Tag Archives: nature

Choosing Powerfully–In Spite of Fear

As cool fall weather is sweeping in, I’m enjoying seeing all of the yellow, copper, and red leaves, some still on the trees and others that have fallen. I have a lovely view of trees in the park across the street from my house. As I write this, the golden leaves match my living room curtains, making me grateful for both the beauty of nature and the comfort of home.

I used to work at a corporate job in midtown Manhattan and didn’t have very much time to spend at home, especially not in the afternoon. Mid to late afternoon has become one of my favorite times of day, when the sun sweeps across the sky, lights up the living room with its southern exposure, and sets elegantly over the park.

A couple of weeks ago, on an unseasonably warm October day, I took a solitary hike in the Watchung Reservation here in New Jersey, and basked in the beauty of majestically tall trees, sunlight playfully dancing on leaves, and birds singing their avian hearts out.

More time appreciating nature is just one of the rewards of having listened to my heart and followed the path that was right for me–changing careers and stepping into a very different lifestyle than I once knew. It was scary to leave the corporate career that I’d always known. It felt secure, dependable, safe. I was offered a position at the NY Times and had to rely on my coach to help me see that there was something else my heart was calling for. Something less known, but more in line with how I want to express my values today.

Through coaching, music, and preparing to be a mother soon, I’m living some of my deepest values: beauty, creativity, personal growth, curiosity, compassion, caring, health, family, and flexibility. Being rich isn’t on this list. I care about security and frugality, but only in service of my core values. Fear of not having enough no longer rules me.

Life can still be stressful. As I write this, my grandmother is in the hospital after having a stroke. I’m filled both with love and gratittude for my relationship with her–and the good that she has done for so many people in her 95 years–as well as fear and sadness.

This week, I also I went to traffic court. I wrestled with the checkbook to try to make sure I wouldn’t bounce a check. I tracked down electricians and several heating specialists, as part of my responsibilities as a landlady. These are necessary, if frenetic and unpoetic, parts of life. As someone who is an intuitive introvert (to borrow from Myers-Briggs), engaging in a lot of extroverted sensing can feel taxing to me, and takes recovery afterwards.

Yet, my life is essentially exactly as I would wish it, just for today. I have much room for growth, but right now, I’m celebrating what’s good. I’m savoring the fruits of how I’ve chosen to craft my life. My work is deeply meaningful to me–I get to help others be at choice in their own lives. I get to champion them as they create what they want, and celebrate what they’re learning.

I also get to design my own schedule and incorporate self-care. For the first time ever, I get to go to the gym for an hour and take a short nap most afternoons. I alternate between work and my personal life throughout the day, rather than work in an 8 or 9-hour block of time. This may not work for everyone, but it’s ideal for me.

Why can it be terrifying to leave what we know, what has its merits and we consider pretty good, in pursuit of something different, better?

Our saboteurs can be sneaky. I have a “good-enough” saboteur who points out that what I have isn’t bad, so why rock the boat? That belief can literally keep me stuck in a place of dissonance for years. Another saboteur masquerades as trying to protect me: “you’ll get hurt, it’s better not to try.” This often comes from fear of failure or not having enough. It takes good coaching to help me see more resonant perspectives that can move me forward towards what I really want.

Power comes from choosing consciously. My future self is already living her ideal life, fulfilled beyond my wildest dreams. I get to play with discovering what that life is like and who that future self is. Then I get to step into it–again, and again.

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Seeking Adventure in Small Ways

On Sunday, I went to three cafes and spent time in three towns.  In the morning, after singing at church, I picked up breakfast at a cafe before driving to Weequahic Park where I walked around a lake.  Later, on my way to play the organ (at another local church), I sipped a decaf latte on the bench of a cafe facing Independence Park, around the corner from my house.

That evening, my husband and I were ready for another outing, so we drove to Belleville, adjacent to Newark, and ate dinner at Topaz Thai.  I was happy to discover there was a Thai restaurant within a 20-minute drive from where we live.  I’ve missed eating Thai, Indian and Ethiopian food regularly since moving here from Brooklyn close to three years ago.  In my neighborhood in the Ironbound, Portuguese, Brazilian and Italian food predominate.  I’m still exploring all of the nearby towns and discovering what cuisines they have to offer.

