A walk in the woods

Today is March 5th.  It doesn’t feel like March to me, but it looks like I expect March in eastern Canada to look.   There is plenty of snow, and plenty of sunshine, but boy, it is still very cold, unseasonably cold.  There is no sap running yet in those maple trees.

My own sap seemed to have dried up some, too.   I resent the cold, ridiculous as that might be, and long for different weather.   Today, though, I took it upon myself to dress up and head for the park, ready to enjoy the sunshine if not the temperature.  Grateful for my day off, and that I finished an early draft of a presentation this morning, I layered up, pulled on the boots and thick mitts and  the warm and very ugly fleece hat that Dan literally found out in the woods some years ago, and I headed out.

It was not only my misfortune that I had to make a stop at the hardware store first.   I felt some mild pity for those who had to view my backwoods attire, but at least it was the hardware store and not some place where customer appearance might raise eyebrows.  If mine raised anybody else’s eyebrows, I was unable to see them from under my fleece hat.

I did ultimately arrive at the park, checking out the cars in the parking lot (How many people am I going to run into here?), the piles of snow at the edges of the lot, and securing my keys to avoid an unpleasant surprise upon my return.  These are all strategies to delay actually getting out of the car and into the cold.   But I finally did what I went for, and got out into the day.    There was an immediate payoff.   I discovered a lovely surprise:   someone had decorated a Mardi Gras tree!  Yes, purple, green and gold decorations on a charming little spruce just off the main trail.  The gold was glittering in the sunshine, though the tree itself was in the shade of the forest, but it sure made me smile, remembering Mardi Gras of years gone by, and making me wonder who, in this part of the world, would celebrate this way?

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So there was a bit of delight, but I had to move along and quickly, because my personal temperature was dropping fast there in the woods.   Walking was predictably hard but at least there was a track; first a rolled track for the skiers and then I landed on a snowmobile trail.  Say what you might about those noisy, gas guzzling, roaring monsters of the winter night, they do lay a nice trail on top of the snow for us walkers and especially walkers with dogs.   When I slipped of the track, I discovered just how deep the snow really is….that would be somewhat deeper than my leg is long.

But the moral of the story is this:   warm happens.   By the time I was up and down and around a bit out there on the trail, I was unzipping the jacket and popping off the hat for a bit of ventilation.  Who could have imagined that?   The warmth lasted, too;  I stayed warm for hours, warm physically with the movement and warm also emotionally, with the sense of connection to the world that I gained with my little adventure.

Sending you warm wishes for your late winter….Peace….

Leslie

Body pain, emotional pain: why I don’t work out at the gym

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Working out challenges me. I am challenged physically, of course, and also in terms of my attitude and thoughts, so I guess I could say that I am cognitively challenged, too. I have to stay positive, to avoid over-thinking and to just DO IT.

But what I have found out about working out at home, is that the sensations in my body allow to me access other kinds of emotional responses than I thought likely…or even possible. I suppose if I had not been a client of bioenergetic therapy for more than ten years, I would perhaps not feel free to allow the behavioural expression of my experience. But I do, and I am amazed and full of wonder at what is going on.

Specifically, when I work through some of the deepest and most chronic of my body tensions, it hurts. It hurts a lot, but I am okay there, knowing that what hurts is my own tension. I am not injuring myself but pressing extraordinarily tight tissues against gentle resistance, such as the foam roller, or opening my hip outward using a strap to support my leg. What happens is this: I wait with the sensation, sink into the intensity, try to allow relaxation to happen around the exquisite pain of the place where my resistance meets the roller (for example). And I am moved to sobbing, deep, deep sobbing, tears and wailing. It feels pulled out of me, from my deepest self, like part of me is tearing apart. Rolling my thoracic spine over the roller has a piquancy that is like nothing else, but as the roller descends toward my lower ribs, to the area of my diaphragm, the intensity increases. It is painful, genuinely painful, but I know it is not the pain of injury. It is the pain of my chronic tensions, chronic defenses against living my own life, resisting the pressure to soften, to release, to let go, to allow, to surrender.

