Sunset with a few trees in the lower right-hand corner.
Embodied Heart

What It Looks Like in My Dreams

I wrote recently about my increased depression symptomology. The symptom that is causing me the most distress is anhedonia. I am struggling to desire. Wishing for things to be different is normally the one skill set on which I can rely. In order to cope, I’ve been engaging in a behavior I would typically try to avoid, which is idealizing my future. I am very practical in my approach to life and get frustrated by people who are grasping at “if only” without taking concrete steps to get there. Right now, though, “if only” turns into “who cares” so quickly and flatly in me that I think the place of hope in my soul needs dusted off and aired out.

To that end, I’ve created a description of my “ideal” days and what my life actually looks like. There are glimmers of the ideal in my current life. I can feel tendrils of longing and “it’s too hard to make it come true” and “um, hello, how would you pay for this” pulling at me as I write. Anhedonia blinds hope and desire with flashes of memories of failures and disappointments. I value the part of me that doesn’t want to bring more suffering into my life, image fading to black and red streaks of pain, and I value equally the part of me that looks at the ideals and sees watercolors swirling into form and which dreams of the humble cottage in the forest or grand Victorian on the corner lot that maybe could, in some form, take shape.

An Ideal Day in the Country

Morning

I wake up when my body is ready to wake up, without rushing. I hear the birds chirp and feel the breeze blow through the open window of my house. While sipping my morning tea, I read a book chapter on a deck or porch overlooking a wooded area. I take my dog for a long walk in the woods to our kayak launch. We meander through a lazy area of a nearby lake for some time. I return to my house and spend a few hours writing.

Afternoon

I create a home-crafted meal with local ingredients, some of which I’ve grown myself. I garden and housekeep for a short time. After this, I exercise and walk my dog. The remainder of my afternoon is spent on creative activities such as painting, photography or sewing.

Evening

Dinner involves spending time with a friend or two in deep conversation. We either gather for a potluck or go to a healthy restaurant. Afterwards we take a long walk outdoors with my dog and enjoy the sunset. I curl up in front of the fireplace with a good book and some tea to wind down. I practice self-care (for example, a face mask or stretching) then head to bed at a reasonable hour.

An Ideal Day in Town

Morning

I wake up when my body is ready to wake up, without rushing. I hear the hustle and bustle of my surroundings melding into a pleasant rhythm. I take my dog for a walk to a local park and greet my neighbors on the way. I head to a local café for a healthy breakfast along with a book. I pick up local ingredients at the farmer’s market on my way home. I rest in a nook with lots of sunlight and spend a few hours writing.

Afternoon

I create a home-crafted meal with local ingredients. I housekeep and workout. I take my dog for a walk to dog-friendly shops and enjoy a tea at an outdoor coffee shop. I head to a park or local studio to paint or sculpt or learn something that stokes my creativity.

Evening

Dinner involves spending time with a friend or two in deep conversation. We either gather for a potluck or go to a healthy restaurant. Afterwards we go for a long walk outdoors with my dog and enjoy the sunset. We then head to a local cultural event such as live music or an art show. When I return home, I practice self-care and go to bed at a reasonable hour.

My Actual Life

Morning

I get up unwillingly before I am ready to do so. I make breakfast quickly and head off to work. I notice the sunrise at times. I work the entire morning. If it is the weekend, I engage in housekeeping and errands during this time of day. Some weekend mornings I will write or spend time in nature.

Afternoon

I work into the afternoon. I return home and grab meals where I can, occasionally cooking for myself. I work out and watch TV. I go to therapy. I walk my dog at a park. I sometimes write, and, on the weekends, occasionally paint.

Evening

I spend most evenings alone; I’m with a friend or group a few times a week at most. I watch TV and sit around. I typically take my dog for another walk. I rarely notice the sunset. I occasionally engage in self-care, write or read. As of late, I go to bed very early.

