A Small Steadying Sail of Love by Nancy Gibbs Richards

A Small Steadying Sail of Love: a small book of poetry 

On the back of the cover, poet, Nancy Gibbs Richards writes: “When a sailboat is in dangerously heavy weather,all the sails that move the boat forward are taken down, and a very small storm or steadying sail is raised. The purpose of this small sail is not forward motion, but to keep the boat headed into the wind so that it will not capsize. It is my hope that, for you, who open the pages of this book, these words and images will become a small steadying sail of love in your journey through life.”

 This book came to me one poem at a time,  from a friend, when I was in rough waters,  followed by the actual book a few weeks later. The seven poems I have copied out for you here, are amongst my most favourite and I have photos from my library to accompany them. These small verses truly were my steadying sail for a time and I was grateful to have received them. This season is not joyful for everyone. There are many where the lights and good cheer exacerbate their deeply personal sorrows. I am thinking of you, in particular, as I write this post.

 All except one of the poems is untitled and I pass these gentle words on to you. They are short little poems so it will take you only a few moments to read them. If one speaks to you, copy it out and read it again. For those who need them, may they be a balm for your spirit.

 

 

 

 

 

 

On seas of grief, my boat and I weather storms of terrible sorrow with a small steadying sail of love.  

The comfort of friends

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There is evidence 

threaded throughout my life story

 that I have been strengthened and guided at every turning.

 Now is the time to trust

that this will continue to be true.  

 

I cannot save the world

or heal another’s hurts,

but I can offer

one small act of kindness

 at a time.

 

 

 

In this time of waiting

 and not knowing

how things will unfold,

 may you find a pool of calm,

a place of peace and rest

deep within your soul.

 

It is a challenge to accept the truth of what no longer is possible  and yet embrace all that still can be.

 

 This also is true:

it may be possible

to meet in a place of tenderness

with a person

whose troubles trouble you.

 

Can You Hear Me?

We are separated by the wild river

of all that is unspoken.

With this small rock

I throw the first line across.

Tie it securely.

Let the building of the bridge begin.    

 

 

Notes

1) Thanks to Shutterfly for the banner image which I love, and to Gottfried’s library for the rest.

2:) Sometimes we just need a word to carry on. I think that is why I find these tiny poems so helpful. Just a few words that I can resonate with and I am forever grateful to my friend for sending them to me. I first wrote about this in 2018. This small book seems to be available in used books. I find Thrifty books (US site) to  be helpful and well-priced for Canadians.

3:) Here is a song of consolation and wonderful humour. Hopefully, it will remind us all to lighten up, relax and take a nap. And at the very least to be kind to ourselves and everyone else. We are doing the best we can, with what we know and within the circumstances that we find ourselves, and that is enough.  Unworthy by Cheryl Wheeler

4:) Thank you for taking the time to stop by and read these words. You, dear readers, make my life better. May all manner of things be well with you. With gratitude, Trudy

 

48th Week of 2022

Waking Up

Here we are again, closing in on another year.  If Oliver Burkeman is correct and we have on average 4000 weeks then I am in short supply. But the truth is nobody knows their expiry date. My mother lived to be 100. Because of her, there is an assumption that I too will live to be 100. But then there is my father who died at 79, three years older than I am now. Who knows? And since we don’t know, the best thing we can do is treasure our days; get our affairs in order; don’t wait to say “I love you” or do the things that are important to us, and pay attention to the unbelievable miracle that we go to bed at night and we wake up in the morning. Our heart keeps beating while we sleep.

When I say these things it can so easily be taken as a formula or another reason to be disappointed with yourself. Please don’t do that. We all need to lighten up. We will never get it all done or get it done perfectly. Some days we aren’t up to spreading cheer or checking off items on our to-do list. There is no end to the ways we can beat ourselves up in this culture. We have become a nation of faultfinders.  And the standards by which we measure success often get translated into how much of everything we have acquired. Kids are not exempt.

However, every day that we wake up we have an opportunity to do at least one lovely thing for ourselves and for another. Today my friend mentioned Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, who died last fall.  He was a scholar and psychologist who devoted his life to studying ways to “wake up” and cultivate aliveness and the state of flow in our daily lives. I learned from him.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi,

author, distinguished professor of Psychology and Management, and thought leader, had this to say on “waking up.”

“Wake up in the morning with a specific goal to look forward to. Creative individuals don’t have to be dragged out of bed; they are eager to start the day. This is not because they are cheerful, enthusiastic types. Nor do they necessarily have something exciting to do. But they believe that there is something meaningful to accomplish each day, and they can’t wait to get started on it. Most of us don’t feel our actions are that meaningful. Yet everyone can discover at least one thing every day that is worth waking up for. It could be meeting a certain person, shopping for a special item, potting a plant, cleaning the office desk, writing a letter, trying on a new dress.

It is easier if each night before falling asleep, you review the next day and choose a particular task that, compared to the rest of the day, should be relatively interesting and exciting. Then next morning, open your eyes and visualize the chosen event—play it out briefly in your mind, like an inner videotape, until you can hardly wait to get dressed and get going. It does not matter if at first the goals are trivial and not that interesting. The important thing is to take the easy first steps until you master the habit, and then slowly work up to more complex goals. Eventually most of the day should consist of tasks you look forward to, until you feel that getting up in the morning is a privilege, not a chore.”

― Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention (1934-2021)

Be a Beginner

Please carefully note that Mihaly is not talking about the treadmill or just being more efficient and productive. He speaks of something to look forward to.

