When I first started practicing mindfulness meditation at a Buddhist center years ago, I was confused when the person leading the session mentioned the pauses between breaths. It had never occurred to me that there could be a break between an in-breath and an out-breath! My vision for this year has included spending time in awareness of the space between the out-breath and the in-breath, as I think that it is the expansive moment of inflection I most need to allow into my life.
For today’s simple pleasure, I took time to count my breaths. I started with a count of four in, hold, out, hold but quickly became light-headed, so I shifted to four in, hold two, out four, hold two which I found relaxing and calming. I can breathe in and hold my breath for much longer than I can breath out and wait before inhaling. This matches my personality exactly, as I am more on the side of rigidity and withdrawing into myself than I am on loosing and engaging, especially when I am stressed. Breathing is the pace of our life; I desire for my pacing to become more balanced and rounded instead of sharp and drawn. What is your relationship with your breath?
It’s hard for me to remember that the sun still shines even on a day filled with clouds. Today, however, I was able to hold onto this truth as, although there were many clouds in the sky when I observed it, they were almost translucent with plenty of breaks through which the sun was peeking. The wind was blowing briskly as well, as evidenced by each cloud entering and exiting the center of my viewpoint. Everything changes, given time.
The sky represents possibility and a widening of awareness to me. My tendency is to bend my senses to a single focal point–a bird in flight–and to miss all the unfilled expanse in which both being and unbeing can be found. Today a physical condition which has plagued me for over a year threatens to overshadow any other considerations; seeing the sky reminds me that the cloud of my pain is overcast by the brilliant sun of my joy. What did the last sky you observed bring to mind?
Intimacy with nature need not involve a miles-long hike into the deep forest. Anything of the earth can provide a touchpoint that reconnects to our senses. With this in mind, for today’s simple pleasure, I took a walk to a local park to enjoy the start of the fall foliage.
I began my walk through my backyard which is filled with trees and bordered by a stream. I heard a rushing noise and thought it was odd that the stream was flowing with so much intensity on a bright, chill day. I finally perceived that the sound was instead being produced by the slightly-dry leaves rustling against each other in the birch trees. It is at once a gentle and a playful noise that I wish I listen to on repeat.
The scene then transitioned into viewing the stream which, as it enters the park, is filled with reeds. The grasses of the reeds are browning and mowed down, but a few solitary cattails stand proud. I was surprised to see insects and a bird hopping around as we had frost last night; the last breath of summer could still be heard.
After steering my dog past a distracting bunch of humans, I made my way to a park bench lodged underneath a tree. The shade the tree provided was cold, with an edge. I centered myself on my present awareness of my senses and my body’s response to those senses and felt soothed.
As I made my way home, the colors I saw seemed to radiate with a vibrancy I find only in fall. Green, red and blue seen in low humidity are crisp and energizing to me. I could make this walk a hundred times a year, but it is only when I direct my attention to my surroundings moment by moment that the inherent beauty of nature makes itself known. What was the most recent experience in nature you had? What impression did it leave on you?
On Sundays, I bathe and groom my dog, so today’s simple pleasure of providing relaxation for an animal fit right into my routine. My pup has hair instead of fur, so he has to be washed once a week and his coat needs a lot of TLC. After he gets a bath, I clean his eyes and ears before I brush out his hair and trim the edges. He even gets a spray of doggie cologne! In cold weather, I finish with a salve for his paws.
Since my dog has become a part of my life, my depression symptoms have become much more manageable. In particular, the ache I so often felt in my chest has disappeared. Interacting with one’s pet increases oxytocin levels and is linked with fewer depression symptoms. In both of these studies, the effects held only for women; the researchers of course did not take non-binary people like myself into account. All I know is that I am tightly bonded to my pup and that he loves a good grooming session with lots of loving touch (after his dreaded bath is finished). If you have pets, what benefits do you find you experience from your interactions with them?
The daily card I draw each day for my simple pleasure has been dovetailing aptly with my needs as of late. The weather dropped at least 30 degrees Fahrenheit in the past week; it’s been a hard fall into winter instead of a gentle glide into autumn. Because of the chill, a cup of tea was the perfect way to enjoy a simple pleasure today.
I selected a ginger-spearmint blend of loose-leaf tea and heated it in my cast-iron tea kettle. I’m not sure if there is a different on a physical level if tea is heated in a cast-iron, but, to my palate, it adds a particular tang and preserves the tea’s delicacy. The Mara mug I used, which is etched with leaping animals, has traveled with me through many seasons of life. I purchased it in a shop years ago in an artsy part of a city, so drinking from it stirs up my creative aspirations. What’s your favorite way to drink tea?