So I do let go; I let go into the sobbing and wailing and that contributes to some softening and relaxing. I can’t stay for long; the sensations are too intense, my reactions are big, and I can only hold that space for a few moments.   There it is:  my body letting go another tiny bit, releasing ancient tensions through sobbing and vibration.  I don’t have any stories to tell myself about WHY I am crying, don’t have any need to locate a reason in my everyday world.  It just happens.  Then it is over.  And then I can step away, take a deep breath, and rest in the experience of a new and different body, a calmer and more alive self than just a few moments before.  The ground feels more secure, the world looks brighter, and I am intensely present to myself.

Music moves me….and probably you, too.

2013-06-02 14.03.11Music has power in our bodies, to the degree to which we permit it.

This is obvious but so much a part of everyday life that I suspect we ignore it.  We certainly don’t use it to our best advantage.  In fact, it may be used to influence our behaviour without our awareness.   Have you ever noticed the background music in restaurants or grocery stores?  You might wonder, actually, why on earth anyone bothers to have music in the grocery store.  But it is for a very clear reason:  people’s behavioural tempos are affected by the music in the background, even, or maybe especially, when you are not fully aware of what you are hearing.

I play music in my waiting room, and it is a particular, carefully chosen type of music.   I choose relaxing, non-challenging music for that space.  I don’t want music that is too hard to listen to, so I don’t include jazz or (much) classical music, because most people don’t feel comfortable with that music. And because the trajectory lines in that music are long…that is, in order to feel the whole pattern, you have to listen for several minutes, and that’s not always available in the waiting room.  Even with that, I don’t put Top 40 pop on my playlist because going to the therapist is NOT like going to the mall.  It is not a casual, no-big-deal sort of experience.   I look for fairly attractive, innocuous, relaxing music without obvious repetitive patterns.  In other words, New Age music which is often actually marketed for relaxation or to accompany massage, Reiki, or other calming modalities.

All of this actually is peripheral to my point, which I promise to get to…..we are affected, sometimes quite deeply, by the music and sounds around us, but we are often not mindful of these effects.  When you tune in to what you are hearing, you become part of the moment, part of what is going on.   You get to experience your own experience!   In a very clear way, you see yourself responding to the music, which otherwise you might consider background.  But background becomes foreground when we take a moment, breathe, listen, and feel.

This question of how music affects you can be an entire area for self-inquiry.   What kinds of music do you find energizing?   Enlivening? Relaxing and soothing?  What challenges you to pay attention?  What do you notice about yourself when you are challenged that way?    And of course, music will tap into memory systems.  So you might notice that songs from your youth generate some feelings that are like you might have felt years ago.   How can you put those bits together?

As you begin this practice, you may begin also to understand how you might have been triggered into a different mood state in the past.   Perhaps you came home from the store feeling really wonderful, bright, cheerful, alive….maybe you heard a song on the “background music” that reminded you of a wonderful memory.   Or perhaps you suddenly develop a dark, somber mood….what have you just been hearing?

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JS Bach, thanks to: (http://www.8notes.com250px-JSBach.jpg)

If music can affect our mood without our awareness, can we harness that power to influence our moods purposefully?  I know that Bach has gotten me through some very difficult times.  When everything else in my life seems like it is falling apart, I can put on the some of the piano works and feel a shift.  Even though listening to Bach won’t fix my life, it can remind me that some things maintain their integrity and will stay stable even if I feel like I am coming unglued.   I also know that I have run some pretty long distances listening to even cheesy music like Tom Petty singing “I Won’t Back Down.”  Having a sound track for parts of your life can shift mood, support memory, and remind you that your life is bigger than the story you tell yourself. Check it out: notice music in your everyday world and see what it is doing to your inner space.  Then see how you can use that information consciously.

Composting egg shells

 

 

My life seems to be made up of little realizations.  That is, I keep finding myself suddenly seeing relationships and reasons for things that I either 1) never questioned or 2) had already relegated to the “clearly understood” pile.   So now I am left wondering if I am the only person who sees things in terms of my beliefs about that rather than what they ARE.   In this case, the belief is that eggshells are what holds eggs together.  T’aint so!  T’aint so, I tell ya.

