Puppies Are Good For Health & Happiness

Do you smile and melt when someone posts a cute puppy or kitty video on Social Media? I do! If you are like me, you watch them because you want to feel good, laugh, and, for a moment, allow whatever doesn’t feel good fade into the background.

So, this last weekend I decided to rescue one of those cute puppies and bring more love into my world (and have a dog who barks when someone comes to visit). Of course, as you can imagine, I have had several nights of less than restful nights! My days have shifted from my quiet rhythm with an aging deaf dog and an older cat.

I would like to share with you my list of the benefits (as I know them) of a puppy in the house. It is a reminder when I am not so enthralled by the antics of this little being in my home who is a bundle of nonstop motion and energy.

The Benefits of a Puppy at Home:

1. Rescuing a puppy from a shelter expands your heart.
2. A puppy who is in the process of house-training means lots of outdoor time and fresh air.
3. A puppy who is learning how to walk on a leash with another dog means I am improving my flexibility as the leash or puppy gets tangled around my legs (add ice and it is even more exciting).
4. I am practicing my mindfulness (or actively noticing) by learning pee and pooping cues.
5. My carpets are getting an early Spring cleaning even if it is one small spot at a time.
6. I love being appreciated and what better appreciation than a puppy excited to see me when I get home from work or get up in the morning.
7. Exercising my memory to be certain my pockets are full of training treats and poop bags before heading outdoors.
8. I have increased my physical contact through petting and massaging another dog in my household.
9. I am getting to learn what is important and what to let go of. For example, a new puppy explores so books are sent flying off of my coffee table and my gloves and hats are fair game on the table by the door. I may even learn that some furniture is no longer necessary as she wants to taste and chew everything. I don’t really need so much stuff anyway!
10. I get to practice my rapid response skills — getting up & dressed in the morning (including boots, coat, mittens, and a hat) to get outside first thing for puppy pee & pooping.
11. Her playfulness is a delightful refocus from the dire news I might otherwise be checking.
12. My vocabulary has simplified tremendously — ‘Come’; ‘Sit’; and ‘Good girl’ says so much and what fun to see her desire to please (or maybe it’s for the treat I reach for in my pocket).
13. Lots of Oxytocin release (the feel good hormone) when I sit to receive endless kisses and love.
14. A reminder that play is an important part of every day!
15. Research shows that people with pets live longer and enjoy improved health! I’m on board with that!

These are just some of the benefits I’ve experienced this week with a new puppy on board. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that the other animals in my house are not so enthralled. My cat has hidden on the top shelf in a closet, coming out only at mealtime and at night when the puppy is safely in her crate or eating her own meal. And, my aging dog (who is getting more exercise trying to escape puppy play) looks up at me with eyes that seem to say, “Really??”

My little bundle of joy, whose name is Willow, is a rescue from Kentucky. I have enormous respect for the many people who take on rescuing, foster caring, and finding homes for dogs and cats — their passion is their love of animals. In the process of having Willow join my household I’ve learned that most of the shelters down south are ‘kill’ shelters. I like that I have just saved a precious life!

 

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Bringing My Best Forward

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My best self is who I wish to bring to the table when preparing for my day, project, or success path. In my last post, I spoke about how I wish to show up in 2018. In this post I want to expand showing up into a broader context known as Best Self exploration and practice.

Who am I when I show up as my best self? Who are you at your best?

In every situation I bring myself. Sometimes I am present as my best — mindful, soulful, listening, open, and firmly rooted in my strengths. Other times I am not my best self and I bring my crankiness, judgement, impatience, and less than present self. When I am not at my best, I shortchange my experience and leave others confused and/or empty from our shared experience. At my best, I move in slower motion because full presence requires pausing and settling fully into my most positive self.

In 2001, Laura King, a professor at the University of Missouri-Columbia, conducted a study on Best Self practice using writing over a period of several days. Her work showed that when we explore our best self in reference to a future time or goal, we are happier. Best self practice has also been written about in Sonja Lyubomirsky’s book, “The How of Happiness.” Lyubomirsky says that imagining a best possible future helped participants build their best possible self today that can lead to their future vision coming true. Through writing, they were able to recognize what they could transform in themselves in order to work toward their goals. Writing leads to better understanding of “your priorities, your emotions, and your motives, your identity, who you really are and what’s in your heart.” Writing allows us to see a bigger picture of our goals, see what’s possible, and work toward our imagined future with more purpose and well being.

