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Wide Awake

I usually experience an opening or awakening in the springtime when my soul seems to wake up after a long troubled sleep. I see things clearly again. That didn’t happen this year. It started to. I felt a few moments of wide open clarity early on when I first saw the daffodils come up or on the first warm day, but I feel like I never really woke up. I’ve never had an awakening at this time of year, in the late fall or winter. This is usually when I feel my spirit darkening like tinted glass, when I close off and hunker down inside for a long period of deliberate unconsciousness where I try my best to ignore what’s going on around me.

Instead, I feel bright. Sure, I get tired and a little gloomy in the dark, early evenings sometimes, but most of the time I feel amazing. Something about these cold, clear days; the changing color palette; and watching the trees strip down to their essence is incredibly cleansing, as if the old ideas are becoming brittle and breaking away, leaving me sharp, clear, and wide open for the cold winds to whistle though. It’s like splash of cold water to the face to wake up in the morning.

I may feel differently in a few weeks, but right now I’m going to enjoy this. Maybe winter and I can be friends. Anything is possible.

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Spiritual Spring Cleaning

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I made it through another one.

Winter and I have never been on very good terms, but it feels like the last several years have been much worse. Even though I see this as a valuable challenge in my life that will ultimately help me grow stronger, I still hate winter. I hate feeling like crap in the winter. When I think of winter, I also think of lots of swear words, but I won’t write them here.

Each spring feels like a lungful of fresh air after I feel like I’ve been half-smothered for the past few months. I can’t tell you how amazing I feel when I first smell that special springy smell for the first time each year. It feels like hope, a fresh start. I feel like laughing and crying and rolling around in the grass like a maniac though the grass is still brown and there’s usually still some snow on the ground at this point.

I’m not naive enough to think that it will be all sunshine from here on out. I live in Utah, which is known for schizo weather. We might get snow, rainstorms, a tornado, who knows. It’s spring though, and that’s good enough for me.

I tend to go numb in the winter, so when spring rolls around I find it helpful to take a fresh look at my life and take stock, sort of like surveying the damage after a flood.

  • I’ve slipped back into some habits that don’t serve me like stressing out over trifles, some emotional eating, and not eating enough veggies.
  • I’ve put on about 10 pounds this winter due to aforementioned emotional eating. I’m not upset or anything, but I don’t think my body likes it much. I know that it will fall right off when I get my head back in a good place. It always does. At least my pants aren’t too big anymore.
  • My creativity lagged a little for awhile, mostly around the time I went back to work full time, but I feel like things are flowing again.
  • I’ve had time to think long and hard about my goals and priorities and I feel like I’m on the right path. I’m learning to balance goals with living in the moment, which is a rough lesson for me. I’m better at living in the past or future rather than the present, but here is all we have. It’s a beautiful skill.
  • I’m experiencing some food sensitivities and blood sugar issues again, which is a reminder to let food fade into the background rather than relying on it as a prime source of excitement or strength in my life.
  • I get to start all over on what little tan I managed to get last year. A tan for me, by the way, means that I don’t blend into the white walls in my apartment. Time to get my pasty bod back out in the sun!

Though my tone is quite snarky and slightly dry today, I actually feel extremely hopeful right now. I’m noticing that people around me seem to be perking up too. People seem to smile more, they have more energy. Spring is good for us.

Spring cleaning is always something I’ve enjoyed because I love to clear out the old stuff and feel fresh. I haven’t really made plans for spring cleaning yet, but I’ll be sure to do that soon.

What I have been thinking about is a Spiritual Spring Cleaning, in which I clear out some old ideas, habits, and mindsets that don’t suit me anymore. I’ve been noticing a lot of those things cropping up lately, and now I feel ready to shed them so I can grown. I’ve already started spontaneously, before I even knew what to call it. I’ve been instinctively writing a ton in my journal, reading through passages in my books that never meant anything to me before, listening to things that inspire me, etc. It’s like I heard a little voice in my ear that said “McKella, it’s time for you to grow.”

Now I’m doing what I need to do to find those stale mindsets that keep me stuck, question them, and then let them go.

I think I should make this my new yearly ritual.

How about you? Do you do spring cleaning? Do you have any old junk to clear out for your Spiritual Spring Cleaning?