I have a sense that what we look forward to changes as we live longer. At least it does for me. In fact, it can’t hurt to take stock now and again and ask if how we are spending much of our time are old habits and defaults or if we are doing things that allow us to look forward to our day. This does not imply that we need to look forward to everything that needs doing, but it does suggest that within the circumstances of our lives there will always be something meaningful we can do, every single day should we choose to do it. This may take cultivating a curious and investigative mindset. Being a beginner. Experimenting with new ways of doing things. It is always up to us to work with what we have and at the same time to figure out how to bring a little more light and life to the situation we find ourselves in. It is worth it.

Notes

1:) The seminal work of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi is Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience.  I also liked Finding Flow: The Psychology Of Engagement With Everyday Life  You pronounce his name like this: (Me-High  Chick-sent-Me-High) Once you know, it’s easy.

2:) Viktor Frankl “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way…when we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.”

3:) A delightful nature/art video from PBS, or perhaps I should say, using found acorns and small sticks and having fun. PBS Becorns start at 30 seconds to dive right in. 

4:) A deep bow to all of you dear readers. As we enter December, with all of its lights, festivals, and traditions, let’s remember that this is not everyone’s favourite time. If this is you, please know I think about this, although I personally love the lights and trees and trimmings.  Furthermore, I deeply hope you find your own special ways to bring celebration into your life. This could be curled up in front of the fire with a good book and a little something that you like to eat or drink. You get to decide. What’s great about growing older is that it feels like we have more freedom and flexibility to do things differently.

 

 

 

A Reminder to Slow Down – no rushing

 

This is an updated repost of my blog from four years ago, published right around this time of year. I always need a reminder myself and maybe you do too.

No rushing

After many decades of living, I now aim to reclaim the spirit of “no rushing.” To become more like my Grandmother who worked hard every day but seemed like the one who was not busy. How did she do that, I wondered. She, who had no modern conveniences, prepared all of her own food, after planting, weeding, harvesting, and canning the fruits of her labour, still had time to entertain her grandchildren with rollicking stories of the “olden days,” as she finished knitting another pair of socks or crocheting a new runner for the hall table.

I don’t believe in unnecessary comparisons. Times are different now, and I get that. We don’t organize our lives by the seasons or the setting sun anymore. However, I do believe there is wisdom to be learned, through the experience of those who have gone before us. And I now believe that my Grandmother gave herself wholeheartedly to whatever she was doing, in the circumstances in which she found herself, and as simple as those tasks may seem,  her life had meaning.

In other words, when she was picking wild strawberries, she wasn’t wishing to be doing something else. She didn’t expend energy wishing things were different than they were.  She had no notion that life should be easier or that it should be designed to make her happy. It seems to me in retrospect her main purpose, beyond providing the basics, was to make sure she was adding to the joy, beauty, and happiness of those who were in her circle of influence. And lending a hand whenever she could.

I am a busy person, with many things I want to finish while I can, and I have a wealth of interests. All the books I want to read will not get read. Nor, will I finish all of my tasks. We don’t know how long we will be around. When my expiry date arrives, I will leave unfinished business behind. What I know is that I want to do what I can do now, without being frantic and without demanding the impossible of myself in the way I use to do. I want the people in my life to know that I have time for them in the here and now. I want to have time to moodle.

importance of water for the brain Japan walkExperiment

I am experimenting, especially, as my own energy is at a lower ebb and December is coming, along with deadlines. Maybe you want to consider designing your own experiment.

 

  • What are the three important things that need doing today? Do them.
    • Write my blog
    • Strength training program
    • New Nature Journaling four-week program started this evening (the theme is water and watercolours)
  • Lower my standards in two ways:
    • Perfection is an idea and a myth and can keep us from doing something we would love to do, for fear that we can’t measure up. In order to take the Nature Journaling course I have to let go of perfection and show up not knowing what to do.
    • Do less of everything. Let go of FOMO. We all miss out on all kinds of things, and that’s life.

 TIPS:

Lowering your standards isn’t about sloughing off. It is about being realistic. You don’t have to do it all. You can’t do it all. It is about picking and choosing what is important and/or meaningful to you.

  • Instead of the gourmet meal for 20, do a simple delicious meal for X. (unless the feast is what you love doing)
  • Ask for help. We all like to help. You are not alone.
  • My daughter likes to, or, is willing to iron the tablecloths and wrap gifts as long as I give them to her early. And so I do.
  • Can’t face cooking the big dinner. Order the entire meal from a hotel or grocery store that specializes in creating these delicious dinners. We did this one Thanksgiving and everyone was happy. We shared the cost there were leftovers for everyone to take home.
  • Gift-giving is a wonderful tradition if you keep it simple and feasible. I sometimes give away a possession that I own and love, to someone else, whom I love. It is a lovely way to continue to enjoy something precious when you view it from a different angle.
  • Writing a few cards: it is evident to me that we all love getting especially chosen and handwritten cards, from people we care about. The gift of expressing our admiration and affection while we are alive is not to be underestimated. These gifts are treasures.
  • Start early. Everything takes longer than it seems. Avoid the last minute whenever possible.
  • Take time to dream. Allow the mind to wonder. Moodle. Every 60 seconds does not need to be filled with productive activity.

Freedom from Ourselves

In the meantime, when we can start letting go of our own self-imposed constraints and open up to the wonder that is this moment and can still do something for others and for ourselves, we are free. We are free to love and laugh and wholeheartedly engage with life on our terms and in the manner within which we find ourselves now: free to make mistakes and start over. Time to learn new dance steps.

