Welcome to the middle path

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Sporadic photos and notes from a Psyche-midwife, cheerleader, anthropologist--aka clinical social worker in therapy practice. Photos are usually mine except for those of historical events/famous people. Music relevant to the daily topic is often included in a web video embedded below the blog. Click on highlighted links in the copy to get to source or supplemental material. For contact information, see my website @ janasvoboda.com or click on the button to the right below. Join in the conversation.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

January 31st Challenge: Stay Awake

Did you miss me this morning?
I'm fighting off a virus and took to my bed early last night, before I post the last of the January Challenges.  
I'm ambivalent about endings. I feel good to have started and finished something, and intimidated by a narrative that the last post be Big and Meaningful and wrap everything up nicely.  

This poem has been on my desk for a while, waiting for you all.  It's Big and Meaningful, maybe a little too much.  There's a lot in here to consider:  being known and deep listening to The Other, being authentic in relationship, staying mindful, and accepting reality.  I guess that DOES wrap things up for the month nicely.

I used to want to get a tattoo that said "Stay Awake"-- just a tiny one, maybe in Czech, that would remind me to stay mindful.  But I worried that's the wrong permanent message to give a chronic insomniac, so I read this poem once in a while instead.  I hope you find as much to love in it as I do.

Thank you for playing along this January.  I'll continue to blog and post homework occasionally.  I'd love to have you along. 

A Ritual To Read To Each Other

If you don't know the kind of person I am
and I don't know the kind of person you are
a pattern that others made may prevail in the world
and following the wrong god home we may miss our star.

For there is many a small betrayal in the mind,
a shrug that lets the fragile sequence break
sending with shouts the horrible errors of childhood
storming out to play through the broken dyke.

And as elephants parade holding each elephant's tail,
but if one wanders the circus won't find the park,
I call it cruel and maybe the root of all cruelty
to know what occurs but not recognize the fact.

And so I appeal to a voice, to something shadowy,
a remote important region in all who talk:
though we could fool each other, we should consider--
lest the parade of our mutual life get lost in the dark.

For it is important that awake people be awake,
or a breaking line may discourage them back to sleep;
the signals we give--yes or no, or maybe--
should be clear: the darkness around us is deep.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

January 30th Challenge: Be passionately curious!

“I have no special talent. I am only passionately curious.”  --Albert Einstien

we BOTH were curious about the other
This morning's Corvallis Gazette Times had a profile of a remarkable man.  At 41, Bill Earl has had more health issues than most people face in a lifetime.  Diagnosed with Parkinson's 9 years ago,  he learned five years later that he has multiple system atrophy, a degenerative neurological disease.  His strength, muscle control and vision is failing.  Despite this, he continues courting his life-long love:  learning.  He's completed a master's degree, built rockets, learned to roll cigars, plays guitar and writes songs.  He credits his passions for keeping him alive.  “I have a friend who says I just dive into everything,” Earls said. “There’s no testing the waters or anything. I go all in with both feet. I’ve always been that way. It’s what keeps me going.”

Passionate curiosity keeps us learning, keeps our minds nimble and our hearts open.  Today, I challenge you to indulge yours.

Ways to meet today's challenge:
i was curious why my wheelbarrow handle broke.

1)  Dust off an old hobby and give it some new life.

2)  Memorize the spelling and meaning of an interesting new word or foreign phrase.  Get to know it well enough you can use it in your writing or conversation.

3) Visit and explore a new neighborhood, park, natural area or small town.

4)  Chat up a safe stranger.  Ask good questions, and listen hard.

5)  Learn something new:  a new song, how to tune a guitar, how to make a good pizza crust, some calligraphy, a math trick.  There are great visual instructables on line, like this one on making

a caramel apple pie.

6)  Go on an investigation tangent when you run across something interesting in your day.

Today I discovered a new poet because of a friend's friend on facebook.  Sadly, he died today, although it appeared he lived a long life and had a good death.  I looked him up on line and read his poems, including this beautiful piece on grief written in memory of his son:

 i.m. Hannes Hollo, 1959-1999

by Anselm Hollo

Fought the hungry ghosts here on Earth
"What is man?" asked the King
Alcuin’s reply: "A guest of space." And time yes time:
The past lies before us, the future comes up from behind
Walking on Primrose Hill or Isle of Wight beaches
Iowa City streets scrambling up snow-covered deer track
To Doc Holliday’s grave in Glenwood Springs
His helmet now shall make a hive for bees
He fought the hungry ghosts here on Earth
Strong & resourceful on his best days,
Patient kind and present
Returning those with him to here & now
But just as we settle in with our Pepsi and popcorn

THE END rolls up too soon always too soon

I love that line: "A guest of space.  And time yes time".  I love the poem, which aids me in my own grieving.  And I love that I "met" a poet whose work may have otherwise not been known to me.

