momentsbydefinition

Exploring life experiences through words and their definitions.

Hanging by a Thread

It was one of those moments in which an experience in the “right here and now” triggers a thought (in this case an idiom), followed by a sparking of ideas and a cascade of connections which unfold so quickly you almost can’t keep up. I made a connection between the tangible situation and a saying that could have multiple meanings and suddenly did, all applying to this moment.

The button on my pants was loose, dangerously so. It was almost literally hanging by a thread. I had left the house that morning knowing that this button needed some attention, but I didn’t take the time to fix it right then. It was mid afternoon when I realized it felt even looser, less secure, hanging by just a few strands of thread.

That’s when my mind made the connection to the idiom, “hanging by a thread”. This moment occurred at the end of a second week of pushing too hard to “get work done” at the expense of pacing myself and at the expense of breathing well, regularly. So what a great way to describe, perhaps, being or feeling so stressed that you perceive that you’re barely holding on, barely holding things together.

Even after writing about losing my balance a couple weeks ago, which increased my awareness of the state of my mind and life and out-of-whack priorities, I still haven’t regained the balance I’m seeking. I’ve been exploring words like “responsibility” and “obligation” in my journal and realizing that I tend to experience a strong sense of both of those states of mind. Feeling responsible and/or feeling obligated comes naturally to an oldest child with people-pleasing tendencies.

But to get the to the point where the phrase “hanging by a thread” has deeper meaning beyond a loose button… well, it’s time to become more intentional in my quest for a different balance.

I am regularly inspired by moments in nature, by observations that I make when I have paused long enough to notice, and there are so many clues and cues to guide me in my plan to regain or recreate a sense of balance that feels right.

The moment I experienced with my button unfolded like this, fairly quickly:
– “Oh my gosh, this button is looser than it was this morning!”
– “It’s hanging by a thread.”
– “Hmm, that could describe how I feel, rushing to accomplish so many things this week and now feeling stressed and barely holding on.”
– “Thread….spiders. Of course! The lessons that spiders have taught me.”

By the end of this quick series of thoughts, I was smiling.

I’m going to keep you in suspense, leave you hanging, so to speak, until my next Blog, when I will begin to describe some of my moments with spiders that have taught me about balance and pausing and becoming more centered. In the meantime, maybe you will make your own connections, which is much more meaningful anyway.

Many thanks and warm thoughts of appreciation to everyone who takes some of their own precious time out of daily life to read my Blog posts and to “Like” my Blogs on the occasions when you feel so inclined!

Balance

I lost my balance in the last week of March.

Balance, noun

– A state of equilibrium

– An influence or force that tends to produce equilibrium

Equilibrium, noun

A condition of balance between

opposed forces, influences, or actions

Balance, continued

– Emotional stability

– Something left over; remainder

– A harmonious arrangement or proportion of parts

I lost my balance in the last week of March.

I didn’t fall down. I didn’t lose it emotionally or fall apart in that way.

I lost my mental grip on my preferred balance of work and everything else, the rest of life that isn’t related to earning money, to “making a living”. I misplaced my sense of passion for my work, the feeling that I am pursuing my calling. I pushed myself to get as much of my work done as possible, eating lunch at my desk so I could multi-task and accomplish something else on my to-do list in addition to nourishing my body. I could feel the sense of obligation and responsibility and I let it take precedence over pacing myself, over pausing, over mindfulness in the moment, over people.

This wasn’t an unusual occurrence. I am regularly out of balance at work, multi-tasking too much and following too hectic of a pace and forgetting to pause and just breathe for a moment. But the intensity of my imbalance was stronger a couple weeks ago. I gave in to the feelings of responsibility and obligation and, of my own free will one day, chose to work an 11 hour day. I got a lot done. I was really tired.

