“Take the first step in faith. You don’t have to see the whole staircase. Just take the first step.”–Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
In the last week, I read a travel memoir, skimmed through an atlas, made a list of cities I would like to visit for weekend trips, and scoured a travel website for tips on my dream journey of a lifetime. However, I have not been outside of my current locale, Albuquerque, in more than three months and I won’t be going anywhere this summer, either. I have a serious case of wanderlust. I was feeling discontented and disappointed that travel is not going to be much of an option for me in the next few months due to budget constraints.
I knew I needed to sit with my disappointment, instead of denying it. After giving myself a little time to deal with this homebound reality, I discovered that mostly I was feeling hemmed in by the seeming lack of adventure in my near future. I was feeling sad, because I had expectations that were different than my reality. I realized that was my problem. When my expectations and my reality align, I am blissfully content and joyful. I was out of alignment. My wanderlust ideals were colliding with my local existence.
Believe me, I am a homebody. I love to stay home and curl up with a good book, my favorite music playing in the background. I love cooking dinner at home and savoring a glass of wine. I love puttering around the house, or enjoying a morning on the patio drinking coffee and watching the sky turn black to pink to blue. I love going to a nearby park with my borrowed telescope and viewing the stars and planets. What usually feels like a cozy option, though, was feeling more like a punishment or a slight curse. As soon as I voiced my discontent to myself, while making breakfast one lazy weekend morning, I got a little perspective. I realized that I needed to look at my feelings of being chained at home through the lens of gratitude. I made a list of things that I was grateful for, with this idea in mind.
I am grateful that I will have lots of time at home in Albuquerque this summer.
I am grateful that I will get to make a serious attempt at a patio garden this summer.
I am grateful that I won’t be fighting highway traffic or having to share a beautiful vista with countless others.
I am grateful that I have summer employment to fill in the gap of my school-year job.
I am grateful that I live in a beautiful place with lots of hiking trails and biking routes and access nearby.
I am grateful for a summer to concentrate on some spiritual, physical, and mental fitness goals.
I am grateful for health, employment, and contentment with how things are in my life.
I am grateful that I will have extra time to finish a large writing project.
I am grateful that I will have time to complete an online class that I have been postponing.
I am grateful that I have a whole shelf of books that I have been meaning to read over the last couple of years.
I am grateful that I have a few friends who will also be in town this summer.
I am grateful that I will have a chance to put together a budget and plan for a dream trip to possibly take in a couple of years.
I am grateful that I invested in a few books about sightseeing in Albuquerque and New Mexico.
I am grateful that I have a pantry full of ingredients and a shelf full of cookbooks to try new recipes and dishes and share with friends.
I am grateful that I have made a list of some out-of-town-but-still-close places to see and visit this summer.
I am grateful that several museums, that I haven’t visited yet, offer upcoming free and/or discounted entry fees this summer.
I am grateful that I have a good camera to take pictures and find some new angles from which to enjoy my favorite local haunts and landmarks.
I am grateful for a small and cozy home in a gorgeous city.
I am grateful that I am taking initiative to invite friends from nearby towns, who might also be on the same kinds of budget constraints, to come and stay with me.
It only took a few minutes to change my perspective. I usually think that travel does that. However, I realized that the view of home, all of a sudden, looks very lovely indeed. What other parts of life, where there might be discontent, also need a new view through the beautiful lens of gratitude?
Recently, I had a slight rearrangement on my calendar. I had planned to take a weekend trip to southern New Mexico for hiking, soaking in hot springs, sightseeing, and taking pictures. Due to a schedule change and needing to save some money, I decided to stay home for the weekend. I was a little disappointed for postponing the trip, but a couple of extra days at home turned into a lovely adventure and renewal. I took advantage of my time, my spring fever, and my wanderlust to rearrange my apartment.
I should preface this by saying that my current apartment is my favorite place that I have ever lived. It also happens to be the smallest, even more miniature than a studio apartment I dwelled in for a year in the western suburbs of Minneapolis. For one, I love, love, love Albuquerque and New Mexico. Secondly, I am grateful for the tree view, a second floor patio, almost-cathedral ceilings in the living room and kitchen, two cool neighbors downstairs, and getting to live alone. It is home.
Home is where the heart is. Sometimes, home is a loved one. Sometimes, home is an abstract place on the map, because you don’t know where your sense of place is. Home can be where you came of age. Home can be where your family lives. Home can be portable, wherever you pull up stakes on your tent. Home can be an abstract concept while you concentrate on other things.
