Grounding by Lifting Weights (Today's Simple Pleasure)

I wrote yesterday about feeling dissociative and disconnected. As I composed my post, I thought to myself that physical exercise would probably be an effective method of grounding myself, even if the effect was only temporary. Today, as I engaged in my workout routine, I paid special attention to how my sense of my body was impacted by being physically active.

I love using Fitness Blender (not an affiliate link) for my daily workouts. The founders have made their videos are free and both of them have a positive outlook on health and exercise. My ability to lift weights has been diminished since becoming ill a few weeks ago, so today’s routine was particularly fulfilling as I was finally able to lift near my capacity instead of having to use half the weight I normally would.

After completing the workout, I feel more present in my arms, but cannot sense much in terms of my lower body. My legs aren’t physically numb, but I don’t feel connected to them or like I am inhabiting them fully if that makes any sense (if you haven’t struggled with dissociation, it might not). I still feel an eerie sense of calm, but having my heart rate up is counteracting it slightly.

Going for a run would seem to be the type of full-body exercise that might allow me to come more present, but the abundance of ice outside isn’t going to make that a safe experiment. I think I will add a series of stretches for each part of my body to see if that brings more depth and richness to my sense of being grounded. If you’ve dealt with trauma and feeling disconnected from your body, what effect does exercise have on your ability to become grounded? Are there types of physical activity that are more effective than others? Are there any kinds you’ve learned to avoid or that worsen your dissociation?

A green bush covered in slowly melting snow.

At the Edges, Melting (Today's Simple Pleasure)

Today’s Simple Pleasure card encouraged me to observe an edge and to record what was occurring at the transition line. The wintery mix Mother Nature provided in the last 24 hours proved an easy jumping off point for this encounter. We had snow which turned to sleet, freezing rain and then simply rain. The resulting slush has created minute transition points.

As I shoveled the “snow,” I noticed that it was melted underneath and had turned clear, so that it looked as though I was pushing a mound of congealed water. I made little progress in clearing my driveway as it weighed an astronomical amount and I didn’t have the strength to move more than the bare minimum necessary to open a few footpaths. A lesson I can take here is to consider how deceiving change can be. It may feel as though what’s come before can simply be pushed out of the way, whereas the true burden of what I’ve lived through may only become known to me in attempting to rid myself of it.

I kept getting halfway across my driveway, gliding with ease and thinking “I’ve got this” and then the physics took over and I was stopped dead in my tracks by the pile of accumulated slush. Each time, I had to pause and reconsider how best to dispose of the water ice in small batches. This image so fully captures my experience of trauma. Every time I believe I’m good to go, something trips me up and I have to unpack piece after piece of what had previously felt insignificant.

I was relieved to awake this morning and notice that the precipitation had at least spared the tree limbs and power lines, as I had feared they would be coated in an icy glaze that could knock out the electricity or bring down parts of a tree. I’ve met some borders of growth that have taken an inch by an inch to reach, whereas I’m finding other places in my life from which I’ve been unnecessarily shrinking. It is hard for me to know how intensely to assert myself, as I don’t want to respond with a whimper when I need to roar, nor do I want to knock about when small steps would suffice. Perhaps what’s required is more careful deliberation and noticing of the true state of affairs before I take action–there is no sense shaking a tree that’s already free.

Finally, I took a photograph of some of the bushes on my property. I am amazed at how much snow ice they can hold, and the ecosystem they can provide for small animals sheltering beneath them. There have been so many times I’ve been startled by a rabbit bounding out of the undergrowth or a swarm of gnats erupting skyward if I knock into it with my mower. Each bush is a sturdy, non-descript parts of the landscape, but is yet teeming with life and protection. There is a stillness of purpose here of which I am jealous. I wish I could allow life to come to me more than I do; I perceive its edges as places of destination, not as interludes that arrive to me when I’m holding steady.

In sum, nature’s message to me, when I take time to meet Her, is nearly always the following: Be here, still. And I am always grateful for the reminder and the insights She provides. What have you learned from noticing areas of transition in nature? Has snow or precipitation taught you anything? Where might you slow down to see what’s changing?

