Awakening, compassion and trust, coronavirus musings, courage, creativity, Inspiration, Mindfulness and Meditation

Intuitive to-do lists for life in a pandemic

I love working with an ongoing “to do” list, and I especially love crossing items off my “to-do” list – it gives me a great sense of accomplishment.  Especially these days.

I also have these other lists related to my goals for the week, month and year. As the pandemic grinds on, I have had to shift and change many of these goals and my expectations about what I can accomplish. It is often harder, and certainly takes longer, to cross items off of those lists.

I share this with you because I know that writing a “to do” list is an act of optimism.

I also know that writing lists is a universal practice, as it helps us control the chaos in our lives, to compartmentalize vast quantities of information, and helps us mark our progress. On the other hand, I have noticed that lists can cause me anxiety and frustration, especially when I repeatedly see an item that’s been on my list for a long time, that just don’t seem to be getting done — no matter how many times I underline it, or put it in all caps.

And so lists seem to both help and hinder me.  Perhaps you can relate?

One of my favourite books to thumb through when I’m pausing for a cup of coffee is Shaun Usher’s Lists of Note.  This book holds a collection of fascinating lists, including 19-year-old Isaac Newton’s list of the 57 sins he’d already committed, a shopping list written by two ninth-century Tibetan monks, Tina Fey’s list of body parts for which she is grateful, and Johnny Cash’s list of “Things To Do Today.”

As I perused this book I found myself fascinated with what the “greats” (great authors, scientists, thinkers and artists) had on their “to-do” lists. And this is what I found: according to what was on their lists it looked like almost all of them struggled to stay focussed on their goals and aspirations, on the work of honing their talents.

They included on their lists things like “practice piano” (Johnny Cash) and “write a song a day” and “work by a schedule” (Woody Guthrie) and “always keep working on the acting exercises” (Marilyn Monroe – she underlined this).  And even the great Henry Miller composed a list of 11 commandments for himself which included “work on one thing at a time until finished.”

These lists were a bit of a revelation to me.

I had always assumed that the greats of the past and present…just did it.

Although I could imagine that they worked hard to achieve their success, it never occurred to me that answering their calling or creating their art could be an item on a list, could be something they had to keep their mind focused on, to insist to themselves that they work on — but it clearly was.

And although I was surprised, I was grateful to know that Marilyn Monroe struggled to attend all her acting classes, that Sylvia Plath struggled to finish her university writing assignments on time, that Johnny Cash thought he needed to practice the piano more.

So lists certainly seem to be an important part of staying focussed and getting things done – for the most humble to the most celebrated list writers.

If, like me, you are currently finding it very difficult to focus for long on the work at hand, and to find a gentle yet fruitful rhythm to your life that breaks up the monotony of a lockdown day frozen on repeat – I offer the following:

Lists can feel very regimented/left-brained or “yang” in their energy.  If you’re feeling frustrated or overwhelmed by the length of your list or the size of the projects on it, try this “yin”/right brained/intuitive approach to the tasks on your plate:

Take a blank sheet of unlined paper and randomly write your top “to-dos” for the day (or you can do this for the week/month/year) anywhere on the page – not in a list, just scattered anywhere on the page.
Draw a circle around each item as you go.
Now, instead of a top-down list, you have these bubbles of possibility randomly distributed and “floating” all over the paper.
Next, sit quietly with the paper and see which items you feel drawn to.
Give yourself time for this – a snap decision is not required or even helpful.
You may immediately know which items are not calling you that day and can let that help you narrow it down.

You are looking for the task that may not be the most urgent or practical but may be what you energetically feel able or inspired to handle at this time.  The work you choose to do in this way will flow more easily, with the potential that you will accomplish more and work with a more stable mood and sustained energy to get the task done.

Then use this intuitive technique to select your next task for the day or week.  Of course, if something is very urgent, that will have to be tackled first, regardless of what other tasks might be calling you!

May this help you find your own, heart-centred way of navigating these strange times – one day, one thing, one optimistic list at a time.

 

 

Animals and Nature, Awakening, Inspiration, Mindfulness and Meditation, Mystery and Magic

3 situations when a walk in the woods is the best solution

If 2020 has confirmed the truth of one thing for me, it’s the healing power of the natural world.

I have never felt more attuned to the vibrant energy of the river, the quiet presence of the trees, the beauty of the changing seasons and the comforting cycles of the moon than I have been this year.

I have the pandemic to thank for this intensified awareness, a silver lining if ever there was one.

And I have also noticed that there are certain recurring circumstances when a walk in the forest, by the river or through the fields is often the best and sometimes the only solution that works: that is when I’m stuck, when I’m bored, when I’m tired.

  1. When I am suffering from writer’s block, which right now can go on for days (OK…weeks), or I am working on something that really requires focus and I just can’t get past a certain point with it…I move. Sometimes a stretch and throwing the ball for the dog in the yard is enough. But more often what I really need is a walk by the river to clear my mind and be in my body.

    To simply take my problem into the peace of nature.

