Practicing Gratitude in the Midst of Grief

Practicing Gratitude in the Midst of Grief

The simple things are also the most extraordinary things, and only the wise can see them. ~Paulo Coelho

*Jane started coaching with me in 2010 or so.  She came into our coaching relationship as a former heart disease patient, just looking to keep up the healthy habits that she’d put into practice after a cardiac surgery ten years prior.  With a clean bill of health and the okay from her cardiologist to simply visit him annually for a regular check-up, her goals stemmed from the desire to support her husband in eating healthier as he struggled with some of his own health issues.  She embraced gardening, got really creative with whipping up interesting dishes from quinoa and millet, and loved to share her new finds with me in the realm of healthy eating.  She struggled with her goal to get to the gym even though she always felt better after going, and…

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The Other: Crumbs of Despair

The Other: Crumbs of Despair

Part of my day job is calling people to schedule coaching appointments.  Usually  people are polite and respectful, and even sometimes downright kind hearted and pleasant to talk to.  Which is good news, since I’m calling them to put them on my own coaching calendar, so we’ll be talking again.  It’s helpful to start the relationship off on a positive note.

But today I called a gentleman who wasn’t any of those things.  Quite the opposite, really, he was quite mean and disrespectful.  I asked if he wanted to set up a call, and he responded with sentences that tended to start with “you people” and “do you even realize” and so on, punctuated by sarcastic chuckling.  In short, he made it personal and he wanted me to acknowledge that I was in the wrong.  I was the enemy, and he was going to let me know it.  Usually I am good at being able to internalize the fact that everyone is dealing with a plethora of issues that I do not know about and that are quite probably very challenging, resulting in unfriendly behavior; and hey, maybe this man was just having a tough day, or week, or year.  His energy is absolutely the product of our broken culture, and at the end of the day, he needs love, too.  But today when he was essentially scolding me for not being able to meet his expectations, all I could hear was “you aren’t good enough” and “this is why it’s doing me a disservice.”  I felt like the bad child who doesn’t measure up, and I found myself apologizing and trying to hold back tears.  Which is really interesting, as 1. I did nothing “wrong” and 2. I was quite kind, professional and offered what I had to give.  He just didn’t find it acceptable.   When on the call, I knew intellectually that his issues and his anger were not about me at all, but in the moment his energy triggered a response that I couldn’t control.  I had to hang up the phone. Continue reading “The Other: Crumbs of Despair”

Questioning Beauty

Questioning Beauty

Guest post by Melissa Kirby of Wildfire Wellness

Tonight at the health food store where I work, I had a random conversation with a stranger about chocolate (imagine me, imagine that). Her eyes were beautiful, her cheek bones piercing.  She couldn’t have been more than 80lbs.  She physically ran to the store, which meant she was limited with what she could purchase because she had to be able to carry it back home.  Through our conversation, it was evident that she was struggling with a number of things in life, yet she hung on my every inch of chocolate wisdom. She complemented me on my hair and then she said, sighing, “You are so pretty – you make me feel so ugly. Thank you for helping me.  Thank you for listening to me.” Speechless and somewhat shocked by her words, all I could do was give her a hug as we parted ways in gentle tears. I found myself thinking back to looking in the mirror that morning;  I had joked to myself that my…

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Productivity Doesn’t Equal Worth

Productivity Doesn’t Equal Worth

Productivity doesn’t equal worth.  Right?  Deep down, I know this statement it absolutely true.  At the core, each living being on earth is of infinitely more value than can be measured or quantified.  Each person, or creature, or plant, or river is so much more than whatever is accomplished or produced in a lifetime.  Yet we have a hard time accepting this.  We see our land-base as a commodity more often than we see it as a partner in life.  We tend to use water and air and soil for our own gain with little thought beyond what our actions might mean for someone across the world or a child born three generations from now.  Often we mean well and even start to change our ways, but then life gets hard and it’s easier not to.  We slip back into believing that more is better and that getting ahead and making the grade is what’s important.  We start to see high productivity as the ideal and we lose faith in believing that it really isn’t when we are trying to tell the truth and the people who have the power to create change don’t believe.  Or don’t want to.

