5 Ways to Fall in Love With Winter

5 Ways to Fall in Love With Winter

It happens every year in many parts of the world. The days get shorter, the gardens get tilled under, the lawnmower goes into storage. Heavy coats and hats and sweaters get pulled out of storage, and chili starts sounding good again. Frost appears in the morning grass where dew used to be, and you can see your breath when you walk around the block. And then it snows. Winter is coming.

Granted, not every place on the earth sees harsh winter weather, but plenty of places have their fair share of cold and wind and dark.Daylight in the northern hemisphere wanes as the winter solstice approaches, and sometimes if we aren’t careful, whole days can go by without feeling any sun – however cold it might be – on our faces. Cabin fever sets in, and we start to wait for spring.

But…..maybe it doesn’t have to be that way. What if we could embrace whatever Mother Nature decides to dole out and made getting outside a priority no matter how cold or wet or snowy or dark it gets? I think it’s worth it to give old man winter a little love. Because a whole season with no natural light and letting a little cold weather keep us inside? Every year? No way, man. No. Way. Life’s too good to spend it waiting for summer. Continue reading “5 Ways to Fall in Love With Winter”

Tangerine Skies

Tangerine Skies

In the late fall of 2012, my daughter was 8 months old and didn’t care for the practice of sleeping. She wouldn’t take a bottle, and I was her only source of food and often times, comfort. The daylight hours were getting shorter, and the news headlines were getting more unsettling. Work days were tiring even without the extra challenge of never sleeping more than three hours at a time. There was plenty of anxiety, despair and disappointment to be found in all sorts of places if I wanted to find those things. I needed something to remind me of the good that underlays the challenges of life. So I started forcing myself to acknowledge the little slices of joy, even in the midst of struggle.   I dusted off an old journal and began writing down those little slices.

Looking back at the entries now, some days sounded pretty routine: “Witnessing the baby notice the world around her.”   Some days included events that will probably never be duplicated: “Watching a black bear cub ramble by my home office door and scramble up a dead tree and across the ravine in the back.” Some days were more challenging: “The contrast provided by people who see the world differently.” Most days celebrated the way a body can move: “Yoga. The way the combination of movement and breath brings focus.” And all days were punctuated by the vibrancy of the natural world: “Tangerine skies and evening shadows hinting at possibilities yet to come.” Continue reading “Tangerine Skies”

The Blue of Desire

The Blue of Desire

Rebecca Solnit writes in A Field Guide to Getting Lost:

We [tend to] treat desire as a problem to be solved, address what desire is for and focus on that something and how to acquire it rather than on the nature and the sensation of desire- though often it is the distance between us and the object of desire that fills the space in between with the blue of longing. I wonder sometimes whether with a slight adjustment of perspective it could be cherished as a sensation on its own terms – since isn’t it as inherent to the human condition as the color blue is to distance? What if we could look across the distance without wanting to close it up, if you could own your longing in the same way that you own the beauty of that blue that can never be possessed? For something of this longing will, like the blue of distance, only be relocated, not assuaged, by acquisition and arrival, just as the mountains cease to be blue when you arrive among them and the blue instead tints the next beyond.

When I read that, I am transported to a dusty red four-speed Toyota, and I’m driving west across South Dakota.  After miles of corn fields give way to miles of grassy pasture; after the Missouri river valley gives way to rolling tall grass prairie; after you cross through the barren beauty of Badland spires reaching toward the sky, after the signs for Wall Drug say, “wait, you missed it!”……after all of that you finally come to the place where the Black Hills loom in the distance, and you marvel at the sudden change in the horizon.  You are astonished at the majestic expanse that commands your sightlines and the welcoming darkness of what lays ahead.  And then at some point as you continue on your westward journey, it’s gone.  Once you reach the point where identifying individual hills and trees is possible, the black has vanished and only the landscape remains.  They are just hills, now – beautiful and sacred as they always were, but the mystery that came with the space that was once between you and the place you sought is as gone as the distance that was closed to nothing.   And when you look up and out past the place where the hills give way to grasslands again, you can see hints of the next place that you seek, and the color that tints that desire to arrive.

What do you think it would look like to just be with desire — to bear witness to it, inhabit it fully, approach it with what John Keats memorably termed “negative capability?” There is something profound in truly feeling what we feel without trying to change it.  And perhaps when we sit with a feeling, be it longing, or melancholy or sadness, and let it do its work in us, it will – and then it will move on.  Maybe we would feel less stuck all the time.  Maybe we could then remember the beauty in the blackness of distant hills and let it carry us into whatever horizon might invite us in next.

Would it make a difference in how we progress toward the goals we have for our lives?  Toward the vision that we seek to live up to?   What would it mean to “own our longing?” in the same way that we acknowledge beauty and goodness and truth?

