Many of us choose words of intention and make resolutions as a new year begins. This is only my third year for both, I must confess. Before that, I hadn’t thought much about the process of creating an intentional life through small everyday choices. Although I had plenty of persistence and generally managed to follow through on whatever I decided to do, I lacked the patience needed to go along with it. All too often, I stressed myself out trying to cram every ambitious idea, plan, project, and expectation into the present.

Whether it is magic as some would say, or just the ordinary workings of the subconscious mind, whatever thoughts get the most attention are the ones most likely to find their way into real life. This doesn’t mean, however, that it is necessary or even possible to discipline every thought and clearly visualize every detail of a long-term goal in order to get there. Everything that we encounter changes us, even though it may be in tiny, almost imperceptible ways; and thus our intentions are always in motion as we move into the future, the details shifting and coalescing to form new patterns like the bright sparkling colors of a kaleidoscope.

Floral kaleidoscope image, mainly in blue shades.

(Creative Commons image via flickr)

I have decided that my focus throughout this new year will be on mindfully appreciating the little details in the present that mesh with the intentional life I am creating. Rather than trying to force everything into a precisely constructed life plan, which strikes me as an unrealistic expectation (and one that wouldn’t be much fun even if it reasonably could be accomplished), I move forward trusting that the patterns will fall into place in due course.

My word of intention for 2016 is Coalesce. I’ve resolved to keep notes each day on whatever I happen to encounter that is a product of my past intentions, along with any questions that may come to mind and any images that seem relevant. Keeping a journal of this nature will give me a better sense of what patterns are in motion right now, as well as identifying where changes are needed and settling doubts about how they’re going to work out. I don’t need to foresee everything that will happen in the future—after all, my life would get pretty boring if I did!

Today I commented on a blog entry about the complexity of negative thoughts, as contrasted with the simplicity of feeling good. Negative self-talk can easily get out of control and spiral into persistent nasty thought loops; but when life is going well, people often don’t have much to say about it. In my comment, I suggested a writing exercise for the blog author—imagine that a problem she worries about has gone away, and write at least 750 words about how good everything feels now.

Then it occurred to me that I could benefit from the same exercise, as I’d been guilty of negative self-talk about my writing earlier this week. I started writing a blog post on Tuesday, decided that it totally sucked, and deleted it. Then I had a different idea for a post on Wednesday, but after writing one paragraph I wasn’t sure how to continue, so I saved it for another day. Meanwhile, I had another topic rattling around in my head, but never got started on it.

Of course, I know that’s just the way everyone’s writing goes sometimes, and there is no point in worrying about it. Still, I have to admit that I felt frustrated this week even though I knew better. So I decided that instead of just telling another blogger how to focus her energy on positive thoughts, it was only fair that I should take my own advice and compose a 750-word essay on the subject of feeling good about my writing. As the old saying goes, “what’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.”
 

Mated pair of Canada geese in green water.

(photo credit: publicdomainpictures.net)
 

A GREAT DAY: Today was a great day for blogging. I had lots of creative energy. When I sat down to write this post, the words all flowed easily and organized themselves neatly into paragraphs, with very little effort. Finding an illustration for the post was quick and easy, too. It only took a moment to decide that a photo of geese would look good before this paragraph, and I found an image right away when I searched for one.

I felt comfortable taking a break from my writing because I knew that there was no need to hurry. I had complete confidence that after getting up and walking around, I’d still be able to finish the post just as easily when I got back to it. I did not give any thought to how much time had passed. Nothing else needed my attention in the moment; there would be plenty of time for the to-dos and chores later. A holiday clock chimed a happy Christmas song, and I felt cheerful.

When I imagined other bloggers reading my post and gaining more confidence in their own writing, I felt strong and inspired. I was secure in the certainty that I have the personal power to bring about change in the world, and that I have gained some understanding of how to use that power responsibly. Although I make mistakes just like everyone else, I know that I generally can correct them before they turn into anything major, as long as I take the time to reflect on my actions and consider their potential effects.

