When I first heard about “Forest Bathing,” I had a mental image of a claw-footed tub situated among moss covered stones and babbling brooks. Was it part of some sort of elegant outdoor spa?
Forest bathing, or Shinrin-Yoku, began in Japan in the 1980s when the government chose to acknowledge its population’s stress epidemic. What could be done? How could they provide the entire country with a solution to work-related anxiety?
The Japanese government commissioned its scientists to dig deep (pun intended) into studies relating to the health benefits of spending time in nature. After all, Japan boasts a lot of incredible – and incredibly varied – parks and outdoor spaces.
What scientists discovered, and what is consistently confirmed by subsequent studies, is that time in nature is actually very beneficial to the human physiology, and the human psyche. Inside and out, spending up to 2 hours of uninterrupted time in direct contact with nature can lower blood pressure, calm anxiety, encourage deeper sleep at night, and help balance many of the body’s natural rhythms.
Shinrin-Yoku can be translated “taking in the atmosphere of the forest” or “bathing in the atmosphere of the forest” – hence, the term Forest bathing!
I had the opportunity to participate in a Forest Bathing experience, led by a certified guide, while Sam and I vacationed near Burlington, Vermont, last week (US training for sanctioned Forest Bathing guide certification began in the early 2010’s). The guide, Duncan Murdoch, led us on an incredibly revitalizing session across Shelburne Farms.
Two hours of various exercises (or “invitations”) giving us permission to directly encounter and interact with nature using all of our senses – exploring what we saw, what we heard, even what we could touch! I was much reminded of my own instinctive meditation training.
Everywhere I turned, I felt like I was reconnecting to the wonder and marvel that I experienced as a child playing in my own backyard. One of the culminating moments of the experience found me crawling through the grass on my hands and knees, all the way up a hill where we watched the sun set across Lake Champlain, over the Adirondack Mountains. It was heavenly.
When’s the last time you took time to pause in nature and look around you?
Have you noticed how many different colors you see?
Have you stopped to watch all the movement we often overlook – the busy birds and insects, the wind in each branch or blade of grass?
Have you listened to the sounds of nature, or to your own footsteps outside in the grass or even on the pavement?
When’s the last time you put your ear to a tree and heard the creaking of its upper branches swaying in the wind?
A full two hours of uninterrupted time in nature is said to give you an entire month’s worth of benefits. Try getting outside and finding a “sit spot” (a place to sit and witness nature) the next time you’re able, and just bear witness!
April in New York, magnolias in blossom,Picnics beneath flowering cherry trees,...April in New York, who can I run to?
What have you done to my heart?
When my husband and I moved to New York City back in 2014, it was the middle of November. Looking back, I don’t think I’d ever visited Manhattan during the warm months of the year. I’d never experienced Spring or Summer in the Big Apple.
A good friend of mine who lived here at the time told us, “Just wait. In Spring, you’ll truly fall in love with the city.”
She wasn’t kidding. And she was 100% correct.
I’m sure I’ve pointed out in previous posts just how green the city is. We learned once during a presentation with NYC Cares that the amount of green space throughout the five boroughs was enough to fill the entire area of Manhattan at least twice over! And among all that green space are a lot of flowering plants and trees. And I do mean a lot.
Pictured, from top to bottom, left to right: dogwood, daffodil, weeping cherry (pink), cherry and tulip, weeping cherry (white), forsythia, magnolia, cherry, and a hill of tulips!
We recently passed the year mark for the pandemic (and the “shelter-in-place” mandate of mid-March, 2020) and since that time last year, we’ve been taking a 3-mile walk every morning through at least two of the green spaces near our home, including Morningside Park, where most of the above pictures were taken. So, we’re now seeing our second Spring season on these walks, and every day, getting to see the flowers slowly opening, or fully blossoming, and the leaves following suit, is truly a meditative experience.
In addition to the gorgeous spaces we encounter daily, nearby, there are at least 4 distinct gardens throughout the five boroughs known as “botanical gardens,” (plus a “conservatory garden” in Central Park) that are dedicated to the beauty of nature and plants. And just last weekend, we got to visit the biggest one – the New York Botanical Garden.
And every so often the NYBG brings in an artist whose work is spread out not only inside the conservatories, but outside around the grounds as well, and this year, that artist is Yayoi Kusama.