I am sharing this writing exercise for you to begin to identify and explore your best self so you can bring more of you into your year, your project, and your daily life. I, personally, like to write with pen and paper so I involve more of my senses and bring more focus to the practice. You might find that using a computer works just as well for you. Either way, prepare to write for 15 – 20 minutes daily for the next 4 days. By identifying your Best Possible Self in detail, you will be more present with positive results.

Taking the time to imagine your best possible future and who you are at your best allows you to more clearly integrate all of you into your present and your future. You will also increase the likelihood of success. Going for the detail is what stands this apart from New Year’s resolutions or a list of goals & intentions you wish to realize this year. When I write and add to this exercise during each day of writing into my imagined positive future and my best self, I refine and prioritize my lists.

This exercise asks us to imagine our life once our goal is accomplished whether a week from now, a year, or longer. What will you be doing? How would you be living? How will you feel? How will your life change for the better? By writing daily you can move beyond the initial goal – the to do list and on to a positive imagined future (as if it has already happened).

Identifying & imagining how I will feel, do, and be in my life is clarifying who I am at my best. Through my writing I explore and play with how my life could be better by being more of my best self. This practice can be done in all areas of life: professional, romantic, social, physical, spiritual, or any area you wish to focus on. Choose one goal or area for the exercise.

Exercise #1: Best Self Exercise. Choose a goal or intention you have for the next year (or any time line).

1. Sit quietly and imagine that you have already accomplished your goal and that everything has gone as well as possible. For a moment, settle into the feeling of accomplishment. Imagine the details of your life as you stand in your future — look around you. What is different? How do you feel? How are you different? How does your daily life look?

2. Now, spend the next 20 minutes (I like to set a timer so I don’t need to look at the clock) writing about your accomplishment in the future you imagined. Describe in as much detail as possible your completed tasks. Describe who you have been in order to bring this task to fruition. How is your life different? Better? More fulfilling? How do you feel as you look around you? Where do you feel in your body? What did you let go of?

3. For the next four days, repeat the exercise. You can begin again or continue writing & expanding the detail from the day before.

4. Now look back at what you wrote. How did you participate in creating your imagined positive future? What strengths did you exhibit or use? Who did you need to BE in order to accomplish your imagined future?

[Note: I’ve added a second exercise to fill in gaps in our perceptions of ourselves.]

Exercise #2: Reflected Best Self. This exercise asks you to reach out to family, friends, and/or coworkers. It is a different approach called the Reflected Best Self — especially useful because others see us differently than we see ourselves.

1. Ask several people you know (family, friends, coworkers) to tell you or write to you about how they see you accomplishing tasks. Can they provide some detail of strengths they see and who they see when you are at your best? Ask each to provide one or two specific examples of how they see you at your best.

2. Compare what others think with what you think. You may find that you can expand who you are when you are your Best Self.

Have fun with these and let me know who you are at your best!

Note: In a future post I’ll explore how to mine your experience — both past accomplishments and your imagined future — and identify greatness, magnificence, strengths, thoughts, and actions that inform you on who you want and need to be in order to live life more fully at your best, both now and in your imagined future. Stay tuned!

As A Year Ends… A New Year Begins

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Today is the last day of 2017 with 2018 only hours away. Do you celebrate New Year’s Eve? Do you party with friends? Do you do anything to acknowledge one year ending and another beginning?

I have my personal ritual that I do each year beginning with the Solstice — I place two pieces of poster sized paper out in plain sight. One piece is titled, “What I did in 2017”; the other is titled, “What I want to do in 2018”. For the couple of weeks before New Year’s I create a list on each piece of poster paper. For the last year, I reflect on what I did. As I began creating my list this year the image of filling a jar with stones became my metaphor.

At first, I am almost always certain that what I did will be a short list because I only focus on the big things that immediately come to mind — the accomplishments, crises, those events that occupied a lot of emotional and mental real estate and are easy to remember. I am aware that some of these events were unplanned and, yet, important because they required my attention. These big things are the big rocks I place in my jar first. Oh how quickly they fill the jar!

As I walk by the list day after day, however, the list grows (when I thought it wouldn’t). No longer the big rocks, but smaller stones that filled my months — the routines of work, hikes in the woods, day trips to new places, memorable conversations, etc. I am aware that what I thought was full with the big rocks became even more full with smaller stones filling in between the large rocks.

Each day, I continue to add to my list until I am adding what I’ve done day to day — these become sand added to my jar. These are my daily practices that have carried me through. Daily practices fill in the spaces between the stones giving my days substance and meaning, a quiet support for the larger stones.

