Activities, Uncategorized

Action #9: Be Still

Life has been far too noisy for me lately. For whatever reason I am built to thrive with frequent doses of silence and solitude. I used to think this was just a freaky thing about myself I could choose to ignore, but I can’t. Too long in the city and I can’t even hear myself think. I get overwhelmed by the hubbub that assaults me as soon as I set foot onto my busy street every morning. The din follows me in when I turn on my computer, which is full of competing voices shouting for attention. And speaking of shouting, my toddler seems to only have two settings: Asleep or Loud. I have been long overdue for some quiet time.
Here are some ideas on how to incorporate stillness into your life, to make room for wonder.

Ample Time and Money: Retreat! It turns out some of the people I respect the most have also needed this time alone to recharge. Jesus, for one. Another is one of my favorite authors, Madeleine L’Engle, who wrote, “Every so often I need OUT; something will throw me into total disproportion, and I have to get away from everybody – away from all those people I love most in the world – in order to regain a sense of proportion.”

I just spent a couple days at my family cabin with no electricity on a cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean just south of Big Sur (my family may not be rich in many material ways, but this little piece of heaven makes up for anything else we may lack). It is such a centering, grounding place for me. I immediately feel reconnected to the rhythms of the earth, to my past, to who I am and what my place is when I go there. There is nothing like watching the sun set in a spectacular light show with an unobstructed panoramic view and then seeing a gazillion stars revealed to regain a sense of proportion as just one tiny part of a great cloud of galaxies. I feel as L’Engle again writes, “I am created by a power who cares about the sparrow, and the rabbit in the snare, and the people on the crowded streets; who calls the stars by name. And you. And me. When I remember this it is as though pounds are lifted from me.”

Go somewhere you can be still enough to feel that. Get away from it all. Unplug, check out, and recharge before your battery runs dry. If you can go for a good long while, great, but even if it’s just for a weekend or 24 hours, it will do wonders. Mothers, in particular, need to treat themselves to a rejuvenating break, but tend to be the last to do it. Don’t feel guilty. The kids will survive. You need this! (As expected, my son was much more excited at the return of our dog than of me. His first words are “dog” and “Dude”, our dog’s name. Still no “mama”, dang it!)

Limited Resources: Observe some form of the Sabbath. Even if you are not remotely religious, practicing a day of rest, relaxation, and connection with community each week is a wonderful and much needed ritual we can all adapt to fit our circumstances. It doesn’t have to be done in a legalistic or rote way, just in ways that are helpful to you personally to be mindful and slow down from your hectic schedule. Check out sabbathmanifesto.org for inspiration.

Busy and Broke: Start a silence habit. Just like checking email has become a habit or bath time for our toddler is an anticipated part of the daily routine, I am hoping to incorporate some mindful silence daily. Before Little Man came along, I used to journal and read and pray in the mornings. Now, mornings are nonstop action from 6:30 on. It may require an adjustment of priorities, but if I retrain myself to take some time each day to pray or meditate or journal or read something soul lifting, I know it will become a habit that will benefit my mental, spiritual, physical and creative health.

May you all be able to create wonderful moments of stillness in your days. For those of you who check back here from time to time, you’ll notice I have not been posting twice a week as I had been. It will probably remain infrequent as I rearrange priorities to be present to a busy toddler and attempt to maintain mental health and good life balance and maybe even read some actual books. I haven’t quite decided to go the route of Yiyun Li, but I may be headed in that direction.

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Activities

Action #8: Grow Some Wonder

It is still miraculous to me that you put a seed in the dirt and after a bit, it grows into something edible or beautiful or determined or tall as a redwood. I am not known for my green thumb. My greatest achievement to date in plant management has been to keep some bamboo alive, just barely, for the past ten years. But I am ready for more.

I mentioned awhile back that we signed up our backyard as part of an urban cooperative farm, but sadly, the organization went belly up. It was a brilliant idea, but somehow paying their farmers a living wage in San Francisco was not a sustainable business model (imagine that!). We were left with a garden set up to grow things, which my neighbor with whom we share the yard promptly took over, as I was busy tending to a newborn. Seeing what she has accomplished (tomatoes galore! kale, arugula, brussel sprouts, oh my!), and now that I have a toddler who can “help” me or at least busy himself in the dirt while I garden, I decided it’s time to try my hand at cultivating a small corner of our yard.

I have no clue if this is a good time to plant or if I am doing it right at all, but I planted green beans, strawberries, pumpkins, watermelon, cabbage, broccoli and beets. It’s only been a week and I’m already seeing little sprouts popping up. I helped to create life! Now, we’ll see if I can keep them alive.

What would you like to grow?

Ample Time and Money: Transform your yard into a garden. See how much of your food you could grow yourself, like Barbara Kingsolver did for a year (she wrote about this in Animal, Vegetable, Miracle).

Limited Resources: Start out with a few pots or an indoor herb garden. Get a hanging tomato planter. Plant a tree. Watch butterflies grow, then set them free.

Busy and Broke: Try putting a seed from something you ate into the ground and see if anything happens on its own. Or grow something you don’t have to pay much attention to, like a cactus, or bamboo. Just remember to stop and wonder at its tenacity every once in awhile for inspiration.

