Following Habits (Today’s Simple Pleasure)

When I got my dog as a puppy, I purchased him a stuffed animal dog into which I could place a plastic “heartbeat” and a warmer. I intended for it to be soothing to him, but he developed another kind of relationship with his dog friend. Let’s just say people tend to feel a bit awkward when he has his special time with it when they visit. It is the only thing he treats that way and it cracks me up.

I wash his puppy every Sunday and he eagerly scampers to the dryer to attack and get frisky with his friend next to the pile of fresh laundry (his bedding, etc.). Today, I forgot to wash it, and the search was on for where it went. He eventually found it and brought it down an entire flight of stairs just so that he could share the love of being next to the laundry as he snarled and bit the stuffed animal. It made me laugh so hard that he apparently has an entire ritual built into the puppy being washed. What’s made you laugh today?

Unbridled Joy (Today’s Simple Pleasure)

My poor pup has been cooped up more than usual as of late, between the winter weather and my attempt to avoid unnecessary trips during the health crisis. I had a few housekeeping items crop up unexpectedly today, so I decided it was worth it to head to a local home improvement store that allows dogs in. His incessant whining the entire trip there let me know he was very excited about the trip.

As soon as we arrived at the store, my dog started leaping for joy as his feet hit the ground. He found the nearest human and tugged me in their direction. There was a family with several small children, who did not quite know what to make of such a small dog (he’s a Yorkie) enthusiastically sniffing their shoes and looking up at them in bliss.

I found the light bulbs I was looking for and headed off to another area of the store. We ended up behind another family, and my pup joined right in with them, ignoring their personal space and acting as though they obviously wanted him to tag along. I normally keep very close tabs on him, but, between trying to locate and carry several items, he kept sneaking closer to people than I realized he was.

He met the first family again at the cash register. The young boy who had at first drawn back from him didn’t reach to pet him, but did give him more attention as he stood facing him. My dog was in heaven, surrounded by new humans who might, just might, let him sniff them and perhaps even pet them.

I am in love with the innocence and earnestness with which my dog approaches people. Me in dog form would totally be bearing teeth and foaming at the mouth at anyone who approached; thankfully, he is not me. The fact that he seems to believe he owns the entire warehouse, barking loudly at any other dogs who dare to enter, and prancing around as though it’s been too long since he took stock of his playground, never ceases to bring a smile to my face. I’m reminded of what seems to be my grounding statement this year–there is more beauty than pain in the world. I am so happy to have witnessed it today.

A photograph of a small journal into which a colored pencil drawing of a sunflower-like image has been sketched.

Draw Anything (Today’s Daily Work of Art)

I have been so blocked when it comes to drawing these past few months. When my perception of external threat reaches a certain level, as it has at my job, I shut off from my creative energies in a futile attempt to protect the hopeful and joyful parts of self from harm. My viewpoint of the world being bleak and lacking pleasure is no doubt related to this inner exile.

So, for today, I pulled out a small sketchbook in which I’d created several drawings last year. I was stunned to notice there were several images I had little memory of creating, which tracks with the internal separateness I experience. I decided to put as little pressure on myself as possible and to draw a sunflower. Upon making this decision, I immediately felt overwhelmed by the prospect of accuracy and the need to research how to create a sunflower. I almost gave up before deciding realism wasn’t my goal and that I could draw an image that had the essence of a sunflower even if it didn’t accurately reflect what it would look like.

The experience of drawing itself followed a familiar pattern. I spent several minutes in a blissful state, happy I had finally cracked open a sketchbook and was “being creative” at last. I felt relaxed and peaceful. Soon enough, however, once I’d made the decisions needed for how to finish my drawing and switched into filling in the petals, my mindset changed. I suspect that this was because the decision-making part of my brain, the prefrontal cortex, was no longer required as the central player, and I likely transitioned to relaying on the “muscle memory” part of the brain, my cerebellum, to complete the task at hand. Doing so meant that my thinker (prefrontal cortex) was back to having free reign to ruminated and stress out about upcoming events.