This image of filling a jar beginning with rocks and continuing to fill the jar with smaller stones and then sand led me to how I want to begin my list for this next year (I don’t do sure to fail or be forgotten resolutions). After the sand is added and it seems that the jar is full once again until… I add water. I can see that full was an illusion. There is plenty of room for water and I watch as the water touches everything and is as important as the big rocks I can barely see. Water to the top of the rim and the jar is now truly full.

What does the water represent? The water, for me, represents how I have shown up in my life that truly shapes what I do and how I do anything. My intention is to always be true to myself, honest, and be (mostly) positive. This last year, I showed up in a variety of ways — some I liked, some I didn’t. Mostly, I was positive, open, kind, hopeful, and loving. I was also frustrated, angry, sad, and (at times) felt hopeless.

Also on my list of what I’ve done are the books I’ve read. Throughout this year I have been inspired by a list of writers such as Brene Brown, Elizabeth Gilbert, Terry Tempest Williams, Mary Oliver, Amy Cuddy, Robin Wall Kimmerer, John O’Donanhue, Dan Buettner, Adam Grant, and so many more (can you tell I am an avid reader?). From each of them, I’ve learned (especially when reading a book for the second time) and been inspired to show up as my best self — full of integrity, truth, and a willingness to be my Self in strength and resilience. Each of these authors have become my teachers and mentors for living life fully on purpose. They have inspired me to follow my “Yes”. Most importantly, they have laid a foundation for next years list that sits next to my reflections list.

For this next year, at the top of my list is my focus on how I wish to show up each and every day. I know that mindful attention on how I am showing up will shape my year in positive ways no matter where life actually leads. Mindful attention will also set the stage to navigate the challenges that come along — they always do. Then, I also have my bucket list of what I’d like to do and experience. I will finish this year tonight with a meditation — saying good-bye to 2017 and welcoming 2018.

How will you show up next year? How can I support you to be your best self? Let’s plan on supporting one another.

Have a blessed and happy New Year!

‘Tis The Season

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Advent has begun and we are deep into the darkness of the season. Even darker with the tumultuous climate we find ourselves in. The fall has been filled with natural disasters, growing violence and hatred, pandora’s box of sexual scandal filling the news, topped off with a government unhinged and seemingly uncaring of the people they represent. It’s too easy to sink into fear, angst, and hopelessness.

I am attempting to become comfortable in the darkness as I consider ways to bring light into the season. I sit outside in the dark, I meditate in the dark, and I am writing into the darkness. I have candles burning around my house at night and in the early morning — these fill the darkness with a comforting light. I wish to believe that the light will come and, with it, hope.

This year, I have no interest in shopping. I am intensely affected by others — there is more stress in the faces of people I see at work, in shopping stores, and on the highways. Instead, I wish to be present this holiday season in a different way, in the most positive and purposeful way I can. I am turning to practices that I regularly do for myself. I need to nurture hope.

The practices I am committing to are:

1. Find and declare the good. What is going well? I can look for benefit and live into that.

2. Simple giving without spending more than I have. A smile, something handmade, a service, or a heartfelt card with a note handwritten to the person.

3. Kindness is such an easy practice and needed now more than ever. Hold the door for someone, pause to extend sincere greetings (even if I don’t know them), make a meal for someone, or take the time to listen when a story needs to be told.

4. Gratitude, my daily practice, is one I can recommit to with even greater awareness. I make gratitude lists at the end of every day. I will write letters of gratitude to those I love and those I know. There is so much to be grateful for, even in darkness.

5. Mindfulness. Consider my actions toward others (also my thoughts), be aware of my own needs (for food, rest, and exercise), and notice beauty when there seems to be little of it. I was invited to a seven day black and white photo practice on Instagram — I am finding such joy in looking for contrasts and, as a result, beauty in the simplest of images.

6. Planning resolutions? I am reframing my intentions for 2018 as my success path. Resolutions can be so boring and, too often, are left by the wayside by the middle of January. Reframing my intentions as my path to success is refreshing and positive. Keep them simple. Go for Kaizen changes — baby steps of change vs. the lofty resolutions I know I won’t keep.

7. Play music that lifts me up. I played music through my Thanksgiving retreat (I hadn’t played music for a long time) and I noticed that it helped me stay focused, invited me to get up and move throughout the day and even sing along. The result? I felt more joyful and could feel my happiness chemicals flowing — oxytocin, dopamine, endorphins and serotonin. Music is a wonderful happiness booster.