Maybe these are some of the opposing forces or influences in my personal equilibrium equation:

On the one side, I have a genuine sense of responsibility that is simply built in to who I am. I carry a feeling of personal and professional obligation with me that surges in intensity sometimes. I have an awareness of being held accountable for getting all my job duties completed. I hold myself highly accountable because that’s just how I am. And there is the lure of multi-tasking with the accompanying misperception that you can get more done.

On the other hand, I am very aware of trying to create balance in my life. I have been encouraging myself to slow down my pace, to pause in order to really breathe. I seek to be as mindful as possible. I want to slow down and really BE with the people I am interacting with. And I appreciate the calm focus that comes with “uni-tasking”.

I have choices. I remind myself regularly that I always have choices. I made particular choices two weeks ago and again this past week. There are other choices that I can make and happily I am aware of them. It’s just a matter of MAKING those different choices.

Catch a Sunrise

Catch, verb– To discover or come upon unexpectedly or accidentally

– To intercept or overtake

– To get to in time

– To become or cause to become held, entangled, or fastened

The sun is shifting in the sky, away from its winter-low hang toward the south, coming back towards the high middle part of the sky. The days are getting noticeably longer, seemingly all of a sudden, a sign of spring and the summer to come. The recent Daylight Savings Time change probably helps that impression, causing it to be lighter in the evening, longer than it used to be. The time change has one specific benefit that I appreciate: I can catch more sunrises on my way to work.

One morning last week as I stopped at the first red light on my usual route to work, I turned my head to look out my side window and experienced one of those unexpected moments of surprise and quiet amazement. The eastern sky at the horizon, visible to me through the silhouettes of a few bare trees, was glowing, a mix, in that moment, of deep purples and roses, enhanced by just-right clouds serving as the sun’s canvas to catch the light. My timing was perfect. I had caught the sunrise that morning.

We’re entering a favorite time of the year, where my drive to work coincides with the rising of the sun. It happens every spring and fall and the daylight savings trick, dreamed up by someone, gives me a second set of chances in both seasons.

When my light turned green, I turned my car left, toward that amazing sky. Changing positions gave me a new view and I discovered that the brightest portion of the sky, where the sun would soon emerge, was located perfectly between the trees on either side of a street which angled off in the near distance.

Deep breath of appreciation.

I slowed my car down, gazing and soaking in the rich colors, knowing that there was a red light just ahead AND that no one was behind me to become anxious or antsy at my slow pace. My route takes me eastward for about a mile before turning me south for a mile or so and then I get to head east again, so I continued to check the sky from the different angles that my route allowed.

Have you noticed how quickly the sky changes when the sun is rising or setting? And how dependent a sunrise or sunset is on clouds for catching the changing light and color and adding to the transitory drama, or to the sometimes boring nature of the sky? In one moment the clouds and sky are glowing and intensely colored. Three or five minutes later, they’re just clouds, gray or white, showing no evidence of the recent color show.

As I approached that turn-me-south curve in the road I wondered, “Will I miss the rest of this sunrise? How quickly will it change, with these deep rich colors becoming paler as the brilliance of the sun washes them out? I like THIS moment and want to keep enjoying it.”

So I decided to see how long it would take me to go south and then turn eastward again. And I decided to see how much the sky changed in those moments when I was unable to see it. I got lucky that morning and hit all the green lights. In just under two minutes I could see the sunrise sky again. It was still glowing but the colors had altered with very little purple or rose visible anymore, replaced by a deep yellow-orange.

In a spontaneous moment, I decided to pull into a nearby parking lot and watch the sky for a few minutes, to see if I could capture the changes. It was a brief pause.

I had caught the day’s amazing sunrise, driving to work at the perfect moment. It had caught my attention AND caught me a bit by surprise as well. It held me, as well, captivating me with rich, deep colors and a promising glow. I had also caught up with the sunrise, missing only a couple minutes of subtle changes but not being out of view for so long that it was completely done being a stunning display of color.

I caught a sunrise and it caught me; what a wonderful way to start the day.

