Reflections, Foundations, and Intentions

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Here we are, days before this year ends and another begins. What do you do to prepare for the next year? Do you prepare? I do!

Reflecting… What’s been done? Who have I been?

I begin preparing by reflecting on the last twelve months. My journal pages fill as I ask, “What have I accomplished and completed this year?” and “Who have I been?” I write for days and one thought leads into the next as my list grows. You see, when I begin, I often think that very little has actually been accomplished. Every day is busy and full. I find it is easy to forget once I’ve finished a project or accomplished a goal and I am already onto the next adventure. Allowing myself time to reflect is like looking at a photograph or into the woods. At first, I look at the whole scene, take in its feeling without the details. The longer I look more and more details emerge that I hadn’t seen on the first look. Nuances of color, wildlife pausing in camouflage, a bird perched on a branch watching me, a fallen tree that I didn’t see in the initial looking. There is always more to see as my focus changes and deepens. The details are both in the scene and in me, my own inner landscape in response to the outer landscape.

Reflecting back over my year requires that I take time to allow details to emerge — those details I’ve forgotten. Looking at the whole I can see and feel an experience (even the sense of non-accomplishment). My initial list is simple — drawn from the whole. As I stay with the list and begin to focus on parts (month by month or day by day) details emerge and I remember — listing the details. After a week my list has grown and I am both surprised and happy that I’ve done so much. I am grateful that most of my intentions, written a year ago, have been fulfilled. And there were many pleasant surprises as well. I always love the adventures I didn’t count on yet were an outgrowth of my intentions.

A New List Builds from The Last List…

From the list of the last year, a new list begins to form. I have a new question, “What is in me that wants expressing this next year?” My new years list has begun with events already planned — workshops, writing, travel, etc.

Another question I ask is, “Who do I want to be this next year?” These are my inner intentions — equally important for these create the environment for many surprises. For example, I wish to be even more of my Best Self this coming year — appreciative, curious, open to new possibilities, and living more fully into the spirit of giving and loving.

Long ago, I dispensed with resolutions — those actions inspired by what I haven’t done. You know them — join the gym, eat better, write that book, finish that list of projects, etc. These nearly always end in the trash bin of unfulfilled hopes that I can later use to berate myself. Resolutions don’t grow from my Best Self. They grow from thoughts of not being good enough. Not good enough isn’t a firm foundation for growth, success, or surprise.

Foundation of What Worked…

What provides a firm grounding for awe, curiosity, and positive growth come from my Best Self. For example, one of last years intentions was to remember what I deeply love about yoga, hiking, and the sweet surprises that I am grateful for every day. Looking back, I did remember what I love which led me to more varied hiking, appreciating the yoga retreat I just went on (that I hadn’t planned for) and every day was full of moments of gratitude. Looking back and reflecting, I am in awe of all I’ve done and experienced in 2016. This is my foundation built on what worked.

Carrying Forward & Intentions…

Beginning with 2017, my foundation is being my Best Self, allowing nature to be my mentor for living in trust and giving, and honoring community whether near or far. I’ve ended 2016 with a new appreciation of the importance of community. I intend to carry that forward in 2017. I’ve remembered and learned that all my relationships need nurturing just as my gardens need tending in order to assist in the best harvest possible. Some practices I will continue — gratitude, living from my strengths, my yoga, my daily writing practice, and my journeys into nature. These form my firm foundation for the next cycle of intentions. Some intentions already forming are taking action over inaction, allowing room for my voice to inform my actions. I’ve learned that action creates momentum and upward movement while inaction creates stagnation and downward motion. I like the upward spiral into positivity even if inaction is sometimes the familiar and easy way ‘out’. Action always leads me somewhere — adventure, new community, resilience, and fresh perspectives.

An Invitation…

I invite you to reflect and plan for your next year. Begin with listing what was done last year as a foundation for the coming year. Write them down (if writing works for you), share them with someone you trust, create a work of art expression, and then appreciate all you’ve done.

