Learning from my errant ways

Consider the cat. He doesn’t make up lists. He doesn’t remind himself to do things. He does things because it feels good, because it is instinct. Part of this instinct is his daily stretching routine. He flexes lazily as he gets up from a nice nap. He stretches as he scratches his paws. He stretches when he settles into a lap.

I have been thinking about this lately because I have been doing physical therapy for my Achilles tendon. My enthusiastic walking led to a walk that was rather farther and more intense one day, and I hurt my Achilles. I wandered around all summer waiting for it to improve, but now I’m getting it treated which has seriously cut back on my walks. You can insert a giant frowning face right here in your imagination. The little yellow icons don’t do my sadness justice.

I will get back to my long walks, but in the meantime I’ve learned that I need to stretch my calves, and stretch them good. Apparently the Achilles can be injured by tight calve muscles, and I wasn’t doing much stretching at all. It makes me wonder what else I’m not stretching. I don’t want anything else to get injured. I’ve decided to take preventative measures. The cat is right, stretching does feel good. I need to make it more of an instinct.

I’ve been doing what I’ve been told to do for my recovery, but I’m planning to get back to some yoga and other similar routines. It’s hard to maintain a joyful life with limits on one’s wanderings, so I know that the time I spend will pay off in trees and critters and all of the things I discover as I ramble about. In the meantime, I’m learning to appreciate the simple pleasures. I’ve graduated from not being allowed walks to being able to walk ten minutes at a time. It’s amazing how grateful I feel for that little bit of freedom.

I’ll have more to share about walking soon, but for right now you’ll need to excuse me. There’s a stretch that’s calling my name.

Your assignment, should you choose to accept it:
279. When was the last time you stretched? Take five minutes and stretch a little right now, and consider adding some stretching to your daily routine. It will make a huge difference.

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I do wander everywhere

I am a busy person with lots of interests, but I’ve recently been thinking a lot about what makes me the happiest. Walking is up near the top of my list. I love to get out and observe the world, and I enjoy the rhythm of the activity itself. In the last week I’ve seen tiger swallowtail butterflies, an urban garden that was new to me, and a bloom of jellyfish. I saw this and much more because I was outside to see it.

I live in Seattle and have been walking daily, so I tend to walk a lot of urban sidewalks in my quest for miles. I am trying to get in at least 10,000 steps a day so I’ll be able to walk for years to come. I find my activity tracker very helpful because I tend to walk more if I’m getting credit for it. It’s silly because the walk would benefit my body either way, but I walk extra just to see the step count add up. The mind is a tricky place.

I’ve also found another nifty tool to motivate my walk. There are a number of sites around the internet that allow you to virtually hike trails. You add your step counts, and the sites will show you where you are along the path. Some of the sites will even show you pictures of the places you’ve just walked. I’m currently walking a virtual trail in Vermont, and I’m really enjoying the view.

Fun walking sites for you to explore (click on the links to be taken there):

  • Walking for fun: This is the site I’m currently using. I plan to put a banner on the side of my site, and I hope it continues to update my mileage. The site has lots of different trails to walk. I started with a trail around Crater Lake, and I’m now walking the Long Trail in Vermont. I enjoy seeing my statistics add up and getting the little award badges. Free.
  • A virtual walk across the USA: The U.S. government has a site which allows you to walk from the West Coast to the East Coast. I haven’t yet tried it, as I feel like I should only virtually walk one trail at a time, but it looks fun. Free.
  • Walking with Attitude: This site has a lot of challenge maps and looks like it gives out some walking advice. It also has award badges and a social component, but this site isn’t free. It looks interesting, but right now not interesting enough for me to pay for it. Paid.

I’m doing all this walking with the eventual goal of a walking vacation in Yorkshire. This has been a goal of mine since I was small, and I want to be in shape for it when I can save up the money to go. In the meantime I’ll be enjoying the many benefits that walking brings. Perhaps I’ll see you out on the virtual trails.

Your assignment, should you choose to accept it:
278. What makes you happy? How are you including it in your week? Make a plan. If you like walking, consider checking out the sites above.

The chirp that refreshes

It’s summer in Seattle, so birds are even more than usual out and about and making their noises. I’ve been watching the crows because the crows have been watching me. They have been yelling at me as I walk one of my usual routes, moving from line to tree so that they can continue to shout at me as I stroll down the street. There must be babies nearby, and they are just making sure I mean them no harm. I don’t. I also noticed the one that often sits outside my window. He makes a sound very like a woodpecker–I am fascinated by his clicking.