Fighting with what we cannot have and regretting what we cannot change adds to our suffering and angst. Living, fully living, and giving our time to what we can do now, gives us unparalleled freedom to flourish in this moment. And guess what, when we stop doing so many things out of habit and custom, we are free to do more of the things we love without rushing. Freedom indeed.

Notes

Note 1:)We are now in the latter part of November. The last two months of the year are busy. And why I suggest that we “lower our standards,” is because I don’t want you or me to be criticizing ourselves and beating ourselves up for all that we couldn’t do. “No throwing sticks at your heart,” as the poet Hafiz writes. Make time for joyful moments.

Note 2:) This is American Thanksgiving week and from what I understand it is the most important and busiest holiday of the year. I recommend that you take a pause and read this beautiful letter that 95-year-old, Brother David Steindl Rast, composed for this year’s celebration. For those who are interested here is the 2022 letter.

Note 3:) Thanks to Patricia Ryan Madson for her watercolour postcard called Just Show up. I appreciate the access she has given me to her delightful small paintings. Likewise to Gottfried whose photography I frequently use and don’t always give him credit. (Although not today):-))

Note 4:) As I write these posts, I am always aware that I don’t know the circumstances of each reader. I do know that the world is trustworthy, even when it seems like it is falling apart. Any suggestions I ever make or imply are done with the complete understanding that you know best what you need to do. Take what you want and discard the rest. My very best wishes to everyone celebrating American Thanksgiving, and, equally, I send best wishes to the rest of us. Thanks for reading these musings. See you next week, Trudy

 

 

Only This Moment Now

Many children… delight in the small and inconspicuous. Rachel Carson

A Sense of Wonder

I am aware of this childlike sense of wonder in two global giants of our times. The Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Last night I watched the documentary released this year called Mission Joy. In fact I have seen it twice and I am struck by their sense of wonder and playfulness, while at the same time devoting themselves to the demanding work of the world. Both have suffered extreme hardship yet when they are together they play like children. And their camaraderie, gentle teasing, and kindness underscore their compassionate and wholehearted love for the world. Serious but not somber is an apt expression when speaking of these two.

This morning was also filled with wonderful moments. To start things off was the article in the NYT about the ripple effects of the Danusha Laméris poem, Small Kindnesses. I first copied it here in Oct 2019,  but will do so again, to refresh your memory.

Small Kindnesses

I’ve been thinking about the way, when you walk
down a crowded aisle, people pull in their legs
to let you by. Or how strangers still say “bless you”
when someone sneezes, a leftover
from the Bubonic plague. “Don’t die,” we are saying.

And sometimes, when you spill lemons
from your grocery bag, someone else will help you
pick them up. Mostly, we don’t want to harm each other.
We want to be handed our cup of coffee hot,
and to say thank you to the person handing it. To smile
at them and for them to smile back. For the waitress
to call us honey when she sets down the bowl of clam chowder,
and for the driver in the red pick-up truck to let us pass.

We have so little of each other, now. So far
from tribe and fire. Only these brief moments of exchange.
What if they are the true dwelling of the holy, these
fleeting temples we make together when we say, “Here,
have my seat,” “Go ahead—you first,” “I like your hat.”

Is this not a special poem? Apparently, I am not the only one who thought so. The NYTimes, published a piece this morning:

“Small Kindnesses: A Collaborative Poem by Teenagers Around the World. After 1300 teenagers told us about the small kindnesses they appreciate, the poet Danusha Lameris wove their answers into verse… the poet has a message for everyone who participated…’the smallest things we do just might matter a great deal. I am moved by the realization that simply speaking a name, giving a wave, or offering a space in traffic could change someone’s whole day. Or More.  …thank you for showing us ways we might lighten the load for someone else, and for showing us how to notice the goodness already around us everyday.” 

 I so hope the NYT will allow you to read it without a subscription. I have used a gift link from my account and fingers crossed it will work. The link

This is news worth reading and will renew your faith in the goodness of people, especially these young people. It reminds us all that it is the small things that carry such weight, and whatever our circumstances we are able to participate.

The First Snow

Secondly, I had to face the first snow. Since I do not have “the mind of winter,” as poet Wallace Stevens puts it I need to work hard not to retreat to a cave someplace and sleep until spring. I love the beauty of a pristine snowfall, especially when it is light and fluffy.  But I would now prefer to admire it briefly, perhaps on a mountain top, or from a cedar house beside a frozen lake, for one week. And then I would go home and tell others how gorgeous it was.

Sasha

Still, here I am and there is no escape, so once again I vow not to complain, (too much) and wear my base layers. However, today I was in for a surprise. Not knowing anything about dogs, I learned from Sasha, the family dog, that canines love the snow. I did not know this. I was there when the door to the backyard opened and she had her first taste of snow. Without hesitation, she bounded into that white stuff with glee and happiness: falling down, sniffing and tasting, frolicking about, and watching the snow fall in what appeared to be amazement.

She was mesmerized and so were we.  My granddaughter made her a special bed in front of the fire and she came in, curled up, and nodded off. Even with no desire for cold and snow, I could not contain my enjoyment of watching her. We learn lessons about having fun from dogs and children.