Reflection

I feel ashamed of what I’ve written. My shame is not in relation to what I shared about my actual life. Rather, I hear mocking internally in regards to what I wish my life involved. In part, this connects to a specific experience of bullying in which a college roommate made fun of me for writing her a letter the summer before we moved in and stating that I liked spending time outdoors hiking. Apparently she and all her friends sat around and laughed at the naïve, uncool country girl.

Even now, I don’t always succeed in hiding the excitable parts of who I am, the ones that seem very distant during this depression. I dissociate and appear nonchalant when someone mocks my joyfulness as an adult, but it cuts to the quick and shuts into locked corner even further the young, eager and happy parts of self. And, hard as it is for me to admit, I mock myself with the same or even greater intensity. I feel rage when I think of the jaded-teenager aspects we each hold in us that want to eye-roll and smirk our way past anyone’s genuine joy and enthusiasm and I feel compassion when I consider how we became jaded.

I am very curious to hear about your ideal versus your actual life, but not in a way that limits our perspective to a consideration of the distance between them. Rather, what is it like in your being, if you are able, to dream of your ideal? What holds you back if you can’t go there mentally? What are your experiences of having your ideals or dreams ridiculed, and how do you hold space for the energetic and excitable parts of you who want to rush toward that for which you long?

Sacred Spiritual Growth

Resourcing Our Spiritual Needs: Unfiltered Inspiration

Cross-posted on my SageWoman blog.

Do you find yourself craving inspiration on a soul level? I believe that external stimulation nourishes us not only physically, emotionally and mentally, but also spiritually, and functions as a vital ingredient for our well-being. For today’s #SacredSpiritualGrowth Saturday, I will be investigating how slow and attentive engagement with the world around us can produce this sustenance.

Inspiration comes in at least two varieties: wild and processed. The first, the unfiltered variety, is not simply nature as it also includes human-cultivated materials that have not yet been fully assembled. It allows us to take things sense by sense, and to either simply appreciate each as it stands or to engage our creativity by constructing unique permutations. Processed inspiration sounds less appealing, but in fact has gone through one of the most creative machines there—another human’s mind. Each work of art and scientific finding is a human’s diamond. My mind internalizes and makes its own meaning of this product, but what is presented has been synthesized and layered through another’s concentration and effort. I never saw art or inquiry as vulnerability until I held it in this light. Taken together, wild and processed stimuli offer us an unlimited supply of fodder for creativity and growth. I will be tackling both topics in my #SacredSpiritualGrowth posts; today’s blog will consider the first by contemplating how we can engage our senses directly.

Raw Sensory Indulgence

Rather than an exhaustive list, I’ve included specific examples from my own life with an eye toward highlighting the impact of working with each sense individually.

Sight

The primary place in which I am delighted when I engage my sense of sight is in nature. As I’ve spent more time in outside, one of my favorite practices is to “look again,” by which I mean to take in a scene until I think I’ve captured all the nuances it holds, and then to challenge myself to reset the parameters and find an entirely new set of data coming at me. What was previously a simple glance at a tree or hedge evolves into an eco-sphere of activity from this vantage-point.

Human creations, in their raw form, can also connect with us on a visual level. For instance, as a child, I was drawn to fabric stores. I wasn’t very good at sewing and so I was unsure about why they held such appeal for me. I believe now that it was simply the full glass of colors, patterns and textures I was able to drink in with each visit that appealed to me. In the same vein, a row of paint samples may seem mundane but, through its activation of our visual system, we may perhaps find ourselves dreaming in full color.

Sound

Inspiration does not need to come only from experiences we find pleasing. I’ve written before about my difficulties processing certain sounds. I find the most peace in listening to birdsong and the rush of water in a stream, but I believe mechanical sounds and the babble of humans in motion can also provide fertile ground for the growth of our auditory attunement. Consider finding various places where you can sit for a few moments with your eyes closed, and simply listen.

Smell & Taste

Smell is a visceral sense that I believe worth of indulgence. As I described previously, I can get carried away in places such as spice shops. Each spice offers not just a sensory experience all its own, but can also allow an unfolding of emotions and memories. Displays with essential oils or botanical herbs and, of course, natural areas filled with flora allow for a variety of scents that are easily accessed in one location. Rather than rushing to partake in the next fragrance, try pausing and finding the faint whiffs amongst the strong in each smell.

