Permission to feel

I was going to write about the few quiet days that I spent on the couch, convalescing after having rolled my ankle while on a beautiful trek. My ankle is better now and I am fairly certain that I have written before, numerous times, about how much we can learn about ourselves when we take a break from the world. Alas, sometimes those breaks are of our own volition, but more often, they are forced upon us.

Now that my ankle has (mostly) healed, what has been on my mind are thoughts about Christmas festivities. Joni Mitchell’s River is on repeat somewhere at the back of my head. No, it does not snow here. It tends to stay pretty green; except, with the recent lack of rain, the grass in our town is looking more like golden hay. As for making lots of money and quitting this crazy scene? Well, I do daydream of a white Christmas. But I’m starting to become tangled in my songs.

I wrote another post about the difficulties I have been experiencing settling into Kiwi summer holiday traditions in the lead-up to our first NZ Christmas, then chose to not publish it from worry that it sounds peevish. I do keep in my mind that at least a few of my friends in the northern hemisphere are already feeling tired of the cold weather. In the interest of maintaining sensitivity and not turning this blog into a platform to whine in Scrooge fashion, I will not venture any further.

What I will tell you, however, is that this year, I am letting go of my usual tendency to try to create the perfect Christmas. This year, Santa will be lucky to have just a few cookies with his glass of milk as a midnight snack on Christmas Eve. I have been staying far away from the hot oven. There are a few other corners that I have been cutting. I normally love Christmas, but this year it does not feel the same. And that is okay. I am giving myself permission to feel incomplete. I am giving myself permission to not watch Love Actually and sing Walking in a Winter Wonderland. I suspect I might end up watching my favourite holiday films and sing beloved Christmas songs in July, in the middle of a NZ winter. And that also is okay.

Dear reader, I am choosing to share this post with you because I know I am not alone in feeling slightly sad at Christmas this year. Some of you have different reasons for feeling that way this season. Whatever those reasons are, wherever in the world you might be reading these words, I hope that you can join me in giving yourself permission to hold space for your emotions and allow yourself to focus on self-care, remembering that only impermanence is here to stay.

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It always helps me, when I experience sadness or anxiety, to go outside for a walk and reconnect with Nature. These vibrant Pohutukawa trees are Nature’s Christmas gift to Kiwis. Due to their timely blooming in December, they are known as the NZ Christmas tree.

Working smarter

I have been contemplating the idea of Yin and Yang in relation not only to yoga and various forms of fitness but also to how we approach the myriad daily tasks on our calendars.

My practice these days, both on and off the mat, is doing Yang (active / busy) things with a Yin (calm and passive) attitude, only putting in the minimal amount of effort required. I once assumed that everything had to be worked to a polished sparkle; today, I intentionally observe and embrace the beautiful imperfections that comprise the many people and things that we love and enjoy.

In an effort to maintain a careful balance amid the ebb and flow of our lives, some days, we inevitably put in additional hours of work, pushing ahead to make progress. Even then, and perhaps especially then, it’s possible to make space for softness, to breathe deeper instead of gritting our teeth. That practice can often feel challenging. We have come to believe that we must always be busy and work harder. Curiously, regardless of the assumed attitude during the completion of the task, the result will often be the same. Yet, a calmer pace benefits us in the long run. Today, I challenge you to work smarter, progressing while staying connected to your breath and moving mindfully. This is a valuable practice both in yoga and off the mat. When we work smarter, we create space for what is most enjoyable and important to us. There is no need to hurry or push ahead.

I am creating space for more summer fun with my family and for gentle re-commitment to my practice. Blog updates may be a bit more sporadic in the next few weeks.

I invite you to take a few minutes to sit quietly and breathe deeply, then write down a few items on your ‘to do’ list and your plan for moving with a Yin attitude as you go about completing those tasks.

Until next time, please share this blog with a friend.FSCN0707

Finding Presence: The perfect avocado toast

It was a typical busy morning in the Wanderlust household as I served breakfast, packed lunches, ushered the Wanderlust Juniors out the door, then speed-walked after them as they rode their scooters to school. Later, returning home with a growling stomach, I finally had time to prepare some breakfast. I felt unsettled after a rushed morning routine that left me with no time to sit down to catch my breath. Later, as I stood in our quiet kitchen, my gaze panned over the messy floor of the adjacent family room, then returned to what was before me: two slices of toasted bread and an avocado on a wooden board atop a cluttered counter.

