For the Beauty of the Earth

When I was at school studying Chinese medicine, one of my professors said that in China, people are encouraged to go to the countryside each springtime. “They see all the green in the fields, and it soothes their Liver Qi, which relieves stress.” 

Anyone who has driven in the country in spring knows how soothing a clear green field can be. But for most people, it is a common sense “fun thing to do,” not a health treatment.

Science may soon change that perception.

Research now shows that looking at the color green boosts creativity, and that productivity improves when office workers can see outside. Our systems are made to connect with the beauty of nature, and our health improves when we make time to do so.

In the interests of building health today, here are some pictures I recently took while at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden, one of my happy places. Enjoy!

Articles used for this post: Why We Love Beautiful Things


Renew, Rebuild, Rejoice!

Photo from stock.xchang

At some time in life, most people find themselves at a crisis. They lose a job, get sick, or have something happen to a loved one. They often get through the crisis, but then suffer for months or even years trying to get back to normal functioning. Why does it take so long?

For some, it’s because they want to go back to “normal” as soon as possible, and push too hard to get there. For others, it’s because they won’t accept that “normal” has changed. The crisis changed their lives, and what was once dependable–income, energy, or family interactions–has changed forever. 

So how do you adjust to changed circumstances and reclaim a fulfilling life?

I call the process of creating a new normal Renew, Rebuild, and Rejoice

Renew. Renew means to make new again, and for our purposes has a couple of applications. First, after a crisis, you must look at your life as if it is new. Challenge the old normal. If you’ve lost your job, maybe you should look at new fields, or new ways to use your skills–maybe work for yourself, or for a different industry than your previous employment. If your changed life revolves around a health problem, rethink what you “must do” every day if your condition saps your energy or ability to function as you once did.

Renew also means to restore to new level. Restoring things takes time. Even if you can have your old normal back, and want it, accept that you will need time to do that. You may need to rearrange your schedule to allow time to rebuild. Taking the time to build yourself up rather than jumping into your regular schedule as soon as possible makes it less likely you will collapse or otherwise suffer from doing too much too soon.

Renew your life by re-assessing normal, and giving yourself time to. .

Rebuild. Rebuilding is the actual process of getting back to ‘fighting trim.’ Rebuilding can mean anything from doing physical therapy to seeking counseling to following a special diet to give yourself what you need to recover from your crisis. It can also mean literally rebuilding–whether it’s doing weight work to get your muscles back after an accident or repairing your house after a natural disaster. Rebuilding is a conscious choice, and you can make the tools you use in rebuilding a permanent part of your life it appropriate.

Rejoice! The point of overcoming a crisis is to be able to live a full life again. Too often, a crisis steals something from you, and then you never recover from the sense of loss. Rejoicing means embracing the new normal, and finding fulfillment within the boundaries of your life. It means being thankful to still have a life, however different it may be. Rejoicing also implies a hope for the future. Things may be challenging now, but by making time to do the work and take the rest to recover from whatever knocks you down, you hasten the day when you can wake up smiling, and enjoy your life.

The Emergency Attitude Adjustment

I have been tearful. A few projects have not been going as planned, and so today, frustrated one time too many by an annoying bump in the road, I cried–runny nose, crinkled up face, whiny voice, smeared makeup–the whole package of female-dom that has had it.

There was a time when I spent much of my life in this state. The feeling that life had shortchanged me in some way dominated my thoughts. A pretty day or happy surprise might buoy me up for a day, or a week, but my overriding thought was that I needed to have, do, or be more than I was.

Years of life, of therapy, of reading, of praying, and of emulating those who seemed to have more keys to happiness  has helped me see there is no virtue in constant criticism–of myself or others. I try to consciously fill my mind with uplifting thoughts, words, and images to minimize the influence of old thought patterns bent on tearing me down.

Yet sometimes, I’m snot-nosed in the bathroom, crying that it just isn’t fair.

So I have developed The Emergency Attitude Adjustment. As soon as I realize I have let hopelessness, discouragement, or doubt overtake me, I turn to these steps to return to the road to positivity. Since we all have moments like these, I offer these points to pull yourself out of a well of unhappiness or self-pity:

  1. Cultivate thankfulness. It is hard to complain when you are thankful. Today, when I came to myself, I expressed gratitude for everything. “Thank you for the blue sky. Thank you for the warm weather. Thank you for letting me see that adorable little boy and his perfect little shoes. Thank you for birds, and their songs. Thank you for my husband. Thank you that our problems are hassles, not emergencies.” If you have a faith, as I do as a Christian, thank God; if not, just be grateful for what you have. Just a few minutes of looking for things to appreciate and my problems seemed smaller and less overwhelming. The changes that gratitude causes in brain chemistry alone is a great benefit as well.
  2. Go over what is working. Today I was focused only on the problems in our life. When my husband tried to (gently) point out the good things we had, I tore them apart, too–because they weren’t as good as I wanted them to be. A little later, I re-evaluated my downer thoughts, and realized we have made a fair bit of progress in our life. My health has improved because I have made firm changes in my eating habits and exercise; my business has improved to the point that I now must organize myself better to get in all of my responsibilities in a day; and I have plans to get several irritating blocks to my productivity solved. I haven’t solved them yet: I have more chaos in my life than I would like, and I haven’t seen all the fruits of my improved health choices. But rather than letting that continue to discourage me, I chose to see the progress implied in the new patterns of mess. And I felt better.
  3. Choose happiness. Several years ago, I made the radical decision to be happy. For some reason, I had grown up thinking that happiness was wrong. That if you weren’t worried about something or dissatisfied with  yourself in some way, you were being smug, or lazy, or prideful–something bad, at any rate. Studying the benefits of relaxation while learning more about Chinese medicine led me to a powerful conclusion: happiness is a choice. I can control what I think. If a problem shows up, I can worry about it, complain about it, or look for the opportunity in it. Developing this skill has been a long process, but now I usually only slip for a day or two, and then climb back on my Happiness Wagon.
  4. Reach out to others. When I let darkness and gloom surround me, I only want to be around people so I can complain to them. Surprisingly, this approach limits the number of people who want to be in my circle of friends. Now, I try to share something positive with others, especially when I feel down myself. If I feel discouraged, it helps if I think of someone else who may be discouraged and send them a card, or call them. If I am worried, I look to reassure someone else. At first, I may seem a little awkward trying to reach out, because it is a new action. If I am ham-fisted, I apologize and try again. Most people appreciate anyone who tries to help them, especially when they can tell the helpful person is out of their own comfort zone.
  5. Be honest with yourself. All this positivity is not meant to be a Pollyanna, pie-in-the-sky approach to life. Denying that you feel angry, hurt, confused, or discouraged and stuffing those emotions down while you force a smile is neither healthy or helpful. This lesson has been a hard one for me, since I could not see how to give thanks through my tears. I have noticed in the past couple of years that when I start my ascent from despair with an honest statement–“I am discouraged now; I am angry; I wish this had gone better”– that I get to an honest feeling of peace much more quickly. 

I hope you find these steps as helpful as I have found them. Try them the next time you find yourself discouraged!

I Want to be Alone

Photo Credit: trubluboy
I am cranky today. I admit it. My husband is trying to be sociable, asking me questions to show he is interested in me and my day. I do not want to answer these questions. I want quiet. I want to read by myself, and write by myself. I want, in short, to be alone.

Christine Lavin wrote a funny song about this desire, and in the end decides being alone eventually becomes being lonely, so she thinks better of it. I will, too. But right now, a world without another person or animal craving my attention, affection, help, or action seems wonderfully attractive.

Why should this be so? The world, it seems, is made of introverts and extroverts. I’ve known this ever since I took the Myers-Briggs Personality Profile  in college. My results showed me right on the introvert/extrovert line, leaning slightly toward introversion. I usually don’t notice how this affects my personality until I have a lot of time either alone or with others. This week, I’ve had to be “on” a lot in business. Seeing lots of people, many of them new faces, trying to remember all the relevant facts you need in business interactions–names, details, running your words through a filter to be as congenial as possible. 

It left me drained, even though I usually find working with people rewarding and energizing. So this week, I come home, craving the quiet I expect with my also-introverted husband. . .and he’s been alone too much. He wants to talk. He wants to connect. He wants interaction. He tries to be funny. I struggle not to snap at him.

Is there a lesson, or an encouragement, to be pulled from this limited time of tension in the Green household? Here’s what I’ve gleaned:

  • People need what they need. Trying to be happy and cheerful in the face of demanding (or even not-so-demanding) patients and spouses and friends will only have limited rewards. If it’s downtime you need, make some downtime. If you can’t take a day and a book and head to your bedroom, then take 15 minutes in the middle of the day and run away, or go for a walk. Take five minutes and hide in the bathroom, if that’s the best you can do. Take some time to be alone. Close your eyes. Breathe deeply. Recharge. Repeat as necessary.
  • Realize it could just be you. When I was younger and people got on my nerves, I immediately assumed that the people were irritating, or intentionally pestering me. Now I realize that the attention I want to flee today is the same attention I usually crave. It is not fair to my husband, or the patients who have the right to expect a friendly demeanor, to blame them for my state. Situations like these are exactly the reason that self-care is so important. If you don’t give yourself what you need, you aren’t the only one who is miserable. Anyone within earshot–or in this day and age, within Facebook, Twitter, or e-mail contact–will be affected by your bad mood.
  • No one is perfect, and you can only expect so much. My crankiness reminds me that other people will not always be predictable and friendly, either. Whether illness leaves a friend feeling less than one hundred percent, or a serious stress distracts a server at a restaurant, we live among humans. Cutting each other some slack is part of our job as fellow beings. So smile and give the other person the benefit of the doubt.
Thankfully, Jim has found a book to read, and I am (almost) happily typing away, immersed in my own writing world. Tomorrow I will probably want to grouse about not going out, and not being around people for an outing. For tonight, I will get ready for bed, and curl up and sleep, or sit and stare at the ceiling and think, or find a book and read–any activity that only needs me. Being alone, or being allowed to not interact with the wonderful person who shares my life, will allow me to recharge my body and soul and be ready to embrace the world and my husband again very soon.

How can you tell that it’s time for you to regroup and get centered? Please share in the comments!