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So the story is this:  on the weekend, I had occasion to move my black plastic compost bin.  This was to make way for another backyard project, but I have to say that I wasn’t too excited about my task.   The bin has been the daily recipient of food waste from our kitchen.   That is, spoiled vegetables and limp fruit, the peels and ends of food that was on the menu, the left-over bits and pieces of kitchen, um, stuff.  Garbage, in some people’s language.   I snicker daily about putting food out on the raccoon buffet, because I know that my bin is visited nightly by assorted scavengers, and I am resigned and now somewhat amused by that fact.   I also knew that under this week’s and last week’s layers of kitchen waste, there was likely some pretty rich compost in this bin.  But to get to the compost and move the bin, I had to shovel through the recent additions.  In short, the rotting garbage.

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Like most tasks I expect to be onerous, I tried to take a mindful approach;   noticing what was present, noticing my thoughts and how my thoughts tended to influence my ability to appreciate or tolerate the task, and trying to just be with the compost, the day, and the feeling of shoveling stuff into the wheel barrow and moving it.   So it turned out to be an okay job:  in fact, I had a sense that maybe I should be more aware of the waste that I generate anyway.    And the finished compost was a thing of beauty, at least to the gardener in me.   Gorgeous, dark, friable, filled with life, actually, much of which I couldn’t see, but some of which was visible and moving in my gloves…I ended up putting a lot of the lovely black stuff in the garden.

However, I noticed that even the finished compost was full of eggshells.    Okay, I’ll admit that I eat a lot of eggs.    Not just a lot, a lot by probably anyone’s standards…more than a dozen in a week, and that’s just me, not the rest of the family.   But I figured all those shells were breaking down in the compost bin, enriching the soil with calcium and whatever cool stuff they are made of.  Not so!   Those eggshells were just as intact in the bottom of the compost bin as the ones in the top.   So…eggshells don’t break down easily in compost.

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I have been pondering this now for several days.   I want the good minerals from the eggshells in my compost.  What to do?   Crush the shells, to make things maybe work a little faster?   That won’t hurt, but I don’t know if it will help.   So I have started saving them to crush them before heading to the bin.   I have discovered that crushing eggshells isn’t as easy as it sounds.  The shell itself is just a casing for the real container for the egg itself.  The membrane of the egg is tough, flexible, and resilient.  It is living tissue, while the egg is alive, though the shell is not.   Egg shells, when the membrane is removed, are quite fragile and do crush easily.   The real protection for this egg cell, this part of a bird that can become another bird (given proper circumstances), comes from that membrane.

I have spent part of my day trying, unsuccessfully, to remove the membrane from the inside of my breakfast eggshells.    I am gobsmacked, once again, by my blindness.  I have always assumed that eggs were protected by their shells, and the hard, solid quality of that shell was what kept them safe, or relatively safe, except from predators like me.   But it seems that the hard, rigid, unyielding shell is a cover for the real protection, that membrane that flexes, bends, is resistant to tearing or breaking, and which is practically invisible.   I have been hoodwinked by eggs all this time.

Stories need a point; this one has both a metaphor and a moral.  The metaphor for me is the eggshell, representing our defenses in the world.   We can rigidify ourselves (many of us do this regularly), become firm and unyielding in our beliefs, our behaviours, our “shoulds.”     The more rigidly and tightly we hold ourselves, the more vulnerable we become to cracking and breaking.  What really and truly keeps us intact is something invisible, something that flows just beneath our tough outer shell, the sense of ourselves as organism, resilient and flexible.

thanks to http://www.minalhajratwala.com/ a lovely blog about writers, writing, and social media
thanks to http://www.minalhajratwala.com/ a lovely blog about writers, writing, and social media

So that’s the metaphor.  I like it.  It will make me think about breakfast in a different way.  The moral?   Well, that’s probably up to you.  Maybe it has something to do with finding out cool stuff even when you are shoveling garbage.  Or about garbage being in the eye of the beholder.  Or about how garbage can be transformed into insight if you look deeply.  Or something profound like that.

I’m going to continue to think about my layers;  my apparently tough but breakable outer shell, and my flexible resilient inner membrane.   I feel safer about letting go of the shell when I think of my other protection.