According to its site, the NYBG is the largest botanical garden in any U.S. city – over 250 acres – and it’s situated in Bronx Park, an idyllic spot chosen in the late 1800s by eminent botanists, Nathaniel Lord & Elizabeth Britton, after visiting the gardens of Kew, London. Now a National Historic Landmark, it boasts over 1 million plants, including an enormous Victorian-style glass conservatory, an award-winning rose garden, over 50 acres of forest, as well as areas dedicated to magnolias, cherry trees, daffodils, maples, conifers, herbs and other edible plants, and so much more. It also has a very robust education side, as well, including adult education classes, workshops for children, an edible academy, and even a professional school of horticulture!
Currently, during the COVID-19 pandemic, you must register tickets in advance, even for grounds-only access. The Kusama exhibits are extremely popular, so you’ll have to plan months in advance if you want to have access to the Conservatory or other indoor exhibits. But there’s plenty on the grounds to enjoy!
Everywhere we turn, it seems, there are flowers, flowering trees, and plants just bursting with beautiful activity. Last weekend and this weekend a hidden garden on West 89th street, the Westside Community Garden, is hosting a Tulip Festival to celebrate its Spring blooms. Two blocks from where we live, on the campus of City College (past a striking magnolia), is a young peach tree that has just exploded with flowers. The 19th century catholic church down the block is flocked by Japanese Flowering Cherries, much like those lining the College Walk on Columbia University’s Morningside campus (see below). Tomorrow we plan to bike to Central Park and walk through the conservatory garden and hope to see the crabapples in bloom.
I hope you have time and the space to take in some of nature’s wonders, this season (and every season). May the blossoming of flowers and the growth of new life parallel the blossoming of new adventures and opportunities for you.
And with that, here are even more pictures from our NYBG excursion. Most of them are from the perennial garden in front of the Conservatory, but you’ll notice the grove of magnolias from an area of the gardens dedicated to them (what you see is only a fraction!) and then another Kusama exhibit in the pond at the center of the Native Plant collection. Incidentally, the main photo of my blog is of the Native Plant collection, in the Fall! The Kusama piece, pictured here, is made up of dozens of free floating mirrored orbs that move with the water, bumping and squeaking against one another. It’s titled “Narcissus Garden,” and was first created and shown in 1966. I took a short video of the movement of the orbs, but unfortunately it didn’t turn out well!
Don’t forget to plan your own NYBG visit, here. And if you don’t live in the city and want to plan a future trip, here, consider visiting during the Spring season. You’ll fall even more in love with the city, if you do. My friend and I are in complete agreement about that.
How do you celebrate the anniversary of sheltering-in-place?
What moments stand out in your memory when you think back to a year ago, when cities – even whole states – suddenly shut down?
For us, it began the 12th of March. I remember standing in the kitchen, not feeling well, expressing my doubts about whether or not I was feeling up for seeing the show for which we had got discounted tickets that evening. It wasTheInheritance, part 1 (we had tickets to part 2 on Saturday). My husband texted me back – “No theatre tonight.” I replied, well, I wasn’t sure, but I wanted to wait to make a decision in case I started to feel better.
But I had tickets for us to see both parts of The Inheritance, as well as excellent mezzanine tickets to Six, which was to be opening that night (we planned to see it the following Tuesday). And suddenly, those plans were gone.
I had yoga teacher training sessions that weekend, and we all discussed what would happen if the studio had to shut down. “It will only be a few weeks.” “It’s just like the flu – we shouldn’t worry.” What did we know?
It was the last time I’d use public transportation for almost a year. I started working from home the middle of that week – it was a slow period for my job in events for an education non-profit (little did I know just how slow it would be) – but we didn’t expect that we’d be told to continue working from home, or how long it would take.
It would be months before I went back to my office to get anything I left behind.
But, that first week, before the shut-down mandate, two things happened.
Firstly, my husband celebrated his 39th birthday, and our plans to gather with friends were cancelled as we began to grapple with the reality of what might be happening to our city.
This week, both of those things come full circle, and I get to step back and consider where I am – where we are – in this moment in time.
I remember writing “Happy Birthday, Sam!!!” on the blackboard wall we painted in our kitchen. I was so excited for everything we’d planned – for his birthday, then, and for the rest of the year. Travel, celebrations, performances, family.