Here are some questions to help frame your intentions and planning:

1. What did you accomplish, complete, learn, and experience in 2016?
2. Who were you?
3. What will you carry forward and upward in 2017?
4. What is already in motion or planned for 2017?
5. Who do you wish to be this next year?
6. What strengths and qualities of your Best Self will you cultivate and nurture?
7. What intentions will begin 2017 for you? Consider both specific plans and broader experiences in your intentions — leave room for surprises and opportunities yet to be discovered.
8. If resolutions work for you, write them as well.

As we prepare to say good-bye to 2016, let’s go forward into the next year open to sweet surprises and fulfilled intentions in the most positive way.

Happy New Year – may it be filled with peace in your heart!

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Inspired by a Holly Tree

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There is a park I stop at every time I go to Cape May, New Jersey. This park is very close to my destination and is my last opportunity to let my dog have a walk before our arrival. It is the only park that is not connected to a food and gas rest stop. I have walked around this picnic area park every month for the past few years and, only recently, did I notice a holly tree surrounded with a small fence and a sign telling the story of the tree.

On reading the sign, I learned that the Holly Tree is over three hundred years old and is now surrounded by a grove of many younger holly trees. This particular holly tree was on the original landowners property before the Garden State Parkway was constructed. What I find most interesting is that, rather than cut down the tree which is too often the way, the people who bought the property for the Garden State Parkway decided to honor this tree that has grown there for so many years and reroute construction around the tree and create a picnic area for travelers to enjoy!

Each time I stop at that picnic area, I stop to see and honor that tree. I am in awe that one tree was the reason the Parkway was constructed with a picnic area in the middle of almost nowhere and without a food court or gas station! That holly tree and all it’s surrounding offspring continue to grow, are cared for by someone, and provide an area to enjoy nature as the traffic continues on. I wonder how many people who travel the parkway are aware that this park exists because of a tree that has survived over three hundred years? I wonder what history has surrounded this tree in those many years — who were the people who originally enjoyed the shade of that tree?

Of course, this has raised another, more current question for me. If one tree has been preserved and a major highway rerouted around it can happen, why can’t the pipeline contractors at Standing Rock find another route for their pipeline in order to honor and preserve the history of our country and it’s indigenous people and their sacred lands? Those lands have been sacred land for far longer than three hundred years. Have we not taken enough from our indigenous people?

It saddens me to realize that this holly tree preservation is such a rare happening. What would it take to reroute other plans in order to preserve our history, our environment, and honor the people who live on that land?

I am inspired by the ancient holly tree that continues to stand because someone decided to honor its existence and find a way to keep it standing. I want to be inspired by the goodness in people everywhere to find ways to respect one another, be kind to one another, and care for our history — its people and the land.

Working With Worry

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I am a worrier. Yes, I can be a serious hand-wringer when something happens and uncertainty ensues or unexpected change is in the works. I consider myself an expert at worrying. I have often thought if there were a way to advertise, “Let me worry for you”, I would be a millionaire twice over! I am good at imagining the worst-case scenarios just to be sure my worry is worthwhile. I used to think that considering the worst that could happen was somehow preparing me for what was coming and if I could live with the worst, then all would be okay.

I was also taught that “God never gives us more than we can handle.” On some deep level, I think I still believe that along with flushing out worst-case scenarios even though both leave too much room for worry…

I am in a worry session now which has had me struggling about how to write a positive blog post (honestly, my blog is called ‘Happy, Healthy, and The Prepared Mind,’ implying positivity). My truth right now is worry over happy… I have numerous tools to use that could ease my angst and I find my mind a blank slate for even one practice that could pull me in an upward trajectory. Meditation, positivity practices like gratitude or kindness, even permission to be human (all my go to practices) aren’t helping. My other practices that usually work — yoga and nature walks — seem only to open space for more worry.