I have always concentrated on home, in both the abstract and the concrete. I have possessed homes in my heart, in people, and even in my avocation. This little four-room rented home is all I need right now for dwelling.
The rearrangement was a welcome opportunity to look at my place in a new way. Often, the unpacking process is rapid and perfunctory. When I moved in, a year and a half ago, I was juggling full-time work, four nights of school, and staying temporarily at a friend’s house. I did not have a ton of time and I was worried about wearing out my welcome at the pal’s place. Plus, as soon as I unpacked one or two boxes, the apartment was overwhelmed in a flood of newspaper packing paper and the belongings that had just emerged from the containers. I quickly stowed my bookshelves in the corners of the living room and bedroom and filled them with my treasured reading materials. I pushed the edge of the couch against one wall and stashed a splindly floor lamp under the couch’s edge. I assembled my long, modern shelf to hold wine glasses, bowls and plates, mason jars, and collections of sugar skulls, Buddhas, and tea pots. I used my entry wall to hang small crosses and the metal frog hook given to me by good friends to help me find my keys. In the kitchen I turned the blank wall near the fridge into a small gallery of framed family photos. After a month in my apartment, I was finally unpacked. Later in the winter, a dear friend helped me assemble my bed frame and place my beloved collection of art on the walls at strategic vantage points, blessed with his good taste and designer eye. One huge advantage of a small space is being able to see most of my treasured belongings from any point in this lovely little apartment. It also takes very little time to clean it and put things into order.
After more than a year in this place, I loved the space, but felt a faint dissatisfaction with the flow. I have a lot of stuff in a small area and some spots felt crowded and disjointed. When I decorated during Christmas, I was tempted to rearrange, but was a little overwhelmed and just wanted to enjoy holiday ornaments. In late winter, after a couple of sick days on the couch, I had an idea of what I wanted to do to move things around, but didn’t have the energy to begin the effort. My mother visited at the beginning of spring and I told her of my ideas to refresh the space. She nodded her head enthusiastically, but I think my mom would support me in most efforts, even if she didn’t really like my decorating vision.
Sunday, I woke with the sun and decided it was the day to rearrange and reinvigorate the space. I stuck to the bedroom, and made a deal with myself that I wouldn’t go to bed until I had put everything in its new place. In some ways, the rearrangement of the bedroom had already begun when my landlord removed an old heater and installed a new one on a different wall, forcing me to change the spots of my antique flea-market dresser and a vintage footlocker trunk. I moved the bed and desk to different walls and switched out the two bookshelves. It was small and stilting and steady effort, shuffling enough books out of the shelves to render them moveable. I dragged the printer from an awkward spot on my cedar chest to the wire bookshelf, along with my other office supplies and files. I created a little writer nook under the window with my desk arrangement. I felt like a squirrel, slowly arranging my cache until satisfied. All of a sudden, after heaving and sweating and contemplating, my bedroom was a new space with more light and room and much better flow. It was a refresh. That night, my sleep was hard and sound and peaceful.
The next morning, I woke up with energy and excitement at having another day to finish the rearrangement. I turned on the kettle to boil water for coffee and filled the sink in the kitchen to wash dishes. I put away a few mugs and bowls and began the contemplative process of mentally rearranging the living room while I looked on from the kitchen sink. I took out a couple of small bags for donation to my car and then ran back up the outside stairs to perch on the couch and drink the last from my mug. I used my arms to make measurements of furniture and fractions of walls, knowing points on my body and spots in the nubby paint to make more precise measurements than my hard-to-get-to-measuring-tape, which I conveniently discovered in the couch cushions after moving around the furniture. With my body a little sore from the previous day’s bedroom redesign, I thought about curling up with a good book and another cup of coffee, but I gave myself the metaphorical kick-in-the-butt that I needed. I wanted my whole place to match the magic of the bedroom.
I slowly took some stuff out to store temporarily on the patio and unloaded the contents of the tops of two bookcases onto my couch. I lifted the pictures off the walls and placed on the refuge of my freshly made bed. Then I braced myself for the dragging and lifting across thick apartment carpet. I pushed two bookshelves into a corner, and made a reading nook with a lamp and my fairly new turquoise upholstered chair. I tucked the small kitchen table, once awkwardly shoved in front of a bookshelf, into a newly vacant spot and dressed it up with my potted succulents and an old milk vase full of flowers. I dusted and vacuumed and then moved more stuff around to do more cleaning. Rearranging the tiny living room was like moving the components to a tightly-fitting puzzle, every slight adjustment affected another piece of furniture or wall hanging. Plus, the placement of electrical outlets and the heater smack dab in the middle of one wall made for a decor riddle. Finally, though, I solved the puzzle.
