In Praise of Seasonal Living

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Live in each season as it passes: breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit.”
–  Henry David Thoreau

 “I’d just as soon skip over this time of year,” a friend said to me as we drank tea together yesterday.  I nodded.  It was hot and steamy as it often is here in Nebraska in late June and I could completely relate.  I’ve never been a summer person, always preferring the cool, brisk air of fall and the inner warmth of winter.  And yet I know that when I wish away a particular season, just waiting for whatever is next, I’m missing out on so many small seasonal pleasures, opportunities to be present and fully alive in the here and now.

In the era of heat, air conditioning and a global food supply, we have the opportunity to not really participate in the seasons if we choose not to.  Don’t get me wrong…I’m as big a fan of modern conveniences as the next person.  But when we don’t allow ourselves to really experience the cycle of the year, life can feel like one big 70 degree day where raspberries are always in season. This kind of living can leave us feeling disconnected from ourselves and from the natural world.  There is so much joy to be found in the sensory experience of being a human being on this extraordinary earth.  Why not take a moment and notice it?  Enjoy it, even?  If your days, weeks and months are tending to blend together or you are seriously wishing summer would just get itself over with so it can be fall already (remember when you were just saying that about winter a few short months ago?), maybe it’s time for a new way of being.  One in which you are willing to lean in to the current season and notice the small seasonal pleasures that are all around you just waiting to be discovered.  Here are a few ideas for noticing, cultivating and appreciating the current season of your existence, whatever that might be:

  1. Notice the sounds that are inherently linked to each season…rainshowers in the spring, lawnmowers in the summer, the sound of a football game in the fall, the scrape of a shovel against the driveway in the winter. All seasons have their own soundtrack.
  2. Likewise, each season has its own scents as well: The smell of fresh, damp earth, just-mowed grass, wet leaves, wood fires.
  3. Pay close attention to the change in light as the days pass. When you check the weather on your phone each day, pause and also check the time of the sunrise and sunset.  Notice as the days and nights get longer and shorter during the year.
  4. Commit to spending time outside everyday, even if it is not your favorite weather. Scandinavian parents tell their children, “there is no such things as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing.”  Gear up or strip down (whichever is seasonally appropriate) and head out!  Be open to the experience of finding something you might like about that which you are assuming will be uncomfortable. Sometimes the best part of heading out in the cold for a brisk walk is coming back inside and experiencing the warmth of your home again, maybe with a steaming hot beverage cupped between your icy hands.  Just the anticipation of this is enough to make that chilly walk worthwhile.
  5. Cook and eat seasonally.  Supermarket tomatoes in January are just sad.  Just because foods are available to us all year round doesn’t mean that we need to eat them all year round.  When we eat fruits and vegetables when they are in season we are not only getting more delicious produce, we are also saving money and the environment.  We also develop a sense of anticipation for what is to come…strawberries in the spring or the first crop of apples in the fall. The tomato can wait!  Imagine that day in July when you slice into that perfectly ripe, red fruit still warm from the farmstand or, better yet, your own garden. The real thing is worth waiting for.
  6. At the beginning of each month, make a list of what you enjoy (or think you might enjoy) doing that month that is in sync with what is happening in the natural world. Think small and simple.  In July, for example, maybe you want to host a barbecue for your neighbors, really listen to the hum of the cicadas each evening and make your first batch of fresh tomato salsa.  Look to nature and possibly your childhood for inspiration.  Sometimes the things we enjoyed doing as children (catching fireflies at dusk, spreading out a blanket under a shady tree and reading a book, enjoying a warm slice of apple pie) are the very same things that help us reconnect with our sensory world as adults.  If your childhood was less than idyllic, ask your inner child for ideas.  There is a soft, tender part of each of us that is just waiting to be comforted and soothed by these simple seasonal activities.
  7. Take a few moments in the evening to record what seasonal pleasures you enjoyed during the day. Commit to yourself to make more time for those things.

