Good Day

Two geese are meandering in the grass near the shoreline.

Several trees are rooted in place mere feet away from the water’s edge, but one in particular catches my eye. It’s early spring, and like so many of the others, its leaves are just beginning to bloom.

But this tree is different than the others. It’s special. This one is my tree.

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I approach, gently placing one hand on its bark; a gesture meaning, “I come in peace”.

My tree looks strong, with five main limbs branching out from its trunk.

I take a few breaths before I slowly begin to move again.

The lowest of the limbs is a little higher than my chest, and looks solid enough to support me.

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I scan to see if there’s anyone around, anyone whose disapproving glances may prevent me from accomplishing my secret mission.

Only my friends—the two geese and my tree—are here with me.

I come up with a quick game plan in my head.

Get one foot on top of the low limb and then hoist myself using upper body strength assisted by the two higher limbs? Can’t get my hand position right and not enough leverage. Ironically, the realization takes me back to the challenge of indoor rock climbing, and the frustration that ensued.

With renewed determination, I take a few deep breaths and try again. The geese are honking, and I imagine they’re cheering me on. Alas, both feet end up back at ground level.

I approach from another angle; one hand on each of the higher limbs that ascend almost as straight up as the base of the tree itself, as I use my feet to scale its trunk.

My grip is slipping again, and just when I think I’m not quite strong enough and will have to let go, I get one foot up into the crook of my tree.

I pause for a moment—to catch my breath and figure out what’s next.

I’ve been afraid of heights since I broke my arm falling off a four-foot structure when I was six. It’s interesting how much I changed and how I learned to embody fear on that fateful day…

I’m only about five and a half feet off the ground, but my heart is racing. Part exhilaration, part fear. The exact ratio of the two is unclear.

I walk my feet forward over the lowest limb, very slowly, testing to see if it will hold.

There’s no discernible movement in the limb, so I lower myself into the crook, shifting my weight forward slightly to settle into this perfect resting spot.

Here I am now, grown woman in a tree. Not a care in the world—except for maybe how to get myself back down to the ground. But for now I’ll just stay up here in my tree, enjoying the view for a while.

From my sturdy perch, I look out beyond the thick of branches over the water. My thoughts are consumed by the simplicity of nature. Its sheer existence is breathtakingly beautiful.

Birds are singing to each other in the manner of call and reply. The water is still. Grass on the verge of turning green. Sky above, earth below.

In these precious moments as the trees and shrubs begin to emerge from their winter slumber, there’s a prevailing sense of calm, and a palpable sense of hope for the future.

forwardview

A penny for my thoughts?

Despite my struggles to get here, I feel strong and supported.
I feel as though I’ve come home.
I am at peace.

The auspicious nature of this day far exceeds finding two quarters in the grass on the way back down.

It is neither luck, nor coincidence.

It is all meant to be.

Every detail unfolding exactly as it was written in the grand design of it all:
The geese and the tree. The struggle and the climb. The perspective and the view.

The journey and the destination.

No doubt in my mind I’ve arrived here, in this place, on the wings of an idea called freedom.

I’ve waited a long time to be here and to feel this.

I know there is immeasurable joy to be found in simple pleasures, like riding my bike and climbing my tree. Remembering what it feels like to be a kid.

There’s so much life here, and I finally see I’m part of it.

Now that I’ve found this place, I’ll definitely be back again.

Good day? Yes, I suppose you could say that.

Lessons from the Universe, Cooked Up in the Kitchen

I awoke yesterday morning with extremely dry, cracked skin on my fingers. This was unusual for me, as the skin on my hands is normally very soft and smooth, so I noticed the difference right away when my fingers caught on the sheets and duvet cover as I made my way out of bed. Later, rolling my thumb over my index, middle, and ring fingers on my right hand accentuated their roughness in contrast to their normally smooth surface. I got lost for a moment in the motion of rubbing my fingers together, as I pondered what may have caused them to become so rough over night. And then I remembered how the glass baking pan shattered into countless shards as I opened the over door to remove dinner the night before.