Contact

Contact

This morning I really wanted to stay in bed.  The room was dark, the sheets were cool, my husband was still sleeping soundly.  I wanted to lay there, and then get up at my leisure, check my email and drink coffee.  So instead of letting myself lay there and think about getting up and what I really wanted to do, I just got up.   Somehow I managed to turn off my thinking and stumble through the physical motions of putting feet on the floor, gathering up clothes, getting a drink of water and finding the keys.  I got in the jeep, drove 5 miles southeast and crossed the St. Croix River into the little town of Osceola, Wisconsin.  It’s situated high on the bluffs overlooking the river valley, and the river this morning was as smooth as glass.  I didn’t stop at the river today though, I continued on and went north through the downtown area as shops set up for the day and open signs flickered on.  At County Road S, I turned left and found myself at the little parking area for one of Wisconsin’s “State Natural Areas.”

There are 373,000 acres spread out between 673 natural areas across the state, and they are used for research and education, the preservation of genetic and biological diversity and for providing benchmarks for determining the impact of use on managed lands.  I appreciate them because they tend to be punctuated with more wildness and unknowns and refreshing energy than the surrounding more peopled areas.   At any rate, this one on County S has proven to be a place where I can recalibrate or refocus when needed.  Apparently this morning my body needed recalibration, and that need won out over my mind telling me to just do the same old safe and easy routine.

I parked the jeep in the empty lot and tied my keys into the laces of the ugliest pair of trail running shoes I’ve ever had and started jogging into the tree cover. (why are all women’s trail running shoes pink, or purple or turquoise or some other neon color?)   The trail starts wide and takes you down to the river backwaters if you go straight.  Today I turned left to cross the wooden footbridge over a spring fed creek and started running down a single track through a stand of tall pines.  This single track takes you deep into the woods, and it’s always dark back there, no matter how bright the sun is shining.  And quiet.   It’s like someone turned the volume down and bumped up the contrast — it’s easier to notice the details, even when running.  There are always deer and squirrels and a myriad of other small creatures scurrying about on the forest floor.  One spring I almost stepped on a tiny spotted fawn, likely just days old, laying in the middle of the trail.

Today I followed the loop trail quickly and had two white tail deer for company while deep in the woods, a Pine Marten looking me in the eyes from a dead tree that had fallen across the path at the midpoint, and the sound of rushing waters moving downward toward the river valley after turning to follow the ridge of the creek bed back to the footbridge.  I was reminded why it’s important to have contact with wild things.  It brings things back into perspective and invites wonder into the ordinary, even if just for a moment.

Just 45 minutes after arriving, I was back at the parking area to head home into my work day.  And now as I sit here looking at this screen, I’m glad I listened to the urge to recalibrate, and to make contact with the unpredictable nature of the things that inhabit the unpeopled places.   Knowing that there are places with cold, tumbling water and deer grazing amidst a backdrop of the open space above the river valley and Pine Martens at home in trees that seem to reach up endlessly toward the sky………knowing these things exist in the world is enough to remind me what’s real.  It’s not what’s on the screen.

“It’s safe to stay home and watch reruns of Star Trek and fiddle with Facebook and track digital gossip, but it’s also shallow and lifeless.  Whether it’s with sharks or bears [or deer or running water] experiencing nature sets your foundations in a way an iPad never will.  It has to do with contact.  As Thoreau writes in The Maine Woods: ‘Contact!  Contact! ‘  You can’t get contact from a screen”  ~ Jack Turner

Happiness Is A Cloud

Happiness Is A Cloud

I read an article in Orion Magazine the other day about happiness, and the pursuit of measuring it in a place that is on the other side of the world. I read about the clash of opportunity and preservation, and the struggle between progress and selling out. I read about what happiness is, and what happiness isn’t. I read about the tiny kingdom of Bhutan, and how their new consitution includes what they have dubbed the “GNH” or “Gross National Happiness.”

GNH is part of Bhutan’s plan for negotiating the wilderness of modernization without losing its soul. Every schoolchild, public policymaker, teacher, citizen, and civil servant has been asked to help create a society based on the four pillars of GNH: sustainable and equitable economic development, conservation of the environment, preservation and promotion of culture, and good governance.
I read about how the Bhutanese people have differing ideas on what will be good for the country, different ideas on what will lead to prosperity and happiness. I read about how people are starting to abandon bamboo lunch baskets called bangchung as insulated plastic lunch containers made in China are trucked in from India. And I read about a road that is being built up to a temple perched high on a cliff.

In a nation where there were no roads until 1961, this is a big deal. It means that the elderly can once again return to their holy place and take part in the ritual offering ceremonies, or pujas. It means no one will have to hike for miles with heavy packs, or use horses to transport heavier goods. It also means the use of cars becomes a reality, which means more people, which means more insulated plastic containers, which means more garbage. And it means more danger to the animals that also call the mountain home, and a loss of the health benefits from all that walking.

The road means so many things. This is what is happening. It is the thirst of people for an easier life. But there is a trade-off between peace and convenience.

It’s easy for me – here in the United States, sitting in my home office, typing on my computer, looking at my plastic pen holder – to look at the roads and modernization of Bhutan and think, “Of course, they should not allow that road, and continue to preserve the old ways of doing things.” It is easy to focus on the negative aspects that come with adding modern conveniences when I only read about them in a magazine. It is easy to forget that I don’t know what it is like to live without roads, or plastic containers or long treks to get to my sacred places. I wonder what side I would be on if I lived in Bhutan. Would I be against the road and the way of life that it threatens? Or would I be celebrating its promises of an easier and more connected life? I can only guess at how I might think if I had another culture and way of life coloring my perceptions of what is important. Of what is enough for a happy life.