Go be curious.  See what you can find out there.  And let me know the results, here or on the facebook page:  https://www.facebook.com/groups/408167865930359/

Today's video:  How to Whistle With A Blade of Grass


January 29 Challenge: Soul(ful) Food Day

Maybe you think I spend days thinking of these challenges.  OK, not if you know me-- then you know I write these pretty much right before the calendar flips each night.  I write whatever's on my mind that day.  Today's post was prompted by two incidents unrelated except by the food topic.
now we're talking.  REAL local-- backyard!

 1)  Last night on the radio I heard a three minute except from a show on NPR that I cannot seem to track down tonight.  The host was talking about Michelangelo's diet, said to consist of pears, olive oil, cheese, bread and wine.  He lived to 89.  OK, I'm in.

2)  I made cookies on a whim tonight.  I've never liked following recipes and cooked in the past by taste and smell.  I still have a busted nose, so this is no longer a great idea.  Evidenced tonight:  I threw in what was meant to be a hearty dash of cinnamon and turned out to be a BOATLOAD of turmeric.  I couldn't taste the difference, but I don't think you'll want the recipe.

Even without the nose, I have relearned to like eating. Word has it we have three real drives:  hunger, thirst, and sex.  I'll let you mess with the second two.  Today's challenge is around attending to the first, or at least that which we associate it with:  FOOD.

really.  just don't. 
We live in interesting times.  Our bodies are wired to give a little dopamine reward on encountering concentrated forms of energy (think sugars and fats).  In times past, that meant being in the right place at the right time, say around a fruit tree during harvest time, or doing a lot of work (hunting and killing animals).  Sure, we could get some calories by grazing the local grains, but the real deal was hard to find.

Now, we can get that reward anywhere, anytime.  We can drive through at 3 am and consume a bacon burger and shake and get more calories than the average Indonesian does in a day.  We eat EVERYWHERE-- on buses, in our cars, walking-- and all times of day.  Our bodies haven't adjusted to this overabundance.  Americans now take on an average 1000 extra calories a day beyond actual energy needs.  And calories are cheaper now than they were a couple of generations ago, especially in America, where there are subsidies for genetically engineered wheat and corn and other sources of relatively nutrient-poor foodstuffs.
extra delicious because made and eaten with friends

We eat and eat and eat.  We don't think so much about it.  But doesn't it seem like this Big Drive deserves at least a little thought?

Here's how to meet today's challenge.  Choose one or many, or invent your own.

1)  Let yourself get hungry.  We tend to eat by external cues (the clock, exposure to food).  If you are pretty healthy, try waiting til your belly growls.   You'd be surprised how unfamiliar this is.

2)  Eat mindfully.  Take your time.  Put your spoon or fork down between bites.  Notice the taste, texture, aroma (lucky devil)  of the food.  Notice how these change on different parts of your tongue, or if you hold it in your mouth a bit longer than usual before swallowing.  Watch this 5 minute interview with Mindless Eating author Brian Winsink for some information that may surprise you about why we eat more than we mean and enjoy it less than we might. 

fancy-ass delicious
3)  Cook mindfully.  Try a new recipe, maybe from another culture.  Take your time.  Think about the farmers, packers, truckers and others who brought you this food.  Send them a good vibe.

home cooked love potions
4)  Pay attention to how, why and where you eat.   Are you hungry?  Are you feeling another void, satisfying a craving?  Just for today, try eating only at the table.  Not in the car, not standing up while cooking.

5)  Eat foods that have meaning for you.  Make something from your childhood, or a meal from all local ingredients.

6)  Skip a meal and donate the money to a food kitchen or other charity.

Some resources for today's challenge:
PBS 10 Steps to Becoming a Locavore
Practices from the Center for Mindful Eating
NPR Article: Around the World in 80 Diets 
Enjoy!  ~Jana
Today's theme song is by "Weird Al" Yankovich.

Monday, January 28, 2013

January 28 Challenge: Do Yourself Proud

the chicken who laid this ginormous egg should be very proud
Today's challenge is to provide yourself a little affirmational inspiration, by doing something that makes you proud.

Most people appreciate feeling appreciated.  It feels good to hear reinforcing words about something worthwhile we've done.

Most of us heard more of this when we were younger.  We valued positive notice from authorities:  parents, then teachers, maybe bosses.  But as adults we have less opportunity for others to have that sort of authority.  And of course, sadly, some folks didn't even get much of that positive attention as children.  We need to become our own kind authority, taking notice of where we've made a good effort.

i was proud because i ate some
 food that day (long story)
maybe that's why i am yellow
I've never been a fan of what's commonly known as affirmations, those global positive phrases one comedian referred to years ago as "white people's rap."  You know what I'm talking about?  Maybe you remember that old Al Franken character on Saturday Night Live, Stuart Smiley.  He was a smarmy, goofy fellow who would look in the mirror and repeat phrases like "I'm good enough, I'm smart enough, and everybody likes me".   The problem with these sorts of affirmations?  They may well be lies.  Even if the first parts were true (and Stuart was no rocket scientist...) is that the last part isn't likely to be.  Not everyone IS going to like you, and you aren't in charge of that.  When we tell ourselves meaningless reassurances like "Everything is wonderful" when it isn't, our BS radar should be lighting up.  If we say: "I have endless streams of money" when we are unemployed, or "I radiate happiness where ever I go" when we are depressed, it may actually make us feel WORSE.