A Sound of Hope

My town, like many this year, got hit by another snowstorm recently. The forecast that I kept hearing suggested that we would have a rain-snow mix with an actual accumulation of an inch of snow. It didn’t turn out that way. Instead we ended up with an official total of 8.8 inches. The reason, in hindsight for meteorologists, had to do with wet air filling in a dry spot in the atmosphere and causing more rather than less snow to fall in our area. The storm produced blizzard-like conditions, with a strong north wind causing blowing snow and drifts. The falling snow started out in the shape of tiny little snow balls, which I discovered when I cleared our deck the next day. These baby spheres were buried under the fluffier snow, forming the bottom layer and looking like miniature Styrofoam balls, almost not real. Throughout that Sunday the snow fell like “Christmas” snow – big, fat flakes that coated the trees in a winter wonderland way. The wind created dramatic sculpted drifts. We had a snow day – school was closed on Monday and that meant a day off for me.

Late on that Monday morning, I went outside to clear the icy chunks left by the snowplow that had lumbered down our street earlier. Then I went to the backyard to clear our deck, tromping through snowdrifts that had formed on the lawn. It was cold, in the 20’s, but luckily not too windy. I could feel my fingers starting to burn a little with the cold, despite wearing my thickest gloves. The sky had a thin overcast of cloud but it was beginning to clear. And then I heard a sound that didn’t fit with this snowy, chilly landscape. It was the springtime call of a bird, a cardinal, repeated several times. It was the kind of sound you usually hear when temperatures are warming and the air smells moist, like wet dirt, with a hint of things beginning to sprout.

The sound made me laugh out loud. It felt like a sound of hope for spring in the middle of a winter scene. I paused, stopped pushing snow for a moment and just listened.

Paradox, noun

– A seemingly contradictory statement that may nonetheless be true.

– Something exhibiting inexplicable or contradictory aspects

[From the Greek, paradoxos, meaning “conflicting with expectation“]

It WAS a paradoxical situation, where one aspect of the scene definitely conflicted with or was contradictory to my expectations. It may have seemed inexplicable (adjective, impossible to explain or account for) to me, which is perhaps one reason I laughed out loud. Why in the world was a bird calling for a mate in the middle of a cold and snowy world? But I decided to take his bright, crystal clear birdsong as a sign of hope. Spring really is coming. If the birds can feel it, then I believe it too.

“I’m prepared to be amazed.”

I’m not taking it for granted, part II

This phrase, “I’m prepared to be amazed”, which I first heard from a co-worker trained in the field of mental health, who first heard it from a college professor, has really gotten me thinking lately. It is a mind-opening twist for me of the standard phrase, “Prepare to be amazed!” If I say, “I’m prepared to be amazed”, I am making a bold statement about my expectations from some segment of my life, depending on the context in which I say it. This phrase is all about positive expectations and optimism. I really appreciate what it implies. But I’ve realized that I only carry this attitude naturally in certain areas of my life.

There are a lot of things that cause me to experience quiet awe and amazement. When it comes to taking quiet time for myself, pausing to just BE for awhile, I am always prepared to be amazed in some way. Sometimes I feel very consciously prepared. I know from experience that pausing to sit in nature or with a view of nature through a window will usually result in noticing something that will give me a feeling of wonder, awe, amazement, marvel, surprise or simply quiet pleasure. It’s usually a quiet moment, a quiet – and private – experience.  I do sometimes wonder what other people would think if they heard me talking about it and describing such a moment. I don’t talk about my moments of pausing or the experiences of quiet amazement that can emerge because I don’t think most people would understand. But I crave these moments and so I will continue to plan for conscious pausing and I will be very consciously prepared to be amazed.

Sometimes think I am more unconsciously prepared to be amazed when I take a quiet moment. At least I think that’s a true statement. What do I mean? Maybe it’s that I’m not as consciously aware of looking for the beautiful, the amazing, the marvelous. I just want to pause and breathe and BE and I’m not seeking anything beyond that. Then if something awe-inspiring does happen, it’s more of a surprise and comes with a different kind of pleasure.

