A Moment to Explore

EXPLORE

The world feels entirely off kilter for so many.  As jobs, schools, gathering places and now even laws and the ways they are enforced are in limbo, the natural world goes on as usual. Animals forage. Flowers blossom.  The sun keeps rising and setting. And really, as people we go on too.  Our moods and plans shift, but we still need to breath, eat, sleep, connect. We need something to do all day.

So here are some ways to escape or dive in, depending on your perspective.  A few explorations are human-centric, the majority focus on plants, weather and animals. This is an invitation to get outside, to get curious and NOTICE what’s around you.  These are mindful meditations in action.  Feel free to try one, or spend a whole month trying something new each day.   Anxiety, politics, work and bills will always be there.  No doubt they need attention.  But just for now, take a moment to leave them behind, get curious, and explore.

Take a New Turn

Go for a walk, jog, hike or bike ride.  Take just one new turn. Where does it lead?  Do you see any flowers, trees, people or homes you’ve never noticed?  Do you see things you always notice?  Why do you pay attention to them?  Why not the new weed growing beside your left foot? Or under your right one.  Is it clean or speckled with mud? Is it blooming, aromatic, or looking really parched? Can you relate today?  Do you feel calm or stressed and out of your comfort zone taking a new turn?  How far will you travel the new path?

Greet People

Try smiling at people as you pass. Wearing a mask?  Try waving.  Want to be really brave?  Verbally greet people (strangers and friends).  Then notice how you feel.  How fast is your heart beating?  Do you feel like smiling more?  Is it easy, tough, maybe awkward finding something to say to people?  Do you feel like doing it more or shying away from it?  How did you see others’ respond to your greeting?

Rain Walk

Take a walk or go outside in the rain: feel free to wear rain gear or get wet.  How does the earth look different than when it is dry?  Do you notice a difference in the sounds, smells or movement of plants and animals?  Who is outside and what are they doing?  How fast are they moving?  How fast are you moving?  What happens if you just stand still for 2 minutes?  

Garden Glance

Do you have a garden or see a garden?  Are there weeds in it?  How many plants?  What kinds?  Do they look messy, neat, pretty?  Are they large, medium sized, small, or as my daughter likes to say: “teeny tiny”?  What shapes are their leaves?  How about petals?  How many shades of green do you notice?  What other colors do you find?  Are you curious how any of the plants taste?  Maybe try a leaf, stem, or blossom (do check into whether they are poisonous first here’s a helpful start).

What else is there to explore outside today?

OBSERVE: A Few Ways to Experience Nature

Has the weather started to feel glorious yet where you live?  The season of growth, green plants, chipper fauna and warm air has finally settled in southeast Michigan.  Our dog often races outside in the morning to playfully chase a rabbit into the woods.  My daughters don sun hats on walks (as long as I can convince them to keep the hats on) and we seek early morning rather than late afternoon walks to enjoy comfortable outdoor temps.

Last week I hinted at the themes for the posts I’ll be sharing this week and the two to come.  I want to help you enjoy the outdoors, nature, and even (dare I say it?) social distancing more.  Call it mindfulness, meditation, relaxation exercises or scientific observation.  It will lower your blood pressure, hopefully help you feel a little better about this moment and notice something new about your life and environment in this moment.  To unlock some of the wonder, we’ll start with the most basic approach: observe.  

Look Around

On a hike, as you sit on a park bench, or look out a window. Learn the names of birds, bugs and/or plants (feeling lost, you’ll be amazed what google finds you with simple keys of your region, the color and shape of whatever you’re looking at). Keep a record of what you see, how many, how frequently, what time of day and where you see them.  You might find you really like to watch the sun reflect off a nearby river at a certain time of day, or that mist is worth getting up a little earlier to see float over your town in the morning.  Just a take a look around.

Close your Eyes and Listen 

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What do you hear? Are the sounds close or distant? How do the sounds feel in your body and especially your nervous system (e.g. soothing, jarring, familiar, unrecognizable)?  Are there few or many sounds? Are they of a mechanical, human, animal, or weather-related nature?  

