solstice

veru12_20_18

So, it turns out tomorrow is not only the Winter Solstice, it’s also the time of a full moon – the Long Night Moon – as well a meteor shower (Ursid). Ok, that’s pretty cool. Seems like there ought to be some kind of celebration (oh, wait, I guess folks already thought of that, hehe).

The Winter Solstice is kinda funny because it marks the official beginning of winter, but it also marks the shortest day of the year – the beginning of the days becoming longer. Woohoo! I am all for that!

Seems like everything else is going 90 miles an hour around me, with ‘holiday’ preparations and entertainment. Maybe the solstice can just be a time out. A moment just to be calm and peaceful, to notice the stars and the moon. A moment to appreciate the incredible beauty of what’s already been given to us, instead of worrying about the giving and getting of our consuming consumer lives.

Nearby where I live, there’s one of those wild light displays with every kind of holiday character imaginable – from a lit up creche to snowmen, penguins, Disney characters, Peanuts, and more. During the day, half of it sits deflated under tarps. It’s actually kind of a mess. I wish I could say it makes me smile, but it does not – either during the day or at night. I’m sure the folks who put all that effort into it mean well, but it’s misplaced.

Let’s look at the moon and the stars instead. Notice the birds on the wing. Listen to the wind in the trees. In the context of our exquisite universe, let’s ponder those we love, or share the moment with them.  The awesomeness of our universe shows us so plainly that love itself remains the truly treasured gift in our lives.

It’s beyond amazing, the gifts we’ve been given. Who needs to go shopping? Let’s just pause and be astonished by what we have.

just noticing

veru12_17_18

Many thanks to CalmKate at Aroused  for providing me with the inspiration for a wonderful exploration. Her Friday photo prompt, “Leaves,” could have been satisfied with some of the autumn leaves I captured earlier in the season, but I decided it would be more fun to go see what I could find right now – a bit of a challenge with winter having already moved in and taken over around here.

I love the way a prompt happily forces me to be on the lookout or to think with a different perspective.

I started out in town, just because I had stuff to do. I skirted along up and down the streets, looking at everything with fresh eyes. I found myself popping into the new cat cafe for a quick visit, as well as a brief stop at the food co-op where some red kale could not be resisted, it was so beautiful!

I noticed that all the trees along the main drag were bereft of leaves, except for the occasional tree covered in dead, brown leaves that refused to let go. I did spot some surprising bright green bushes in front of one large house, but nothing else really spoke “leaves” to me.

I continued on my quest, now headed for the trails. There, I discovered just the merest bits of green peaking out here and there, in a sea of browns, greys, blacks, and white. Most of the leaves are on the ground, wet or frozen, and clearly getting into the whole composting thing. The trees were bare, save for a few now-exposed nests.

The awesome part was the birds. As I carefully observed my surroundings, I could hear them twittering all around me. I paused and just watched for awhile. The longer I watched the more I saw.

Black-capped chickadees hopped from twig to twig. There was a pair of yellow birds – finches, I suppose? I spotted my first winter cardinal – that wonderful bright red in the middle of everything. There was also a woodpecker having at it, a rather small one – gonna have to look him up. There was also plump black squirrel with a nut in his mouth who made a study of me before capering off.

I would have missed all that, along with the rushing river, and the amazing black dog I met, named Bernie, along with his human friend – if it had not been for CalmKate’s invitation. I may not have a particularly amazing photo to show for it, but I am grateful for the inspiration that got me out the door right then, alert and curious to life.

the book biter

veru12_16_18a.jpg

My beloved cat, Biddo, was a book biter.

Biddo loved to rip up paper, any kind of paper – usually in the middle of the night. Didn’t matter if it was the newspaper, business papers, or, his true love, books.

veru12_16_18eI tried packing the bookshelves tightly, but Biddo still seemed to be able to get whatever he wanted off the shelf. And just forget it if you left a book laying around.

I lost my wonderful Biddo about a year and a half ago, and I miss him dearly. I delight, however, every time I stumble across his bite marks in my library. I got to thinking about it lately, and perused my shelves.