There is an obligation coming up this week where I may experience transphobia. I found myself worried that I was embedding anxiety into my drawing in that, when I look at it, all I will think about is (possible) harm. I have serious weirdness with both holding onto peaceful mental images and with creating them, and this small encounter may offer me a few insights as to why this could be happening. The moment of change today seemed to be when I lost my ability to be mindfully present with what I was doing.

Art is not always pleasant and it does not always make me feel better. I am so grateful that I am learning this lesson on my own rather than trying to go to art therapy and giving up after the first session because I think it didn’t “help.” It takes a disproportionate amount of energy and effort for me to engage in it as something in the process gives free reign for my inner torment to rise up. The threats I perceive from the outside do not fade from view when I’m being creative, if anything, they take shape and become manifest. This doesn’t mean I should avoid art, but rather, that it may be a way to confront my fears rather than to escape them.

Are you mindfully aware of yourself when you are creating visual (or other) art? What is the relationship between your emotions and your artwork? What helps you overcome blocks in your ability to create?

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?

Potential for Thriving (In the Cards)

Today’s card centers on naming inner passions and contemplating how to ignite them into flames of creative power. In giving voice to my desires, what rises up is a wish for living a life that is founded on the possible rather than the absent. What I mean by this that I want to welcome into my life love, beauty and sacred connection, not simply to banish hatred, distrust and suffering.

If I’m honest with myself, most days I wake up thinking “when will the shit I have to deal with today be over?” It is as if the innocent, caring and hopeful parts of me stay in slumber until any potentially threatening situations have ended. I can go weeks or even months without feeling like the red alarm blaring danger stops trilling.

I am thrown totally off-kilter by events like the one I had today, where I woke up in joy, believing that I had nothing stressful with which I was going to have to deal (an extremely rare occasion), and could therefore touch with my fingertips the edges of the positive and the happy. I soon discovered my dog was having an allergic reaction to the heartworm preventative injection he got yesterday, and had to rush him, covered in hives and itching, to the vet. My day now feels like it is lying in ruins, my mind reiterating “threat is likely over…threat is likely over” in an attempt to coax from hiding the scared parts of self I possess.

I so desperately desire a life in which I can stay connected to all the parts of myself, including the upbeat and positive ones, even in the face of hardship and difficulty. I have occasionally spent time notating the events of each day for which I am grateful, but this has often turned into “at least this horrible thing that happened wasn’t even more horrible.” I wonder what a question like “what magic will the world hold for me today?” would do to my psyche if it was the first and truest note playing in my mind as I awoke.

The image I see in my mind to represent my dilemma is that of a person wearing every conceivable bad-weather gear every day, with little regard for the forecast. I am like someone who is convinced that a storm could be lurking or ice could be built up at any spot on their travels. Sure, this person has everything needed the moment bad weather strikes, but they also lug around heavy, hot and uncomfortable material through every other situation. What I also know to be true is that umbrellas and raincoats aren’t the only ways to stay dry; I could and do improvise if something unexpected happened.

In this analogy, I only glance at the rainbow or the blue sky or feel the gentle breeze for a second, and then detach from my joy as I remind myself of all the times I thought it was going to be a nice day and it wasn’t. One raindrop spoils the whole picnic. And, yet, there is beauty to be found even in a ruined outing.

I am not sure how to walk with confidence knowing that, although there will be mud puddles into which I could step, fixing my eyes primarily onto the colors and shapes in the vast sky above grants me a much fuller, more healing and more marvelous view than staring at my shoes will ever provide. What is the first question on your mind most mornings? How does asking it shape the rest of your day? Where do you cast your gaze (or other senses), and how much magic does it allow you to see and experience?

A Good Laugh (In the Cards)

With the start of meteorological winter, I’ve moved to the Resting and Renewal cards in my In an Open Hand deck. This suit focuses on finding softness, coziness and warmth during the chill of winter. The card I selected centered on experiences that bring laughter and joy.