I left those words on the wall of our kitchen for an entire year. At first, I did it because I was sure the celebration was just on pause, and we’d be gathering with friends and picking up where we left off, soon enough.
But soon, it was clear that we wouldn’t be “in the clear” for months, at least. So I left it as a reminder for us to look forward to coming through to the other side of the pandemic. There would be things to look forward to!
But also, I left it there to remind me of what I had, and what I was lucky and privileged to have. Someone with whom to share this experience.
This is an image I shared soon after the decision to shut down NYC – I saw a lot of panic and frustration and anxiety… and probably felt all of those things, too, myself. I scribbled it quickly on a sheet in my journal and took a picture. And then, on the 20th of March, I put out a guided meditation… a meditation that I would end up sharing now every Friday evening as part of a regular guided meditation session I’ve been leading since this past December. (The Loving-Kindness meditation, which I wrote about here!)
There have been ups and downs, but this Friday I get to lead that same meditation again, and yesterday we celebrated my husband’s 40th birthday – family members calling in on our new Alexa devices – and I gave him a damp rag and let him wipe the blackboard clean.
Time to look forward to what’s next. Spring, and the Equinox, are arriving at such a perfect time.
Ring out, bells of Norwich, and let the winter come and go
All shell be well again, I know.
Love, like the yellow daffodil, is coming through the snow.
Love, like the yellow daffodil, is Lord of all I know.
~ "Julian of Norwich," a song by Sydney Carter (based on the writings of Julian Norwich)
One of the benefits of working from home during the pandemic is that my husband and I now take walks every day, instead of scrambling to get on a crowded subway – and we get to engage with the natural world much more intimately. I’m grateful to have been able now to have witnessed all four seasons, up close.
And as we walked through Morningside Park earlier this week, my husband pointed out the green tips of the park’s army of daffodils starting to push through the surface of the earth – a signal that the world is waking up from its cold slumber.
And then, just as we left the park, I happened to glance through the iron fence, and saw this marvel:
“It’s confused,” my husband said. We laughed, but still we were still in awe. After all, this was the very first Spring flower we had seen, appearing naturally in the cold earth. I’m sure its blossoms didn’t survive the winter mix we had the very next day, or would survive the snow we’re supposed to get later this weekend. But still… it was a sign!
If you’re not familiar with the pagan/Celtic calendar, next Monday, the 1st of February, is celebrated as Imbolc, one of the cross-quarter days that exist between the solstices and equinoxes (it’s also celebrated as Brigid’s Day, St. Brigit’s Day, and Candelmas).
Imbolc lies halfway between the Winter Solstice behind us and the Spring Equinox before us. Imbolc, from a word which could mean anything from “ewe’s milk,” to “in the belly” (referencing pregnancy in animals) to “ritual cleansing,” is when we celebrate our seeing the natural signs of Spring approaching. Ewes start to give milk, reassuring farmers with another supply of food after a long winter, and signaling the start of the reproductive cycle of nature. It’s the perfect time to get a jump on Spring Cleaning!
And, what else happens around this time? The very first Spring Flowers begin to appear.
This little daffodil, this brave, mighty symbol of the slow approach of warmer weather, reminded me of the sacred connection many have with another beautiful flower that blooms in what we’d argue are less-than-ideal circumstances.
For anyone who may frequent, or even occasionally visit, yoga studios, you might be familiar with the story of the lotus flower. Lotuses are everywhere in Yoga and Buddhist imagery, and feature in lots of meditations, mudras, and even chakra imagery.
What’s so special about the lotus? Check out this Zen proverb:
“May we exist like the lotus, At home in muddy water. Thus, we bow to life as it is.”
Zen Proverb – Source Unknown
You see, the lotus seed roots itself in the mud and scum of the river bottom, or the bottoms of ponds or flood-plains, rising up through the murky water to blossom above the water, in the open air. These beautiful, full, multi-petaled flowers are in contrast to the dark and unpleasant conditions that might exist beneath the surface. Thus, to be “like the lotus” is to allow ourselves to grow through the murkiness of our own lives and blossom in spite of the mud, in spite of the supposed darkness.
How is the daffodil like the lotus?
