Another chance to get the message

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About a week ago I hosted a walk in the park.  It was a perfect morning. The sky couldn’t have been more blue, with gorgeous puffy white clouds. The green of spring was deep and the sun was making everything sparkle.

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And no one came.  I don’t know why – it may have been post-Jazz Fest quietness, it may have been odd timing, because this particular walk is usually well attended unless it’s raining or freezing.

However, there was no one.  There had been six, then five, then three, then two, and now none.  Some changes of plans, some last-minute cancellations.

I had no worries about it.  I actually started to get excited.  I exhaled.  A big relaxed sigh.  No one to introduce.  No agenda.  Nothing to do for anyone but me.  What a wonderful opportunity!  I began the most delicious most leisurely walk around the park that I had taken in a long time.  I didn’t need to do anything but what I wanted and that felt fantastic.

My angels almost always take care of me when I’ve over-scheduled myself.   And I gratefully accepted this gift.

A triplet of squirrels perched coyly atop cypress knees.  The last of the purple irises showed off their perfect blooms.

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Crows and jays called across the treetops. Turtles plopped quickly into the water or sunned languorously on the fallen logs.  I’d seen it all before, but it was still glorious.

Then I made a big request.  I asked for an unusual animal with a message for me.  I didn’t have much hope- I’ve probably been to this park hundreds of times.  I’ve seen everything. I couldn’t imagine what could possibly appear to surprise me.

I was wrong. I walked over to the edge of the lagoon. And there, almost close enough for me to reach down and touch it, was a three-foot long spotted gar.  It rested in the dappled sunlight, in less than a foot of water, sitting as still as possible on the leafy bottom.  It took me a long time to notice its gills moving ever so slightly.  Otherwise, there was no way to even know it was alive.  All it was doing was breathing.

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Me and the gar spent some time looking at each other.  Actually, I’m not sure if the gar noticed me or not.  I had trouble distinguishing its eye from the spattering of spots on its head.   I listened for its message, which to me seemed something like this: “All you have to do is be.  All this running around you humans do, it’s not necessary. It's a choice.  If you crave stillness, take it.  Do it.  Be still.  All is well.  Look how long I am still.  I have nowhere to rush to.  It’s always ok to relax.  Especially when it feels good and peaceful.”

If you’ve known me for any length of time, you know this is the message I struggle to receive over and over, even though it’s what I desire.  I love to watch and listen.  To wait.  To perceive.  To notice.  I love it as much or more than creating or moving or doing.  There’s so much already created.  I like to slow down to appreciate it.  I could spend every day watching the sky and the leaves moving in the breeze.  Just breathing.  Andmy message from the gar was, "That's cool.  That's enough." 

I am so glad I could make time to bond with an ancient fish.  And that it what I did.  I made time.  I have time for anything I want to make time for.  I’m believing that more and more.  I just got a little help this time from the angels in clearing some space on my calendar!

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If you need some permission to be still, take the message from my friend the spotted gar.  It’s been working for him and his species for 100 million years.  Step away from your screens and rest your eyes on something beautiful.  Grass, leaves, flowers, clouds, water, branches, rocks.  Just be. It's enough.

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And if you’re local and want to learn more about how giving yourself quiet time in nature will provide you with the energy and creativity to do what you want in the rest of your life, come to my book chat – outside! – where we’ll discuss Martha Beck’s book Finding your Way in a Wild New World.   May 24.  Details here.  RSVP via the Meetup or contact me at carla@livingwildandprecious.com.

Your Word Of The Year, With A Twist!

Do you choose a word to represent your theme for the year? I love this because it's far less cumbersome than a long list of guilt-inducing resolutions. My favorite way to find my word is to use Sarah Seidelmann's What the Walrus Knows app - it's a super-fun app to gain wisdom from animals - who she calls "beasties."   

Last year my animal was a manatee, and my words were play and connection.  I took French lessons, taught a super-fun summer class called Pie in the Sky, hosted "Wild and Precious Summer Camp" where we went to the beach, went paddleboarding, enjoyed a Drag brunch and more!   

This year, my animal is the alligator.  And the first word in the description for alligator was "Thrive".  And I thought, "Perfect." Sure enough, gators have been thriving on this planet for millions of years, virtually unchanged.  They have a plan that works! To thrive, you need to take into account what suits you best.  You need to listen to your body.  Rest when you need to rest.  Act when you need to act.  

