Learning the rhythm of relaxation…

It was an unseasonably cool day today. I know I have a long way to go with the California heat (and truly, I’ve enjoyed the warmth of it) but it’s also nice to have an incredibly cool day with the windows open wide.

We are excitedly anticipating a big group of family coming to see us at the end of the month. But of course that means projects and to do lists. Admittedly, I love to have looming projects ahead. I love the challenge of overcoming and conquering the unknown.

But I am learning more and more the value of stopping. Sitting for a few minutes. No, not just sitting but sitting and unwinding the Monkey Brain of mental activity even when physical activity has momentarily stopped.

“Destroy the idea that you have to be constantly working or grinding in order to be successful. Embrace the concept that rest, recovery, reflection are essential parts of the progress towards a successful and happy life.” – Zach Galifianakis

We DVR’d and watched the CNN show, Chasing Life, last night. Dr. Sanjay Gupta travelled to Norway – in the midst of their three month period of 24/7 darkness – to find out where they find their happiness (consistently ranked the Happiest Nation in the World.)

It was fascinating to hear their stories. Stories thick with personal challenge and empathy for others. Kindergarten classes held in the forest with little play supervision. Can you imagine a U.S. classroom teacher allowing their students to climb high trees?! It made me cringe to watch. And yet the students developed such a strong sense of independence and self-confidence. Not to mention how they helped each other through the process of play.

Dr. Gupta interviewed a ski-survivor. After a horrific ordeal in frozen water…heart stopping for several minutes…she was now alive and participating in all sorts of sports. When asked if she was back 100% her reply floored me:

“I’m not 100% but I am 100% of what I need.”

Do I have 100% of what I need? It is a worthwhile question to hold close for awhile.

As so many others in the world, I have felt such a heavy loss with the sudden death of author, Rachel Held Evans. And just like others, she represents such a moment of hope for me. I was at a crossroads when I found her blog. Having been brought up in a strongly conservative christian church, I was feeling at odds with what I understood God to be and how He was represented within the Church as a whole.

Rachel merged the contradictions for me. She led me through the difficult process of letting go of human church expectations and pointed me more fully to the face of my Heavenly Father. To compassion and forgiveness. To acceptance of all humans as possessing equal value in the eyes of God. I was challenged to look at the periphery of life and notice those that were being left out of the public conversation.

I have been simultaneously grieving her 37-year-old-wife-mother-of-two-young-babies presence in the world while also feeling challenged. When such a strong human advocate leaves a void, how is it best filled?

And with any tragedy, it shook my priorities. I spend more mental space than I care to admit on what my next Instagram picture will be. It suddenly seemed so meaningless. I mean, let me be clear: being on Instagram is not meaningless. Finding inspiration is never unnecessary. Nor sharing inspiration. But the amount of mental space it takes up in my mind is silly.

Everyone knows blogging is dead. Yes. I realize that’s a commonly accepted thought. In my heart of hearts I think it might experience an uprise as people tire of quick and easy and return to a deeper delve into thought and ideas.

I am not good at vulnerability. While I don’t believe in divulging everything to everyone, I would like to go back to a time that I was more open and honest with my blog readers. A braver time. I think there are areas in my life that might be similar to others. Things we tend to brush under the carpet and smile relentlessly.

Wouldn’t it be easier if we tried to work through some of that together? There is a place for frivolity and fiction in life. It’s good to sit back and relax. It’s necessary. But I’ve spent too much time in the realm of easy lately. Self-examination has fallen by the wayside; too wide of a pendulum swing.

Iron sharpens iron we are told. I need your input and advice. I value it. I need to re-learn to do life in partnership with others.

Drawing from Dr. Gupta’s discoveries: Challenges give us confidence and self-worth. It stimulates creativity. Spending time in nature, exercising, developing deeper empathy for others – all foundations of happiness.

I’m up for the challenge. How about you?? We need to take care of each other.

 

Holding on and letting go

I’m beginning to find my groove here in California.

My home colors are very neutral but my office and workspace? Color invades. My colored glass collection. Crafts of all shapes and sizes. Yummy yarns and hard-to-resist notebooks holding ideas and budgets and books read. I admit to feeling a bit like a superhero lately, releasing them from their boxes and letting them ‘breathe free’.

Minimalism is often confused with taking things down to the bare minimum. When actually, it’s about surrounding yourself with things that serve a purpose – be that utilitarian or simply making you smile. When the sun streaks through each color of glass, it’s a rainbow of happy in the late afternoon.

I wouldn’t be content with a striped down home. I need a little tchotchke and a little zing. Sometimes holding on is an act of self-care. I am, however, releasing something I’ve held onto for far too long. Facebook. Instead of telling myself it’s forever, I’m saying it’s for November through the end of the year. By the new year, I’m hoping it has become obsolete in my world. In reality, I don’t spend a lot of time on it anyway. But when I start scrolling down my feed, I don’t know…I don’t usually feel joy.

Here’s the thing I’ve noticed: Even though I share part of my life here online, I’ve become more and more uncomfortable with the way people feel as if they are keeping in touch with me because they’ve read all about me online. It’s a false sense of connection. It’s an epidemic we are all experiencing these days. We *feel* like we know people we’ve never met and we *feel* as if we are staying connected to those we do know and love, simply because we read their updates regularly. Face to face and voice to voice is falling by the wayside completely.