Tasting and Smelling Delicious Food (Today's Simple Pleasure)

I am still sick with a respiratory illness but am hopeful that I am on the road to recovery. My sense of smell has been severely impacted and I’ve eaten meal after meal in which the only aspect of the food I could appreciate was its appearance and texture, because I could not taste anything. Today, some scents and flavors are getting through, so my lunch felt like an incredible luxury solely because I could enjoy more than how it looked!

I created a whole-wheat pasta dish with spinach, salmon and home-made pesto sauce. I started by cooking the pasta on one burner while I wilted the spinach on another in a cast-iron pan. After removing the spinach, I then pan-fried the center-cut salmon, skin-side down, in the cast iron. Finally, I toasted the pine nuts and then blended them with locally-grown basil, avocado oil and Parmesan cheese in my Vitamix (I am allergic to garlic but most people would add it in here). After sprinkling on a pinch of salt and a dash of oil, I served the dish in a large ceramic bowl I use for my more elaborate meals.

The creamy texture of the sauce, combined with my renewed ability to detect actual scents like basil and salmon, was so enjoyable. It makes me think of the tens of thousands of meals I’ve eaten in my lifetime and leads me to wonder how many of them I’ve scarfed down without any consideration or appreciation for being able to bring all of my senses to bear. A good meal is my quintessential simple pleasure. Have you cooked anything tasty in the last week? What’s your favorite or go-to lunch? Do you have any mealtime rituals that enhance your enjoyment of food?

Creating Pup-Pie Treats (Today's Simple Pleasure)

My poor pup has been getting a little overlooked between my return to work and my illness, so I decided to make him some homemade treats today. I’ve never attempted to do so before, even though I let him have tiny “people-food” snacks far too often. I settled on a baked treat being the safest bet.

I first measured and then cooked 1 sweet potato by cutting it up and boiling it in water. It came in at 260 grams, so I measured out equal parts of that in rolled oats as well as in dry roasted, unsalted peanuts. I pulverized the peanut-oat mixture in my Vitamix until it formed a loose paste. Once the sweet potato was cooked through, I used the Vitamix to puree it. I mixed the wet and dry ingredients together along with two eggs. I then pressed the dough into a greased ceramic pie pan and baked at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for twenty-five minutes.

After the initial cook time, I cut the pie into one inch by one inch squares, and baked them at the same temperature on a sheet for 10 minutes so that they would be as dried as possible. I think they could have gone longer but I was too lazy to experiment. Weirdly enough, I unintentionally created the start of a gluten-free biscotti for humans, were I to add perhaps coconut butter and a source of sugar. All in all, not bad for a spur of the moment experiment!

A white ceramic pie pan containing a light brown cookie with chunks of sweet potato. The cookie is cut into small pieces.
Mid-way through the bake process.
A small purple bowl sits empty on a couch cushion. In the upper part of the photograph, a blurry image of a Yorkie is visible.
The empty bowl after offering the treat.
A Yorkie dog is standing on white carpet eating a treat.
Nibbling away!

Sipping Honey-Ginger Milk Tonic (Today's Simple Pleasure)

I awoke to a sensation of having swallowed glass in my throat today; not a great start to the weekend! I am feeling quite under the weather and needed a pick-me-up to renew my day. To accomplish this, I decided to make my own spiced beverage concoction.

I brewed a tonic of water, ginger, turmeric, cardamom and dried lemon peel. Once it was hot, I mixed it roughly 50-50 with cold 2% milk and a teaspoon of honey. The result was a lukewarm beverage that was lightly spiced and very soothing as I drank it.

I’m pretty sure milk is not recommended for throat issues, so you could substitute a plant beverage such as coconut milk instead if you prefer. I think my throat is raw as well as inflamed, so the temperature and coating quality of my drink worked well for my needs. Next time I make it, I want to use fresh pieces of ginger and turmeric. Do you have a favorite blend of spices that you mix with milk/plant-based alternatives? Do you reserve certain combinations for particular physical aliments? What’s your favorite herbal drink in January?