Before I started writing the post, while I was still in the process of getting my thoughts organized, I ran four miles on the indoor track at the Recreation Center. It was cold here today—the temperature never got above freezing—but that was okay because the only time I spent outside was to walk through the parking lot. Getting exercise is much easier when it’s part of a regular routine, and staying fit goes a long way toward keeping up both physical and mental energy.

I ate a healthy snack of dried dates while sitting at the desk because I know that staying well-nourished makes everything that I do much easier, including my blog posts and other writing. Taking proper care of my body will help to make sure that I have both the health and the creative inspiration to keep this blog going for many years. Also, I made sure to sit up straight; after all, feeling comfortable when I type my blog entries has a lot to do with paying attention to good posture.

After looking at the monitor for a while, I closed my eyes to rest them for a few minutes and thought about the good fortune of living in modern times. I felt grateful for the technology that allows me to share my writing so easily with friends across the world, while visiting other blogs and gaining insight into many diverse perspectives. I appreciated how wonderful it is to have a blog where I can enjoy social visits, get my thoughts better organized, improve both my writing skills and my understanding of life in general, and just have some good creative fun!

Not being perfect, I did notice the occasional self-doubting thought creeping into my head when I got closer to the end of this post, along the lines of whether I’d be able to get it all finished today or whether I might be running out of steam. But then I told myself that it really didn’t matter what day I got finished—the point of this exercise was simply to feel good about my writing, and that shouldn’t have anything to do with the day when a particular entry might happen to get posted.

I believe it’s fair to say that I accomplished what I set out to do—that is, collecting my good feelings about blogging in this entry to demonstrate (mainly to myself) that these good feelings have plenty of weight and complexity. Whatever worries I might have about finishing my entries promptly and staying on a regular posting schedule are insignificant by comparison. I’m pretty sure that my readers are not overly critical on the subject, nor are they likely to be.

Even though it may sometimes seem as if negative feelings are more powerful and complex than good feelings, that’s not necessarily true. It all comes down to the question of where we choose to focus our thoughts in the here and now.

Although my inner child may be impatient and clueless at times, it’s my inner 30-year-old who has the most need for caring and encouragement from her future self.

Just getting her to sit down at the table with a cup of tea required some coaxing, as with a skittish animal. Truth be told, she didn’t even have any tea in the house, as she had been staying home with small children for the past few years and had nearly forgotten how to take time for herself. So I brought along some calming honey-chamomile tea during my imaginary visit, along with a big copper teakettle for the soothing old-fashioned ambience.

When the teakettle started whistling, she turned a rather alarmed glance toward the kitchen from where she was nervously pacing in the hall, perhaps worrying that the noise might wake the baby. But all was quiet when I took the kettle off the stove; and eventually, when I had brewed the tea and set two cups on the table, she felt safe enough to sit down across from me and take a small sip.

Just outside the dining room window there was a lovely mature blue spruce. I couldn’t find any pictures of it, though. My 30-year-old self was too frazzled to give much thought to taking photos, and the primitive technology made it harder—no digital cameras or smartphones. Anyway, it was a beautiful tree, and I opened the window to let in the scents and sounds of nature.
 

Mature blue spruce in daylight.

(Creative Commons image via flickr)
 

The younger face across the table still looked anxious, even after we sat down to tea. She was always finding something to worry about—if it wasn’t the children, it was fear of being judged for not having a job, and how hard getting into the job market would be after several years at home. An afternoon tea break wasn’t nearly enough time to address all of her issues, but I could leave her a few thoughts to ponder.

“It’s a them problem,” I declared, firmly setting down my teacup for emphasis.

She gave me a puzzled look; evidently she hadn’t yet heard that expression, and wouldn’t have known what to make of it anyway. Ignoring criticism never had been her strong suit. She tended to take it much too seriously, brooding over random remarks long after everyone else had totally forgotten what was said.