Activities, Books, Uncategorized

Action #7: Write Some Wonder on Your Heart

As a society, it seems we have lost the art of committing things to memory. If we need to remember something, we Google it. In the old days, people could recite sonnets to their lovers. There are stories of prisoners of war staying sane throughout their captivity by holding onto great swaths of Scripture they’d memorized. I was in awe of a professor in college who could quote poems and passages from literature as if she had written them herself. What a wonderful thing to make something beautiful and uplifting your very own, to lock it away inside so that it becomes a part of you no one could ever take away.  You could bring it out at will in your greatest times of need, or even just in moments of boredom.

What would you like to have written on your heart? How could you go about committing it to memory this week?

Ample Time: Become an oral storyteller. Learn the stories of your family and your ancestors and pass them on to your children and to your community. My great grandmother’s second husband was the most amazing storyteller I’ve ever known. Granted, I was a young, impressionable child when I was his audience, but I remember being utterly captivated by his stories. They ran the gamut from Native American folk tales, to nursery rhymes, to stories of his own youth living in both Alaska and Mexico. Of course, I don’t know if even the ones he told about himself were true. It wasn’t until I was a teenager long after his death that I discovered the tale he told me of a mongoose saving his life from a snake when he was young was actually Rikki-Tikki-Tavi by Rudyard Kipling.

What made him great was that he completely owned the stories. He was totally blind when I knew him, so he couldn’t read books to me or write his stories down. It was like he had an entire library inside of him, and could pull up the most fascinating yarn for any occasion. And it breaks my heart that that library disappeared along with him when he died. I wish I could remember everything he told me. I wish someone had the foresight to record him speaking. The oral traditions of our cultures are dying out, if they haven’t already. If you can make the time, learn the stories of your heritage and your culture. Use the technology of today to record them, but try to keep them in your mind as well and learn how to pass them on in the oldest of human ways to communicate, orally.

Limited Resources: In high school, an English teacher made us memorize “The Raven” by Edgar Allen Poe. Back then, I swear I had a near photographic memory. I rarely had to study anything for very long before I could recall the entire page and read it in my mind as if it were still in front of me. I don’t know what happened since then, but that skill is long gone. There is now a No Vacancy light blinking in my brain, and if something new crams its way in, something old gets shoved out.

I am currently getting into poetry. Probably because I only have the smallest windows of time in which to read, and I can actually finish a poem. I am absolutely enamored with Mary Oliver. I would love to have command of some of her words that resonate for me. I think I will try to memorize To Begin With, the Sweet Grass from her 2009 book, Evidence. Ok, maybe pieces of it. It’s long and I have many other things on my mind, but I’ll try. What will you try to remember? Here are some good tips on how to go about it.

Busy: Write out a short prayer, simple mantra, scripture passage, or inspiring quotation and tape it to the back of your phone, on a post it on the edge of your computer, on your bathroom mirror, in your car, on an index card in your purse, wherever it will be in your face often. Look at it whenever you have a spare moment. Say it out loud until you can say it without looking at it. Make it yours and draw upon it this week for wonder.

Please come back and share with me what you’ve written on your hearts.

Activities

Action #4: Stimulate Your Senses

Once a week, I will post a suggested activity for creating wonder in your life (mostly to get myself to do it, but I hope you’ll join me). I will include three different participation levels, so lack of time or money will be no excuse. Please share your experiences here to inspire others. Go forth and create wonder!

At the Alemany Farmer’s Market this weekend, the largest and oldest farmer’s market in San Francisco, I was absolutely overcome by the wonders of fresh produce. We strolled past booth upon booth of gorgeous fruits, veggies and flowers. We smelled mouth-watering basil, tasted the sweetest summer peaches, and heard the satisfying thunk of ripe melons as we tap-tested their taut rinds. We went a little crazy and bought huge bouquets of bright, happy flowers, a bag of oysters, brussel sprouts, artichokes, kale, and enough fruit to make two delicious fruit salads straight out of Eden for the events we attended this weekend. The joy of that experience will live on in our meals this week, in vases on windowsills for the next couple weeks, and in my mind whenever I need to conjure up something that makes me feel grateful for the bounty of this earth. All from stepping out of our normal grocery store routine.

My suggested action for you this week is to go somewhere that stimulates your senses like that and makes you feel alive. Seek out your own sensory safari. Maybe you dig paper stores, or libraries, or chocolate, or fabric, or flowers. Whatever it is that gets your wonder-nodes buzzing, take the time to go touch it and smell it and roll in it if you can.

Ample Time and Money: Whether you’re going to check out fancy textiles or a nursery full of exotic plants, indulge and buy yourself a treat. Pick something that will give you pleasure for awhile, whether you plan to eat it, plant it, or frame it.

Limited Resources: Go with a pen and paper and make a wish list for when your next birthday rolls around. Bring a digital camera and take pictures to print out and put somewhere that will make you happy when you look at them later. Involve your kids and make rubbings of some cool textures. Sit and record the sounds, jot down notes or draw details in a sketchbook so you can recall your experience more fully in the future.

Busy and Broke: Maybe you just have time for a quick stop into a bookstore or a pastry shop on your lunch break. Just be there. For a moment let the rest of your life fade away. Don’t think about the project waiting for you back at work, or the mess waiting for you at home, just be. Focus on your physical body in this very moment, and how good it feels to be able to see and smell and taste and hear and touch whatever it is you enjoy, and be glad you are here.