Signs of Spring

I visited my family this past weekend and while I was out gathering eggs from my dad’s chickens, I noticed that something in the air felt different. I recognized it.

Even though there was still snow on the ground and my ears were numb from the cold, I swear I could smell spring. Winter isn’t just about the cold or darkness, I always feel like something in the air is missing. Everything feels dead to me. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but the air is definitely different in the spring and summer. I’ve felt it a few times over the last two weeks, and each time it fills me up with tingly, bubbly joy. I feel like laughing and crying at once. I feel like I’m getting something that I’ve been deprived of for a long time, something I didn’t realize I was starving for. I never notice when that magic in the air fades away, but I notice when it comes back.

I saw green things for the first time in months.

This is exactly how I feel in the spring.

Beautiful Winter

If you’ve been reading Handprint Soul for more than a day or two, you know that I’m not the biggest fan of winter. In fact, this is the time of year when I usually begin my annual “daffodil mope,” where I feel dead and gray inside until the first daffodils pop up and fill me with hope.

I have to admit though, winter can be pretty sometimes. Though I much prefer sunshine, flowers, and green grass, it’s hard not to appreciate the silver and blue palette of winter.

I woke up to the first decent snowfall we’ve had all year, and I decided to get outside for a tromp through our famous Utah powder before it melted off the tree branches.

I love the way snow looks when it clings to the branches. It makes my neighborhood look like Narnia.

It just goes to show that there’s beauty in everything, even and especially the uncomfortable things.

 

First Snow

As much as I dislike winter, I’ll admit that this one has been pretty sweet so far. We finally got some of the white stuff after a bone-dry Christmas and lots of glorious sunshine. I can’t complain. January blizzards bring May flowers right?

I wouldn’t call this a blanket of snow though. More like a poorly-knitted afghan of snow. Still, it’s moisture and a beautiful part of nature’s cycle. I got out for a walk to enjoy this little dusting of snow while it’s still here. Maybe winter has finally kicked in…

Though I don’t mind the sunshine.

I love to see blue sky after a storm. It reminds me that nature is optimistic.

A Different Kind of Magic

Somehow it’s Christmas Eve already.

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This has been kind of a weird Christmas season for me and my family. It’d be easy to feel sad or let down because the season hasn’t been quite as “magical” as I’d hoped in a lot of ways. I never got around to making a lot of the crafts and treats I’d planned on or watched all my Christmas movies or listen to all my favorite Christmas songs. No snow yet, so it doesn’t look like Christmas. I’m also living in a new city that holds no Christmas memories for me.

But I’m not sad. It’s Christmas, and I’m with my family. It’s ok that it’s not perfect. I’m still grateful for it and I welcome this holiday season and all and all it has to offer. Fun, weird, goofy, hodge-podge, whatever.

Peace, joy, love, and fun are unconditional. 

But Christmas has a way of being magical somehow, even if we never got around to putting up Christmas lights or if there aren’t many presents under the tree.

One of my most magical Christmas memories was when I was 9 or 10. Every winter, a giant ice patch used to appear in our field. I don’t know whether Dad flooded it or if the well did it on it’s own, but that Christmas eve at sunset, I took my little brother out to slide on the ice.

The neighbors across the streets had just turned on their traditional configuration of lights, and as the sun went down, I witnessed that moment when the sky finally darkens and the lights become brighter than the last colors of the sunset. I can’t explain what happened that moment, but the air just crackled with magic.

The snow, the lights, my pink-cheeked toddler brother, and the faint echoes of Christmas music from my house filled my soul with some of the purest joy I’d ever felt. Not  the kind of joy that makes you want to dance around your room laughing and giggling, but the joy that nearly brings you to your knees in sheer gratitude of being alive.

That’s the kind of joy I try to express in my art, and that’s the feeling I strive to allow into my heart each day. 

I wish you a holiday full  of peace and that special joy.

Winter Solstice and Winter Self-Care

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Although it’s been freezing and frosty for weeks, today is the first official day of winter, or the day the Winter Solstice occurs. Those of us in the Northern Hemisphere are the furthest we’ll ever  be from the sun, that life-giving source of heat and light.  Today, the gradual shortening of the days ends and many cultures around the world celebrate rebirth. Today is the shortest and darkest day of the year, and time seems to stand still as nature lies dormant. The trees have shed their leaves, the sap has frozen, the birds have migrated. All is silent.

