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Lessons from an Ant Colony

IMG_0877I’ll be the first to admit I don’t know all the scientific information about ant colonies.  I just happen to have the privilege of observing one colony over the past two or three years. This colony sits right on the side of a trail I walk almost daily. I’ve watch it grow in the summer, be demolished by winter weather, and grow again the next summer.

I have been mesmerized by the bevy of motion on this ant colony.  Movement is everywhere–tiny ants working individually yet in harmony to create such an amazing structure.  One day while I was observing the activities I noticed a small stick about one in a half inches long moving across the path.  I did a double take, it is not everyday you see a stick moving.  There were 8-10 ants working together to bring this stick to the colony. I have so enjoyed the building, maintaining, and working together of this colony of ants.

My thoughts move to how we as humans work together to create towns, cities, countries, social networks we can all live within.  At this time in history I feel the divisiveness and hateful rhetoric we hear is diminishing our ability to trust in each other to create the livable communities we so want to build. How do we bring back trust?  How do we honor diversity and know it is our differences that create the new?  How do we reach out and support our neighbors when so often it feels safer to hole up in our homes? Fear is the driving force of hate–may we find ways to combat the fear of the “other” and build sustainable lives for all of us.

I know the ants are instinctual, and fear is not a part of their living.  They just work with each other building a colony for all. May we find ways to reach out to each other and build bridges of understanding.

Forest Bath

 

“….what is my work, ….standing still and learning to be astonished.  Mary Oliver, The Messenger

In his book ForestIMG_0879 Bathing: How Trees Can Help you find Health and Happiness, Dr. Qing Li shares a Japanese practice called forest bathing.  He has conducted numerous studies that show the health benefits of forest bathing.  Nature eases stress and worry, helps us to relax and to think more clearly.  Being in nature can restore our mood, give us back our energy and vitality, refresh and rejuvenate us.

When we unplug from technology, slow down, and relax into the beauty of nature, our bodies and minds de-stress.  I first heard about forest bathing a couple of years ago and recognized the truth of nature as healer. The natural world is a place I go for joy, for solace, for experiencing a sense of awe and wonder.  I feel connected to something greater than myself when I am in the natural world.

Dr Li says, “The key to unlocking the power of the forest is in the five senses.”  When I walk the trails of the park behind my home I intentionally practice engaging all my senses.  The sound of the birds and small mammals, the smell of the forest floor, the variation of greens throughout the park, and the feel of the earth beneath my feet.  I don’t easily experience taste unless the salmon berries are out.

He  recommends we find a place close by that  brings us nature’s gifts.  It could be a park, a tree in your backyard, any place that helps you relax andIMG_0881 let go of the day.  Above is a picture of where I go when I need a forest bath.  It is less than a quarter of mile from my home.  Walking there, I sit on a rock and listen to the rippling water cascade down  past a wonderful old cedar tree.  The sound of water always nourishes me.

I hope you can find a place you can retreat to, if only for 30 minutes.  Give yourself the gift of a forest bath each day to support your body, mind, and spirit.

Enthusiasm

Enthusiasm comes from the Greek en (with one) and theos (the divine).

Being at one with the energy of God or the Divine, enthusiasm is a natural state of joy.  I find enthusiasm for life when I am present in the moment and relax into what is, without judging or analyzing.  I believe God, Source, Divine Mother, Spirit, whatever name you use for that sense of “something greater than yourself,” is always wanting you to live fully and enthusiastically.

The examen prayer from Ignatian Spirituality is a wonderful reminder for me to be aware of how I am choosing to live my life.  Below is a very short version of the prayer:

What gives you Life?

What drains you of Life?

I reflect on these two questions in the evening to consider how my day went.  At times I will ask the question during an activity I am involved in.  It helps me pay attention to how I am spending my day.  If I am continually involved in draining activities, then it is something I need to explore.  We definitely have some tasks that drain us, but if most of our daily tasks drain us, we need to pay attention.  We have the ability to change how we spend our time, but first we need to recognize what is life-giving and what is life-draining in or lives.

Time in nature gives me life. I feel life-giving energy flow through me when I am surround by the sights and sounds of the natural world.  I am so fortunate to live next to a 700-acre park on the beautiful Puget Sound.  When life is draining me of my energy, I take a walk on the trails of this beautiful park.  I am always revived.

I invite you to practice using the examen prayer to explore how you want to live your life.  May you discover all that enriches your life by paying attention to the life-giving energy flowing through you. May you choose to live enthusiastically.

 

 

Journey or Destination

IMG_0317When we focus on destination we often feel late, behind schedule, or lost.  When focus on journey we more often feel a sense of discovery.  

IMG_0289I was hiking in Bryce Canyon when another hiker stopped beside me to enjoy the amazing views.  Other hikers were passing us by and we realized we were taking this hike very slowly.  She said, “You know there are two kinds of hikers–destination hikers and journey hikers.” It was like a lightbulb moment. “Yes,” I said, “I use to be a destination hiker.  I would enter the trail and then see how fast I could get to the top, never stopping to look at the beauty that surrounded me.” We were definitely journey hikers at Bryce Canyon–stopping in awe of the hoodoos and spirals.  Taking our time to take photos and enjoy the beauty.

As I’ve aged, I’ve become more of a journeyer in all parts of my life.  I definitely have to have some destinations to get tasks done, yet I find myself meandering more often enjoying the present moment.

I have a dear friend who leaves next week to hike the entire El Camino de Santiago.  She plans to saunter on the trail. The dictionary defines saunter as “To walk in a slow relaxed manner, without hurry or effort.” Preparing for this journey, she has sauntered our city with backpack on her back to build endurance.  She says sauntering the city’s neighborhoods, has allowed her to see more of our city than ever before.

How do you move through your day?  Is your day filled with destinations, or do you give yourself time to journey?  Are you engaged in the present moment or fast forwarding to the next task? As I journey, I discover more about me as well as my environment.

Happy Journeying!!!

 

Radical Self-Care

Self-care is not self-indulgence.  Self-care is self-respect.

It is often difficult to find time for ourselves with the pace of today’s world.  We are pulled in so many directions–family, work, community–that we often put ourselves and our needs last.  Self-care is crucial.  We can’t take care of others with depleted internal resources.

What does self-care look like?  I’ve come to believe there are different ways we practice self-care.  The first is physical self-care. Eating healthy foods, exercising, if possible getting massages, yoga, using alternative health care options.  All these are ways we find to stay healthy, to relax, to take care of our wonderful bodies. With healthy bodies we have much more energy to care for others.

There is another kind of self-care–emotional self-care.  I talk to many people who take good physical care of themselves yet don’t think about what they say to themselves on a daily basis.  We are often so self-critical of all we do.  Our self-talk can be devastating to our emotional well-being. What kind of conversations do you have with yourself?  What do you say to yourself when you make a mistake?  Do you chastise yourself, or do you practice kindness toward yourself?  How often do you make judgmental or derogatory remarks to yourself during the day?  Do you rehash conversations with others and  judge yourself for doing or saying the wrong thing?  Do you care more about what other’s say and think about you than what you think about yourself? All these negative self-talk experiences create interior violence.  My guess is most of us would never treat another the way we treat ourselves.  Often we are unaware of the number of times we attack ourselves with negative self-talk.

As you continue to practice self-care, I invite you to pay attention to your interior conversations with yourself.  They are quite revealing about what we believe about ourself.  Radical self-care is learning to love all parts of us, and to be extremely kind and forgiving toward ourself.