December Ahimsa (Self-Compassion)

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Almost-winter sun sinking behind the trees at Saratoga Spa State Park.

I woke way before dawn today, hips aching from a wondrous snow walk the other day. 

Breathe in. Breathe out. Move.

A few days ago I had tromped along under the tall pines at Saratoga Spa State Park. The crunch of our steps muffled by hats and jacket hoods, I thought about snow and holiday lights, about ice and clouded days and the sun that came out just in time for a 4:30 sunset. Also about the color we so desire in winter—winter which has not officially arrived yet, just two feet of early December snow. The two feet of snow we were stomping through and sliding in and laughing over, as we searched our way back to the warming hut.

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Snow on a paper wasp nest, high in the trees at Saratoga Spa State Park.

I woke way before dawn today to practice yoga, to pay attention to my body that so often in the day job gets ignored, put aside, pushed to physical limits with repetitive keyboarding and staying too still.  I wanted to move with eyes closed, minimizing outside stimulation. I wanted to listen to the craving for movement and beauty. I wanted to hear the tiny voice that guides me day to day, when I listen. 

The yoga concept of ahimsa–a nonviolence that includes self-compassion, gentleness with self–is part of what drew me to Kripalu yoga years ago. I want to live ahimsa with simple concepts:  Breathe in. Breathe out. Move. Stretch. Feel. No self-judgment or chiding voice. Breathe in. Breathe out.

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Sun, trees, snow, shadows: simple joy for me.

Today I will continue self-compassion into the dawn, into the daylight and through this misty foggy forty-degree Tuesday, looking out the office windows at the far view, standing at my work station and taking breaks for my body’s sake, through the dusk and commute and into the dark of night, when holiday lights sparkle.

Move. Stretch. Feel. Breathe in. Breathe out.

Breathe in. Breathe out. Feel.

Gentle self-compassion.

Using What You Have: Snowstorm Soup

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The crystal patterns of yesterday’s snow: long shards that were light, but broken and folded in on themselves, made great snowballs.

 

When Governor Cuomo decided to give me (and many others) a snow day yesterday, I was delighted. 

As flakes sprinkled and flew outside, I dug through the fridge. Lighter and healthier breakfasts are calling me lately, and being at home I could make a fresh hot soup. I was out of miso paste. However, never one to waste, the day before I had taken the bones and skin of a natural roasted chicken and made a golden savory broth.

I took a few tablespoons and used that to steam frozen cauliflower. Cooked cabbage left from a different meal a few days before came next. The previous night’s dinner yielded some vegetables for tiny specks of color in a so far white yellow dish. Plop! In went the green and yellow beans and carrots sliced tiny.

Chickadees bobbled back and forth to the bird feeder. Snow movers scraped and pushed piles of snow. What else goes in here? I asked. 

Digging past makings for new meals, I found a container of onion chutney with sweet red pepper from a wondrous take-out meal (Shalimar in Delmar). That added some spice, fresh cumin seed, and a gorgeous reddish color.  It needed something salty yet, pops of flavor. Back to the freezer, and tucked in a bag, a thin sausage grilled in the end-of-September sun at Wiawaka’s Cancer Survivor Day where I had volunteered. Diced small, I mixed that in.

Perfection! A huge bowl of filling vegetables and warmth for my mouth. Colors to match the cardinals and sparrows and finches pecking for sunflower seed.

Out the window, more flakes danced past each other in cascades and wind blown veils. Later would come a walk outdoors:  giggles and digging out a car, snowballs thrown at cattails, and small neighborhood children glorying in the view from atop ten foot snow mounds, while parents shoveled and snapped photos. 

For now I had created something out of what I already had, richness from examining what had already been given me.

 

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Tasty warm soup, hurray!

What is in your hands right now that is wonderful, useful, delightful?

Look Up

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Winter tree shape on white birch bark, Five Rivers, November 2019

 

Sometimes when I walk through the woods, I look up from my feet and visions pop out.

A lone leaf wiggles frenetically in the wind. Sunlight breaks through the gloom to light up one small yellow oxalis flower. A red eft wriggles on rock, or a snake slides under dry oak leaves, or a tiny brown toad hops-hops-hops in the path ahead.

 

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I looked back and there it was–a bird’s nest lit by autumn sun. Five Rivers, November 2019

I say to myself–treasure these gifts, these moments. Pay attention.

Even in my office, captured by computer screen and phone rings and beeps, I look up and stretch my neck. Light from the window on the other side of the room captures me. Above trees, I see a horizon. I am reminded again: I don’t have to spend hours in meditation every day; I can take these moments over the day and their richness will feed me.

I just have to look up.

 

Unfocusing and Perspective

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Million Dollar Beach and mountains surrounding Lake George Village, NY, October 2019.

I need some perspective. Every day.

Standing at my dining table and frantically sorting papers, I came across an article about focused and unfocused attention.  I sat down to read it. Research shows that our minds need a break from focused work, attention to computers and phones and TVs and written words, lists and chores and even our day to day rituals. 

We need to be unfocused. 

Which could be an accusation—Don’t be so unfocused! As if stopping for a pause will cause irreparable harm to our entire lives, entering some sort of Universal Permanent Record as a black mark against us.

Instead, I was so happy to hear what I really already knew—we are fed by daydream time, walks without talking, letting thoughts drift like fall leaves on a creek.

Why are we so anxious? Yes, there are damned good reasons for deep concern in our world, but we also get fixated on actions and doing, and so spiral around and around and around without relief. I have been reminded:  Let go, for at least a little while, regularly.

Every day.

