Michele Minehart

words & yoga

Category: beautiful life (page 1 of 33)

A Good Winter’s Sleep

Because the winter’s temperatures rose above 2° around here – nay, they rose to the 50s! – I resumed the morning walk habit for two days in a row. Yesterday the spring-like conditions drew my attention to the melting snow and wet grounds. Thankfully the earth is equipped with the capillaries to direct the water where it needs to go, even as a few deeper ditches kept hold of their dirty piles of ice and snow.

I find it fascinating that the earth – at least here in Ohio – comes equipped with this season where it hardens up and lets everything remain on top. It doesn’t let stuff sink in during the winter. It just sits under blankets of snow, doing nothing, creating nothing, though a wealth of energy still circulates through its inner body. This freezing, though appears as idleness, serves an essential role to the entire seasonal process.

When I was younger, my grandpa Bud – one of those farm men who knew how to do about anything (except drive a zero-turn lawnmower, but that’s another story) decided to grow an apricot tree from the pit of another apricot. He showed me the process: he took the seed, wrapped it in a wet paper towel, and stuck it in the freezer. He explained that the pit needed the coldness to learn how to break open and begin to grow.

We haven’t done a good job of taking cues from the earth and the apricot tree. We don’t make a season of being covered in blankets, allowing ourselves the sense of rest and dormancy that the natural world undertakes. Our culture of Go! Do! Accomplish! Win! beckons us to hurry out the door for another long day of achievement. Our internal systems have no opportunity to find dormiens,  dormancy.

The body heals itself during sleep. When we’re not spending extra time on the couch or in bed, we’re generally out and about with other people, spreading germs, and wearing down our physical selves. Thus, H1N1 outbreaks. Even our holidays, days added to the calendar so that people could be free to cease from the strain of work, add so much activity to our lives that we require a recuperation from our celebrations.

We’re taught that idleness is of the devil, that doing nothing is a recipe for a failed life. While I agree that a life of meaning includes work, I think we missed the design for effective work. Processes exist to allow a cycle of production, not a never-ending output. My friend (the notorious KLR) owns chickens which lay eggs based on the cycles of light. Because my fridge took a winter’s hit, I told her I would buy them a nice warm light, but the chicken doesn’t benefit from endless egg-laying.

Our bodies, our minds, our very selves, are designed for a period of dormancy. Quietness. Days of being covered in blankets without the need to absorb and create and produce. It’s in this long winter’s nap that our internal energy recharges so we can greet spring with a new life and begin the creation process anew.

So here’s what I’m advocating for, in our house, during this next round of winter weather: Blankets. Books. Naps. Movies. Popcorn. Minimal-effort baking. Gentle movement. Warm beverages. More books and blankets. Fuzzy slippers. Mindless tasks, like crochet or knitting or coloring. Board and card games. We’ll emphasize less what we can accomplish – unless it’s finishing the current novel – and more how we can simply be.

And if you need a permission slip to do nothing today and tomorrow (pending your speaking engagements and classes are also cancelled), here you go. It’s your Hall Pass to stop being productive. Now, go cozy up with a steaming mug of coffee.

 

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The Subversive Act of Gratitude

For years I’ve been curious about Thanksgiving and the idea of gratitude. One of my earliest posts, Thankshaving, (which hilariously looks a lot like Thank-shaving instead of Thanks-having) attempted to parse through this. I’ve remained a student of this idea of gratitude for years. This year, I think I graduated to 8th grade in the subject, as I’ve begun to realize what a powerful act it can be to cultivate a sense of thankfulness in any situation.

Thanksgiving is the day we sit around the table and say what we’re thankful for, the stuff that we readily forget for the other 364 days of the year. Our homes, our families, and our jobs move high on the list because we often only complain about these things, but on Turkey Day, we are glad to have them and cannot imagine life without them.

On the 4th Thursday of the eleventh month, we corporately and individually declare what is right in our world. Hidden beneath our gratitude, we find a layer of acknowledgement that life isn’t perfect, and we still find space to be thankful for what is good. It’s our way of saying, what I have, and what I am, is enough. Maybe, even, (probably!) more than enough.

In our culture, one that tells us how we aren’t beautiful enough, or successful enough, or loving enough, this is a radical act. We’re led to believe that we’re constantly without enough time, money, friends, power, control, and love to be worthy of our existence, and yet, on a day full of White Carbs of Happiness, we have the power to look at the Black Friday ads and say, “liar.”

When you begin a month full of shopping from this posture, you hold all the trump cards, my friends. You can play the right and the left bower as you see fit. You are free to enjoy a month of giving and receiving because you get to do so as a response to – not a source of – gratitude.