Use your Nose

Smell the air outside. Bend down and smell some flowers. Do you like their aroma? Are the scents familiar? Try smelling different trees: leaves and trunk. Do you notice their differences? Smell the air when it’s dry outside, smell it shortly before a rainstorm and smell the air after a rainstorm.  What smells different after rain?

This is far from comprehensive, but a start to what I do with my girls outside.  Spoiler Alert: we never get bored.  We do have a lot of fun.  We’re learning a lot too. A couple of weeks ago we met our first rose breasted grosbeak.  I didn’t remember its name the next time we encountered one, but my 2 ½  year old quickly set me straight.  Maybe you’ll learn something from an unexpected source next time you are observing too.

SPENDING TIME OUTSIDE

Are you feeling weighed down lately, bored, or even a bit stir crazy (or actually crazy)? Is quarantine still happening where you live and maybe your kids are home with you?  My husband and I both work from home and have two little ones ever-present, so I feel you.  Here’s the thing: we’ve both been working from home for close to three years now, so we’ve had some time to work on and work out the kinks.  A HUGE element of keeping our sanity: 

SPEND TIME OUTSIDE.

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There is tons of research that backs up the benefits of getting outside.  The bottom line: outside time is beneficial. Getting out around more trees = even more calm for your mood and brain.  Getting outdoors and exercising has some additional benefits (especially for your heart, muscles and bones).  But just getting some fresh air improves cognitive performance: i.e. helps your sanity and job performance.  It is also something to do that is not screen time.

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I read and hear about a lot of parents concerned about or even feeling guilty their kids are getting tons of screen time…what else are they going to do?  Let’s just pretend it’s 1820 or 1920 and we’re in quarantine… pre: Netflix and Youtube, Smartphones and Tablets, even PC’s and TV’s.  What did kids do back then? There was plenty more time spent exploring one’s imagination and the incredible planet we live on. 

While reading Richard Powers’  The Overstory this spring, I found the characters Adam Appich and Patricia Westerford particularly intriguing.  They were full of questions and deeply observant of the natural world.  They studied trees and insects with more depth as children than I have, now well into adulthood.  I found them inspiring.  There’s no time like the present to get better acquainted with nature, so with my toddler and infant in tow, outside we go to observe, explore and create.  Over the coming weeks, I’ll be sharing ideas for getting better acquainted with the outdoors.  Maybe you’ll try some or even brainstorm more ideas.  Please feel free to drop any further suggestions in the comment section.

Photo by Andre Furtado on Pexels.com

Happy Getting Outside!

Show Up for Someone Today

I’ve noticed a pattern among people.  We fail to perform at our peak when we are tired or hungry.  Tired and hungry…talk about a total disaster waiting to happen. But when someone is less than rocking it at life, there’s an amazingly simple way to help.  

Just be there for someone.

My 2 ½ year old is perfectly capable of dressing and undressing herself. But whenever she is in what we call a “Maslow” state -missing one or more of her basic needs to function like her normal, happy self- (e.g. hungry or tired), clothes seem to stick to her body relentlessly and a tear-filled meltdown is nearly inevitable.

One night, “Maslow” had set in and the pajamas just weren’t going on. My daughter cried out in desperation, “I NEED HELP!”  I bent down, simply touched the fabric and told her, “You can do it.  I’m here, it’s okay.  Keep going.”  Sure enough, she solved her own problem in under 5 seconds.  I literally did nothing to help her with her pj’s, but having the sense of support, she felt comforted, calmed and empowered enough to resolve her own challenge.

anchor couple fingers friends
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How often do people underperform simply because they feel unsupported?  Our world is filled with so many individuals, groups and societies who, not at all to say they are unproductive, but who struggle and can’t reach their potential because they lack the basic needs to be able to focus and perform at their highest ability. Food scarcity, hunger, exhaustion, lack of safety, financial hardship, loneliness, and the lack of stable housing are all very real challenges hundreds of millions of people face all over the world. They are refugees crossing the globe to seek shelter and neighbors on your own street looking for a friend.  

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We all need support from time to time. Some of it is physical or monetary and often it is just letting someone know you are showing up for them. Sometimes it’s as simple as a chalk message on the sidewalk or a phone call.  