A Young Girl

Shortly afterward I dropped two boys off at school and as I was driving home I kept spotting these trees with red berries now dusted with snow. I finally had to pull over to take some photos. A little girl with her mother was shoveling snow on their walkway and I asked permission to take photos. The little girl looked up at me and said “I know another fun thing you can do in the snow. Watch me.” And she flung herself down on the ground and made a snow angel. I can only say that all kinds of warm fuzzy feelings flooded my being and made me forget my cold hands holding my phone. We continued to chat for another minute about the “fun” of snow. And of course, I remembered how I too loved winter as a child.

Treasure once-in-a-lifetime moments.

We don’t have to like them all. That would not make any sense whatsoever. But still…if we look wider and closer, there are so many moments that are treasures, no matter what else is going on. The lessons from all these teachers: Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu; the poets; the children and the puppies is to enjoy what is at hand. It isn’t complicated. Yes, life is hard, but as my friend, Emma says: “look out your window, or go outside and spot three things each day that catches your attention that you love or enjoy. Write them down. Maybe make a sketch.”

I know I sound like a broken record and I had planned to write about something different today but how could I postpone the beauty and joy of last night and the wonder of a poem about simple kindnesses written by 1300 young people?

Notes

1:) Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring published in 1962 became one of the most influential books in the modern environmental movement. One of my most beloved books that I think everyone should read especially parents, grandparents, and teachers, ( I really mean everyone) is The Sense of Wonder, which is where my opening quote is from.

2:) In honour of our beloved Mike who died in 2010, and loved this Bob Dylan song, sung by Joan Baez. He actually loved everything she sang.  In two days it would have been Mike’s 76th Birthday. Forever Young

3:) Sing while there’s voice left,  and thank you for continuing to drop by here. A thousand thank you’s and see you next week. Warmest wishes, Trudy

Les Petit Bonheurs – Small Joys

Small Joys

As some of you know I am captivated by the small joys that are part of all our lives. And I am compelled to share a few of mine from this week and suggest that you may want to look at some of yours. It is a lovely practice and it sharpens our attention skills, causes us to smile more often, lightens our hearts and inspires hope.

What got me thinking about this happened on Monday morning. After seeing my grandson Rowan off to school at 7:30,  I hopped in my car to go home. No sooner had I gone half a block when a call came in from my son-in-law asking me to turn around and come back. I immediately thought something must have happened, but instead, he said: “I bought you a Grande Americano at Starbucks, so pull up and I will pass it to you.”

I know it is not earth-shaking, but on that Monday morning, I was surprised and delighted. It tasted like the perfect cup of coffee and I was smiling from ear to ear. They say (whoever they are) that it is “not what you do but the way you do it.” And so my enjoyment was more than the coffee;  it was the unexpected; the phone call; turning around and seeing my son-in-law and Sasha, the family dog, standing on the sidewalk beaming in my direction with an arm outstretched holding that steaming cup of coffee. My entire Monday just kept getting better.

A reason to get up in the morning

A few days later, out of the blue, my grandson asked if I enjoyed coming over at 7:00 AM five days a week. I answered, “yes, I do.”

“I’ve been thinking about this,” he said, “and wondered what you would do if you didn’t come at that time?” I paused and said, “maybe I would just sleep in longer.”

“Ah ha,” he exclaimed, “and that would not be good for you. Your coming over to be with me is a reason to get up in the morning, and that’s a good thing. Right, Nana??”

He had more to say and it went something like this. “I think it’s good for your brain. You know we talk about things, have breakfast, I play the piano, you do some French on Duolingo, and sometimes we do mental math or wordle together.  Nana, it’s important to always exercise our brains, especially older brains, and do things every day that bring joy. And besides, I like you coming every morning.” And we exchanged a knowing glance.

Here is the point

I could consider this a chore, but why would I want that kind of suffering? Here I am: fortunate to now live in Ottawa, healthy, and able to participate in these joyful moments five days a week.

Another delight last Thursday, was a two-hour bike ride, with a friend. The weather was beautiful with blue sky, and sunshine and it felt like early September, not November. We got to enjoy the falls (see banner picture), stop at a tennis club for lunch, and spend almost four unexpected glorious hours outside. It was a mini holiday on a bike.

Life is hard, from time to time, for everyone. Paying attention to small joys opens our hearts, eyes, and minds to see more clearly the reality and wonder of this day, with its endless flow of beauty and surprise.  The practice of noticing gives us a chance to expand our view. And with that, we rejuvenate and become more cheerful and content.  I heartily recommend this daily practice,  for ourselves and as a way to be a small joy for others. In the end, it is the sum of small joys that counts the most.

NOTES

1:) Photo of coffee beans on the tree thanks to Rodrigo Flores on Unsplash

2:) When my Granddaughter Sophie was seven, she came home from school with a completed project titled, Les Petits Bonheurs. (small pleasures) This project was a booklet where she had illustrated a “small joy” on each page. I was so touched by the wisdom of her teacher and the small joys that Sophie had written and illustrated that I decided on the spot that I would do the same. That was over nine years ago and it has faded away, the actual recording of a daily sketch and a joy. It seems like a good time to revive the actual practice.

3:) Take a moment to have a walk through Kew Garden and listen to an excerpt from Herman Hesse on trees. Watch here.

4:) Thank you for coming by today. You bring with you a wheelbarrow full of joy for me. See you next week. Warmly, Trudy

 

Fallor ergo sum – I err, therefore I am.

“Fallor ergo Sum – I err, therefore I am.” Saint Augustine 4th Century CE

One of the dilemmas we all face is that we don’t live up to our own standards and expectations. It is painful, once again, to see myself, make the same old mistakes, bite the hook, and succumb to righteousness, defensiveness, or something like, “mistakes were made but not by me.”