I’ve had an art breakthrough! Well, possibly. Over the years, I have stopped and started more art projects than I can count and have shelves of paint, paper and other supplies sitting idle. I have finally come to recognize that my inertia on being visually creative has to do with form more than substance. I dislike mess and fumes, so the idea of getting out a set of paintbrushes, attempting to paint a creation beyond the scope of my fine motor skills, and, finally, having to clean everything up afterwards taxes me too much. The solution? Digital art!
As soon as I get an idea in my head, I usually want to spend as much money as I can reasonably waste (hence my unused artroom) on accumulating the tools needed to execute my vision. In this situation, however, I’ve decided to proceed more slowly in order to make sure the way of arting that I’ve landed on actually fits me. Specifically, I downloaded a free app version of Adobe Illustrator to try out on my phone with my stylus before I invest in something like a Wacom tablet. Yesterday, I created a candy-corn cartoon, and, for today’s simple pleasure, will be keeping the fall theme going by designing a pumpkin cartoon. I find it hard to follow through with being artistic when it doesn’t feel like it has any utility, but I know that I need ways to occupy my mind that are healthy and safe, so I’m going with it. What is your favorite way to art? What digital tools do you like to use?
I use tarot and oracle cards as a way to (re)focus my vision as well as for clarity in situations that I find confusing. For today’s simple pleasure, I drew a card from a small hand-painted deck I made that contains one-word verbs to motivate change. The word I received was “cleanse,” which felt ironic, given that I’d just eaten an entire lunch filled with junk food and therefore feel gross. My stress level has been extremely high, so the card spoke to me about finding positive self-care behaviors in which I can engage rather than unhealthy coping mechanisms.
I also found a card stuck in between my books which referenced the Earth and how it provides all we need. I’ve gotten multiple messages recently about returning to Source and connecting with humanity, so this felt on target. With all that is going on domestically and abroad, it is easy for me to focus on dehumanization and evil. The cards I drew, collectively, are reminding me that there is goodness, gentleness, kindness and care in the world, if I pay attention to it.
For today’s simple pleasure, I stood outside and meditated on the feeling of air as it passed over my skin. Today is a rainy, cloudy day where I live, but it is the type of inclement weather that is warm as well as gray. So, the breeze felt gentle and soothing rather than chilling as it enveloped me.
I brought my dog with me on my excursion and he was less than enthusiastic. He unexpectedly leaped off the bench on which we were sitting and made a beeline for the door. I’d always fashioned myself a fair-weather outdoors-type of person, one who only finds pleasant a narrow range of air conditions, precipitation and sunlight, but, in contrast to my dog, I am a wild adventurer. There is more than the lightest of wind movements, he won’t walk. It rains, he won’t walk. It is outside of the acceptable range of indoor climate settings in the U.S. in terms of temperature or humidity, he won’t walk. It is dark outside, he won’t walk. I sometimes carry him a distance because he’ll at least walk towards home!
Given that my pup’s behavior limited my time experiencing the breeze, I also engaged my appreciation of touch by petting his freshly-washed hair, which is one of my favorite sensory experiences. It is soft and fluffy and he turns just so in order to have whichever part needs a scritch brought within my reach. I love that, barring nerve damage, our somatosensory experience is both receptive and expressive, that we can touch as well as be caressed. Although, at the end of it, all my dog wants is more food! What did you touch today that brought you enjoyment? When is the last time you enjoyed the feel of a gentle breeze against your skin?
I’m not a napper, but I might become one! I generally sleep or at least lay in my bed for at least eight hours a night, so naps aren’t necessarily something I need in order to make it through the day. However, as of late, since starting T, I’ve been battling bouts of insomnia wherein I am unable to fall asleep for several hours. In addition, as I age, I think mid-day rests might renew my energy and stamina.
For today’s simple pleasure, I lit several candles and cuddled with my dog in bed for about fifteen minutes. Initially, I found my mind wandering quite a bit but was eventually able to enjoy the warmth and softness of the ambiance I’d created as I drifted in and out of light sleep. Short naps have been shown to increase a person’s ability to focus and feel re-energized, so I plan to integrate them into my self-care “toolkit.” What are your thoughts and experiences with napping as a simple pleasure?
Taking a warm bath relaxes and satisfies many people’s need for a simple pleasure. I, however, become nauseous from the heat. Hot water only works for me in small doses, so my version of a bath involves involves soaking my feet in water infused with a homemade bath bomb containing essential oils and dried herbs.
As I did this today, I found myself able to reconnect with my body and temporarily less aware of my chronic pain as all my energy went into finding the right temperature that was soothing rather than scalding (I recommend using a thermometer for this if you have any conditions such as diabetes that could affect your ability to perceive temperature in your feet). My feet feel smooth and pampered after my treatment, which allows the rest of my body to come to a place of calmness and comfort. What is your favorite way to soak in water?