After dinner, we drove a few minutes down the road into Lyndhurst and enjoyed a bavarian cream lobster tail and pignoli cookies from an Italian bakery.  Then my husband realized we were practically in Rutherford, which was home to William Carlos Williams, so we looked up his house and checked it out.

I started a notebook the other day to keep track of some of these outings.  It actually has three sections, “Music” (where I record the pieces I’ve practiced on the organ), “Outings” (for hikes, new towns, new places), and “Special Projects” (various priorities).  I process and remember things better by writing them down, so this helps me remember that we hiked in the Palisades two weeks ago, or practiced a Bach prelude and fugue that I want to revisit soon.  I don’t write everything down–but I like writing down what’s important to me.  The act of writing it affirms that it’s important.

I’m grateful that I live in a city that has such easy access to many different types of places.  I also feel grateful for having honored my desire for a little excitement.  Maybe it wasn’t a trip to Europe–but even a little outing, devouring Thai food, bavarian cream pastry, and seeing W.C. Williams’ house, in three new-to-me towns, temporarily satiates my yearning for excitement and adventure.

I suppose it’s adventure on a modest scale, with a lowercase “a,” quite different from ones I’ve taken in the past such as circling around Sicily for a week, or living in Paris for a year.  Yet when those capital-A Adventures on a grand scale aren’t possible, modest adventures go a long way.

Yesterday was quieter.  I cooked breakfast, did some cleaning, worked out at the gym, went to the hardware store, played the organ for a bit, gardened, had two client calls, and talked with family.  A quiet, productive day–and for today, it felt just right.

It always feels wonderful coming home after being out, and conversely, going out after staying at home for awhile.  Something about the varied pace feels important.  I need stability, and I need excitement.  When my schedule doesn’t allow for more, simply walking around a lake or trying out a new restaurant really does provide that sense of newness and discovery.  My need for fun and adventure can be honored by seeking out simple pleasures.

Which needs and values are you honoring?  Which ones are getting stepped on or overlooked?  Small tweaks to our routines can make a big difference.  A small step can often have a huge imapct.

Appalachian Morning and the Power of Narrative

I’ve come to Appalachia, at the intersection of southwestern North Carolina and north Georgia, where some of my family has its roots. As I write this, I’m sitting on the porch with my husband and parents, enjoying a view of Georgia’s highest mountain, Brasstown Bald (pictured), and hearing hundreds of birds calling.

My great-grandmother, whom we call Granny, raised my grandmother and her four siblings in this area. My great-grandfather died of pneumonia while crossing the mountains in wintertime to buy wares for his store, and Granny made do by raising chickens for eggs, which she sold in town, and growing vegetables. She did the wash in the stream behind their house.

For weeks, I haven’t been inspired to do much writing, but here, it comes easily. Lots of writers and artists come to this area to tap their muse. Tonight we’ll hear a bluegrass band play at the John. C. Campbell Folk School, which has a long tradition of attracting and showcasing talent.

It occurs to me that one can consciously choose a life of creativity and connection. I’ve never gone on an organized writer’s retreat, but I see the value. Whenever I’m in a beautiful place, I’m more inspired to create. I have just enough remove from my everyday life, and the help of mountains and birds, to elevate my thoughts.

Some of my thoughts are still pretty ordinary, like wondering how often the owners of our rental house prune back the trees in order to keep a clear view of the mountains. Others are along the lines of what it was like for my earliest ancestors who lived here; which generation, if any, may have encountered Cherokee; and whether our roots and cultural identities have more to do with where our families are from, or the places we visit, come to love, and the stories we’re told.

My family is from North Carolina, Indiana, and Virginia. Generations back, they’re from Germany, Ireland, and the British Isles. I also have one line from Portugal and a little bit of French.

Which of these places and people are most deeply a part of me? Is it determined by the stories I’ve been told? Of my great-grandmother’s great-grandmother standing on the Irish shore, waving goodbye to her daughter who was sailing to America, knowing she would never see her again?