I could go on about this a long time.  I will refrain.  Short answer:  affirmations can be very helpful when they are based in reality.  "This is a hard time and I have gotten through hard times before.  I have strengths and resources that I can use to change things".  That's a reasonable affirmation. 
But this is a tangent, so back to the task at hand:

Do something today that makes you rightfully proud.  

By proud, I mean that you take a reasonable risk in some way to change something for the better.

Maybe you, a shy person, speak up at a meeting, or ask that cute other single person for coffee, or speak up when someone tells a racist or homophobic joke.

bravely eaten food (required military support)
proud to make bad art
Maybe you tackle something that frightens you-- an overdue or complicated project, a relationship challenge.  Maybe you take action on getting your health together-- you get some exercise or cut out sugar or don't eat that dairy/grain/whatever that you love but makes you sick.  Maybe you take the higher OLA ground and refrain from being critical even though you're about to start your period and they really are being a big jerk. Maybe you take on a cause you believe in, in a tiny or a big way:  you wash that nasty plastic tub in the back of the fridge so it can be recycled instead of closing your eyes and tossing it in the trash, or you write your senator about a concern you have, or you donate items or money to some organization that needs it. 

Maybe it's as little as taking the stairs instead of the elevator or turning down the second brownie. Maybe it's as big as telling that person you love that you really do love them, or asking for a raise, or refusing to be abused in a relationship.

proud to participate in davinci mask making
You choose.  In fact, why don't you choose all day to do at least little things you feel proud of.  If you are locked into one location, keep a score sheet.  Make some hash marks every  time you make a decision that is more in line with who you want to be in the world.  Again, these don't need to be monumental.  Soe of them you would have done anyway-- give yourself credit! 
proud to have helped mani

We're coming to the end of the January Challenges.   I will be sad and relieved to see it stop.  If you are interested, join the facebook group and there will be occasional homework posted there throughout the year, but this everyday thing-- huh-uh.  We be through with that very very soon.
If you have a challenge you want to get in, now's the time to let me know.  You can message, email, leave info on my answering machine.  I've really appreacited those of you that have played along and contacted me with your stories.

See you tomorrow.  Go make yourself proud.  I will get a jump start by saying I got this blog done, even though I wanted to go read a book in bed!  And now I will proudly engage in prodental activity WITH FLOSSING, even though I'm tempted to skip.
Sleep well,

Sunday, January 27, 2013

January 27th Challenge: Seize the Sabbath

After all that adventure, time to take it down a notch or two and make sure we've rested, restored, reflected and revived our hearts and minds for the coming week.

Sunday's a good day to take note of what was good in you and for you in the past week.  Give gratitude where you can, make peace where you need to.

Today's challenge is inspired by an article in this month's Spirituality and Health Magazine, by the wise and wide-open Anne Lamott.  Her recent book covers her basic forms of prayer in its title:  "Help, Thanks, Wow".  It is short and sweet, in the best way.  She tells us, "Prayer is talking to something or anything with which we seek union, even if we are bitter or insane or broken.  (In fact, these are probably the best possible conditions under which to pray.  Prayer is taking a chance against all odds and past history:  we are loved and chosen, and do not have to get it together before we show up". 

Today's challenge is to spend some time in prayer.   Show up for your Self, for God, for Source or Earth-- whatever you may see out there that is bigger and less broken, that is unifying and with an arc that began long before your own and ends after, and look for a place of peace within the intersection of those arcs.  I can't tell you what your prayer will look, sound, feel like---  maybe it will be wordless, maybe it will be service, or maybe it will translate into art or music or just sitting still for a time, with as much love and intention as you can muster.

I hope, if you're comfortable, you'll share some of what happens here.


Saturday, January 26, 2013

January 26 Challenge: Choose Your Own Adventure

Jana had little idea what to expect when she entered the Peculiarium on that strange Portland side street.  The nine foot Sasquatch that greeted her and enveloped her intrepid companion in a Yettie embrace seemed like a fortuitous start.  She hadn't know an hour earlier when she asked for a :Big Old Cup of Black Black Tea that it would arrive as requested and require two hands to quaff it.  It was a surprise when the glass gallery featured extruded predators birds of prey, Strange Young Girls with heads of lambs and rabbits, and hyperbolic planes knit out of glass; and when the ladies in the back of the labyrinth Cargo store laughed when she asked if they might have any wish lanterns, because they had just finished pricing and tagging two thousand of them. By the time her "salad" arrived smash round and vertical she was getting less surprised, so it was no surprise at all when the waiter wrote a haiku in her journal.

