One More Bite (Today’s Moment of Gratitude)

Today I’m grateful for having the time and available resources to mindfully eat an abundance of fresh, healthy foods. Yesterday, I received a shipment of fresh vegetables from a farmer a few states away, and combined several of them with a chicken and pasta dish I made that included a kumquat sauce. I’d ordered avocados straight from California, and, although they are still ripening, the farmer there packed them with an overflowing amount of kumquats still on the branch! It was a delightful treat and, mixed with the carrots, microgreens and spinach of yesterday’s haul, my lunch today was one of the most satisfying I’ve had all year.

My relationship with food has been the source of both pleasure and pain. I have struggled with anorexia as well as food addictions, so eating a moderate amount of healthy foods is something to which I end up aspiring rather than achieving more days than not. Most likely because of these mental health conditions, few things in life bring me the excitement and joy that food does. I stare at dishes being brought to other diners at a restaurant the way other people stare at people they find attractive. I recall meeting someone several years ago who told me he ate because he needed to eat, not because it made him happy, and I’ve never had such a “who are you?” moment as that one.

All of this to say, living through a lockdown where traversing a grocery store feels akin to potentially being taken out by a sniper in the form of a virus-carrier, my issues with food have only gotten worse. I’m starting to eat beyond the point of hunger and have spent far too much money trying to ensure I don’t have to go without in any capacity during this time. One practice that I am hoping will cut through the anxiety-fueled excess is mindfulness. Taking time to enjoy each bite as well as to honor its origins will hopefully help me to focus more fully on gratitude, and, in slowing down, I will be better able to hear what my body is communicating to me in terms of what it needs. What’s your relationship like with food? How is it being affected by the pandemic?

Attuning to Nature Sounds as a Slow Living Practice

If you have access to a sense of hearing, what sounds come to mind when you think of busyness? What do words like hectic, stressful and crowded bring to mind? I hear cars engines running, a cacophony of harried voices, the smell (wrong sense, I know) of pollution and footsteps stomping down the sidewalk or hallway in a clipped pace.

What do phrases like slowing down, living the simple life, relaxing and spacious stir up? My mind conjures notes of grass blowing in the wind, birds chirping, a stream softly flowing and insects at play on a summer night. I continue to watch live streams of nature scenes from around the world, and, more than the peaceful visuals, I’ve become accustomed to the instant feeling of calm that permeates my body as soon as I hear the accompanying sounds. In particular, the night-time noises from various animal parks in African countries and the rush of waves coming in on Hawaii’s beaches are the most soothing I’ve found.

It is a privilege to be able to enjoy slow living. What we often conceptualize as a simple lifestyle depends on pre-existing wealth or access to funds. I detest tourism to poor areas of the world that revels in the condition of life there as the “cure” to busyness, when, in fact, abject poverty brings its own forms of (often physical) suffering. To be able to be still and to be able to relax into the sounds of that stillness are gifts for which I hope I can be grateful and moments I desire not to squander.

There is nothing that needs to be done or accomplished with the quietness of the natural world. It is ephemeral, broken most often where I live by the machines humans have made. It cannot be stored in quantities and does not hold over from one day to the next. All we can do with it is attend it, open to it, and be in it as fully as the presence it offers us. The pandemic is stripping from me any vestiges of a belief in raw capitalism as a way of life; today I find myself pondering how many billions of dollars humans have spent on products designed to mimic, at maximum expense and minimum function, the enormous wealth that can be found in acts as simple as pacing my breath to the contour of the ocean’s rhythm?

Mindfully Attending to Eating Patterns (Today’s Daily Presence)

I ordered fresh fruit for delivery this week, as well as a box of “healthy” pre-packaged foods. It has been a while since I ate anything that wasn’t made from scratch and I found my body’s response to be quite surprising. Everything tasted either over-salted or excessively sweet. All of the chips and such seemed overly artificially-flavored, even though it was from natural ingredients.

I wish I could give all the credit for the shift I’ve undergone in my tastes to adhering to my “home-made foods” diet so thoroughly, but the other factor that’s made a decided difference is being on low-dose T. Since starting T, I rarely crave carbs, salt or sugar. I cannot believe how boring a bag of pretzels tastes now; in the past, I could consume a large portion easily in one sitting. I’m primarily interested in eating meat and fruit now, but I would say overall my food drive has lessened.

I am only today starting to settle down from my efforts to get my job transitioned to online work (there might unfortunately be additional developments on this front), so I haven’t been cooking more than the bare minimum to keep myself fed. I am anticipating some exciting meal prep once my homegrown mushrooms and micro-greens and so forth are finished growing. What’s the last homemade meal you created? Have you ever experienced a significant shift in the types of foods you enjoy?

A Softening Warmth (Today’s Daily Presence)

The weather the last few hours where I live has undergone a dramatic shift, with a cold breeze relaxing into warmer skies. I am always surprised and delighted at the breaks of pleasant weather that happen when winter begins to yield to spring; it’s as though warm weather was a myth I’d heard about as a child, stored deep in my unconscious, but inaccessible until the next season arrives. Walking outside without the immediate contraction of my limbs together to fight off the chill not only loosens my muscles but also perks up my spirits.