“When other people give you negative stuff,” I explained, “you don’t have to keep it. Just send it back to them with love and light.”

A bright flash of wings rose from the spruce branches as a small bird took flight. My younger self breathed deeply, holding the teacup between her hands to absorb its warmth. I thought I saw the tension in her face relax a little; but I also knew that this lesson would take many years to understand.

As described in my post on January 1st, my New Year’s resolution for 2015 was to say “Yay!” to my new red toaster every morning, so that I would start each day with a smile (and perhaps a giggle) while better appreciating the fun and silliness in ordinary life.
 

New red toaster with display screen. 

I haven’t always kept that resolution as intended, though. On those mornings when I don’t feel awake enough to do much more than stumble into the kitchen to get some coffee, remembering it might take me a few hours. So I’ve modified the resolution a bit. Now, if I don’t remember to say “Yay!” to the toaster in the morning, I just say it to whatever other cheerful objects I notice later. So far, I’ve said it to the dark and breezy air just before a thunderstorm blows in; to the glint of sparkling waves on the river at midday; and to the cool shade of my willow hedge.

I’ve even said “Yay!” to the roll of toilet paper in my bathroom, which seems a very appropriate subject for gratitude because, after all, life with modern sanitation is much better than where we’d be without it!
 

Roll of toilet paper on a shiny brass holder. 

So, even though my “Yay for the Day” resolution didn’t turn out exactly as I had in mind, just being flexible about it made my days more fun anyway! And I would say that’s true of most things in life. Rather than worrying about failure when something doesn’t go as planned, it’s best to look at it as an opportunity for lots of other interesting stuff to show up!

When we talk about owning our lives, often it’s in the context of taking responsibility for our hard choices and our mistakes. We own our problems; we own up to things. That’s what we should do, of course; but perhaps out of modesty, we tend not to claim as much ownership of our successes and our joyful moments. And I’m wondering if that reluctance to own our good fortune might skew our perspective toward seeing life as made up largely of hard choices.

That’s not to say we ought to brag at great length about our successes, but a little more balance would be helpful. Even our common word choices such as “good fortune” suggest that when things go well in our lives, it is all just luck, and we had very little to do with how it turned out. When we make gratitude lists or otherwise remind ourselves to appreciate our blessings, it’s all about passively receiving gifts, rather than asserting ownership. God made the sunshine, we didn’t. Well, okay, fair enough—but what about our choice to enjoy the sunshine rather than complain it’s too hot? Don’t we own that?

Because we filter all of our experiences through the stories we tell ourselves to explain them, we do in fact own everything that happens in our lives, even the stuff that seems completely random at the time. We choose what part each person and event plays, how significant they are to the plot, and how much emotional weight we give them.

Often we don’t consciously realize that we have so much control over our internal narratives because they are drawn, in large part, from the common stories of our culture. Unless we actively cultivate the habit of considering how we frame our experiences in our minds, we may not even realize that other perspectives are open to us, and then we never reach the point of choosing one story over another.

It’s not always easy to reframe past experiences in more positive terms, especially when many years have gone by and we’ve put large amounts of mental energy into those old familiar complaints, such that our thoughts automatically slide along them like wheels on a well-greased track. But there are always multiple ways of looking at every situation, and taking responsibility for owning our lives means taking the time to consider and wisely choose among our options.

June 6, 2015 · Write a comment · Categories: Musings · Tags:

Unlike most sports, rowing is done facing backwards. Although larger boats have a coxswain whose job it is to look ahead and steer, people who row smaller boats just have to turn and look every once in a while. Turning to see what is in front of the boat reduces a rower’s speed; so it’s best just to take occasional quick glances, while being careful to stay on a good course and not run into obstacles.
 

People in small boats rowing on a river. 

There’s also the current to consider—when rowing upstream, struggling against the current can slow down the boat quite a lot, so staying closer to shore where the current is not as strong may be the best option. But when the water level is low and the current is sluggish, it may be quicker to row in a more direct line up the middle of the river.

