My younger daughter is attending Girl Scout camp. She’s participating in lots of traditional camp activities like first aid and rock climbing and archery. They’ve made God’s Eyes (those yarn wrapped popsicle sticks that provided days of fun when I was a kid too), and duct tape pouches and they’ve tie-dyed shirts. They’ve sung many, many silly songs and chant-alouds (those not-quite-songs that children echo after a camp counselor) and memorized the hand motions that accompany them; songs that get stuck in their heads so they sing them not only at camp, but at home too, over and over again. (more…)
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I was out in the garden early. The heat around here is already oppressive and I wanted to get some work done before I melted. My garden and I have a tenuous relationship at best. Each year I promise it I will be better; I’ll visit every day, take care of its basic needs and help it thrive.
The past few years I’ve been inconsistent at best. I mean well, I really do because the thought of a flourishing garden excites me. And I seem to have a hard time remembering to get down there on a daily basis. I remember early in the day and usually plan to go out in the evening as things are winding down. Then my day barges forward until I am drifting off to sleep and think, “Oh yeah, I was supposed to water today.”
This year, I am trying to be more present for my garden – and more present for myself in the process. If you are anything like me, and I bet you are, you have approximately 43,000 things going through your brain at the same time. Most of them probably have to do with the future, whether that future is three hours or three years into the future, or rehashing actions that occurred in the past. Very little probably has to do with this. very. moment.
I call it active meditation. When I was pulling weeds, I was trying to just pull weeds. When I started rehashing past events or making future plans, I brought myself back to the weeds. When I was picking strawberries, I tried to focus on the act of picking. I noticed, for the first time ever, the little “pop” sound that happens when I pull the berry from the stem. I mixed compost into the soil and studied the rich color of the new earth as it joined the old. I breathed, I enjoyed the stillness. Each time I realized I was someplace else other than my garden (which happened a lot), I brought myself back to the garden.
There’s a phrase a dear friend once introduced to me that I try to remember in these types of moments:
“Let your soul and mind be where your body is.”
My body was in the garden, I brought my soul and mind back there repeatedly. It’s going to take A LOT of practice for my soul and mind to stay there, they’d much rather wander off someplace to examine some fuzzy piece of the future and chew on it for hours like a dog with a rubber toy. But if I live up to my intentions, we’ll all be in that garden a lot this summer and can practice and practice and practice.
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It’s a sign! Is it a sign? What if it’s a sign?
Creative people find meaning in unexpected places. We look at situations, interactions and objects and pull ideas from them. We infuse them with symbolism and metaphor and we find ways to express exactly what we want to say. We write novels, make jewelry and pottery and come up with a new way to market a product that’s been around for 30 years.
We also create drama, invent worst-case scenarios and look at the seemingly mundane to find a sign that we decide to chart a course by. We receive flowers that die two days later and we are convinced it’s a sign that the relationship is over. We read diagnoses on WebMD and when we get to the line “or there may be no symptoms at all” and are convinced it’s a sign that we have this particular killer disease and have hours to live. One of our friends meets with great success in a similar endeavor we pursue and know it means it’s time for us to give up.
Except that it’s not a sign.
Don’t get me wrong- I believe in serendipity. I believe in convergence and the Universe conspiring in my favor. I also believe in the phrase, “I have a bad feeling about this.”
It can be hard to differentiate between laying meaning on top of something and experiencing something meaningful. I find the most useful tool for telling the difference is tapping into my intuition. First I focus on my breathing; I calm myself down and still the noise racing around in my head. If and only if I can achieve this do I look at the situation again. If I can’t, I come back to it later when I can. Intuition does not respond well to chaos and noise. Then I think about the situation and I ask myself, “Does this feel true? Is there anything else to support my reaction?” Intuition lies in your body- different people feel it different places. I know what my intuition feels like so in the silence, I wait for the response. It always comes. If I still believe I have experienced something I should pay attention to, then I make a plan accordingly. If my intuition tells me I’m making a good deal of something out of nothing, I find a new way to look at the situation; one that sits well inside me.
In my High School AP English class, we worked hard one week on a difficult timed essay dissecting a poem about a sow and her piglets. Theories abounded about the symbolism of the sow- she was the author as mother, she represented Mother Earth, she represented all that was wrong with society. When the papers were handed back, our teacher sighed and announced that we were all clearly stressed out – we were creating symbolism where there was none. We were over-thinking and making too much out of the whole exercise. She sat on the front of her desk and said simply, “Sometimes a pig is just a pig.” She then changed her lesson plan so that the rest of the week we spent our time reading Louis L’Amour novels to give our over-stretched creative minds a break. Louis L’Amour wrote 89 novels and they all went like this: the good guy wore white, the bad guy wore black and in the end, the good guy rode off with the girl into the sunset. No symbolism, no hidden meaning.
Sometimes a pig is just a pig. And that’s okay. There doesn’t have to be meaning in the events that surround us. Sometimes, we are just meant to live in the moment and move forward to the next one. Find your moments today and just live.
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Let me tell you a true story:
Last night, my husband fell asleep before I went to bed. I was in another part of the house at the time. When I was finally tired, I went into our bedroom and realized not only was he not sleeping in there, but the bed was stripped down to the mattress. He had pulled all the sheets, blankets and pillows off during the day – we finally had something approximating spring-like weather and he loves to air out the linens on the back deck when the weather is nice.
It was late, I was tired and I was facing an unmade bed. Needless to say, I was not feeling as loving toward him as I possibly could at that moment.
So, I put my slippers back on and trudged out into the cold night to retrieve the linens. As I picked up the last of the pile, I stopped and looked at the field behind my house. The view took my breath away. The moon was bright and reflecting off the snow in the field, the trees were silhouetted shadows and all was calm.
It was gorgeous.
One of my favorite poems came to mind, written by a Japanese poet named Hokushi:
I hung the moon
branches of the pine.
There I stood, piled high with blankets and pillows, just breathing into the space of that night, thinking how lucky and blessed I truly was to be there in that moment. And all because my husband fell asleep early.
As songwriter Ken Block says, “It’s not your life, it’s how you look at your life.”
How are you looking at your life today?
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- Wake up five minutes early every day and spend those minutes breathing.
- Give yourself permission to not send holiday cards this year.
- Don’t cook anything from a recipe that is unfamiliar or untested.
- Bake cookies just for you.
- Take a sick day from work to sit in front of the fire, read, nap and relax.
- Read “The Hundred Dollar Holiday” by Bill McKibben.
- Start a new tradition with your family that doesn’t cost any money.
- Feed the birds, the deer or the stray cat in the neighborhood.
- Bundle up and stand outside after dark, breathe the cool night air and stargaze.
- Say no to any holiday party that requires pantyhose or serious ties.
- Buy a couple of full-price toys or clothes and donate them to Toys for Tots or the Salvation Army. Think about the joy you’ve brought a child and peace of mind you gave a struggling mom or dad.
- Stay away from the mall. Seriously. Stay away from the mall.
- Don’t shop on Saturday or Sunday.
- Shop locally and chat with the merchant.
- Buy a stash of your favorite warm beverage and take ten minutes a day to truly savor a mug of it.
- Blanket yourself in silence and do nothing at least once a day.
- Remember, it doesn’t have to be perfect.
- No, really, it doesn’t have to be perfect.
- Play with glitter and glue.
- Take a child to see a neighborhood full of lights.
- Make a deal with one close friend that you will exchange a silly, inexpensive gift that will remind you not to take the season too seriously.
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