I haven’t heard similar stories of my German ancestors, and perhaps that’s why I always tended to feel more Irish than anything else. So I need to try to envision what life may have been like for my family who once lived in countries like Germany–even if I don’t have the aid of oral history to help awaken my imagination.

Subjective experience isn’t everything, but it counts for a lot. Where we go, physically, imaginatively, and emotionally, builds the narrative of who we are and how we’re connected. The stories we tell ourselves and each other matter deeply.

Today, I’m grateful to be immersed in the majesty of the Appalachian mountains, which embody both natural and spiritual beauty. They also hold the lived history of my ancestors.

And where are my family and I now? In the living room, looking out on the mountains and the Nantahalia Forest, telling stories.

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Finding a Peaceful Oasis (or Two)

Last Saturday, my husband and I found an oasis that was new to us.  We drove to the NJ Audubon Society for a hike through the woods along the Passaic River, listening to birdsong.  We spotted a few birds (swallows being the only ones I could confidently identify).  Their music was as resonant as the sighting of them was elusive.  Sometimes I did spot one fluttering, diving or weaving through the treetops, but only a glimpse.

A couple of years ago, we spent a long weekend in Cape May during peak fall migratory season.  Two Audubon guides pointed out egrets, kestrels, and merlins.  They trained us to call out the birds’ location by the hour of the clock, to first look with just our eyes, then to lift our binoculars.

Our leaders may not have been impressed with our bird identification (or lack thereof) if they’d joined our hike on Saturday, but they would have been pleased at how happy we were simply being there, appreciating nature.  It was such a pretty spot: bushes with little white flowers, a plant that looked almost like honeysuckle, so many chipmunks, an occasional bumblebee, and tall, majestic trees that seemed to emanate wisdom.

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On Sunday, we created an oasis in our backyard.  We have had grapevines growing over a pergola, but they rested on low beams.  By raising them onto higher stilts, we created a space under which you can walk or sit, as I’m doing now, while sparrows eagerly hop around exploring the grass.

Why do we need nature to fill us up and restore our wholeness?  Perhaps some of us feel its need more acutely than others, but I would argue that it’s a basic human need.  Even if urbanites fill it by a walk through the park on their way home from work, or by having houseplants or an aquarium, none of us can live happily without nature’s balm.

People and nature are deeply interconnected.  We rely on it for physical, as well as spiritual, sustenance.  Physically, people feel healthier when they eat more whole foods and fewer processed foods.  We live in a natural world, no matter how many steel towers are built to live and work inside.

Spiritually and emotionally, there is something soothing about listening to birds singing, hearing the flapping of wings and watching their trajectory in flight.  It is energizing to walk through the woods, curious about where the path will lead, deciding which twists and turns to explore.  It is meditative to sit by a river, studying the water as it rushes over rocks.

Nature has both stillness and movement.  It exists in the present, yet is always growing and changing.  No tree or river is the same today as it was yesterday, yet they retain their essence.

What an inspiring model for me, as I consider who I am becoming.  I am a writer, coach, musician, wife, nature lover, and play many other important roles, too.  How can I move ever closer to who I am?

Who are you becoming?  What will help take you there?  I would love to hear from you.

Warmly,

Mary

In Pursuit of Health and Wellness

As a wellness coach, I help my clients achieve their health and wellness goals.  This topic is near and dear to my heart. While mixed messages abound, society mostly discourages us from living healthfully.  Not only are we surrounded by processed food, but we’re often asked to be superhuman or machine-like, ignoring our physical and emotional needs.  However, our needs are not luxuries–they matter.

Wellness is one of the most important foundations of my own life.  When I sleep 8 hours, eat nutritiously, limit caffeine, and exercise regularly, I feel at my best.  My thinking is clearer, my energy higher, and I’m more tapped into my own creative force.  When I feel healthy, I show up better in my relationships.  I see my career-related options more clearly.

Is it static?  No–wellness has looked different at different points of my life.  At one time, it meant rigor and challenge–training for 10K’s and a half-marathon.  Other times, it has meant more variety, alternating short runs with kickboxing, rowing, or pilates.  It has also meant doing yoga a few times a week, or swimming regularly.