I rolled out the rug at an angle, hung a couple of pictures in new spots, and put everything away. The room didn’t get any bigger and I didn’t remove any furniture, but now there is a reading nook, a better place to eat, and more space on the floor to do yoga. The TV doesn’t distract from the conversational placement of furniture, and I can imagine more people coming over to visit. The room felt like the “after” picture in a design magazine, at least to me.
This rearrangement, coupled with a some recent epiphanies, makes me feel new and excited and reinvigorated. All week, coming home from work has been a beautiful welcome. Somehow, household chores feel like renewal, rather than drudgery. I am reveling in this new placement of my belongings, loving the books and seeing the art on the walls as if for the first time. Every place I sit feels cozy and warm and just-right. It feels like light and love are blooming in my home. Funnily enough, while I am enjoying my objects all the more, I feel blissfully okay if they disappeared. It is more about love and light and finding space and grace, both literally and figuratively.
I make plans with two co-workers to have them over for dinner next week. I invite a friend to come over for a cup of tea and a chat. I write this blog entry in my new writing niche. I curl up on the couch with a cup of coffee and a devotional to have a quiet morning wake up of prayer and contemplation. I stretch in a yoga pose in the middle of the living room. I wash dishes and put away the recycling bin. I drop compost in the worm bin and water the plants. I leave for work with my keys in hand and bag on my shoulder. I plop down on the patio to plant seeds and seedlings for a container garden. I reach for a book and cross my feet in the turquoise chair.
A rearrangement can bring refreshment and rejuvenation. Rearrangement doesn’t have to be about home decor. It can be about letting go of a rigid schedule for an hour. It can be about taking a walk on a different road or path. It can be about inviting someone you love to share a meal. It can be about making a new friend. It can be about not reacting and taking a pause. It can be about writing in your journal about the day instead of drowning in a glass of wine and complaining about co-workers. It is about being brave and taking another chance. It is about forgiveness and letting someone in. It is about finding love for self and others.
What does rearrangement mean for you?
Spring is the obvious time to celebrate rebirth. After the “barren” winter, we take notice of the fecundity of spring. It’s feral and wild. Animals are mating. Flowers are blooming. Trees are budding. People have spring fever.
Spring is all about our deliverance to life, to a new start. The astronomical calendar begins with the start of spring. We plant seeds in our gardens. Our religious and spiritual holidays like Easter and Passover celebrate new beginnings.
Last Friday, I had a type of spiritual renewal. An epiphany. A discovery. It shook me to the core. I used to be very suspicious of people when they would talk about these moments, these discoveries. Then I realized that these moments are so much more than a moment. It’s a little bit like studying history. In elementary school, when we learned about historical events, we memorized important dates. Folks familiar with U.S. history might recognize the timeline points of 1492, 1776, 1865. However, if you look more closely, those discernible events and moments were buried in thousands of other moments and events that preceded them. Just like those history lessons, in a personal spiritual journey, an epiphany on one day is really a culmination of many other revelations.
It felt like all of a sudden my resistance, only recently identified, to everything just floated away. My epiphany felt a bit like a rebirth. All of a sudden, everything felt different, and yet everything felt the same. It was as if a 2,000-pound weight had been lifted from my shoulders. I had a similar moment of epiphany last November, and then a smaller, but no less substantial epiphany a couple of days ago.
The celebration was in the discovery, but even more so in the awareness. I felt grateful to be aware of the awakening (using that word feels a little worrisome, but I cannot find another) and to embrace the little and tiny moments that resulted. Life feels easier in so many obvious and tangible ways, yet it’s all still mysterious. I don’t mean that all of a sudden I do not have problems. I’m still figuring out things financially. I’m still figuring out my relationship with myself. I’m still learning to love someone else. I’m still needing to find peace, moment to moment.
The moment of clarity is like cleaning a window. All of a sudden the light shines through so much brighter than before. I take a breath and a step. I’m grateful for the growth.
I love to compost and the parallels astound me. I throw old scraps into the bin. Something that was rotten becomes food and sustenance and then new growth can begin. The growth is small at the beginning, but miraculous. It feels new, but all of a sudden we can’t remember what it was like before that. It is a constant cycle and there is no ending.
Do you remember the first time you could read a sentence? Do you recall the moment you could ride a two-wheeled bicycle? Have you seen a baby’s delight in walking her first few steps? There is delight in the new and then it becomes routine, a foundation for the rest.
