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Week 5: Connecting with nature, even a snow storm

Okay, so we skipped Week 4 here on the blog. I have to apologize. I was not taking my own advice and was allowing myself to sink into a bit of darkness and poor-me thinking. I couldn’t motivate myself to write or meditate or even do my personal yoga practice. None of that wallowing did me a bit of good, but you know how it is sometimes.

I think it’s important to share that with you if only to remind you that it’s okay if you stray off the path or pull into a rest stop for a few days. When you’re ready, dust yourself off and begin again. The only thing you should try to continue to do no matter what else is going on is your gratitude journal. But always, always continue to be kind and gentle with yourself no matter how this journey is going for you.

The next thing on the list I outlined when we were on the cusp of this revolution-not-resolution transformation journey was a connection with nature. Can you find a spot where you can either see or be in nature each day? Do you have a chair by a window where you can see birds or squirrels? Do you have a path nearby or a quiet street where you can take short walks (or long walks if that’s your thing)? Nature has a way to heal us, connect us, make us kinder.

My favorite finches

When pandemic first hit last March and most of us were trapped in our homes, I took to working in the armchair in our family room where I can watch the goings on in our backyard, in particular the bird feeder. I became a bit obsessed with bird watching. I downloaded apps to track the varieties I could identify; I kept a running list in the notes on my phone; I talked to them; sat outside with a camera hoping to catch them in action; found myself disappointed and rejected if our feeder was empty. I wrote a column about the way sitting at my window in pandemic changed me. You can read “Falling for Spring in a Season of Fear” HERE.

Although the initial obsession with the birds faded a bit, my newly found love for these hearty and cheerful creatures has settled into a lovely spiritual relationship. I look outside when it’s only 3 degrees and the snow is deep and marvel at the little sparrows so oblivious to the cold, flitting around looking for a snack. On the days when I take the dog for a walk, I talk to the crows sitting in the trees on our street. (Crows can remember a face, so be nice to them!) Although we are awaiting a winter storm, I just unpacked a new bird feeder and a 20-pound bag of black oil sunflower seed so that I can give the cardinals a place to eat since my current feeder doesn’t suit them. (Maybe the obsession hasn’t quite faded.)

Many of us at this time of year are dealing with cold and snow (we’re expecting 8 to 12 inches as I write this). It can be hard to love this season if we’re not skiers. It can be easy to wish away the present and long for warmer and sunnier days, green trees and sitting on the deck. But can we learn to be content, happy even, with the season we are in — the physical season of the world around us and the life season we are currently navigating day by day?

I’m currently listening to the book Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times by Katherine May. I have a feeling this is another that I will purchase in hard copy as well so I can revisit my favorite lines. As I drive through the cold and snow to get to work or the yoga studio, as I sit in my chair awaiting the next storm and knowing spring is a long way off for those of us in upstate New York, her words call me back to the here and now, reminding me to savor what is right before me, even when my teeth chatter, even when I’m worrying about the kids driving on slippery roads.

“We may never choose to winter, but we can choose how,” May writes. And that is the case for everything in our lives. We may not choose our circumstances, but we can choose how we respond to them. If we can begin to practice acceptance with the seasons of the year — learning to allow ourselves to feel the cold and appreciate the sharpness in our lungs, learning to accept the rain dripping down our window even when we wanted sun — it can help us learn to accept the more challenging things we encounter, not just in nature but in life itself.

Signs of spring amid the storm

Henry David Thoreau wrote: “Live in each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influence of the earth.” Good advice. When we resign ourselves — not in a defeated way but in an accepting and joyful way — we open our hearts and minds and spirits to a whole new way of seeing and being. It may start with appreciating a goldfinch at a bird feeder, but if we nurture it, it can evolve into finding joy even in our challenges, of learning to balance sorrow and joy without losing our balance or our peace in the process.

When I fell off the path briefly last week, there was the danger that I’d just stay there. In the past, I might have wallowed for weeks and in a deep self-loathing way. But little by little this journey of transformation — which is often a dance of two steps forward, one step back — has allowed me to recognize when I am sinking and make a course correction before I get too dug in. That is the gift of commitment and discipline and the willingness to begin again over and over. We are not called to perfection; we are called to practice — prayer, journaling, silence, nature, whatever helps us go deeper. Start there and then, if necessary, start again, and you will continue to move toward your true self and all the joy it holds for you.

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