Taste can be a bit more difficult to indulge in nature unless you have a guide who can tell you which items are edible. With or without this opportunity, another possibility is to taste each ingredient in the next dish you make as you assemble it. I think here about how often I barely perceive the flavors of entire meals I eat, much less each component that goes into it.

Touch

We “see” through more than our eyes. By touching various objects with our fingertips, we come to know reality in a way that is difficult to capture in words. One of my favorite encounters is touching the bark of a tree; I feel that a window into its soul is opened each time I do so. Allowing the sun to alight on our face or the rain to wet our feet speaks to us on a nonverbal level. Walking barefoot instantly grounds and reconnects me to Goddess.

From Inspiration to Creation

After engaging with these and other senses, we need not rush to synthesize them into something “creative.” Mindfully being present and absorbing the experience as it stands may be all that is needed; genuine inspiration cannot be rushed or manufactured. Personally, I feel a small shift inside me whenever something has ripened from its original green into a tasty morsel ready to be digested; when I respond to this intuitively, I am almost always delighted at the result. When I instead try to move on without pausing to meet this sensation, the bitter pulp of unready fruit tends to quickly dissuade me from my desire to get on with it.

Taking the entirety of my list of opportunities into account, I think that most of us have more than enough around us throughout the day from which we can draw inspiration. Rather than a lack of stimuli, I suspect what gets in the way of inspiration is in fact mindlessness—glossing over or rushing through material so quickly that we fail to absorb even a fraction of what is being presented, as well as becoming overstimulated and then detaching by distracting ourselves through screens and thoughts of the future or past. The next time you feel completely overwhelmed, take a look at your surroundings. Are you attempting to attend to multiple layers of stimuli at once? Are you trying to both complete a physical as well as mental task? One activity at a time, in fact, one sense at a time, is a revolutionary way in which we can begin to appreciate nuance, complexity and variety. I invite you to stop at the next green plant you meet and get to know it. My suspicion is that you will walk away with more understanding of the world than hours of electronic scrolling could ever afford.

Inspiration Fanatic

Physical Reminders of Inner Worth

Have you ever wanted to spend more time being creative and engaging in self-care? Perhaps you purchased the materials you’d need to do so, and then promptly left them sitting untouched for months. For today’s #InspirationFanatic Friday, I’ll be sharing a practice which has helped me in making time for myself and for imaginative workings. By engaging in this act, I am reminded on a daily basis that it is my privilege and responsibility to care for myself. Doing so helps me believe I am worthy of attention and that I am capable of generating inspiration for myself and others.

I wrote a while back regarding premenstrual symptoms and healing; I chose to make my monthly moon-time the focus of my toolbox. It’s possible to order a subscription box for your period, but I instead created my own self-care focused kit for each month. After purchasing the items I wanted, I dug deeper and was surprised by how well the kit dovetails with my work on my personal vision this year. I made 12 bags in total, one for each month of the year to be opened during my “moon-time.” I keep the kit accessible and in use throughout the entire month as a self-care practice.

The concept of a physical reminder that you are invested in your relationship with yourself does not need to be limited to menstrual cycles. I can see applications to creating supplies for dealing with triggers, celebrating each new moon or welcoming each season. I do think it is important that they be tangible items rather than virtual materials. As the digital age has advanced, many of us find that we’ve lessened our connection to the physical world. I would say that a large aspect of my spiritual life is simply living in the touchable reality which surrounds me. I have found tremendous wisdom and creativity in the connections I make online, but they only penetrate my life to the extent to which I make them real and visible on a regular basis. In this way, the bags I created invite me to pause and connect with not only my body, but also my inner creativity and vitality.