Experienced rowers who are familiar with the river can manage all of this with no trouble; but it’s much harder on a new course, and for those who are just learning. Sometimes I’ve thought that life feels like rowing upstream in an unfamiliar place. Although too much worry about possible obstacles ahead slows us down, we can’t spend all our time looking at what is behind us, either.

We may stop and explore a small side channel for a while, but then it becomes too narrow, and we have to turn around and continue up the river. All those small channels fall away behind us, lost in the trees, the memories forever in the past. Whatever emotions they hold are free to float away down the channel, to be filtered and purified in the wetlands and eventually flow into the sea. Only the lessons learned from those experiences remain, as guidance in finding the best course going forward.

May 8, 2015 · 6 comments · Categories: Musings · Tags: ,

I recently bought Louise Hay’s book Loving Yourself to Great Health after reading a review on Awaken & Begin. It’s about the interrelationship between our thoughts and what we eat. Not only do we feel better when we eat healthier foods—our bodies also make more efficient use of the nutrients when we feel better about ourselves and thus continue to become healthier, in an ever-improving cycle.

One point that resonated for me was the relationship between gut health and feeling safe. Gut feelings are more than just a metaphor; the brain and gut really do communicate with each other. When we’re overly stressed, we feel it in the gut, and it’s likely to result in digestive issues such as constipation. Conversely, a gut feeling of being safe improves both mood and digestion. The book suggests affirmations and gratitude lists, as well as more nutritious foods, to feel better and become healthier. I decided to be more specific about listing reasons why I am safe, such as:

– I am safe because I have a loving family who will always help me.
– I am safe because I live in a well-built, comfortable home.
– I am safe because I have a low-stress job that provides for my needs.

I hadn’t really thought about it before I read the book, but there is a big difference between appreciating one’s blessings and feeling safe. The first doesn’t necessarily lead to the second; so although gratitude lists can bring about an improved outlook on life generally, they might not be enough to banish old fears.

For the past week I have been reminding myself every day that I am safe, and setting forth some reasons why that is true. I have in fact noticed some improvement in my digestion, in addition to feeling calmer. So, although reasonable minds can differ as to the particulars of the nutritional advice in this (or any other) book, I’d say it was well worth reading.

April 22, 2015 · Write a comment · Categories: Musings · Tags:

In olden times, when an invading army was defeated and the war came to an end, the victorious defending soldiers would be paid whatever wages were due to them and sent home to tend to their families and fields. What if we did the same with our defensive emotions when our lives became more peaceful—honoring their service, while recognizing that it’s not in our best interest to keep them as a standing army? An imaginary mustering-out ceremony might go something like this:

Anger, step forward. Today we honor your valiant service. You charged courageously into battle, attacking wrongdoers and righting injustice. You kept your fellow soldiers motivated to go on fighting until victory was won. Here are your wages and a medal honoring your many brave deeds. May you find success in turning that impetuous energy toward a new career. How about the theater? It would suit your dramatics quite well.

Fear, thank you for your service as a vigilant scout, searching the countryside for dangers and quickly alerting the troops. Without your hard work, there surely would have been more mishaps and ambushes. Here is the money you’re owed—no doubt you’ll manage it just as carefully! Enjoy the pleasant, sunny days of peacetime on the farm, and try to relax if you can!

Bitterness, now it’s your turn. For many years, you honed your talents as a masterful propagandist. You made sure everyone knew the sordid details of the enemy’s evil schemes—and if they got exaggerated beyond recognition, well, that was all in a day’s work. Surely you’ll find great success in the advertising industry! Here are your wages, along with a commendation for having been so zealous.

Doubt, you were a fine quartermaster. Nobody got away with stealing the army’s supplies while you were on the job! You’ll certainly have many commercial firms eager to hire you. Here’s your bag of gold coins. Please try to wait until you step off the stage before you count them!