Refreshing My Wardrobe (Today's Simple Pleasure)

If you regularly take time to purge clothing and accessories you no longer wear and/or to add new items to your collection, do you first pause to consider your goals in doing so? I did in recent days and decided my first priority was comfort. After settling on this goal, I was then empowered to make decisions that fit for me.

Since starting T, I have gained a bit of weight. As a result, some of my clothes have become uncomfortable. I wear a binder when I attend public events and at work, so I need the rest of my attire to be loose-fitting. I want to be read as androgynous which fits along with my physical needs. To achieve this, I purchased pants that are a size larger than the ones I had been wearing and have the old pairs set aside for donation.

Comfort, for me, involves selecting clothing that reduce my body dysphoria and that do not trigger my eating disorder. I am in the process of adding fleece pullover shirts to my closet. I own one of them currently and it is the coziest shirt that I can wear as “work clothes” that I’ve ever owned. I ordered a variety of colors and a few styles so that it doesn’t feel like a uniform.

Appealing to other people’s tastes and making myself look nice are not my top priorities in terms of what I wear. I want to appear well-groomed and to have my clothing be in good repair, but I do not need to have expensive, on-trend clothes to feel good about myself. Removing any requirements to attract the male gaze from my clothing choices feels freeing. I also love the idea that part of what it means to be free is to acknowledge that people can dress in whatever way matches their top priorities; their choices do not need to be about comfort first if that is not what they value most. If you want to look sexy, go for it!

The longer I consider the topic, the more I realize our style of dress is a weird tangle of our personal insecurities, the lived realities of the prejudices people in marginalized groups face, and self-expression. I hope for a world in which what we chose to adorn our bodies is a matter solely of individual and collective expression and not the result of discrimination and/or internalized norms that do not fit our truest being. I’m grateful to be able to make choices for myself in this area. If you could choose, what would you set as the goal for your wardrobe? What pieces would you toss and/or add? How much does the way you dress each day reflect who you really are?

Appreciating the Winter Season (Today's Simple Pleasure)

It finally feels like the heart of winter where I live, with snow covering the grass and a cold wind blowing. I at first was displeased with having to spend time today snow shoveling, but then decided to take the opportunity to check in with each of my senses in an outdoor setting. My pup accompanied me on my journey.

I started by noticing the temperature. My face was uncovered so it was quite cold, but I soon observed how toasty my hands and upper body felt in my gloves and coat. The sensation of the wind blowing by intrigued me, as it felt as though it was sneaking past my defenses and trying to infiltrate every pore.

The smell was, for once, crisp and clean. Several of my neighbors burn wood for heat, which I hate as the smoke is highly irritating to my lungs and the odor lingers on my clothes after only a brief time outside. They’d given it a rest for once (or perhaps the wind had cleared it away) and I could detect only the scent of the snow.

I forgot to give much attention to what I was hearing, but it was in general quite quiet outside as well. There was a neighbor shoveling in the distance and a dog barked occasionally, seemingly agitated after I’d chopped up the ice on my driveway with my shovel. There were few traffic sounds.

In terms of vision, I felt bored looking at the dead, light-brown grass peeking through the thin layer of snow here and there. I then remembered my flash of insight this fall in regards to including the sky in my observations. I looked up and the most subtle, beautiful set of blues, whites and greys awaited me. The sun was hidden but the sky looked cotton-covered in a soft palette of clouds. I read in the last few months about the Cloud Appreciation Society. I am too lazy to join their ranks but I think they are on to something as I feel so rewarded whenever I remember to look up.

All in all, taking a few moments to connect to the experience of winter, rather than to simply shovel it out of the way, helped me reset my mental state. What is the weather like where you live (thoughts to those in NSW in Australia right now!)? With which sense do you most appreciate colder temperatures? If you practice mindfulness in nature, how does it affect you?

Set in Stone (Today's Simple Pleasure)

The local museum I visited today holds a collection of stone carvings. Most of them are from China and are composed of jade. After touring the exhibit, I’ve decided to share my self-reflections in this post.