I’m no Luddite. I luuuuuuuv my mobile phone and social media. Don’t get my wrong. But I love real relationships even more. Hanging up the phone after a conversation or walking out of a coffee shop after a sit down with a friend, feels exhilarating and renewing. I don’t want to lose that feeling. I want to hang on to the belief that those relationships still exist.

Sometimes moving forward, is reaching back into the past and holding on to what is essential and important. Authentic relationships develop in many ways. (And meeting many of you through social media has been such a joy to me.)

Following my gut tells me Facebook is not feeding into my world in a positive and rejuvenating way. And I want to honor that gut instinct.

How do you self-protect while also enjoying the thrill of the online world?

——————–

Amendment:

As I was editing this post, I read a comment on my last Instagram picture. It is from someone who I’ve met through social media and consider a trusted and heart-filled friend. She commented about a recent podcast she’d listened to that encouraged their listeners to daily ‘show ourselves kindness and grace’. Showing ourselves kindness sounds much more lyrical and lovely than my phrase above, ‘self-protect’. I am permanently replacing it in my mind and vocabulary.

(And isn’t it doubly apropos that my Instagram’s friend’s name is Grace??) 🙂

Faster and faster!

She climbed the stairs two at a time, racing against the clock. Her breath was labored and her heart was beating far too fast. She paused for only a second on the landing but knew she must keep going. Red-faced and exhausted, muscles screaming and pulse racing, she pushed herself further. There was a goal at the end. A pleasant experience that would make up for all of this heart-pounding climb. She must. She can! She WILL!

She…….stops.

That’s the way I have felt for the past two months. They have FLOWN by. Our move was a whirlwind filled with waiting and hurry-ups. It was inevitable that the true me, the Greta who knows better, would eventually stand up tall and yell, ‘Enough!’

I do not sustain on a fast-paced tempo for very long . I need downtime. I need time to think. To consider. To pause. The mottos I have adapted over the past few years began rising to the top of the hurried heap.

Do one thing at a time. Do it slowly, deliberately, and completely.

We had just a few weeks to wrap things up in Kansas City before making a quick cross-country drive to our new home in northern California – a concept we hadn’t even considered just a few short weeks before. Then we needed to hurry up and find a place to live. There were the inevitable snags and close-calls and more than a few late-night panics. After finding a place to live we then needed to organize the moving of our belongings – from 7 states away.

It was all for a good ending – the prize at the top of the stairs. But my mind and soul were growing more and more weary.

I fell back into the trap of ‘needing inspiration’. I regularly (read: compulsively) checked Pinterest. Made new Pinterest boards based on our new housing specifics. I scoured Instagram for ideas and launching pads of home style creativity.

But one day recently…….I stopped.

This isn’t me. This isn’t the life I have tried to cultivate and edit these past few years. The racing mind was keeping pace with the racing life. It was too much. I needed to stop and RE-re-evaluate.

If it feels overwhelming, simplify it.

For two months I have ignored my gut instincts. Those internal signals that try to point you to who you really are, not who the world is telling you to be. Not unlike a child lost in a busy shopping center, I eventually heard a familiar voice and knew I would be safe and that I was nearing home.

My days have looked a lot differently lately. I went back to my familiar routine (with a few modifications for our new location.) I wrote down the basics on a piece of paper and determined that those things came first. If I got the rest of the moving to do list done, then great. If not, it would be there tomorrow.

And it feels so good. Like taking a deep breath and letting the oxygen penetrate your muscles and joints and expand your lungs to full capacity, I am finding my footing again.

_______________________________

I’ve also been thinking a lot about the word that has made its way into our social media vernacular: ‘influencer’. It seems there isn’t a post that is not talking about the benefits of buying this or the benefits of buying that. These are sincere people that I enjoy following, but have had to step away from because of the internal nudge I feel to ‘buy this’ or ‘buy that’. (aka: they’re doing a good job at their job!)

As hokie as it might seem, I wondered what it would be like to be an ‘influencer’ of something intangible. Like slow living (my particular passion) or encouraging words. Maybe I am just bitter, some would say. I am not in the SWIPE UP category of social media. But I don’t really think that’s what it is. I want to surround myself with slow eating, slow fashion, and slow thinking. And I want to help you find a corner of respite from all the BUY HERE NOW pressures that you experience as well. Let’s slow down a minute, okay? Will life be just as chaotic? Most likely. Will pressures and deadlines still need to be met? Absolutely. But maybe we can navigate those time crunches with a little more grace (to ourselves and others) if we learn how to take some precious time for ourselves every day.

I recently re-read something I wrote in the front page of my Bible years ago but this time I wondered if there are moments in our everyday lives that could use a little Sabbath time as well:

God didn’t need to rest but He rested because He wanted to enjoy His masterpiece and He wanted to give us permission to do that as well.

The Sabbath: a day to refocus your heart, quiet your mind, and to be aware of God’s warm embrace.

The Sabbath is no longer a set of laws needed to be governed, but a condition of the heart that needs to be guarded.

I would encourage you (as I am resetting my own thinking as well) to find a moment of Sabbath in your Tuesday. And your Thursday. And your Saturday. Find moments of Sabbath to slow down, take a breath, and refocus your mind on what is important – not what is pressing.

We’ll get this right yet. How do you find time to slow down and gain your footing? I’d love to hear your ideas – both logistical and metaphorical.

Are you breathing just a little and calling it a life?
~ Mary Oliver, Westwind