The Season of Joy

It is the first mild day of March.
Each minute sweeter than before …
There is a blessing in the air …
— William Wordsworth

Spring is springing here, and I’m especially happy about it this year. This winter wasn’t severely cold, but it did seem very gray and wet. I have really missed the sunshine. I find myself lingering outside in the morning as I drink my coffee, watching the squirrels scamper about and listening to what sounds like hundreds of birds chattering away. On Saturday I spent hours in the backyard, and even made a little picnic lunch of bread, apples, and cheese. It was delightful. And the scents—all sorts of glorious plants are blooming, like sweet olive and wisteria, and it smells delicious! The breeze seems like it’s been perfumed.

Spring is my favorite season for several reasons. First, it’s wonderful to be able to feel comfortable outdoors—neither too cold nor too hot. (Yesterday I was able to go for a morning walk without a jacket, and yet I didn’t sweat, either. Bliss!)

Second, to watch everything come alive after being dormant in the winter makes me feel more alive. I feel like a flower blooming—unfurling slowly under the warmth of the sun, stretching out, expansive, opening. I’m free and easy (or at least, free-er and easier!) and my mind feels lighter. I’m inspired and energized.

And third, it just seems to me to be the most joyful of seasons. Sunshine quite literally makes me happy (it does this to everyone—sunlight increases our levels of serotonin). And each new flower I spot, each delicious scent I smell, each warm breeze I feel gives me a quick burst of joy.

In the spring I feel like anything is possible. It’s the very essence of hope and faith: simply pay attention to the bare branches of the trees. They literally transform overnight. One day they appear barren, and the next they’re covered in tiny green leaves. It’s incredible, and it always makes me feel awed and grateful.

And the spring cleaning! I must admit, I love a good spring cleaning. A few weekends ago I woke up raring to go, and finally tackled our garage. I went through boxes of memorabilia that had been moved from house to house, and consolidated about twelve boxes down to two. (And that was just one wall!) I made so much space, and threw away so many things that should never have been kept, and donated so many things that could be useful to others. It felt fantastic!

Is spring happening where you live? Here are some ways to truly immerse yourself in the season and its joys, courtesy of Simple Abundance: A Daybook of Comfort and Joy.

 ·         If you don’t have them growing in your garden, bring home a bouquet of daffodils (or any other spring flower you love) to brighten your space.

·         Plant a living Easter basket. Find a pretty basket, line it with pebbles or a plastic liner, and add two inches of potting soil. Sprinkle fast-growing rye grass seed on top of the soil and then cover with another quarter inch of soil. Water well and cover with a brown paper sack for a few days until the seeds germinate. When the grass sprouts, place the basket in a warm sunny window and continue to water. In a couple of weeks you’ll have a basket of living grass!

·         Search out a new “sacred space” in the world. A shady grove of trees, a beautiful public garden that’s new to you, a museum gallery, the stacks of an old library, even an outdoor café where you can sit basking in the sunshine can help you realize the boundless treasure and spiritual replenishment of a perfect solitary hour.

And a few of my favorites:

·         Go for a slow walk outside, looking for evidence of spring. Delight in the blue sky, warm sunshine, beautiful blooms, and the scents and sounds of nature coming to life. Keep an eye out for butterflies!

·         Once the danger of freezing is past, start gardening! I love to put in plants that are already blooming, so I can enjoy the color instantly.

·         Enjoy a picnic—even if it’s just in your backyard, eating al fresco elevates an ordinary meal and feels fun and festive.

·         Wash your windows and be amazed at how much light pours in!

·         Dive into some spring cleaning. It may not sound fun, but the satisfied feeling afterward (and the space you’ll create!) is worth it!

I’ll leave you with a poem that perfectly captures how I feel about spring.

Today

--Billy Collins

If ever there were a spring day so perfect,

so uplifted by a warm intermittent breeze

 

that it made you want to throw

open all the windows in the house

 

and unlatch the door to the canary's cage,

indeed, rip the little door from its jamb,

 

a day when the cool brick paths

and the garden bursting with peonies

 

seemed so etched in sunlight

that you felt like taking

 

a hammer to the glass paperweight

on the living room end table,

 

releasing the inhabitants

from their snow-covered cottage

 

so they could walk out,

holding hands and squinting

 

into this larger dome of blue and white,

well, today is just that kind of day.

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Approaching Your Life as a Work of Art

Each one of us is an artist. An artist is merely someone with good listening skills who accesses the creative energy of the Universe to bring forth something on the material plane that wasn’t here before. … So it is with creating an authentic life. With every choice, every day, you are creating a unique work of art.
— Sarah Ban Breathnach, Simple Abundance: A Daybook of Comfort and Joy

I’m continuing to read Simple Abundance—at 700+ pages, I’ll be at it for a while!—and I’m continuing to find all sorts of interesting insights. (See first post here.) Something that has really struck me is this concept of creating our daily lives as works of art.  Breathnach recommends to “start thinking of your life as a work-in-progress. Works-in-progress are never perfect. But changes can be made to the rough draft during rewrites. Another color can be added to the canvas. The film can be tightened during editing. Art evolves. So does life. Art is never stagnant. Neither is life. The beautiful, authentic life you are creating for yourself and those you love is your art. It’s the highest art.”