8. Daily meditation practice. Simply sitting in silence with my breath as my guide. Some days it may be only minutes while other times it can be as long as an hour. Meditation calms my nervous system, quiets my mind, eases the stress I feel, and reminds me that I am a part of something wondrously and benevolently bigger.

These are all practices I do and have written about. I like to recommit to them so they stay fresh. It’s too easy to allow our practices to become automatic — losing their shine of new. Recommitment is a way to dust off the automatic and bring the practice into my current awareness. Through recommitting to being positive and purposeful I can bring the light into my heart and then share it with others I pass on the way.

Be Prepared – A Motto for Life

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I seem to remember that the Girl Scouts motto was “Be Prepared”. I like that and, even though I was a Girl Scout for a very brief time, it has stayed with me. I remember collecting badges for completing practical tasks as I learned new skills and found new interests to explore (and let’s not forget the cookies every February). Actually, being prepared is a great motto for living life.

Of course, there are times when all the planning in the world has not prepared for the curve balls that life throws my way. These last several weeks have been an uptick in stress and crisis for me. I’ve had a feeling of being unprepared to navigate a seemingly ongoing storm of urgent requests, crises to manage, and unexpected changes. I keep asking myself if there is some way to be prepared, even for this?

I know that I like preparing – for projects, for travel, for daily meals, and for my regular practices such as meditation, yoga, hiking and writing. I gather materials before starting a project from reading a pattern, testing stitch gauge, to being sure I have the buttons for finishing. For meals, I like to have what I need for making meals ahead because I know I’ll be grazing my kitchen if I haven’t planned and prepared. For my yoga & meditation practices — turn off my phone, lay out my mat with props, choose music, and light candles. My preparations create an ease so that my life is more fulfilling and gratifying.

Most of my preparations have become steadfast habits that guide my day leaving time for spontaneity without my mind obsessing over what to eat or when will I get those stitch markers. Some of my habits have morphed into my personal rituals that are an integral part of my practice or project. Preparing the space, the list, and the plan free my energy for enjoying what I am about to do. I find I can relax more when I have done the preparations. While choosing music, lighting candles and laying out my mat I have already begun my asanas and meditation. After years and years of a daily practice, I no longer need to think about it because the preparing and doing are part of the whole.

So too, when it comes to being happy and healthy — I have practices in place that have created a firm foundation for the rest of my life. Each practice supports those times when plans go awry. The unexpected is not a question of if but the reality of when.

For example, deep yogic breathing is integral to my yoga and meditation practices. After many years, I find myself subconsciously turning to deep breathing when the unexpected happens. The breath helps me relax and clear my mind for addressing what is suddenly present.

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Another example is my practice of making lists — I love my lists. So when I need to make big decisions or head out the door for several days, I begin with a quick list. For big decisions, my lists help me weigh in on pros & cons and gain perspective on the whole picture. For travel, a list assures that I travel with most, if not all, of what I’ll need. I find security in my lists — whether a gratitude list or a shopping list — and, like my breath, I can be in the middle of a list before I realize I’ve been making one.

Being prepared when and where I can in my day-to-day is my preparation for the unexpected that is certain to come along and challenge my resilience and fortitude to handle a crisis. When I become overwhelmed by what life is serving me, I know I’ve got daily practices that become my secure river banks in the storm. These storms are part of life with some storms worse than others. What I do daily or regularly are my safety rafts and life vests when I need them for navigating the emergencies and unexpected in life.

Be Prepared — A Good Motto for Life

A Little Kindness Goes A Long Way

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We are living in such precarious and, even, perilous times. Each day another worry whether from natural disasters from hurricanes to wildfires, north, south, east, and west or another unfortunate expression of chaos in our government. I find myself checking the daily headlines for what new disaster is unfolding, what tweets have been sent from the hands of an immature man-child, what undoing has been done for the safety & health of people everywhere, or how much closer are we to a nuclear war. Emotions seen on everyone’s face — anger, fear, grief, frustration, hopelessness and helplessness — is more and more common.

I find myself between wanting to stay home, hibernate, and stay out of harms way OR being more social, nurturing connections, and reaching out. I cling to my practices that calm my nervous system for my sanity and support my health.

