A Few Blossoms of Light in March

Hello my spring blossoms,

Whew. What a month. I don’t know about yours, but my March somehow managed to both exceed expectations in the best way and present challenges I never could have anticipated. Such is life, huh?

For this month’s blog post, I wanted to share a few pieces of creative work that have resonated with me lately. After listening to the podcast episode below, I realized a theme was emerging. The things that have stood out to me most this month have asked me to challenge (or at least question) my expectations—of myself, of my time, of how life “should” go. They have asked me to slow my pace. To work with the present moment as it truly is, so as not to miss life as it happens.

For me, that has involved practicing my flexibility muscle, balancing what I want in a given day with the reality of what’s presented. Little hassles. Major stressors. Human limitations. I had a day where I was trying to get things done, but I was only half-awake. I didn’t sleep well the night before (some of the stress of recent challenges was catching up to me). Normally, I would try to coffee up and push through, but I questioned if a different approach might be better. I had room in my day to be flexible. Might I get more out of my time later if I took a break now?

So I did the unthinkable. I laid back on the couch, pulled my fuzzy pink blanket over me, and fell asleep. My fluffy gray cat was purring on me as my alarm went off. I still had plenty of time. I grabbed a coffee, put music on, and got back into things, more refreshed than I’d felt all day—or maybe longer.

If that isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.

I hope one of the pieces below gives you something helpful to carry into the next month. If anything (a song, an article, a podcast episode) has made your March, please feel free to share in the comments!

An article: “I trained myself to be less busy — and it dramatically improved my life” by David Sbarra, PhD for Vox

I came across this essay while searching for articles on an entirely unrelated subject, and I have read it multiple times since. I don’t think being busy is inherently a bad thing. I also understand that there are times in life when we may not be able to take anything off our (very full) plates. What Dr. Sbarra is really challenging is mindless busyness. Being busy for busy’s sake, and barreling through an overstuffed calendar because we think that’s what we’re supposed to do. I think that even without removing anything from our schedules, we can check our pacing—and our expectations. Are we rushing through life, or are we living in it? Are we being reasonable in what we expect ourselves to get done?

A podcast episode: “Are Your Expectations Too High?” from The Science of Happiness

The Science of Happiness is hosted by psychologist Dacher Keltner, PhD and co-produced by PRX and UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center.

In the first part of this episode, Dr. Keltner talks to Julie Santos, who was born in Costa Rica and spent summers there growing up. When she visited just after graduating college, she observed how expectations—and an ability to celebrate anything that exceeds them—seem to be linked to happiness in the country’s culture. Her reflections have made me think, what if we all stopped to show gratitude when things rise above our expectations, even just a little? Could boring or stressful tasks feel less burdensome if we don’t expect to hurry through them?

A quote by Kurt Vonnegut

A while ago I watched a video of a lecutre by the late author Kurt Vonnegut. He shared an anecdote about his Uncle Alex, which he said he’d included in every lecture he’d ever given. He also shared it in one of his nonfiction books, A Man Without a Country:

. . . his principal complaint about other human beings was that they so seldom noticed it when they were happy. So when we were drinking lemonade under an apple tree in the summer, say, and talking lazily about this and that, almost buzzing like honeybees, Uncle Alex would suddenly interrupt the agreeable blather to exclaim, “If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.”

So I do the same now, and so do my kids and grandkids. And I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, “If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.”

Kurt Vonnegut, A Man Without a Country

I have been following his advice. It’s a simple strategy—reminiscent of what Julie Santos observed people in Costa Rica doing—but so powerful as a happiness checkpoint, ensuring that we don’t miss the ordinary (and sometimes extraordinary) joy that surrounds us.

xoxo

Marie

Gold Coins & Phone Calls: Life’s Little Anchors

Photo by Ilse Orsel on Unsplash

Hello my little mermaids,

Has anyone else been feeling a little seasick lately? Since 2021 began, I’ve had so many weeks start out smooth sailing, only to be tossed over by unforeseen waves partway through. Near record-breaking snowfall (and cold). COVID-related disruptions. And more. I’ve found joy wherever possible. Snow is fun, and so are unexpected snow days! But I’ve also never looked forward to a so-called “normal” week more. “Boring” sounds good right now!

I recently read Didn’t See That Coming: Putting Your Life Together When Your World Falls Apart by Rachel Hollis. In the chapter on developing good habits, she wrote: “Your great habits and positive rituals are the anchor you need in the storm, not just because they’re good for you but because your brain isn’t wired to handle intense discomfort and keep making good decisions. Meaning, if you haven’t already built your muscle memory for making consistent good choices, you’ll find it nearly impossible to do so once life gets hard.”

She makes a great point, and I don’t know that I’d ever really thought about it that way. Stability in the good times can help you navigate the rocky seas with a little more ease. What has impacted me from that chapter the most, though, is the word “anchor” as she used it in that passage. It has been floating in my brain ever since I finished the book. You could think of a metaphorical anchor as a bad thing. Who wants to be tied down, stuck in place? Not me! But I do sometimes want to be held steady, which is what Rachel was describing.

The more I’ve thought about anchors, the more I see them everywhere. I’m a meditation novice, but the most helpful thing I’ve learned from my recent attempts is the technique of using your breath as an anchor. When your thoughts try to carry you away, you come back by focusing on your breathing. But anchors can be more personally specific, too. My daily phone call with my dad is an anchor that has steadied me for years. Sometimes when I’m anticipating a challenging day, I put a small object in my pocket. I use it as part good luck charm, part fidget object. Sometimes it’s a mini teddy bear, smaller than my palm, from when I was younger. Lately it’s been one of my grandpa’s gold coins. Tiny, sweet anchors.

