A Splash of Color (Today's Simple Pleasure)

After a difficult week, I treated myself to a bouquet of orange tulips today. It got rather smashed in my grocery cart and I felt a resonance with the juxtaposition of harm alongside brightness. Aside from the anticipation of fully experiencing their beauty when they open, I am appreciative of the hint of spring weather they offer. What has warmed your day? What is your favorite flower?

Running with My Dog (Today's Simple Pleasure)

It is only since starting T that I’ve had any desire to go for a run. I’ve met people who talk about running as stress relief and their remarks have, until recently, baffled me. Normally, I get winded very quickly and do not have enough stamina to run any distance, but I’ve been so wound up as of late that it felt like running was the only way through my feelings. I used a running leash for my dog and we took off!

My dog is a Yorkie, so he is not built for endurance. He got worn out before I did which let me feel like I was “winning” our race (he would definitely best me in a sprint, however!). I slowed down for him and enjoyed the feeling of my legs in flight. I did still have a bit of discomfort in my upper chest where my lungs and/or blood vessels constricted, but it wasn’t as bad as it used to be. Given that there is still snow on the ground and it is below freezing, I feel that my pup and I have lots of nice runs ahead of us in the coming months.

What’s your favorite stress relief when you are angry and/or feel that you have excessive energy to burn? If you run, what season and location do you prefer? Do you run with your pet?

Hard-Won Praise (Today's Simple Pleasure)

How do you show up in the world? What is it about you that makes you most proud? Where have you shown growth?

Self-affirmations can sometimes read, to me, as statements of unchecked privilege when people praise themselves for blessings of genetics and a secure upbringing. I wanted to focus on the ways in which I can find pride in myself not solely for what I have but also for what I’ve overcome to get where I am in my life. I believe that the deepest gifts we have to offer others are often those we’ve had to unearth and restore.

Self-affirmations

  1. I feel appreciation for my willingness and skill at engaging in self-reflection, and I recognize the privilege that being able to have time to ponder as well as to attend therapy consistently has afforded me in relation to this skill.
  2. I value that I am willing to question the unconscious assumptions others make and to stand up to them when they are acting in biased ways.
  3. I like that I am highly independent and self-sufficient, in part as a result of my experiences of trauma and that I am capable of learning many skills on my own.
  4. I value my intellectual curiosity and insatiable appetite for information. I realize that obtaining higher education granted me ways in which I can access resources that might not be readily apparent or accessible to everyone.
  5. I am grateful for my tenacity and persistence. I recognize that others have nudged me onward in ways I often overlook.

This exercise felt meaningful to me. Contextualizing what I appreciate about myself in terms of my privilege and background helps me to feel that who I am is not only a reflection of my inner work but is also the product of time, place, circumstance and socialization. I didn’t become who I am on my own; I struggle with externalizing the causes of my bad traits and taking all the credit for the good ones. Pride and gratitude are interwoven in a way I don’t think I realized they were.

Please share any self-affirmations you would like to in the comments!

Welcoming Abundance (Today's Simple Pleasure)

I drew two cards today, one relating to casting a spell and the other connecting to allowing myself to hope. I decided to set “abundance” as my intention. I’ve lived my entire life with a mind to scarcity, pain, loss and lack, so considering riches, pleasure and prosperity does not come easily to me.

Where is there plenty?

Observing the areas of my life in which my supply outpaces my consumption should, theoretically, allow me to experience gratitude. Perhaps the action to underlay my intention should be to capture the moments of thankfulness I experience in a way that allows me to hold onto them more fully. They tend to feel very ephemeral, a morsel whose flavor has faded before I’ve finishing chewing it. I might add an additional “Writing Everyday” category specifically dedicated to recording the good experiences in my life.

What brings me pleasure?

My answer certainly feels base and silly, but, truthfully, food is probably my main reinforcer in life. It is unambiguous in its ability to improve my mood and to provide enjoyment. I like to cook, to ea and to watch shows of others cooking and eating.

The pleasure I anticipate in social interactions rarely comports with what I end up experiencing. Instead, spending time in nature genuinely lifts my spirits and elevates my mood. Spending time with my dog is also enjoyable.

wrestling with contentment

Even though I know what I like, I would not describe these experiences as leading to contentment. I do not know what it is like to rest in a place of contentment feels like as I’ve never stayed there for any length of time. Contentment, to me, is the intertwining of gratitude and pleasure, the sense that there is enough right now and that whatever it is, it will last.

If I’m not content with my life, the two paths that lay in front of me, the two paths I find meet me at every difficult moment, are to change my experience or to change my perception. I have been leaning more and more into attempting to change my perception as my attempts to change my experiences seem very much to lead in concentric circles, where I find myself in another layer of disappointment and failure.

Perhaps a third option, one that I hesitate to settle for and am not sure I can do, is to accept that I am unlikely to feel content with my life. This does not line up with the idea of welcoming abundance, unless abundance is the space left by the lack of things I thought I needed to be happy. What does it mean to say, when I get to the end of my life, that I never found contentment but that I appreciated abundance when it came to me? That my life knew more pain, discomfort and lack than it did resources and plenty, but that I made do as best I could with what I had?