On the day of the shocking Las Vegas shooting disaster, I was driving home from North Carolina. The highways were busy and full of trucks carrying their cargo and nearly everyone in a hurry to get somewhere (yes, I’ve noticed more aggressive driving in this last year). I drove along in silence with my inner conversation my companion and my destination of home my focus. After hearing of the devastating number of people hurt or killed in Las Vegas on the heels of an unprecedented number of people who have lost everything from hurricanes or wildfires, I felt an overwhelming sense of sadness, rage, and fear.

In my silence, I considered answers to many questions: Why is there not more gun control in place after so many mass shootings? Why is there diminishing compassion and instead a growing hatred toward fellow human beings through racism, LBGT, women’s rights, our environment, immigration (supported by this man who is president)? How can I help? How can I pull myself up and out of my own anger, sadness, and fear so that I can help others to do the same? What action(s) can I take to move forward in a positive way and help change the trajectory of our country?

I recall that Martin Seligman in his book, Flourish, speaks of kindness as important and powerful to positively affect both myself and those I extend kindness towards. A simple practice of being kind to others. Am I kind enough? Can I extend more kindness to others in the course of my day?

This recollection and my inner dialogue led me to re-committing to kindness as a mindful practice. Kindness, I know, has a rippling effect. How can I do more to be kind? For the rest of my drive, I practiced mindful kindness — allowing truckers into the passing lane by slowing down, moving out of the way of the person in much more of a hurry than I needed to be, and being mindfully courteous as the miles passed by. At rest stops, I made a point to make eye contact, say hello, and wish other travelers a good day. At gas stations or while getting food, I did the same. I began to feel lighter and a smile peeked out from other emotions.

What I noticed. When I extend kindness to someone on the highway by letting them by or pausing for someone to pull into traffic I notice that within a short period they will also extend kindness to another driver. When I open a door for someone or say a kind word with eye contact, a softening happens and that kindness ripples to others. Quite amazing and simple.

I have made kindness a mindfully conscious practice and am encouraging others to do the same by asking them to join me in spreading goodness and connection. The feedback has been incredibly satisfying! Those who have tried it for a week have also noticed a ripple effect in action (of course, not every time or with every person).

Kindness leads to more kindness.

How easy it would be to hibernate, keep my head down, and stay in the busy lane of life. It feels safer, protected, and effortless. However, it also keeps me in my fear and anger. In practicing mindful kindness, I can feel more hope because I see the positive ripple with each kind action. I may not be able to change the larger picture of discontent. However, I can make a difference toward changing my world one person at a time as I meet them on my way – a smile, a moment of eye contact, and a kind gesture goes a long way.

Your Place In The Natural World

I know my place in the world is entwined with the natural world around me — my community is the wildlife, trees, and fields that surround my home. I talk to them, I listen, and I witness the wisdom that is always there. Most days, I walk the same woods and have become familiar and comfortable with my surroundings. The variegated rocks left behind by the receding glaciers eons ago, the stonewalls (unique only to New England) that mark long forgotten boundaries through the woods, and even familiar trees that have fallen from storms, wind, or age. The owls, hawks, chipmunks, and squirrels are all my friends. I’ve seen the occasional deer and turkeys cross my path though they are not interested in hanging around. I’ve stepped across bear scat and moose droppings so I know they wander the mountain too. Of course, there are always snakes and newts on their way somewhere. These woods – my place – are just beyond my backyard and stretch up and over the mountain to the Appalachian Trail. I am grateful that all I need to do is step outside my front door to be in nature. It is where I go with my thoughts, questions, and explorations. I always return with a deep calm, clarity, creative solutions, and wisdom.

Where do you go for solitude, healing, aligning, and communion? Does nature play a part?

There are studies around the world and books that speak to the healing powers of nature and its importance in the health of the planet of which we are all a part. The benefits of being in nature are so many that there are places around the world offering prescribed nature therapy through nature walks and retreats. Like most, I spend my workdays with people and spend social time with friends — they, too, are an essential part of my community. However, at the end of the day, I go to nature for my deeper healing and calm.

Having a sense of place, for me, is also a spiritual experience. I walk among the trees and listen to nature spirits, talk to God, and observe changes in nature as reflections of my own process. When we know our place in the immediate world around us, we open our senses to become aligned with that world. I know people who know their place within a city and their local neighborhood — their senses are aligned with who lives nearby, neighborhood cats and dogs, and what to remain alert to. I know those whose sense of place is from their porch or deck. I am one whose place needs to walk among the trees or touch the soil and plants in my gardens.