Even though I care about sustainability, I struggle to purchase used items. Part of my resistance is the leftovers of a childhood spent in poverty where much of our food was bought after it had expired and our clothes were pre-worn. I also hesitate because of the provenance of items; I do not know to which scenes they’ve born witness over the years. I felt this especially in viewing items that were thousands of years old. Who else had looked at them and touched them? Were they used for mundane purposes, or had they spent their existence as sacred objects, used only in ceremony? How did they come to be at this museum; were they looted or stolen from the people whose ancestors created them? In a few cases, the museum was able to provide the entire story of the object, which allowed me to feel less conflicted as I appreciated them.

The items I found most appealing at this museum were what I first took to be paintings but learned were “micro-mosaics” made of tiny, individually-fitted glass and stone pieces. The level of detail was astonishing. When I found some modern versions for sale in the gift shop, I was tempted but the price tags kept me from indulging.

My other favorite was a collection of meteorites. I’d first seen meteorites at an exhibit in Colorado and could not get over how amazing it felt to view an item that had come from “outer space.” The museum I visited today had a smaller collection, but one of the rocks was sliced open, revealing an inner geometric, metallic structure that appeared very sci-fi to me.

My final stop was the gift shop where I purchased the malachite box photographed for this post. The person who was staffing the shop was very elderly and struggled in opening the cases for me to look at it, so I bought it as much out of guilt as I did for pleasure. I didn’t even stop to consider where it came from until I got home and saw that the sales clerk had added a small slip that gave information about the piece. It noted that it originated from the Congo. I immediately felt my stomach drop as I realized there was little likelihood that it had been mined, crafted and sold to me in an unbroken supply route of ethical, fair-trade practices, given the poverty and violence in this area of the world. A little research confirmed my suspicions.

I do not want to become someone who is performative and self-righteous in their social activism, who makes a point of noting how everything in their house is second-hand, environmentally-friendly and/or up-cycled (I was around people like this last month and let me tell you…). I also do not want to be someone who takes their privilege for granted and who consumes without consciousness of the human and environmental impact of their behavior. At the minimum, I want to purchase locally when I can. This includes grand plans for visiting many art fairs and farmer’s markets next year. I also want to, when I act without thinking as I did today, step back and educate myself on the back story.

Some items, such as the stone carvings I found today, outlast generation after generation of people, in part because they were deemed valuable and worthy of preservation. I want my actions to reflect the sacred trust we are given in the provisions of the Earth, so that the objects I enjoy are, whenever possible, ethically-obtained, cherished emblems and not stolen pieces of another’s culture or environmentally-damaging, mindless waste. What is your relationship with purchasing and consumption? How do you feel about hand-me-downs versus new purchases? How much attention do you pay to the origins of your treasures?

A large christmas tree outdoors covered in red balls and large white snowflakes.

Visiting the Zoo on Christmas (Today's Simple Pleasure)

Christmas (along with my birthday) is one of the most difficult holidays to manage emotionally as someone who is estranged from their family and who struggles to connect in relationships. I’ve been invited at times to friend’s houses for the holidays, but have found being around an intact family stirs up more pain than it soothes. I’ve also tried staying home and telling myself it is just a day like any other day, which tends to lead to binge-eating and/or wasting money on online shopping. This is the first year that I chose to engage in an activity on my own.

I visited a local zoo and was greeted more times than I can count with a “Merry Christmas!” Each time I heard it, I felt a little less like I was missing out on something and a little more like I was present experiencing something. None of the other zoo-goers were particularly festive, although I did see one child gifting another a pale-stripped candy cane. The zoo itself was decorated in holiday themes galore and the cafeteria offered a special holiday menu.

I’d only ever been to low-budget “zoos” growing up, the kind where some crank gathered together animals in questionable housing and in which their distress was palpable. I have mixed feelings about even the highest-quality places as keeping animals locked up feels against their nature. As I visited the zoo near where I live now (which is much better than the ones I had growing up), I felt an internal clash of recognition that the animals were safer than they’d be in the wild and that they were serving as “ambassadors” for their habitats, but also that they weren’t free to live life on their own terms.

A polar bear diving into water.
A polar bear diving into water.