What I do know is that Bhutan’s happiness doesn’t depend on the road, or how long it takes to get to the cliff side temple, or how many plastic containers are on the hillside. Based on my limited knowledge of this country and its people, I think life there will go on and happiness will be a part of it – because happiness has been acknowledged as an integral part of the human experience – contrasts and all.

…life includes suffering, and nothing lasts forever. Happiness is not something you achieve, or purchase, and then get to keep. As one Bhutanese friend explained when I tried to pin him down on the matter, “Happiness is a cloud. It comes and goes.”

So, I read about happiness and how one little nation plans to keep it central to what they know to be true. I read about the challenges that come with trying to define what ‘happiness’ means, and what it might look like to operate from such an awareness. I read that happiness doesn’t just go to the highest bidder and that it can exist despite brokenness. I hope, like the author does, that maybe this reawakening of what happiness might mean is the real gift that Bhutan is offering to the rest of the world.

And I hope that I can, like the Bhutanese do, agree to allow happiness to be the cloud that shadows my life, whatever it brings.

 

This post also appeared at enough.

Perspectives

Perspectives

I usually spend my days in a home office, in a house that is surrounded by woods and wildlife, talking via phone to individuals who lead pretty ‘average’ middle class American lives. I recently took on a new assignment that includes traveling into the city once a month to meet face to face with women who are transitioning — transitioning from being homeless, recovering from substance abuse and addiction, healing from mental illness or instability, and learning how to care for their families again. This experience is still young, but has already caused me to look at some things through a different lens and has reminded me of the power of perspectives.

Ralph Blum once wrote, “The obstacles of the past can become the gateways that lead to new beginnings.” I would guess we’ve all heard this sentiment in some form over the years-it’s nothing new to promote the value in looking for opportunities that arise from challenges, or to notice an open window when the front door is closed. During the first day of face to face coaching with the women who are taking part in the program I was reminded of Mr. Blum’s statement more than once.

I was reminded of it when my first appointment of the day walked into the conference room, and I greeted her by pronouncing her name wrong. After correcting me, she seemed disinterested in doing much talking, and I wondered how we would fill the next half hour if all the answers to my questions ended up being “I don’t know.” Eventually she shared that she wants to lose 30lbs, hates jogging, doesn’t eat fried foods, drinks a lot of sugary coffee, and has used diet pills before, albeit unsuccessfully. She wants to tone up, feel better, and be comfortable in her clothes and in her life as it looks now. She sees Mondays as windows of opportunity to use the exercise channel on TV to get a workout in after her son heads off to school and is confident she will follow through. She manages stress by smoking because of the “me time” it provides, and is ok with that for now. Her energy by the end of the meeting was tinted with appreciation that she wasn’t being told what to do. I told her that I shared her confidence, and she went back to her day.

I was reminded of it again when my second appointment arrived, sporting eyelash extensions and plenty of sass, exclaiming “Girl, I need to look GOOD.” I asked her what she wanted to do to work toward looking good, and she shared that losing 10lbs and eating less ’soul food’ would probably help. She is going to stop buying and cooking family sized quantities of food since most of her kids are grown and living on their own. She is going to call a local fitness club this week about a Zumba class because she loves to dance. She is committed to learning to cook differently so she can keep enjoying her soul food, but in a healthy way. Her 2 year old son is her inspiration, and she feels he is a gift from God – a reason to heal herself, get sober and be present for his life, since she wasn’t there for her older children. At the beginning of our conversation, she was talking about looking good, but by the end she was sharing what truly matters to her and showing me pictures of her toddler. She’s using her past, even with its hardships and disappointments, to build a future that she is excited about.

And I was reminded a third time when my last appointment showed up in the early evening, dragging from a long day on the job. She gave me a sheepish grin, and I could tell she almost blew it off- but came anyway. She started by saying she has no idea what she wants to work on– just that she wants to be less tired all the time. Despite her long work days, she’s thankful to be working, and wants to keep it that way. She came up with a plan to head out walking immediately after getting home from work (before relaxing) and sit on a stability ball when watching TV. She doesn’t think it’ll give her more energy, but she is willing to give it a shot anyway, because she used to do it and felt better then. Her face lit up when I handed her some info on reducing unhealthy fats (after she mentioned wanting to cut back) and she read that applesauce is a good replacement for vegetable oil in baking. Someone told her that the other day, but she didn’t think it was true. She left for her son’s football game with her head a little higher. Sometimes a little validation goes a long way.

The agency that is supporting these women has a motto that states, “When the world shouts give up….hope whispers one more time.” I’m curious to see how these women use their hope to embrace gateways that have the potential to lead them past whatever obstacles arise in the present. And I’m curious to see how looking at the world from the perspective of a formerly homeless woman will impact how I operate in my own life. I have a feeling it may help me to judge less and listen more deeply, opening the windows that frame the true story behind what is apparent on the surface.

The light at the end of the tunnel is not an illusion. The tunnel is.