Suggested Contents

Body-Centered Items

  • Treats: I added a small snack which worked great until I got a massive sugar craving and raided all the remaining bags! Next year I plan to include a small gift card for each month, which will at least require me to drive somewhere if I want to “cheat.”
  • Spa Products: I included a bath bomb, candle, face mask, nail polish, emery board and lip gloss for each month. I did not find myself using these as much as I thought I would, I think in part because they didn’t have a “homemade” feel to them and became repetitive. For next year’s kit, I plan to include a personally-crafted candle with essential oils and herbs, handmade bath bombs and perhaps soap or another product that I’ll teach myself to make.

Creativity Supplies

I did not include anything more than a crayon in this year’s bags, but I think there is a limitless number of possibilities here from which I’ll choose in the future. I included one crayon each month but found myself feeling stifled by the lack of choice in colors. If you decide you want a creativity piece to your kit, I would suggest picking one medium per month or one mini project for which you include all the supplies. A few ideas:

  • Drawing/coloring/painting (Perhaps with a specific prompt and tiny canvas for each)
  • Clay (if you can ensure it won’t dry out over the course of the year)
  • Crafting projects such as jewelry or altar items

Inner Work Gear

  • Mini journals with journal prompts
  • Quotes from favorite authors
  • Sentences from your vision statement with intentions for the month
  • Cards with an invitation to develop a specific aspect of your character
  • Stones and crystals that you find healing

Action-Focused Cards

I wrote out a targeted action on which I would like to focus my attention. For instance, this month’s involves reading a chapter in a book. Each of my ideas relates to self-care in a way, but also incorporates other important goals I have such as social engagement, life-long learning and caring for nature.

As I’ve used these kits for several months, I’ve been surprised by the amount of creativity they have generated. For instance, the invitation to focus on a specific character trait has led me to write a poem dedicated to each once a month. For my soon-to-launch Summer Self-Compassion Camp, I will be including a post on painting intuitive self-affirmation cards; I cannot wait to include these in my tools next year. I acknowledge that there was a monetary investment on my part that may not be accessible to everyone; the ironic part of the experience has been that the simple statements, questions and prompts that I wrote out have been the most rewarding and interesting part of the process for me. Even if you have limited funds, taking time to arrange a specific encounter with the Divine and your Inner Wisdom each month is energy well-spent!

If you were to create a series of kits for yourself, what would be the focus? What balance of body-centered, creative and inner work initiatives feels right for you? Where might you place the contents of kit in order to have it serve as a daily touchstone of self-care and connection to Deity?

Magic & Phrase

Acceptance

She attends all that life offers with open hands, releasing the spent wings into the breeze and sheltering the fragile perches in her palms.

Nature gladly alights upon her and receives from her, knowing both the soft surrender and sturdy welcome will endure.

Undulations of blossoming and withering that would unsteady the outstretched grasp of another are met in her embrace as a heartbeat.

Her fingers dance the rhythm as her arms rise in exaltation of a moment–this moment–felt, breathed and held in full sunlight, just as it is.

Inspiration Fanatic

Chocolate Brownie Soufflé

For today’s #InspirationFanatic Friday, I wanted to share a recipe I created on a whim while craving chocolate. It turned out with so much volume and flavor, despite being gluten-free and having no added sugar, that I decided it had to be shared!

~280 calories, 7.5 grams of fiber and 11 grams of protein per serving.

Makes 4 servings.

4 ripe bananas mashed

4 eggs

4 TBS cocoa powder

4 tsp. Clabber Girl baking powder

½ cup (8 TBS) almond flour

1 tsp. vanilla

I have a hard time with portion control with dessert-type foods, so I originally made a single serving of this. Just divide everything by 4 if you wish to do this. The serving size is quite large, use smaller cups and divide into 8 if you want a lower calorie count.

Instructions:

Combine all ingredients in a bowl.

Mix for 1 minute or less—do not over-mix.

Spoon into soufflé cups. Batter should be no more than 1 inch from the top. If your soufflé cups are on the smaller side, you will need more than 4 of them.

Bake at 450 for approximately 20 minutes. Souffle is done when a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Great served warm!