In Living Fully with Illness, we speak of the naturalness of death, much like tornadoes, hurricanes and so on. I view our frailties and our failings, with that same understanding. We are humans, not robots. Therefore, when we make mistakes or break our vows, it is not helpful to be against ourselves. If we can learn to just step back and bring a quality of impartial self-awareness, we can notice what happened and see if we can do better the next time. Furthermore, we can bring that same quality to our judgment of others. We recognize that we are all humans, in the same boat, and our job is to help each other keep the boat from capsizing.

I love how Pema Chodron describes our human dilemmas.

She sees them as an opportunity to cultivate loving-kindness and compassion. This is what she says:

“be patient with the fact that you’re human and that you make these mistakes. That’s more important than getting it right.”

How about that!  Of all the articles that Pema has written this one has been the most helpful to me and I hope you find it useful too. Here is an excerpt:

Oops, I did it again

“I’d like to stress that one of the things you most have to be patient with is, ‘Oops, I did it again!’ There’s a slogan that says, ‘One at the beginning and one at the end.’ That means that when you wake up in the morning you make your resolve, and at the end of the day you review, with a caring and gentle attitude, how you have done. Our normal resolve is to say something like, ‘I am going to be patient today,’ or some other such set-up (as someone put it, we plan our next failure).

Instead of setting yourself up, you can say, ‘Today, I’m going to try to the best of my ability to be patient.’ And then in the evening you can look back over the whole day with loving-kindness and not beat yourself up. Your patient with the fact that when you review your day, or even the last forty minutes, you discover, ‘I’ve talked and filled up all the space, just like I’ve done all my life, as long as I can remember. I was aggressive with the same style of aggression that I’ve used as long as I can remember. I got carried away with irritation exactly the same way that I have for the last…’ If you’re twenty years old, it’s been twenty years that you’ve been doing it that way; if you’re seventy-five years old, it’s seventy-five years that you’ve been doing it that way. You see this and you say, ‘Give me a break!’

You are Human

“The path of developing loving-kindness and compassion is to be patient with the fact that you’re human and that you make these mistakes. That’s more important than getting it right. It seems to work only if you’re aspiring to give yourself a break, to lighten up, as you practice developing patience and other qualities such as generosity, discipline and insight. As with the rest of the teachings, you can’t win, and you can’t lose. You don’t get to just say, ‘Well, since I am never able to do it, I’m not going to try.’ You are never able to do it and still you try”

Our efforts add up

“And, interestingly enough, that adds up to something; it adds up to loving-kindness for yourself and for others. You look out your eyes and you see yourself wherever you go. You see all these people who are losing it, just like you do. Then, you see all these people who catch themselves and give you the gift of fearlessness. You say, ‘Oh wow, what a brave one—he or she caught themselves.’ You begin to appreciate even the slightest gesture of bravery on the part of others because you know it’s not easy, and that inspires you tremendously. That’s how we can really help each other.” (this excerpt is from the article in Lion’s Roar called The Answer to Anger & Aggression is Patience by Pema Chodron)

These days it can be easy to wake up grumpy. Many are suffering physical and mental distress. The last thing we need to do is “throw sticks at our own heart,” as Hafiz says.

Let’s do our best, and at the end of each day, put the rest aside. We can never go wrong with gentleness and kindness. Each day is a brand new 24 hours. Let’s always start fresh and work with that.”

“Seven times down, eight times up.” Dr Shoma Morita

Notes

1:) I made a few slight changes to this post that I published, almost two years ago, for Thirty Thousand Days. I stand by Augustine’s statement. Our mistakes, lapses, neuroses, and quirkiness is what make us human. I don’t know where the notion came from that we were supposed to be flawless. It’s a lifelong journey of discovery and how lucky we are to still be on it.

2: ) I took these photos in the past seven days in my neighborhood. We are having a long, warm and sunny autumn. It is now November and we still want to be playing outdoors.

3:) I started an exercise program at Carleton University two months ago. I  found no joy in it whatsoever until this week. With the exception that I admire and like the instructor – someone of my vintage who is still fit and strong. I would like to be more like him without doing anything. haha, What I am wanting to tell you is that there are things we need to do to maintain functional strength and flexibility as we live longer and/or are living with illness. (at any age) The point is that we don’t have to want to do it or even enjoy it. Just doing it is enough. The pleasant surprise today was that I finally warmed up to it. In other words, (good grief) when you know you will benefit from some activity don’t give up too soon. And for the first time in several months, I have no hip pain. Now that gives me joy. OK. I will get down off my soapbox, but while I’m here don’t forget to drink plenty of water, thirsty or not.

4:) Something to think about. The world dear reader is devastating, in every place we look. But this does not mean that we need to be devastated.

5:) Armloads of appreciation for all of you who keep showing up. You are the best. Warmly, Trudy

 

We Can Easily Abdicate Personal Responsibility For the Basics

There’s a lesson here, I’m sure…

Nasruddin was working as a laborer, and each day he ate lunch in the company of his fellow workers.

“Nothing but bread and cheese,” Nasruddin would say each day as he looked longingly at the food the other men had for their lunch. He saw dolmas, kebabs, tabbouleh, yogurt, pilaf, all kinds of food.

“You complain like this every day,” one of the men said to Nasruddin. “You should tell your wife to make you something different for lunch.”

“I’m not married,” said Nasruddin.

“Who makes your lunch then?”

“I do,” Nasruddin admitted, staring sadly at his bread and cheese.

