All of This

Seattle has a reputation for rain. When I first traveled there two years ago, I was lucky enough to be squeezed between two locals on the flight over, full of tips and must-sees for my inaugural visit. When I (inevitably) asked about the weather, the woman to my right confessed that although yes, it did rain most days, it was usually only briefly in the morning or afternoon, preceded or followed by sun. Then, just as the lush green mountaintops and forest firs were coming into view below, she went on to say something I’ll never forget:

Besides, if we didn’t get so much rain, we wouldn’t have all of this.

All of this. No explanation was needed. I was surrounded by dense woods, trees whose lifespan far surpassed my own, and a mountain backdrop that was a refreshing change of scenery from the industrial landscape I’d left behind. All made possible by year-round rainfall, for which the city is so famous.

The Emerald City is named so for a reason. Wildflowers adorn nearly every sidewalk, highway, and hillside, thriving in every season.

Seattle

Yet we forget that year-round greenery requires year-round rain. Without it, the Emerald City would cease to be what it is today.

Perhaps too, our lives’ green patches need a steady rainfall to flourish year and year again.

It’s difficult to bear witness to the good that unfolds without acknowledging the storms that came before. If we didn’t get so much rain, we wouldn’t have all of this.

Our days can bring a steady drizzle, or a sudden downpour. And often, before we see new blooms, a seed has already been planted, our roots already strengthened.

We’re not always good at piecing together the weather of our lives. Our fondest memories can quickly disappear when tragedy strikes, just as our rough patches can readily fade when we’re met with good news. Yet the changing seasons of our surroundings are deeply intertwined, each gradually giving way to the next. Long winters prelude mild springs, and cherished summers come to pass.

Like the gardens that catch our eye, we need sun and rain in order to thrive, to enrich our soil. If you’re in a monsoon season, let in some light. If the sun is shining, be deliberate in your appreciation of all the goodness and beauty that surrounds you.

Whatever your current landscape, find comfort in all the forces that came together to make it so.

Seattle

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Calling All Bookworms

If you’re like me, then you know nothing beats curling up with a good book on a cool weather day, preferably with a warm drink in hand. In the eternal words of C.S. Lewis, “You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me.” So grab your favorite mug and stay tuned to see what’s on my reading list this winter!

The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are — Brené Brown

A leading researcher on shame, authenticity, and belonging, Brown seamlessly weaves in tales of her own struggles with perfectionism and people-pleasing, with years of research around our struggle to fit in without compromising our unique, “wholehearted” selves. Brown is a natural storyteller, and will make you say “Aha!” and “I’m not the only one?” in this thoughtfully candid page-turner. I just finished it and like a good conversation, am already looking forward to starting it again.

In the eternal words of C.S. Lewis, “You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me.”

The Best Buddhist Writing 2011 — Melvin McLeod and Editors of the Shambhala Sun

I first encountered this book in a meditation yoga class a few years ago, and didn’t pick it up again until last month. A collection of writings by leaders in the tradition, it’s enlightening, informative, and thought-provoking. A must-read for meditators, or anyone looking to bring a little more calm into their lives. Like all short story collections, some chapters may speak to you more than others. Read at your leisure, and don’t be afraid to skip around.

The Happiness Project: Or Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun — Gretchen Rubin

I was pleasantly surprised by how much I liked this book. Rubin’s practical wisdom, humorous anecdotes, and gleanings from some of her greatest teachers, invite readers to challenge their preconceived notions of happiness, and cultivate practices to achieve the all-too-fleeting state of being. Lighthearted and engaging, Rubin’s style pairs well with the research she includes. Reflections that initially seem intuitive are explored to reveal deeper meaning, and will leave you happily engrossed page after page.

Unaccustomed Earth — Jhumpa Lahiri

Author of The Namesake and Interpreter of Maladies, Jhumpa Lahiri has a way with words, easing the reader into the worlds of her characters with descriptive flair. In this short story collection, Lahiri brilliantly reveals the troubles and insecurities we hide beneath polished exteriors, and the unique, often unseen ways in which our close relationships create room to grow, retreat, and find comfort in the familiar. I loved not knowing where each story would lead, and while not always feel-good, the endings were never disappointing.