Decide now that it is time you became a true sensualist, someone who feels alive and connected and who finds pleasure in the world around them as it is right now at this very moment.  Not next month or once it’s not so damn hot outside but NOW.  If you are looking for me later this evening, I’ll be on my back porch sipping a glass of chilled white wine and listening to the cicadas sing to me from the trees.

 

 

Hygge

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Hygge is about an atmosphere and an experience, rather than about things.  It is about being with people we love.   A feeling of home.  A feeling that we are safe, that we are shielded from the world and allow ourselves to let our guard down.

-Meik Weiking, The Little Book of Hygge

In Denmark there is a concept called “hygge” (pronounced hue-ga) that has no literal translation into English. Some say the closest definition might be something like “coziness”, but it goes a bit further than that. Hygge is the intentional practice of creating a sanctuary of warmth and intimacy.  It’s about appreciating the simple things, cultivating small moments of comfort and joy in our everyday lives.  It’s about anticipating and celebrating the changing seasons of the year.  It’s about being grateful for what we have and savoring the simple pleasures that are available to us each and every day.  In short, hygge quietly elevates the ordinary into the extraordinary.

Hygge has left the shores of Scandinavia in recent years and has become something of an international phenomenon.  Several books have been written on the subject, and sales of faux fur blankets, sheepskins and candles have skyrocketed as companies seek to take advantage of our desire to find the comfort and security we so desperately crave.  As such, hygge is often dismissed as a fad, soon to be replaced by the next latest thing.

But to brush the concept of hygge aside as simply a fad is shortsighted and unfortunate.  We cannot underestimate the importance of creating a haven that welcomes us home at the end of each day, where we can relax and be ourselves without pretense. The quiet act of carving out a comfortable, compassionate space for ourselves and those we love can be revolutionary and deceptively powerful.

How can we create more hygge in our lives?  A good place to start is to simply pause and notice what’s going on around you, particularly the small everyday details we tend to take for granted.  Notice the warmth of a cup of coffee in your hands first thing in the morning.  The smell of rain and wet earth after a thunderstorm.  A glimpse of the moon peeking out from behind the clouds late at night.  The quiet, rhythmic breathing of your dog sleeping next to you.  Taking note of these seemingly small details can create a much needed moment of softness and comfort in our day, of feeling at home in the world.

The Small, Calm Thing

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“Ours is not the task of fixing the entire world all at once, but of stretching out to mend the part of the world that is within our reach.  Any small, calm thing that one soul can do to help another soul, to assist some portion of this poor suffering world will help immensely.”

.-Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes

Finding a “small, calm thing” in this era of busy-ness, distraction and overwhelm is a difficult task.  It’s true, we cannot fix the entire world all at once.  But we can create a peaceful space in our own small corner of the world, an authentic sanctuary that comforts, nourishes and restores our weary souls.  It is from this place that we become our most powerful, able to act on behalf of ourselves and others.  Not from a place of exhaustion or overwhelm, but from a place of love, kindness and authentic generosity.  Our gestures may be small…taking the time to sit down and enjoy a cup of coffee, setting down the phone and giving someone our undivided attention (a great and rare gift these days), sharing a meal with family or friends, baking a loaf of bread for a neighbor.  But the impact of these small endeavors can be great, a tiny bit of love shared from one soul to another.  Like ripples in a pond made by a tossed pebble, our tiny acts of kindness spread outward in ways we cannot measure.

This blog is my ripple in the pond, my unique expression of a “small, calm thing.”  My ancestors come from Norway, Sweden and Denmark, and the Nordic culture and landscape inspire me when I consider how I want my life to feel:  Open, spacious, peaceful.  I want to incorporate as much of this Scandinavian influence into my daily round as possible, both to connect with and honor my ancestors and to create this desired state of being.  Along the way I will share recipes, ideas and insights that inspire me.  I hope that you will find warmth and comfort here in my cozy online kitchen as I explore what Nordic living means to me.