I found this story on a free-use Creative Commons site and for any of you who are interested, please click here. It was #189 and posted by Laura Gibbs.

For my regular readers, you know that I enjoy the incredible Mulla Nasruddin – an ancient Sufi mystic known for his crazy wisdom. This simple little story makes me chuckle, yet, it also points to the trap of how easily we can slip into wishing things were different while waiting for someone else to make it happen. In some ways, we can easily abdicate responsibility for the basics. Let’s take lunch as an example.

When I was working full-time, I often ignored lunch. I knew better. I had all the information I needed to instruct others on the importance of taking a break. Attention, productivity, creativity, and decision-making all improve when we take time to sleep, eat and move our bodies.  Not to mention, cheerfulness, patience, and kindness both at work and at home.  I was on my soapbox about these things but I rarely did it because I was always busy. This is embarrassing, to say the least.

As Oliver Burkeman, reminds us, we will never get it all done.

When we think about it, to neglect the basics over a continuous period of time, is to abdicate personal responsibility for our life.  And, I agree, there are always exceptions. When a new baby arrives home; we sell our house; a family member is ill; we take a new job;  go back to school… (so many things) many of the basics get neglected for a time.

The problem is when neglect becomes the norm. Our body/mind/heart/ will let us know that it needs our help unless we have neglected our bodies for so long that we no longer hear or see or feel the feedback.

This is not easy to take responsibility for. We live in a culture of more. There is pride and reward for ignoring everything except the grindstone. And, there is also the fact that for some of us we also loved, loved, loved our work and it was good work and there was no end to it. A physician friend told me the best advice he was ever given from his mentor was this:

Take a lunch break and a walk every day. Make that your rule, not the exception. “You will never have time to do this so you need to take the time anyway.  Do not kill yourself trying to save your patients.” 

We can apply this to caregiving and every kind of responsibility we take on.  Sustainability is the key. We can always do short bursts of the “all nighter” so to speak. However, to sustain productive and creative work we need to be cautious of the arrogance that allows us to ignore our mortality.  We are not invincible and furthermore  the world will not stop if we take regular planned breaks.

It’s worth a try to create the conditions for rest and restoration so we are able to faithfully take care of ourselves and our obligations.

Generally speaking as wonderfully creative humans, anything we read we can immediately think of someone else to whom this applies. The best advice I received was to take a different tact. I was told when I read something that caught my attention or that was a common sense reminder I should ask only one question.

How does this apply to me?

Then I have something to work with since all of our other favourite humans aren’t controllable by us.

In the spring and fall, I remind myself of the basics. Whether we are healthy, ill, troubled, lonely, overwhelmed, afraid, or uncertain…it can be helpful to reassess where we are at. I had a recent health scare because I had inadvertently neglected to drink enough water. This is a common problem especially as we live longer, or have certain medical conditions. It’s easy to neglect, and it has consequences. In my case, I remedied the situation and my body went into full cooperation mode. I now consciously ensure, and I have a system so that my minimum water intake is  1 and 1/2 litres a day. That seems to work for me, and I feel lucky that such a simple solution fixed a problem.

The Basics

When we take care of the basics, it is the best self-care we can do. Maybe one or more of these items could use a little tune-up in your life. This is not a formula – so you can modify or create your own.

  1. Spending time even 20 minutes in Nature every day
  2. Sleep (there is so much info on sleep hygiene available – see a link in the notes but consistency and a dark room seem to count)
  3. Water – drink
  4. Taking time to eat good food ( we all have the information we need; it’s important who you chew with;  use your good dishes; moderation is a reasonable approach along with extra veggies and vitamin CH (chocolate))
  5. Moving our bodies especially outdoors  (the best exercise is the one you will do) (hard to beat walking)
  6. The company of others (learning, laughing, enjoying, confiding, planning)
  7. Doing something that you especially love to do each day (the sum of small joys add up to a meaningful life)

Notes

1:) The banner photo is a Ginkgo Tree – a symbol of longevity in Japan, and a display of beauty, here in Ottawa. I took this photo last Saturday morning while strolling with a friend. Interesting facts: the tree can live for a thousand years; even more, four ginkgo’s survived the blast at Hiroshima and are still growing today. I am charmed by the fan-like shape of their leaves.

2:) My grandson created his own stress reducer this year in the midst of rowing (the season ends this weekend with a regatta in Sarasota Springs NY) and a heavy load at school. He is using the piano for breaks. Works away for half an hour or so and plays the piano for 5-10 minutes and goes back to the books.  I see that this works great for him. This is an example of fitting in a small joy, a few times a day, for the love of it.

3:)Info on sleep Click here

4:) A short lovely poem from Gratefulness.org

 

Essential Gratitude – by Andrea Potos  (on Gratefulness.org site)

Sometimes it just stuns you
like an arrow flung from some angel’s wing.
Sometimes it hastily scribbles
a list in the air: black coffee,
thick new books,
your pillow’s cool underside,
the quirky family you married into.

It is content with so little really;
even the ink of your pen along
the watery lines of your dime store notebook
could be a swiftly moving prayer.

5:) I am happy you stopped by; grateful too. I wish you a lovely last October weekend. We have been beautifully spoiled in Ottawa with spectacular weather. Warmest wishes, Trudy

 

 

 

 

 

Let’s Splurge with Words

Not expecting applause

There are so many people working in the world in service to others whose names we will never know: scientists, artists, poets, humanitarians,  physicians, firefighters, ambulance drivers, cleaners – the list is endless. And yes, some get paid to do their work and some do not.  Regardless, so many do it wholeheartedly because they want to help not because they are looking for applause.

