dog being fully present in the snow

“Behind the facade of the familiar, strange things await us.” ~ John O’Donohue

Over my Christmas break, I did a year-end ritual that I found in the book “The Not So Big Life” by Sarah Susanka. There were twenty-eight questions to help me dig away at what went on over the past year, plus three questions about the future. It took me about eight hours to ponder and answer all the prompts.

The intention of the exercise wasn’t to create goals or resolutions for 2017. It was more like recording what felt right and what felt wrong about 2016 — what patterns I felt stuck in that I’d like to watch out for and change, and what habits I’d rather have instead.

Now, after all that work, I’ve put everything I wrote away. Next year at this same time, I’ll go through the entire ritual of answering the questions all over again. And at that time, I’ll look at what I wrote this year and see if any of the things I hoped for or planned to change have in some way progressed, been fully realized or been forgotten about.

Mississippi River overflow

As Susanka explains it, the idea is just to plant the seed in the subconscious and let that part of my brain work on it. Of course things don’t happen if you don’t do anything at all. In “The Not So Big Life,” the reader is told that they need to create a good environment for the seeds to grow in:

  • Good Soil – slow down a bit
  • Water – be fully present in your life
  • Sun – regular meditation to open yourself up to discovering who and what you truly are

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dog

dog

It’s been a long time since I’ve posted on my blog. I needed some clearing and gathering time. And time to determine what to clear and what to gather.

This has required a great deal of thinking — thinking while I’m driving (distracted driver), thinking while I’m walking the dogs, and thinking while I’m trying desperately to get some sleep.

It has taken some wandering, experimenting, and hibernating time as well.

In September, I received an email from Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew, which was the prompt that started me on this journey. Elizabeth facilitates a writer’s group that meets once a month. It’s different than most writer’s groups as we don’t read each other’s work or do critiques, instead we talk about the sorts of questions that a writer might ponder.

Elizabeth’s email prompted the group to think about the word “play” in relationship to writing.

Play?

As I thought about this word, the words that popped into my mind were free, light, uninhibited, unworried about outcome, adaptable, unrestricted.

And I realized how little time I spend in the state these words bring to mind.

fat bike

I work hard to get from point A to point B. The goal is usually for me to become an expert on something or at least good at it. I want whatever it is to become something that comes naturally, that flows and is no longer difficult for me. If I can’t reach that point of flow or at least reach the point where I no longer feel self-conscious about my lack of skills, I will often decide that it wasn’t that important anyway and quit to move on to another it.

During our discussion about playing, some of the writers used the example of music and how you gain muscle memory where you no longer have to think about the notes and which fingers go where. Instead you play freely, taking the energy you put into learning the music itself and putting it towards infusing feeling and personality into the piece. By doing so, you make a song that has been played by millions of musicians into your own unique creation.

And that is how I’d like to think about life.

walk in the woods

I think that playing freely and making my own unique creation means that I need to make some changes. Like…

  1. On the days when no one seems to value or appreciate me or my unique creation, that it doesn’t mean I, as a human being, have no value. More than likely, the people who don’t appreciate my Maeryness don’t see any value in the things I’m good at. They may not even see those things are even there. I think (I hope) this just means my real life is somewhere else.
  2. Believing that I am more than the things that don’t come naturally to me. I want to quit striving to mold myself into something I don’t even want to be.
  3. For my own sanity and well being, I want to play around with the things that I enjoy and I feel good about. If I feel the need to define myself (which is limiting and I should stop it), but if I must, define myself by those things.
  4. I am the person who alone has lived my life and knows the lessons it has taught me. I would have preferred to be oblivious of some things, but life has granted me a certain set of wisdoms whether I want them or not. I am a conglomeration of what I have lived and I’m tired of trying to pretend that I am something else because something else has been seen by me as being better than what I am. It’s time to find value in the tools I’ve been given and stop looking for the ones I don’t have.

I’ve been trying to remember what it was like to be a kid — to remember what I played at and imagined and loved. I want to see if the things I started out loving provide clues to how to bring those playful feelings (free, light, uninhibited, unworried about outcome, adaptable, unrestricted) back into my way too serious life.

And so I’m returning. Slowly. But playfully.

bicycling in woods

horse trail riding

horse trail riding

“The Feeding of the Muse then, seems to me to be the continual running after loves, the checking of these loves against one’s present and future needs, the moving on from simple textures to more complex ones, from naïve ones to more informed ones, from non intellectual ones to intellectual ones.” ~ Ray Bradbury

I believe to write well, you need to live well. How else can you describe a scene with all of its smells, sounds and textures? You have to pay attention. You have to run after loves.

Not all the things I’ve come to love started out that way. Bike riding didn’t. But I’m a curious soul. I read about something or hear someone talk about it, and I want to see for myself what this “thing” is like.

But there’s more than curiosity and wanting to live well that drive me to run after loves. I’ve also found that having as much in my life that I love, that challenges me and, at the same time, makes me feel at home in my own skin helps me to deal with the anxiety and fear that shadows my days.

Life is pretty good right now. So why would I feel anxious, overwhelmed and afraid? This is a question I’ve asked myself throughout my life. Sometimes there’s been a good reason for these feelings but more often lately, there is not.

And who knows why… Genetics. Environment. Trauma. Habit – a groove dug so deep in my brain that it would take more than a bump of a hand to send the needle sliding to a different beat. Hmmm, a record metaphor. I think I just dated myself.

Finding the why is futile and meaningless, at least that’s what I’ve come to believe. I’m not willing to waste any more time on it. Anyway, finding out why has been for other people’s sake, not mine. To explain and justify. To find understanding. To stop people from telling me to “Get over it.” Or accuse me of not trying. Or of doing this to myself.

In other words, this undetermined, unreasonable anxiety is a character defect that some weakness and flaw in me refuses to overcome.

I know the things I love doing — the things that get me outside in nature and engage me physically and mentally. The things where I feel connected to the bigger, natural world and its occupants.  I also know that some of the things I love doing mean facing fear, which generally comes from doubt in myself. Take horseback riding.

horse trail riding

Yesterday I went trail riding on my own. I’ve gone out alone once since I moved Luke to his new home. There were points during that ride and during many previous rides when I would see Luke’s head shoot up, feel his back drop and his muscles tense. Sometimes he will stop or he might start to nervously gait. If something really blows his mind, he might spin around to head back towards where we came from at a dead run.

These things don’t happen often, but they have happened. I’ve never gotten hurt by Luke through any of his panics. But as a I age, I’m not as confident in my physical strength and ability to ride out a storm, should one occur.

Riding past my fear means putting what I’ve learned from my meditation practice into play — deep breathing and relaxing my muscles from head to toe — not just for my own relaxation but so Luke doesn’t pick up any trepidation on my part.

To make an already long story shorter, Luke and I are both still alive. There were a few tense moments from the sound of a dirt bike on the other side of the river and, as we approached the trail head, we ran into a whole lot of horses, people,  and trailers. Luke heard them before we could actually see them, which was a big part of the problem.

Since we’ve been riding in arenas for the past four years, Luke is no longer used to so much commotion. But once we came out into the open, where he could see everything plainly, Luke relaxed and we calmly rode the rest of the way back to the barn.

After the ride, I felt happy, light, and kind of proud of myself and of Luke. I realized that what frightened Luke on the trail was not what he saw. It was what was out of site and unknown.

It’s the same for me. Which may be why I want to know and experience so many things. The broader I can make my view of the world, the less there is to fear.

prairie restoration

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