Bioenergetics weekend in Massachusetts, November 2013

The time has come, the walrus said….or no, the flyer actually said, the time is NOW to get the Early Bird Discount on the fall weekend program that NANZIBA is sponsoring.

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Keynote speakers are Diana Guest and Gloria Robbins.  Both of these women have vast experience as bioenergetic therapists and I am looking forward to soaking in their wisdom.

The registration information can be found here:  http://www.nanziba.com/

It looks like a good opportunity for bioenergetic clients, for therapists who want to explore a body-based modality, and of course for bioenergetic therapists to explore the experience of bringing hope into the body.

Don’t forget to sign up NOW to get the best rates.

Weather report

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I am soaking in early summer;  wallowing in it, actually.   Yesterday evening, we had the most amazing thunderstorm!   Sheets of rain pelting sideways against the house meant that we could open a window at the back and look out, feeling like being on the prow of a great ship, plunging through wild, windy seas.  I felt full of gratitude for another summer, for summer storms in general, and I could feel in my chest the expansion of being really alive.   There was something, perhaps, about the energy of the storm and my relative safety within that power, that helped me to find that place of openness.  And with the opening came gratitude.

Early summer it is easy for me to find gratitude.   The long, long days support me.  The warmer temperatures soften my resistance to what is.   When I LIKE what is, I can find gratitude.  It is harder for me to locate that body state when winter reigns, or, more accurately, when we are in those interminable “between” seasons that we have here….late fall and late winter, or early winter and early spring….all of those seem to flow together with endless days of darkness, gloom, cold and ice, rain, freezing rain….I can feel my body tightening and closing up even as I write that.

So as a body psychotherapist, I have to ask myself WHAT is responsible for my change of body state that seems connected to the seasons?  Can I just label it some biological reaction of my organism?   If I were a cognitive therapist, I would say it was what I am THINKING about the weather.   If I were to actually practice the mindfulness I have learned, I would notice that it is my liking or not liking that affects how I respond to the weather.

For today, I am going  to let go of analyzing and theorizing and just enjoy.   Humid, stormy, sunny, cloudy, breezy or still, the weather of this season feels like a friend, and I am resting hand in hand with that friend.

When do I get to be me? And who is that, anyway?

Having a little time off has given me some time to think and reflect.  Almost always when I take time for that, I end up reflecting on this work that we do together in the therapy room.  It is often profound work, and I am privileged to participate and challenged by what comes up.  So I have been thinking, and reading, about depression and anxiety.

Oak branches in March

Depression and anxiety are in different categories in the DSM IV, that important diagnostic tome that helps us to decide how to categorize “mental illness.”   But if we move away from pathologizing and into humanizing, many of the issues that come through the door of the therapy room have feelings at their core.   Either not feeling enough or feeling too much.  Depression and anxiety can have aspects of both.

Usually in depression, people can’t feel;  they have suppressed or repressed feelings for so long that numbness is a way of being.  But that might only be part of the situation.   Maybe sometimes, people have told themselves a story about what it is okay to feel, and when it is okay to feel that way.

When we feel differently than our story allows, we might experience anxiety.  There is a sense that something is wrong, really wrong.  If, for example, I am angry but my story tells me that I don’t get angry, then obviously something is seriously wrong and I get anxious.   We can get to a place where every time we feel ANYTHING, what we allow into awareness is only anxiety.   So we believe that the world is scary, or that we are scary, or that feeling anything isn’t possible because all we feel is anxious.  When there is part of the self that is not allowed to feel, either by depression (I don’t feel anything) or by anxiety (no matter what I feel it is always interpreted by my body as anxiety), then that part becomes stunted, or at least diminished….the voice of that part isn’t heard.

Could that be you?   Perhaps a whole part of you hasn’t really had time and space to become whatever it is going to become.   Maybe if you only had some time, some space, maybe then you would find this part  that has not yet fully developed.

Credit:  http://robertballew.com/2010/11/making-peace-with-your-body/
Credit: http://robertballew.com/2010/11/making-peace-with-your-body/

What has been waiting for the” right”time…when the chores are finished, or when the kids are grown,or when you’ve lost weight or whatever your particular obstacle is.  What is waiting there inside you? What is the part of you that is whole, perfect,complete just as it is?