We learn, we stumble. We fall, we recover. We have moments of darkness, and then moments of epiphany. We share, we gather. We grow, we find new.
I pray for grace, for peace, for empathy, for honesty. I give thanks for spiritual growth and the path. I ask for friendship and help. I give friendship and help.
We find the seeds. We plant and honor. We nurture ourselves, our families, our friends, others. We hold hands and we find strength. We drop hands and find stability.
Spring is upon us. We begin again.
As spring fever fills the air, the deep urge to spring clean fills my heart and head. I have never been known for my housekeeping. While my mother prides herself on a floor that is clean enough to eat off of, I could always find something else to do to fill an afternoon at home, but spring cleaning always harkens at this time of year.
Somehow, though, in the last year and a half, my messy ways have changed. My dishes are washed, my clothes are folded and put away, my clutter is curtailed. Maybe it’s a newfound-yet-late maturity, or maybe it’s that I’m finally seeking clarity amidst the detritus. Hard to say, but maybe because of my ongoing spiritual work and finally striving for peace, I want to have the mental space and the physical calm among my belongings. I am striving for my physical reality to match the spiritual peace that I desire.
There are various theories about messiness. Some say that a cluttered desk means a cluttered mind. Perhaps this is so, but some of the most creative and brilliant people I know have cluttered desks and messy houses. Now, there is a difference between messy and dirty. It’s one thing to have a sinkful of dishes, it’s quite another to live in filth. I do believe that when we let it get to the point of filth, we are no longer taking care of ourselves and that this is a sign that something is seriously wrong.
I don’t want this to be a treatise on housecleaning and I have no tips on ways to do chores in 10 seconds, but there is something in the human mind that seeks clean. We like clean slates and fresh starts. We like beginnings and trying again. We desire forgiveness and new ways. In most religious traditions, there is a way to begin again. There is much emphasis on clearing away and letting go.
Sometimes, we find ourselves in the middle, though, rather than the beginning. We can’t forget the past, even if we have forgiven. Is it possible to change? Is it possible to start new patterns? Is it possible to find redemption for mistakes? Can we truly begin again?
Each day, and even each moment is another chance. We can forgive ourselves, even if someone else is not quite ready to forget our transgressions. The spring is the perfect chance and the perfect metaphor. We open the doors, swing wide the windows, and dust out the detritus. We might appear exactly the same, and yet our insides are transforming. Sometimes it’s hard to see the progress, because we are right in the middle of the journey. We need time and distance for perspective, and yet we can celebrate the little steps.
We can clear a shelf, we can let go of a burden. We can write a letter of forgiveness to someone who has harmed or hurt us. We can let go of regret and we can begin to make peace with the past. We can look forward to a clear conscience and a release of old patterns. To truly change, we have to try new.
I clear out the junk drawer in the kitchen. I organize my financial files. I observe the anniversary of my father’s death and celebrate his life. I write a letter, that I will never send, to a family member to release myself from our arguments and to find redemption in an adult relationship. I talk to a friend and hope that our relationship can bloom and grow, despite some mistakes and baggage. I struggle with self-love, but I find small ways to get there. I sweep the porch and I clear my mind. I go for an early morning run, in the darkness just before the sun breaks over the mountains in the east, and I feel clean in the sweat and the effort.
We clear away to make room for new. We let go and look forward. We begin again, each new day, each moment. There is clarity amidst the confusion. There is peace even in the pain. We take a breath. We clean so that we find love and forgiveness right now. We know that this is all there really is: this moment, love, forgiveness.
I love Lent and all that it means. It tends to be the centerpiece of my spiritual work for the year and a time for me to renew and reconnect and recommit. I also love the day before Lent begins. It goes by many names: Fat Tuesday, Shrove Tuesday, Mardi Gras, Carneval. This year, I decided to find a theme to explore during Lent, but I was not sure what it would be.
Traditionally, Fat Tuesday (and all its other names) is a time to celebrate before the sacrifice of Lent. I like the idea of balance and this is a sense of balance in the extremes. Feast, then fast. Savor, then starve (metaphorically). Receive, then refrain.
Generally, Lent is thought to be a Catholic tradition, but many denominations observe it. Lent lasts 40 days (not counting Sundays) and leads up to Easter. The 40 days represent the 40 days that Jesus fasted before his public ministry began.
Fat Tuesday, and all its other names, is celebrated with feasts and parties. Tradition holds that pancakes and other rich foods are eaten before the fasting of Lent begins. This was also a way of using up ingredients from food stores, to prevent waste, before Lent. Making and eating pancakes was a way to use up the last eggs and bits of sugar before the more somber time of Lent.