Make today mysterious.  Go seek tiny adventures.  Look for clues.  Ask lots of questions.  Make friendly eye contact in foreign ports (even if it's that weird gas station you never go to).  Travel far and wide to a strange land (Scio?  Brownsville?  Valley of the Giants?) and take your recording devices:  camera, watercolors, reporter's notebook, a tape recorder.  Gather evidence to add to those of fellow detectives, and we will see what alchemical product we can assemble.

This quest requires a sense of bravery, whimsey, non-judgment and perhaps a mindset borrowed from a foreign stranger.  Collect souvenirs and report back.

You know that you know what to do.

Friday, January 25, 2013

January 25th Challenge: Slow the heck down

It's the end of the week.  Don't you have three hundred things you need to accomplish before you can relax?
Don't you ALWAYS?

Crazy busy is a cultural theme-song, and it's time to change our tune. The average American now works more hours than almost any other industrialized nation.  In 1965 a senate subcommittee predicted that thanks to labor saving devices, the work week would be reduced to 20 hours. Instead, between 1973 and 1991, it went UP-- by over 160 hours per year.   Meanwhile the percentage of two-working-parent households also increased, from 20 to over 70%, meaning the actual out of home labor per household was up several hundred hours per year.  Read more here:  http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-11-03/americans-work-too-much-for-their-own-good-de-graaf-and-batker.html

There are some things we Americans are doing less, a lot less than we used to:  attend community events, faith gatherings, take vacations.  In 2011, the average US worker abandoned over 6 days earned vacation time per year.  In 2012 it was estimated to be over 9 days.

Being overscheduled can lead to doing many things poorly.  We may not have a lot of choices about how much we work.  As jobs are outsourced to other countries or technology or budget cuts, those left working have increased roles and responsibilities.

But we can still rebel against an ethos that tells us faster is always better.   If nothing else, we can notice when we are hurrying out of habit instead of need, and    Just.  Slow.  Down.

We can do this by taking time to chew and swallow our food before we load the fork up with the next bite.  Don't think you do this?  Test it out today.

We can spend our time stuck in lines or traffic relaxing our posture and breath, instead of obsessing about our hurry.  Either way, the line moves the same speed.

We can notice if we are moving or talking rapidly for no particular reason and intentionally decrease our pace to a more peaceful place.  If we are rushing through a meaningful moment with a friend, child, sweetheart or ourselves, we can notice.  And Just. Slow. Down.

We can thoughtfully consider our priorities and make decisions on whether those extra hours at work are a necessity or a lifestyle choice.  And then we can look at our lifestyle and see if it is in resonance with our priorities and values.  Sometimes it is truly easier to do without the things that money can buy than rob our lives to get them.

Where are you moving too fast in your life?  Where is your choice in that pace?  And is it really the only choice?

How can you slow down in a meaningful way today?

Some wonderful related resources:
Slow Food movement:  returning values and pleasure to eating
Take Back Your Time movement
Slowing Down to the Speed of Life, a book by Richard Carlson
The Power of Patience, a book by M.J. Ryan

Thursday, January 24, 2013

January 24th Challenge: Poetry Thursday

First things first:  it's GLOBAL BELLY LAUGH DAY!  Don't forget to laugh at 1:24 p.m. (local time).  We could make that the whole day's challenge, but since that was used for last Friday's post, let it be a bonus.
Today's challenge is to engage with poetry.  As always, you have choices; as always, let me suggest you take two or three if you've time.

I feel vaguely obligated to tell you all the reasons why poetry is Really Good for Your Mental Health, but not so much that I'm willing to delay bedtime any longer.  You'll have to trust me.

tonight's moon:  a ready muse
Visit your library, your bookshelf, a bookstore or the web and look for a poem that speaks to you.  Then you can:
  • mail it to a friend
  • tuck it into a menu at a restaraunt or 
  • print it out and post it somewhere
  • put it in a pretty envelope addressed "for you"and leave it in a public place
  • post it on Facebook
  • read it to someone you like
  • share it here in the comments section
Sit down with a piece of paper, a deli napkin, a journal and write some of your own.  You can try a haiku, a limerick, a sonnet.  Don't be afraid to write a BAD poem.  Sometimes that's the best way to get the juices flowing.  If it's bad enough, maybe you can get it published.  Visit last January's creativity challenges for some ideas.  You too can translate Icelandic poetry, or turn a headline into a poem!