No one really disputes the consumerism of our society, specifically in the month of December, yet it continues to progress. Some propose downplaying all the gifting, and taking a “minimalist” approach (which I appreciate and even integrate). But I’m not sure it actually gets to the root of it. It can slightly shift us from the financial burden and the overcrowding of our homes, but it doesn’t return us to center. Making enough holiday gifts can keep us in the same rat race of earning our worthiness as the old fashioned way of buying it. In fact, now it’s so trendy to reduce the holiday consumption that we’re adding more stress by needing to find that perfect amount to spend and give, so that it’s not too little or too much.

I’m really digging the idea that moving from gratitude will provide much more peace and joy to our Christmas season because we’re not trying to do it right. The perfect gift isn’t necessary, because we’re practiced in saying “it doesn’t have to be perfect to be good.” We’re moving from a place of enough. We already are enough, and any gift we give is just gravy on the taters (and stuffing and turkey).

This year, as the children write their wish lists and I start my Amazon (and local!) purchasing, I’m finding a new kind of excitement about the season. I can’t wait to look for the things my kids enjoy, and not because I need to provide them perfect presents or risk ruining their childhood. All of heaven knows they don’t need anything. Gratitude reminded us: we are enough. We have enough. We’re simply celebrating our enoughness, and the result is joy.

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Halfway to Launch

Nine.

Not four or five, the way he is forever etched into my memory (as my early parenting years seem to be sticking like  a case of PTSD and I’m perpetually believing that my children are 4, 3, 2, and newborn). Now my biggest is nine.

In case you’ve not done that math before, the average age of a student at graduation from high school is 18. This means I’m at the halfway mark. Half over; gone. Half to go. We’ve accomplished so much, come so far, and yet we have that distance again – and this next half will be even tougher. We have the exhaustion of this first leg coupled with brand new terrain. For the oldest kid, that’s always the toughest part – learning to roll with the new conditions. Figuring out how to navigate new things; social relationships change, what he believes to be true about himself changes.

It’s in this second leg that he will begin to unwrap what it means to love someone outside his familial tribe. He will switch gears, not just learning how to learn, but absorbing the ways of the world and synthesizing it into his own unique viewpoint as the basis of his operating mode. He will press into the boundaries of independence, and it’s his job to begin to explore. The expanding nature of the universe requires that he will go places and take steps that I never did. I can translate my wisdom and experiences, but they will not be the same.

In many ways, it would be easier if he would just do the same as me. I could tell him exactly how to step; his feet could fall into stride with my own footprints. I could ensure his safety this way, falling into any holes first. My head says this is the safest way to go about getting through this second half of childhood. But I know this isn’t the existence I want for him.

My heart says to teach him how to spot a hole, how to step mindfully, and send him in his own direction. I love my life, but do I really think that repeating it is the best thing this world has to offer him? I’ll welcome him to trail along, if that’s what he wants; a life of small-town living and tending to home-things is on the menu from which he can order. But if he’s feeling like a big city dream, then I want to give him the tools to take that route. If he yearns to be an adventurer, literally sailing or exploring, then I want to teach him the baseline skills to make it happen.

My job isn’t to pull him along on a leash. Of course, that’s the easiest way. And a little bit of the first half of childhood is exactly that; keeping them close so they can learn the ropes. They get familiar with the routes and explore from a governed distance.  Then we remove the leash but bring it along, giving a bit more distance. Our voice is always near and they circle back often. Finally, someday, we open the door and send them out; they return when they want a break or are hungry or tired or lonely. They know how to return home.

launchThis second half of childhood will be a lot less leash, yet still taking the trek with him. Honestly, this is harder on me than him, feeling the weight of this useless leash in my pocket, watching with worry, wondering how far is too far? can he hear me from here? does he have his eyes out for this turn?  

The analogy isn’t perfect; I’m raising a human, not training a puppy. The ultimate goal of training a puppy is to have an obedient dog, one that stays with you forever. That’s not the description of a grown man, able to contribute to society both in meaningful work and in living a life that radiates peace, joy, and love to his family, community and greater world. This will take far more nuance than running familiar routes and giving firm commands.

We were intentional about the methods we engaged for parenting our children for the first half. Now that he’s able to tie his shoes and pack his lunch and do his laundry and walk to the park by himself, I find myself having to think critically again about how to engage this second half.

This half has much more to do with trust: trusting myself (and JJ), that we’ve laid a good foundation of love and acceptance. Trusting him, that he’s in tune with the goodness of his birthright and living from that place more often than not. Trusting the world, that we can gracefully allow others to make mistakes when it’s safe to fail. Trusting my community to love him and accept him, even when he’s not perfect.

So here we go. Staying close, walking free, in this year of nine.

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