I love how reading a poem can almost instantly alleviate stress. So I thought I’d share this sweet bit of verse from W.S. Merwin. Not only does it capture the beauty of an everyday moment, it tells us a little story. We learn about the narrator’s history, age, and how his garden exists with or without him. Merwin lived for many years in Hawaii, restoring a few acres of treed land he preserved as the Merwin Conservancy (not pictured above). Lucky for us he did.
If you need a silent moment of relaxation, read this. You can hear the soft chiming as if you were there.
In the garden house
the digging fork and the spade
hanging side by side on their nails
play a few notes I remember
that echo many years
as the breeze comes in with me
out of the summer light
they know the notes by now
so well that the music
seems to be going on
all by itself in the shade
of the roof I made for them
half my life ago
and I see the garden now
far away in itself
reflected in the polished spade
as a place I have never been
while the music goes on
echoing the days
–W.S. Merwin, from The Moon Before Morning, (Copper Canyon Press, 2014). Copyright 2014 by W.S. Merwin.
For another garden poem by W.S. Merwin, click here.
On the night my husband and I signed our will, our friends acted as witnesses. The four of us sat with the notary at the dining table, signing the documents that would outline how and what our kids would inherit when my husband and I passed away. It wasn’t at the top of my list for Friday night fun but we did it. Little did I know signing that estate plan would completely change my life perspective.
An Inventory of Everything
Later that night as I went upstairs, I ran into my two daughters who were getting ready for bed. As we often do, we joked around and touched base about the goings on of the next day. Then the giggles subsided and we all wandered toward our rooms.
As I lay in bed, I thought about how my daughters didn’t know they’d inherit a house and a car and little nest egg of money. They didn’t know all we considered in putting together our plan: what might happen and what the kids might need. Though the girls knew we’d signed an estate plan, they of course weren’t interested. They had school and friends and work on their minds.
Absently I stared at the closed bedroom door. I thought of my sister who’d passed away in May. She was gone from me, and the earth, forever. So what did I have left? I realized what I had left was just on the other side of the door: my kids. Not far away, not gone from the earth, but just a few steps away! Wow. My son, though far away, was in his college apartment with his buddies. He was a text or phone call away. Wow. I had three kids who loved me. That’s what I had left. Not to mention a loving husband.
How lucky am I? I thought. I get to wake up tomorrow and I could, if I chose, talk to all of them. Spend time with them. See their faces.
A Total Shift in Life Perspective
Slowly, my body filled with a sense of awe. Warmth. I was stunned by the love of my family. My husband. Our pets, past and present. I felt thankful for our friends of that night, and others I’d made over the years. All the experiences and travels I’d had.
As I listed all the good stuff in my life, I grew overwhelmed. Felt the power of gratitude. I couldn’t believe what a wonderful life I had. Yes, my sister passed away, yes, my mother-in-law too. And yes, I’d had health problems this year but still, I was here, on earth in this moment. I felt like the luckiest woman in the world. I radiated a happiness I hadn’t felt at such a strong intensity before. It was like my happiness skyrocketed into space. I floated with peace.
Afterward, I made a choice to enjoy my life as much as I could every day. Actually enjoy it. I’d never enjoyed life. I mostly thought about what was wrong and how to make it better. No longer. I decided to hang on to that wild and wondrous feeling I’d had that night. To be happy. For the first time in my life, I realized being happy was actually a choice, not a thing to work toward or that happened from time to time. I had the power to change my life perspective if I relaxed enough to enjoy the good things. And I haven’t let go since.
Have you ever had an epiphany like that? How do you stay happy? Maybe you keep a gratitude journal. If you have ideas, let me know!
Recently I found an older book with some lasting ideas. Rory Vaden’s Take the Stairs offers great inspiration for those looking to stop procrastinating in all areas of their life. The one aspect though most people won’t want to hear is succeeding in life takes self-discipline. Vaden says you can’t succeed if you take shortcuts, like an escalator. Only if you take the stairs will you build muscle. Similarly, if you take care of the hardest tasks again and again, especiallys when you don’t feel like it, you will accomplish your goals.
