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.


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.

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?


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?







You had me at cormorants

Yesterday I took a day off and stood in the middle of an empty downtown, contemplating the old Roxy theater. The marquis was now advertising Jesus. I walked by war memorials with bits of submarines, and a gift shop that still had an old-fashioned soda machine in the entryway. A retired warship sat in the harbor, its cannons pointed up in a salute that was less welcoming than I might have desired. I felt a little like I had just walked into an episode of The Twilight Zone. Despite this, I was not distressed.

I’d come to Bremerton for the ferry ride, a cheap way to get a mini-vacation from my home base in Seattle. For less than buying lunch you can get two hours out on the water and a chance to get out of town. I could have gone to Bainbridge Island, which has cute little shops and white picket fences, but I almost always choose Bremerton. Bainbridge is much closer, so there’s less time to enjoy the ride and see the sights. I enjoyed watching the cormorants drying their wings, and the loons fishing in the bay. On the way back to Seattle the ferry changed direction and Mount Rainier appeared to rise from Elliot Bay, more majestic than the sunset that surrounded it. I’ve heard you can sometimes see whales and seals from the ferry, but I’ve never yet been that lucky.

I also really enjoy wandering around Bremerton. It’s home to a navy shipyard, so the apparent emptiness most likely means that the people are all busy at work. There’s a free naval museum, but it didn’t happen to be open, so it’ll be a good excuse to go back. I may pass up the warship, though. It seems slightly ominous. I enjoyed the silence on my long walk, and the starfish and seagulls in the slight murk of the revamped harbor. It’s rare to experience such quiet tranquility in a downtown area, so I savored it. It’s fun to explore somewhere new, and without the cute little shops I’m not tempted to spend money I shouldn’t. Like everywhere in Washington, there are many options for decent coffee. As long as the essentials are covered, I’m a happy camper. I can’t wait to go back, to take another mini-vacation from my working day. I returned back to my activities refreshed, holding yesterday’s silence in my heart. I love my adopted city and all the opportunities it provides.

Your assignment, should you choose to accept it:

225. Take a day off from your commitments to recharge your batteries, and explore somewhere close by that you’ve never visited. What did you find that surprised you? What was the best part of the experience? The worst? Share the details with a friend.


Finding the moments

I’ve started writing a daily haiku. It’s one of my commitments this year, and it wasn’t done for any specific reason, beyond the fact that my friend was doing it and I decided to accept the challenge. I passed it on so there are three of us. So far I’ve met my commitment and written a haiku every day, sometimes more. It’s been really good for me. Not only does the process allow me to work on writing for myself (as opposed to the paid work I do) but it also helps with my mindfulness. When I go out on my walks now, I am searching for my haiku. Travelling around, I look for them on bus seats and park benches. I found today’s in the middle of an exhausted fog–it was sitting right there, staring at me.

As a Zen girl, I believe in mindfulness. It’s good to look around you and be where you are. There are so many things you can miss if you are staring at a screen, making to-do lists in your head or all of the other myriad distractions of modern life. You might miss the wonders of the universe–so many little moments that can make or break a day. In rural areas you might miss the beauties of nature, and in more urban areas you might miss what I like to call our “urban wildlife.” This is not a good thing to do, because sometimes the urban wildlife is hostile. You need to be aware of your surroundings to keep yourself safe.

This isn’t to say that cities aren’t full of birds and other critters. One of my favorite sights is watching pigeons eating french fries. We have a burger joint on the hill that’s more like a drive-in, and people either eat in their cars or stand around in clumps consuming their deep-fried goodies. Pigeons and seagulls are happy to help with whatever is left.

I don’t want to miss out on these impromptu little goodies that nature provides me. I’m also really enjoying the haikus that my friends are writing. It’s good to get a glimpse into their daily lives, especially as these are friends that live too far away. Haiku brings them closer. That’s a lot of benefits for seventeen syllables.

Your assignment, should you choose to accept it:

224. Go out looking for a haiku. When you find it, write it down. The standard format is three lines, with the first line being five syllables, the second seven syllables, and the final line five syllables. If you need examples, check out the links. If you are so inspired, I’d love to see your examples in the comments.

Links, should you desire them: 

My haiku blog is called Haiku Plate Special, and you can find it here:

My friend Gabrielle’s haiku blog is called Balsamic Pearls, and you can find it here:

Our other friend isn’t publishing his online, so I can’t share those, but they are as fabulous as he is.