The question I'll be asking myself this year, over and over, is, "Does this help me thrive?" So... extended computer staring? That's a no.  Time in nature?  Yes.  Paying attention? Yes.  Worrying? No.   

If you don't have Sarah's app yet, go check it out- I don't receive anything from sharing about it - I just love her and love the app, and you might too!  However you determine your word of the year, I'd love to hear about it! Reply and tell me what your word is this year! (oh, and that alligator pic below?  I took it a few years ago - right here at Jean Lafitte National Park!  The gators were so big they didn't look real - but they were!) 

On butterflies, manure and being real

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This summer we were on a day hike in the Smoky Mountains.  We came across a beautiful group of yellow tiger swallowtail butterflies.  As we got closer, we could see why they were so tightly gathered.  They were all feeding off of the salts and minerals in a big pile of horse manure.  These beautiful creatures were getting sustenance from something we’d rather not see, and certainly not step in.  The butterflies were benefiting from the poop.  It was important.  It wasn’t just gross or wasteful or ugly.  It had a purpose. It’s interesting.  We know not to judge a book by its cover, we have been taught not to assume, we’ve been encouraged to be ourselves, follow our passions, stay true to our dreams, that we’re allowed to get messy in the process.  I don’t think there’s one of us who hasn’t heard this advice.

And this is also what I see.  I see images everywhere that have been “cleaned up” to make people look more conventionally beautiful.  I see people afraid to let others know what they really like or care about, afraid to share their creations, afraid to share their real selves.  Afraid to share the messiness.

And who might blame them?  We live in a snarky world, full of people (many anonymous) ready to make a snippy comment or cutting remark.  Ready to judge, judge, judge and find us coming up short.

Here’s the thing – we can’t make that potential for judgment go away.  We can simply stay in our business, living our lives.  And when we’re honest about ourselves and take the unnecessary judgment off ourselves (and others), we’re leading the way for others to do the same.  Then we can enjoy simply being alive.

Here’s a recent photo I took and shared:

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Those beautiful night-blooming flowers by the outdoor tub?  They are also popular with the giant roaches (lovingly called palmetto bugs) who also live outside.  The tub has duct tape over the overflow hole and a rust-stained bottom.

All of that doesn’t discount the beauty of the flowers, just like the horse manure doesn’t discount the beauty of the butterflies.

Oh, also.  There’s dust on the twinkly Christmas lights in our bathroom.  There are crumbs in our car.  Sometimes I don’t do the dishes.  Sometimes we eat popcorn for dinner.

That doesn’t discount the pretty meals I make with farmers’ market tomatoes or the laughter in the kitchen or the love in our house.

I think we all need to give ourselves a little bit of a break.  And be ourselves.

You know these picture on this website?  The photos are waay natural.  They are me.   When you meet me, that’s what I look like.  I’m wearing hardly any makeup, which is normal for me (unless it’s WIGS and WIGS night or Mardi Gras!) I have wrinkles around my eyes.  My hair is not really “done” – it never is!   My teeth are not blindingly white, or particularly straight.

That doesn’t discount the light in my eyes, or the love I have of working with people to help them find their right life.

Sometimes I feel like more butterfly, less manure, and sometimes the other way around, but either way, it’s the being real that makes me who I truly am.

What can you put in these blanks?  I ______________________, but that doesn’t discount _________________________ Email me your answers or put them in the comments!

30 Day Challenge - Day 15 - lizards and monsters

This morning I was reminded of two scenarios having to do with fear. The first has to do with lizards and our inner critical voices.

Do you have an inner critic?  An inner fearful voice?  One that says helpful things like, "It's too late!", "Don't bother.", "You always were the messy one.", "Oh noooo!", "There's not enough.", "What will people think?", or the best one: "I have two words for you:  Bag lady."

Martha Beck says these voices come from a very primitive part of our brain designed to protect us and keep us alive.  This part of our brain was especially useful when our main foes were saber-toothed tigers, but it's not as helpful now that our stressors are a little more complex and don't tend to improve when we simply run away from them. Martha calls the part of our brain generating these thoughts the "lizard brain" because it's so ancient even lizards have it.  It's designed to send up alarm signals when it perceives any evidence of lack or attack.

