While I'm taking a break for relaxation and recreation, I've invited some of my fellow bloggers to fill in with guest posts. This week's is from blogger/photographer Ruth Daly, who blogs here. Whether or not you carry a camera around, you can apply these insights on slowing down, focusing on details and really learning to see, to your everyday observations of the world around you.
Noon. I joined Mark on our shady, makeshift ground cover. We ate a snack and gulped down water. I tested out my safety glasses. The sun was a complete, round, orange ball. I ducked back in the shade. Twelve fifteen. A tiny Pac-Man bite showed in the top right section of the sphere. Someone shouted, "It’s starting!" Over the next half hour, we kept checking. The Pac-Man effect increased and the air began cooling, even though the sun cast shadows. By twelve-forty or so, standing in the sun no longer felt intolerable.
By one p.m., the sun appeared as a slivered, orange crescent. One-fifteen. Like sentries on cue, several hundred people wrapped their eyes in safety glasses, bent their heads back, and stared skyward.
-- Og Mandino
-- Count Antoine de Rivarol
-- Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
-- Albert Schweitzer
-- Alberto Manguel
-- Neil Armstrong
Every inch of space is a miracle,
Every square yard of the surface of the earth is spread with the same,
-- Walt Whitman, Poem of Perfect Miracles, Leaves of Grass
-- Jenny Han, The Summer I Turned Pretty
-- Thich Nhat Hanh, Anger: Wisdom for Cooling the Flames
-- Henry James
-- John Lubbock, The Use Of Life
-- Alison Croggon, The Naming
-- Jeannette Walls, The Glass Castle
-- Yukio Mishima, Runaway Horses: The Sea of Fertility, 2
-- Roman Payne, Rooftop Soliloquy
-- Toni Morrison, The Bluest Eye
-- E.B. White, Charlotte's Web
-- Deb Caletti, Honey, Baby, Sweetheart
-- John Mayer
I didn't know whether to laugh or wince when I read a recent post by blogger/photographer Ruth Daly, titled "You might have a problem with photography if . . ." The post listed twenty signs that photography is taking over your life. I had to admit, quite a few items on the list applied to me.
- If you go fishing a couple of times a year when you go away to the coast, then this is an interest.
- If you go fishing a couple of times a month and maybe read a magazine or two, this is a hobby.
- If you go fishing as often as you can, read magazines and books, maybe be a part of a club and plan things around fishing, then this is a passion.
By that standard, writing is clearly a passion for me. There have been times when I've tried to do less of it, to make room for other things in my life, but writing feels so essential to my being, I have to keep coming back to it. A glance at the magazines stashed beneath my coffee table reveals that fully half of them are about writing; I belong to a writers' group; I blow my vacation budget traveling to writers' conferences; and I plan my days around my writing time. Yep, it's a passion.
Now, when I find myself getting immersed in an activity, I try not to let it interfere with the rest of my life. Which brings me back to Ruth Daly's post on photography. After reading it, I asked myself, Do I have a "problem" with photography?
Good for me! Lemonade from lemons and all that, right?
I'd even written a magazine article about the summer I broke my back—the summer we'd planned a month-long motorcycle trip through the Blue Ridge Mountains, as well as weekends of Rollerblading and bicycling in the park. The summer with a few definite plans and plenty of room for following whims.
As I wrote in the article:
When I thought about happenstance, of course, I was envisioning the merry kind that brings opportunities and delights. But when serendipity stepped in and made choices for me, it knocked me flat . . . What I didn't realize was that fate, in fact, had intervened to give me the break I had longed for—not exactly the way I had imagined it, but a break all the same. With my choices suddenly so limited, life had to get simpler. Time had to slow down.
Back then, I was stepping away from a hectic, deadline-driven life. This time, the treadmill I'm stepping off moves at a significantly slower rate. Still, the shift in activities and expectations should offer a chance to reflect and consider new directions. I wonder what I'll discover this time and where those discoveries will lead.
That's where you come in. I hereby deputize all HeartWood readers to be official correspondents. If, in your summer ramblings, you have experiences you'd like to share in words, pictures or both, I'll be happy to give you space to do that here at HeartWood. Just get in touch and we'll work out the details. I hope you'll take me up on the offer!
-- Ardath Rodale
-- Marcel Marceau
-- Mother Maribel of Wantage
-- Christina Rossetti
-- George Eliot
-- Sigurd Olson, author and environmentalist
-- Eckhart Tolle, author and spiritual teacher
-- Peter Minard, Benedictine monk
-- Linda Hogan, poet, author and environmentalist
-- Gunilla Norris, poet and author
Gladden in silence.
As one progresses on the path, one seeks silence more and more.
It will be a great comfort, a tremendous source of solace and peace.
Once you find deep solitude and calm, there will be a great gladness in your heart.
Here finally is the place where you need neither defense nor offense -- the place where you can truly be open.
There will be bliss, wonder, the awe of attaining something pure and sacred.
After that, you will feel adoration of silence.
This is the peace that seems to elude so many.
This is the beauty of Tao.
-- Deng Ming-Dao, author and artist, 365 Tao: Daily Meditations
One recent Friday afternoon, as the Wander Women hiking club set out on a segment of the North Country Trail, our leader Mary made a suggestion.
"What would you think about doing part of our hike in silence, just listening to the birds and other sounds around us?"
