September 28, 2023 · 2 comments · Categories: Musings · Tags:

Almost four years ago, I wrote about a dream in which my subconscious mind repeatedly gave me a very insistent message: “Avoid assumptions, leave space for improvement.”

Not long afterward, the entire world’s assumptions got knocked for a loop in 2020, which made for some uncharted territory when it came to finding space for improvement in a much-changed society. I made more friends online, and one of them kindly gave me a custom-made mug decorated with my new personal motto. I’ve been keeping squares of dark chocolate in it.

Photo of a mug with the words "Avoid Assumptions" and "Leave Space for Improvement."

Looking back at the changes, I had more space for improvement in my life than I knew. Because labor shortages have prompted management to do more to retain long-term employees, I feel more valued in my workplace. My husband changed jobs, is better paid, and can work from home, after a lifetime of cube-dwelling purgatory. Our finances are in better order, and we have much more freedom to travel now that we both can work remotely. I’m keeping the mug on my desk in hopes it will bring more good fortune my way!

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!

November 20, 2018 · 2 comments · Categories: Musings · Tags:

My house is generally comfortable, but one issue it always had was that the closet in the master bedroom was cold all winter. Although that closet is on top of the garage, it didn’t seem as if it should have been so chilly—there is a register in the ceiling, but it never seemed like we got much warm air from it. For lack of better ideas, we put a space heater in the closet during the winter.

When we replaced our air conditioner with a larger and more modern unit over the summer, we also had to start buying air filters in a larger size. We noticed that the air flow seemed better, but we didn’t think much about it. When the weather turned colder, we were surprised to discover that the closet in the master bedroom stayed nice and toasty. Apparently, all it needed was a better air filter to improve the flow.

There’s a useful lesson in that. Even when annoying issues seem as if they’re going to be around forever, sometimes they’ll just vanish suddenly when other things get improved.

I deliberated for a while on what sort of image I could add to this post to represent both cold and flow. I finally settled on this photo of people rowing in icy water.

Black and white image of people rowing in icy water.

(Photo credit: Bianca Overree)

That is definitely not something I would ever do, regardless of how adventurous I might otherwise get in rowing! The people in the photo look like they’re enjoying it, though, so I would say it’s good flow for them—well, as long as their boat stays right side up, that is!

Recently I’ve been practicing an affirmation that focuses on making clear the distinction between the present and the past. When I catch myself feeling gloomy about something out of the past, I tell myself, “Right now, I have a pretty good flow of positive energy when it comes to (category of issue), even if there were times when it wasn’t as good in the past.”

At first, I filled in the blank with a broad general category such as time, money, or health. Then, after I woke up on Sunday morning and felt pretty good in general, it occurred to me that I could get much more specific if I felt like it. After all, this was my own life energy I was talking about, and I was completely free to have fun improving it in whatever way struck my fancy.

I was planning to cook pot roast in the Crock-Pot for dinner; and when I went to buy groceries, I decided that it could be a positivity exercise for the day. How might the flow of a pot roast dinner be improved? Well, I could buy a bag of tiny red potatoes, saving time by reducing the ingredients in need of chopping. I also didn’t need to cut the meat into chunks, like I usually did, before putting it into the Crock-Pot. My daughter had mentioned that she thought the meat was more tender when she left it in one piece.

Pot roast with small red potatoes in a Crock-Pot.

When we ate dinner, I didn’t really notice a difference in the tenderness of the meat, and neither did my husband—although he did mention that leaving it in one piece made dinner easier because we could quickly cut whatever amount of meat we wanted, rather than having to hunt for chunks of it among the potatoes and veggies. The tiny potatoes were pretty good too. So, I think it’s fair to say that I successfully improved my flow of life energy in the dimension of pot roast.

As positivity exercises go, this one might have been rather silly, but I would rate it as useful anyway. My husband once told me that when he played football in high school, one of the team chants was “Every day, in every way, we get better and better and better.” Small improvements, even if they don’t matter much in themselves, help to reinforce the mindset that things are getting better all the time. And every day, there really are many things that can be described, in all honesty, as getting better—even if they are as ordinary as a pot roast dinner. What’s important is to train the mind to notice them.