On another path I heard a sweet cheeping. Stopping and listening, I finally located a small nest of starlings perched in a vine arbor on the side of a local building. They were small and sweet and I left them alone, but I was happy to have had the experience.

Later that day I was waiting for a bus and saw a male pigeon strutting his stuff to impress the ladies. He puffed out his chest and walked in circles. He fanned his tail feathers. The female pigeons were not at all impressed. I also saw a pigeon with an egg stuck to its underside up on the telephone wire. Apparently sometimes the eggs break and the sticky insides glue the egg to the birds. Poor thing! I wish I could have reached up to help.

I cannot tell you all about birds and their life cycles or recite all of their scientific names. I cannot identify all of their calls, but I have learned a lot by just watching them as they go about their daily lives. Birds remind me to look up and around me. There is a lot going on in the world that has nothing to do with people, and it’s fun to be a part of that. When I hear one of their calls I try to stand still and see if I can spy the bird that made the sound. Birds bring me back to the moment, to the here and now away from electronic screens and in the present. I take a deep breath and thank them.

Your assignment, should you choose to accept it:
249. Be aware of the birds as you go about your daily business. What kinds of birdsong do you hear? What sorts of birds do you see? What times of the day do they make the most noise?

Onward and upward

I spent Easter hiking Tiger Mountain with a friend here in the beautiful state of Washington. We hiked for seven hours plus breaks up some very steep trails, climbing over things, switching back and forth, and generally wearing ourselves out. We finally got to one of the summits after following a false trail for a bit, and got some really pretty views on the way up, and a mediocre one at the top elevation of 2522 feet. I had a great time, although I’m not entirely sure I’ll be able to walk tomorrow. I’m already very stiff and sore, and I hope this post will be coherent. I’m still really glad I went.

I’ve always liked hiking, and I haven’t had a chance to go in a long time. I don’t have a car, and the bus doesn’t go out to the mountains. It doesn’t really matter—a few years ago I wouldn’t have been able to make this climb. I used to weigh a lot more than I do, and though I’m not quite where I want to be, I have lost quite a few pounds. It used to be a struggle for me to get up a flight of stairs, and I would have to stop and take breaks sometimes to climb the two flights to my apartment. Since then I’ve started lifting weights regularly, going dancing, and getting a lot of exercise. I eat better and have given up sugar, which makes my knees much happier with me. Today was a bit of struggle, but a few years ago, it would have been completely impossible.

I’ve also gotten better at trusting myself. I had to walk across a narrow plank up above a rushing stream. It was mossy, and there were no handholds. I wasn’t exactly comfortable, but even scared I walked across. I feel very good about that, and even better that I didn’t slip and turn an ankle.

I love the woods, and I hope to get out there more often. We saw some early wildflowers, and some birds, but not a lot of wildlife. My favorite sighting was a goldfish cracker marooned in the dirt. I’m sure some hungry critter will soon enjoy the small morsel of junk food. Even sore, I can’t wait to do it again, although my couch and I have bonded this evening. I know we’ll be very happy together. I love a challenge, and I feel so much better when I’ve completed it.

Your mission, should you choose to accept it:
235. How long has it been since you’ve been out on a hike? Get out there and see how it feels. If you hike regularly, what can you do to kick it up a notch? What other challenges can you give yourself?

 

Recharge

I work from home, and it’s tempting to work all the time. We’ve all been told that more effort leads to more results—your nose should be to the grindstone at all times if you want to succeed. Recent studies have challenged this notion, and I’ve found that if I take time to recharge my batteries I can get more done in less time. My creativity is better, my mood is better, and I get more done with less effort.

Friday I recharged by going to museums. I went to the Henry art museum. The main gallery was closed for installation, but I was able to see some smaller exhibits. It was the usual mixture—some of it I really liked, but other things seemed a bit too ethereal to grasp. I look forward to going back and seeing the main gallery—the upcoming show looks incredible. I also really enjoyed the architecture—the building has some lovely vaulting.

My friend and I had time, so next we toured the Burke Museum which focuses on Natural History. I really liked it. I’m not that excited by dinosaurs, and we passed those quickly, but they’ve got a lot of incredible exhibits of cultural artifacts from the local Native American tribes and Polynesia. I want to go back with a sketchbook one of these days.