We're always going to have input from our lizard brain - after all, it's there to protect us, so it thinks.  But we can learn not to listen to it.  Some people like to name their lizard - Mo or Shirley or Gertrude or whatever suits their fancy.  When they have a lizard thought, they say something like, "Thanks, Shirley.  I appreciate your input." , and then they can go on with their original plans, before their frightened lizard weighed in.  It's helpful to remember that the lizard voice is fear-based and listening to it can keep you from living life to the fullest.

The second scenario is about a monster.

Last night, I read a parable about a farmer who couldn't take care of his crops because of this giant monster living in the woods.  He built walls around his house and stayed away from the monster, but he was miserable and his crops were failing and his family left him.  A fairy godmother came along and told him he had to go find the monster and embrace it.  He was so scared to try it, but nothing else had worked, so finally he did.  He found the giant monster and once he put his arms around it, it shrank to the size of his palm.  You probably get the moral of the monster story.

So this morning I was sitting in the yard with the cat on my lap enjoying my ten minutes of grass time.  Suddenly, the tiniest lizard I've ever seen (a newborn green anole, I think!) hopped up onto my knee from the surrounding grass and sat there for a moment.  Thankfully the cat's eyes were closed and he missed the whole thing,  giving the lizard time to jump back into the grass.  Here's her photo with a pen in the background for size comparison:

and another one... such a cutie!

To put the two stories together, here, literally jumping into my lap, was a tiny lizard that I could hold in my hand.  Not a Komodo Dragon but a just-hatched baby!  It made me think of how important it is to keep stretching, keep facing my fears, keep trying things - keep hugging the monster so it gets small and pacifying my lizard so she doesn't try to derail my plans.  What strategies do you use to "hug the monster" or "calm the lizard"?

P.S. I did draw today.  My "paint by number" project will be revealed soon.  It's not done yet!  I also finally hugged the monster and took my ten minute paperwork time to have a good hard look at our finances- I'd been a little remiss lately.  And surprise, just as the monster story goes, there's nothing to fear. Things are really ok - better than ok - in the finance department.  And I'm excited to set some new financial goals and make it fun - the way I've done over and over for the past 12 years to allow us to live debt free, pay off our house, buy two new cars with cash over the last 10 years, and still live what feels like a very indulgent and pampered lifestyle.  More on that sometime soon, I promise! It's an easy system that involves little more than paying attention (that's true about healthy eating and time management too, lol!) and I love to show people how to do it! I'm thinking there's a course on the horizon about the indulgent path to financial security - that would be fun!  Now I've said it so I need to hug the monster and do it, right?

 

Turtle steps

The way to get anything done is a step at a time.  One little step.  Martha Beck calls them turtle steps.  I don't know about you, but I've been known to act like a rabbit.  Sprint like heck, and then get so pooped out that I abandon everything and nap for a week.  When I act like a turtle and take small steps on a regular basis, I get a lot more accomplished and it's amazing to look back and see what I completed! It's just like hiking the Appalachian Trail - it's five million steps and over 2000 miles--  but you can't think that way - you have to just keep walking a little every day.

Turtles keep coming to find me to remind me to take turtle steps.  And the most recent ones I've seen have also been submerged in muddy water - I wonder what that means?  Don't be afraid to get a little dirty?  Don't be afraid of murkiness?  Go to the spa?

About a week ago I was on a wordless walk with a dear friend and I took her to my favorite tree.  This was the tree where I saw my turtle about two months prior, but I really didn't expect to see her, as she had been sitting on the forest floor a good 30 feet from the tree last time.  Well, apparently my favorite tree might also be hers as well!  We arrived at the base of the tree, and there she was, completely submerged in a mossy puddle made by the tree roots.  We sat for quite a while and she finally moved, sticking her neck out.

I felt very honored to see this wild turtle again - I know they have small home ranges, but it was still mighty special.

Today I worked diligently, but with free time built in too (I've learned that my mind will go into complete and utter rebellion and give up on any system if there isn't some fun built into every day - like a quick dip in the neighborhood pool)  and this evening, who did we see in our garden but our own turtle who lives in the yard?  We rarely see her and there she was, drinking the air conditioning condensation water in our tiny horsetail-planted wetland.

I count these sightings as auspicious messages from the universe.  All is well.  And I'm enjoying life, one step at a time, and savoring as I go.