Living a healthy lifestyle is a fluid, often intuitive process.  While there are some good habits I need to do everyday (flossing, anyone?), as my life and needs change, I also change how I address my needs.  I get to choose how much consistency, challenge, fun, and novelty I want at any given time in my active, healthy life.  Am I bored?  Maybe a 3-hour hike in the woods is in order.  Am I tired?  Maybe an easy swim is just what I need.

Wellness also includes managing stress.  At times of stress, I’ve been tempted to over-caffeinate, under-sleep, and under-exercise.  When I don’t de-stress well, I neglect to find time to relax–taking walks in the park or meditating, for example.  Skimping on sleep and ramping up on caffeine or sugar never turns out well.  When I try to cope with life in those ways, I’m trying to do more than is humanly possible.

The truth is, basic human needs matter, and they don’t go unmet without consequences.  If I deny them, I feel a deficit–whether the deficit is sleep, nutrition, or having fun.  If that deficit persists, it affects all areas of my life.

These days, life looks different.  Nurturing myself is one of my top priorities, because it makes my life flourish.  Relaxing and enjoying life are key components of health and wellness.  A day that includes gardening, writing (with my calico cat keeping me company), playing the piano, or even watching “Frasier” on Netflix is a restorative day.  We all need time to pursue our interests, be in nature, and simply do things that we enjoy.

What does relaxation give us?  When we’re relaxed, we’re open to possibilities.  We experience gratitude for what is.  We’re connected to our inner selves and to others.  It gives us joy and curiosity.  We enjoy better health and more energy to refocus on what’s ahead.

What are key components of health and wellness for you?  When do you feel at your best?  What energy does that open up for you in the rest of your life?  I’d love to hear from you.  Wishing you abundant energy and good health,

-Mary

Bocci and Dancing Egrets: an Invitation to Play

I am loving that the long-awaited spring has finally returned.  NYC and Newark, like much of the country, had a particularly harsh winter.  We had our highest bill ever for the gas heating.  It was a chilly and long, if beautiful and snowy, winter.

A few clear signs that spring has arrived:  I see an occasional egret, its snowy-white body with a long neck and beak, in the Meadowlands of NJ from the train.  The cherry blossoms are (finally) beginning to bloom.  Independence Park across the street is teeming with people playing catch, shooting hoops, and–most notably–there are usually three or four soccer games going on simultaneously.

A new sign of spring this year–bocci games in the park.  Several of us use a site called Nextdoor to share local happenings, and I was delighted to see an open invitation on the site to come play bocci on the weekend.

You may ask, what do egrets and bocci have in common?  Playfulness and joyful presence.

During winter, many of us huddled indoors, conserving energy.  The warmth of spring is an invitation to play.  Whether the egret doing its little dance, flapping its wings, or whether the bocci and soccer players in the park, play allows us to be present, to enjoy our surroundings and the activity we’re engaged in.  Play lets us abandon our worries and immerse ourselves in the pure joy of living.

If I were writing a word-chain, it would be something like:  play-nature-joy-peace-movement.  Physical movement helps us not to stay stuck in tired mental or emotional energy.  When walking in the woods or splashing in water, we let it go.  We move into a new energy.

Play also lets us be creative, spontaneous, open to new ideas.  How could that not spill over into the rest of our lives?  When we’re open to being playful, we see creative possibilities that before, we were unable to see.  We can be more flexible at work.  We see new ways to be healthy–solutions, rather than problems.

So enjoy the unveiling of spring, and let yourself be carried away by the sheer beauty of it–fragrant cherry blossoms, yellow wildflowers, dancing egrets and all.

Reaching for the Stars

I have always been an amateur psychology buff.  In college, I had a class in perceptual psychology,  but mostly I have dabbled in it on my own.  It is part of what led me to coaching.  I am endlessly curious about how our minds work, how we see the world and interpret what we see–what information we gather, and what meaning we assign to that information.

Over the years I have taken a few personality surveys.  I have also encouraged my loved ones to take them, with varying responses.  They aren’t for everyone, and that’s OK.  Personally, I find it fascinating to reflect on what drives and motivates us, what makes us flourish.

