Stillness, Silence, and Gifts of Winter

I need this, I tell myself, as I put on thick wool socks for a chilly hike that every cell of my body is adamantly against. I’ve been holed up in my house all day, refusing to unbury my car from under layers of snow and ice, and I know the only thing that will bring me back from my hibernation is a walk with the trees.

frozenfilter

It’s 12 degrees today, but it’s just another winter, nothing more dramatic than the one before, and this is the warmest it’s been all week. I should be used to it. I grew up here, so I understand that fall is nearly nonexistent. Here, we wear sandals one week and don’t question pulling out our winter coats the next.  Yet without fail, the sudden drop of temperature still feels like a dark night of my soul, as I long for motion and growth, and aliveness.

I wane nostalgic, thinking, I should have enjoyed summer more, I should have slept under the stars more nights, and I should have been more grateful every time the warm sun flowed over my skin.

I should have, I should have, I should have… I ache, as I realize the outdoor spaces in which I felt most free are the same spaces I now wrap my body in layers of thermal to protect it from. Mother Nature, the gentle partner that cradled my creativity and soothed my soul is now a cruel force to be reckoned with, whipping my face so violently my eyes tear up. During the warm months, I find the divine on winding dirt paths or nestled between tree branches almost daily, but as the temperature drops, I struggle to hear any whisper of beauty over the sound of my chattering teeth.

But, today I will try.  I lace up my boots and remind myself that a couple months ago, I promised I wouldn’t stop coming here when it got cold, which is why I spent an entire paycheck at the sporting goods store on winter gear. Through the layers of wool and down, a hopeful thought surfaces. If I really truly believe in the goodness of the natural world, I really want to believe this seemingly wretched season must serve a purpose for my soul too.

If I am filled with newness in each sunlit moment of summer, what part of me will winter bring alive?

Wearing three layers of sweaters and a scarf the size of a throw blanket, I head down the same path where a month ago I slipped my sandals off to dip my toes in the water. It’s hard to keep my focus through shivers, but there are masterpieces even now. The way the few snowflakes slowly disappear as they meet the surface of the lake is a different kind of motion, but it’s something.

I’ve always been wilder than is socially acceptable, but as I remember it’s more than just uncomfortable, it’s dangerously cold, I consider that being outside in this is proof that I am truly crazy. Besides the geese above me who have sense enough to seek warmer locations, I am the only visible creature on this path. In the whole time I’ve been here, I haven’t seen one deer, one rabbit, or even a squirrel.

Maybe it’s that the rhythmic sloshing of the half frozen lake is the only sign of life today, but I notice something else is different. The woods are silent. And so is my mind. ….It’s the quietest it has been in months. As I lean into the unfamiliar silence, I forget my aching cold body, and in that moment the same wind that was abusing me just a moment before seems to sweep away all the thoughts that were separating me from all of this. For just a brief moment, I become it- I am the cold air, the howling wind, the sleeping trees.

I’m in it, and then it’s gone, I’m me again, shivering human, but in the stillness of the frozen landscape, I understand. The sky, the air, and my body feel dense, and we linger comfortably together in our shared weight.

All I can do is breathe and accept the way the tops of my ears are beginning to lose feeling and the way my bones ache too much to move much further. I look at the four familiar miles ahead, and accept that today I will not go there, today I will just be here.

Today, the wind has more to say than me, so I will slowly walk the path back home, and I will be with silence and stillness. 

Advertisements

The Nothing I Know

Look closer.

I rarely brush my hair

Because like me,

I know it too will just grow wild again.

Thoughtful?

Well-meaning,

But I get lost in ideas.

I am heart, I am chaos.

I am an unmade bed.

I am the soundless part of the howling wind.

I am the nothing I know.

 

Reality, Gratitude, And a Book Full of Happy

“these things that don’t belong to me- the winter-blue sky, the swinging bench in the park and the 50 degree day that let me enjoy it in December, the sound of this kid shrieking with delight because he’s met the real Santa- he’s sure of it. the way I feel when my tired feet hit my yoga mat, the way pomegranate seeds are more delicious because it takes me so long to dig them out, being both wrecked by and infatuated with the  way the unknown rushes into all the cracks of well-intentioned plans…”

I’m writing in a dog-eared notebook I’ve been carrying around for three years, pages beginning to come loose from the binding. It’s nothing special, just a standard writing pad I bought at a discount store, but I’m attached to it, because the words inside have changed my life.