I chose, for the moment, to ignore the clutter. I sliced into the perfectly ripe avocado and exhaled with relief to find it ideal inside, a smooth, creamy green. I enjoyed every bite of the avocado toast in complete silence, save for the sound of the birds’ song outside the window. In this season of my life, juxtapositions abound. A noisy house in the morning gives way to silence that feels luxurious through lunchtime. The same noisy, vibrant energy returns to fill the rooms after the school day ends, then the house envelopes us in its sleepy tranquility.

I delight in those cycles and treasure the small gifts of a full day, making space to observe the transitions and creating opportunities to take breaks, to simply sit, if only for a short minute, and listen, watch, feel, breathe. Some days, the perfect avocado toast is precisely what I need to return to Presence, to feel gratitude for this ordinary day with its ebb and flow.

What steps can you take today to return to Presence? Hint: It’s in the little things.

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More about avocado… A few months ago, shortly after our move to NZ, Mr. Wanderlust saved the pit of an avocado, drilled three small holes into it, and stuck three wooden skewers inside. We immersed it in water inside a jar and kept it on the windowsill. Today, this is the result of our patient care. We have another, larger avocado tree, in our backyard. I purchased it recently from the local garden centre. It will be a while yet before this little seedling will be ready for planting, but we are starting to think of soon moving it into potted soil to allow it to continue to thrive.

Nature is awesome

#natureisawesome. I have been using that hashtag when sharing new images on my Instagram page, which is peppered with photos of books interspersed with scenic images of NZ nature. Earlier this morning, while driving in loops with Mr. Wanderlust, in search of an elusive track around a waterfall, I rounded the corner and felt my breath catch in my throat. Before us opened a magnificent view: rolling green hills overlooking a deep blue line of the ocean to our right, with Mount Maunganui and more Pacific blue to our left. I was struck with awe, yet the ubiquitous word ‘awesome’ suddenly felt too commonplace a description for this experience.

I have been a nature explorer since childhood. I vividly recall Sunday mornings when my parents would pack a picnic into a backpack and we would walk to the nearby forest, my playground. Later, in my teens, the weekend tradition continued. I would sit in the back of my parents’ car, quietly observing the countryside fields and forests on the way to a nature reserve. Sure, I complained from time to time about how much I wished I could have stayed home, but my mother always saw through the facade. Returning home after a soulful day out, blissfully exhausted, she felt it in the serene smile on my face.

One of our main intentions, upon deciding to move to NZ, was to dedicate our time to exploring the country and its beautiful beaches, mountains, and various other hiking — or tramping, as they are known here — tracks. On weekends and during school holidays, the Wanderlust Juniors join us, playing games along the way. Once, after several rainy days in the winter, they accompanied me on a muddy walk near a farm. Trust yours truly to venture off the beaten path to where the cows are. After they had started to get annoyed at having to jump over cow dung, I attempted to make the experience more fun for them by making up games and singing ‘Hey, diddle, diddle’ to the cows. Last weekend, during a bush walk up a hill, the Wanderlust Juniors created their own game upon feeling inspired by the forest.

“I’m Gandalf!” the eldest declared.

“I want to be Gandalf!” the youngest protested in return.

“You can be Saruman, but when he was good, in The Hobbit.”

With their walking staffs, they ran ahead to escape the Orcs — you guessed it, Mr. Wanderlust and me.

They observe, even when they run fast and appear lost in a fantasy world. Just as I once pretended to dance with the faeries in the clearing. The scent of warm pines in the summer and the song of the sparrows transports me, every time, back to that moment. Nature is awesome.

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What are your favourite places to walk, hike, run, and explore?

It takes effort to walk down a different street

I have been thinking about this poem as I move through my day, teaching classes, preparing meals, vacuuming my home, or picking up the Wanderlust Juniors from school. In my practice of mindfulness, I would like to be able to confidently say that I remain aware of each step along the way. Some days, however, I find myself distracted, or tired, my thoughts scattered as I attempt to multitask.

I know I am not alone in feeling this way. We all have pitfalls. We all sometimes feel tempted to take the easy way out. It’s easy to reach for a second slice of cake when others around are doing it, without questioning whether we truly do feel hungry. It’s easier to give in to the myriad other age-old habits that do not serve us than to work consciously to form new habits.