Find more inspiration, including poetry generators, at languageisavirus.com

Poem of the day:
You Reading This, Be Ready

Starting here, what do you want to remember?
How sunlight creeps along a shining floor?
What scent of old wood hovers, what softened
sound from outside fills the air?
Will you ever bring a better gift for the world
than the breathing respect that you carry
wherever you go right now? Are you waiting
for time to show you some better thoughts?
When you turn around, starting here, lift this
new glimpse that you found; carry into evening
all that you want from this day. This interval you spent
reading or hearing this, keep it for life -
What can anyone give you greater than now,
starting here, right in this room, when you turn around?

~ William Stafford ~
See you Friday-- now go poet!
Today's vid is Shakespeare's sonnet 130,  read by the luscious-voiced Alan Rickman, with kinetic typography by Gideon Burton. 


Tuesday, January 22, 2013

January 23 Challenge: Be the OLA

(Fair warning: rated PG-13 for language)

Ever wish the world had a few less assholes?
Today's your chance to make that happen by taking the OLA pledge:  Becoming the One Less Asshole you wish to see in the world.

So just for today, if someone cuts you off in traffic, in line, in talking-- carry on with composure and reasonable-headed-ness.  Even if some jerk gives you every opportunity and justification for being a jerk back-- don't bite.  Be the OLA.

Don't worry if you don't get the chance to put this challenge into practice today.  You will, soon enough.  Memorize the simple slogan:  "OLA, baby" so you can pull it into consciousness (not outloud!) when the need arises. 

Related post:   http://www.janasvoboda.org/2009/09/being-one-less-asshole-you-want-to-see.html

Join the facebook group!  https://www.facebook.com/BeTheOLA

Song of the day (Katie Goodman):  go for gold and be an UF! 
Warning before you click on the vid or the link:  the language is REALLY salty. 

January 22 Challenge: Be a Metaphysical Detective for an everyday miracle

recognize your neighborhood?  maybe if you live in timberhill

Oh my-- I had such a nice day.

black and white world
Made good on a couple of earlier challenges that had slipped away from me.  Never too late to catch up.

budding trees caught the moon
Worked til mid afternoon but knew if I didn't see the sun I would start howling at the fog, which has descended over our valley for so long I wasn't sure the sun really even existed anymore.  So my sweetheart and I headed into the dark, frosty black and white hills and climbed and climbed until we saw a miracle.  Saw my shadow and thought about those facebook posts that say:  "Are you old enough to remember THIS?" and then show you something like an 8-track tape. It's been a long time... 2012? since we had shadows in the valley.

Today's challenge is meant to fire up your observational skills and gratitude radar.  I want you to be hypervigilantly on the lookout for tiny little miracles.  Or ordinary things in extraordinary places.  Or pieces of unexpected beauty.  Getting the idea?

brave explorers find the elusive sun at the end of the world
It may be something you've never seen before.  Or it may be something you've passed for days without truly noticing.  If you've a camera handy, capture the evidence.

And notice how it makes you feel when you are a detective for little bits of serendipity and wonder.

Here's what I saw-- A forest so devoid of color it seemed I'd used black and white film to photograh it.   Lichen encased in frost.  The sun coming through the trees like God in a Monty Python movie.  The moon in a blue sky, with Jupiter as her companion. Our town buried in a sea of fog, with Timberhill forest poking up like an isolated island.  Mountains in the distance. Two runners and a biker dancing in the light taking pictures of that elusive star.   See the evidence below!

See you tomorrow,

Sunday, January 20, 2013

January 21st Challenge: Honor a hero

Today's quest is in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, a true community hero.

Dr. King
When my kids were tiny and we were living in SE Texas, I asked my daughter's preschool teacher how they planned to observe Dr. King's birthday.  They were not, she said.  I gave some suggestions and was told it would be impossible, because the curriculum was already set for the week. The theme was community heroes.  They were going to learn about "firemen and policemen (sic)".  I told her Dr. King WAS a community hero, but she didn't budge.  So I pulled my girls out of preschool and we celebrated home-style with friends.  The kids acted out Rosa Park's bus ride and we sang and danced to the Neville brother's song, Sister Rosa (see video below).  We read the text of his speech, "I Have a Dream."  And then we made gingerbread cookies of several skin tones and delivered them to those other community heroes  who weren't getting the day off.

Dr. King's legacy continues today with national initiatives encouraging people to give a day of service in his honor.  You can find opportunities here:  http://mlkday.gov/serve/find.php

superhero amy and family
Offering service is one way to meet today's challenge.  And if you can't do it Monday, make plans.  Find volunteer opportunities through your local Red Cross, school district, faith community or other not-for-profit organization.   Pick up some litter in a public area-- maybe while walking the beach or a park.  Sign up for a blood drive.  Mentor a young person or assist an elderly one.

Another way:  Spend some time today naming your personal heroes.  Who inspires you, and why? How can you move that inspiration into action in your own life?  In other words, how can you honor your hero?