The Rosie Project — Graeme Simpson

If you’re looking to get lost in a lighthearted, laugh-out-loud, memorable read, you’re in luck. This one’s been on my list for some time, and I finally got around to listening to it (thanks, OverDrive!), finishing it in a record 3 days. Hilarity ensues when altogether socially inept Don Tillman embarks on the Wife Project to find the perfect partner. Enter, Rosie, an imperfect rule-bender who enlists Don’s help on a not-so-small project of her own. Thoroughly funny, heartwarming, and refreshingly insightful, this book quickly draws you in and doesn’t slow down. If you like it as much as I do, you’ll be pleased to hear, there’s a sequel.

How to be Lovely: The Audrey Hepburn Way of Life — Melissa Hellstern

A timeless icon, Audrey Hepburn lived with grace, style, poise, and elegance. This book has been part of my collection for some time, and it was worth a refresher to go back and read about the way she moved through the world with a rare kindness, sense of humor, and considerable thoughtfulness. One of the features I love about this book is the inclusion of quotes from Audrey herself, and from those with whom she was closely acquainted. To know Audrey, was to love her. If you’re looking for an intimate portrait of a woman whose beauty was surpassed only by her genuine spirit, this one’s for you.

Small Great Things — Jodi Picoult

Jodi Picoult bravely tackles prejudice, race, and privilege, in this gripping novel that will leave you replaying its plot in your mind long after you’ve put it down. Told from the perspectives of three lead characters, Picoult gives an intimate and eye-opening glimpse into the ways our attitudes about race shape our identities, and the advantages, disadvantages, and pressures we face. Provocative and raw, this book kept me up into the wee hours of the night, and is one that belongs on your nightstand. (I highly recommend the audio version, which brings this masterpiece to life.)

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Like it Matters

On our best days, we live like it matters. We give our bodies the attention and care they need and deserve. We nurture our relationships. We focus on what we have, instead of what we lack. To do so takes discipline and present moment awareness. Most of all, it takes willingness to believe that each of our days makes a difference, even when it feels like they may not.

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Reader’s Roundup

In this new feature, I’ll be sharing some of my most memorable reads from the week. Each day, one of my favorite self-care practices is to unwind with an article that catches my eye, often a few! This week: zoekboeks, hidden joys, and a table for one. So kick back, relax, and read on!

What Adults Can Learn from Dutch Children’s Books

The New York Times

I have to resist listing all the activities crammed into the pages of my favorite wimmelbooks because they would come across as cringingly mundane. But the cramming is, in truth, transcendent, this gentle collapsing of time and bending of space to capture worldly things in their everyday profusion.


Where Joy Hides and How to Find It

Mindful

I mean, if you think about it, we all stop and turn our heads to the sky when the multicolored arc of a rainbow streaks across it. And fireworks — we don’t even need to know what they’re for, and we feel like we’re celebrating, too.


Eating Alone

Longreads

I’m shy, and while I was mildly concerned about what people might think of me when I began dining alone, I was more concerned about what I might think of me if I didn’t try. I didn’t want to be someone who experienced less of a city, less of life, because I was afraid. So I went.

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A Season to Savor

Summer can bring about a carefree ease like no other season can: the days are longer, work hours are shorter, vacations are frequent, and time outdoors is cherished. By September, as we squeeze out final pool days and picnics, we wonder where the months have gone.

While our minds are free to flit and flutter, they’re far from stress-free. Even the most enticing escapes can bring out our worries and anxieties. Our toes are in the sand, but our minds are often elsewhere.

You might find yourself reflecting on a conversation from days ago or an earlier morning’s exchange. Or perhaps as you try to absorb the juicy page-turner you’ve just picked up, your mind begins drifting to an upcoming deadline, unfinished project, or impending decision.

Whether your summer roster has you traveling far and wide, or simply taking in the scenery of your own surroundings, this is a practice that can help you stay present when your unleashed mind begins to wander down worry lane.

Start by asking how you can be there for yourself right now. Maybe you can take a moment to notice where you are, and gently remind yourself that your worries only exist in your mind. Or, begin by uttering a few words of reassurance to yourself such as, “It’s ok, I’m here for you,” or, “I don’t want you to worry about this right now.”