Our final stop was at the Suzzallo Library on the University of Washington campus. This was my favorite part of the day—the library reminded me of the New York Public Library. We went to the reading room which is a cathedral of books. It looks like a church and has long lighted tables and a discernible silence. You don’t have to be a student to go, and I plan to make more pilgrimages there to sit and work in the gorgeous quiet.

I have a membership that got me into the museums, so the whole outing was accomplished with nothing more than bus fare. This was the first time I had visited any of these places, and I left full of energy and ideas. I know it was worth the time it took me to take a break from my labors, and I look forward to my next outings. Now I just have to decide where to go.

Your assignment, should you choose to accept it:
230. Do you need to recharge your batteries? Where can you go in your town that you haven’t been? It’s time to make a date with yourself or a friend—find new places to explore or visit old favorites. You’ll be glad you did.

There is life beyond wi-fi

Recently one of my haiku friends remarked to me that it’s hard to find silence in an age where we’re all carrying around so many electronic devices. I started to think about that. It’s true in a way. If we’re not listening to music or watching videos we’re receiving alerts or playing games. We’re constantly in touch with the news, with Facebook, with email, and with other sources, so even if we’ve got physical silence, the mental silence we all need to breathe can sometimes be compromised. We are not doomed. There are several ways to combat this even if you don’t want to toss your devices off the nearest pier. Here are some suggestions:

  • Remember that they have an “off” button. You may need to be connected, but do you need to be connected at this very moment? You’ll probably be more productive if you check your email or social media less frequently and respond to everything at a dedicated time. Put down the phone and pick up your coffee. Relax a little.
  • Use the device to introduce peace and order into your day. Even though our electronics can feel like our masters, they really are tools—very powerful ones. Use a to-do app to list your concerns and get on with your day. I’ve also found some great apps that ring a mindfulness bell at random moments—when the bell chimes, I take a moment to take a deep breath and look around me. 
  • Consider observing the Sabbath. Many religious traditions set aside Saturday or Sunday as a day to disconnect from daily routines and reconnect with ourselves and our loved ones. This is a tradition you can adopt for yourself, regardless of your faith. If you simply must stay in touch, perhaps you can take some quiet time for yourself in smaller chunks. Go outside and take a walk amongst the trees. Go to a gym and sit in the sauna. Share a meal with friends.

You are in charge of your electronics. If you make your choices using joy as your compass you may find that you’re using them in whole new ways. Have fun out there!

Your assignment, should you choose to accept it:
229. How do you use electronics? In what ways do they enhance your life? In what way do they detract? What can you do to optimize your experience?

 

So much to see

Today I’d like to share something Buddhist with you. I’m not going to try to convince you to accept Buddha as your lord and savior—that’s not something we do anyway. I’d like to share the evening prayer that I say as a Buddhist, because I believe it has relevance for many people, whatever their faith traditions (even if your faith tradition is atheism.)

Every evening before I go to bed, this is the prayer I say:

“I beg to urge you everyone
life and death is a great matter
all things pass quickly away.
Awaken! Awaken!
Take heed. Make use of this precious life.”

I like it. I think it’s a good reminder. Did I use my precious life well? Some days we simply drift through the day, not really present. We move down the endless to-do list, but are we really doing things that need to be done? We all have tasks are non-negotiable—bills must be paid, work must happen, dishes must be washed. In other matters, I try to remember the Evening Prayer and use joy as my compass. I want to spend my time with people who give me energy. I want to use my day well.

I also work very hard on being mindful. It’s surprising when you first start to notice it, but even very observant people miss so much of what’s going on around them at any one time. I can be out walking, thinking about the people I need to call, the errands I have to run, and I might miss some of what’s going on right where I am. I want to see the spider web spun between the branches with the droplets of rain. I would be sorry to miss the children walking by with beehive hairdos. I need to see the raccoon ambling by the bus shelter late in the evening.

These are the little pleasures the universe affords us, and once you start paying attention you will notice how much there really is to see. What might you be missing? Isn’t it time to find out?

Your assignment, should you choose to accept it:

228. Take a mindful walk around your neighborhood. Pay attention to what is going on around you. What can you notice about this area that might not have been there before? You can also try this sitting down somewhere safe with your eyes closed. Listen to the sounds around you—what are you hearing? What does that tell you about your environment?