Now, we're a chatty bunch of women—so chatty that one name we considered for our group was the Walkie Talkies. But when Mary clarified that we could converse on the outbound part of the hike and be quiet on the return, we all thought we could manage that.
As we traveled on, passing by a lake and meandering along a stream, our topics of conversation covered varied terrain as well. We talked about books and movies, summer travel plans, the upcoming Enchanted Forest event, anything and everything that came to mind. When we reached the turn-around point, we paused to take a breather and tie up any loose conversation threads before starting the silent trek back.
There's a reason for that, I learned by looking into the science of silence. Researchers who set out to study the effects of various kinds of music on breathing rate, blood pressure and blood circulation in the brain found that two minutes of silence between musical tracks was more calming than even the most relaxing music. (Read the study here.)
Maybe you can. Maybe you just need to trick your brain, Kellner suggests. She cited a number of studies showing that simply changing one's mindset can have profound physical effects. For example, septuagenarians instructed in an experimental setting to live as if they were 22 years old sat taller, performed better on manual dexterity tasks and even looked more youthful after only five days of thinking young.
Intrigued, I started my own experiment, simply substituting the word "full" for "busy" when thinking and talking about my everyday activities. The change was subtle, but almost immediately I noticed a difference. "Busy" had felt like a burden. "Full" felt like a blessing.
Carter shared her own to-do list from a recent day—a familiar-looking litany of pleasant enough activities (yoga class, edit memoir, write thank-you notes), along with a fair share of less-appealing tasks (clean kitchen, unpack from trip, grocery shop).
That's pretty much how Carter reacted when she first heard the love-centric notion, put forth by spiritual psychology pioneer H. Ronald Hulnick. When Hulnick told Carter's class at the University of Santa Monica, "The only reason to do anything is for love," Carter was skeptical, and immediately started thinking up exceptions.
But then she stopped herself and decided, as an experiment, to act as if it were true.
"For example, instead of complaining about cleaning my house, I focused on how much I loved my family and my home, and how great it was that I was able to clean my home," Carter wrote. "It also occurred to me that I was lucky to have a home."
All other images are free-use stock images.
Recently, Ray and I passed the twenty-five year mark as a couple, and in a few months we'll celebrate our twentieth wedding anniversary. I realize those numbers aren't record-breaking—we all know couples who've been together twice as long or longer. And my mate and I aren't claiming to be paragons of contented couplehood. Still, we've learned a thing or two about durability over the years.
Here, then, is a handful of those lessons, offered not as instruction, but as an invitation for you to share your own thoughts about what makes a relationship endure, whether it's a marriage, a friendship or a close connection with a family member.
Grow together, and you won't grow apart
In the early years of our relationship, our common connections were motorcycles, alternative music and our independent streaks. Over the years, our interests shifted, and we explored new territory together—some figurative and some quite literal, like when we took the big leap of moving to Newaygo County, knowing next to nothing about the place. While I like to think I'm generally open to new experiences, Ray's curiosity and "why not" attitude have enhanced my own. From snowshoeing to building fairy houses and co-writing fairy stories for a Camp Newaygo fundraiser, all these ventures have enriched us individually as well as giving us more mutual interests.
But sometimes, separate
I spend most mornings practicing yoga, meditating, reading, writing and answering email, while Ray goes for walks and putters with projects in his workshop. On weekends, he might head off to a car show or woodworking demonstration, and I might play with my camera or attend a writing workshop. When we come back together, refreshed by our individual pursuits, we have new experiences and insights to share and more to talk about than whether it's time to take out the garbage.
A few years after Ray and I got together, when I was still a staff writer at the Detroit Free Press, I wrote an article about research at the University of Washington's "Love Lab." That’s where psychologist-mathematician John Gottman was engaged in a long-term study of hundreds of couples, trying to tease out behavior patterns predicted marital success or failure. One of Gottman's key findings was that lasting marriages have a magic ratio of five times as many positive feelings and interactions as negative ones.
When my yoga friends and I practice together between classes, we warm up with partner stretches—poses in which two people support each other to flex in ways they couldn't on their own. In the same way, Ray and I partner up to tackle whatever needs doing. Sometimes that's a physical chore like clearing snow or moving a heavy piece of machinery, but just as often it's a mentally draining task, like organizing tax materials--something either of us could do alone, but which feels much less dreadful when we work together. Plus, sharing the load keeps resentment at bay.
Ray is an absolute genius at coming up with little surprises that inject a touch of whimsy into otherwise ordinary days. He has created love notes out of folded laundry, dressed bananas in costumes and left bunches of hand-made tulips on the breakfast table, all for no other reason than to make me smile. While I'm not nearly as good at improvising spur-of-the-moment treats for him, I try to compensate with more calculated surprises. One of the most-appreciated was a three-volume set of "This is your Life" style photo books (which I labored over for months), filled with pictures of Ray and loved ones, from his childhood to the present. Now I just have to figure out how to top that!
Rough patches? Sure, we have those. Doesn't everyone? And we're not always graceful about getting through them. One thing I've learned to keep in mind, though, is that everything changes. If you're patient and calm, something will shift, and you'll find a way through.
from the heart of the woods
Nan Sanders Pokerwinski, a former journalist, writes memoir and personal essays, makes collages and likes to play outside. She lives in West Michigan with her husband, Ray.
Last Wednesday Wisdom