The moment the pan was met with a blast of cooler air from the outside, the glass cracked and popped and shattered. I was a bit stunned trying to make sense out of what had just happened. My first reaction was to rescue dinner from the wreckage. With extreme heat blasting me in the face, I fumbled to fish the Basa filets from the shards of broken glass on the solid rack that divides my oven into two separate heating compartments.

The next most pressing issue became addressing the piles of broken glass that were strewn across my kitchen floor. I called out to my daughter, asking her to bring me the vacuum, which despite hooking up normally did not work—no power, no suction, no nothin’. This moment of frustration added insult to injury, because the dog was now nosing around through the debris, as I am sure he could smell the juices from the fish mixed in with the glass. My daughter came to my aid once again, taking the dog outside while I resorted to using a broom and dustpan to clean up the mess.

By this point, I was tired, frustrated, and hungry. With the remainder of the glass contained to the oven’s main compartment and warming drawer, I decided to leave the rest of the cleanup until after dinner, which would allow time for the oven to cool and then I could also figure out what was wrong with the vacuum. Sensing my exasperation, after dinner my husband kindly asked what he could do to help with the clean up—bless his heart and bonus points for him! So together we removed all the interior racks from the oven to clean out the broken glass, picking up the larger pieces by hand and scooping up the smaller pieces with a hand broom and dustpan.

Upon reflecting on the many challenges I encountered while trying to get dinner on the table the other night (in a week I am PMS-ing, no less), I believe I handled the situation much differently than I would have only a few short years ago, when I most likely would have yelled wildly, cursed profusely, possibly lashed out in anger, and ultimately broken down in a heap of sweat and tears. Instead, I believe I handled these challenges with a good measure of maturity and grace. At the very least, I did the best I could with what I had and let go of what was beyond my control. And for someone who has a strong history of reacting in situations such as this, I’d definitely call that progress.

As I sit here now, intermittently rubbing my fingers together feeling the friction as the rough skin catches, I continue to rehash the experience in my mind, knowing there’s a lesson in everything we are presented with in life. It’s all part of the grand design, after all. I honestly believe recognizing and learning from these lessons is where true growth takes place, which is why I bother to continue thinking about it at all. And while I’m still decoding the deeper meaning behind the events that went down in my kitchen the other night, I do have a couple of thoughts I’d like to share…

The first thought is how the first thing that comes to mind is not always the cause, the reason, or the lesson. Rather, it’s sometimes necessary to dig a little deeper and question the validity of your initial assumptions, such as I should have done when I first attributed the cracked skin on my fingers to picking up the pieces of broken glass. This is because I later remembered that, while everything was taken apart to remove the bits of broken glass, my husband and I took the opportunity to thoroughly clean the inside of the oven. So the more likely cause of my excessively dry skin was the heavy-duty highly corrosive chemical cleaner we used to clean the greasy food residue out of the oven. Doh!

I chose to share this little story because I think it’s a great example of how, as humans, we are prone to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms our preexisting beliefs or hypotheses, while giving disproportionately less consideration to alternative possibilities. This is an actual psychological phenomenon referred to as confirmation bias, which basically means we are more likely to see what we want or choose to see. From this simple understanding of how our minds are naturally hardwired, I strongly believe we should always be willing to question our initial assumptions and remain open to other possibilities that don’t necessarily align with our beliefs. If you are someone who is at all interested in thinking about, learning, and understanding our world and the people in it, or even from the standpoint of advancing your own personal growth, it’s helpful to know that real and meaningful change takes place when we are willing to challenge ourselves to consider differing points of view.

The second thought I had is how the glass baking dish I used to cook the fish had been subjected to opposite extremes of a high heat followed by a sudden blast of much colder air. Therefore, although I was shocked and stunned in the moment, it isn’t all that surprising that it literally cracked under the pressure. This reminded me again of human nature, and how we often subject ourselves to extremes when trying to handle the stress, pressure, and expectations of our everyday, modern lives. Likely from the fear of appearing to be weak, we compromise our own health and wellbeing by taking on too much—until we reach the point of not being able to take any more and then we crack. Oh, by the way, I am speaking from the direct experience of having been there and done that. But if we choose to see my glass baking dish as a reminder about the danger of trying to remain strong under pressure for too long, we understand the importance of learning to recognize the warning signs and taking action before things get too hot and completely out of control. This begins with throwing the “if you can’t take the heat, get out of the kitchen” mindset right out the window.