Next, ask yourself what you’re needing. Do you need to slow down or take a break? Maybe you need an enjoyable distraction to put your mind at ease. You might need to write about what you’re feeling or talk it over with someone.

Human connection is a powerful medicine and a potent emotional pain reliever. Ask yourself whom you can reach out to. It might be a friend, a neighbor, or even a stranger. Whether or not you choose to share your troubles is up to you, but simply being in someone else’s company can help you step out of your head and back into the world around you.

Finally, ask yourself how you can use this opportunity to tap into your strengths. What are you good at? What brings you joy? How can you use your gifts to help alleviate some of the tension you’re experiencing? Draw, sing, dance, read, cook, create, swim, dive, dine, laugh, share, photograph, run, stretch, breathe. Let yourself get lost in whatever makes you feel alive.

Like all of our days, summer’s are best fully savored. We owe it to ourselves and those around us to tune into them with deep awareness, even as the past and future compete for our present moment attention. Catch fireflies. Cook out. Sleep under the stars. And let your mind come with you.

Bonus

Need a hand? Keep these questions at your fingertips and start savoring each moment – Click here to download!

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When Life Gives You Lemons

No matter how much we plan, prepare, practice, or procrastinate, life can get messy. As Anne Lamott so beautifully captures, All truth is a paradox. Life is a precious unfathomably beautiful gift; and it is impossible here, on the incarnational side of things. It has been a very bad match for those of us who were born extremely sensitive. It is so hard and weird that we wonder if we are being punked. And it is filled with heartbreaking sweetness and beauty, floods and babies and acne and Mozart, all swirled together.”

When we’re struggling, it can be difficult to tune in to the beauty that surrounds us. Instead of redirecting our awareness to the positive, we tend to focus exclusively on the downside of things. When things start going our way again, we notice the simple joys each of our days brings with little conscious effort, and naturally dwell on these moments. But we’re frequently at a loss when it comes to holding both together.

There’s a powerful practice we can engage in when we’re faced with small currents, like running late or feeling overwhelmed, to big waves, like getting into an argument with a loved one or struggling with an illness. It’s called the AND. Instead of zooming in on the negative, we can broaden our view to see what good we might be able to squeeze out of our most trying experiences.

Here are some examples:

I’m stuck in traffic AND I get to go to a job I love.

I’m worried about my health AND I have access to reliable medical care.

Money is tight AND I’m finding ways to stay afloat.

I’m feeling lonely AND I’m surrounded by reminders of others who love and care for me.

The house needs repairs AND I have a space where I feel comfortable, relaxed, and safe.

My child is struggling in school AND is a beautiful symbol of strength and perseverance.

I’m feeling overwhelmed AND I’m choosing to give myself time to unplug.

I’m feeling unfulfilled AND I’m using my gifts to help others and develop my strengths.

I’m having a hard day AND finding small ways to take care of myself.

I exchanged harsh words with a loved one AND I’m grateful to have a partner in life.

It may sound easy-peasy, but this practice is a real challenge to do in the moment. What makes it so difficult? In part, it’s because the consequences of our negative experiences feel much more significant than those of our positive ones, and sometimes, they are.

Yet, we often crowd out the good in our lives before these consequences even occur. Imagine you’re running late to work. Your mind might be spinning with thoughts like, “I’m never going to get everything finished that I need to,” “My colleagues will be disappointed in me,” “I knew I shouldn’t have hit the snooze button,” or even, “I might lose my job.”

Meanwhile, you fail to appreciate your favorite song playing on the radio, take in the morning sun, or feel gratitude for making some of the green lights. Maybe you don’t notice the happy face of the child crossing the street, or the friendly wave of your neighbor as you exit your driveway.

By investing more in the uplifting experiences that occur alongside the ones that weigh us down, we raise the potential that they too will have lasting, even life-changing impacts.

It’s easy to appreciate the good that surrounds us when life is going the way we want it to. But when we encounter difficulties, it becomes much harder. This is when we most need to make room for the AND, by tuning into the big and small moments of our days that bring us a sense of peace and gratitude, no matter how insignificant they might seem.