What is it, then, that can facilitate our awareness? What can make us succeed on this path and remain consistent in our day-to-day practice? Gretchen Rubin’s research on the four tendencies certainly helps to bring us closer to forming new habits and meeting expectations that we set for ourselves. However, the real grit of the work is in daily intention to move, sit, speak, eat, and act with mindful integrity. Some days, this takes a great effort, and at the end of some days, we may feel that we are far from having met our intentions. On this journey, each day provides a new opportunity to let go of the old and dare, gently, to make different decisions. Eventually, we might find ourselves walking down that others street, avoiding the hole in the sidewalk.

As of late, my intention is simple: to feel good, physiologically, mentally, and spiritually. I want to feel whole, grounded, and at peace, particularly amid the inevitable chaos that often accompanies the life of a mother of two school-aged boys. That intention reminds me to make choices that bring me closer to feeling the way I want to feel and, in turn, avoid doing that which likely would take me farther from that goal.

What is your intention today? Please leave a comment below, and share this blog with a friend who might enjoy its content.

Favourites from around the web:

Another beloved poem

Thought-provoking

Two years ago on the blog: Tending to what matters most

Four things that are saving me these days

Photo: View from the Kaimai Ranges, by Mr. Wanderlust

On Wednesday morning, I turned the calendar leaf to reveal the first day of a new month. It dawned on me that, although this new month doesn’t feel remotely like the Novembers I have come to know, with their cold gray rain-drenched streets and trees that shed their cover in preparation for a blanket of snow, it’s nevertheless the second-last month of the year. And oh, how time does fly. That same day, I walked through the local shopping centre, where tall artificial Christmas trees had popped up overnight, to the sound of Christmas songs playing. November has always been my least favourite month in the northern hemisphere, and although it feels different in NZ, where sunny days are interspersed with warm springtime rainfall, I remain vigilant of the state of my thoughts and emotions. The reason I prioritise self-care and consistently work to improve my wellness habits is precisely because it’s much too easy for me to slip.

These days, here are four things that are saving me and helping me to stay well:

1. Walks in nature

On most mornings, after I take the Wanderlust Juniors to school, I walk to the beach or through the reserve. Some days, I drive to the local hills or the Mount for a more challenging walk to the summit, where I stand in awe, gazing from above upon our spectacular city. From time to time, whenever Mr. Wanderlust is able to steal away from his work for an hour, he joins me. Sometimes, we ride our bicycles in lieu of walking. I wrote previously about the resistance I have been feeling, as of late, toward more formal forms of cardio. Of course, yoga is a necessary daily practice, but I also crave fresh air and outdoor movement. Once outside, I often feel I could walk for hours. Some days, I listen to music or a podcast, but I prefer to tune into the sounds of the ocean’s waves or birds around me and take it all in, observing the ornate seashells as I pass them on the sand, the sheep that graze on the hillside. I walk briskly, but my mind remains in a state of meditative flow. If I’m lucky, from time to time I’m able to eavesdrop inconspicuously on an interesting conversation that I file away as possible material for a story.

2. Healthy routines

About two months after our move to NZ, I began to feel particularly homesick. I went through what immigration experts term the ‘fight or flight’ phase, during which I compared everything in NZ to what I had come to love in Canada. Then, I would nitpick at everything that did not appeal to me as much as I had hoped it would. At the same time, I began to drown my emotions in jars of Nutella late in the evening. Believe me, dear reader, that for me to admit to this feels shameful. I have always prided myself on being a careful eater and I have always had a difficult relationship with sugar. I know that it’s best for me to avoid it altogether. These days, I am picking up the pieces of me that I misplaced during that challenging phase. One day at a time, I plan carefully, eating three healthy solid meals, and avoid snacking after dinner. I brush my teeth, slip into my pajamas, and unwind with some Yin or restorative yoga, followed by reading a few pages from a book before turning off the light. I myself have often felt that this routine sounds rigid, but it helps me to feel my best, and for Vata, consistent healthy routines are key.

