Self-improvement is rigid and perfectionistic, driven by beliefs, expectations and old answers, while genuine transformation is flexible, open to new discoveries and rooted in not-knowing. Genuine transformation listens for what life itself wants, while self-improvement imagines that “I” know how everything “should” be. Self-improvement is judgmental, self-righteous and narrow-minded, while happiness and real change are the release of all that. ~ Joan Tollifson (Death: The End of Self-Improvement)
It was probably inevitable, but we have just learned we now have a positive COVID-19 case in our condo complex. The news sent a chill down my spine. No doubt Dr. Fauci is right, we best prepare to hunker down for the fall and winter.
The idea of the unchanging song of the birds singing in our ears as well as the ears of our ancestors conjures a potent image of the continuation of life — an inheritance so subtle that we must immerse ourselves in the sound of birdcall in order to enter into its richness. The oracular calling of birds speaks directly to our hearts, bypassing our minds; it is a mode of divination that both we and our ancestors had to learn — an unchanging language of meaning. ~ Caitlín Matthews (The Celtic Spirit: Daily Meditations for the Turning Year)
Many years ago I saw a picture of a woman from the 1800s holding a tabby cat. It startled me that the cat looked just like a cat from our time! I sort of expected the cat to look as different as the clothing and hairstyles and furniture did back then. And when reading the above words it struck me that not only did cats and other animals look the same to my ancestors, but birds sounded the same, too. It’s a lovely connection, hearing the same tunes they did.
I thoroughly enjoyed doing the above puzzle as part of my celebrating First Harvest. Something about it is so appealing I had a hard time putting it away after enjoying looking at it for a few days. I suppose the scene could be set in any time period, too.
We now have 155 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in our town. Our county (New London) has 1,433 confirmed cases. Of those 6 are still in the hospital and 103 have lost their lives. That’s 31 new cases in this county and 4 more in the hospital since the last time I looked on August 3rd. It’s ticking up again…
A little change of pace, out of the woods and out to cross a few meadows on gently rolling hills. The sky was beautiful, the scenery divine. As we’re learning, the uneven terrain made for easier walking with less pain for Tim. The fresh air and sunshine was restorative for this quarantine-weary couple. We eagerly kept wanting to see what was over the next hillock or down the next inviting path. There were many interlocking trails. I lost count of how many grassy fields we crossed.
Two trails featuring varied land features and vegetation, including two hills, a valley, hardwood and cedar forest, brushland, meadows, pastures, swamps and ponds. Well-established 0.5 mile trail system with bridges. ~ Avalonia Land Conservancy website
I have to say, there were more than two trails, even on the map, and we certainly walked more than half a mile! But we didn’t walk all the trails and perhaps we will return some day.
As with our other walks, the songs of birds filled the air. And we had a few bumble bees follow us a time or two.
Before you thought of Spring Except as a Surmise You see — God bless his suddenness — A Fellow in the Skies Of independent Hues A little weather worn Inspiriting habiliments Of Indigo and Brown — With Specimens of Song As if for you to choose — Discretion in the interval With gay delays he goes To some superior Tree Without a single Leaf And shouts for joy to Nobody But his seraphic self — ~ Emily Dickinson (The Poems of Emily Dickinson, #1484)
Another thing we can do in our own rooms is to return to travels we have already taken. This is not a fashionable idea. Most of the time, we are given powerful encouragement to engineer new kinds of travel experiences. The idea of making a big deal of revisiting a journey in memory sounds a little strange – or simply sad. This is an enormous pity. We are hugely careless curators of our own pasts. We push the important scenes that have happened to us at the back of the cupboard of our minds and don’t particularly expect to see them ever again. ~ The Book of Life ~ On Confinement
With the passage of days in this godly isolation [desert], my heart grew calm. It seemed to fill with answers. I did not ask questions any more; I was certain. Everything – where we came from, where we are going, what our purpose is on earth – struck me as extremely sure and simple in this God-trodden isolation. Little by little my blood took on the godly rhythm. Matins, Divine Liturgy, vespers, psalmodies, the sun rising in the morning and setting in the evening, the constellations suspended like chandeliers each night over the monastery: all came and went, came and went in obedience to eternal laws, and drew the blood of man into the same placid rhythm. I saw the world as a tree, a gigantic poplar, and myself as a green leaf clinging to a branch with my slender stalk. When God’s wind blew, I hopped and danced, together with the entire tree.