Seven Principles of Self-Discipline
Vaden structures the book according to seven principles of self-discipline: sacrifice, commitment, focus, integrity, scheduling, faith, and action. Here are the most memorable things I learned from each of these.
Sacrifice. Choices that are easy in the short term are very often in direct conflict with what makes life easy in the long term.
Commitment. Changing from the question, “Should I?” to “How will I?” is the mind-set shift that makes all the difference.
Focus. Focus is about not allowing your attention to be distracted by less important tasks. The intensity of your focus is proportionate to the clarity of your vision.
Integrity. People with integrity align what they say with what they do. Achievers say they’re going to workout and then go do it. Achievers say they’re going to finish an important project that day and they do. You think it, you speak it, you act on it, and it happens.
Scheduling. We’re taught we need balance but Vaden believes we need to spend appropriate amounts of time on the priorities most critical to us.
Faith. Having faith is knowing that if you fail now, you’ll have something better waiting for you later.
Action. The three enemies of action are fear, entitlement, and perfectionism. If you let any of those three things guide you in the moment, you will procrastinate your intentions.
Overall, Vaden believes for high-achievers, success is not about skill, it’s about your will to succeed. We don’t fail because of poor circumstances, we fail because we lack discipline. Those are hard words to hear but also useful ones. Sometimes when a challenge is overwhelming and painful, it means a greater, more satisfying reward lies ahead. So we shouldn’t blame ourselves if we have a setback, just learn from it and get back on track.
Make no mistake. Self-help writer Gabrielle Bernstein’s latest book, Super Attractor, is definitely woo-woo. It offers mantras, it’s got the word “Universe,” all over it, it references the famous channeler Abraham. If you’re the kind of reader who makes fun of touchy-feely, pseudo-psychological books, then this book is not for you. But if you’re the kind of reader who can see past that and take the author’s advice for what it is, then you’ll get quite a bit out of this book.
What’s It About?
The premise launches from that mid-2000s television special called The Secret. The Secret talked about how when we align ourselves with the positivity and joy of the universe, good fortune comes our way. Basically, the idea is you manifest whatever your mind focuses on. So the question becomes can you “manifest” ten-thousand dollars? Probably not. But if you align all of your mind’s thoughts and actions with that goal, you may indeed end up with ten-thousand dollars eventually.
So while the idea is a little out there, I have to attest that it actually works. I’ve had situations in my life when I stopped pushing and agonizing over a “want,” only to have that “want” fulfilled only because I let go of my angsty desire for it and came at the goal from a place of detached, relaxed love. It’s strange. It’s happened to me with real estate, relationships, and career success.
As Bernstein says, you have to align yourself with what you want to attract. Part of that alignment is positive thinking, yes, but a bigger part is also concrete action. Every action you take, even if small, builds to form a fluid productive process toward your ultimate goal.
The Idea of Faith
But as Bernstein says you can’t push it. You can’t force it. You can’t agonize over it. It’s got to come from a place of love and joy and wholeness. You have to keep an open faith in yourself and the future. And that idea of faith is where the book gets woo-woo. Bernstein talks about her spiritual faith a lot, and she encourages you to do so as well. But she also says whether that’s God, the universe, a higher power, or another larger, more powerful consciousness other than yourself is up to you. The point is to swim with life’s flow, not flail against the current.
What I Got out of This Book
And so, once you buy in, I think you’ll find solid advice here. Bernstein, in her very organized way, guides you through the process. In early chapters, she helps you rid yourself of the negativity that may be holding you back. Then, once you truly feel aligned with positivity, she helps you dial into the abundance waiting for you. She believes the universe and spiritual guides play a part and this is where the book got a little far-fetched for me.
But then she goes into how to align yourself through what you do everyday to this larger plan, which I found highly useful. Also, her ideas about the importance of intention and gratitude also resonated with me. Plus, she wraps it up with some fairly useful ideas about how to keep your positivity going beyond the book.