One of my heroes is biologist Amy Rogers.  She's working to save pristine parcels of the Ecuadorian rainforest from clear-cutting and industrial development.  It's not easy.  She put in ridiculous amounts of time, in the face of huge bureaucracy and on a tiny budget.  Her energy astounds me.  Her dedication to preserving healthy forests for future generations inspires me.  I'm going to put that into action by donating to our local version, the Greenbelt Land Trust.

I'd love to hear your story.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

January 20 Challenge: Rest. Restore. Refresh in nature.

Sabbath; day of rest, reflection, being filled.
Challenging enough?
Watch this video for tips.
I'm plum worn out.
More tomorrow... off to slumber in hopes to hike above the inversion that has plopped on thevalley like a drunken dinosaur.

Friday, January 18, 2013

January 19th Challenge: Honor memories of loved ones

Tonight's post is dedicated to those souls touched our own and have left this earth.

I'm working on tomorrow's memorial service for a beautiful friend.  Annie died as she lived, full of love and spirit, smiling, curious.  She loved her family, the beach, the mountains, music, moving her body, art, her family, and Spirit-- the Source of all love and wisdom.  Her legacy is one of continuous testament to that openness and love.She had a belly laugh like you wouldn't believe.  She wasn't a saint, although she seems pretty darn close to me. Her husband told me a story this week of her killing black flies with great glee and determination.  Anne was full-on Human, and it's hard to imagine her gone from this earth.

But in many ways she isn't.  Her life and even her death changed many of us who knew her.  When I am cranky and complaining, I think of her radiant smile and sunny nature.  When I catch myself in the mirror while I'm eating, I remember how many pictures I have of her with her mouth full and chewing.

Last night I got stuck trying to write her service.  After much useless time trying to get moving, I went to my piano.  I've played it maybe once in the last six months.  I got out a hymnal and opened it to a song, and began to play:

What Wondrous Love Is This

What wondrous love is this, O my soul, O my soul,
What wondrous love is this, O my soul?
What wondrous love is this, that brings my heart such bliss,
and takes away the pain of my soul, of my soul,
and takes away the pain of my soul.

When I was sinking down, sinking down, sinking down
When I was sinking down, sinking down,
When I was sinking down, beneath my sorrows ground,
friends to me gathered round, O my soul, O my soul,
friends to me gathered round, O my soul.

To love and to all friends, I will sing, I will sing,
To love and to all friends, I will sing.
To love and to all friends, who pain and sorrow mend,
with thanks unto the end, I will sing, I will sing,
With thanks unto the end, I will sing.

Today's challenge is to remember and honor a life that has passed, in whatever way you see fitting.

Related posts:  

In memory of Anne Burton, Jennifer DeVries, Dennis Smothers, William Svoboda, Mark Franklin, and Ansel Reed.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Jan 18th Challenge: Friday FUNday

adults need recess too.  especially the time-traveling type. 

 "Life is Mysterious;

Don't Take it Serious"

(quote on an old rubber stamp)
In several of these blogs, I've talked about the inevitability of suffering.
Enough of that. Let's talk about the power of playfulness.

You may have heard the expression that "Kid's play is kid's work." Play is where kids learn to deal with roles and other people, fine tune communicating their ideas and needs, exercise their bodies and widen their imaginations. Why would we want to give that up as adults? Yet many groan-ups (yes, that was deliberate) see life as one unending have-to-do list. I'm not advocating shirking responsibilities, though I am admittedly expert at it. I'm encouraging righting priorities. Play, laughter, positive thinking, joy have their own rafts of research supporting the idea that a good time is good for you.

At least twice a year, I go away to play with my pals at WAR (women's art retreat), where we hold theme dinners in dress up (wedding in Vegas, Beauty Pageant, Circus Night) and write ridiculous bits. For years I participated in an on-line salon where we exchanged thematic haikus, limericks, tom swifties and wrote bad country songs. There's lots of ways to make the ridiculous sublime. A few minutes a day softens the heart and sharpens the brain.

A few links for you:
Laughing Yoga
Laughing Yoga was started by a physician in India who to promote the healing benefits of laughter for the body and soul. Here John Cleese provides a 3 minute intro to the practice.

Global Belly Laugh Day
We're a few months off from the official Day (Jan. 24th), but we can start practicing. This site is also offers a wealth of research and related links.

Shop local:  Even if all the movies that week are dramas or documentaries, a look around the eclectic decor at Darkside Cinema holds grins for most of us. While you're there, pick up one of owner Paul Turner's books of essays or a Prancing Lavender Bunny T-shirt sporting one bad-ass buff biker bunny.

Dancing like a maniac always cheers me up.  Check out contra dances or take a Zumba or belly dancing class. 

 Laughter really is good medicine.
A good belly laugh reduces stress hormones that havoc the body and soul. Researchers in Loma Linda found cortisol and epinephrine levels drop, while human growth hormones and beta-endorphins rise when people experience, or even anticipate big fun. Other research shows laughter improves relationships, immunity, increases oxygenation, is cardioprotective, and helps us be more alert and creative.