I planted a chrysanthemum next to my mailbox on Tuesday, with buds just starting to open. The mum replaced a wilted little zinnia that never managed to grow much because there was hot, dry weather all through the late spring and the summer.

Photo of a mum, next to my mailbox, with buds starting to open.

Although I know this is nothing unusual and many people change their seasonal flowers as the days turn cooler, in past years I did my seasonal planting in the spring and just left the flowers in place until the frost got them. I generally felt that there wasn’t much to do in autumn and winter besides hunker down in a warm house and wait until spring came again.

Of course, there is no good reason to feel trapped indoors just because the temperature drops. I live in the modern world, after all, and not in a log cabin in a primitive village where anyone venturing too far might get caught in a blizzard or eaten by wolves.

So I’ve decided that whenever I look at the mum blooming by the mailbox, it will be a positive reminder that new growth and renewal can happen at any time of the year, even when the trees are dropping their leaves.

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.

November 14, 2017 · 6 comments · Categories: Musings · Tags:

Probably because of the time change, I’ve been feeling low on creative energy this past week and haven’t been much inclined to blog. I did come across a cute graphic recently that seems well suited to the short days of late autumn, though, so I decided to share it:

Word-art with a yawning cartoon mouse that says "Always end the day with a positive thought. No matter how hard things were, tomorrow's a fresh opportunity to make it better."

Even when we’re like this poor sleepy mouse and don’t feel motivated to do much besides quietly yawning while we keep warm in winter pajamas and comfy slippers, it’s good to keep in mind that something better will come along in the future!

My most recent imaginary visit with a younger self didn’t take me very far back in my virtual time machine—only to the summer of 2014. At that time, Not-Much-Younger-Me was in the midst of an ambitious project to visit a positive blog every day and document those travels on this site’s Random Kindness Blog Tour page.

She had in fact set herself a schedule that called for multiple self-improvement and home-improvement projects going on at the same time. The other ones included decluttering the house and writing weekly posts about it, composing a monthly Recovering from Negativity blog series in the nature of a 12-step recovery chronicle, and learning to row a double scull with hubby well enough to compete in regattas. Some might have called it a midlife crisis of sorts, though she wouldn’t have described it as such.

I caught up with her while she was standing in the backyard on a warm sunny afternoon, working on what seemed a never-ending job of cutting back all the bushes and small trees that had been damaged by that year’s frigid winter. She ought to have hired someone to take care of that chore instead, as it didn’t all get finished before winter came again; but, long ago, she had gotten in the habit of taking too much upon herself without realizing it.

Willow after pruning off small branches.

I stepped into the shade of the little tree that she was pruning. She glanced over at me, blinked a couple of times, and then just shook her head in a tired-looking way.

“If you’re a new blog idea or story plot having to do with a visit from an alternate me, well, I don’t mean to be rude,” she began, in a tone that sounded like it was meant to be apologetic but conveyed very little beyond weariness, “but I have a lot going on at the moment. Maybe I can get around to writing about you next week sometime, if nothing else comes up.”

“Oh, no, I’m just here to talk a little, that’s all. No need to schedule anything,” I said cheerfully. The shade felt cool and pleasant. Somewhere in the leaves above my head, a bird gave a chirp of curiosity.

“And I certainly don’t mean to be rude either,” I went on, “but you’re kind of a newbie when it comes to this positivity stuff, so I thought it might help to talk about a few things. Such as, you’re not obligated to put on a happy face every morning and convince yourself that life gives you boundless energy, making it easy and fun to do anything you might imagine for as long as you want. The human body has natural limitations, after all. Needing to rest and recharge is one of them. Although a positive attitude is indeed good to have, it doesn’t literally expand the number of hours available in the day.”

The pruning shears snapped firmly shut on another dead branch, which rattled into the yard waste bag a moment later. “I haven’t been putting on a happy-face act. When I decide to do something, it simply gets done. And if you’re me, then you ought to know that,” Not-Much-Younger-Me declared irritably.

“Well, I’m not quite you, exactly. Coming from three years in your future, I like to think of myself as a more sustainable version of you. Of course, I haven’t quite gotten there yet, but I’m working on it.”

“Sustainable… that sounds like we’re talking about a rainforest with little coffee farms carefully planted around the edges, or something.” The snap of the shears came again, not quite as loud as before.