Like the lotus, the daffodil is struggling up through ground that symbolically appears almost inhospitable – the dark, murkiness of the pond, and the cold, hard Winter ground.
Like the lotus, the daffodil symbolizes the ongoing cycle of nature, regardless of the circumstances. Both the lotus and the daffodil “bow to life as it is,” and blossom, anyway. Even, like the daffodil, when there is the threat of weather that might destroy that blossom.
Like the lotus, the daffodil shows us what is to come. We don’t see the lotus growing in the muck until we see the flower appear above the water. We don’t see the work of the daffodil growing in the Winter ground until it starts to grow and bloom above the surface.
So, going into the next few weeks of winter, keep your eye out for those first flowers of Spring as they appear in the ground. I encourage you to take walks and keep looking for them, and celebrate when you find them. In the spirit of Imbolc, instead of seeing only the mud, the “final weeks of Winter,” know that the flowers are doing the work, and it’s only a matter of weeks before we see the hard work turn into the cornucopia of Spring!
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I want to invite you all to a special meditation tomorrow evening (Friday, December 18), in collaboration with Reiki master Autumn Mirassou, of Autumn Reiki.
I’ll be leading the “loving-kindness” (or “metta”) meditation tomorrow at 5:30 PM (EST), and Autumn will be directing Reiki energy to all of us on the call. (Questions about Reiki? See below or leave me a comment and I can connect you with Autumn!)
Many refer to Reiki energy as Universal Life Force Energy, and the practice of Reiki healing is Japanese in origin, first brought to our awareness by Mikao Usui in the 1920s. Healers transmit this life force energy into their clients, most often through the hands – but Reiki operates outside the confines of time and space. In fact, I received Reiki from Autumn virtually during the pandemic, and it was just as thrilling an experience as meeting her in person!
You’ll actually find Reiki healers at many hospitals employed to help induce relaxation and reduce stress, with an end goal of helping to heal the body, mind, or spirit. Studies are continually providing evidence of Reiki’s effects on the human body and psyche.
I hope you’ll consider joining us on this journey, and perhaps joining me for future meditations. I’ll start providing a schedule of them, here!
It began after a weekend meditation module of my 300 hour yoga teacher training recently, at Sonic Yoga, when I was offered the opportunity to lead the class in meditation. I chose one of my favorites, a variation of the Buddhist “Metta” or “Loving-Kindness” meditation, as it had been taught to me by Lauren Hanna.
My teacher, Sarah Ireland, encouraged me to continue this practice, and share this with more people. We agreed it was so important right now.
With people going back to periods of isolation, a time of shutting down and shutting in during a time when most families want to be together – a time when, statistically, people already struggle emotionally – a meditation of compassion would be so important. And I’d shared it before, during a similar time.
When NYC first announced that it would be shutting everything down, back in March… back when people were beginning to be sent home to work remotely, businesses, gyms, restaurants, all were closing, I shared this exact message in a video I sent to YouTube.
The variation I learned starts out like this:
May I be filled with Loving-Kindness.
May I be Well.
May I be Peaceful, and at Ease.
May I be Happy.
"May I enjoy happiness and the root of all happiness."
Repeating this phrase, or these phrases, over and over, you bring that feeling of comfort into your self, showing yourself compassion, wishing yourself well. It’s often a very difficult practice on its own, but it doesn’t stop there.
Once you feel saturated with loving-kindness, it’s time to turn that feeling outward. This outward focus is exactly why I felt the meditation was so useful for these uncertain times. The mantra (as it was taught me) then becomes as follows:
May you be filled with loving-kindness.
May you be well.
May you be peaceful and at ease.
May you be happy.
Pema Chödrön similarly replaces the “I” of the phrase with “you,” or with the name of a specific person… because there’s a process!!
Direct the meditation toward yourself
Direct the meditation toward a loved one
Direct the meditation toward friends and/or acquaintances
Direct the meditation toward strangers, or people to whom you feel indifferent
Direct the meditation toward someone with whom you are in conflict
Direct the meditation to all of the above
Direct the meditation out to “All Beings”
It sounds like a long process, and it can be, especially when often you feel you can’t get past #1. And that’s 100% okay. There is no rule that says you need to feel so full of loving-kindness all the time that you can always send it out to other people. We must take care of ourselves, first and foremost.