Of course, there are times to get carried away. During the past couple months, I’ve listened to Taylor Swift’s evermore over and over again and got lost in the lyrics. One of my best friends had her first baby, and I’ve been swimming in joy, excitement, and love for her family. When she asked me to be her son’s godmother . . . let’s just say I will ride that wave of excitement forever!

All this to say, I hope this next month brings you waves of joy, and a perfectly suited anchor if you need one.

xoxo

Marie

Some Thoughts on Worms: What I’ve Learned About Dealing with Negative Feelings

Hi, Internet friends!

A while back, I was going for a walk in my neighborhood. It must have recently rained, because I was thinking about worms. I have always had a weird fear of worms. When I was a kid, I couldn’t even handle an image of a worm touching me, let alone a real one. I really liked helping my mom in the garden on Mother’s Day, but I usually wouldn’t put the flowers in the ground myself, for fear of a worm squirming my way and touching my glove. As an adult, if a harmless spider ends up inside, I can carry it outdoors in my bare hands. But even just the thought of touching a worm is still a little overwhelming.

Umbrella
Photo by Gabriel Santiago on Unsplash

As I was on my walk that day, I was thinking about the reason we have fear from an evolutionary standpoint. If we’re in the presence of something that could hurt us, it’s important that we act quickly. If you had no fear, and you were out in nature when a large animal came by, you could find yourself in a bad scenario. Fear, like all negative emotions, can be both painful and valuable.

The thing is, though, a worm is not going to hurt me. It just isn’t. But my emotional reaction treats it as though it were a bear. Because sometimes, our feelings are just flat-out wrong.

Across my life so far, I have dealt with some mental health struggles, as well as the regular fluctuation of feelings that comes with being human. Along the way, I’ve learned that while our feelings are always informative, they aren’t always telling us the truth. For example, when I’m feeling down on myself, my first instinct is to retreat. Be alone. Give up on the big things I want to do. But actually, it’s just as valuable in those times, if not more, to be active, whether that’s by getting exercise, hanging out with friends, or working on a project. In fact, by acting contrary to my feelings in those moments, I can almost always change how I feel for the better, even if only a little.

I am by no means suggesting you should ignore your feelings. On the contrary, I think there’s a lot of value to be found in sitting with your feelings to see where the truth is in what they’re saying and how you can challenge them if necessary. For me, getting outside perspective can be invaluable.

I’m also thinking that this spring, I need to rectify my relationship with worms. It’s been long enough.

xoxo

Marie

 

5 Quotes to Help You Through Tough Times

Hey,

I apologize for my radio (internet?) silence during recent months. I’m hoping and planning to start posting regularly again. In the spirit of doing so, I’m including below some of my favorite quotes about overcoming challenges by women I admire.

I’ve been working on an article for one of my favorite sites about a technique for getting through tough moments. Funnily enough, the process of writing the article has been challenging in itself at times. I’m very invested in the piece, but my desire to make it great has occasionally lead to frustration. So today, when I’d passed the verge of tears while trying to edit the introduction, I decided it was time to hit pause on that project and turn my attention to words of wisdom from women (real and fictional) who have channeled their challenges into greatness.

Without further ado:

“When I’m not feeling my best, I ask myself, ‘What are you gonna do about it?’ I use the negativity to fuel the transformation into a better me.” – Beyoncé

Beyonce Superbowl 2016
Instagram: @beyonce

“Since I went to treatment, there have been days when it’s felt really easy, and I’ve felt great about where I am. But then I have moments when it’s not. That’s life. You can’t just take your mind and your body into the shop and get it fixed. It doesn’t come out repaired. It’s not like a car. It takes time—pace yourself. Every day is a new opportunity to change your life and be who you want to be.” – Demi Lovato

Demi Lovato no makeup selfie with Batman
Instagram: @ddlovato

“Just take it ten seconds at a time. Everything will be okay.” – Kimmy Schmidt, “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”

This one is even better with a little context. On the Netflix original series “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,” Kimmy is a incredibly cheerful and sometimes naive young woman adjusting to life in New York after being trapped in a cult for 15 years.  The show is very funny, but one of my favorite parts is when Kimmy insightfully tells the boy she is nannying that “all you gotta do is take it ten seconds at a time.” She was referring to her time in the bunker, where she took on the responsibility of “turning a heavy crank, the purpose of which is unknown to this day.” She found she could get through the laborious task if she approached it ten seconds at a time. I’ve been able to apply the same principle to less drastic situations. When you’re struggling, the first thing to do—always—is seek help. But sometimes, you’ve gotten help, and you know what to do, but it’s still emotionally difficult. So, what you can do then is break it down, and just focus on the next ten seconds—or ten minutes, or hour—at a time.

You can watch a clip from that episode here, and stream the entire first season on Netflix.

giphy
GIPHY

“You go on by doing the best you can. You go on by being generous. You go on by being true. You go on by offering comfort to others who can’t go on. You go on by allowing the unbearable days to pass and by allowing the pleasure in other days. You go on by finding a channel for your love and another for your rage.” – Cheryl Strayed

Cheryl Strayed is an excellent writer, and recently released a book of quotations (cover pictured below). It was hard to choose just one of the quotes to include on this list!

Chery Strayed Brave Enough cover
Instagram: @cherylstrayed

“You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face . . . You must do what you think you cannot do.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

Eleanor Roosevelt
Time.com

Do you have any favorite quotes that inspire you in tough times? Please share them in the comments below!

xoxo

Marie