We are an integral part of the larger natural world around us. Too many suffer from nature deficit because our lives are filled to overflowing with activity and surrounded by concrete, city streets, and the ever present technology. Nature has become something disconnected from the fabric of our daily lives and experienced (maybe) on vacation or the occasional weekend walk.

When I suggest nature therapy for healing or stress relief, I am often told of fears to laying in the grass, pulling weeds in the garden, or trekking into the woods. Here in New England, ticks are the #1 fear. I suggest regular and thorough tick checks on returning home. I’ve heard that others fear bears, moose, and coyotes that are sure to lurk behind trees and rocks — I’ve seen more bears at my trash can or on my deck, the occasional fox or coyote hurrying across the yard while I watch from the window, and only once have I seen a moose who was both injured and sick. Still others fear injury or getting dirty. In my experience, injury is a result of my not paying attention. Dirt and its health benefits have been traded for our sterilized world of antibacterial soaps and wipes.
The benefits you can experience in nature: connection, healing, solitude, exercise, meditation, mindfulness, more awe and appreciation, wonder, relief of pain, lower anxiety, feeling more centered, mental clarity, and improved creativity, among others. Also, nature needs our awareness in order to protect its being available for us to enjoy.

What form of nature calls you? The woods, the beach, a lake, a garden, a nature trail, or a nearby park? Who do you go into nature with? Alone, your partner, your children, friends, or your dog. Studies show that going with another increases our commitment and likelihood of going outdoors through accountability.

The important thing is to get outside and be surrounded by the natural world for your own physical, emotional, and mental health.

If fear keeps you from nature or you live in a town or city with little of nature in easy access, begin with a few plants you can care for indoors or create a container garden on your porch or deck. In your yard or neighborhood, find a tree, bush or plant to befriend. Watch your ‘friend’ through the seasons and the varieties of weather that affect it (you may find you learn something valuable about yourself).

Venture outdoors into your yard or a nearby park (most towns have small parks) or a nature trail (growing in popularity in urban settings) close to home. Go for a walk, breathe in the fresh air, and touch a tree trunk, gaze up at the leaf canopy, or watch a bird. Let nature fill you in whatever way it does for you — own the place as your place in your natural world.

You will return calmer, healthier, and ready for your next adventure into nature.

Art Camp – A Summer Day Camp of Making Books

Last week I assisted and participated in a local, backyard art camp arranged and produced by my friend, artist and book making teacher, Suzi. A group of women and one man gathered early Sunday morning for four days of making art — painting paste paper, cutting paper, covering book boards for book covers, and using coptic stitch to make one of a kind, creative, and beautiful journals.

This was an outdoor summer day camp — under tents with materials & tools on tables ready to shape into journals. This was a day camp for creatives who yearned for something different to celebrate summer. (Most exciting for me was that I have never attended a summer camp! Better late than never – yeah!)

We came together in the mornings for ritual, writing, and making journals to write into later. As each day unfolded, we laughed, shared stories, learned about one another (what work we do, where we are from, where we live and why we came to this camp). Our group was creatively diverse — some were artists, some were new to the process, and others (like myself) have worked with Suzi over the years making journals and simply wanted more! What was clear, was that we were all artists for those four days exploring color, shape, design, and creating something personally beautiful. And, we were all happy to be spending four days outdoors creatively focused.

I found myself listening with all of my senses. At first, I was curious to know what brought these amazing people together — in short, everyone had some connection to Suzi who is a natural community builder in everything she does. Each day — flying by much too quickly — I continued to listen and watch as everyone was engaged and, at times, challenged though willing to work through any vulnerability that arose from lifetimes of “not good enough” messages floated to the surface. We supported and helped one another with such love and grace.

Each morning we gathered in circle under a grand oak tree and around our nature mandala to write into suggested prompts on paper intended to go into the journals we were making. To finish our circle we moved through a mudra meditation that focused on honoring, transforming, offering, receiving, opening our hearts, and grounding to Mother Earth. The mudra meditation reminded me of my connection to the earth as we worked outdoors. From the moving meditation we returned to work on our journals. Everyone was eager and focused on diving in and getting dirty in the process of creating. Each day was designed to focus on a part of the process so that we each had at least one finished (or nearly finished) journal with a second one to finish at home.

Throughout the four days I would step back for a broader view of the group as a whole gathered around tables full of creative chaos. I was in awe in realizing that we were all artists — each and every one while sharing ideas, tools, paint and story — making beautiful journals together.
Everyone working and focusing on their own work, yet within community.

