Yesterday’s snow was thick and heavy, as it often is in March. It clung heavily to everything – making for a beautiful, luminous sight this morning.
After I brought the girls to the bus stop, I felt called to the woods. There is something about being the first person to walk on a snow covered trail, with only deer tracks ahead of you, that is pure magic.
Walking in nature has almost always been a family endeavor for me…I have such fond memories of walks through the woods with my dad, especially…and with extended family…and of course, with my own children.
I have grown to love my solitary walks as well. The woods are my church, and there have been many times when within them I have found myself inspired, uplifted, and soothed. Maybe I’ve just found myself, period.
Today, however, as I walked within this winter wonderland I found myself wishing there was someone there to see it with me. It was so perfect; so quiet. Everywhere I looked the world glimmered.
I thought about that philosophial question – If a tree falls in the woods and no one is there to hear it – does it still make a sound?
If the woods are magical and no one is here to witness it with me, did I still see it?
Suddenly it occurred to me that I had been walking the entire time with a huge smile on my face. In that moment I knew it didn’t matter whether anyone else was there – this walk was magical….and I was grateful to bear witness.
This evening, as I sat down to write to you, I could hear two owls right outside my house, calling to each other.
They sounded so close. I went to the bottom of the stairs and called to the four little girls playing board games upstairs. My daughters are having their first double sleepover.
“Girls, come here!”
The four of them appeared at the top of the stairs, no doubt thinking – Lights out already?
“Come here, very quietly…and listen,” I said. We crept to the front door and huddled together as I held the door open to the crisp night air. They looked at me expectantly.
“Just wait,” I whispered.
The girls exchanged wide-eyed glances…grinning enormous, silent grins.
We don’t need someone else there to make the world’s magic real – just noticing it makes it so, but…
Sometimes, there’s nothing better than having someone (or four wide-eyed, grinning someones) there to experience the magic with you.
“You look as though you could use a minute to gather yourself,” my daughter’s piano teacher said to me as I somewhat breathlessly presented my daughter, ten minutes late for her lesson and without the instruction book we were asked to bring.
Indeed I could.
The two of them went off to the practice space while I plopped myself on her couch and exhaled.
As I sat, I felt my frenetic energy pulsing and swirling around me.
Granted, the past couple of hours had been particularly chaotic, as I had to scramble when suddenly plans changed and I found myself needing to be in two places at once (I still haven’t mastered that but I will let you know when I figure it out).
Still, I couldn’t blame my swirling mind entirely on that, for it had been running at a dizzying pace all day. I realized that within each moment I had been anticipating the next…and the next.
Some days are like that, I know…but I seem to struggle with this a lot.
I love the phrase BE HERE NOW.
I want to be present in my life, and yet on most days there are so many tasks strung together that I am often living in a constant state of anticipation. It feels as though if I’m not perpetually poised for the next thing, everything could be derailed…things will be overlooked, or forgotten…or I may even find myself needing to be in two places at once!
Wait a minute…
Hmmm….things still do get overlooked and forgotten…and I do still find myself needing to be in two places at once sometimes.
Sooo….maybe I am not actually helping myself at all by feeding my brain with the never-ending adrenaline rush of the “don’t fuck up” variety.
In fact, maybe if I stopped worrying so much about….oh I don’t know….ALL. THE. THINGS. I might even find myself being far more productive and even…(GASP) happier?
I have a friend who is always telling me that I need to find a way to quiet my head. I mean, I know he’s right. It’s kind of a disaster in there.
Writing does help, in a way.
When there’s a storm in my brain but I have to pull out just one piece to share with you, it forces me to focus….to pick the most important thing (or maybe just the most persistent, or the loudest).
Sometimes (not always) when I get to the root of an issue, I am better able to let go of it. Still, while the writing process focuses me, it keeps me self-analyzing.
It doesn’t hit the off switch.
