Boundaries & Priorities

The other evening, I had a few moments to sit in a lawn chair in my back yard, soaking up the scenery & listening to the birds.  At one point, I looked down at the arm of my chair & saw a delicate little insect with an iridescent green body & transparent wings.  It stayed only a second & was gone.  If I hadn’t looked down at just that moment, I would have missed it entirely.

That’s when it suddenly dawned on me that it’s been a while since I just stopped & participated in nature fully.  I don’t mean glancing up at the sky as I run between my car & the grocery store nor do I mean staring out at the trees as I walk down the hall at work.  I mean sitting in stillness & silence IN nature…. feet on the earth, breeze on the face, & sun on the skin.

Participating.  Being present.

When the realization hit me that I’ve been too busy to connect, I took a cue from people who keep track of expenses so they can see where their money goes, and kept track of where my time goes.  I listed every group, committee, class, & work obligation.  I even listed my boyfriend, dogs, & housework.  I wanted to see it all in black & white.  Am I focusing on what I love or have I gotten distracted by other things?  The answer, I’m ashamed to say, is that I got distracted by other things.  And what’s worse, I make the little things the priority & pushed what mattered to the back burner.  Can anyone out there relate?  It was quite a wake-up call for me.

I admit it; I’m an overachiever.  I’m a woman who says “Yes” and “Sure, I’d love to” without thinking about the time commitment because I like to be helpful & do things I know I’m skilled to do.  We all want to make a difference & feel important.  Right?

But here’s the reality check– I can’t do anything well when I’m doing too much.  The amount of time I need to fulfill all my obligations is greater than the time I have in a given week.  And what’s worse, there is zero time for things like “fun” and “relaxation”.  I cannot do it all.  So it’s time to do 2 things…

Set priorities & establish boundaries.

I put the items on my list in order from most important to least important.  Then, I considered how to scale back.  For some things, it’s easy.  An on-line class ends at the end of the month & an art class ends in early June.  I just won’t take any more classes for a while.  For other things, it’s a little more difficult.  I have to resign from a couple of committees.  I hate to do that but I know that I cannot give my best when I’ve stretched myself so thinly.  Instead, I’ll give the few things that truly matter more of my energy & thereby, make a greater contribution than I am now.  I’m going to keep scaling back until I can take a deep breath & not feel like I’m wearing a corset!

Establishing boundaries may prove to be a bit more challenging for it means I have to look someone in the eye and say “No.  I’d love to help you but no.  I can’t fit anything else in my schedule at this time.”

Some people are masters at multi-tasking.  I’m not one of them.  I prefer focusing on one thing at a time & giving it my best.

Some people can run from one task to another, eating their dinner on their lap while they are driving.  I don’t want that to be my experience.  It’s too stressful.  Plus, I can only eat so many french fries & still fit into my jeans!

I want to have a quality life- balancing the giving & the receiving.  I want to support the causes I care about but I also want to support my own health & well-being.  I need time to watch the insects crawling on my lawn chair.

If it feels like you’re doing too much, YOU ARE.  

List your priorities.  

Start saying no.

There are countless takes on the phrase “Keep Calm & Carry On” but there is an alternative that I saw on a magnet… “Let go or be dragged.”   If it no longer serves your highest good, stop doing it.  Make space for what matters most.  Give as much as you want but remember you have to give to your Self, too.  It’s not selfish… it’s self-preservation.

 

 

 

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Autumn Feeds My Soul

Perhaps it’s because I’m an October baby.

Perhaps it’s the sight of skinny scarecrows in their denim & flannel, standing watch over dried cornfields.

Perhaps it’s the growing darkness & thinning of the veil that lets us receive messages more clearly from those who have passed.

For all those reasons, and more, October feeds my soul.  I feel a greater connection to all that is across time & space, a humble sense of awe for the beauty around me, & a quieting of my spirit.

My sister called with a very simple wish to fulfill… “We need a traditional fall experience.  Fi and I will be there Friday night.”  She need not say any more.  I knew exactly the kind of experience they would love– a crisp, cool day on a farm.