Judgment, your efforts are much valued. With diligent attention to detail, you kept us informed of all the ways we were better, smarter, and more capable than the enemy. You gave us certainty that we were always in the right—and that even if we weren’t, it was someone else’s fault. Word has it that you plan to start a new career in politics. Good luck to you, and here’s your well-earned pay!

As all of you receive your honorable discharge today, please know that your service to God and country is greatly appreciated—and as the times become more peaceful, may we find peace in our hearts as well.

Today’s world is far busier than at any time in the past. Everywhere we look, we’re faced with many choices to make and complicated details to track and organize. It’s no wonder that so many people lead lives of constant stress, always worrying that there’s too much going on and no good ways to keep up with it all. Making wrong choices, losing track of things, and not getting enough done seem inevitable.

Of course, anxiety only makes everything worse; but if we don’t feel in control of our daily lives, then how can we get those worries to go away? And until the worries go away, how can we feel more confident? Many of us struggle with this dilemma. It can be especially challenging for people with disabilities, whose needs are by definition (under the social model of disability) not adequately supported in present-day society.

Autism, in particular, often is associated with anxiety. Definitions of autism generally mention self-calming repetitive behaviors. Many people view such behaviors not as an intrinsic part of their autism, however, but as symptoms of anxiety caused by living in a world that can feel overwhelming and extremely difficult to navigate, with information often coming too fast to process.

I believe that it’s helpful for any of us, whether or not we have a disability, to keep in mind that we do have the power to change our personal environment. Even though we can’t control much of what happens in the world, we can create peaceful, nurturing homes and workspaces that lovingly support us as we go through our days. We can awaken our power by making small positive changes to our routines and surroundings, which reinforce and build on each other as time passes.

When I feel stressed about something I’m trying to do, I stop and ask myself: Does this need to be done now, or at all? Are there more comfortable ways to do it? Should I ask for help instead of trying to do it myself? Sometimes anxiety makes us forget that we have other options; but in reality, there are almost always better alternatives, if we take enough time to discover them. Rather than letting ourselves get overwhelmed, we can step back from the situation for a moment and consider ways to simplify it.
 

April is Autism Acceptance Month. Visit autismacceptancemonth.com for more information.

Everyone makes mistakes. Usually they are harmless and teach us useful lessons. We all know that—but even so, we still can’t quite manage to leave our old mistakes in the past. Random memories of things that we did wrong many years ago, and that everyone else in the world has totally forgotten, just pop into our heads for no reason and leave us feeling bad.

When we look at those old mistakes more closely, often it turns out they’re just silly. For instance, when I was a kid, a security guard at a supermarket told me to get out because I’d been standing around the comic book rack for an hour reading werewolf comics, without buying any of them. Well, okay, the security guard was right that it wasn’t a library; and buying a donut from the bakery counter, which gave me sticky fingers while reading the comics, didn’t put me on the best-customer list either. Still, there’s certainly no reason why stuff like that should bother me 40 years later—much better just to remember how yummy the donut was!
 

Donut with multicolored sprinkles.

(Creative Commons image via flickr)
 

Instead of feeling like we’re criminals because of unimportant past mistakes, we need to take them more lightly and forgive ourselves for them, just as we would forgive anyone else who had made a trivial blunder. Even with real crimes, after a certain number of years the limitations period expires and the crime can’t be prosecuted. There are good policy reasons for this—physical evidence decays or is lost, people’s memories get fuzzy, and it’s not at all clear what really happened.

So I suggest that when memories of old mistakes start bothering us, we should apply to the Court of Conscience for a statute-of-limitations dismissal of the charges—complete with a formal order, as below:

DISMISSAL ORDER
IN THE COURT OF CONSCIENCE

WHEREAS, the Defendant stands before this Court charged with Making Mistakes while Being Human; and whereas, this Court finds that all of the facts alleged in the Prosecutor’s Complaint are outside the statute of limitations; NOW, THEREFORE, this Court ORDERS that the charges be, and hereby are, DISMISSED, and that the Defendant shall go free.

Signed, Judge of the Court of Conscience
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