Laughter connects us to others, reduces social and internal tensions, shifts perspective in positive ways, and relaxes our bodies for long after we stop giggling.  And most of the time, it's free!

Humor is an individual thing, and what some find funny others will find offensive or just dumb.  With that caution in mind, here's some web resources to get you going:

Funny or Die videos
The Onion News
Tweet Me Harder Podcast
The Institute of Official Cheer

 For a brainy look at laughter, listen to Radio Lab's Laughter episode.
You've got lots of choices and a long weekend to accomplishes a little happy.  Let me know what you can manage.  2 minute flash mob solo dance?  Play a game?  Plant a wonderful present for a friend? 
You'll figure something.

Now, go out there and don't come back until you've had some fun.

Here's John Cleese introducing us to Laughing Yoga:

Articulation: When Art Talks for Us

Say what you will about the evils of Facebook.  Info junkies like me find much to be loved there.  My last blog was prompted by friend Marilyn W's link to a 9 page NYTimes article,
I wouldn't have seen it otherwise.  And last night, a Serbian mail-artist posted a beautiful picture of an underwater installation that led me to the website of artist Jason deCaires Taylor.  How could I never have heard of this guy?  I spent a very long time looking at his amazing works.  I am so moved by them.  There is so much going on here-- the beauty and poignancy of the models, the interactions of the living environment in the moment, and the inevitable deconstruction/remaking of the statues as nature moves in.  Take a few minutes to visit his website, or view the film below.

We are lucky to have artists who can articulate what we feel but can't explain.  Thank them by visiting galleries, museums and by investing in their work.  If you're from the valley, this weekend's a good time to start at Corvallis's Fall Festival, where over 160 artists will be displaying their efforts.  Stay for the Saturday night dance!

January 17th Challenge: Thankful Thursday

Got Gratitude?
Being thankful is a logical step towards an "increase in general life satisfaction and contentment" (read: happiness).  Studies find that people who kept a gratitude journal a few weeks, noting three things per day that they were thankful for, had significant improvement in happiness levels (and symptoms of illness!) over a control group.  Interestingly, the effect appeared to increase over time, even after participants stopped keeping the journal.  Other studies have shown positive benefits for relationships, decreases in depression and anxiety symptoms, and improved sleep.  Some of these involved writing just five lines a week. 

More recent research had participants relate how they were involved in the grateful event they described.     Examples: 
"My triglyceride levels are down; I have been exercising more regularly."  
"I'm thankful for the good time I had with my friend/I am thoughtful to my friend".    
"The sunset was lovely/I took time out to appreciate it." 
grateful to have adventuresome friends and that i said yes
 Adding in the factor of personal agency greatly enhanced the reported sense of well-being. 

As in several of the previous challenges, this one takes little time and can easily be incorporated into your regular daily life.  Whether you do or not, just for today:
Write down what you are grateful for, big or small, about your day, and what if anything you had to do with it.  Or choose one of the deeper challenges mentioned in this article in the New York Times about the many benefits of cultivating thankfulness.

grateful rosie let me try her camera
In other news, I am happy to report that despite some unexpected obstacles on Wednesday, I only had to turn my bracelet 6 times.  That's about as good as I get.    See yesterday's challenge if that makes no sense.  Going complaint free is a good habit to try for many days in a row.  Visit complaintfreeworld.org for inspiration.

Quote of the day: 
 I am grateful for what I am and have.
My thanksgiving is perpetual...
O how I laugh when I think of my vague indefinite riches.
No run on my bank can drain it

for my wealth is not possession but enjoyment.
                   Henry David Thoreau

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

January 16th Challenge: Whine-Free Wednesday

We love to gripe.  Venting and kvetching have their place, but they have their downside.  When we perpetually notice the empty half of the glass, we limit our vision to what's missing.  We become hypnotized by our own negative chants.  After enough time looking at the world through crap-colored glasses, that's all we are going to see.

Today's challenge is to give a rest, already.  Let's take the day off from bitching.  We don't have to be pollyannas, but we can practice restraint.

Here's some tips:
Stick to facts ("it's raining again") rather than editorializing ("I hate this stupid weather").
Check your narrative.  Sometimes we add to our suffering with the stories we tell about it.  I remember waking up one day with a sore knee.  I immediately began imagining that it would be sore for a long time, that I'd have to stop hiking, etc.  I realized that my thoughts about the meaning of the soreness were more aggravating than the actual knee issue, and decided the knee pain was enough.
If something's bugging you and there's nothing to be done about it in the moment, practice tolerating discomfort.  I'm not talking about tolerating abuse or life-threatening situations.  I'm talking about bearing with the everyday irritations, disappointments and aches and pains that come with being alive.  Place yourself at a little comfortable distance and observe the negative thought/complaint without judgment.  Rest; stop struggling with it.  See yesterday's blog on mindfulness for resources and tips.
To help remember your intention today, wear a rubber band or easily removable bracelet on your wrist.  When you find yourself complaining, switch it to the other wrist. See if you can keep it on one arm for a couple of hours.