Who can you show up for today?

 

Those on the Front Lines

For months the world has been watching the unfolding of what is perhaps the most unifying and isolating shared human experience in over a century.  There are plenty of mentions of needs in the medical community. Not a lot of in depth reporting on their experiences and concerns. The medical community is communicating inside their network though and their fear is very real and ingenuity astounding.

I have several close friends who work in hospitals.  My husband has been living in a hospital all week. The untold truth is: medical professionals are SCARED.  And rightfully so. I spoke with a doctor this week who couldn’t get the proper (N95) mask to wear in a surgery she participated in- there weren’t any.  When scared people flooded the market and bought up all the masks, they left medical professionals, who are risking and some even giving their lives to help those suffering, without this much needed protection.  Now there are doctors preparing to make their own protective gear, including face masks out of vacuum filters.

woman in orange crew neck shirt wearing white face mask
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

Thank You 

To all the front line workers- you are making a difference.  Many more people were diagnosed this week than last week with COVID-19.  This information gives the world a more honest picture of what is happening and a better idea of who needs to be completely quarantined.  Thank you to those creating, dispersing, and working on the front lines to handle the tests.

Doctors, nurses, first responders, phlebotomists, techs, janitors, managers, laundry attendants, receptionists, food deliverers, pharmacists, and everyone else who works in hospitals and many other medical care professionals are out on the front lines 24/7 putting themselves and their families at risk.  They are saving lives! Thanks to all of them, more people recovered from COVID-19 today than died from it.  

Hospitals are doing what they can.

The challenges are momentous.  At the hospital where my husband is being cared for (for a vital, but non-covid-19 related procedure), he learned that  elective surgeries have been cancelled or postponed. He said it feels eerie with so many open rooms and few patients on the floor.  This is the calm before the storm. Lots of people are ramping up to work harder than they ever have. They are doing the best they can, but limitations make the situation far from normal.

You may not like being at home.  

A lot of people feel isolated, worried, perhaps even bored.  Do you ever think: I feel fine, and besides, I’m not going to visit my grandparents, or anyone over 70, so going into restaurants, bars or stores right now isn’t a big deal?  Do you worry about keeping small businesses afloat?  Your simple actions- of going out or staying in- do impact countless people in the long run.  Please do the whole world a favor and if your work outside home (for others) is not essential, JUST STAY HOME.

What CAN you do?

If you’re anxious, start by turning off the screens and taking some deep, slow breaths.  You can even take free yoga classes online for a month here. Buy a gift card -essentially an interest free loan- to those small businesses, get your food delivered (please don’t even meet the delivery person at the door right now), and meet up with your friends online or on the phone. 

 What if You Don’t Stay Home?

More people WILL get sick.  If you don’t stay home, more people WILL die.  A Washington Post article explains this in more depth with helpful diagrams here.. Even if you don’t feel sick, you could carry the virus.  Then more medical workers face more dangers. And as my brother shared with me this week: there will be more situations, he and many like him will face of having to make the terrible decisions already facing those in Italy of who gets a ventilator and who doesn’t.  They will have to watch people die, not because they don’t know how to treat them, but because resources are limited.  

Today YOU Can Make a Choice That WILL Save Someone’s Life.

So please, do the whole world a favor for the next several weeks.  Stay home. And know that by doing “nothing” you are doing something to make the world a little better in this strange and trying time.

 

A Moment for Appreciation

Do you ever have moments when you pause to just revel in how wonderful something is?  Perhaps a supremely meaningful compliment from someone at work, the smile on your child’s face when she looks at you, or the refreshing shower you take after exercising?

This weekend I spent a fair amount of time savoring a particular element of my life I appreciate.  While life with chronic illness  is an ongoing challenge -for about 40% of the population- we’ve had a particularly rough span in our family the past 7 months.  Basically my husband just feels lousy all the time, sometimes more than others. 20191129_122509

In spite of it, he continues to be playful, loving and always kind.  He makes a concerted effort to support our daughters’ rapid development and budding interests.  Every night he popcorns a slew of jokes to keep me laughing until I tell him we have to stop laughing and get some sleep.  He pushes through the clouds that darken his view of life and keeps poking holes for those around him to see the sunshine, even when he struggles to see it himself.