I find Myers-Briggs (MBTI) to be revealing and mostly on-point.  Like any paradigm, it has its limitations, but most of its insights resonate with me.  I took the MBTI twice, several years apart.  Interestingly, while my overall type hadn’t changed, my Intuition (I) and Judgment (J) factors had both mellowed considerably–allowing more room for their counterparts, Sensing (S) and Perceiving (P).  I believe we have innate preferences, but through our experiences and choices in how to see and engage with the world, we change.

Another survey I like is the VIA Character Strengths Survey, which measures 25 character strengths and lists them in relative proportion.  My top strength was “Appreciation of Beauty & Excellence,” followed by “Gratitude,” “Love,” and “Perspective.”  For me, this test is revelatory because it points to what I need to flourish–where I thrive and what saves me, as it were.  My top strengths remind me that to be happy, and fully myself, I need to seek opportunities to enjoy beauty, to love and be loved, and to practice gratitude.

How do I do this?  For example, taking my top strength, I look for oases of beauty in the drought of what could otherwise be a sterile week:

  • On a lunch break, I find refuge in a park around the corner with a waterfall and yellow hyacinths in bloom.  It truly restores me.
  • I make time to play the piano, organ, and sing.  Even on a busy weeknight, if fills me up and I leave feeling like myself again.
  • I listen to and watch others who are more talented than I am.  It inspires me and makes me feel alive.

Looking at our less-developed strengths is also a good learning opportunity.  One of my “less developed” strengths is “Bravery.”  The creators of the VIA survey write: “Identify an area in which you generally shy away from confrontations.  Practice the phrases, the tones, and the mannerisms that will enable you to effectively confront the situation next time.”

My first reaction to reading that was, “Are you kidding?”  Identifying confrontations is about the last thing I want to do.  My mind isn’t naturally wired for it.  Nonetheless, our minds are pliable–we can actually forge new neural pathways by changing our thoughts and habits.

And thus, we change and grow.

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Coaching asks for openness to seeing ourselves as we are today, seeing ourselves at our most magnificent core, and dedicating ourselves to moving bravely toward our truest self.  It can be a little scary.  At my Fulfillment class at CTI, one of the leaders drew this picture of our comfort zone, with stars outside of it, illustrating that to reach for the stars, we have to step outside our comfort zone.

So, if we’re uncomfortable, we’re doing something right.  Yet we don’t have to be constantly uncomfortable.  We’re allowed to take a step or two forward and stay there–or dance up and down the steps we’re familiar with–till we’ve gathered the resolve to take another step.  We get to be at choice.

CTI led us in a visioning exercise to develop a life purpose, phrased as “I am the ___ that ___.”  I was initially drawn to the image of a lighthouse, that illuminates others’ strengths.  Later, I was drawn to the vision of a lake where I canoed in rural Quebec, out of which came this working life purpose statement: “I am the deep lake that holds beauty within and around it.”

What does it mean and what is its impact?  I can honestly say that I don’t completely know, but that it centers and directs my life journey.  There is something compelling about the beauty of nature, art, music and writing that inhabits me–even simply the appreciation thereof.  What does it mean to hold beauty?  I hold it in my eye, ear, mind, and heart.  How will it impact others?  That story is still unfolding.

What are your top strengths and values, that when engaging in them, you feel the most like yourself?  Who are you at your deepest, most magnificent core?

I’d love to offer a sample phone call to explore your values and what you most want.  What matters?  What are you drawn to?  Call or email me to set up a session to move toward the stars.

Spring Kitchen Decluttering: Turning “I Should” into “I Want”

In honor of spring, I spent a good few hours over the weekend de-cluttering my kitchen.  It had become painfully obvious how much inconvenience I had been tolerating: my microwave was about a foot off of the floor, requiring me to bend down to make a cup of tea; one of the cabinets in prime real estate was filled with paper plates, camping dishes, i.e. junk; and the coffee maker was on a porous stand so that when we poured coffee, drops would leak onto the floor.