I know I should meditate. I should also exercise more and eat less chocolate and drink less wine…but, as Monica would say – I’m not going to should all over myself.
There are things that I do regularly that quiet me – walking in the forest and taking a warm, lavender bath are two.
Today I discovered a third thing…
I took a couple of oil painting classes ages ago. I still have an easel and paints tucked away somewhere. In the classes we painted still lifes. Painting actual things did bring out the perfectionist in me – I wanted them to look right...to look real. So though I did enjoy the classes, I don’t remember them being a relaxing experience.
This was different.
One of my girls received paints and canvases for Christmas. After breakfast she pulled them all out and shared the blank canvases with her sister and me.
I have to admit I sat down to paint just to be a part of it. My interest was more in spending time with them then in actually painting.
Then I got into it. I was calm and focused. I wasn’t trying to make the painting be anything – it was completely abstract.
I realized that while I was painting…my brain had been quiet.
Art is an amazing tool. Some would argue that writing is an art form, and I would agree….but, when I am writing, I am fully thinking about what I’m writing. Which might work fine as a distraction from my life if I weren’t usually writing about my life.
When I was painting I wasn’t thinking at all…or maybe it’s just that I was thinking about mixing paint colors, instead of whatever noise was in my head today. I was completely immersed in the process, without expectation.
I could have gone on for hours moving the paints around that canvas. The girls each finished two or three while I worked on one.
I would post a picture here of the finished product, but I don’t know how copyright rules work with art, and I don’t want anyone copying my work…
I’m not posting a picture because it’s a really shitty painting.
This afternoon I bundled up for a walk with Louie. I threw on my dad’s hoodie sweatshirt, which usually hangs comfortingly on the back of my bedroom door (I’m not really one for sweatshirts – I’ve saved his purely for sentimental reasons).
Having it on under by coat felt like a warm hug. It felt like I was taking him with me.
As I was pulling into the parking area of our favorite spot, I thought of a cartoon I saw a while back. I tried to google it just now but couldn’t find it. Anyway, it depicted a man and his dog out for a walk in the woods. They each had a thought bubble over their heads. The man’s thought bubble was filled with a dozen things that were on his mind. The dog’s thought bubble simply had an image of the man and the dog walking in the woods. The dog was thinking about exactly what they were doing.
The caption was, “Why dogs are happier than people.”
I don’t know if the cartoonist was deliberately illustrating the benefits of mindfulness, but nevertheless, to me it was a well made point. No one is more “in the moment” than a dog.
My mind is busy most of the time (often too busy, in my opinion). Getting out in the woods usually does wonders in clearing my head…if only for a little while.
The woods bring calm, and it really is in the form of mindfulness. I notice and appreciate the changing canvas through the seasons – the carpet of leaves, the newly bare trees, the joy in my dog.
Sometimes I am stuck on something that I can’t let go and I need to process, and the fresh air does help…but I most enjoy a walk when I can just be there in body and in mind.
We hear a lot these days about mindfulness, about being present in the moment. I fully believe in the importance of this practice, for a couple of reasons.
One, I think our lives get so busy that we often overlook the small bits of beauty around us. It is always a good reminder to slow down and pay attention.
Two, I think by allowing ourselves to be in the moment, we are forced to accept whatever that moment may bring. Not every moment is heavenly. Sometimes we find ourselves sitting with uncomfortable feelings as well.
Those are just as important to welcome, to notice, and to honor.
Along the lines of mindfulness, but not quite the same thing in my opinion, is the urging to enjoy the NOW – to refrain from living in the past or in the future.
That is great advice sometimes, for sure. It doesn’t serve us well to cling to the past while forsaking the present.
I savor closing my eyes and fully reliving, in my mind’s eye, some of my warmest memories. I do this often when I get into bed at night.
I allow myself to time travel.
I cherish the ability to call up these moments so viscerally…by sight, and sometimes even by smell, sound and touch.