I am in awe of his warmth in a very cold season and tremendously grateful for it.

These days I don’t carve out a lot of time for journaling what I’m grateful for.  However, in place of a formal blessing at our table, we hold hands every night to share what each of us feels grateful for.  Perhaps tonight I’ll tell my husband how grateful I am for him.

What are you grateful for today?  If it is someone, have you let them know?

Embrace the Closeness

This morning I awoke before dawn to my dog yelping in her sleep.  Sometimes she gets excited in her dreams. Inevitably, however, my nearly 9 month old daughter awoke as well. “Mamama” she called as she rustled in her crib.  I slid out of bed and walked the 3 feet to her crib. I picked her up, gently bounced and rocked her. She made playful airy noises through her lips, flipped her head back and forth trying to find the right position on my shoulder, looked up at me, then started to settle back into rest.

I returned her to her crib.

Immediately she rolled around.  “Mama” she called out again. I picked her up, told her it was “sleepy time” and this time offered to nurse.  She gladly latched on as we made our way to bed. She tried to convince me it was time to rise and make sweet googly eyes at each other.  I again encouraged “sleepy time” as I closed my eyes and eventually she dozed off again, unlatched and started to flail in a way that indicates “give me some space.”

Once again I returned her to her crib.  Once again she flipped over to her tummy, inch wormed forward to the edge of her crib, pulled up to stand and called out: “Muuuuuu.”20180614_063106(9)

Again I slid out of bed, picked up my precious baby girl and began to snuggle and swing her.  Her eyes closed, her body went sleepily soft, and as far as she was concerned, all was right in the world again.

One could say “that baby has got you wrapped around her fingers” and to some extent that is true.  But usually she does sleep well on her own. And on the sweet occasion when she just wants to be held, I turn to gratitude: for a child who trusts me, for someone who feels safe in my arms, and a loved one who requests a warm embrace.  In the grand scheme, these tender moments of closeness are rare.

20180307_074621I embrace the closeness and just smile.

Taking or Giving: the earth?

We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors,

We borrow it from our children.

-Native American Proverb

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Asteya is the Sanskrit term for “non-stealing”.  I was recently invited to consider this concept.  Initially my reflection was concise: I don’t steal, that’s pretty basic.  But with more consideration and reading about world events, I started to ponder the the proverb about borrowing the earth from our children.  The question arose:

Am I borrowing or stealing the earth from future generations?

How we treat the planet today impacts what is left in 5 years and 5 millennia.  This planet has an amazing way of healing itself and on top of that, ecological change is inevitable.  A volcanic eruption will cause far more harm to the air than all the driving you could possibly do in one lifetime.  And yet, does that dismiss the part you and I play, however small, in caring for the earth and its inhabitants?

We all have a different role to play in the grand scheme.  Each person makes a difference; at least to a few people, plants, perhaps even animals, you make a difference in the lives of those around you, as well as those  influenced by the people and creatures you impact.

How do you feel inclined to impact the planet?

Have you appreciated the crisp smell of the cooling air?  

Do you conserve energy by turning out lights when you leave a room?  

Will you grow herbs, flowers or a tree to clean the air and brighten the day of someone who passes your home on a grueling commute each day?

We aren’t all meant to be global activists to the extent of Vandana Shiva, but by listening to your inner truth –you may think of this as “following your gut reaction”– can bring out a little better version of yourself and help shape a world that is a bit more welcoming than you first found it.  

Will you remove a bit of its beauty or offer a brighter planet to those yet to come?

 

Patience, Presence, and Practice

We live in a culture that values productivity, a term that seems to be defined by the rapidity in which a task is completed. As a millennial, I am a child of this ever-expediting culture, the “hit refresh if you don’t have the information in 1-2 seconds” generation. Even educations are now being offered on a “fast-track” or in “bootcamps.”

What does all this fast-paced living get you?

Recently a friend and I reflected on this culture that inspired the movie “Click” starring Adam Sandler.   The film speaks to this growing trend to be in such a hurry (to get through experiences) that we miss savoring the moment we are in. At what cost?