IMG_1841[1]The best case in point is the Tupperware Saga: pictured to the left, in a yellow Hoosier cabinet passed down to me through my mother’s side of the family.

I have a hard time throwing anything away.  Consequently, most of my tupperware containers were either missing lids or were 10 years old and showing their age.  Also, any containers that didn’t fit in the Hoosier cabinet spilled over onto the counter tops, competing with space for food prep.

Frugality has served me well in many areas of my life (I attribute it to subscribing to Pennywise magazine when I was a pre-teen)… but this wasn’t one of them.  I finally reached a breaking point.  I didn’t always know where to find things in my kitchen.

I threw away 98% of the tupperware and kept only matching ones that were in good shape.  I used the newfound space for pots and pans.  I moved the coffee maker to the counter, and filled its old space with the microwave, which now sits at eye level.

Why do we tolerate things that we have the power to change?  There can be more than one reason.  In my case, the disorganization of my kitchen was neither urgent nor hugely important.  I was adaptable enough to make it work–until I no longer wanted to put up with it.  Gretchen Rubin has blogged about putting aside an hour a week to do such things, as part of building good habits.  Otherwise, we can procrastinate endlessly, and what begins as a small inconvenience snowballs.

Our time is important, and I have so many more meaningful things to do on the weekends (e.g., practicing music, playing bocci in the park with neighbors) that I hadn’t set aside time to organize the kitchen.  However, the disorganization eventually turned into a big time sucker.  All those wasted seconds and minutes add up.

After I finished reorganizing the kitchen, my feet and back hurt.  Still, I felt pleased and took pride in telling my husband what I had done.  Even to my own ears, it sounded so pedestrian, so mundane–yet it was satisfying to have some control over my physical environment, like a bird building a nest.

What worked?  For me, it helped to turn the job from a “should” into a “want.”  As long as I thought, “I should organize the kitchen,” I didn’t do it.  As soon as my thought became, “I want to have an organized kitchen where it’s easy to find things and do food prep,” I was motivated to take action.

By keeping this “want” in mind, and banishing the “should,” I intend to prevent the kitchen from escalating into a big project again.  Even if orderly tupperware falls into the “not urgent” category, it actually falls under “important,” when I consider the effect that my living space has on me.  It may not be as important as taking my Little Sister to a jazz concert at the Montclair Art Museum, but it helps me to feel happy and grounded.  As with to going to the gym, building momentum and discipline transfers over into other areas of my life.

For most of us, there are higher priorities than home organization.  Nonetheless, it’s helpful to realize what we’re tolerating in a given area of our lives, to question why we’re doing so, and ask whether it’s necessary.  As for me, I’m glad to have an organized kitchen, and feel a little more comfortable and secure in our nest–just in time for spring.

Purpose, Persistence…and Shoveling

In the past week, something like a foot of snow has fallen in the NJ/NYC area.  Probably more, I’ve lost track.  I do know that there are gigantic mounds of snow by the curb where plows have consolidated it, making street parking difficult, and at several intersections.  I have to take running leaps to avoid drenching my boots and socks in soupy slush.

It was so pretty when it was snowing:  big, fluffy flakes, drifting down, blown diagonally, sometimes briefly even lifted straight up.  The park across the street was blanketed in white.  Kids made plump, smiling snowmen that gave me a lift on my walk to the train.

Then came all the shoveling.  Usually my husband takes care of it, but this weekend he’s out of town, so it fell to me.  Frankly, I didn’t really know that I could shovel.  Like parallel parking, my first, knee-jerk reaction is to  assume I can’t do it.  I’m afraid I might hit another car or back into a telephone pole.

I do know, however, that we learn by experiencing life, doing things.  And that includes making mistakes.  My husband has never shown a glimmer of fear about parallel parking, and he actually has backed into a telephone pole.  So why does my mind still want to believe that he’s the expert and I don’t know how to do it?

Since I was nervous about making some egregious shoveling error, or committing a neighborly faux pas, I actually did some online research first.  I read about using the wind to your advantage, and the importance of dressing in layers (10 minutes into it, the exertion makes you rip off outer layers  like an onion).