The animal that pulled at my heartstrings the most was the polar bear. I got to the zoo right as it opened and walked fast enough that I was able to see the bear alone. I was very upset when I first saw it as it was pacing back and forth in a small area and looked agitated. It was scratching its sides against the enclosure in a frantic rather than soothing way. As I stood watching it and willing it to calm, it looked at me more and more directly with each pass. Finally, it jumped off the small ledge on which it was standing and swam right up to where I was standing! I felt immensely connected to it and an overwhelming feeling of sadness to which I could not put words overtook me. I’m sure my emotional reaction had little to do with what the bear itself was feeling, but, in that moment, I believed that something more than two beings staring at each other was happening. I could barely bring myself to leave the exhibit.

A small deer-like creature peering through a wire fence.
A small deer-like creature peering through a wire fence.

The animal that delighted me the most was a small deer-like creature (I did not pay much attention to the information on the signs). When I first approached the enclosure, I only saw one deer and it ran away from me. I looked to my right and there was this little one only a few feet from me, gazing at me with amused eyes. It kept regurgitating and chewing cud (or something like that) which was not the most pleasant eating practice to watch, but I felt joy and a sense of adventure in its perkiness.

The zoo is very large and I’ve purchased a year’s membership, so I left several exhibits unexplored, waiting to be visited next year. On the whole, it felt so good to do something aside from spending money on useless trinkets or stuffing my face with junk food on a day on which my sense of alone-ness in the world tends to peak. Holidays are not necessarily a choice, for those of us with difficult family issues, between spending time with people who have harmed us, crashing parties that heighten our distress or curling up alone crying. We can make whatever we want out of it. Merry Christmas (and Happy Holidays!).

Visiting a Local Art Museum (Today's Simple Pleasure)

I’ve had a bit more downtime recently and have started on a series of day trips filled with coffee-shops, local eateries and art! I really enjoyed my travels today and learned a bit about my art preferences. As a result, I feel renewed inspiration to simply let myself create rather than to worry about the end product.

I started the day at a library inside which there was a small coffee nook. I purchased some tea and read a book sitting on a comfy chair in front of ceiling-high windows. With my PTSD symptoms being as extreme as they are right now, I decided to wear my Bluetooth earbuds so that I could listen to music and minimize my auditory stimuli. No one got in my space except for a small child who was trying to hide from their sibling, who soon trotted past pushing a stroller much taller than they were. This interaction made me smile and I formed a positive impression of the place as a whole.

I next went to the art museum at which, for the majority of the time, I was the only visitor. The admission cost was high compared to the size of the museum. I was at first disappointed as the regular collection held mostly modern art which was filled with awkward, pointy breasts. I know that is a weird focal point but I swear half the pieces contained this, even though they were by assorted artists. Almost every single piece focused on the human figure in a distorted form; I felt uncomfortable rather than inspired. I know the point of art is to cause an emotional reaction, but I’m in a place where feeling soothed rather than challenged is what I need.

I was delighted, however, when I entered a small gallery displaying the work of local artists. Almost all of it contained nature scenes and I had to resist the temptation to spend hundreds of dollars on a piece, as most of them were for sale. I found it so ironic that the local, lesser-known artists were the ones I enjoyed so much. There was an oil painting of water and sky that I think was my favorite.

I only noticed one piece in colored pencil in the entire place. It was in the local artist gallery section. It reminded me of a painting I’d seen before, with geometric shapes and colors. I enjoyed the symmetry, however, when I inspected it closely, it made me feel better about my own colored pencil work as the areas in primary colors weren’t even filled in so that the tooth of the paper was covered.

I felt more confident in my pull to create art after the trip. Several pieces throughout the building reinforced to me the notion that the aesthetic appeal of art is in the eye of the beholder, in that, simply by creating a piece, art is happening. I’m also contemplating for the first time the relationship between my feelings of attraction and repulsion, and how they might interplay with my artistic interests. I am someone who is disgusted and repulsed more easily than most people and who finds beauty in nature rather than in the human form. To create something that, deliberate or not, I view as grotesque, quite honestly has never occurred to me before. I want pleasure not pain from my art, but, after viewing the local collection, I’ve come to see that my goal may not be shared by everyone. What do you want from the art you encounter? What are your goals when you create? On which spectrums besides disgust-beauty might art operate?