Farm 6

The next morning, we parked near the farmhouse surrounded by orchards dotted with bright red apples & fields dotted with bold orange pumpkins of all sizes.  A John Deere tractor, pulling a wagon, stopped so we could climb aboard & sit on hay bales as the driver took us up to the orchard.

Farm 2

Armed with empty bags, we jumped down & wandered among the trees, looking for apples to pick.  Not all of them made it into our bags… one apple the size of a grapefruit tempted us too much.  Like three Eves, we took enormous bites, letting the juice run down our wrists & soak our sleeves.

We munched leisurely & made our way to the pumpkin patch.  Men & women of my generation will understand the reason why I immediately pictured Linus hugging a blue blanket, waiting patiently for the Great Pumpkin to arrive.  (Secretly, I want to see him, too.)  Choosing a pumpkin was difficult, for how do you choose the perfect pumpkin when they are all perfect?  A young man with pruning sheers clipped the stems of our chosen pumpkins & we rolled the orbs into our arms, trying hard not to spill the bags of apples.  Now we were both sticky & a bit dirty but isn’t that what it’s all about?… enjoying the moment to the fullest?

Farm 4

By now, our cheeks & noses were as red as our apples & it was time to go but not before my sister & niece posed for one last photo.

Farm 5

“I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers.”  LM Montgomery

What Makes a Perfect Day?

What makes an ordinary day more extraordinary?  What makes a typical Saturday perfect?  BALANCE.  Just the right mix of work & play, activity & inactivity, movement & stillness.

We woke to a brilliant sun suspended in a turquoise sky.  Instead of the usual rush, we took our time to enjoy a leisurely breakfast & an extra cup of coffee as the birds soared around the backyard, looking for their breakfast, too.  We agreed that we wanted to get our errands done as fast as possible so we could get back home & get outside.  That we did… in record time!

The garden was calling as it tends to do on a 70 degree spring day.  “Play with me!  Nurture me!, it beckoned.  I played in the dirt, weeding flower beds until my fingernails were full of dirt & my arms tingled from a slight sunburn.

Then, the lawnchair began calling as it tends to do after a few hours of yardwork.  “Sit with me.  Keep me company!”  How could I resist?  I grabbed a novel & a glass of wine, reading in the shade until the next voice called.

My dogs, dozing in the grass, grew restless as they tend to do after too much time lying about.  “Walk with us.  Pet us!”  I stretched lazily then rose to get their leashes.  We had a wonderful walk, enjoying the neighbor’s yards where daffodils & tulips of every color danced in the sunshine.

When we returned, my boyfriend was calling as he tends to do on a Saturday after too much time apart.  “Eat with me.  Spend time with me!”  We made a delicious stir-fry veggie dinner & sipped some more wine as the sun began to set on our perfect day.

There’s nothing better than a day spend doing what I love with those I love the most.

Getaway Nourishes My Spirit

My boyfriend’s birthday is Oct. 26th & mine is Oct. 29th.  Since they were bookends to a weekend this year, we decided to  go somewhere quiet & remote.  Nestled among the trees at the top of a dirt road in Milford Pennsylvania, I found a charming little cottage with a joyful stream flowing alongside.  That stream, like every place in nature, has it’s own energy… I could hear it giggling as it danced over the rocks, carrying autumn leaves off to some new adventure.  It beckoned me often throughout the day, every day & I found it to be the perfect place for my morning ritual.  Each morning, as close to sunrise as possible, I greet the Earth by putting my hands flat on the ground & the Cosmos by reaching my arms upward, honor the four directions, & calmly take a few deep breaths as I respectfully reconnect with all that’s sacred– the Divine above, below, & all around me.  These few days away fed my soul.

Our private getaway, tucked in the trees.

The wood stacked next to the cabin provided cozy fires every evening.

A beautiful spot to meditate, listen, or read. Notice the stack of stones on the large rock in the middle of the picture. A nature lover was obviously here before us.

It’s so important to remove one’s self from day-to-day obligations, to nurture the spirit & reconnect with nature.  We need to give ourselves permission to feed our hungry souls.  For me, it means leaving my to-do lists behind & unplugging the world (including my cell phone, the television, & the computer).

