Dandelions

dandelions

I have a love-hate relationship with dandelions.

I love them when they first appear in early spring. Their little yellow faces peeking out from every available patch of green make me smile with delight in the return of Spring and color to the Earth. Their tenacity and fierce determination to thrive under any and every possible condition encourages me.

There is something so amazing about a common weed that can be found everywhere that is both delicious to eat and incredibly good for me! If our lawns weren’t so contaminated with chemicals, I’d have an abundance of healthy food for weeks.

And then they go to seed … and I remember why I hate them.

My yard suddenly looks like an abandoned lot within hours after I mow it, as the blooms morph from cheerful yellow smiley faces to angry white mushroom clouds sending out their spores far and wide. This transformation always seems to happen overnight and catch me completely unaware.

Suddenly I find myself out stomping about the yard trying to dig up each one of them (root and all) only to notice that they have now also taken over my flower beds, the cracks in the flagstone patio, the patches of groundcover, and even the stone covered walkways. I become like an avenging angel of death in my attempt to get every last one of them, even as I know it’s a battle that is doomed to failure before I even start.

The abundance of rain the last few days is making it a bit easier than normal to get even the roots of each of these weeds as I pull them up. This makes the whole process a bit less painful than it is some years.

However, as I’ve gone about my attack on the dandelions this year, it’s prompting me to ponder the fact that so often in life the very thing we may admire about someone or something (the tenacity of dandelions) is the very same thing that later grates on our nerves about that same someone or something (they are taking over my flower beds).

I know I am guilty of forgetting the benefit of a given attribute (that was often the initial attraction) once I become aware of the shadow side of that attribute. I want the benefit without the cost, but life doesn’t work that way. Everyone and everything has its bright side and its shadow, and these are inextricably connected because the light and the shadow are so often the very same thing.

I think it may be worth taking a moment to make sure I see both the light and the shadow in any trait I notice in myself and others for a bit. It may help me to be a bit less impatient with the shadow sides I encounter.

After all, even dandelions have their bright yellow faces and their healthy, delicious greens. If I can find a bright side there, surely I can find it in myself and in others too.

Soaking up the sun

Max

The last couple of days have been bright and sunny ones, and without the leaves on the trees this time of year, the skylights in the living room create large patches of sunshine that travel slowly across the room as the sun moves through the sky over the course of the day. My two cats, like every cat I’ve ever known, love the sunshine. They have both paid a great deal of attention to the spots of sunshine moving across the room the last two days, but their reactions could not have been more different.

Max
Max

Max is the more dominant of my two cats. He doesn’t seem to be scared of much of anything, and he spends a great deal of time bullying my other cat. His biggest fascinations in life, though, are light and shadow. He is convinced that if he just tries hard enough, he can capture the light and hold onto it. As the spots of sun moved through the room, he attacked every surface the sun landed on.

He tried to dig through the carpet and the seat cushion of one chair to find the source of the light below it. He tried to eat my tax paperwork when the light shone on it to consume the light he was seeing. He knocked over another chair to look beneath it for the source of the light. He chased the light, he pounced on it, he tried every tactic he knew to capture and hold onto it.

Needless to say, it didn’t work. The sun still set at the end of the day, and the spots of light disappeared from the room. And in all that time, he never looked up see where the light was coming from or take a moment just to revel in the joy of its presence.

Sadie
Sadie

My other cat, Sadie, has the timid, easily-frightened demeanor of one who is bullied. He took great care of stay out of Max’s frantic chasing of the light, but when he could safely do so, he would settle into a patch of sunlight, point his little face into the sun with his eyes squinting shut, and purr with contentment as he soaked up the light and warmth.

He made no attempt to capture it or contain it. He didn’t fight Max for the right to have more space in the sun, he just took pleasure in what he had in that moment. I don’t know if cats are capable of gratitude, but he sure looked like a picture of it!

As I watched the two of them today, I realized that I so often treat good things in life the way Max responded to the sunshine. I race around trying to capture the good moments so I can keep them. I want to possess them, so they can never leave. I frantically dig and them trying to analyze where they came from to ensure that I can make them happen again. I fret about the likelihood that the moment won’t last.

I would be so much better served to be more like Sadie. To settle in and enjoy the moment for all its worth, with my face turned toward the source of all good things radiating gratitude. I could soak up every morsel of pleasure and contentment available in that moment. How much richer life would be!

The power of metaphor

It’s New Year’s Eve—that time when it is so popular to set new resolutions for behaviors we plan to change in the new year. For most of us, these commitments to change don’t last very long. In no time at all, we are back to our usual behaviors and our usual habits.

I’ve seen dozens of good blog posts in the last few days presenting ideas for how to make better resolutions so they last longer or analyzing the reasons why our New Year’s resolutions so seldom work for us. There has been an abundance of wisdom and helpful tips shared—so many, in fact, that I won’t even attempt to make a list of all that I have found valuable.