It has somehow become a natural inner reflex for me to feel prepared, ready, set to be amazed in some way, whether large or small, when I sit quietly in nature and interact with what I observe around me. What doesn’t come naturally, I’m realizing, is having that same optimistic, positively expectant attitude about my interactions with people. It’s not that I have a generally pessimistic attitude or negative expectations. It’s the realization that my mind and brain don’t automatically expect to be amazed during my daily interactions with other people. Why not, I wonder?

I think I regularly appreciate other people and the things they do or say. I love talking with other people and expressing my appreciation, either indirectly by being a good listener and really acknowledging them or more directly sometimes by talking about what I notice.

But interactions with other humans can be fraught with emotions, tensions, and other messy stuff. It’s too easy to forget to look for and be prepared for the strengths of a person, the delightful qualities they possess or that exist in a particular situation. And too often, it seems, I’m busy, in a rush, with an active mental agenda of “to do’s” propelling me forward – the opposite of pausing and just “being”. But I’d like to try to become more consciously prepared to be amazed, in the most pleasant sense possible when it comes to people. And doing so will help me not take things for granted quite so readily. I think this approach is going to take some practice!

Not Taking it for Granted

Yesterday on my way to the grocery store I saw something that got me thinking about how easy it can be to take things for granted.

I was driving on a busy road near my house, with three lanes of traffic going each way. The traffic was moderate on a Saturday morning. As I approached an intersection where my signal was red, I saw an older woman crossing the street. She had a cane and walked with painstaking care, very slowly and laboriously. She wore thick, supportive shoes and it seemed that one leg didn’t work quite as well as the other. To add to the challenges I perceived she had, she was pushing an empty two-wheeled metal basket, the tall upright kind used by people who walk a lot, to carry things such as groceries. I noticed right away that this woman was only halfway across the street, just beginning to pass in front of the cars in the three lanes on my side of the road. I muttered out loud, “I hope everyone sees her.” I knew this was a short light, too short for crossing six lanes of traffic at a slow pace. I knew the light was going to change well before she was safely across. I checked my rearview mirror a little anxiously, looking to see if there was any traffic rushing up, with drivers expecting immediate movement when the light turned green. I knew we would not be moving.

In the next moment something wonderful happened. A young twenty-something woman got out of the back seat of her vehicle, which was stopped at the head of the line in the far lane. She walked up to the crosswalk, reached an arm out to the older woman without actually touching her, and leaned towards her, saying something. Offering assistance. Apparently her offer was declined, because the young woman returned to her car almost right away while the older woman continued on her vulnerable path to get across the street.

One of the ironies of this situation is that this particular intersection has a pedestrian bridge, used on weekdays by elementary school-age children for safe passage across that busy roadway. But in watching this woman’s effort just to move her body forward, I imagined the impossibilities of being able to scale the relatively steep ramps on either side of the actual bridge, especially while pushing her cart on the bridge’s metal grated surface. She really had no choice but to cross this busy street at the more risky street level.

The older woman arrived at the other side and the cars ahead of me began to accelerate, the light having been green for many seconds already. We all moved on from that moment.

But the experience of witnessing this quietly dramatic moment stayed with me as I drove on, for the duration of the errands I had to run that day. At each stop, while walking into a store or back to my car, I realized that I was more aware than usual of my own ability to walk, and I felt grateful. Several times I thought, “You can’t take this for granted. You won’t always be able to walk so agilely, so quickly. You may not always have an obvious spring in your step, even if that’s how you feel inside. Appreciate this, now.”

The other insight that emerged from that moment at a red light has to do with first impressions, assumptions, and even stereotypes, a sort of cousin to taking things for granted. If I had seen that twenty-something young woman in a different context and been asked, “Can you imagine this person engaging in a spontaneous random act of kindness?” I might have hesitated and said, “Well, probably not. She seems more likely to have her head down with her phone, texting or swiping or whatever it is that younger people do these days with the technology that seems so all-engrossing to them.” This young woman’s actions urge me to avoid making assumptions, perhaps to try expecting the best of people as an automatic reflex instead of the opposite. I think this will take some practice!