Even if you can’t afford a vacation “getaway”, get away by unplugging the world & staying home alone or with someone you love.  Care for your Self in a way that is right for you– “replenish your well” as some say.

The more we care for our Selves, the more we have to give others.

Cobwebs in My Creative Space

I knew it had been a long time since I played in my creative space when I saw a big, silky cobweb connect the ceiling to the top of my art table.  How did this happen?  Creativity is a key component of my life yet I diminished its worth, letting anything & everything else get in the way.  Setting aside the things we love isn’t healthy so I took a couple of hours to clean my art space & reacquaint myself with the treasures waiting patiently on shelves, tucked into storage bins, & hidden behind cabinet doors.  This reawakened my creativity & inspired me to start a new project.  Gathering the paints & objects that “spoke to me”, I went upstairs & decided to transform an old table into something new.  First, I painted it a glossy red, then covered it with gypsy-inspired objects.

It’s important to reevaluate our priorities once in a while, making sure we allow space in our lives for who & what matters most.    To see Gypsy Table & other art work that I have for sale, please visit my shop at  www.etsy.com/shop/PureSusan.

All in Good Time

Let’s face it.  We can’t rush a good thing.  Whether we want a committed relationship, a more fulfilling  job, or a finished art piece, everything takes time.  I can think back on the situations where I tried to force things to happen in “my time” & most turned out poorly.  When I breath deeply & trust, things tend to work out better.  It’s a lesson that I’ve had to learn over & over again 🙂

Pele, my latest collage, is an example of patience paying off.  Months ago, I shared this image of Pele coming to life from the initial sketch in my small spiral sketchpad to the partially finished canvas (on the right)…

The work that led up to my Pele collage.

Some of you might remember it.  Since then, the unfinished canvas sat on the easel in silence.  Ideas for completing it just wouldn’t come to me.  So, I waited… and waited… and waited.  I passed this goddess every time I put the dogs in the backyard or walked through my kitchen.  There she’d be, waiting, too.

Pele, the Hawaiian goddess, fires us with passion– inspiring us to try new things, dream new dreams, imagine what was once unimaginable.  She IS creation.  And yes, she is ALSO destruction.   We cannot have one without the other.  Pele’s lava can burn through a tropical forest and across a highway, destroying everything in its path.  Pele can also create new land where her lava meets the sea.  I personally saw small plants growing from cracks in the lava when I visited the Big Island years ago.  Destruction & creation are two sides of the same coin.

Pele erupts on the canvas.

This past weekend, she finally broke her silence.  She told me the colors & patterns that would complete her.  I’m glad I didn’t rush the process.  The results are better than what I imagined all those weeks ago.  Wait for what’s right for you.  And always give your best.

Morning Dew

I have the intention of starting each day in nature, offering a prayer of gratitude or blessing, no matter the weather.  I’ve set this intention before but sometimes the bed is so cozy or the day so cold that going outside to pray takes a lot of effort.  I’m so glad I did this morning.

It was cool & foggy in the predawn hour.  Secluded & silent.  The world belonged to me, my cup of coffee, & my dogs.  I gave thanks for my many blessings then lifted my eyes to the maple tree praying next to me (or perhaps it was listening to my prayer).  I gasped with amazement & awe.  The patio light illuminated tiny, perfectly-formed droplets of dew on every blossom & twig.  It also revealed countless delicate spider webs, draping the tree like glittering garland on a Christmas tree.  Dewdrops are more precious than diamonds, in my eyes.

There is nothing man-made that can surpass the beauty inherent in nature.  I’m no poet & my words will never do justice to the magic of being PRESENT this morning.

After breakfast, I walked around my back garden, marveling at the spiderweb “hammocks”, made visible by shimmering dew droplets, nestled in the shrubs, like cupped hands cradling something fragile.  I imagine these exquisite webs to be fairy beds.  (Yes, I fully intend to keep my imagination & childlike wonder my entire life.)