Which brings me back to why I feel it is so important for this time.
We need to show this loving-kindness to our Self. I capitalize Self because I equate it with the Soul – the spark of the divine in each of us (spoiler: it’s the same spark… but that’s for another post). We need to be able to show love and comfort to our Self, and allow our Self to be happy.
And then we need to share that message – to practice empathy. To understand how we’re all connected.
I suppose people have seen some of the memes floating around about COVID and the roots of Thanksgiving.
Oddly enough, the tragedy of 2020 has given us a perspective on this holiday that many have not before considered. And I think it’s time we do!
Thanksgiving as a holiday is rife with complications for our relationship with indigenous people. How many know that the first time “Thanksgiving Day” became a recognized holiday (for the Massachusetts colony) in the 1600s, it was to celebrate the previous day’s massacre of indigenous people?
And how many of us consider that what we brought to the indigenous people as “settlers” was not recipes for turkey and stuffing, but guns and smallpox? The COVID parallel is an opportunity, I think, to examine our relationships with thankfulness and responsibility.
“… Great Responsibility”
I’ve long felt that thankfulness, and gratitude, require a large amount of responsibility, especially for those in places of power and privilege.
I’m sure you’ve heard.
“With great power comes great responsibility.”
(If you’re from a certain generation, you probably heard it from Spiderman.)
But I think today we should rewrite it:
“With thankfulness comes great responsibility.”
For example, we’re thankful for our family, and our friends, and so we know we have a responsibility to keep them safe and healthy by not traveling and meeting in large groups… because of COVID.
The Indigenous Solidarity Network, which grew partly out of the group Standing Up for Racial Justice, recently put out a “Rethinking ‘Thanksgiving’ Toolkit” with resources to help us understand the responsibility we have not only to ourselves, but to those on whose land our opportunities were built – something we can’t allow ourselves to forget. They put it very well in the toolkit (which you can access here):
There are many different experiences we will have over Thanksgiving – some of us will have lots of food, some of us will struggle to have enough. Some will be surrounded by people and some will be alone or with just one other person. For many, it’s an important time of coming together with family. This day also gives us a chance to look at and change stories we have about our families and ourselves. Thanksgiving is based on myths that hide and erase the genocide that the United States is founded upon. What would it mean to tell a different story; an honest story?
Being thankful means being mindful – being aware – in this instance, of the truth behind Thanksgiving. Being grateful means acknowledging those who came before who paved the way (or were literally killed) for what we now call our home, our food, our lives… and understanding how to do the work and give back. How to show empathy.
For some, Thanksgiving Day is a Day of Mourning – mourning the loss of their ancestors, and continuing to mourn the loss indigenous people still face, with threats of climate change, with the continuous retaking of land, and other threats to their culture and ways of life. And we have a responsibility to acknowledge that, to be aware of it, and to respect that this celebration originally comes from a dark place. By doing the work, learning our history, and acknowledging the lived experiences of those different from us, our practice of thankfulness becomes a practice of empathy – and that’s how we heal the world, and ourselves.
If you’d like more information about the Indigenous Solidarity Network, the work that still needs to be done, and to stay informed, you can join their listserv, by clicking here.
Starting with Mindfulness
In my last post, I started writing about mindfulness – of being aware of what is going on around you. While that does include the history of the people and traditions around you, it still applies to the here and now.
When I stumbled across a tiny book by Thich Nhat Hanh, Be Free Where You Are, at Full Circle Bookstore, back when I lived in Oklahoma City, I immediately sat down and devoured it in less than an hour… and still bought it. I knew it held wise words, even for being so small. Every year, around Thanksgiving, I go fishing for the section on mindful eating, to read what in the Buddhist tradition are called the 5 Contemplations. I think these are a wonderful way to remind ourselves to be mindful while we eat our Thanksgiving meals – or any meal!
And if you’re not sure where to start in your practice of responsible thankfulness, this is a great place to dive in.
Here they are:
This food is a gift of the whole universe, the Earth, and much hard work. May we eat in such a way as to be worthy to receive it. May we transform our unskillful states of mind and learn to eat in moderation. May we take only food that nourishes us and prevents illness. We accept this food in order to realize the path of understanding and love.
I love being reminded of the “much hard work” that goes into the food I so often take for granted, and to be mindful and aware of what I put into my body.