3. Community

Community is another major factor in adjusting to our new life in NZ. It’s easy for me to be a hermit, to stay at home all day and avoid any social interaction. However, when I do start speaking with our neighbours or the members of the fitness club who attend my classes, the conversation often ventures beyond small talk and leaves me feeling fulfilled. Moreover, online interaction via the blog also brings its delights. Yesterday, I received an email from a friend who told me about how much this blog helped her friend when he was going through a challenging time. As a writer, I enjoy putting my work out there, but I often wonder about who actually reads it and whether anyone cares about the content I produce. Similarly, as a yoga teacher, I want to know whether I deliver the type of class that other expect to attend and whether, in my classes, I am able to effectively address issues that others often struggle with. That feedback is invaluable to me and helps to connect me to the greater community, both online and offline.

4. Small celebrations

Earlier this week, our children celebrated their first Hallowe’en in NZ. Hallowe’en is a new holiday here and was not celebrated traditionally the way it’s celebrated in North America and some parts of Europe. With the longer daylight hours, the Wanderlust Juniors trick-or-treated when it was still light out, and stopped at only one spooky house among the non-ornate ones. Nevertheless, they enjoyed every moment of their outing and were particularly delighted that they did not need to wear winter jackets over their costumes the way they used to have to do in Canada. Seeing their excitement reminded me that every day is to be celebrated and that dressing up is fun. When I shared this article on my personal Facebook page, about one of my favourite fictional characters and films, lamenting over the casual dress in NZ, a friend commented to remind me that I should feel free to dress up and express my style any day. She’s right, of course, and I intend to do just that. I feel better when I put more effort into my outfit, even on days when I don’t have anywhere special to go. We should not need to wait for an occasion. Instead, every day can be a special occasion if we make it so.

Your turn: What is saving you right now? If you live in the northern hemisphere where November is the cold month in-between fall and winter, what do you do to turn up the hygge and make this time of year more enjoyable? Please leave a comment below. 

In the spirit of community-building, thank you for sharing this blog with a friend. 

New on Instagram:

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Open to Wonder

When the days seem dark and bleak, shrouded in misery, seek out sunlight.

In a storm, light a candle, sip tea from your favourite mug, or call a friend whose brilliant smile will warm your heart.

When the noises around threaten to overwhelm us as they grow increasingly louder and create conflict, seek a quiet corner, even if that corner is inside a small closet.

When doubts are menacing and everyone around knows everything about what we should do next, where we should plan to go, and how we should behave, seek stillness.

Often, the answer is to do nothing at all.

When we have grown weary of chasing after solutions and have researched potential outcomes to no end, what more is there left to do?

Nothing. Nothing can be great sometimes.

When we feel lonely, may we seek out other footprints in the sand.

May we open our eyes, minds, and hearts to Wonder.

As I stepped onto the path between the dunes leading to the beach, I felt the pull of the ocean’s tide, heard its gentle whisper to be silent and let it do all the talking.

We have not always been friends, the ocean and I, but these days, I am letting it share its secrets with me. I remain forever a humble student in search of Wonder.

It’s here. It has always been here.

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Thank you for sharing this blog with a friend who might find resonance in these words.

Rainy Sundays are for self-care

It was a rainy Sunday morning. It was not yet lunchtime and I felt ready for a nap as we walked lazily through a hardware store.

Later, having returned home, I reminded myself of the long ‘to do’ list as a reason to get up off the couch. My body craved rest and the warm blanket around my legs, the gentle hum of the gas fireplace, and the big book in my hand anchored me into the moment. I remembered this poem and made a decision about how I was to spend the next few hours. Some Sundays are for house and garden work, but rainy days offer an invitation to go within. I acquiesced. I gave myself permission to take rest.

Rainy Sundays are for self-care.


Favourites from around the web:

When in doubt, go to the woods.

The reason why I love to craft, continue to use a paper calendar, and love to read printed books. Also, the importance of listening closely in order to read emotions.

A year ago on the blog: Seeking Enchantment.

Thank you for sharing this blog with a friend.

I’ve always been a bit of a rebel, or how I keep myself accountable

The title of this post might suggest that I am about to divulge to you a few naughty secrets. In part, that’s true, but it’s likely not what you would expect. Instead, I will share with you how I meet outer expectations, resist inner expectations, and the tactics I use to trick myself into following through on a self-imposed task.