I say I am trying to be ok with mediocrity.  In another blog post recently, I wrote,

I’ve recognized that if I’m going to stay in my day job and thrive as a human being, mediocrity is my new goal for success.  It’s hard to let old tendencies of wanting to be a top performer or make good grades or always receive glowing reviews go.  But I’ve realized that, at least in my current life and work situation, being a top performer isn’t what matters to living the life that I want to live.

Continue reading “Productivity Doesn’t Equal Worth”

Cultivating Community: St. Croix Valley Food Swap

Cultivating Community: St. Croix Valley Food Swap

Last fall I read an article in Taproot Magazine about the Portland Preservation Society.  The goal of the society is to provide a forum for swapping homemade food — in their case, mostly canned goods.  They meet monthly; usually in people’s homes, in each other’s gardens,  and even sometimes at local businesses to talk food, food preservation, support each other’s efforts in living sustainably and go home with a variety of things that they probably wouldn’t have made themselves.

It made me want to move to Portland and join.

And since I actually like Minnesota winters and have a community and little piece of land that I am extremely grateful to call home, it seemed like the next best thing to moving across the country to swap homemade food was the start a local group.

Enter the St. Croix Valley Food Swap.

The plan in my mind is to gather a loose collective of St. Croix Valley (eastern Minnesota and western Wisconsin along the St. Croix River area) food/sustainable living enthusiasts to meet monthly to swap homemade goods — though participation is certainly open to anyone who wants to join, regardless of geographical area.  So, if you live in Portland and want to travel to Minnesota to swap, you are most welcome. Continue reading “Cultivating Community: St. Croix Valley Food Swap”

Little Bits of Good

Little Bits of Good

January.  A time to take stock of what’s working and what’s not.   Resolving to do better this year.   Worrying that nothing will change. Again. Losing those 30 pounds… for real this time.   Giving up all foods that contain white sugar and flour.  Going gluten free.  Joining the gym.  Taking up yoga. Quitting smoking.  Quitting drinking.  Quitting gambling.  Quitting failing.  January in the western world is full of anticipation and anxiety as we look for a fresh start – as we look for something that will keep us moving into the life that we want.

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How might we take the start of another calendar year to surrender into a version of life that is simply… enough?  What it would be like to be satisfied – really satisfied – with exactly where we are, regardless of what our external life situation might look like? How can we use our everyday actions to illustrate a way of being in the world that promotes joy instead of suffering?  How can we make January about what is, instead of what isn’t?

I wonder how to accept the present – to really, truly accept it and be in it.  I wonder how to discern the direction my life needs to take to best serve my family and the larger collective.   I wonder how to be in the world as one of the privileged, and how to accept that for what it is.  I wonder how best to use the abundance that I have to help others see their own.  I wonder how to use ideas that don’t work as stepping stones toward those that do. Continue reading “Little Bits of Good”

Good Enough

Good Enough

I woke up this morning feeling….off.  Not terrible.  But not good either.  Definitely not good enough to feel positive about the trajectory of the day.  After a weekend of great conversation, meeting new babies, cozy fires and time away from a work computer, a day when work was back on the agenda seemed like a practical joke – the mean kind.

How could it be time to spend another day sitting in front of the computer, making phone calls and asking questions?  And how could the forecast call for above average temperatures – in December?  For someone who enjoys activities that require snow and ice, above average temperatures are not cause for celebration.

I was unsettled, and it seemed like interacting with anything even slightly undesirable would cause me to slip into an all day melancholy.  As I was resigning myself to a day spent tapping a keyboard, I saw the sun through the window and noticed the sparkle of the snow against the skeleton trees of the lake’s shoreline. But the potentially rising temperature and the schedule of my afternoon overshadowed the beauty that I usually see in those things.  I felt myself sinking into a haze of wanting something different.  I felt like someone who is unsatisfied with daily life and someone who dreads the work week.