I suppose it is a testament to my having been mindful to begin with during those moments as they took place.
I soaked them up fully and saved them for a rainy day.
It’s funny, the things I call upon. They never seem to be any of the BIG moments you’d imagine they’d be. They are often the smallest things…
Watching them play in the rain, the air heavy with the scent of wet earth
My sleeping baby, with dimpled hands and milky breath
Dancing with him, while laughing and singing out loud, “I heard it through the grapevine…”
A family dinner with warmth and laughter, inside jokes
A winter’s walk in the falling snow, snowflakes catching on his eyelashes
A perfect evening on the coast of Maine
It can be a beautiful thing to live in the past…just for a moment or two, now and then.
I do also love imagining what’s ahead.
When you’ve been through things which have challenged you to your very core, you may begin to be fearful of the future (I’ve had my moments of that, trust me).
Lately, though…lately I’ve had this unwavering confidence that what lies ahead for me…
It’s beautiful…andfull of moments I will one day conjure,
“So, you cut away the stems that are dying off,” I explained to my girls this morning in the garden. “That way, the plant can put it’s energy toward the beautiful, new growth. See these new buds growing? Now the plant can put its energy toward those and it won’t waste it’s energy on parts that aren’t so good anymore…Come here. You have some Nutella on your chin. Hmm…maybe that’s what I’ll write about today.”
“Ha! Ummm, no. Not Nutella. New growth…making way for it.”
So, here’s the thing I have learned the hard way in the six months since the unexpected loss of my dad….like it or not, we only have a certain amount of energy – physical energy, heart energy, and brain power – with which to process our lives. This is true under the best of circumstances. Add grief, anxiety and/or depression – and we have even less to give. That makes perfect sense. When we feel good we have more energy, and when we don’t feel good…well, we have less.
Many of us struggle to manage that trio – Grief, Anxiety and Depression. They are a tight knit group of visitors, and they always overstay their welcome. They are the uninvited and entirely messy guests who can wreck havoc on our lives.
While struggling to evict those three thankless bastards I have learned some valuable lessons.
I have learned to really sit with what feels good to me. I more easily recognize what works for me and what doesn’t. I have learned the power of NO and the power of YES. I have begun to say more of both, actually. I’ve stopped doing things I don’t have to do, just because I feel like I should. I’ve ordered up more of what feels good. For me I’ve noticed that means doing less. Creating more space, more peacefulness, more quiet, more down time.
What I’ve noticed as I’ve begun to help these uninvited guests pack their bags (as my dad would say, “Here’s your hat, what’s your hurry?”) is a heightened awareness of the moments in which I feel completely contented and happy. Truthfully, I’ve always been good at taking snapshots in my mind of beautiful moments…but now, I notice more of them, and I swear I feel them more deeply.
Even the really little things, like the feel of my daughter’s small hand in mine as we walk down the street together. I notice them more – the beautiful bits.
So, back to the plant…
The plant doesn’t recognize its dying parts from its new and beautiful ones. It spreads its energy everywhere, equally. It can’t help itself. Just as those of us with that awful trio visiting cannot help but give our attention to them, pulling away valuable resources from noticing and developing the good stuff.
Eventually, we will be able to be more discerning about where we send our energy. This process may look different for everyone, and sometimes (like the plant) we might benefit from a little help.
In time, blessedly, we will be begin to send our energy where we truly want it to go…and we will notice the most beautiful blossoms.
“She is a good student…when she’s here with us,” my third grade teacher informed my parents. They looked at each other quite bewildered, knowing I’d been getting on the school bus every day. Where exactly does a truant eight year old go?
She went on to say, “Her head is in the clouds most days, I’m afraid. I have trouble bringing her back from her daydreams so she can join us at school.”
My parents didn’t really know what to make of this information. They said I seemed perfectly present when I was at home. Maybe I was, but I know I found plenty of time to float away with my thoughts at home, too.