Ever have one of those days? or a string of those days? I hear myself asking, “What can I do?” or “What’s a solution?” And then I continue worrying because I have no immediate or helpful answer, no immediate (or positive) solutions.

Even in this current state I continue my routine practices and hope that my mind will move to calmness when ready. During my meditations my mind often finds calm from worry and clarity arrives if only in a momentary glimpse. I continue to hope.

Then, I arise from meditation with the question, “What can I do?” Answer: What I always do. Take action. Immediate action.

For today, I picked up my knitting as my action to keep my hands and mind busy. Do I need another scarf, pillow, or blanket? It doesn’t really matter — just knit. I knit or, more accurately, I create. Keeping my hands, mind, and body busy with creative action always helps me focus. I need action that is engaging to my senses — creating something does just that, engages more of my senses, provides a sense of purpose (even if for a brief while), and I appreciate the respite from my worry.

As I settle into knitting my shoulders relax as my hands are busy with the process of knit/purl, my mind is engaged with counting stitches to track my design, my senses are further engaged with the steady sound of the knitting needles, and I am taking action, moving forward.

Is this action toward a solution to my worry? Yes and no. There is not a direct solution to the topic of my worry, however, there is forward motion engaging in something I love to do. I hear my mind repeating my personal mantra adapted from Dory in “Finding Nemo”, ‘just keep knitting, just keep knitting.’ I continue to be absorbed in the task of knit and purl and, as I do, I notice a gradual redirect from my angst and fresh ideas begin to pop into my thoughts between stitches.

Staying with it, my mind and body move into a flow state where there is only the action at hand while all else fades into the background. Much research on flow has been done by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi where he presents the importance of flow states for wellbeing and a sense of purpose. Once I emerge from my flow states, I feel calmer, full of ideas, and I am aware of more space in and around me. This open space allows more positivity, relief, and room to explore solutions to the topic of my worry. I feel a glimmer of upward motion and a deep breath into the space that is so much more than my angst.

Action that leads me into a flow state is my recipe for changing my trajectory to a more positive and meaningful direction. Some people clean, organize, and throw things away as their focus action. I know many who create something, anything. Through action, any focused creation, appropriate action and solutions can present themselves. I trust that.

Being human means navigating change, unexpected as well as planned change. For me, worry has been and continues to be my default setting. What’s yours? Worry, though oh so familiar, always circles the drain downward. Taking action helps me spiral upward into a more resourceful state where solutions reside.

I do give space to my worry, angst, fear, and anger. I try to embrace the feelings that are painfully present. In other words, I give myself space to allow the feelings to be as they are without trying to make them go away. I also set a time limit on my wallowing or ruminating time so I don’t get sucked into too much darkness and despair.

Mindfulness is another practice in positive psychology as well as in many spiritual practices. Ellen Langer, a leading positive psychologist, refers to mindfulness as being actively aware. Through mindfulness I learn about myself so that I can change if and when necessary. Being mindful of my worry, listening to my minds story about a situation, and drawing on past practices of what I know works to change direction or course, I can begin to return to my upward spiral.

After my allotted two days of commendable worrying (I do give 110% to that time) and action through knitting (and some cleaning), I woke this morning with renewed energy. The world is more colorful again and a song is in my heart and mind. I am grateful for my worry, for my action, flow states, mindfulness, and trust in my process.

On a final note, taking action doesn’t necessarily mean action related to the topic of concern. My actions were focused in three tracks: 1. knitting to enter my flow state; 2. cleaning and accomplishing three things at home to clear space; and 3. wrote in my journal by telling the story that held me in angst in as much detail as possible. After several writing sessions listening to the running inner dialogue, I began a more meaningful conversation with myself, began a more positive story, and discovered solutions in a hopeful direction. All these actions quelled my concerns and helped me refocus on what is positive.

I am, once again, grateful to be on an upward spiral of goodness, positivity, and meaning.img_1437