When I read Gretchen Rubin’s Better than Before, I became fascinated with her concept of the four tendencies. I rushed to pick up a copy of her latest book, The Four Tendencies, on its release date in Canada. As the title suggests, this book focuses specifically on the four tendencies — Upholder, Obliger, Rebel, and Questioner — and examines how each of the tendencies meets or resists inner and outer expectations. I had taken the quiz previously to learn about the category into which I fit. However, I must have done what many Obligers do, according to Rubin, by running off with the idea that I was not an Obliger at all. This was followed shortly by a dismissal of the entire four tendencies framework because I rebel at the mere thought of categorising myself or other people. Still, I kept coming back to the framework, just as I continue to study the Myers-Briggs framework. I’m actually a sucker for personality psychology; it helps me to understand myself and those around me. Yet, I also remind myself to refrain from making generalisations and fitting myself and others into prescribed boxes.

This time, while reading the book, it was time to be honest with myself and delve deeper. Mr. Wanderlust, after taking the quiz, immediately declared that I am an Obliger, and somewhere at the back of my mind I wanted to protest. Then, I sighed and continued reading, only to discover that although I am most certainly an Obliger, I also veer toward the Rebel tendency, a common scenario which Rubin explains as a variation within a tendency. This variation makes sense to me and helps to explain why I also am inclined to agree with a few attributes assigned to a Rebel. As an OBLIGER/Rebel, I do meet outer expectations more readily than I do my inner expectations, but I often resent being told what to do. I have always resisted the idea of someone else keeping tabs on me. Although it might be easier for me to meet external expectations, I do not enjoy working out with friend who helps to keep me on track. At the end of the day, I prefer to do things alone and to set my own goals. So, what is an OBLIGER/Rebel to do to keep herself accountable?

Here is my dirty little secret. Although slightly embarrassing, it works for me. I keep myself accountable by pretending that I am on camera, whether the camera is hidden or one that overtly follows me around, filming my every move. To some, it might sound creepy or downright ridiculous. For me, it is a way to ensure that I can hold my actions to the highest standard. When I pretend that someone else is watching me, I am not as likely to reach for a second square of dark chocolate. I am more likely to go to sleep and get out of bed early in order to exercise. Some might choose to use social media to keep themselves accountable, posting status updates from the gym and taking photos of their daily meals. I like to play pretend. Interestingly, in the book, Rubin quotes a Rebel doing something similar to keep her/himself on track. And here I thought I was doing something unusual.

Another method that I often use, and one which Rubin attributes to Rebels, is to set intentions for my day and make resolutions based on how I want to feel, rather than what I think I should do. This allows me to connect with my identity, making choices that are aligned with my perception of my present and future self.

All this self-exploration leads me to wonder about how others keep themselves accountable. It also makes me wonder how others feel about personality psychology. Please leave a comment below to join the conversation.

Thanksgiving, and keeping traditions alive

Mr. Wanderlust and I are wishing all our Canadian family members and friends a very happy Thanksgiving! We hope that you are enjoying a wonderful celebration in the company of your dearest people.

Our own Thanksgiving celebration is belated. For today’s early dinner, prior to my 6:30 p.m. yoga class, on the menu is chicken schnitzel and roasted vegetables. Our little family of four will not have turkey, cranberry sauce, butternut squash, or apple pie, because I realised too late on Saturday morning, after having planned our meals for the coming week and purchased groceries, that this past weekend was, in fact, Thanksgiving weekend in Canada. Thanksgiving is not celebrated in NZ, and likewise there is no widely acknowledged harvest festival. I can blame my memory lapse on seasonal confusion, which often leaves me thinking that since it’s currently springtime, it must be April or May. Then I remind myself that it’s actually October.

And so, we let the weekend go by without a special celebration, but this did not sit well with me. I want to keep our beloved family traditions alive in any way I can, regardless where in the world we might be. To me, Thanksgiving is a grounding reminder to mindfully acknowledge our loved ones and all else for which we are grateful. And so, although belatedly, I made the decision to have an intentional celebratory Thanksgiving dinner today, in-between teaching classes. We might not have the traditional pumpkins or squash, because  they are not currently in season in NZ, and that’s okay. After all, what make a celebration special are the intention behind it and the people with whom we share it. As for the apple pie, I just might bake one in a few days — you know, to extend the celebration. Here’s a photo of a cranberry-apple pie I baked for Thanksgiving two years ago.

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What special Thanksgiving traditions are in your family? If you are currently living far away from family, do you continue to celebrate Thanksgiving?