At one point, on the day of the eclipse, Suzi suggested working in silence for part of the afternoon. The resulting focus and flow was palpable under the tent — everyone working and moving mindfully and slowly. The silence was a joy and much progress was made on making our book covers and assembling signatures for the inside. Even needing assistance was manageable in the silence as we continued to be aware of one another.

Silence is a powerful way to work, especially if you are outdoors like we were. We let nature be our music — the wind in the trees, bird song, even the shuffling of materials. In silence we moved and worked with ease and slowness. In silence our work became a practice in actively noticing or mindfulness. In silence we worked with greater presence — what Paulus Berensohn (Suzi’s teacher) calls radical presence. Every movement, stitch or stroke becomes art simply because of our quiet presence.

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Our final circle at the end of the four days was a celebration of displaying and honoring our work both finished and in process — a display of artistic beauty we were all proud of. As we prepared our farewells, we laughed, hugged, and promised to gather again next summer. Looking at one another after four full days of focused mindfulness, we were a happy, light-filled group who had shared a truly transforming experience.

I am grateful for my friend, artist, and book maker, Suzi, for having an idea, making it happen, and inviting us to be part of a summer art camp for creatively inspired adults (and young adults).

 

Coping with Challenge, Loss, and Change

 

Some days and weeks are more challenging than others in my ability to maintain my upward spiral of positivity and goodness. The last few weeks have been more challenging than most with one blow after another keeping my emotions on a roller coaster of grief and sadness as I ride the waves of transition and loss. Each time I feel my sense of self moving back to normal another shock comes along and I find myself tumbling into more raw emotion – more tears, more grief, more sadness, and more questions centering around “Why?…”

Yes, I have my daily practices of writing, meditation, gratitude, and yoga that anchor me to the moment. Though, I find during times like these, I need more to ground me into balance and bring me back to joy. So I write more to explore my questions, express each story, and sort through my emotions. My journals become my rudder to navigate the emotional storms. I am grateful for my daily writing.

Another practice important for channeling my disrupted and lost feeling is focusing on creative expression — I’ve made several journals, sifted through photographs for a new album, (even doing dishes and cleaning are creative channels) and I have a crochet project ready to begin. Each of these provide focus and each brings me into a fine balance of mindful action and mindless free thought — because they tap into a cellular memory from doing them so often, my hands know the way. I find a sense of quiet calm when I am in flow while making something new.

A practice that connects me to my spiritual self is to look for beauty in nature. Yesterday, I went for a meditation walk with my camera. Each step taken slowly and mindfully while opening my senses to beauty. Sometimes I’ll walk with a prompt or question then wait for what is before me — I listen to nature for answers, calm, or a redirect. My walk led me to explore my gardens. I was captivated by the lush growth and the recent challenges of weather. We’ve had an over-abundance of rain which invites overgrowth.

I then focused on the finer details. My eyes found something quite interesting as I stepped closer to a gourd plant — as it grows it sends out these spiraling shoots to grab hold of what’s available for stability and support as it grows taller. These reaching shoots create more than support, they generate my sense of awe and wonder as I witness the beauty and intelligence in nature.

Do I not also need something to hold for stability as I feel insecure and off my center? How do I find my anchor in turbulent times?

Later I reflected on my list of anchors I’ve recently utilized as reminders of my inner strength and resilience as well as support:

~ Reach out to a friend, whether by phone or in person.
~ Make something – like a journal, a weaving, or a photo album.
~ Make a plan for a next project when these are finished.
~ Go for a long hike into the woods feeling my connection to the natural world – not only are my hikes connection to nature, they are also movement which is always healing and calming.
~ Write in my journal exploring my questions and writing the stories in response to each situation.
~ Read something inspiring – poetry works well for me, as well as uplifting authors such as Brene Brown, Tal Ben Shahar, Megan McDonough, Maria Sirois, or Elizabeth Gilbert.
~ Give myself permission to feel all of my feelings. By expressing them without holding back, I move through them more easily.

By doing, I am reminded of using my strengths of appreciation and curiosity. I use these strengths on my meditation walks. I am also reminded of the research studies supporting the positive benefits of writing about troubling or traumatic events — writing about the same topic over 4 – 5 days allows me to integrate my emotions and my experiences into a greater sense of well-being. I am also reminded of the power of my breath to fortify my immune system, improve vagal tone as well as to lead me into my meditative calm. My creative self is grateful for my flow experiences that take me out of myself and into a focused process of creation — a healing balm in troubling times.