Taking time for yourself, reaching out to ask for help when you need it, maintaining strong personal boundaries, and ensuring you’re getting enough rest should no longer be regarded as forms of weakness. Rather, these are the marks of a strong person who understands the importance of self-care and their own self-worth. So what I’m really trying to say here is that you are important and worthy of your own attention. We all are. And paying attention to your own needs along the way is certainly preferable to cracking under the pressure of exceedingly high expectations and trying to do too much and then falling apart into a million irreparable pieces.

In the end, I realize the lesson I was supposed to learn in the kitchen the other night could have been one of the above examples, a combination of them, or it could have been something else entirely. In fact, it could have been something as simple as a test of my patience and resolve on that particular day. Heck, if you ask my kids they would probably tell you the lesson was that we should never have fish for dinner again.

But even if I’ve missed the boat entirely and if I glean nothing else from my reflections on the situation, hopefully this will serve as a reminder for me to at least remember to put on a pair of rubber gloves the next time I clean the oven.

Do you have something to add here, perhaps something to refute or challenge around the idea of confirmation bias, or an experience you’d like to share? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below!

Defining Moment

Memories of my past are patchy, at best. But I still remember, with vivid clarity, one of the first times I flew on an airplane. I was traveling for work, and was one of only four passengers on an eight-passenger prop.

With so few others on board, and maybe also because I was the youngest, the pilots provided me with a set of headphones to listen in on their communication with air traffic control. I was awestruck.

The invitation to connect with a front-row seat to their world of aviation gave me a sense importance. With an inside track and a bird’s eye view, I felt larger than myself. A surge of adrenaline rushed through my body, causing my heart to palpitate and stretch well beyond its regular size. The immersion of my senses was an unexpected thrill beyond that of my wildest dreams.

I can still remember how everything on the ground below gradually contracted as the metal bird lifted me higher and higher into the sky. Large buildings, roadways, foothills, forests, and entire sections of land shrinking away into tiny specs of dust before dissolving to nothing.

Making our way up through the cotton candy wisps of cloud, all of the big things became little things, and the repetition of a single word consumed my thoughts.

Perspective.

perspective3

Perspective truly is everything. Conversely, everything is also perspective.

Flying several thousand feet in the air at the tender age of 20, I began to comprehend how changing your position, your angle, your viewpoint can change the perception of what you see. The ability to alter your perspective has the potential to change your life, if you let it.

I thought to myself in that singular defining moment: I must remember this.

The miraculous, life-changing potential of perspective is something I hold true to this day, and most certainly always will.

“The smallest change is perspective can transform a life. What tiny attitude adjustment might turn your world around?”
– Oprah

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Lessons in Gratitude For Our Modern, Stone-Age Family

The events that have transpired over the past few weeks have me feeling like I’m the matriarch of a modern, stone-age family. But unlike Fred Flintstone, I’m not feeling compelled to shout out with glee, Yaba-daba-doo!

It all started a couple of weeks ago when our dishwasher that’s slightly more than five years old kicked the bucket. More precisely, it began leaking buckets of water all over the kitchen floor, and then wouldn’t run a cycle past the 10-minute mark. Knowing the likelihood of being able to fix it was slim to none (because LG doesn’t make replacement parts for its appliances older than five years), we opted to save our time and energy and just go buy a new one. Now we’re waiting the two to three weeks for delivery and installation, and we’re doing dishes the old-fashioned way in the mean time. Scrubbing pots and pans and constantly having dishpan hands has got me feeling quite primitive. I mean, come on, even Wilma Flintstone had an octopus to wash her dishes for her!