Since I bought that book, the 5 Contemplations have been updated. In fact, the updated contemplations seem very much to parallel what I wrote earlier, about being mindful of one’s history and one’s place in the world, and goes hand in hand with the indigenous people’s concerns about climate change (concerns that many of us already share, or should).
Take a look at the updated 5 Contemplations, from the blog of Plum Village, which is coincidentally the first Western monastery founded by Thich Nhat Hanh.
Perhaps these contemplations will become a prayer of sorts for you, as they are for me, when you sit and are determined to eat mindfully, while understanding and being mindful of the journey it takes your food to reach you.
This food is a gift of the earth, the sky, numerous living beings, and much hard and loving work. May we eat with mindfulness and gratitude so as to be worthy to receive this food. May we recognize and transform unwholesome mental formations, especially our greed and learn to eat with moderation. May we keep our compassion alive by eating in such a way that reduces the suffering of living beings, stops contributing to climate change, and heals and preserves our precious planet. We accept this food so that we may nurture our brotherhood and sisterhood, build our Sangha, and nourish our ideal of serving all living beings.
“New Contemplations Before Eating” PlumVillage .org,
Happy Thanksgiving, to those who practice it. And may justice and peace be done for those who mourn.
My husband rearranges the apartment furniture every six to nine months. Sometimes, in the past (pre-COVID), if he were working from home a particular day, when I wasn’t, or if I had a yoga class or teacher training one weekend, I might come home to a completely different living room or bedroom set-up. (I often joked that the only place we haven’t moved our bedroom is in the kitchen or the bathroom, and I’m waiting for the day I come home to one of those scenarios).
But why we often do that to our living spaces, or to our lives (our hair, our faces, etc)?
“I got restless”; “I got bored”; “I got tired of seeing it the same way for so long”
That last one… that one hits home to me in many ways.
We recently sat down and watched a movie – typical comedy with a poignant message (no, it wasn’t on Hallmark) where one leading character is being told by their friends to “wake up,” start being honest with themselves and appreciate what they have, and we all see it coming… the tragedy that snaps them “back to reality.”
“Maybe that needed to happen”; “I’ve learned not to take life for granted”; “I’ll treasure what I have from now on”
But as we were watching this play out, I realize that way too often a tragedy is what snaps us back to reality. We can be going along, living our lives, thinking we’re living to our fullest… then a family member dies. Or we lose a furry friend. Or we get sick, or an accident of some magnitude befalls us.
And we suddenly think “Oh, yeah. I need to pay more attention to what I have.”
I don’t want to harp on the old adage of “We never know what we had until we’ve lost it,” although I’m sure that’s mostly true.
I remember the next morning, on our daily walk, telling my husband that I want to make sure that we give our senior dogs more focused attention – I don’t want to feel, when they pass away, that I didn’t spend enough time with them, or took them for granted.
But it’s not all about tragedy. Because I wonder if that sense of wanting to “be aware” of what we have is why we sometimes make changes, too. We feel stuck, we can’t “see” where we are, or don’t feel present or awake in our own lives. So we change something.
Come to think of it, I was feeling stuck about our apartment recently, myself. Not the furniture, just the sense of having a home and making sure I appreciated it. The walls we painted, the beautiful 12-foot pre-war tin ceiling in our living room. And so, I was thinking the exact same way about our apartment lately, and we decided to decorate early for the holidays. And you know what? Suddenly our apartment feels new again. I feel like I can really pay better attention to it – and it feels refreshing!
I’m curious about how we can have that feeling, that alertness, that “being awake” to what we have feeling, without tragedy striking, or without having to make a massive overhaul of our lives – those can be necessary, but shouldn’t be the only way we feel alive!
I think this is what “mindfulness” is all about.
Being mindful is all about being as present as possible – being aware of what you are seeing, what you are hearing, what you are sensing – at all times. Feeling your feet on the ground beneath you. Your eyes as they take in this information (the weight of your glasses on the bridge of your nose and on your ears – if you wear them). The weight of your arms on your lap or on your desk or table – the feel of the mouse under your hand or fingers. The light overhead. The light outside the window. The tree you pass on your daily walk. The warmth of the sun. The warmth of your coffee.