This last tip is one I give to clients who are in the habit of constant negative thinking. I got it from a newspaper article I happened upon several years ago.  It was a hard, hard day. I had arrived from out of town the night before to spend some time with my father, who was getting cancer treatment.  That night it rained torrents.  Instead of relaxing with my dad, I spent the next day helping my sister clean out flooded home.  We carried out hundreds of pounds of ruined clothes, furniture and keepsakes. Everything stank.  We were covered in filth and exhausted. My sister was strong, even as we threw away her precious keepsakes. "It could be worse", she said, and I looked at her as if she was insane.

After hours we took a break and went for sustenance and a newspaper.  The radio blared in the background, encouraging people "not touch contaminated objects"-- a joke; we WERE contaminated objects.  We sat on the porch;  the yard full of chairs, beds, appliances.  I read the paper over tea and spotted an article about a preacher in Kansas City who had begun a campaign to reduce negativity in his congregation.  He noted the research behind positive psychology, and got people to sign a pledge to go 21 days without complaining (the length of time it takes to well-establish a new habit).  It sounded good to me.  My mood was darker than the thunderstorm the night before.  We ran to the dollar store and purchased elastic beaded bracelets.

Truth:  I broke two bracelets the first day, switching them on and off.  More truth:  I am out of the habit of not complaining.  Maybe you don't need this challenge as much as I do.

But give it a shot.  See how it goes. I was surprised by how often my mind would wander into negative territory.  The bracelet served as a concrete reminder of my intention-- it increased my mindfulness.

Good luck,
PS--  tomorrow may be a Very Quiet Day for me.  Be gentle.

Related links:
Song of the day:

Monday, January 14, 2013

January 15th Challenge: Trace The Braid

wildlife.  still loving it.
Just who do you think you are?
Today's challenge is to remember who you were-- the traits that defined you at age 5, 7 or 10-- that continues today.  What did you love that you still love?  What fascinates you now, and did way back then?  What scares you?  Where do you feel your limits and challenges, those that remain unchanged after all these years?

Look for your thread of continuity in the world.  When you know it, you answer, at least a little bit, these questions:
Who am I?
What is true for me?
forest hike/meditation, Kansas, 1976

tonight's beautiful crescent moon-- love her--
Knowing what has been and is true for me, what realities can I accept (stop resisting) about myself, and then learn to work with in a more graceful and passionate ways?  What strengths have always been with me, that I can remember to utilize in the now?

 Make a list of at least five. 
Here's some of mine:
I have always loved and been interested in the welfare of animals.
snakes.  still love 'em.
I have always felt compassion for and wanted to understand the underdog (snakes! spiders!)
I have always been impatient and wriggly.
I have struggled with and struggle with self-discipline.
I am curious and love to learn.
I love music.
I love the moon.
I love being in nature.

Want to share yours?  Do it here in the comment section, or on the facebook page at  https://www.facebook.com/groups/408167865930359/
As alway,
thanks for playing!

Sunday, January 13, 2013

January 14th Challenge: Find some stillness

First things first:  Stop for a minute after reading this paragraph, and do a quick body scan. Holding tension in your shoulders?  Hands?  Elsewhere? In your breath?  Let it soften.  Take one, two, three slow and steadying breaths-- a little slower, a little deeper than normal. 
Mondays can be a hard change of pace back into Busy.  Today's challenge is to find a few minutes of stillness today.  Maybe that body scan and three breaths is all you'll manage.  It's a start.  But if you've time for more, check out one of these sites that can assist you in learning mindfulness practices.  Learning to step out of the hubbab and into the present moment has multiple, research proven health benefits: lowering stress (and related stress hormones), reducing blood pressure, improving immunity are a few.  A 2012 American Psychological Association article by Daphne Davis, PhD and Jeffrey Hayes, PhD provides a good overview:  read it here

UCLA's Mindful Awareness Research Center is a good place to begin.  They offer several free, downloadable audio clips of instruction and practice, including a five minute breathing meditation. 

Oxford University's 8 week mindfulness course is now in book form.  You can find several short meditations on the website franticworld.com, including one on chocolate!

There are multiple free resources collected on the aptly named freemindfulness.org website, including blody scans, meditations, breath exercises and guided imagery.

If you have time, explore this simple, well-written and easy to understand site:   thinkmindfully.com.
There's even an interactive exercise where you can type your thoughts in and watch them be placed on a leaf that floats down a stream. 

Enjoy, and let your Monday hold a place of peace to begin your week.

PS:  My pal Hal, who does my work website, make a room for you to take a breather by putting some of my photos to quiet music.  Come on by.