Still and Still Moving

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We must be still and still moving
Into another intensity
For a further union, a deeper communion

-T.S. Eliot

I have become very good at being in the last few years.  I practice yoga and meditate.  I journal.  I can stare at trees for hours.  And this has all been very good for this once Type-A lawyer.  But I think it’s time to find the balance of effort and surrender again.  To bring the still, quiet center I have so carefully cultivated over the last few years back into motion.  To be, as T.S. Eliot said, still and still moving.

The art of being still and still moving is a matter of letting the next right action arise out of stillness.  Most of the time here in the western world, we take action based on what others expect of us, the wants and desires of our egos or simply as a reactive response to what is happening around us.  But what if we allow our actions to come from a much deeper, truer source?  What would happen if we regularly tapped into the wisdom of our souls as we create our to-do list each morning and set goals for ourselves?   Inside each of us there is a quiet voice that longs to guide us forward with all of the wisdom and compassion of 10,000 gurus, sages and shamans.  We must simply be still and quiet enough to listen.

And so it is that I find myself here in the quiet, ready to add some doing to my being.  What do I feel deeply called to right now?  What feels like the next right action?  As many of you know, I am a bread baker.  I studied baking and pastry at the Institute for the Culinary Arts and teach sourdough bread baking classes here in Omaha.  Peter Reinhart, legendary bread baker and teacher once said, “I love myth and romance and, in fact, think bread is the perfect mythic symbol to explain the meaning of life.”  I’m not promising you enlightenment through bread, but I am very drawn to idea of exploring the concepts of mindfulness, purpose and meaning through the medium of bread.  Please join me on this journey as I bake, reflect and write.

 

 

Following Freedom

“You will never realize your best destiny through the avoidance of fear.  Rather, you will realize it through the exercise of courage, which means taking whatever action is most liberating to the soul, even when you are afraid.”

-Martha Beck, Steering By Starlight

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To say that I hated practicing law would be a gross understatement.  I was allergic to it.  Literally.  Shortly after I began my job as an attorney, I was struck with severe allergy symptoms that came out of nowhere.  I went to an allergist and had a battery of tests run to see what was causing my body to react in this way.  Nothing registered.  And so I left the doctor’s office with a prescription for Claritin and a diagnosis of non-allergic rhinitis, which basically means my body was having an allergic reaction to something, but they didn’t know what it was.

Young, stubborn and unwilling to admit that maybe my legal career had been a mistake, I took my Claritin each morning and went to a job that made me miserable.  This seemed perfectly normal to me at the time.  I mean, everyone hates their job, right?  Work is supposed to feel like you are trading your soul for money, isn’t it?  I did not see, or did not want to see, the connection between my symptoms and my unhappiness.  The Claritin took care of the itchy, stuffy nose and the watery eyes, but soon my body began to find other ways to get my attention.  I was overwhelmed with anxiety and would frequently burst into tears.  I began to suffer panic attacks.  My hair started falling out.  I saw doctors, a psychologist and a therapist to try and “fix” what was wrong with me.  But in truth, there was nothing wrong with my body.  It was doing exactly what it was supposed to:  it was telling me the truth.  My body was screaming at me to find a new path, a different way of life, and I wasn’t listening.

Our minds are very good at making up stories to justify whatever it is we want to believe or, in more likelihood, feel that we should believe.  In my case, I believed that I should stay in that soul-sucking job because I had invested a great deal of time and money into obtaining my law degree, and a lot of my identity and self-worth was tied up in “being a lawyer.”  Who would I be without that label?  I was worried about what other people would think.  Maybe I just needed to give it a chance:  I was making good money and had this successful, prestigious career…surely I could learn to like it or at least tolerate it.   See what I mean?  It is easy to talk ourselves into or out of anything, particularly if what is true for us goes against what our ego, our parents, our spouse or society is telling us is the “right thing to do.”  Our bodies, on the other hand, are finely-tuned instruments that are incapable of lying to us.  If we pay attention to what our bodies are saying, if we learn to speak the language of the body rather than relying on the unreliable words and stories of the mind, we can learn a lot about what our inner self truly desires.