I’m thinking of poets tonight. With the exception of the top sellers, a poet and writer’s life and body of work are seldom acknowledged, in the broader world. And if you only write to get recognition, you will soon quit. Thankfully, so many wonderful poets and writers keep on writing, one word at a time, and we are the beneficiaries.

As some of you know, I think it’s important to splurge with our words while people we admire are still alive. Let’s not save our best words until after they are gone.

Tonight, I want to recognize and give applause to my poet friend Janice Falls. Some of you, like me, follow her poetry blog

Click for Heart Poems

Janice goes quietly about her writing life: reading, writing and helping others through poetry. (that is just part of what she goes through her life doing:-)) She faithfully stewards her weekly poetry blog, which is amazing, and many of my favourite poems have originally come from her site. And yes, she has poems published, but this week, coincidentally her birthday week, she received a lovely surprise and I want to cheer her on and congratulate her. Her essay, “Poetry As Medicine,” was selected for publication in Braided Way. If you are interested, in the power of poetry, I invite you to read it.  Here’s the link

Dr. Rachel Naomi Remen, writes:  “You can get a lot done in the world if you don’t care who gets the credit.” This is a powerful statement when you stop and take the time to consider all the implications. I consider Janice one of those people.

Speaking of Rachel Remen, I attended a live webinar with her last week and the most important message I took away was what she calls, “generous listening:” “The most basic and powerful way to connect to another person is to listen. Just listen. Perhaps the most important thing we ever give each other is our attention… A loving silence often has far more power to heal and to connect than the most well-intentioned words.” It also means listening where we stop our own chatter about what we like and don’t like, or what we think the problem is. We simply accept and listen more with our hearts than with our heads.

Notes

1:) May we all fling our kind and loving and appreciative words out into the world and make someone’s day.

2:) Photos: Gabriola Island and the sketch is Patricia Ryan Madson from her series on Improv Wisdom

3:) May you have a lovely week with lots of opportunities to notice and to listen. So many thanks for stopping by. Warmly, Trudy

 

 

 

 

 

Fall in the Gatineau sometimes this Sometimes That

Lost and Found

At one time or another, everyone loses something.

We lose loved ones. We lose our health. We lose our glasses. We lose our memories. We lose our money. We lose our keys. We lose our socks. We lose life itself. We have to come to terms with this reality. Sooner or later, all is lost; we just don’t know when it will happen.

“Loss is a fact of life. Impermanence is everywhere we look. We are all going to suffer our losses. How we deal with these losses is what makes all the difference. For it is not what happens to us that determines our character, our experience, our karma, and our destiny, but how we relate to what happens.” Lama Surya Das

A few years ago I wrote about this topic on a crazy morning when I couldn’t seem to find the most obvious things I needed: keys; gloves; glasses; jacket; my black shoes. And this was all before breakfast. Clearly, I had gone to bed the night before in a frazzled state.

Truth is, what I had misplaced was minor and simply inconvenient compared to the losses of the really tough stuff. But the other truth is when we get better at not losing our cool over these little things we build habits that will serve us well when we are hit with major losses in life.

The reason I was stressed was being in a rush.

And it was also due to not putting those items where they belonged the night before. Once we start rushing and are concerned about being late we get stressed. When we get stressed it is harder to remember. This isn’t just my opinion, rather, it is a well-researched topic in the field of neuroscience and psychology. Dr. Heather Palmer, PhD in Neuropsychology has worked with seniors and with people going through chemotherapy about what she refers to as brain fog.

Brain fog is a type of loss that we all fear, although I notice my grandkids, have no qualms at all about losing gloves, forgetting backpacks etc.

And sometimes we find what we lost

I’m a good finder, as my family will attest because when something goes missing and it is not where it should be, I look in the places where it would ordinarily not be. Plus, I’m persistent. And I am so grateful that my watch, ring, keys, etc have not vanished. I had misplaced them and I have them back.

What a surprise to be found

However, last week I experienced a different kind of finding and losing. I was found, by an old friend, whom I had considered permanently lost. Imagine my surprise, to open an email from my website and learn that it was written by a childhood friend. The dearest of unforgettable friends, who was in my life only from the ages of 11-15. It was an unexpected finding that included a loss that I hadn’t fully realized. (if that makes sense)

I am so often surprised by the beneficence of others. In this case, it was a trail of breadcrumbs involving an obituary sent to X, who when he read it was reminded of my family and went searching. And because of his efforts, he discovered my website and asked his Aunt, if this was “our Trudy Boyle.”

Taking Action

And his Aunt, my old, dear friend, wrote to me. And what was lost was found, after more than 60 years.

I tell you this story because it was such a surprise and so deeply moving for me. And once again,  a reminder about taking action. We honestly never know where one curious thought might lead and what delight it may uncover for someone else. So I thank my friend’s dear nephew for taking the trouble to turn over a few stones to see what might turn up.

Human beings need each other. We are wired for connection. And we cannot count on tomorrow. Today, the present moment is the only moment we can confidently act from. Let’s continue to live with our curious, flexible, and loving minds along with our outstretched arms. And perhaps, when you have a sudden thought of someone from your past, you might even follow up on it. These special gifts that arrive “out of the blue,” may seem ordinary and simple. But for meaning-makers like myself, they are treasures.