There are very brief moments, seconds really, where I see myself through another’s eyes and I know, in wordless thought, that I am a good person who is doing their best. My childhood trauma not only set me up to find scarcity in excess, but also to see myself as selfish and ungrateful, someone incapable of opening to the holy and the grace of life because of the despicable nature of my soul. This isn’t who exists when all the layers of who I am dissipate. I am in abundance and of abundance. I may not find contentment if I seek it through pleasure, but I can be content in who I am. From that place of knowing I’m enough, I have more than enough at my disposal to be enough in ways in which I need to be.

Are you content in your life? In who you are as a person? What brings you joy? What in your life fills you with gratitude?

Mindfulness in the Winter Sun (Today's Simple Pleasure)

I spent a short time in sitting meditation. I began by locating a window through which the afternoon sun was streaming. I sat cross-legged on the floor and, after closing my eyes, I centered myself on my breath. I took time to notice the pauses between each in-breath and out-breath.

My face felt warmed by the sunlight filtering through the window and I felt enlivened. I’d wrapped a warm robe around myself before starting the mediation, so “cozy” was a word that passed through my mind. There was little activity in the way of textures, noises or smells to distract me from the present. I felt drawn in by the light and wanted to rest in it.

I then brought my attention to my body, enlarging my sense of self to try to encompass as much of my physical frame as I was able to do. I felt a block when I got to my upper back, so I decided to move into a few yoga poses such as child’s pose at the end of the meditation session in order to release the tension I was experiencing in that area. I haven’t done this before but I like the idea of listening intuitively to my body during mindfulness and then responding accordingly.

Have you practiced mindfulness in various seasons and weather patterns? If so, which is your favorite? What pose might reflect what your body needs today?

Birdsong in Winter (Today's Simple Pleasure)

My day began by realizing I’d slept in until it was quite sunny outside. This made me happy as I felt I’d finally gotten a good night’s rest. As my dog and I walked outside in the rising sun, I heard birdsong cascading up and down the tree branches. There were at least two songbirds in chorus with one another. I felt my heart soaring and my inner well of strength filling; as I wrote recently, there is more beauty than pain in the world. For every dark moment, a candle burns, casting light beyond its wick into its surroundings.

My experiences in life have left me a vocal witness to suffering whenever I encounter it. I cannot look away and pretend all is well. But, in the same moment, I can find the flower peaking through the snow. I don’t need hope that things will get better. Rather, I need acknowledgement that, in the midst of despair, there is a space of honoring and being-with and a space of joy. When life completely devastates me, the trauma-voice in my head has one mantra “make it stop.” I don’t have the ability to end every negative encounter, but I do have the capacity to stand up for myself as I validate my own perceptions and to find the places where light streams through and the birds burst into song.

Buying a Small Gift (Today's Simple Pleasure)

I have been stuck in customer service hell on top of all of my ongoing ADA accommodation and other stressors. Multiple online processes in which I have normally been able to engage without any issues have turned into hours and hours on the phone without resolution. Moments like this convince me we are living in a computer simulation and that my sector has a glitch! I decided to channel my energy into generosity by buying a few people in my life a gift.

I have a lot of hesitancy both in receiving and in giving gifts. Something about the process feels very vulnerable and fraught with potential rejection. The moment of buying the gifts I did as of late, however, felt like an act of generosity. One of the recipients told me my action was kind. Kind is not a word I am used to hearing in relation to myself; I have repeated a mantra that I am not a kind person.

I think the root of this is that I want to be intimidating in my presence; I want a type of power that engenders respect. I would like to be able to soften over time as someone gets to know me, rather than to have to toughen and toughen again when they assume, based on my appearance, that I must be naturally soft. A lot of my gender dysphoria connects to this. Being kind by giving a gift seems right, now that, due to T and such, my physical appearance looks tougher than it ever has. Gifts are concrete and crude compared to other acts of connection, so they suit me in their inherent awkwardness.

If I dwell on it, I find my way of being is more nuanced. I’m drawn to the idea of practicality as well as romance as it relates to gift-giving–at times, I’d rather give someone something they’d use whereas, at other times, I’d like to give them something sentimental. I thrive on being able to help out in a practical way but also in being emotionally supportive. I can blend the “masculine” and the “feminine” in the same body and spirit and that makes me euphoric.

Do you like to give gifts? How do you express kindness? How, if at all, do the ways in which you show you care to others connect with your sense of your gender?

Seneca Rocks in West Virginia--rocky cliffs rising from green trees into a sky with clouds

When I Wept at the Beauty (Today's Simple Pleasure)

Today’s card prompted me to recall a pleasant memory. What came to mind was a memory of one of the first times I experienced nature as something more than scenery but instead as a revelation. I was in graduate school and decided I needed a bit of a break. I drove, by myself, several hours to a small cabin rental in West Virginia. What I discovered in that state was breathtaking (and contrary to the aspects of West Virginia that are typically emphasized).