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I look at this photo of Lake George Village from a Prospect Mountain overlook, and first I see the fall hues, rolling on curvy mountainside. The colors are distributed unevenly—evergreens at the top and bottom, bunches of golden clumped in the center, rust and orange here and there. With a deep breath, I see these are all individual, multi-story trees that usually tower over me. A couple of bright red trees glow down at the bottom, which leads my eye to Million Dollar Beach and its building and parking lot. 

—And the bathhouse and roofs of houses there, and tiny cars and all of a sudden I realize how big what I am looking at is, how small I am. 

Spying from up high, I remember summer sand time, snow on the bike path down to Queensbury, walking on Lake George one January when it was frozen hard, and then somehow appreciation for all the experiences and people I’ve had there. Like the raptors and crows, my thoughts glide and wheel smoothly in the air over Lake George. I feel happily unfocused and with shifted perspective, able to move back into my (yes busy) life with more ease.

As snow falls over us today here in the Capital Region, how can you let go, unfocus, for at least a little while, and refresh yourself?

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Looking up into the sky instead of at my feet. John Boyd Thacher Park (North), October 2019.

Prospect Mountain view

 

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Late October view from the top of Prospect Mountain, Lake George, NY.

I can see it is going to be difficult to hold to one (or two or three) photos each week. There’s so damned much beauty out there. Especially when so many worries pull—about health, work, friends, state of the world–we need multiple doses of the medicine of nature.

 

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View of Lake George from the second overlook.

The other weekend: Prospect Mountain in Lake George, just past fall color peak. Every stage of autumn, like every step on a path or into a river, is different and wondrous. The sun still glows on golden trees. Now the rust and orange and smoke start to predominate.

We take in three pull-overs with views. At one, a leather-clad motorcyclist speaks with tears in his eyes, of family sick with cancer. We nod and share enthusiasm about the gumdrops of trees coating the mountainside: colors of spearmint and lemon and berry.  Good wishes all around, each of us leaves bolstered, encouraged, somehow better.

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Late afternoon sun lights up trees on the way, Prospect Mountain, Lake George NY.

The road spirals up and up in angled late day sun. At the top, tourists stand precariously on ledges to snap selfies with Lake George Village behind them. We tromp in the 45 degree chill and breathe in the oxygen-rich Adirondack air. We sigh and sigh, and feel connected to things bigger than ourselves.

How do you care for yourself when life weighs heavy? What outside place in nature feeds you?

 

October milkweed

 

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Mid-October milkweed seeds, Vischer Ferry Preserve

Milkweed calls out the poet in me. 

Against the backdrop of gray grasses and tan marsh reeds, the popped open pods pull my eye.  Silver-white seeds twist and spill out; drops of morning dew spangle like holiday lights. 

These particular seeds remind me of a teenager hanging her hair upside down, to brush it full. There’s a sense of movement into the future, a sense of letting go into the unknown and yet beautifully seasonal, as summer gives in to autumn.

(This is for Beth and family, who have been particularly enthusiastic about photos of milkweed, with those memories of childhood fields of wildflowers.)

What do milkweed seeds call to, in you?

 

A New Beginning: Diane’s Photo of the Week

 

New England asters ready to unfurl in the fall (Vischer Ferry Preserve, Rexford, NY, Oct 2019).

A little explanation–

Yes, it has been quite a while. Yes, with a few posts here and there. No, not what I had envisioned or desired when I began this writing endeavor.

But life changes.

The transition to day job has not been instant or even short, and certainly not easy. Balance, balance, balance, I say to myself each morning, sometimes with gritted teeth but more and more with an ease that surprises me. Each day I discover something lovely.

Last week I took a promotion to a new position and a new department. At my former job, in lieu of writing essays and posting online here, I determined to do the small things that I was capable of. I brought in one of my photos each week and posted it on the outside of my cube.

It’s what I could handle.

My workmates came by to witness, comment, enjoy, question, compare, express memories about their own nature places and photos, and even give preferences about which photos they needed to see that week—bright colors or flowers in winter, cooling water or ice images in August, signs of seasonal change, details and broader vistas. The previous week’s photo stayed up, and acted as a comparison, a talking-point.  At one point I had three photos up at once–the needs had grown! The photos became a Monday or Tuesday morning joy for many, a way of connecting that grew and expanded over the days until the next Diane’s Photo Of The Week was pinned up.

As I took in the departing hugs and best wishes, I was invited (ok, ordered, thank you Kelly!) to continue this tradition online. Here I begin Diane’s Photo of the Week, five work days after the move out of my old cube and yes, I know, on a Wednesday (chalk it up to technical difficulties).

You can subscribe by email or RSS feed to get a bit of what I shared for almost two and a half years with my dear Guidance & Counseling office family. You could also just drop by this virtual outside-of-my-cube, whenever you get up from your desk and need a break. Feel free to leave a comment and join the conversation.

Thanks for wandering by.

Things to notice about the photo

Take a look at the velvety and furry texture of the the outside layer of greenish bracts on the foreground flowers. Bracts (also called phyllaries in some sources) protect the petals of the aster until they open and then form part of the underneath support. (The tightly curled purple petals trying to burst out make me smile. I understand that desire to grow.)

Actually, there are two kinds of petals on an aster.  The interior orange ones you can only see in the blurred background flowers here are called disk florets since once the flower opens they form a flat disk in the center. The purple ones that are uncurling are the ray florets–yes, those ones doing a modern dance wave and gesture as they “wake up” in the fall.

What does this photo make you think of or remember?  Is there something you are feeling ready to wake up to this autumn?