This past year has been fraught with … perhaps peril isn’t the right word, but certainly rife w/angst. Tea has been a great comfort. Writing has not (ergo: no entries on the blog since February!).
My beloved was ill for more than a year – beginning February last year. It was spring of this year before we were out of the woods. I use we intentionally: it seemed as if I too was hurting from chemo, as if my own body was eating away at itself… Mortality had breakfast with every morning. Only a ‘good’ year in that he made it. I’m much lighter in spirit these days!
Writing was nothing I wanted to undertake: too much reflection, too much energy. It was all I could do to get through the days. As a result, my happiness journal project – supposedly a year of lists – isn’t finished 162 weeks in, what with the move the year before, then settling in. My gratitude journal went 2 weeks at a time with no entries, some months. Factor in multiple illnesses, two active grandsons plus life in general: watching a well-loved cat fade into passing; juggling the happiness of bird-watching with the need to feed & clean feeders; swinging a toddler in his swing, in the midst of a gnat swarm (really!) Returning to Oklahoma for my baby sister’s TWO graduations: one her BA, one her MA. Welcoming family for the holidays. Life is funny that way, the poignant with the memorable.
I’ve tried to breathe through it all, often scanning my body for tension as I focus on breath in, breath out. I’ve even mentioned ‘grounding & centering’ to my elder grandson, both to prep him for when he’s a bit older & we can do it together, and to remind myself to practice. I’ve focused on big sky mind: clouds come, clouds go. Only the sky remains. Pain rises up, but it passes.
Through it all, there’s been tea. The warm comfort of a mug, the distraction of a tea tray laden with family china & a nosegay from the flourishing garden (you should see the roses!). Today it’s a large mug of white peach matcha, and a piece of rhubarb ginger scone from this weekend’s Saturday Farmers Market.
I’ve come late to appreciating matcha – probably because I had no clue how to brew it! It turns out you can know a boatload about something, and NOT know something fairly important. Like…you brew matchaat 180°, NOT boiling (212°, fyi). And you only ‘brew’ for the time it takes to whisk the fine powder into the water thoroughly. I sometimes steep for 3 minutes, but no longer, ever, or the matcha becomes quite bitter (which I used to think was just how it tastes!).
You learn all the time, if you pay attention! And the one thing I’ve learned this past year is what my priorities are. Not always what I’ve assumed: writing isn’t as important as family, nor is it as comforting as tea. It’s not even above gardening! (Did I mention our roses 😏?)
I’ve also learned to forgive myself for guilt, for fatigue, for shrieking at people (truly!), for the failings (big & small) of normal human beings under pressure. It’s freeing, that, to treat ourselves with as much compassion as we do our loved ones. And it’s a basic tenet of most spiritual paths: the Golden Rule means very little if we can’t learn to love ourselves first. Tea makes that much easier!
I made a commitment more than a year ago — 89 weeks, but who’s counting? — to keep a daily journal. Morning pages, as Julia Cameron calls them in several of her books, most recently It’s Never Too Late To Begin Again. Verrry quickly they became daily pages, and then more like weekly pages. Nothing like a move halfway across the country to upend your routines!
But I’ve kept up, in a too-desultory-but-still-trying way, the habit. Because it’s good for me. Not only as a writer (obviously), but as a person trying to make sense of an increasingly complicated world. This next year, however, I’m trading in my. beautiful pink leather-bound journal for a hardbound best-seller: 52 Lists for Happiness. There are several listing journals out, but this one drew my attention: who doesn’t want to be happier??
I know happiness requires practice. One of the perks of aging, and being a Buddhist is that you realise you can create happiness. A big part of it, research shows, is gratitude. Acknowledging the happiness we already have. As someone who spent a LOT of her life where water didn’t run hot (or sometimes at all!), where there wasn’t reliable heat or air, where mod cons, as the British call modern conveniences, were often completely missing, I never forget how nice it to have hot water, dishwashers, dryers.I’m grateful for holidays w/ family, for farmer’s markets, for cats & tea & chocolate & fresh flowers, too. I’m also enormously grateful for my 2nd generation: my 2 wonderful sons, my amazing daughter-in-law, my nieces & nephews. And of course what would my life be w/out the grandsons we moved to be closer to?? AND my funny, loving, slightly crazy, & enormously loving sisters! Not to mention my far better half — my best beloved.
So this seems a logical extension of writing I already do in small gratitude journals I’ve been filling for a few years now. This new year, however, I thought I’d use my found spare time (nothing like having almost no local friends to free up hours!!) to reflect in a structured fashion. Hence the happiness journal. Good way to augment Buddhist practice, too, right? Live in the now of my happiness?
There are other new projects I’ll be starting, sharing here as the year unfolds. Most of them involve a kind of journaling, coincidentally (or not, for a writer!). There’s some research to enable me to do a lengthy poetry project, some spiritual meditation focused on visual cues, some gardening. I’m teaching a class, and figuring out another one for next fall. Each will require exploring, brainstormiong, something I do best while writing. To paraphrase Forster, how do I know what I think until I see what I write?
What new projects are you planning for the new year? Nothing as elaborate as ‘resolutions’; just what you hope to explore! Want to share…?
It’s been more than a year since I began doing daily pages. Julia Cameron, whose idea they were originally, calls them ‘morning pages.’ I’m not so good at doing them either in the a.m. or daily, so I figured feeling guilty about only one of these — not both! — was the better part of valour.
It’s actually been almost 60 weeks! I put the number of weeks in the page header, as well as the date. And then I write. No agenda, no prompt, just write two pages (Cameron says do 3 — I don’t). Ideally, every day. And good things begin to happen.
So the other day, I found this story on Medium, about the author (Benjamin Foley)’s engagement with keeping a journal. I don’t call my daily pages a ‘journal,’ as I actually have one of those. And I don’t usually do gratitude lists in it, as I also have a gratitude journal. But I do make time for gratitude practice, in a recycled-tire covered small journal my younger son gave me (thanks, Noah!). And I’ve been doing that for several years now (more than 4…?)
I also have a ‘real’ journal, as noted, what an artist friend calls an ‘artist’s journal.’ Mine is not so much artistic as mixed media: there is collage (printed emails, cutout pictures, ephemera like ticket stubs), coloured calendars, drawings (bad ones!), and more. I stapled in all the plant tags of what we planted in the front garden, for Instance, so I have a record.
I rarely revisit my journal(s) — & almost never my daily pages — which I’ve been keeping for decades. Sometimes, I thumb through one when it’s full, thinking about the changes of the past X months. It’s a constant, of course — such a cliche!
Today I pasted in copies of the renderings my beloved made of a new patio we’ll put in this summer, in a new backyard, behind a new home, in a new town. That’s another change: moving to a college ‘town’ of fewer than 20,000 non-student residents after living in a metroplex of about a million. HUGE change.
My daily pages record all this & more. The birds on the feeders (new ones here, as well as familiar favorites); what funny thing my elder grandson said. The fact that my younger grandson smiled at me (he’s definitely an old soul, at not quite 2 months!). My sister’s visit yesterday, w/ her bff, driving in from 2 hours south.
It’s good Buddhist practice, actually: note what happens, remark it, then move on. If you haven’t tried it, maybe begin gently, w/ ‘weekly’ pages. It’s worth the minor effort. Buy a small journal that appeals to you, & do a couple of pages every couple of days or weekly. One of the easiest forms of meditation I know. Honest.