Finally it was time to actually grab a shovel and dive in.  It had rained, so the snow was slushy and twice as heavy.  The shoveling  doesn’t have to be perfect, but the shoveled walkway does need to be (literally) passable.  I wanted to be considerate to our neighbors and tenants, and didn’t want it to pile up until it had become too much to tackle.  With that in mind, I shoveled twice on Thursday.  I tackled a little at a time, and chipped away at icy spots.

snowI was so happy to come home Friday night and again see the fruits of my labor.  The clear pathway.  The mountain of snow by the street.  No icy or slushy patches to speak of.

My mind often tries to play tricks on me–one of which is the story, “It won’t work out.”  I’m surprised to see, time and again, that with a little grunt work and persistence, I get the results I want.  That “protective” story that things will be very hard and won’t work out in the end, is proven over and over not to be true.  “Hard” is not the same as “can’t do it.”  Do I know everything before I’ve started?  No.  Do I figure things out in the process?  Yes.

Persistence matters.  Most people who are successful got there by chipping away at what they initially didn’t know how to do, bit by bit, like a block of ice.  Backsliding can be a part of the process.  Instead of throwing the shovel down, we take a deep breath, acknowledge our progress, and get back to work.

Results come from breaking down goals into manageable steps and taking action.  But they only happen if we pick up our shovel.

The Meadowlands: Finding Peace in Unlikely Places

I have a couple of commuting options from my home in Newark, NJ, to my magazine publishing job in midtown NYC.  I can take the PATH, a light rail train that is convenient but rarely has a free seat during rush hour; or I can take NJ Transit.  Both are prone to delays, particularly during rush hour, but NJ Transit has two advantages.  First, I always get a seat in the morning.  Secondly, part of the ride is through the Meadowlands, a surprisingly intact natural oasis just miles from factories and the Holland and Lincoln Tunnels.

During the migratory seasons, I love being on the lookout for birds.  I often see a pair or a family of ducks swimming in the stream alongside the train.  (In spite of the Audubon’s birdwatching weekend my husband and I took in Cape May, the epicenter of avian migration, my bird identification skills are less than stellar, but my avian appreciation is sky-high.)

My commute varies in length depending on congestion, but it’s typically an hour and 15 minutes door-to-door.  That includes a brisk walk through the Ironbound, a train ride, and a transfer to the subway.  I’m thankful that I don’t spend that time behind the wheel of a car.  Nevertheless, it behooves me to spend those 12 1/2 hours a week wisely.

I use the time in a few ways.  I admit, I start out by checking email, weather, and taking a quick peek at Facebook.  Next, I typically share a moment I’m grateful for on Happier, an app dedicated to noticing and recording moments of happiness.  Then I turn off my iPhone and meditate, pray, or do some reading to tune in spiritually and center me in the present.

If I’m on NJ Transit, by this point the train has passed the winding Passaic River that empties into Newark Bay, affording an unexpectedly lovely view, and is approaching the Meadowlands, pictured above.  The stadium where the Seahawks trounced the Broncos on Sunday is in this ecosystem.

Nature centers me and offers me a happiness unlike any other  Whether I’m hiking at the Cumberland Gap on the border of TN/KY/VA, or looking across the sound at Martha’s Vineyard, there’s an ineffable vastness and serene beauty that engulfs me just by seeing it.

I have noticed it can be tempting to tune out the beauty of nature either because we’re used to it (it feels familiar), or we don’t expect it (it seems incongruous).  Who would expect such a beautiful area with ducks, reeds, rivers and streams in-between two major northeastern cities–with factories on the horizon, no less?

Yet there we find ourselves, myself and the other morning commuters, and we’re presented with a choice to tune into our surroundings or to tune out, lost in the distractions of our smartphones or our own whirling thoughts.

For today, I choose to tune in, to soak in beauty where I find it, no matter how little I expect it or how easy it would be to overlook.  Then, when the train takes 40 minutes instead of the scheduled 20, I will have filled myself up with all the goodness and beauty available to me in that moment.

And when I feel flustered again later in the day, I can recall it in my mind’s eye and again find a moment of peace.