I was going to create a painting to celebrate this special day, but my spirit and body seems to have aligned with nature because I too have slowed down. I’m ok with this, because I think it’s what my body needs.

My big goal with winter and winter blues this year is to make peace, while giving my body and spirit the best support I can. Dark days are hard for me. I’ve been fatigued and melancholy lately. Not depressed, just less enthusiastic.

I’ve also been reading all I can about the effects of winter on the body and spirit.  Though it seemed a little “woo woo” at first, I’ve really come to understand the concept of yin and yang, the two complementary energies that govern the universe. Yin is slow, cool, wet, feminine energy while yang is fast, hot, dry, masculine energy. Winter is yin, while summer is yang. These two energies exist within us and we feel better when they’re balanced. Makes sense.

Today is the slowest, most yin day of the year.  During the winter, we have very little yang energy to spare and quite a bit of yin energy. This can look like we have no energy, but yin energy is just slower and more  contemplative.

In the winter, we can balance these energies by building and conserving what yang we have, and releasing excess yin. Do yin exercise, like restorative yoga and walking while avoiding strenuous yang activity like running and aerobics. Eat yang foods (warming spices like ginger, garlic, cayenne, cinnamon and tumeric) and avoid cold yin foods like cucumbers, lettuce, and mango (i.e. “summery” foods).

This concept was galvanized for me yesterday when I felt kinda bla and attempted my favorite exercise DVD, hoping to gain some energy. I made it about ten minutes in before feeling like I was going to keel over. However, I was all warmed up for a walk, so I bundled up and took a stroll around the block instead. It felt great, then I for a yummy, yang-building lunch I had eggs scrambled with onions, tumeric and garlic salt.

So instead of burning yang energy that you don’t have today, try slowing down. Trade your kickboxing class for some gentle yoga, have a spicy stir-fry for dinner, and enjoy a quiet evening rather than running around Christmas shopping, preparing for parties, or doing chores.

Take the hint from nature. This is a time to slow down, focus inward, and renew.

Inspiration Field Trips

Sometimes the best thing to get inspired is to take a walk or a drive with a camera and a sketchbook.

Last week we drove to a family Christmas party two hours away to Redmond, a tiny town in central Utah near where my mom grew up, and where I spent quite a bit of my childhood. It’s in the middle of nowhere and probably has more horses and chickens than people. I love the rolling hills and wide open fields.

Recently I realized the the surreal landscapes I often draw and paint are my own versions of this landscape, so I made sure to take a camera and sketchbook to hopefully catch some inspiration as we drove.

Winter and I aren’t the best of friends, but I love the way trees look without leaves, and I love this landscape any time of year. I watched these same hills in the car growing up as we drove down to Redmond to visit family, go to parties, or to camp.

It’s hard to get good pictures at 50 miles an hour (don’t worry, I wasn’t the one driving) but I did manage to get some decent ones. Please excuse the blurriness. I hope you can see what I see in these tangled trees and speckled hills.

I think I need to drive down to visit my aunt, and this time actually get out of the car to take pictures.

Making Peace with Winter Blues

“Live each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influences of each.”

Henry David Thoreau

It’s that time of year again. Since I was a child, I’ve had winter blues. I’ve never been officially diagnosed with SAD (seasonal affective disorder) but I know that my moods, energy levels, appetites, and creativity are very seasonal. Even my art is seasonal.

I usually dread this time of year and pretend it isn’t happening. I curse the snowfalls, the darkness and the cold and I retreat into my little turtle shell until spring. I always pretend that this year will be different. I will eat the right foods, exercise a ton to keep my serotonin up, take all the supplements I need, somehow find the money for a light box, etcetera etcetera etcetera. Has it ever worked? Nope.

This year though, I’ve decided to stop fighting it. Call a truce. Make peace with winter. I’ve accepted that I’m entering my low-key, quiet, contemplative time of year. I need to allow myself to be slower, quieter, and to even…enjoy the change of pace.

I know I’m not the only one who feels like a slug all winter, so I wanted to share some ideas of how we can embrace this time and stay healthy.