~ Nikos Kazantzakis
(The Wonders of Solitude)
Such is the Force of Happiness — The Least — can lift a ton Assisted by it’s stimulus —
Who Misery — sustain — No Sinew can afford — The Cargo of Themselves — Too infinite for Consciousness’ Slow capabilities —
~ Emily Dickinson (The Poems of Emily Dickinson, #889)
We planted this tree in our garden in the spring of 2014 and it has brought me so much happiness. Especially in this season, when the leaves come in and start competing with the bark curls for visual interest. When I open my kitchen shades each morning and see more and more green ~ pure joy. In summer it protects the kitchen windows from the harshest afternoon sun.
Yes, happiness is uplifting, and misery weighs us down, too heavy, impossible to carry alone. Grieving a loss is often a slow process, and might last a lifetime.
I count having the company of this tree as one of my many blessings.
One of the strange things about living in the world is that it is only now and then one is quite sure one is going to live forever and ever and ever. One knows it sometimes when one gets up at the tender solemn dawn-time and goes out and stands alone and throws one’s head far back and looks up and up and watches thepale sky slowly changing and flushing and marvelous unknown things happening until the East almost makes one cry out and one’s heart stands still at the strange unchanging majesty of the rising of the sun — which has been happening every morning for thousands and thousands and thousands of years. One knows it then for a moment or so. And one knows it sometimes when one stands by oneself in a wood at sunset and the mysterious deep gold stillness slanting through and under the branches seems to be saying slowly again and again something one cannot quite hear, however much one tries. Then sometimes the immense quiet of the dark blue at night with millions of stars waiting and watching makes one sure; and sometimes a sound of far-off music makes it true; and sometimes a look in some one’s eyes. ~ Frances Hodgson Burnett (The Secret Garden)
I’m still poking around through my childhood papers and drawings. My mother was the true bookworm in our family. So many images coming back to me now, like my parents in the evening, my mother with her nose in the newspaper and my father watching television.
At bedtime, my mother read to us, even after we were old enough to read for ourselves. One of my favorite books was The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. (Apparently I loved it so much I illustrated my own version of a secret garden.) And often my father would start playing the piano, gentle Bach lullabies sending us off to sleep.
Spring is in the air! Time to pick up the pace and plow through some more boxes. Onward!
Once I realized I was old enough to die, I decided that I was also old enough not to incur any more suffering, annoyance, or boredom in the pursuit of a longer life. I eat well, meaning I choose foods that taste good and that will stave off hunger for as long as possible, like protein, fiber, and fats. I exercise — not because it will make me live longer but because it feels good when I do. As for medical care: I will seek help for an urgent problem, but I am no longer interested in looking for problems that remain undetectable to me. Ideally, the determination of when one is old enough to die should be a personal decision, based on a judgment of the likely benefits, if any, of medical care and — just as important at a certain age — how we choose to spend the time that remains to us.
In giving up on preventative care, I’m just taking this line of thinking a step further: Not only do I reject the torment of a medicalized death, but I refuse to accept a medicalized life, and my determination only deepens with age. As the time that remains to me shrinks, each month and day becomes too precious to spend in windowless waiting rooms and under the cold scrutiny of machines. Being old enough to die is an achievement, not a defeat, and the freedom it brings is worth celebrating.
~ Barbara Ehrenreich
(Natural Causes: An Epidemic of Wellness, the Certainty of Dying, and Killing Ourselves to Live Longer)
A year after my cancer surgery it seems like a good time to mention a book that tumbled into my life at just the right moment. After my brush with a life-threatening illness, the ideas set forth in Barbara Ehrenreich’s book, Natural Causes, make a whole lot of sense to me.
I spent many years carting my mother-in-law, my aunt and my father around to those “windowless waiting rooms,” getting test after test, some of them downright painful. My aunt finally put her foot down and proclaimed, “Whatever I’ve got, I’m taking it with me.”
She lived to be 103 in spite of refusing all the standard tests recommended for her in the last years of her life. When she died, it was from an infection. After accepting treatment for a day or two, she finally refused treatment for that, too.
Nothing ever came of those countless tests.
In my own case, because my mother died of breast cancer, I have submitted to many “required” mammograms and wound up with three false positives, causing weeks of anxiety. Now I refused to have any more. At this point in my life I am old enough to die, and if I wake up one morning and feel a lump in my breast, so be it.
The endometrial cancer I wound up getting? Well, there is no screening for it. Irony.
Fortunately I’ve found a general practitioner who understands my feelings and treats my “urgent problems” without pushing me into a “medicalized life.” Barbara Ehrenreich’s book has all the facts and figures I needed to convince me that as a culture, we are indeed killing ourselves, or at least making ourselves miserable, in order to live longer. All these expensive, invasive tests have not increased our lifespans.
Therefore, I have chosen to enjoy spending whatever time I have left to me without borrowing trouble.