Notes

1:) On the topic of finding, I had another surprise, from long long ago. Last summer, in New Brunswick, my granddaughter overheard me speaking about going to camp in the summer, and for 25 cents I could buy, at the canteen, (after what seemed to be an endless hike) one small bottle of Lime Ricky, one Jersey Milk chocolate bar, and one small bag of chips. The thought of such bounty for one quarter astonished her but it didn’t stop there. Since that conversation, without my knowledge,  she was on the hunt for a Lime Ricky, even though I don’t drink any kind of soda pop. To my surprise, she found one and presented me with it on Thanksgiving. (quietly and behind the scene) So, of course, I was going to drink it and share it with her. And with that first sip, a cascade of memories flooded my being of hot, long, and delightful summer days from my childhood.) Thank you, Sophie.

2:)  This epic Playing for Change video was the result of two years of work across ten countries. The Weight with Robbie Robinson. It’s possible I posted this link a few years ago but I enjoy it every time I listen.

3:) Thank you for stopping by and reading these musings. I hope you find precious people in your own lives whom you may have lost too. Or they find you. Warmest wishes, Trudy

 

 

 

 

 

Joy and Not Joy

Delighted

I couldn’t be more delighted with these amazing days: blue sky; crisp air; warm to hot afternoons and an exuberance of colours so breathtaking that I nearly fell off my bike, today.

This is the time before Canadian Thanksgiving weekend, my favourite celebration of the year. So much to be thankful for! And yet…

People are suffering. Deaths; illness; war; accidents; typhoons; hurricane’s; flooding- the list goes on.

Some readers of this blog, including friends and family, live in Florida and others in Nova Scotia and PEI where recent storms have taken a toll. Yet, when I hear from them they address the brutal facts systematically and quickly move into how grateful they are. “It could have been worse,” is the common refrain.

No one is grateful for a flood or beautiful trees uprooted, or a destroyed home. No one is grateful for a diagnosis of cancer, auto immune disorder, or heart disease, yet even in those moments there is always something to be grateful for: the emergency response team, the hydro workers, the neighbour who shows up bearing a care package; the life-saving medicine. We can not be ok and still be okay.

The Greeks have a word to describe the paradox:

Eudaimonia

According to the School of Life, “it is eminently possible to be fulfilled and – at the same time – under pressure, suffering physically or mentally, overburdened and, quite frequently, in a tetchy mood. This is a psychological nuance that the word happiness makes it hard to capture; for it is tricky to speak of being happy yet unhappy or happy yet suffering. However, such a combination is readily accommodated within the dignified and noble-sounding letters of Eudaimonia.”(more about this in a later post)

And of course, there is a poem, thanks to my friend Jan Falls, Heart Poems blog. When I read this one, I found that it perfectly described so many situations where we are asked, “how are you?”

A Poem:

For When People Ask by Rosemerry  Whatola Trommer

I want a word that means
okay and not okay,
more than that: a word that means
devastated and stunned with joy.
I want the word that says
I feel it all all at once.
The heart is not like a songbird
singing only one note at a time,
more like a Tuvan throat singer
able to sing both a drone
and simultaneously
two or three harmonics high above it—
a sound, the Tuvans say,
that gives the impression
of wind swirling among rocks.
The heart understands swirl,
how the churning of opposite feelings
weaves through us like an insistent breeze
leads us wordlessly deeper into ourselves,
blesses us with paradox
so we might walk more openly
into this world so rife with devastation,
this world so ripe with joy.

The subtleties of our lives are no small thing. I was not grateful for my cancer diagnosis but I was deeply grateful, since I had it, to be diagnosed early. Both are true.

Thanksgiving is the annual feast day to count our blessings and give thanks and it can also be hard. For people whose beloved spouse, friend or other family member died all of these celebrations can be made more difficult, especially the first such occasion without them. So I think about those people putting forth an effort to find grace at a time of immense pain.

My family’s practice

Each year at Thanksgiving dinner we have a practice where each of us speaks about what we are grateful for. In the last ten years or so we added a small metal tree (some years it was paper) and a stack of handmade paper leaves where we each write out what we are thankful for and attach our leaf to the tree.  Before dinner we each read what we wrote. It is a special ritual that our family and friends look forward to.

 If we want to decrease suffering, gratitude is pretty much a fool proof method of doing so.

My friend Patricia recently sent me this quote from one of her artist friends, and I think it is perfect for just this occasion:

I want to spend the rest of my life rejoicing in the beauty of this world and finding a million ways to say thank you.” by  Anne Schrievogel

Notes

Note 1:) A special thank you to Dr. Jinroh Itami, thanks to whom I have something to offer and to live by. Always to Wellspring Alberta, The ToDo Institute, my family and friends, and all the wonderful people I am so honoured and grateful to spend time with through this work. And especially to you dear readers. I am most grateful!

Note 2:) A little something from the well-loved Brother David Steindl-Rast A Grateful Day

Note 3:) The banner photo is a spot on my bike ride today with a friend, although I took this photo a few years ago. The second photo was taken on my recent blissful weekend at a friend’s lake house.  Much to be grateful for.

Note 4:) Finally, I wish all of my Canadian readers a very special Thanksgiving weekend. It is my  favourite holiday and gives us a chance to formally count our blessings. You, dear readers, keep me company as we navigate this tender, wondrous, and oftentimes difficult life.  Your encouraging words are heartfelt and appreciated. Please accept mine, as we cheer each other along. (I say this often, I know, but it is simply true and I want to remind you)   A deep bow. Warmly, Trudy