Watching silly animal videos as well as humans failing at their intended actions tends to make me laugh, sometimes to the point of tears. I get frustrated that more cerebral humor only make me chuckle, but I suppose I don’t have a lot of control over what I find most humorous. A sub-genre of silly animal videos is “animals in sports stadiums” which I recently discovered; the combination of humans slipping and sliding as they attempt to wrangle the creatures who show their superior wiliness and physicality cracks me up.

I don’t consciously turn to humor as a coping mechanism or think about finding a good laugh as a way to improve a day that isn’t going well. I hope next time I’m feeling down, I will think to watch something silly. What makes you laugh the hardest? What effect does laughter have on your overall mood?

At the Center (Daily Works of Art)

In the last half-year, there has been an internal shift unlike any I can remember experiencing. I’ve started T during this period of time, so I’m certain that coming into alignment with myself as a non-binary person has played role in this change. My image of myself has been transformed as I’ve created my present.

I’m a relationship disaster. I get close to people, building up connection and hoping that “this time” something will stick and it won’t go sideways. Every single time, though, that there is a breach of trust, when I feel betrayed, used or mistreated, my trauma surfaces to an insurmountable level and the whole thing breaks apart. My deep-rooted attachment issues win the day, no matter, it seems, how much I try to will them into the background or how hard I work in therapy to undo them. I get re-traumatized and cut more deeply after every experience. I do not heal and I do not grow in my capacity to love by failing at it. The only beings I’ve ever loved are my dog and myself. Relationships with others matter and I will continue to engage in them, but they do not complete me.

My career is equally unable to give me a sense of fulfilment or meaning, despite the fact that I know what I’m doing is valuable. Every trigger I experience there makes it harder to show up the next day. I wade through it, but I don’t derive my joy or sense of purpose from it.

I care about the human condition and the planet, but I’m not an activist. Even though topics such as human rights stir my passions and I advocate for equity, I am not enough of a True Believer ™ in any cause to dedicate my life to it. I find meaning here, but it is fraught with disappointment and despair to an intensity where it is not enough, on its own, to sustain me.

I’m left, then, with the possible sources that most people turn to for their deepest nourishment a shallow bowl of thin soup. Finally, after twenty years of suicidality and less-than-ness, knowing myself to be a loner, a Not a True Believer ™ and an unmet career potential achiever, I may have hit on why I’m here. This dish is a rich stew, with layers of flavor and body.

My core is my inner world. I know my interior to a level of detail I’ve rarely encountered in others. And yet, I scrub the corridors of my mind and sweep the reaches of my heart and still I uncover things about myself I didn’t know before. And I refuse to see the gift of self-knowledge through the lens of navel-gazing self-absorption. We die alone. Life is coming to that realization and finding a reason to keep living.

I haven’t found my inner world in order to escape there and shut myself off from reality. Instead, my physical experience is at the center of my inner world. I live embodied. No, I’ve found my core because it is the root of my spirituality and creativity. I have something to honor and something to express because, in knowing myself, I find my entryway to the universe. I do not live to romance a perfect love, to make the world a better place or to achieve a capitalist monument to money, fame or innovation. I exist to live present, sacred and as a witness to the present and the sacred.

I’m a nature photograph of only the trees and the mountain. No caption to draw attention to the threats of the future. No human figure outlined as the subject. No metaphor for the accolades I’ve garnered. Only the holy now and the lens to see it.

My way of being is not the best or the singular way through life. I fully support those whose center is the periphery of my image—the happy family camping, the environmentalist chained to the tree, the goal-setter summiting the peak. There is pain in finding my focus, because I think it is trauma more than biology that has led me to it. A life unspoiled as mine was might have a depth I cannot achieve in which everything I’ve described is blended into a harmonious entree. But my point is simply that I have something for which I exist, even if it isn’t typical, appreciated or noticed. I’ve found my purpose. Attempting to compel myself to locate it elsewhere is a distraction from my fundamental source of joy and hope. I’m in this light, of this breath, reflecting divine presence.