“Yes, sort of, in that we have to pay attention to our own personal ecology and not deplete our resources. When we’re doing too many things at once, that doesn’t leave enough time for our energy to replenish naturally, and after a while we start to feel drained.”

“But just a few years ago, I was busier than I am now, and it didn’t seem like a problem then,” she started to argue. Then her hand went slack on the pruning shears as she thought about it some more and finally said, in a much softer tone, “Oh.”

Three little rabbits chased each other across the lawn before running around the corner of the house. I watched them for a moment before I turned back to my somewhat-younger self and explained further, “I don’t mean to suggest that you should drop all your projects, of course. Just try to keep in mind that if something takes longer than you expected, it’s no calamity. For example, coming from your future, I happen to know for a fact that some trees and shrubs didn’t get pruned this year, and guess what—it didn’t kill them.”

Not-Much-Younger-Me responded with a genuine smile and started to take off her gardening gloves. “Well then, I think I’ll just go inside and drink a nice cold glass of iced tea.”

“That sounds wonderful. See you in three years!” I gave her a jaunty wave as I stepped farther back into the trees and disappeared into my own time.

May 17, 2017 · 4 comments · Categories: Musings · Tags:

Often when I wake up, my husband is already awake and getting started on the day. After saying good morning, he’ll usually ask how I am, or something similar. My usual answer is “Doing well,” in a cheerful tone. Sometimes if I am the first to wake, we reverse our lines in the scripted morning exchange.

This is all very common, of course; and certainly it is better than waking up grumpy or looking out the window and complaining about the weather. A little reassurance that everything is okay helps to start the day feeling more confident. Still, I wonder if maybe there’s some interference with awareness of genuine feelings on a deeper subconscious level. What if something isn’t quite right, but we smile and act like it’s a nice walk in a rose garden anyway?

Grass path through rose garden in bloom.

(Creative Commons image via flickr)

Literally, it is true that I am doing well every morning. Everything in my life seems to be going along pretty smoothly at the moment, without any problems worth mentioning. But taking the time to add just a few more details might, perhaps, make that answer start to feel more real.

“Doing well… it’s a lovely sunny day and I’m looking forward to getting outdoors.”

While that’s not always going to be the case, it is also possible to acknowledge having less pleasant feelings honestly, while still finding positive ways to frame them.

“I’m okay… didn’t sleep well and had bad dreams, but I’m going to take it easy today and expect to feel better after a while.”

That should be enough to satisfy the morning reassurance ritual, while also letting the subconscious mind know that there’s no need to pretend the big hungry dragon in the nightmare wasn’t scary. Feeling obligated to pretend can be draining; and when that happens below the level of conscious awareness, we don’t even know why our energy gets low. Making clear to the subconscious that it is allowed to have real feelings can help to ensure they don’t get suppressed and build up to cause problems.

Now that the weather has turned cooler and the rowing season is over, I’ve gone back to running outdoors, which is my usual exercise over the winter (unless it gets so cold that I run on the indoor track at the Rec Center instead). When I went to the park to run five miles with my husband on Sunday, the thought of having to wait till spring to get back out on the river felt kind of sad, with the long cold winter ahead. But then it occurred to me that instead of feeling gloomy and looking at my winter workouts in the same light as doing chores, I should appreciate the opportunity for quiet reflection.

While running along the park trail, I found myself thinking about pilgrimages such as the Camino de Santiago in northern Spain, which has been traveled since the Middle Ages. Even today, many people walk the Camino to put their worldly concerns in perspective and to gain spiritual growth. There are various starting points; one of the popular routes, beginning at the French border, is about 800 kilometers. ¡Buen camino! is the customary greeting for peregrinos (pilgrims), wishing them a good journey.

Signpost in Spain that says "Peregrino, buen camino."

(Creative Commons image via flickr)

So I decided that when I run in the park this winter, I’m going to imagine myself making progress in short segments along my own personal Camino and leaving my complaints and ungrateful attitudes behind. I know that many of us are working to improve ourselves in similar ways, as well as to promote a spirit of kindness and grateful reflection in the community; so today I’m wishing all of my fellow pilgrims, as we travel along this road, ¡Buen camino!