So I went outside.  Instead of letting myself simmer in that haze of wanting, I put on my ski boots and mentally prepared myself for a slow sloppy loop around the perimeter of the lake through mushy snow.  I wasn’t looking forward to it, but I know enough about health and wellness to understand that getting some fresh air and exercise can boost one’s mood – and enough about motivation to know that you don’t have to feel motivated to do something.  Sometimes you just have to do it.  I went out the backdoor, down the still frosty steps to the snow crusted lake, stepped into my skis and pushed off.

And then I noticed something.

The snow on the lake wasn’t actually mushy.  The glide from the crusty snow that was left on the ice was actually pretty good.  95% better than anticipated.  Worth more than one lap around, even.  Good enough.  I stopped at the midpoint, looked up and realized that all of the trees were blindingly white in their frosty jackets that were made possible by the cold nights and warmer days of the past week.  Stunning enough to make me pause and just look.  Good enough.

It was good enough to snap me out of my melancholy stupor and remind me of all the things that are worth celebrating during the days that I spend here on this earth, despite work computers, endless phone calls and forecasts that aren’t ideal.  There will surely be days in the future when I feel off balance or in want of something different.  But there will also surely be little things – like unexpectedly good enough skiing conditions and the beauty of hoarfrost – that punctuate even the dreariest of days with one more little detail that makes life worth celebrating.

It’s nice to remember why I’ve chosen to live where I do and why I like this time of year as the daylight wanes, even when it’s warmer than I might prefer.  It’s nice to remember that I don’t have to let waking up on the wrong side of the bed and a task list that I’m not looking forward to color my whole day black.  And it’s nice to notice the beauty that pierces the ordinary days just because of making one little choice over another.

Wood Stove

Wood Stove

We put in our wood stove about a year ago, now.   One late September morning, a lanky man and his assistant rambled up to the house bearing silver stove pipes and ladders and left two hours later as we gazed at our newly installed wood stove. We got it from a guy across the river that didn’t need to have it around and was willing to let it go for a reasonable price that included dropping it off in our garage. After living for all of my adult years without wood heat, having a stove in the middle of the living room feels a bit like returning to home soil after a long journey away. I grew up in a house that was heated exclusively by a wood stove, and I didn’t realize how much I’d missed the company of slowly burning logs until I invited them back into my daily life.

And with it has come the task of operating the wood stove – something that Dad always did when I was growing up, and his administrations of which I look back on now wishing I’d paid closer attention. There’s a bit of an art to efficiently using a wood stove, and I admire the commitment my parents had to the labor and routine that is required to make such a lifestyle work.

Such a lifestyle requires chopping and splitting wood, curing the wood properly, storing it in a dry place, making sure there’s enough kindling to get a fire going, hauling the wood from the storage place into the house every day, clearing the ashes… and this is all before you even build a fire. Building the fire requires opening the damper, getting a good small fire burning, and then feeding it larger logs until the temperature and coal bed is hot enough to close the damper again to ensure an efficient use of the fuel. You can adjust the air flow too, for good measure.

As winter progresses and the air takes on more of a chill, I am thankful for the means to heat part of our home with the wood that grows abundantly in the forested land around our house. Heating with wood is, for us, part of building a life that is centered on simplicity – one of the facets that I believe to be important in living in a sustainable and life-giving way. As we move toward heating more with wood and solar power, we use less fossil fuel and take our support from the corporations that feed on our dependence to those things. We aren’t independent of them yet. But every time we make a choice that takes energy from supporting corporations that are based on profit and greed for a few, we put more energy into building a system that is based on truth and abundance for all.

This is not to say that living in a simple way is easy. In some ways, it isn’t even simple. At first glance, it seems simpler to flip on the furnace when the temperature dips, rather than going outside to split wood. It is easier to sit down with a cup of coffee and the morning news, instead of using those first moments of the day to start a fire in the stove. The culture we live in today is built on the promotion of buying convenience. Choosing to do something by hand, or the ‘hard’ way doesn’t make sense through the lens of the American Dream.

So why do it?

Because when we choose to live simply – when we see that we have enough, and usually more than enough – we live more fully and are part of the system that allows others to do the same. When we choose inconvenience over doing things the easy or quick way, we offer our work to the benefit of those who don’t have the luxury of such a choice. When we choose to accept enough, we return home. We remember what it feels like to love without boundaries and to be content with enough.

