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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The Joy of Little Things

So like everyone else in the country, I bought a Mega Millions lottery ticket—and like everyone else except one person, I didn’t win. It was really exciting to imagine what I would have done with all that money, and I was disappointed not to win.

I had to remind myself that while more money would be fun, I don’t need it in order to be happy. (In fact, most lottery winners end up less happy than they were before they won!) As the poem below illustrates so beautifully, what is truly important and valuable in life are the “little things,” which are actually not so little: love, companionship, and the comforts of home.

We can have all the money or fame in the world, but if we’re alone, it doesn’t matter. And as long as we’re safe, we don’t need a large or fancy house to be happy. The tiniest things can bring us joy—a hot cup of tea or coffee in a favorite mug, a lovingly tended plant, a cherished heirloom from a grandparent. We tend to take them for granted. So in praise of those “little things,” here is this wonderful poem.

The Joy of Little Things  

--Robert William Service

It's good the great green earth to roam,
Where sights of awe the soul inspire;
But oh, it's best, the coming home,
The crackle of one's own hearth-fire!
You've hob-nobbed with the solemn Past;
You've seen the pageantry of kings;
Yet oh, how sweet to gain at last
The peace and rest of Little Things!

Perhaps you're counted with the Great;
You strain and strive with mighty men;
Your hand is on the helm of State;
Colossus-like you stride . . . and then
There comes a pause, a shining hour,
A dog that leaps, a hand that clings:
O Titan, turn from pomp and power;
Give all your heart to Little Things.

Go couch you childwise in the grass,
Believing it's some jungle strange,
Where mighty monsters peer and pass,
Where beetles roam and spiders range.
'Mid gloom and gleam of leaf and blade,
What dragons rasp their painted wings!
O magic world of shine and shade!
O beauty land of Little Things!

I sometimes wonder, after all,
Amid this tangled web of fate,
If what is great may not be small,
And what is small may not be great.
So wondering I go my way,
Yet in my heart contentment sings . . .
O may I ever see, I pray,
God's grace and love in Little Things.

So give to me, I only beg,
A little roof to call my own,
A little cider in the keg,
A little meat upon the bone;
A little garden by the sea,
A little boat that dips and swings . . .
Take wealth, take fame, but leave to me,
O Lord of Life, just Little Things.

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Getting Comfortable with Being Uncomfortable

As I reflected on our recent trip and how mentally unprepared I was for the minor frustrations we encountered, I realized that it revealed what a deep rut I’d gotten into. I don’t remember struggling as much with everything being “foreign” on previous trips. Perhaps that was because I was younger and more flexible, or because our lives were less settled pre-parenthood. I’m not quite sure, but it has left me with the intention to keep from getting so stuck again.

My daily life, like most people’s, is full of routine. Some is necessary and inevitable, but I think I’ve created some because I really, really don’t like to be uncomfortable. Now that I think about it, I tend to avoid discomfort as much as I can. And when I’m uncomfortable, either mentally or physically, I will go to great lengths to fix it as soon as possible.  (I suspect this is also why I chronically overpack: if I am cold, or start to feel sick, I want to have items with me so that I can immediately remedy the situation—and, avoid the potential discomfort of having to seek out something I need quickly in an unfamiliar place. Wow, seeing that in print makes me cringe. Definitely time to loosen up!)

This most recent trip has reminded me that good travel actually involves being uncomfortable. If I am somewhere new, of course it’s not going to feel comfortable, because I’ve never experienced it before. Unfamiliar things feel strange, because they are. And so in order to truly get the most out of traveling, I need to embrace the unfamiliar.

I need to get comfortable with being uncomfortable.

That is where growth happens, right? In life—and especially as you approach midlife, it seems—we have two choices: either keep growing and expanding (thereby experiencing discomfort) or stay small, keeping everything the same. The second choice will inevitably lead to a shrinking of our world—a slow decline that feels way more terrible to me than some occasional discomfort. So I will consciously choose to keep seeking out new experiences, knowing that the discomfort they bring is good for me.

In fact, it may be time to revive my 2017 project of trying something new each month. Every activity I did last year definitely made me uncomfortable, whether it was surfing, taking piano lessons (and then performing live!), or even starting this blog! But every activity also made me proud, even when I didn’t do it very well. Just the fact that I tried was empowering, and each time I felt energized.

To be fair, I have already done new things this year that stretched me—publishing a book and then talking to strangers about it in person definitely count! But I’m going to recommit to seeking out more novelty, and will head into the second half of 2018 with a refreshed dedication to adventure and exploration.

How about you? Do you also dislike discomfort, or are you one of the lucky people who thrive on challenges? Either way, I hope your summer is filled with plenty of fun, whether it’s from exciting new experiences or comforting familiar ones!

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