I can remember spending long spells of time laying in the field beside our house. If I laid
down in it, the grass was high enough that it held me like a nest, cocooning my small frame. No one could see me when looking out over the field from a distance (or at least, that’s what I imagined). I would lay there and stare at the clouds. Honestly, I can’t remember what I was thinking about, laying there. Nothing? Everything?
I just remember the calming sensation of it all.
Fast forward to adulthood and I still crave that quiet space for daydreaming, and yet I also need to find the mental space for…oh, I don’t know…the bigilloin other things we must remember as adults.
A friend told me she read where a woman’s brain was likened to a computer with dozens of “tabs” all open at once. It’s a great analogy, although it seems sexist to say it’s only true of women. It must hold true for most adults, right? The problem is, with so many tabs open we can only offer each one a sliver of our attention. We start doing things like driving past our destination, making a call and forgetting who we’ve called when they pick up, reminding ourselves not to walk out the door without something, and doing justthat, five minutes later.
I can’t be the only one!
I think just as the child development experts have come to strongly advocate for more “free play” time in early childhood programs, we adults need some “free thought” time. If we could just lay in the grass and think about nothing…or everything (but not in a “to do” list sort of way), how great would that be?
I know what you’re thinking….Duh, that’s called meditation. It’s not exactly a new idea.
Here’s how I do it, though. Pay attention.
Imagine I’m laying in some beautiful, tall grass, gazing up at the clouds. I am mindful of the soft breeze and the rustling leaves on the nearby trees. Then I think…
There’s no way I have time for this right now. I must be forgetting something I’m supposed to be doing.
Doing, doing, doing…something…missing….
It is a beautiful day. Just…look at the clouds floating by…
Oh cool, that cloud is shaped like a car.
Crap, I’m way overdue for an oil change. Gotta remember to make that appointment before the car blows up. Oil change, oil change…
Change…Ugh! I forgot to send a note to school about the pick up change. They hate me at school, I know it. They’re like – wait, she literally runs a school? And she never remembers to send the pick up change notes? Well, that’s rich.
“That’s rich?” Who says that? This is why you’re single, you know. Because you use expressions like “That’s rich.” Smh.
Okay, you only have a few more minutes to relax and be mindful! Be mindful, dammit! I mean, be un-mindful. Whatever. I am zen. So f’ing zen.
Uh, all I can think about is how hard to is to not think about the tabs.
The tabs! They’re all still open!
How can you be badat thinking about nothing?
Wait, I think there’s something on me. It must be a tick. WTH am I doing in this tall grass anyway? I’m practically begging for Lyme disease right now. I should get my titers checked, just in case.
That’s what you’re forgetting, genius – your doctor’s appointment! It’s right NOW. Maybe you can still make it, that is, if your engine doesn’t spontaneously combust from neglect.
Shit, shit, shit!
That’s what we “tab-open” people call…
I joke, but in all honesty, I hate it when my brain is in this “open tab” state. Too much, too many, too, too, too. I think so many of us get used to this being normal.
I don’t think it’s normal, you guys. It’s a perpetual state of “fight or flight.”
I’m feeling overwhelmed. I haven’t felt like this in a while. Maybe the grief had numbed me. Now I am slowly coming to, and it feels like I need to catch up on the last four months of “to do’s” – get my head back in the game.
Maybe it’s not possible without a time machine, but I would love to go back to daydreaming, and when I’m asked what I was thinking about, to be able to smile and say “nothing” or “everything” (in a non to-do list sort of way) and not be completely full of shit. As opposed to furrowing my brow and saying, “Oh, nothing,” when the truth is –
“ALL OF THE THINGS. That’s what I was thinking about!”
They call meditation a “practice” and I definitely need to do just that – Practice it.
Namaste sane. Are you?
(Editor’s note: I told her “namaste sane” was a corny joke but she insisted that corny jokes and puns always amused her dad.