The next time you’re faced with something that feels hard to bear, be it a small annoyance or a heavy burden, try this practice. Connect the difficulty with something for which you can be grateful, or that provides even the slightest relief. It’s important that the positive element that you choose to focus on be related to the negative. For instance, saying to yourself, “I got a flat tire AND it’s a beautiful day” isn’t as effective as saying, “I got a flat tire AND I have a car I can depend on to reliably get me around.”

You may even want to start writing down your examples, so you can reflect on the things that are going right in your life, in the midst of all that may be going wrong. The more you engage in this practice, the easier it becomes, and the more you’ll develop the capacity for resilience, gratitude, and trust – in both yourself and the world around you. Where can you make room for the AND today?

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4 Lessons in Living from Man’s Best Friend

This article originally appeared on No Sidebar.

Two years ago, my family expanded.

It started innocently enough: browsing profiles on Petfinder, swooning over portraits of 4-legged playmates that dared me to say no. Nothing softens the heart so much as being met with an expression of wide-eyed wonderment and a wagging tail.

I’d wanted a puppy for a long time, but circumstances had always prevented it: my apartment wasn’t dog-friendly or I was worried about the accompanying expenses. I volunteered at the local animal shelter, took care of family and friends’ companions like they were my own, and patiently waited for my turn to come.

A few years, and several homes and jobs later, I found her: 5 pounds, perky ears, amber eyes, and a soft gaze that made all my troubles disappear.

The runt of the litter, she was described as sweet and affectionate, and well-versed in defending herself against siblings twice her size. Having viewed dozens of profiles in recent weeks, I knew my search was over. I’d always had a soft spot for the most vulnerable, seeing something of myself in their perseverance. Determined to bring her home, I applied right away, made a deposit, and held my breath until I was approved.

My sister, a fellow dog owner and long-time proponent of my expanding my fur family, surprised me with a welcome kit in the mail: a leash and collar, a bed, a sock monkey that squeaked, and a bag of food that far outweighed my soon-to-be companion. Each time I walked past the once-empty coat hook that now held her new accessories, I could barely contain my excitement.

I counted down the weeks to her homecoming and prepared my solo cat of 14 years as best I could. I pored over plushies, chew toys, and tennis balls, and researched the highest-rated. Like I do most new endeavors, I approached this one with unwavering commitment and great devotion.

Nothing could have prepared me for the joy I felt upon first meeting Lyla, nor the immeasurable light and laughter she’s brought to my life since. It’s hard to remember my days before her as she’s become such an integral part of them.

I wake up to her playful pounces and come home to her eager face perched upon the windowsill. I’ve learned more from her about what it means to be present, resilient, and appreciative than I could have imagined, and continue to grow from her gentle way of moving through the world. In a sense, she’s taught me what it means to be human.

We can learn so much from our pets simply by observing them and allowing ourselves to be open to what they have to show us. Here are a few takeaways my time with Lyla has afforded:

1. Find contentment with what you have.

Before Lyla came home, I filled her bed with toys, many of which she took months to grow into. They’ve since all been retired, victims of hours of chewing, and hundreds of squeaks, throws, and tug-of-war episodes. I now keep one or two toys for Lyla at a time and don’t rush out to replace them. She reminds me that the sense of fulfillment brought about by material goods is fleeting and that their value does not compare with that derived from our relationships and leisure time.

2. Dwell in the present.

Our pets don’t think in yesterdays or tomorrows, ruminating on the past, or fretting about the future. They are supreme models of what it means to live in the here and now. I love watching Lyla roll in the grass and chase fireflies, greet other dogs and new humans. Her curiosity drives her and her senses guide her. Witnessing her playful spirit is a reminder of the joy to be sought simply from tuning into each moment as it unfolds.

3. Practice patience.

When things don’t go our way, it’s easy to become discouraged or give up hope altogether. But being around Lyla reminds me that our troubles are only temporary and that we have the freedom to choose how we respond to them. Her good-naturedness is contagious and helps me recognize that our struggles need not define us.

4. Embrace the unknown.

Like most dogs, Lyla loves exploring different routes and chasing new scents. The unfamiliar intrigues her, and she’s not afraid to get a closer look. Though far from fearless, she shows an openness to explore that I admire. The unknown can be frightening, particularly when it threatens our sense of safety and security. But it can also be exciting and rewarding, if we allow ourselves to welcome it in, instead of running from it.

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