    Whether on a walk among the trees, a few minutes sitting on a riverbank, moving quietly under the moon and stars…always, it just comes…the free flow of ideas, the first sentence, the topic, the missing piece to the project.

    I’m telling you the answers and the inspiration are out there in the woods. We just have to be willing to go out there.

  2. Last week I spoke with my neighbor and asked him how he was doing and he said this: “To be honest, Shona…I’m bored.” I so appreciated his honesty because at this stage in the pandemic game we can probably all admit to being a little bored.And then it occurred to me that when I am feeling bored, out of sheer desperation sometimes, I get out of my house and head to the park or the woods. And to make it different, I don’t stride across the forest floor. Instead I stop to watch birds, I take my camera, I let myself pause and notice the busy squirrels, the chickadees, the last of the summer flowers.
    And voila!

    I become immersed in the present moment, I allow the outside world to enchant me, and my boredom is forgotten.

  3. I have known for a long time that if I am feeling fatigued, I will feel better and more energized after some exercise. And this has never been more true than now. Because frankly, I am fatigued.I am certainly tired of the news, the masks, the politics, and my own four walls.Weeks can go by and there are no Netflix shows left that I want to watch, no books that call to me, no project that moves me.For all that I am grateful to be healthy and safe and living with my family in Canada, I am also sometimes antsy and grumpy and tired of the marathon that 2020 has become.

    And this my friends, this is exactly when I most need to walk in the forest.

    It is restorative.

    When I am depleted, it fills me up with energy, with calm, and with love for life again.

So in essence, what I am really suggesting here – in all of these situations – is that you allow yourself to be enchanted by nature.

A walk in the woods or on the shore or through the fields is never the wrong answer.

And with all that is happening with our world on fire, it is past time we went outside, listened to the river, touched the bark of the trees, inhaled the smell of cedar in the fall and root ourselves in the knowledge that we are part of her and part of a greater cycle.

We belong outside, we belong to the earth.

In seeking her magic and healing energy we will find our way through, and our way home.

 

 

Animals and Nature, Awakening, creativity, gratitude, Inspiration, Mindfulness and Meditation

What to do when you feel so uninspired

Whenever I think I have nothing left to write, when I feel so uninspired, I make myself move.  And in the cold, icy days of winter, I am not exaggerating when I say that I have to coerce myself into taking a walk outside.

I think of Wordsworth, the Romantic poet, who legend has it would stride across the English moors for hours, in all kinds of weather, finding there the tranquility and inspiration for his poetry.

Movement and nature – at the very least they offer a way to prevent our creative energy from stagnating, and at their best a doorway to infinite inspiration.

It makes sense that Wordsworth would hike, long and often, if his many, beautiful creative works are anything to go by – stirring the pot, moving from yin (passive receptivity, waiting for inspiration to knock down your door) to yang (moving to greet or to seek inspiration).

So on one of my last walks, stirring the yang with dogged determination (a beautiful blue sky, sun on the snow and frigid temperatures– my cheeks red, my nose and eyes watering, yet somehow sweating my way up the hills in my big, down-filled winter coat) and thinking of Wordsworth (as you do), I notice how inspiration almost always comes to me within the first five minutes of my walk, it starts before I’ve even crested the hill…and along the river it unfolds in my mind. And I smile.

I used to worry that I would lose the idea, that I should rush home to write it down – but even when there is a delay between the inspiration and the writing, the words always come back to me.

Perhaps that is the nature of inspiration – it is not springing from my mind but entering my mind from a divine source that does not rely on my thinking mind or my memory – it only needs my willingness to receive…to enter back into a yin state like a fluid dance, to open myself to inspiration through a willingness to move my body and to quiet my mind.

I confess that Wordsworth was never my favorite Romantic poet – as a student I found him too flowery, too earnest, too…cheesy (I prefer Blake or Coleridge).  But he has helped me here in some tangible way, for the Romantics held all of nature dear, in the face of the Industrial Revolution that saw the countryside depopulated, and the rise of science with it’s relentless rationalizing of the natural world –  in their writing they offered us daffodils, a grain of sand, an abbey in the moonlight.

They knew what was being overlooked, lost, and forgotten…they saw nature through the eyes of love and wonder.

They were humbled by her beauty and they spoke for her against the great noise and machinery of progress.

On this walk I imagine Wordsworth, I imagine how- had he lived in Ontario- he may have written in his elegant hand about the humble Humber River that flows near my home.  I take joy -as I am certain he also did- in the movement of my body through the fields, in simply being outside in the cold air, among the trees, next to the swift-moving but silent river full of fresh snow.

In the midst of this natural beauty I am glimpsing the never-ending winding stream of time that brings us all back here – to a moment of movement, vision and eternal stillness.

A perfect present moment under the sky, where hope and inspiration lost are found, where:

I listen’d, motionless and still;
And, as I mounted up the hill,
The music in my heart I bore,
Long after it was heard no more.
– William Wordsworth, from The Solitary Reaper