Then, earlier last week, our house was a touch chilly, despite the furnace being on, or so we thought. My husband went downstairs to check, and not only did he discover the furnace wasn’t running, but also that he wasn’t able to reignite the pilot light. We placed a service call to our friendly neighbourhood furnace company, and when the technician came out the next day his assessment was that our furnace was destined for sheet metal heaven. This left us feeling a little blue—because we were cold AND were facing a huge, unplanned expenditure to replace our home’s primary heat source. And once again, just like cave people thousands of years ago, we sought warmth by fire while we we waited for our new furnace to be installed. Thank goodness for fireplaces!

In spite of all of this, and all kidding aside, I think I’ve done a pretty good job of viewing these trials for what they really are—challenges that are simply a part of life, without feeling oh-so sorry for myself, being too over-the-top dramatic, and creating all kinds of stories around what was happening. This may be partially due to the fact that I do my best to practice an attitude of gratitude, and my daily meditation practice may also be helping to keep me more grounded and centered. Whatever the deal is, I realize these kinds of things just happen and it’s really not worth getting bent out of shape over. Acknowledge. Address. Move on without any stories and attachment.

Nonetheless, these situations have, once again, presented me with the opportunity to see life from a different perspective. And, oh, the lessons they’ve revealed. Here’s just a few that I think merit being shared:

  1. While I had initially thought otherwise (probably because it gave me flashbacks to the numerous marathon dishwashing sessions of my youth), doing the dishes by hand hasn’t been as completely awful and tedious as I thought it would be. On the contrary. Washing and drying our dirty dishes by hand has very subtly provided time for me to bond with my husband and children. Surprisingly, everyone has been quite willing to help out, so that’s a HUGE positive right there. Plus, I’ve had some interesting and heartwarming conversations with my family members that I may not have otherwise had if not for our time washing dishes together. And, to my credit, we haven’t even resorted to using paper plates and plastic cutlery to eat our meals!
  1. Related to the point above, I’ve seen how our incapacitated dishwasher is teaching my children the value of hard work and doing something productive with their hands, aside from holding a device or playing video games. The situation has allowed us to explain to our children how not everyone in the world has all of the luxuries and amenities we do, which I hope will instill in them a sense of appreciation for how privileged they are. Also, having them help with the dishes gives them a sense of pride and accomplishment. (My son now tells me he is a dish-drying expert.) I’d say this is a win-win for all of us.
Kids caught in the act of helping.

Kids caught helping. Who needs an octopus, or a dishwasher, when you’ve got these two?

  1. As I already alluded to above, these circumstances have framed and reaffirmed for me just how fortunate we are to have modern conveniences, such as central heating, air conditioning, and hot water, and the luxury of a machine to wash and dry our dishes for us. Much of the world’s population can only dream of having access to these things at some point in their lives, while it’s easy for us to take them for granted. And while it causes us some minor inconvenience to be without, I know we’ll have these things working again in relatively short order. Choosing to see beyond the initial inconvenience allows me to see how truly blessed we are.
  1. I believe it was Oprah that said, “You are responsible for the energy you bring” (to every situation). This is something I am aware of and watch closely about myself. The concept was further illustrated for me by our furnace installer. The first day, he was visibly frustrated from the moment he arrived at our house. As I was home for the duration of the work being completed, I observed his behaviour on that first day, noticing how he cursed when things weren’t going according to plan and how his mood mirrored the angry thrash metal music he had blaring in the basement. At the end of the day, he shared how his work truck had broken down on the side of the road the day before, he was without his regular helper, and the guy who had been assisting on our job was quite inexperienced. It was obvious to me what had been happening, so I simply smiled and told him to have a good night’s rest and come back the following day with a clean slate. The next morning he showed up with both of his helpers and a notably sunnier disposition. His music selection had morphed from the previous day’s death metal to The Beatles and other assorted softer classic rock music. And, as you can well imagine, the installation process went much smoother that second day. The shift in his mood and energy was palpable, and the trickle-down effect that had onto the installation process was nothing short of a miracle.

The bottom line in all of this is, no matter how bad things may seem, we can always choose to find something for which to be grateful. It can be tough to do in practice sometimes, but it’s a choice each one of us has the power to make. And when we consciously choose gratitude, positivity, and happiness, the odds are pretty good that we’ll make life easier for ourselves and those around us.

What are you grateful for today?