

Electric skillet on kitchen counter with refrigerator in background.

I had been meaning to replace the old one for months, but did not get around to doing it earlier because I was busy. Of course, putting off the errand didn’t save me any time, and in fact caused me to waste time scrubbing the old skillet. Even though we may think we’re too busy for simple things that make life more comfortable, there is really no good reason to neglect ourselves like that. It’s just a bad habit.

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 I had a self-improvement resolution in mind before the holidays, it wasn’t until yesterday that I found one word of intention to sum it up. My plan for 2019 is to keep a Kindness Journal in which I write at least five kind things that people have done for me each day. This is a variation on the familiar gratitude journal, but with a specific focus on seeing the world as a kinder place.

Our culture gives us so many negative messages about random cruelty and never-ending strife, it’s not always easy to notice the small, everyday acts of kindness all around us. Just one rude or grumpy person can put us in a bad mood, even if we’ve heard nothing else but pleasant conversation the entire day. When we’ve been told many times that the world is a cruel and unsafe place, we subconsciously give more weight to events that fit the expected narrative.

This works both ways, of course—when we expect kindness, we’re likely to find more of it and to feel safer in the world. So, by keeping a Kindness Journal in 2019, I plan to shift my mindset toward seeing other people as generally kind and helpful, which should in turn reduce subconscious fears of being randomly targeted for something nasty. Those fears don’t have much basis in present-day reality, but just saying so isn’t enough to banish them. Instead, a different and healthier story needs to take root in their place.

While I could explain all that in three paragraphs, trying to condense it down to one word of intention for the New Year was more of a challenge. “Kindness” didn’t seem accurate because the focus is on being more aware of others’ kindness, rather than on being kinder myself. “Awareness” was much too general. I couldn’t find anything that felt right, and Christmas came and went without further inspiration.

Then, on the morning of New Year’s Eve, I woke up with one word in my thoughts: “Sublime.”

In the original Latin, this is a compound word that literally means under the limit, or under a boundary or threshold. Figuratively, the word means “as good as it gets.” Modern-day English has two distinct forms of the word. One is an adjective that means excellent or awe-inspiring. The other, a verb, is a chemistry term that describes a phase-transition process in which a solid substance transforms into a vapor without first becoming a liquid.

Sublimation occurs, for example, when the polar ice caps on Mars get above the freezing point. There isn’t enough atmospheric pressure on Mars to keep water in its liquid state, so it changes (sublimes) from ice to vapor. Even right here on Earth, unusual weather conditions can sometimes cause snow to evaporate directly into fog without first melting.

Fog rising over snow and trees.

(Creative Commons image via flickr)

Also, there are some related terms in psychology, like “subliminal,” referring to subconscious mental processes and effects. The primary meaning that I have in mind for my 2019 word of intention is closer to the chemistry term, though. I want to create a low-pressure environment in which my old fears evaporate and blow away on the wind—directly, without first melting into muddy, icky puddles of stagnant emotion.

And then, maybe—after the fog has lifted and the sun has come out, bright and clear in a deep blue winter sky—I’ll look around and discover an internal landscape that is excellent and awe-inspiring.

Friday morning was unusually warm for midwinter, so my husband and I went rowing in our double scull. We had the boathouse and the river all to ourselves. When the sun came out, it felt like a pleasant early spring day. Although we weren’t rowing fast, my hands got a little blistered because my calluses go away quickly when the rowing season ends. My husband, who has tougher hands, was fine.

The blisters didn’t really bother me because we had such a good time getting outdoors in the lovely weather. Of course, it did not last long. Soon after we returned home, the temperature started to drop, and by evening we were back to ordinary winter weather.

I spent the afternoon playing a computer game with my husband and then re-reading The Princess Bride on my Kindle. Nothing came to mind that had to be done. That left me with an odd feeling, as if the mainspring on some kind of mental machinery had gotten close to winding down, like a mechanical toy or music box with a winding key. This wasn’t the same as my lack of energy before Christmas vacation—I had gotten plenty of sleep all week, and rowing had not left me physically tired.

Wind-up toy with a large key at the top.

(Creative Commons image via flickr)

Rather than spend any time pondering this oddity, I decided that whatever tasks might need to be done could wait a day or two. Surely I would think of them in the morning. In the meanwhile, this seemed like a good night to stay in and watch one of the movies that my husband had just bought. I went to bed afterward and slept well.

When I woke up, there was no doubt something had changed. In the mental space where the imaginary wind-up machinery had been, there was only silence. After a minute or two, I realized what had happened—my internal to-do generator had shut down. You know, the one that switches itself on sometime in the teenage years, or perhaps even sooner, and chugs along continuously forever.

How could this be? I’d had vacations for a week or two before—plenty of them, in fact—but the to-do list never had spontaneously evaporated like this. Was it even possible for a modern-day adult to function without having a long list of tasks automatically load itself into the brain at boot-up?

Most likely, it would come back sometime later in the morning, I decided. Kind of like a brief power outage. No reason to worry. So I got my breakfast and opened my Kindle to the page where I’d left off yesterday. There was certainly nothing wrong with a nice relaxing morning while on vacation.

Afternoon came and I still didn’t have anything in mind to do. That was when I began seriously wondering what the heck was going on. Maybe I was coming down with some strange new disease. I hadn’t noticed any changes in my health this week, though, so I didn’t rate that as likely. As far as I could tell, I was generally healthy—about the same as always, but for the mysterious disappearance of the to-do list.

Meanwhile, my husband was sitting at the computer writing programs, which he likes to do when he’s on vacation to keep his skills sharp. Ordinarily when he does this, I’ll spend some time writing stories and blog posts, or maybe work on some other creative project. When that thought came to mind, it left me worrying—what if the disappearing to-do list might be a variation on the dreaded Writer’s Block? What if all my creative energy had drained away, too?

That, at least, could be tested. I got a notepad and pen, sat down on the couch, and started writing the first draft of this blog entry. I didn’t have any problems getting my thoughts organized on the page, which was a relief. Once I took a break when I wasn’t sure how to end a sentence, but that was nothing out of the ordinary. Apparently, my brain is still functioning much the same as before, except that the day is almost over and I still haven’t seen hide nor hair of the vanishing to-dos. Maybe they decided to take a vacation too.

I’ve been getting more rest while on vacation this week, and because of that I’m feeling more relaxed. Tuesday night my Fitbit said that I slept for 10 straight hours. That wasn’t quite accurate, as I remember waking up a few times. Once I dreamed of wandering around in a hotel with confusing passages, where I wasn’t sure if I could find the way back to my room. Apparently I didn’t move enough when I woke up for the device to register it, though, and I must have fallen back to sleep soon.

This morning my husband was sound asleep for a long time. Usually he gets up pretty early. After a while, I thought I’d better check and make sure he was still breathing, although he is healthy and there was no cause for concern. He was fine, of course—just needed a little more rest, the same as I did.

The holidays won’t last forever, and we’ll get back to busy days soon enough. That is not a problem in itself—everyone needs both rest and adventure. What’s important is to find a good balance between them.

Word-art that says "Every morning you have two choices: continue to sleep with your dreams, or wake up and chase them."

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.