When you open up space without judgment, allow just openness and reflection, what comes up?   Could that be a sign pointing to the “real you?”

 

Compassionate curiosity

I had to retrain my inner critic.   I had a critic who was so skillful, so sly, that she could find something wrong with just about everything I thought or did.   And she could present the criticism in such a way that it was clear that it was both 1) true and 2) necessary for me to know how bad I was.

Woohoo!    If I had a person in my life who treated me that way, I doubt that I would have stayed around for coffee.   But I lived with this person in my head for a long, long time.

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One of the side effects of having a strong inner critic is that often the real-life person (me, in my case) is extremely critical of everyone and everything else.   Well, it only makes sense….if that’s what you experience all the time, every day, then perhaps you figure that’s what your response to the rest of the world should be….ought to be…..MUST be.

Oh my gosh, there they are, all three of them in a single sentence….SHOULD, OUGHT, and MUST.   Hmm, my old favorite thought distortion….that there are shoulds, oughts, and musts in the world.   I remember the first time I ever knew that there were other ways to think about things.   An art therapist who was on some committee with me, many years ago, made some laughing comment about “shoulding all over oneself” but that was long before I was introduced to cognitive psychology and I had never heard of such a thing.  But before long, I was able to see that I not only “should” all over myself, but I was continuously “shoulding” all over other people as well.

thanks to http://www.minalhajratwala.com/ a lovely blog about writers, writing, and social media
thanks to http://www.minalhajratwala.com/ a lovely blog about writers, writing, and social media

In some stories, that would have been enough but no, I’m a pretty slow learner, and it took a lot more years, completion of my psychology training (which helped me to be ever more critical), and intensive body psychotherapy before I could start to really recognize the many manifestations of my inner critic.  First I had to detach myself from the messages I had been hearing from myself. And that’s where, finally, the title of this post comes in.

Light and shadow;  can we observe without judging, without labeling?
Light and shadow; can we observe without judging, without labeling?

When I can look at myself without immediate judging (“that’s okay, that’s not okay, I like this, I hate that, I’m doing well, I’m not doing so great”) then I have a chance to see what is really happening in my inner space.   When I can catch a passing thought and see it as a thought, then I can notice….Oh, that was a critical thought.   Hmmm, isn’t that interesting?   When I can have a friendly interest in my own processes, without having to change them, harden against criticism or melt into praise, then I am offering myself compassionate curiosity.

So what happened when I began to observe my own inner critic?  At first I was horrified to hear how much harsh self talk was going on.   Then I realized that some part of me was being highly critical of the critic!   (Yes, check out THAT logic…).  When I realized that the critic was originally a defense, yes, originally something that developed to help me to negotiate a difficult childhood,  then I could bring a bit of compassion to that part of myself.

In my bioenergetic therapy training program, we talked about ways to work with the critic:  our own critics, and the critics that accompanied our clients into the therapy office.  One plan was to figure out ways to off the critic….toss him off a cliff, for example, or trick her into leaving.   I decided to take a softer approach.  I decided to try to befriend my critic, and re-train her.  I wanted to be in charge, so I thought I would approach this situation as if she was an employee who had taken on too much responsibility over the years.

I began a dialog of sorts in my journal, and basically re-wrote the job description.  I thanked my critic for the years of protection, and spent quite a lot of time reflecting on the ways that my strong internal demand for certain behaviour saved me from an angry parent, from dismissal from my graduate program, from neglecting my children despite my fatigue.   Then I just informed her that things were now different.  I was an adult with good habits and didn’t need anyone constantly harping about me.  What I did need, though, was support.

Support is one of those ambiguous terms.  People may mean very different things by that term.  So I did with my critic what I suggest clients do with family members:  I carefully described what I wanted for support.   I wanted, for example, my inner voice to learn to say things like  “Good job on that!” and “You are working hard enough” and “It is okay to take a break.”  Actually, I modeled those kinds of comments on the statements that my therapist offered to me over the years.