Journaling about a Pleasant Memory (Today’s Simple Pleasure)

Given that I experience complex PTSD, dissociation, anxiety and depression, reminiscing is an activity in which I rarely engage. My memory processes are disrupted and I struggle to organize and verbalize my experiences. When I attempted today’s simple pleasure, I was pleased that I was able to come to a particular memory, one which I think foreshadowed my future enjoyment of nature, community and mindfulness.

A few decades ago, I went on a summer youth trip out of state (still within the U.S.). Youth group was not a place where I felt welcomed or understood, so I was very nervous to spend a week on this trip. We stayed in a city in a southern part of the U.S. in a large, old house where we slept on mattresses on the floor. Our meals were served family-style, which was a huge problem for me as I was a vegetarian at the time and there was meat in everything. I ended up subsisting on Pringles (TM) from a local grocery store, to the point where I could not eat them for years afterwards because I developed an aversion from my over-indulgence.

At one point, a few friends and I asked for permission to walk to the store. As we were returning, the heavens opened and we were caught in a deluge of rain. It was summertime, so it was the sort of warm precipitation that soaks but doesn’t chill a person. We had of course not prepared in any way for this and started half-heartedly running back to the house, laughing hysterically. We passed an office building and a few of its occupants looked out at us and smiled. I felt totally present in that moment, joyful that I was experiencing spontaneous silliness with other people. There was just the slightest hint of danger and rebellion in our actions, coupled with a sense of solidarity and acceptance of our (drenched) fate.

What stands out to me about my memory is that there is no way to set up a scenario to make something like it occur again. Rather, all I can do is put myself in new situations with other people and see what happens. The deepening of my consciousness that I encounter when I tap into the connectedness of humanity is the most profound spiritual experience I’ve ever had and it is one that requires a divine sparkle of “here, right now” that cannot be forced. I anticipate with joy the next time nature brings me together with others.

Giving Someone a Compliment (Today’s Simple Pleasure)

I am not a complimentary sort of person. My mind skews to pessimism and negativity, but I do not spend all my time criticizing others. Instead, I tend to lean towards validation and support rather than to positive comments. I see people’s pain more than I see their joy because I am more in touch with my own pain than I am my own joy.

Praising people feels manipulative as well in my worldview as I wonder, if people praise me, what they are trying to get from me. I take the compliments that fit my sense of myself and leave the others to the side. For today’s simple pleasure, I gave positive feedback to a friend online and will continue this practice in person for the next day or two. I tell myself that my praise has more meaning because it isn’t doled out like candy, but perhaps I need to be more willing to share in sweetness here and there. Are you someone who praises easily? If so, how do others react?

An altar containing candles, oracle and tarot cards, a small purple goddess statue, and a painting with a mirror in the center.

Rejuvenating an Altar (Today’s Simple Pleasure)

This simple pleasure brought me joy! When I first began creating altars, I updated them four times a year with the passing of each season. Although the results were appealing, I soon felt cluttered and overwhelmed with the random materials I was accumulating, so I stopped doing much with them. The small altar I worked on today had not been touched in many months, and it was good to light the candles and pull new cards for it.

The card in the back of the display in my photograph is a Lisa Frank (TM) tarot card, which my inner child loves! The particular card I drew is the Lovers. The card to the right is from the Good Tarot. I drew Four of Air, which focuses on rest and self-care. This was an affirmation I needed today as I have been feeling a bit physically run down, which has slowed my pace. As soon as I am not going full-speed, I start to worry that I am lazy and pathetic. Having the guide tell me to take a break allowed me to grant myself more grace.

My overall impression is that my altars are there waiting for me to return as I am able. The Wisdom they represent is patient and kind. Do you have any altars, and, if so, what ideas do you have for updating or rearranging one of them?