Turns out, Biddo was a discriminating biter. For example, George Orwell. Biddo did a good job of biting up the cover of 1984. He entirely ripped off the back cover and several pages of Animal Farm. At the same time, he left Huxley’s Brave New World entirely unscathed. What’s up with that?

Stephen King’s On Writing suffered Biddo’s wrath, but all three copies (can you have too many?) of The Elements of Style were untouched.

veru12_16_18d

A Course In Miracles and the accompanying meditations both drew Biddo’s ire. Sharon Salzberg’s LovingKindness drew a few bites. There’s just some gentle nipping on Louise Hay’s work.

veru12_16_18b

Stephen Hawking’s A Briefer History of Time, as the picture shows, sustained a prolonged onslaught on the outer cover – seeing as how little damage could be done to the hardcover, I suppose.

veru12_16_18c

There’s not a single bite in any of my works by Shakespeare. Chaucer was safe, too. Hmmm.

Biddo always left the inside pages pretty much intact, except for corner bite marks. The only exception was Animal Farm, where you’ll have to go elsewhere to read the ending.

This is just a sampling. I frequently lay hands on a book with bitemarks. Biddo left quite a legacy for me.

I’m not sure whether Biddo was biting approval or distaste in my books. Biddo was nothing, though, if not intentional.

It was a little upsetting in the moments when I discovered yet another ripped up book, but gotta say, I love to find them now.

Another item he thoughtfully left all bitten up? My yoga mat.

Miss you, buddy.

smiles

veru12_15_18Smiles are pretty awesome.

They generally come to us spontaneously, a happy, observable expression of joy or pleasure or contentment. A genuine smile touches anyone on the receiving end, too, usually evoking a similar response of happiness or pleasure. Good for everyone!

Even alone, perhaps reading a book or working on a project, when a smile comes to us, it is a small moment of transformation or illumination – an irrepressible flow of goodness that expresses through our face.

My best friend cat smiles at me. I don’t quite know how he does it, but he does. When he smiles at me, I just kind of melt with my own smile of love and happiness.

A dog that I visit regularly smiles, too. It is a ridiculously goofy, extravagant smile and simply wonderful to receive. There is no being down in the face of that smile.

Out and about, we come across strangers, some of whom acknowledge us with a smile, and many remaining aloof. The smilers change our day for a few moments, just lifting the spirit for a little way.

I have a couple of acquaintances who are big smilers. They smile all the time. There’s nothing fake about it, either. Their smiles are an expression of their personalities – positive, forward-looking, accepting, generous, fun. Their smile is kind of a habit. It affects everyone around them.

That’s not to say that people who don’t smile all the time are not all those things. I know plenty of non-smilers who are warm and fun and generous, too, and their smiles are all the more precious to receive.

I remember sitting in a waiting room at a doctor’s office years ago. I was kind of miserable. An older woman came and checked in. She was smiling. She took her seat in the waiting room, still smiling. Time passed, she smiled the entire time. I have no idea who that woman was, and I never spoke to her, but all these years later I remember her simply for that constant smile. I marveled that her inner state of being expressed itself outwardly like that. Even though we did not overtly communicate, she brought some peace and reassurance into the room with that smile.

No one likes a forced smile, nevertheless, I’ve been working on being a little more conscious about smiling. As a ridiculously introverted, overthinking sort of person, I don’t think I am much of a smiler. I tend to rather seriously and intently listen to other people – I am trying to remember to smile more during those times. That would be a true reflection of my feelings, too, because I am generally very appreciative of others and all that I learn from them.

Even when I’m alone, I’ve noticed I can change how I feel by smiling. Tasks are a little easier to do with a smile. I can make myself feel more optimistic or adventurous by smiling. I encourage myself when I smile.

Hey, it’s free and it’s easy. Why wouldn’t I?

Maybe I will have to tie a little string around my finger, just to remind me for awhile, while I develop my practice.

the power of dreams

veru12_14_18-e1544789743643.jpg

A man told me a story once. Jack was in a wheelchair, having suffered an accident that left him paralyzed from the waist down. He told me that, after his accident, he became profoundly depressed.

A therapist asked him to remember what his dreams used to be. At first, he couldn’t recall any dreams. Then, at his therapist’s urging, he remembered that many, many years ago he used to dream of learning to fly. The therapist encouraged him to chase that dream, in spite of his depression.