I decided to spend a few moments meditating in the sunshine on my porch. My dog is on a chipmunk-hunting kick so I had to leave him inside as his response to sitting next to me on the porch is hysterical barking and pulling. I have no doubt he WILL end the chipmunk if he gets it! Anyways, after shutting my eyes, my first sense that responded was that of hearing, in that I immediately realized how many birds were in song. I felt the softness of the breeze against my skin, coupled with the warmth of the sunlight. There was an indistinguishable earthy smell, as though my surroundings had been pulled out from a damp closet and were being aired out. As I opened my eyes, all I could absorb was heightened activity: my neighbor carrying groceries and robins hopping about my yard. The aliveness of it all sat well with me.

What do you like most about the promise and the arrival of warm weather? How does the shift of seasons sit with you? Are things coming alive or going to sleep where you live?

Energy Balancing Body Scan (Today’s Daily Presence)

Today I am feeling highly energized with nowhere to direct my anxieties. It is raining out so my daily run isn’t going to happen, but I needed a way to better balance what I’m feeling as well as to reconnect with my sense of my body. I brought myself into present moment awareness with a visual and breathing-centered meditation.

The meditation practice in which I engaged has a relationship with a Tibetan Buddhist practice I learned several years ago, but I have unfortunately lost my knowledge of its name and origins in the time since. If you know what I’m referencing, please let me know in the comments!

I started by imagining my body’s stale, negative energy gathering in the form of grey smoke in my fingers, toes and edges of my head. As I took deep breaths, I saw it moving towards the center of my body, and, in breathing out a deep breath through my mouth, saw it release and float away. I repeated this process, noticing and concentrating on areas of my body which felt compressed, tight or stuck. I imagined a negative pressure developing, drawing out the trapped energy to itself where it could be exhaled. I saw my body lengthening and loosening as this occurred.

I then moved into a state of reception, where I breathed in clear, healing energy and transmitted it from the core of my body down my torso, into my fingers and toes. It also coursed from my neck into the reaches of my head and ears. As I inhaled, the energy woke up areas that felt tired, warming those that needed to be warmed, and cooling those that felt inflamed.

I then engaged in stretching exercises to further open and release as well as soothe and calm my body. There was more of a sense of a need to balance than I have had in the past. With being on T, I finally feel that I have enough energy, which is a totally new experience to me. Determining how to keep it flowing without spilling over is still a series of trial and error.

If you try the meditation, what was your experience with it? Is it easier to send out spent energy or to draw in renewed energy? How does your body balance?

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?

Tarot by Candlelight (In the Cards)

Today I lit several candles and drew cards from the Dreams of Gaia deck. The themes of the cards I selected were to plant seeds of spirituality. I consider my spirituality to be inclusive of mindfulness and nature, with an openness to considering inner wisdom, collective interweaving and the Unknown. A web search revealed that there are apparently others who consider themselves to be agnostic Pagans, so that may be another label that would fit for me.

It is far too easy for me to lose myself in a sense of isolation and to forget the minuteness of my life on a cosmic scale. Something about seeking what the cards reveal in a darkened room helped me to reconnect with the sense of mystery that the analytic nature of my mind can dismiss. I would like to more fully integrate my practice of spirituality into my everyday life in a way that transforms the labor I have to perform from merely putting in time into an outflow of the deeper sense of meaning I, at times, know exists.

The seeds I would like to plant would be to widen my perspective. I would like to be with myself in difficult moments and, in this being-with, to know that whatever my experience may be, there is compassion for it outside of the boundaries of who I am. Perhaps that is another label that the cards draw me to in considering my spirituality, one who seeks compassion. What physical practices, such as lighting a candle, set the scene for you when you delve into your spirituality? What are ways in which you integrate spiritual practices into your daily life?

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?

Exercising Mindfully (Today’s Simple Pleasure)

My day is jam-packed with activity, so I decided to get creative and double-up a chore with a mindfulness practice. Specifically, I combined snow shoveling with body and breath awareness. I was surprised to find myself enjoying the benefits of both!

My attention was first drawn to my breath, more naturally than it is when I’m meditating while sitting, because I was breathing more heavily from the physical exertion. In terms of what my eyes were drawn to, I noticed that my field of vision was constricted to the snow I was moving, and I felt more centered when I purposely widened my gaze to include the trees and skyline. My felt sense of my body was quite noticeable and this brought me the most joy, as I felt the muscles in my arms and legs kicking into high gear with each shovelful I tossed. I could not smell or taste anything in particular. It was not until several minutes into the practice that I realized I’d been able to tune out most background noise, no easy task for someone with PTSD.

I thoroughly enjoyed engaging in mindfulness in a new way, and will be considering other places in life into which I can bring present-moment awareness. I did find my thoughts eventually drifting into what else I have to accomplish today, so the “return to breath” needs to be an anchor-point to which I hold. Have you attempted present-moment awareness in any settings aside from sitting meditation? If so, what was your experience like? How did it compare and contrast to more traditional forms of meditation?

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?