In her brilliant book Steering By Starlight, life coach Martha Beck says, “the Buddha often said that wherever you find water, you can tell if it’s the ocean because the ocean always tastes of salt.  By the same token, anywhere you find enlightenment-whatever improbable or unfamiliar shape it may have assumed-you can tell it’s enlightenment because enlightenment always tastes of freedom.  Not comfort.  Not ease.  Freedom.”  She goes on to describe the difference between feeling as if something in your life is “shackles off” or “shackles on”.  Something that is right for you will always come with the feeling of “shackles off”, or freedom and inner spaciousness.  Something that is not right for you will come with a feeling of “shackles on”, or imprisonment and sense of being stuck.  You can practice feeling these sensations by going through events in your past that you know with great certainty to have been right or wrong for you and reliving the feeling you had in your body at that time.  In my very extreme case of being miserable in my job as an attorney, it is very easy to do.  My body was screaming, not sending me subtle cues.  But even before the physical symptoms began, if I think back to that time and imagine myself in that unhappy body, I can feel the shortness of breath, the tightness, the constricting of the muscles in my chest, stomach and the spot between my eyes.  That is my “shackles on” feeling.  And then I imagine myself in one of my favorite places in the world, the north shore of Lake Superior.  I see myself on the shore of the lake, under an impossibly starry sky surrounded by birch and pine trees.  I step into that peaceful body and I know the feeling of freedom and space.  That is my “shackles off” feeling.

As a writer, I love words and spend a great deal of time playing with them in my mind.  But I have quit relying on words when it comes to choosing which direction to take next in life. I have come to trust the wisdom of my body over the stories of my mind.  I choose to follow the feeling of freedom, wherever that takes me.  This is not easy and takes a great deal of practice.  Like many women, I have never really trusted or inhabited my body.  Society repeatedly tells us that our bodies aren’t good enough.  We aren’t thin enough, curvy enough, young enough, athletic enough…the list goes on and on.  But I am here to tell you, your body is your friend in so many ways that your mind never will be.  Learn her language and listen to her.  Trust her.  Be brave enough to act on what liberates her.  Treat her well.  She will not steer you wrong.

 

A Light in the Window

It is the aim of all spiritual seeking to bring us home, home to the understanding that we already have everything we need. We are far now from home, and weary from our travels. The sun is setting and there is no destination in sight. Yoga is a lamp lit in the window of our home, dimly glimpsed across the spiritual wilderness in which we wander.

Meditations from the Mat, Rolf Gates and Katrina Kenison

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Picture an overgrown path through the woods and a cottage in the distance, a light burning persistently in the window. What is the light that guides you home?  Discover what calls you, what guides you, what brings you a sense of peace and wholeness.  By following our unique light and finding our way home, we become a light that shines in the window.  We guide others home.  Live as a candle that quietly illuminates the darkness, softens the shadows and gently guides others through the mystery.

Poetry

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“Poetry is a life-cherishing force. For poems are not words, after all, but fires for the cold, ropes let down to the lost, something as necessary as bread in the pockets of the hungry.” –Mary Oliver, A Poetry Handbook

Find room in the quiet spaces for poetry. Let it be a magical salve applied directly to the soul for healing and comfort. The words of a poem can find a way in, traversing a narrow path of emotion, feeling and deep understanding that other words cannot.

Settle in today with a warm cup of tea, your favorite blanket and a poem.   If you are new to poetry, anything by the great Mary Oliver is a wonderful place to start. Let the words slowly seep in through the cracks in the walls of logic, expectation and resistance that you’ve built trying to keep yourself safe.