Jack started to take flying lessons even though he had little interest. He just went through the motions at his therapist’s persistence.

Eventually, though, it began to click.

He not only learned to fly, he got his own plane, took folks up in it for discovery flights, served as the president of his local flying group, and founded a nonprofit. In the process, he completely overcame the depression and did not allow his disability to stand in the way of living a life. In fact, he was a very active guy and looked pretty darned happy to me.

I always remember Jack and his story.

Our dreams are so powerful. And yet, we so frequently just shelve them as unrealistic, or too expensive, or ridiculous in the eyes of other people. But we ignore our dreams at our peril – for our dreams are the key to the doorway of our soul, and the secret of making ourselves whole.

I remind myself of Jack because once again I must look at the way I’ve ignored some of my own dreams. They are hard to recall – just like Jack first responded to his therapist’s queries. And yet, I suspect, those hazy, forgotten dreams are just as essential as ever.

I don’t care how kooky they may be, I really have nothing to lose by going for them.

And that would, of course, be the thing, to finally go for them.

a bigger picture

veru12_13_18.jpg

As a vegan, it is my policy to tread gently with others. I have been where they are – for most of my life. I understand that the concept can feel weird, uncomfortable, and threatening.

At the same time, I feel no reason at all to be apologetic for my own perfectly valid, considered, non-harmful lifestyle choices.

So, recently, when the topic of bacon came up during a casual conversation with a friend, it took an interesting turn.

Now, I understand how deeply committed to bacon many folks are. I get that this is a love affair.

Thus, when the topic was introduced by my friend, I innocently and with a chuckle observed that all that bacon eating might not be such a healthy thing. I did not launch into an impassioned vegan rant, I was just making conversation.

Nevertheless, one thing led to another with an increasing level of challenge and defensiveness on my friend’s part – despite the fact I was not challenging them for their choices.

To my dismay, in the space of about ten sentences – it was a brief discussion – my friend managed to become all upset and wanted to know why I would choose to distress them.

And then I was distressed. I had no intention to distress my friend, nor was I judging them. Neither did I feel good about being challenged and judged for own my personal, reasoned choices.

Inasmuch as someone else can unabashedly proclaim their love of bacon, how can it be somehow inappropriate for another to gently demonstrate their thoughtful abstinence of it?

And how in the world is it that those who choose to quietly act on compassion for animals should be ridiculed or judged negatively for that?

But I have observed this phenomenon before.

It comes from a gut knowing that causes an uncomfortable dissonance in a person. They don’t like to confront the conflict – the conflict within themselves. It is inherent compassion coming up against known cruelty – and not being able to reconcile that. 

Most of the time it’s not a problem, because we simply keep it hidden from ourselves.

There is no blame in this. Our culture demands this dissonance of us. It tamps it down by normalizing everything and hiding the evidence.

Every now and then, though, it can rise to the surface and we see it for what it is. And that doesn’t feel so good.

Those are the moments that offer possibilities, though – ones that ask us to look at the world with a broader perspective – opening our eyes not only to difficult practices in our culture and our world, but to the beautiful depths of our own compassion. The implications go way beyond food.

I am grateful to my friend for reminding me of all this, for reminding me of my why, for helping me to keep my eyes open and to look at the bigger picture. Maybe my friend is seeing it, too.

lessons

veru12_11_18I am ever and always becoming.

I may reach a plateau and coast for awhile, but apparently this is just the universe’s way of giving me a little breather. Then, the next lesson starts.

Except it’s not a new lesson, even though it feels fresh every time it starts. No, it is the same lesson I keep having to learn over and over again. The universe is absolutely persistent that I get this, once and for all, exactly right. It must be a pretty important lesson, eh?

And, why, pray tell, am I so resistant to it? Why do I flunk over and over again? And why does the universe not just kick me out of school?

The thing is, I actually know the answers to most of my own questions about this now. So apparently I have actually made progress in the curriculum. Maybe I’m not actually flunking anymore, I’m just getting C’s.

Why not finally go for it? Why not do all the homework and try for an A? Be an honor student? Be ready to graduate?

Yikes, what happens then?