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Did it work?  Well, it was a program of change, and, like most changes, time, practice, and consistency have been involved, but yes, it did work.   I have to be vigilant, as I expect most people who have lived with an ornery inner critic for about 45 years would have to be.   But I can recognize my negative self talk, I can notice it without labeling and just say, oh, yes, there it is again.   I wonder if there is something going on that has that critic reverting to old behaviour?  And with that gentle sort of curiosity, I can look deeper without fear of what I might find.

The skills of depression

I have found a lovely resource, a book about depression that is unlike other books about depression.  It is called Undoing Depression: What Therapy Doesn’t Teach You and What Medication Can’t Give You.  Doesn’t that title grab you?  The author is Richard O’Connor, who is a therapist but more importantly, is a person who has depression.

Undoing depression

So what’s so lovely about this book?  Well, first off, he discussed the skills of depression…the particular abilities that being depressed seems to hone in people.  For example, depressed people are good at isolating, or separating feeling from experience, so that we have experiences but we don’t have the emotion you might expect to go with it.   Depressed people are skillful at procrastination:  it keeps us from, as the author says, “ever having to put your best self on the line,” because we always run out of time. (Oh, boy, can I ever relate to that!   Waiting until the last minute meant I never really knew if I would actually get through graduate school).    Depressed people are skillful at negative self-talk, at pessimism, at setting impossible goals or having no goals and lots of guilt.  Depressed people are good at setting themselves up to make sure that a negative view of the world is supported:  that is, undermining ourselves…perhaps before we can be undermined by others.  There are more skills but you probably get the picture.

The great thing about this approach is that skills are something that are learned.  They are not innate characteristics;  they are not who we are.    They are coping methods that we developed to manage our depression. So we had a traumatic childhood, or we were bullied in the workplace, or a parent died or left the family.  Or we have family members with depression, and we both inherited their predispositions and watched and learned from depressed behaviour.    Whatever the story that generated our depression,  we have used these methods to cope.  But they are skills….learned and therefore un-learnable.   If we learned these skills, we can learn other skills.

Aha!  so my tendency to procrastinate and put my job at risk, and isolate myself and put my relationships at risk, and to engage in pessimistic and negative thinking and put my own safety at risk…those are skills I have learned to cope with depression.   They are not character flaws.  They are not immutable parts of my self.  They are SKILLS.

Somehow, that is a tremendously hopeful message.

One of the keys to undoing,  according to O`Connor (and a lot of other people, including researchers) is to cultivate mindfulness.   Mindfulness is practically a buzzword these days;  everyone is being mindful of something, somehow.  But the mindfulness that seems to be particularly useful in retraining people who are skilled in depression is of a particular type.  Mindfulness is “spending time paying attention in a particular way:  on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally,”   according to Jon Kabat-Zinn.  According to O`Connor, it is about  “deliberately trying to attain a new attitude toward your own thoughts, feelings, and everyday experience, a viewing of oneself with compassionate curiosity.”  This practice is embodied by meditation, the content of which is one’s own experience in the moment.

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The ability to see oneself, to experience one`s moment by moment being, complete with thoughts, emotions, images, and body sensations, is to free oneself from the anchors of the past and the anxieties of the future.  For a few minutes every day, you can be as free as possible from all of those things that otherwise feel like constraints.   During mindfulness practice, we can learn to defuse from our thinking, those beliefs about ourselves, others, and the world that limit us.   We can be just as we are and see what that is like.

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This kind of practice enables a freedom in the world, as well as on the meditation cushion.   I am thinking that perhaps that`s part of O’Connor’s message.   When I create some  space away from the skills of depression, I am aware of being able to make choices in how I will be, how I will respond, how I will live in the world.   And that is a place from which skills for the full experience of living can develop.

People-Holding-Hands

Sunday morning

 

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A glance out the window, and suddenly what appeared to be a day of diffuse sunshine includes a shower of sparks floating earthward.  Flakes?  Or drops? Source unknown, their abrupt appearance and shimmering brilliance call to me.

The sight grabs my attention, stops my breath,and draws me out of my reverie.  What IS this?  What is this amazing world we live in?

A moment later, the flurries have passed, and I drop back into my dark pool.  But something has changed for me here, and the darkness carries a hint of possibility.

What can you notice today that reminds you to be present?

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