A co-worker of mine has a phrase that she uses frequently that may help me: “I’m prepared to be amazed.”

On Hiatus or Hibernating?

When I started this Blog, with a dual focus on moments in time and the words that seemed to define those moments, I made a vow or resolution to myself to post something worth reading every Sunday. Up until recently I was doing well with meeting the goal of posting Blog pieces regularly.

Until I caught the flu bug of the season. I encountered the real Influenza, complete with fever for five days, body aches, a nasty cough that is still lingering. But a listing of my symptoms and general (temporary!) misery isn’t the point here. The point is that I haven’t posted a Blog piece since January 27, 2013 and up until about a week ago, I didn’t really care.

So my Blog went on hiatus. Or maybe I should say that I went on hiatus from my Blog and from writing in general. I even dropped my practice of writing at least three hand-written pages in my Journal every day. I wasn’t writing at all.

Hiatus, noun

– A gap or an interruption in space, time or continuity; a break.

Yes, that seems like a good word to use to describe the break that has occurred with my Blog. There has been an interruption to the continuity of a weekly posting and to my goal of that regularity.

But I have been wondering if something else has been going on as well, both before and after my Influenza experience. Have I been in a sort of state of hibernation, physically, mentally, emotionally, maybe even spiritually? I pulled out my dictionary to explore the word “hibernate” and other words pulled me along from there. Here’s the word journey that “hibernate” took me on:

1) Hibernate, verb

– To pass the winter in a dormant or torpid state.

2) Dormant, adjective

– In a state resembling sleep.

– Latent (I’ll come back to this intriguing word)

– Temporarily inactive [OK, that’s reassuring; hibernation is a temporary condition.]

– A biology term: In a condition of suspended growth or development

3) Latent, adjective

– Present or potential but not evident or active

[I like this word a lot. There is no evidence of activity, but the potential for activity is there. The thing isn’t dead!]

4) Torpid, adjective [Such an intriguing-sounding word!]

– Deprived of the power of motion or feeling [I certainly had moments of feeling this way, especially when I was sleeping for 20 of every 24 hours for a couple of days there.]

– Dormant; hibernating

– Lethargic; apathetic [I’ve been experiencing lethargy, for sure; apathy is a stronger word, isn’t it? I need to keep going and compare the two words.]

5) Lethargic, adjective

– A state of sluggishness, inactivity and apathy

6) Apathy, noun

– Lack of interest or concern, especially in important matters [Yes, I’ve felt some apathy lately. This feels like such a serious word and “condition”; I wouldn’t want to be feeling apathetic for very long. And I don’t mean to downplay or sound sarcastic about experiences of apathy. This is a big word for people who are experiencing depression.]

– Lack of emotion; impassiveness.

7) Impassive, adjective

– Revealing no emotion; expressionless

– Not susceptible to emotion

So what are my conclusions? I think that I have been experiencing a bit of a hibernating state of affairs this winter, but especially when I was sick and then recovering. My creativity and my interest in the world around me HAS been lying a bit dormant for the past few weeks, temporarily out of service as my focus has narrowed to the interior of my house and in particular my bedroom. It hasn’t helped to have two “snow days” just recently for which I didn’t have to report to work but instead had official permission to stay inside (except for shoveling all the snow that caused the snow days in the first place).

For now I will embrace the essence of hibernation and allow certain parts of myself and my life to lie dormant, resting, suspended temporarily. Spring is coming to our Midwestern town, sooner or later, and with it will come a budding of interest in being outside and going to different places, of coming out of the cave of my cozy house, and broadening my focus so that I can see (perceive) and seek out interesting and inspiring things. All is well.