Well, no fear, because if there’s one thing I’ve learned – the universe does have my back. And it’s all – every single bit of it – about love. I can trust that.

I am safe, if challenged, in the loving arms of the universe that is the absolute champion of critical thinking, innovation, embracing the arts, practical experience, fearless exploration, and radical education reform.

Confidence. I am good enough. I am smart enough. I can stop judging myself. I can do this without thinking. All I have to do is bring all of me to the party.

Okay. Pencils are sharpened. New notebooks in the backpack. No need for new text books, hehe, I’ve got them all.

Here we go again. 

a precious gift

veru12_10_18

I have had to let go of many things that mattered to me. Learning to really let go of them has been a long and difficult lesson in my life. Out of that process, though, I have distilled the things to treasure, the things that really matter – and they are few.

This weekend I enjoyed that precious gift of simple time spent with a loved one. It fills my heart and goes beyond. To love and to feel love, to accept and feel accepted – no strings attached anywhere – is the very essence of life.

To walk in easy understanding together through a snow-blanketed woods, sharing moments of mystery and wonder and joy  – simply perfect.

To laugh in comfortable, non-judgmental conversation over a cup of coffee in a cozy spot – sublime.

To discover another facet of the ever-unfolding, sparkling gem that is you  – amazing.

To see the world get bigger and more beautiful because you open yet another door for me – phenomenal.

To be able share this journey, without pretense, with absolute safety and trust, I have no words.

To see into your smiling eyes, to put my arms around you and hold you tight for even a moment –  I am just so deeply grateful.

winter challenges: food and running

veru12_7_18-e1544183475255.jpgAll summer long, salad sat at the center of my eating patterns. I mean, you can pretty much throw anything in a salad, after all, and it works. It’s nutritious and tastes great.

Summer did not involve a whole lot of effort going into cooking anything, except for pasta, grains, and the occasional veggie burger.

Then, snow and ice arrived, and it seemed that my whole palate changed.

When I came in from outside, all bundled up and still cold, the thought of making a salad made me shiver. I just wanted to warm up.

The greens began to wither in the fridge as my food thoughts ranged to all things warm, like the vegan meatloaf  I wrote about here – the perfect winter comfort fix.

Chili quickly became a go-to meal. Vegan mac and cheese became an imperative. Lasagne became compelling.

Comforting, filling food took center stage. I wanted stuff I could cook ahead, too, since all I wanted to do at the close of the shockingly short daylight hours was curl up in a blanket.

That whole shorter day thing turned out to be problematic in other ways, too. Along with the snow and ice, it quickly became harder to make myself get out there for my runs. After breaking my shoulder a couple of years ago, I found myself very reluctant to run in the dark, and it’s pretty hard to find time during the day.

veru12_7_18bSo I was into this winter mode of operation – slowing down and filling up – just long enough to notice how it makes me feel different. I don’t like it, either.

I’ve been feeling kind of sluggish and full and sleepy and uncomfortable and like being a couch potato. This is not my style.

Worse, this whole winter thing is just barely getting started. We’ve got months to go.

As I sat and listened to an acquaintance the other day discussing his two heart attacks, diabetes, and various hospitalizations, it occurred to me that I need to be proactive about my unhealthy winter stagnation and feeding tendencies.

The first thing I did was bring salad back. I need my salads. I missed my salads. Comfort food is great in small doses, but salad has to be the main dish for me.

I also did a reset on my hydration, which I realized had become reduced to pretty much anything warm – coffee, tea. I’m back to drinking water in more summerish quantities.

Running is more problematic. I am an outside runner – that is how I get zen. Nevertheless, I may have to resort to using the local indoor track if it’s too frickin’ cold or messy or dark out. This is hard for me to do.

On the weekends, I can make my outdoor runs work – or at least walks or hikes, which is fine if that’s all I manage. The point is to keep moving all through the winter.

I’d like to remain on the move at least five days a week, even if it’s shorter distances than I’m used to.

Since my running is hampered, I can give more love to core and strength exercises. Something to shoot for anyway. Maybe even break down and return to yoga.

Given my current couch potato frame of mind, this is actually a pretty challenging agenda. It’s so important, though, for my physical as well as my mental/emotional well-being.

Wish me luck. Brrrr.