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?

An Unexpected Kindness (Today’s Moment of Gratitude)

I reflected yesterday on the topics of abundance, gratitude and contentment. A manifestation of gratitude on which I wanted to act was to create a new category of “Writing Everyday” which focuses exclusively on building my capacity for thankfulness. My task was made easier when a neighbor went out of their way to do something nice for me.

My day started off chaotically as the roads were covered in icy snow and I made it to work with literally a minute to spare (I am the sort of person who is fifteen minutes early to everything, so being on time stresses me out!). On top of that, I had to juggle managing multiple situations in the moment while being internally distracted by upcoming events. By the time I got home, physical labor like shoveling snow felt like it was only adding to my burden.

I shoveled a path for my dog and to the mailbox, and turned to the sidewalk, which I try to keep open. It was then that I noticed it was already neatly cleared, much more expertly than the job I normally do. I felt relief and gratitude sink into me, not only because I could spare my shoulder and back potential injury, but also because it meant that someone thought well of me and wanted to help me out.

I decided I don’t have to try to extrapolate lessons or think about ways in which I should have been kinder in the past. For today, I can simply rest in appreciation that a simple physical action by another lightened my load and made it easier for the good in me to shine. Thanks, anonymous stranger! What’s was the last unexpected kindness you received?

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?

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?

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?

Naptime in the Winter (In the Cards)

The astonishing snowstorm this weekend in Newfoundland has brought back memories of significant snowfalls I’ve experienced, during which the only means of getting around were small paths carved out of the snow. I think that if, upon opening my front door, I was met with a wall of snow, I’d be tempted to retreat inward (and perhaps to chill some beverages in the natural refrigerator). The theme of an inward-looking viewpoint speaks to me as tied to winter. Deep inner work is, to me, the heart of the winter season, alongside an invitation to a slower and more gentle approach to self-care. I am attempting to allow myself to actually rest, rather than to opine the importance of it while ignoring my needs.

I tend to give myself enough time to sleep at night, so I don’t nap on a regular basis. One of the few times I will physically lie down during the day is if I’m sick. This weekend, the weather where I live has turned bitterly cold and I am still not feeling well. In particular, I find my energy flags by mid-afternoon. I purchased the best robe I’ve ever owned in my life this winter, and have been curling up in bed in my spare room with my pup while wearing it.

It may seem obvious to those who are more able to still themselves, but it has felt like the height of luxury to be able to be warm, cozy and at peace without having to watch the time or jump up to accomplish the next task. I’m a good sitter, in that I do lounge around quite often, but there is a distinct difference to me between being at rest and fully unwinding, as I do not flirt with sleep when I watch TV or sit on my couch. I find myself wondering if I would be more productive if I completely stopped what I was doing and napped on occasion, rather than going into a halfway-state of resting my body without resting my mind.

Even in the time it has taken me to write this post, worries about being lazy and unhealthy are already creeping at the edges of my mind. I’ve been sick for a week and a half and I still cannot accept that my body needs care and cannot always go at one hundred percent. Part of my mission statement for this year involves owning my limitations. My physical constraints have always been a primary source of frustration and struggle for me, so I hope I can allow myself rest in the form of napping when I need to as a simple reflection of my desire for self-care and comfort. Do you nap? If so, is it a part of your self-care routine? If not, do feelings of guilt related to productivity or other self-judgments hold you back from doing so? How can you be kind to yourself today?

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?

A dog's footprint embedded in a few inches of snow.

A Study of Stillness (Today’s Daily Work of Art)

I recently shared a multitude of ways to practice mindfulness and a reader reminded me to also include photography as a method. As I’ve been gearing up for having to return to work, I’ve felt my creative connection diminishing, so I decided, after an unexpected snowfall, that observing stillness (and movement) through a series of photographs would be a good exercise. The simple act of walking outside for five minutes was transformed by this experience, so I need to repeat it!

A photograph of a branch on a bush with red leaves and berries holding large puffs of snow.
A branch on a bush with red leaves and berries holding large puffs of snow.
A photograph of a maze of tree branches extending from a tree off the side to the right. The branches are covered in snow.
A maze of tree branches in snow.
A photograph of a part of a metal bench with a single drop of icy water clinging to its lower ledge.
A bench with a single drop of icy water.
A photograph of a web of large tree branches coated in snow.
A web of tree branches in snow.
A photograph of the ends of tree branches holding snow.
The ends of tree branches holding snow.

I’m glad I spent a few minutes in nature today noticing where there was stillness and where there was movement. I was frustrated that I couldn’t fully capture the large clumps of snow that kept falling off the trees, perhaps I need to work on making short videos as well. Where can you notice stillness in nature today?

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?

Making a Cup of Tea (Today’s Simple Pleasure)

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?