Wow. Thinking of my life as a work-in-progress is a simple concept, but it feels radically freeing to me. It essentially takes the pressure off.  And approaching each day as if it is art I am creating—rather than just a to-do list I have to get through—really elevates everything.

Breathnach also talks about how to make our lives more nourishing by scattering moments of joy throughout. She says, “What is missing from many of our days is a true sense that we are enjoying the lives we are living. It is difficult to experience moments of happiness if we are not aware of what it is we genuinely love. We must learn to savor small, authentic moments that bring us contentment.”

Of course, as a “joy detective,” I love this idea. Something you can do, which I have done before, is to make a Bliss List: a list of simple pleasures that bring you joy. Then do at least one thing from it every day. Here are some of the items on my list:

·         Reading

·         Sitting in the sun

·         Savoring a cup of tea

·         Watching classic movies

·         Fresh flowers

·         Listening to jazz

·         Hugging

·         Toast with butter

·         Chocolate

·         Sitting and doing nothing (especially on a rainy day)

Breathnach also suggests trying to do daily tasks mindfully to “restore serenity to your daily endeavors.” She says, “Serene women do not get sidetracked. Sidetracked women, who scatter their energies to the four winds, never achieve serenity. … Concentrate slowly on completing one task at a time, each hour of the day, until the day is over.”

She says that we will wonder how we’ll manage to get everything done this way, but “I assure you that you will accomplish all you set out to do and need to do with much more ease, efficiency, pleasure, and satisfaction.” In fact, studies are now proving that multitasking actually makes us less efficient. Plus, this approach just feels better to me.

What do you think about these concepts? Do you also find them comforting and supportive? I’d love to hear. You can let me know by replying to this email, or in the comments below.

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Weaving a "Tapestry of Contentment"

I finally got a book I’d been hearing about for a while, Simple Abundance: A Daybook of Comfort and Joy by Sarah Ban Breathnach, and it’s lovely! I’m finding it enormously comforting, like a cup of cocoa on a cold winter's day. It’s beautifully written and immensely inspiring.

I've been feeling frazzled, and so was Breathnach when she began writing the book.  She says in the preface, "I shared the revelations that came while trying to reconcile my deepest spiritual and creative longings with often overwhelming commitments to family and work."

I'm underlining all over the place as I read, and I wanted to share some of the insights that have particularly resonated with me so far.

She talks about six threads that, woven together, create a “tapestry of contentment.” Isn’t that a beautiful image? The full quote reads: “There are six threads of abundant living which, when woven together, produce a tapestry of contentment that wraps us in inner peace, well-being, happiness, and a sense of security.” Who wouldn’t want that? I’m in!

The threads are gratitude, simplicity, order, harmony, beauty, and joy.  The book is organized by date, with one entry per day; she focuses on each thread for two months, so I’m currently reading about gratitude. Breathnach recommends counting your blessings, and says, “See if you can’t get to one hundred. So much good happens to us but in the rush of daily life we fail even to notice or acknowledge it.”

This really struck me. It’s so true, and it’s something I’ve talked about here before. But I continue to find it difficult to be grateful consistently. One of the tools she suggests is a daily gratitude journal, to help us maintain that focus. I’ve started one, and am trying to be more aware of all the little things there are to appreciate—even on off days. My life is so rich and full of goodness. It's a shame to pay more attention to the minor irritations or parts that are not going well and miss the greater good.

Something else that really struck me was this: “much of my struggle to be content … has arisen when I stubbornly resisted what was actually happening in my life at the present moment.” Oh, that is so me. I resist reality all the time—how about you? I’m always thinking about how to improve things, remove things, or attract new things, so I often go about in a haze of vague dissatisfaction.

Breathnach talks about the importance of accepting what is. She explains that when you surrender to reality, a softening occurs. “Suddenly I am able to open up to receive all the goodness and abundance available to me because acceptance brings with it so much relief and release. It’s as if the steam of struggle has been allowed to escape from life’s pressure cooker.” That sounds wonderful, doesn’t it? And it makes complete sense to me.

Further, she adds, "blessing whatever vexes us is the spiritual surrender that can change even troublesome situations for the better. … If you're sick and tired of learning life's lessons through pain and struggle, blessing your difficulties will show you there's a better way."

I was thrilled to see that another tool she recommends is a morning ritual! She says, "give yourself the gift of one hour a day to journey within. You need enough breathing space to allow your heart to ponder what is precious. Or perhaps you can let your imagination soar to the twilight where dreams first dwell. … This much I know: if you go deep enough, often enough, something good is bound to come back to you." And this: “Stressed souls need the reassuring rhythm of self-nurturing rituals.” Yes!

I’m going to enjoy savoring this book each day for the rest of the year. I’m sure there will be plenty more insights and ideas to share with y’all! Meanwhile, I’ve got some creative projects brewing, including a big one that launches in April, so for the next few months I’ll be posting here every other week instead of weekly. Talk to you in mid-February!

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