My travels took me through switchbacks, which are curved roads up and down mountainsides. I felt uncertain as to whether I could successfully navigate my way to my destination. Finally, I arrived in an area that opened skyward, and, looking to my right, saw a shear rocky cliff jutting out of a mountainside, surrounded by dense forest. I felt tears welling up in my eyes because I had never seen anything so awe-inspiring in nature. I *think* it was Seneca Rocks but I’m not certain.

Once I reached the vacation lodging, I found that the cabin was perfect. It was secluded enough to allow for privacy, but not so isolated that I felt alone. I was able to draw and cook and spend time in inner work in a way that I had never before accessed. It was my own spiritual retreat.

I spent time in nature as well, hiking into the forest until I arrived at a meadow with butterflies and tall grass. There was a stream running beside the campground bubbling with clear water and pale grey rocks. In the evenings, I sat out on the porch of the cabin enjoying the starlight.

I’ve wanted to return to this site again, but something tells me it was a bedrock moment in my life, one on which the whole of who I am becoming was built that cannot be recreated. It was within a few months of this trip that the full extent of my childhood trauma came clear to me, as though I needed to give myself the time and space to allow for its unfurling. As I contemplate the elements of self-care and self-expression that I most cherish, I engaged in nearly every one of them in the span of those few days, save true mindfulness as I had not yet encountered teachings on it. I started becoming myself there; it was the moment of glancing up and seeing the cliff and knowing at my core that there was more beauty than sorrow at the end of it all that inspired me. Even if I never return to West Virginia in this lifetime, it will always hold a special place in my heart.

What place(s) have left you awestruck in their natural beauty? What moments do you look back on as turning points towards a deeper understanding of yourself? Where has Nature met you when you most needed Her to?

Observing Animals in Winter (Today's Simple Pleasure)

This week is going from bad to worse, as I am now dealing with severe insomnia on top of my stress related to attempting to get ADA accommodations. I had a moment of joy, though, as I was driving, when I glanced up and saw flock after flock of Canadian geese flying in formation across a cloudy, mottled sky. I decided to spend some time contemplating ways to connect with wildlife in the winter. Your location will of course determine your options!

1. Widen your perspective

Don’t limit yourself to the ground level or to a visual experience. There may be birds flying overhead, belting out their song, that can capture your interest. Squirrels jumping from branch to branch are another joy. One of my favorite winter memories is standing on a frozen pond watching fish swim underneath the surface (this of course requires knowledge of whether your actions are safe or not).

2. Meet the Dawn and Dusk

Find the times of day where animals are most likely to be active. In general, this tends to be around the time of sunrise and sunset, although there may be unique creatures that will stir at other times. Learn about the winter patterns for your local area.

3. Find the traces

Sometimes it is not solely seeing an animal that might be entertaining, but also trying to determine which animals have visited where you live (if you live in a cold climate) based on their footprints or other signs. I’ve been noticing tracks that are likely coyote near my house; not really the visitor I’m looking to meet but interesting none-the-less!

What do you do, if anything, to enable yourself to watch animal antics in winter? Do you have a favorite spot that tends to yield enjoyable experiences? Do you interact with any of the wildlife where you live?

Enjoying Home-Made Meals (Today's Simple Pleasure)

As someone with a significant food sensitivity to an ingredient in nearly all savory foods (the allium family which includes garlic, onion and so on), eating a meal at a restaurant or take-away tends not to end in a gut-happy place. Even though it takes more effort and planning on my part, I find pleasure in creating recipes and tasting the results of my labor. The rarest of treats is a friend making an allergy-sensitive meal for me.

Purchasing Ingredients

I’ve changed strategies more times than I can count in terms of how I procure food. I used a home delivery ordering system for a while. Next, I went to the store several times a week. My latest strategy is to go to the store only one time a week, and to buy a few foods that can last until about four days into the week when I make a second round of dishes. This summer, I hope to spend lots of time at farmer’s markets buying the freshest possible vegetables and fruits.

Kitchen Necessities

I have a few weapons of choice in making my own meals, namely, slow cookers of various sizes, a Vitamix, a toaster oven, and cast iron pans. The slow cookers allow me to roast meats, marinate beans and tenderize vegetables. My Vitamix is vital for daily smoothies and rich, creamy soups. I bake breads and reheat food in my toaster oven. I actually do not have a microwave at my house! When the one I’d bought in college stopped working, I didn’t replace it and find that I rarely miss it. Finally, the cast iron pans let me crisp meats and veggies.

Meal Planning

There was a time where I wrote out elaborate meal plans for six months at a time, week by week and ingredient by ingredient. As of late, I am more spur-of-the-moment and less creative with the effort I put into what I am making. I like to have the same breakfast every day and to then vary what I eat through the rest of each day. I always include a lot of fruit, some vegetables (my sticking point), meat and/or soy products and some whole grains. Beans are the food group of which I would most like to increase my consumption. I’ve had a lot of issues digesting pork which is what I like to have with them, so that has made finding dishes in which they work more difficult.

How much do you like to cook homemade meals? If you don’t get to have them as much as you’d like, what barriers get in the way? What are your methods of buying food items? Which cooking tools must be in your kitchen? How do you meal plan?