  • Do what you can to stay healthy, but don’t be militant. Simple carbs like sugar and white flour can raise serotonin levels briefly, but often leave you craving more. Get enough protein to keep your blood sugar stable. Exercise helps boost your mood, but be compassionate on the days where you really need a rest. Make it easy to stay healthy. Stock up on healthy staples and if you have a freezer, try preparing a bunch of healthy meals in advance like soups, casserole or stir-fry and crock-pot meal ingredients that you just have to open and dump into the cooking apparatus. Pick up some fun exercise videos. I’m a fan of belly dance, kundalini yoga and kickboxing videos.
  • Keep warm. I’m a frugal person, but I’ve found that one of the nicest things I can do for myself during the winter is to shell out the extra money on the gas bill to keep my apartment warm and to take lots of hot baths. Also, I notice that I’m a lot more likely to exercise if I’m not freezing. Invest in an electric blanket and cute, warm clothes to layer. Get some warm exercise clothes if you plan on trying to exercise outside.
  • Remove as many stressors as possible before your energy starts to sink. Do your holiday shopping early and/or online. Do a deep “Fall cleaning” so you don’t have to be as vigilant with housekeeping in the winter. Prepare Christmas cards early. Take on less responsibility if possible so you can create “white space” in your schedule, and give yourself plenty of “transition time” instead of rushing from obligation to obligation. Take care of as many nasty chores as you can before the temperature drops. For me, this means car maintenance. Blegh.
  • Take advantage of sunny days. Get as much sun as you can. Decorate your home with candles and lights. The lack of light is a huge factor of winter blues. It’s no accident that many winter celebrations that take place at the darkest time of year include light as a major part of their traditions. Think Hanukah candles and Christmas lights.
  • Make your home beautiful all winter. I hate taking down Christmas decorations, because then my home looks so drab and depressing after a month of lights and glittering ornaments and beautiful colors. This year after I take down my little tree, I want to put up some other beautiful winter decorations so I won’t have to look around at the newly dreary walls and feel sad after I put the Christmas décor back in the closet.
  • Find things to celebrate, but don’t try to overdo it.My November Gratitude Project is a good example.  Perhaps you could spend the evening of the winter solstice taking a candle lit bath, or read a special book. This gives you things to look forward to and ways to make peace with  the season rather than fighting it.
  • Acceptance, compassion, and gentleness. You probably won’t be the Energizer Bunny during the winter. It’s ok. There is a season for everything. I get some good thinking done in the winter. Read good books, think, write in your journal, learn to knit. This is the season for slowness. Nature takes a rest, and you can too.  You will have rough days, but this is also a time to exercise patience. Spring will come. It always does.

Happy winter!

Respecting the need to slow down

I had some really nasty dreams last night, we won’t get into that but when I have bad dreams, getting up doesn’t count. I feel like I wasted all my sleep time. It’s kind of like my cousin Dane rationalizing that “free time didn’t count because I didn’t have that much fun.” Great. I’m turning into a seven-year-old.

I finally looked at the clock at 7:40, which is a reasonable time to get up, but I just couldn’t. I don’t like sleeping past 7 or 7:30, but I don’t work today. I have nothing I have to do today (except pack and maybe decorat a Christmas jar. And put gift coupons into envelopes.)

Why did I dread getting up?

Because I felt like getting up meant I had to put in an exercise video and go for it. And I didn’t want to.

Dilemma: Allow myself to be lazy even though I know it won’t serve me, or to force myself to exercise when I don’t want to?

IE isn’t permission to pig out on churros or to be a couch potato, but quite the opposite. My body was telling me it wasn’t ready for action yet even thought it didn’t want to sleep more. Ok, I respect that.

So I got up and sat on the couch with my computer until I feel like doing something. I have that luxury courtesy of Christmas break, and I know my body well enough to know that after a little while, it will want to move, just not the second I pop out of bed.

I have the urge, and guess what I feel like doing? Walking in the snow and taking pictures of this winter wonderland. I can hardly believe it myself. I don’t like snow, I dislike cold even more and I really hate wet feet, and I’m sure to encounter all on my walk. Frozen fingers while trying to get a shot of frosted tree branches? Check. Numb face? Check. But it sounds like fun. It won’t burn calories like a 45 minute Tae-bo video, but it will make me feel good (once the numbness goes away.)

So I leave you know to put on a couple pairs of pants, a sweatshirt, wool socks and my whole hat/scarf/glove collection, and I hope you have a wonderful holiday, and if I don’t write before then, Merry Christmas!