These pages are where each day I take a few moments to jot down a list of things that I’m thankful for. I started writing in it over three years ago, when I read an article about the practice of making lists of things one is thankful for. I was flipping through a magazine at my auto shop. While I waited for my second flat tire in a week to be repaired on the run down car I couldn’t afford to replace, I felt anything but grateful. I felt defeated and exhausted, happiness elusive. I’d capture it for a moment, and then it would escape, like when I was a kid catching lightning bugs, and  I’d open my hands and find them empty.

I still remember thinking how utterly ridiculous the idea that scribbling words on a pad of paper would change anything.

At the time, I was working as a temp at a packaging plant after leaving a job I hated, no real idea of what came next. I knew I wanted better, but I didn’t know what better would even look like. I had nothing to lose, so I decided to give it a try. Maybe this weird gratitude journal idea wouldn’t amount to anything, but at least it would help me kill time on my lunch break, because I found it hard to make conversation with the other employees who were frighteningly passionate about thing like orthopedic shoes and vending machine selection.

I ripped the magazine page out, tucking it in my pocket. Later that night I cut out the word gratitude, and pasted it on the front of an empty notebook, and thought, here goes.

“…fresh fruit and a kitchen full of my favorite foods. my loved ones. music softly holding my emotions. electric blankets. my health. sunrise. the chubby little furball who wakes me up early with kitten cuddles because he’s hungry, a job and a paycheck…”

My first list wasn’t exactly the things that dreams are made of, and I struggled a bit, but I made a commitment that each day I would write a full page of things I was grateful for, no matter how devastatingly ordinary the day seemed. Maybe it was just nice to have pages of good things to flip through when I was having a spilled-hot-coffee-in-my-lap, got-a-speeding-ticket, burnt-the-last-piece-of-toast ordinary frustration days, but for whatever reason, despite my skepticism, I stuck with it.

Eventually, something about the practice shifted. When I had started, I’d pick up my notebook and slowly write a few words, pausing to think of what things I was thankful for. It would take a concerted effort to fill a whole page. Yet in just a few weeks it would be minutes and I’d reach the bottom of the page- I could hardly write fast enough, and it was effortless. Nothing much in my life had changed, I hadn’t found a new job, a passion, a purpose, or even saved a penny towards a new car, yet it seemed I had more to be happy about. I was mystified, and also smiling a lot more.

Despite my initial doubt that a journal could alter reality, after just a few months it seemed my life had changed… just not in the way I’d imagined.

For a long time, I’d thought the world around me needed to be different for me to be happy, but what really needed to be different was the way I looked at it. At some point, I’d gotten so caught up focusing on getting through challenges and keeping up, that I’d lost track of the little joys and the hidden opportunities. This simple practice was helping me rediscover them, and eventually when you start to notice opportunities and good all around you, it changes the way you navigate the world.

Writing about the good of each day made me start to notice more of each moment, even if at first I’d actually think, “That’s going in the journal”.  I may have been thinking forward, but I’d smile every time I thought that, and those moments got more and more frequent. It was small things at first; instead of being frustrated in traffic, I’d feel grateful for the kind person who slowed down to let me switch lanes, and for the few extra minutes to listen to my music. Maybe my gratitude journal hadn’t shifted the fabric of reality, but it certainly felt like my reality was better, and that was enough.

The most significant changes happened though not in my perspective, but that as I started to believe more that good things could and would happen to me, my actions started to reflect my newfound optimism.

I started taking more risks, pursuing things I’d always wanted to do, doing more things just because I enjoyed them, trusting people more. Those things changed more than just the way I felt for the better, they changed the way I lived.

My gratitude journal is bent from the times it has been shoved in the bursting pocket of an overstuffed carry on or backpack, waterlogged from laying on the floor of my poorly assembled tent during a much needed rain on a long camping trip, and has coffee stains on it from the times I used it as a coaster on my desk. Eventually it will fall apart, but gratitude isn’t just in these pages anymore, it’s a part of me.

Sure, I’m human, and there are still bound to be moments where it feels like everything is falling apart, where the things I think I need are not the same thing the universe chooses to bestow upon me.  The difference is that now it’s easy to remember that despite whatever the circumstances, there is happiness to be found. I’m sure of it, because I have a whole book full of happy.

Wild Roads, Vandalism, and Blue-Eyed Demons

If jealousy is a green eyed monster

Then self- pity is his blue eyed friend

The innocent-looking accomplice

Who will talk to the cops

If they get caught.

 

They run the streets together

Kicking over trash cans

And laughing mercilessly

As the wind scatters

Dirty heaps of garbage

Into an otherwise open road.