I thought about making pancakes, but decided to take the lazy way out, so that my evening could be spent on another ritual. On the way home from work, I stopped at one of my favorite restaurants and ordered a stack of pancakes and a side of bacon to go. Once I got home, I kicked off my shoes, put the pancakes and bacon on a plate and sat down to enjoy the feast. I made a cup of dark roast dandelion coffee since pancakes go well with coffee and this brew does not contain any caffeine.
I spent a bit of time in reflection, meditation, and prayer, and then I knew what my theme for Lent would be: forgiveness. Forgiveness of myself, forgiveness of others. Forgiveness, in many ways, is a way to let go: of anger, of regret, of blame. Forgiveness means to let go of the trespass and the trespasser.
There is much to explore in forgiveness and I expect that I will be through learning, praying, meditating, journaling, and participating in the act of forgiving. Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent. I look to the 40 day journey as a beginning and a way to peace.
It’s the casual salutation in an e-mail. It’s the lovely thought at the end of the phone conversation. It’s what we learn how to do as toddlers. But what does it really mean to take care?
I have been sick with a bad cold, home from work for a couple of days. I sent texts to my boss and the people I supervise, to let them know I wouldn’t be in and to keep track of general tasks for the day, before going back to the couch to watch comforting videos from my DVD collection and to try to get some sleep, which has been quite elusive in the last couple of weeks. That rare sleep probably has something to do with the worn down immune system that has made this cold feel like a permanent state of being, rather than just a brief interlude.
Isn’t it weird that we often don’t appreciate something so important as health? Why is it that we take it for granted, until a cold, or worse, a scary medical diagnosis snaps us into grateful awareness? I am still harboring a fever with loud coughing and noisy sneezing. All of a sudden, I am very aware that health is a beautiful gift and that taking care should be a shouted command, not a whispered afterthought.
Sure, I can talk about eating healthy: fresh fruits and vegetables, less sugar and fewer processed foods. But what about taking care of our whole selves? What do we need for our minds, for our spirits, not just for our bodies? I deeply believe that these are all very much connected. If we are taking care of our bodies, we should also be paying attention to what feeds our souls, our minds, our beings.
A few months ago, I was deep in the midst of loss: the loss of a dear friendship and the loss of my dad after his death. I read some books on grief, wrote a lot in my journal, and slowly found the way to healing. Almost everywhere I looked, it was recommended that I take care of myself in the midst of the grief, despite the bad instinct to do otherwise.
What does taking care mean? What does it mean to you? What does it look like? What is self-care comprised of? What are the habits and rituals that help us to heal? What helps us to remember to take care of ourselves? Why is that we often lose ourselves in the care for others, when in reality, we aren’t much help to someone without taking care of ourselves?
I realized that while my bout with a cold might have been brought on by a co-worker who came to the office in a fit of sneezing and coughing, I realized that I had lapsed greatly in my own self-care. Regardless, both of these are probably contributing factors in my recent illness. Unlike those with serious health problems, I should be feeling better in a day or two. As I rest and dream of returning to a normal routine, I think about hitting the reset button and coming back to my routine of “taking care.” Some will be the same for all of us, but others will be specific to me. You will have your routines and practices that help you take care of yourself.
Here are some of the things that I need to do to take care of my mind, of my body, of my spirit, of my self, of my soul. Sleep. Eat three meals with lots of vegetables. Spend at least three minutes, no more than it takes time for the tea kettle to boil, in quiet meditation. Go for a run, no matter how slow and plodding, a few times a week. Limit my tv viewing time to a couple hours a week. Read good books for fun, for inspiration, for peace. Reach out to people I love in texts and phone calls. Take a few minutes to quickly clean up the messy routines of daily life: washing the dishes, putting away the clothes, dispersing with the recycling, clearing away the clutter on my work desk, watering the plants. Watch the sunrise and sunset. Keep track of the moon. Walk dogs. Donate a little time, donate a little money. Make good and sustaining meals. Find self-love, even when it feels difficult. Spend a little time in hobbies that I enjoy: taking pictures, learning to quilt, going on road trips, hiking on local trails. Spend time with loved ones. Say thank you for the magnificent and the mundane. Write a little each day. Lose myself in the magic of teaching. Reach beyond my self. Remind myself of all that I take for granted: health, love, friendship, a beautiful and small and peaceful home, access to good food.
What do you need to take care?