So, if you’re looking for a book to motivate you into making changes this January, I highly recommend it. Gabby Bernstein knows how to effectively help us discover our best selves and that alone makes this book worth reading.
Good morning, my fellow living soul. I woke up this Monday feeling down, despite a good night’s sleep. I dragged myself out of bed, even though it was warm and I was still sleepy, and I forced myself to exercise and get to work. As I did, I lamented the low bank of clouds that often push over Seattle during this time of year. Clouds cover the sun and darken the sky, rain taps steadily, and the house is dark. Only lamps artificially light my way. I feel a little depressed and hopeless. Because I usually feel this way on dark days and today was a yucky Monday, I wondered how I could conquer the gloomy Monday blues.
An Inspiring Conversation
When I exercise, I sometimes like to watch YouTube. I’ll pop on an inspirational Ted Talk or interview with an interesting thinker. Today, I happened to find Marie Forleo’s chat with Mel Robbins, the author of The Five-Second Rule. Robbins invented The Five-Second Rule to help her overcome hesitation. It basically states that when you want to throw up your “emergency brake” on a situation you’re not sure about, count five seconds, and then plunge ahead. It’s a way to force yourself into listening to your positive gut instincts to progress positively in life. Robbins has a Ted Talk that outlines the idea, which is okay but not as thorough as her book.
Anyway, as I was watching, Robbins explained the concept behind her new book. It’s called The High 5 Habit. The High 5 Habit is a small gesture you do every day to get yourself motivated. It’s also a gesture that feels stupid and weird when you first do it. But as I listened to Robbin’s logic in doing it, I became convinced it could be effective.
Basically, the High 5 Habit means giving yourself a high-five every day in the mirror. Robbins created it right as the world was locking down from the Covid-19 pandemic. She felt exhausted, lost, old, and out of ideas. Also, she was super worried about her finances as the pandemic meant her husband, who was in the restaurant business, had to of course shut down for a while.
One day, Robbins saw herself in the bathroom mirror and realized that the woman staring back at her looked like crap and felt like crap. Without thinking, she high-fived herself. She laughed she said, feeling foolish. But the next day, she did it again, and when she did it again, she realized that the reason she’d done it was because she realized the woman in the mirror needed her support.
Being Our Own Best Friend
Robbins told how if any friend of hers felt down, she always could pump them back up with a pep talk. Help them see their good qualities, coach them back to feeling motivated, support their endeavors, and cheer on their dreams. But she said she hadn’t been doing that for herself. She realized there were actually two people in the bathroom with her every day, she and the mirrored image of herself. And that mirrored image, that woman she saw, kind of as her soul reflection, needed her support. So she started this habit of supporting that soul.
I felt inspired by Robbins’s simple but powerful gesture. Did I high-five myself today? Well, yeah, I did. And I felt dumb. Robbins says you have to high-five for five days before the silly feeling wears off. So I’ll stick with it. She also said that she’s found people who high-five themselves either laugh or cry. And the ones who cry are feeling some serious stuff. They’re realizing they haven’t ever supported themselves and oftentimes have dragged enormous baggage behind them through life: abuse, neglect, etc.
A Way to Start the Day
After I high-fived myself, I thought about how hard I am on that soul. How I always think I should get more done in the day than I do. How I waste time. And, if I miss a few little goals for myself, I beat myself up for it. That’s not helpful. As Mel Robbins said, just waking up and getting out of bed in the morning is an accomplishment. It means that despite whatever life threw at me in the past, I still decided to live on. So I’ve resolved to forgive myself for what I didn’t accomplish the previous day or how I failed or how I could have been more productive or a better person. Now, I see the soul of the woman in the mirror and think, “Life is tough and you’re doing a pretty decent job despite it all.”
When I thought in those terms, my disappointment with the weather evaporated. It no longer mattered. Rain or sun, I woke up. I got out of bed. I looked myself in the mirror and supported the soul who stared back, flaws and all. It was an accomplishment. The woman in the mirror would do what she could today. Hopefully, you too can high-five yourself in the mirror. Remember, wherever you are, this is a new day. That brings the wonderful gift of time to try and live life well again.