What are you doing right now? How do you feel? Where do you feel expansion when you inhale? Where do you sense your exhale the most? The chest? The belly? The nostrils?
What color are your walls? Your floor? Are you sitting comfortably? If not, where do you feel discomfort? What are you doing today to interact with your home, or to move your body?
Sometimes change is the easiest way to recognize what we’ve had all along. Sometimes it’s negative change… sometimes it’s not. But maybe we can work toward keeping ourselves awake to what we have, and to the present moment, more often. Maybe then, we won’t carry so many regrets with us if tragedy ever does strike.
Have you ever started a project and gotten so overwhelmed you never finished it?
Have you ever had an idea that you thought was fantastic, but turned out in some way to be unsustainable?
Or maybe it just felt unsustainable?
Have you, like so many, had high aspirations for your time “sheltered indoors” during a global pandemic, assuming you’d have more time to “better” yourself – learn a language, a musical instrument, read through that stack of books, or finally write that short story, novel, or collection of poetry?
I assume I’m not alone. But I’ve learned that the first step in no longer kicking myself over what I haven’t accomplished… is to stop kicking myself.
You are where you are. You are in no other place. The only air you are breathing is the air in front of you. Allow yourself to be where you are, without judgment. And breathe.
We’ll get through this – and what you end up taking with you alone will be accomplishment, enough. And every breath can be a celebration.
To me, this means not knowing enough – not knowing the best way to proceed – not knowing how to do things correctly, so that you don’t look or sound or seem like a complete fool.
It might also be the reason I obsessively learned German before visiting Austria for the first time (a little bit different than learning Gaelic for fun before visiting Ireland, ha ha…). I just did not want to look foolish or be caught like a deer in headlights simply because I didn’t know what to do or what to say.
If you don’t know enough German, here’s a word that encapsulates what I’m talking about:
What does it mean?
Literally, it’s closest to saying “Excuse me,” or “Sorry.”
Of course, I found I didn’t need to excuse myself as much as I had expected I would – partly because more people at least understand English than expected (though it’s best not to have the highest of expectations in this regard), and partly because, well, things are always so much easier than expected when you’re in the thick of it… and if they’re not easy, then you at least know that those excruciating bits have an ending point, and you always end up learning something to make your next experience less awful.
Like two nights ago when a cashier’s register broke down and she couldn’t see how much I owed her, and I didn’t know how to tell her the numbers, in German, to help her. So I went back to the apartment where we’re staying and memorized the patterns of German numbers… my husband caught me counting feverishly to one hundred under my breath before getting out of bed the next morning.
… Did I mention the fear of not knowing?
Honestly, the fear of not knowing is the reason it took so long for me to finally write another blog entry, earlier today. I was afraid of not knowing how to start again. Afraid of not knowing what to write about. Surely I’d look foolish if I simply picked up where I left off, right?
But I’ve learned a few things since I last wrote here. Things that helped me shut that voice up – the one that tells me not to bother, since I’m so afraid.
But… there is more to it, right? I mean, those of us who battle depression or anxiety know that it isn’t just as simple as “do it anyway.” And I know Carrie Fisher would probably agree, that this little soundbyte isn’t enough to jump start our minds when they’re frozen in fear.
It’s not as simple as “Just do it.” If it were that simple, we would all have everything we want. There’s something really foundational that has to happen before we can take action, and that is that we must learn to conquer our own feelings.
Wow. This really hits the nail on the head, right? Mel Robbins created the 5 Second Rule for this exact reason – pushing yourself to do something, with a simple action that can actually make it possible.
“When you feel yourself hesitate before doing something that you know you should do, count 5-4-3-2-1-GO and move towards action.“
There is a wealth of information about this rule, which you can find here, but suffice to say this really, truly works! It’s all about acting on the few seconds before an idea turns into inaction, and the physical actual countdown kicks your mind and body into gear!
Today, I left my journal behind before a 2 and a half hour train ride. I thought, “Well, now I can’t write. Sad face.” But then, I remembered my blog, and my fear of picking it back up… and that fear reminded me of Carrie Fisher’s words, and thanks to Mel Robbins, I knew what to do.
And I’ve applied it to my German-speaking experiences, too, here in Austria. I might not know what to say, or whether or not they speak English, but I just take a deep breath and…