I did encounter one post from Psychology Today’s Ethical Wisdom blog, however, that prompted me to look for possible change at an even deeper level than I normally consider. In his recent post What’s Your Metaphor? Shifting Shapes in the New Year, author Mark Matousek explores the powerful impact that the metaphors we hold about life have on us. This effect is just as powerful whether we are consciously aware of our metaphor as it is if it only lives in our subconscious.

What do I mean by a metaphor for life? I’m referring to those simple analogies we make like “Life is journey,” or “Life is  battle,” or “Life is a game.” These simple little statements have a profound impact on the way we perceive the things that happen to us in life and on the way we interpret circumstances, situations, and relationships. These beliefs color our entire world.

Mark spent some time asking people he knew about their metaphors for life, and then he put together a list of the these metaphors coupled with descriptions of the person (or people) who provided the metaphor. As I looked through his list, it was easy to see the correlation between the metaphor and the characteristics and behavior the person displays in their daily life.

In fact, as I read through the list, there were several metaphors that jumped out at me as things that I have said or believe about life. In each case, I recognized traits and behaviors from his descriptions of the person holding that metaphor to be true to be things that I have long wanted to change about the way I interact with the world but have been unable to change thus far.

So this year, I am skipping the usual resolutions. Instead, I am resolving to spend some time digging deep to find the metaphors for life that I am holding (consciously or subconsciously), determining which ones I find helpful, and changing or letting go of those that I find unhelpful. With that deeper foundation in place, I will have a firmer base on which to create the kinds of outward changes I normally consider for New Year’s resolutions.

Whether you are choosing to make resolutions this year or not, whether you choose to join me in digging deeper to look at your own metaphors for life or not, I wish you all a very happy and blessed New Year! May 2012 bring each of you the healing, grace, and transformation you need!

We are not our minds

In Western culture, we tend to not only view the mind, the body, and the spirit as separate parts of our being, but we also tend to place the highest value on the mind. I think this is slowly beginning to shift, but the priority we place on the value of our minds is something that is still an often unconscious assumption that underlies our choices, our behavior, and where we place our attention. Our body is often seen as just a housing for our minds. Likewise, western religion has shown a tendency to see the body as just the vessel that holds our spirit, with the spirit being given the greater value than the lowly vessel.

While most of us do acknowledge the obvious effects our bodies can have on our minds—like the fact that we may have a harder time concentrating when we are tired or have a harder time controlling our emotional responses when stressed—research continues to show us that these interconnections are more pervasive and more subtle than we often assume.

I read a fascinating post today in Scientific American online called A Brief Guide to Embodied Cognition: Why You Are Not Your Brain by Samuel McNerney that shares some history of the field of embodied cognition as well as some of the latest research findings. The entire article is absolutely fascinating! What they are finding is that our thoughts are much more strongly influenced by our physical experiences than we have previously realized.  Many of the metaphorical expressions we use every day are indicators of this connection.

For example, one study found that in a brief interaction with a stranger, a study participant who was holding warm cups of coffee was more likely to find the stranger trustworthy than a study participant holding cold cups of coffee. This impact of warmth on our perception of another person fits well with our expression of “warming up” to someone as we get to know them and develop a positive perception of them. This influence also works the other way. Another study showed that study participants who had just spent time remembering a situation in which they were socially accepted judged the temperature of the room to be about five degrees warmer than study participants who had just spent time remembering a situation in which they were snubbed.

These sorts of unconscious interplays between mind, body, and spirit are occurring every moment of every day of our lives. When we attempt to place our priority and our focus only on our “rational” minds, we lose sight of the fact that the mind is interconnected with our bodies and our spirits in a way that cannot be cleanly divided into separate areas.

For me, yoga has been one powerful way for me to become more aware of my full state of being. The development of a witness, or observer, consciousness through asana practice and meditation has allowed me to live with greater awareness of my body, my spirit, and my mind in any given moment so I can evaluate my thoughts and feelings with a more complete data set. It brings a greater mindfulness to all that I do.

In one of my coaching classes last night, we discussed how often we react to situations based on past experiences that have pre-conditioned us rather than responding in the present moment to the situation that is actually at hand. The most powerful way to break these pre-conditioned reactions (or what yoga calls samskara) is to take a moment to become aware of the information that our emotions and our body itself is giving us before we respond.

Not only has taking that time to notice helped me begin to change long-standing habits and make better decisions, it’s also helping me place a higher value on taking care of my body. I still have LOTS of room to grow in this area, but I am finding myself paying more attention to how much I sleep, what I eat, how much water I drink, my physical posture, and how much activity I am getting. I’m starting to make better decisions about my self-care, and I am learning to take the state of my body into account when I consider the messages my thoughts and feelings are telling me. It has truly broadened and enhanced my world.

How do you make these connections between your mind, your body, and your spirit? Do you give an equal priority to all of who you are? If not, can you think of one thing you can do today to start bringing better balance?