As I sit with a friend for support I feel the oxytocin – or know it’s being released through our connection – and find comfort in the positivity resonance shared between us.

All of these guide me in making sense of troubling times and make room for my thoughts and tears to flow while being balanced in positivity.

What do you do to lead you into a positive upward spiral during challenging times?

 

Nature Deficit Disorder

 

 

“Nature deficit disorder describes the human costs of alienation from nature, among them: diminished use of senses, attention difficulties, and higher rates of physical and emotional illnesses.”
~ “The Last Child In the Woods” by Richard Louv

Do you play? How do you play? Do you spend time wandering in nature? Perhaps play is a memory from your childhood traded in for the responsibilities and busy-ness of adult living?

For the last four months I’ve had the gift of both witnessing and participating in the play of my grandchildren. From the time they wake until bedtime, they are involved in some form of play. Life is an endless stream of curiosity and exploration. As I watch them, I remember my own childhood of play with Pennsylvania farmland as my back yard.

Except for weekdays in school, I remember being outdoors soon after breakfast until lunch, then out again until dinner. In the summer we would be out again after dinner until just after dark. The only time we stayed indoors was if the weather prevented us or if we were sick.

With plentiful seasonal clothing, I learned to love being outdoors and using whatever was available as props for play. My siblings and I made up endless stories and games for fun. I remember knowing the names of trees, bushes, and flowers that grew around our neighborhood.

Now, I am grateful for the days, seasons, and years spent outdoors. I am grateful to my mother for sending us outdoors throughout my childhood. As an adult, I prefer the outdoors to being indoors. I prefer curiosity and creativity in nature over sitting in front of the television or my computer. Most days I look for ways to get outdoors to walk, stretch, work, and enjoy the changing weather and seasons.

In the last decade or more it has become increasingly rare to see children outdoors simply playing (even at playgrounds). Though I understand the dilemma parents must face now — fear of children being bullied, abducted, or our own over organized schedules preventing time for play, as well as the hours of homework children must do after school — I wonder if we are robbing our children of important play and exploration, without a schedule.

Today, the process of squelching play begins at younger ages (even in preschool). We exchange their natural curiosity of learning through play for standardized tests so they can succeed in the world of academia. Are we robbing them of something essential? I believe so.

Watching my grandchildren in their play, I see that play is their learning. Through their play they are acquiring knowledge and important skills they’ll need for life. I am excited by their enthusiasm, curiosity, and exuberance as they run, explore, use their imaginations, and ask endless questions about what surrounds them in nature. Being outdoors has seen them grow in so many ways. My almost seven year old granddaughter can take you on a nature tour, identifying flowers, plants, and trees she has learned. My grandson, who is just two, has improved his running style, digging skills, and strengthened his bond with his ‘always by his side’ dog. They have both honed their frisbee throwing, gardening, and ball throwing skills. As a family we have enjoyed hours of birdwatching while the seasons have changed from winter to summer. On rainy days or just before bed, we listen and learn the birdsongs of the birds we’ve seen. Walks in the woods now include listening as well as seeing to identify birds.

We’ve rescued birds, turtles, and toads from danger or injury. We’ve made a nature book to create pages with nature’s findings — butterfly wings, leaves, feathers, and treasures.

Richard Louv in his eye-opening book, “The Last Child In The Woods”, speaks about the decline of children being outdoors to hike, walk, fish, play, and garden. Science studies indicate that direct exposure to nature is essential for physical and emotional health. Louv has coined the term ‘nature deficit disorder’ and speaks of children missing out on important outdoor play and exploration. Florence Williams in her book, “The Nature Fix”, has followed scientists around the world who study the positive effects of being in nature. When we are outdoors in nature — the woods, the beach, or hiking mountains — we can lower blood pressure, calm our minds, and decrease the effects of daily stress. Nature allows us to be more creative, improve problem solving skills, and leads us back to our busy lives refreshed.

The fresh air, the changing seasons as well as the sunshine has helped my grandchildren grow physically, mentally, and emotionally. They have become more independent and resilient being in a natural setting. Each day they are filled with nature. They are not experiencing nature deficit disorder that is so common with children today.

For myself, I’ve re-learned to relax into play and exploration while letting some of my ‘responsible to do’ lists take a back seat. I enjoy watching butterflies land on flowers, hummingbirds drink from the feeders, and looking for toads.

Do you play? How do you play?