Are you missing all that much?

Have you ever been asked on a Monday morning “How was your weekend?” and struggled to even remember what you did?   You may be busy, but are you present and finding aspects of each moment to enjoy? In other words:

Do you satiate each moment?

Recently I have begun a more intensive yoga practice, admittedly struggling at times to find it worthwhile to pause my endless to-do list to take time for a suggested morning and evening meditation. I try to live meditatively, and yet I still find myself running around to find my cellphone or sunglasses: a tell tale sign of my lack of presence in action- and the hit it takes on my life.

Being fully present in each moment takes work, a skill, like most, that requires practice. Consider a baby learning to walk. Think of how many fallen attempts precede even the first step, let alone mastery of the new skill.

 

If you were willing to fall as many times as a baby learning to walk, what could you accomplish?

Thomas Edison had the perspective that each unsuccessful attempt to invent the incandescent light bulb was not failing, rather, he was learning ways that did not work.  As you learn ways that do (and don’t) work to succeed, will you have the patience to be present so you find ways to enjoy the journey of practice until you reach (or even surpass) you goal?

Learning through Loss

We all experience times of loss: when life takes an unexpected turn that throws you for a loop.  Sometimes there is no way to foresee the wrench life will throw at you, but you can decide how you handle it.  

I recently encountered some of these twists: the first one rocked my life plans and initially struck me as a very pleasant shift.  Six weeks later, another large “surprise” arrived, but one I was not so eager to welcome.  I tend to think of myself as a person who loves surprises, but Tony Robbins shed some light on this topic for me in his Ted Talk:

“You like the surprises you want. The ones you don’t want, you call problems, but you need them.”

So here I am, swimming through the “problems” Mr. Robbins says I need. I could wallow and wonder why this struggle is happening to me, but what good would that do? Following the mindful tradition, I allow myself to accept the emotions that come. There are moments of despair, times of questioning, and even occasions of recognizing the positives that exist due to recent changes as well. There are multiple ways of looking at any situation. I’m inclined to cling to ideas I like. However, to work through struggles, I have to consider multiple perspectives and try to see the big picture.

In his book, Zen Shorts, Jon J. Muth illustrates this Buddhist concept with his parable: “The Farmer’s Luck.”

There was once an old farmer who had worked his crops for many years.  One day, his horse ran away.  Upon hearing the news, his neighbors came to visit. “Such bad luck,” they said sympathetically.  “Maybe,” the farmer replied.  The next morning the horse returned, bringing with it two other wild horses.  “Such good luck!” the neighbors exclaimed.  “Maybe,” replied the farmer.  The following day, his son tried to ride one of the untamed horses, was thrown off, and broke his leg.  Again, the neighbors came to offer their sympathy on his misfortune.  “Such bad luck,” they said.  “Maybe,” answered the farmer.  The day after that, military officials came to the village to draft young men into the army to fight in a war.  Seeing that the son’s leg was broken, they passed him by.  “Such good luck!” cried the neighbors.  “Maybe,” said the farmer.

I think we can all attest to similar ebbs and flows in our supposed “good luck” department.  We never can quite imagine what is around the bend, but I do find a flow of increasing positivity comes to those who focus on goodness, and downward spin for those who wallow in anger, fear, or self-care at the detriment of others.

Brazilian lyricist and novelist, Paulo  Coelho shared: “I have seen many storms in my life. Most storms have caught me by surprise, so I had to learn very quickly to look further and understand that I am not capable of controlling the weather, to exercise the art of patience and to respect the fury of nature.”

Whether stormy weather or stormy circumstances, we each get to decide how we handle the unexpected.  Will you stay weighed down in the weight of misery, or allow those painful feelings to flow through you, then allow them pass and move on?  I hope you will allow life’s clouds, at times light and in other moments dark, to cast their shadows and then blow on by.  Acknowledge the hurt, then move on and take in the moments of sunshine.  

There is always light above the clouds.

 

  1. Photo by Elijah Henderson, Clarksville, United States. https://unsplash.com/photos/DMED-sOt1Ak

 

  1.      2. The Kingdom, Sun above Clouds, 2008 © Seb Janiak