This post also appeared on enough.

Clean Blue Air

Clean Blue Air

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.

Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.

Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.

Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting–
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

—Mary Oliver

Dream Work   (Atlantic Monthy Press, 1986)

The world offers itself to your imagination. Your place in it is not set in stone – nor is it something to dread or resign yourself to. There are challenges, yes. Despair is real and familiar to all. But the winter still comes each year, as does the spring, summer and fall. Every dew wet apple blossom, every garden plot filled with creeping flowers and weeds, each crimson leaf, each sparkle in a newly white morning – each nuance of creation offers up a sense of place and rhythm. Know that you have a place in that rhythm. Your own – and you are enough.

Living well through small steps.

Living well through small steps.

Do you live well?

It might take a moment to decide how to answer that.  Most of the time, I feel like I do live well.  For me, living well means finding a way to be true to the things that I value most: leading a life of simplicity, being satisfied with enough, embracing the natural world and empowering those whose paths intersect with my own.   It means being able to adapt to the misfortunes and troubles of a human life, living fully in each moment, and holding a sense of joy at my center.   Resiliency, along with a joyful presence, allows me to be fully alive, fully engaged in my every day, and fully able to be the person I am called to be.

Caring for myself, creation and others allows me to live as whole person – mind, body and spirit.  Wellness is multi-dimensional and requires alignment of our mental, emotional, physical and spiritual bodies.  Finding our balance between these areas helps us to live fully: As a joyful, resilient people that can achieve wholeness in the midst of a sometimes broken world.

What is most important to you in regards to your wellbeing?  What might you need to do differently to keep working toward being your best self, full of joyful presence and living well?

The following questions can be helpful in figuring out a plan to move forward toward making optimal wellbeing a reality:

1)      What’s working now in my health and wellbeing?

It can be tempting to go straight to what feels wrong with your lifestyle, or what isn’t working right now.  As you begin thinking about what you might want to do differently, take some time to reflect on and acknowledge what you are doing well already.

2)      What’s my vision for change?  What is making change important?

Identify what is causing you to desire something different in the first place.  It is one thing to say, “I want to lose weight.”  It is another to say, “I am at a healthy weight and have a renewed sense of self, increased my energy and am able to participate fully in my life with confidence and ease.”  When you figure out what is making you want to do something differently, your choices are fueled by inspiration, and your intent becomes reality.

3)      What strengths can I bring to my change process?

Everyone has unique qualities and strengths – think about what you do well and what allows you to be successful.  Maybe you have a knack for remembering people’s names and thrive on challenges.  Maybe you are detail oriented and like structure.  Maybe you are an empathetic listener and need alone time to think.  Whatever makes you you is something that can be identified and drawn on to set the stage for success.  When you know what you do well, you have a foundation on which to build.

4)      What are my greatest challenges to changing, and how can I work around them?

Most of us have things that get in the way of moving forward with our desired changes.  Make a list of the challenges that might get in the way and identify possible ways to work around them.  There are no wrong or crazy ideas.

5)      What are my first priorities for change?

Figure out what needs to come first.   Maybe you want to lose weight to increase your energy, but you aren’t sleeping well at night and tend to stay up too late which makes choosing healthy food and getting any exercise that much more challenging.   Perhaps your first priority will be to avoid screen time after 9pm and spend your last waking hour in dim lighting, doing something peaceful to ensure a refreshing night’s rest.  Getting to the root issue is essential to lasting success.

6)      How ready, confident and committed am I to taking the first steps toward my vision?

Setting realistic goals and backing up those goals with firm commitment is a cornerstone of moving in the direction you wish to go.  Do whatever it takes to build confidence in yourself, even if it means starting with a 5 minute walk, once a week, or smiling at the person stuck in traffic next to you.  Every success has to start somewhere.

7)      What will I do this week?

It’s up to you.  No one else can decide what you need to live well, and no one can live for you.  What are you going to do for your precious self, as you awaken to your own abundance through taking small steps?

Remember that no success is too small to acknowledge and celebrate.  Joy is on your side, so you should be, too.

Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?

Mary Oliver