This morning is definitely one of the most memorable experiences that I’ve ever had.  Others including a perfect rainbow arching over my house a month or so ago (how tempting to search for the pot of gold) & a moment in the mountains when the world was black & white like an Ansel Adams’ photograph because bare trees black with wetness contrasted so dramatically with the fluffy white snowflakes that landed on them.

What richness there is around us when we take time to see!

Stones, Pebbles, & Sand

Have you heard the metaphor about the stones, pebbles, & sand?  It’s resonating with me on a deeper level because I have friends facing challenges ranging from cancer to damage from a house fire.  This jar is my visual reminder to focus on what really matters.  It has a permanent place on my desk 🙂

The rocks are what matters most. Don't get buried by the sand.

Life is full of stones, small pebbles, & sand.  The stones are the big things that matter most, like our loved ones, friends, spirituality, & health.  The pebbles are the things that are important but shouldn’t take priority over the stones.  These vary from person to person but might include work, hobbies, committees, & other responsibilities.  The sand is all the “filler” like errands, chores, etc…  If you fill your life with sand-sized concerns, you will have no room for the large stones.  But, if you focus on your large stones first, you can add pebbles & sand in measures that are right for you.

Have you noticed how the pebbles & sand-sized parts of your life vie for attention, acting like they are the large stones?  That happened to me today.  As I waited to get word about a friend having brain surgery, someone called to talk about her work-related drama.  It was hard to give “sand” attention when one of my stones weighed heavy on my mind.

Yes, there is sand in our jars, too.  The house needs cleaned & laundry needs washed.   However, when I feel like I’m up to my neck in sand, it’s time to get life back in balance.  Commit to my priorities by giving myself permission to say, “No”.

What are your stones?  your pebbles?  your grains of sand?  Does your jar have the right measure of each for you?

 

 

Doing Less to Experience More

I honestly thought I was present in my life.  That is, until I tried to paint Bella Bird, my parakeet, from memory.  Bella came to me months ago purely by coincidence… a lost turquoise blue bird set in the emerald green grass far from any house.  I have no idea how she got there but I adopted her & have loved her ever since.  She’s bright blue with white & black feathers down her back and a white breast with little royal blue & black dots like a necklace around her neck.  Beautiful!

What does this have to do with being present?  Well, I sketched her one evening & decided to take the sketch to work, where I would add color to it during lunch.  I sat with watercolor pencils, a fine tip black marker, & a few brushes, confidently adding the turquoise blue to her feathers as well as other details.  When I took the finished sketch home & held it up near Bella, I had her coloring completely reversed, white where blue should be & vice versa!  How did I not see her when every day she sets on my finger about 3 inches from my face?!

How many times is life like that?  We get so busy with our lists, errands, & so-called commitments that we don’t truly experience our own lives.  I’m obviously doing too many things if I can’t take time to see the world around me.  I’d like to pare down life to the essentials– loved ones, nature, art, & my spirituality.  I want to see.  I want to be present in my own life.

Sketch a Day Update

I don’t know about you but I never had much success with New Year’s Resolutions.  Promises to exercise, cut back on chocolate, or be more patient were always broken within days.  I’ll be honest, I don’t respond well to “You have to…”  or “You must…”.  The Sketch a Day goal I set for myself is quickly becoming that.  It turned something pleasurable into an assignment.   I’m an artist because I have a need to express myself creatively from a place of passion & joy.  If the work sells, that’s fabulous; however, I’m no longer a commercial artist & don’t want to create art unless it is meaningful.  Admittedly, creative people must practice their craft to maintain their skills but they (we) also create from a place of desire, even desperation at times.  We dance because the music moves us.  We write poetry because it urges our hearts to put pen to paper.  We paint because the subject cries out to be expressed on canvas.

As I savor this unexpected day off due to torrential rain & flooding, I will make a big pot of coffee & spend time in my studio, playing with the art supplies I buy but don’t use often enough.  My boyfriend’s advice this morning was, “Have an art day.  Experiment; destroy a canvas if you want.”  How cool is that!  I hope that when your plans change unexpectedly, you see the potential gift in the disruption of your routine.  What would you do with the gift of time?

Please send the people of Pennsylvania positive thoughts & healing energy as many of us recover from this disaster.