Spring Cleaning A Little Early
Every day when I walk in my neighborhood, there are changes to notice. Here new buds are swelling on tree branches, there emerging snowdrops begin to open. All along the little pathway into our community, sweet box sends out wafts of vanilla scented perfume, a breath of spring to come. Birds are busy, though no bees have yet appeared (they aren’t stupid, those bees). For fellow gardeners who are eagerly looking forward to winter’s end, here’s a hopeful little countdown:
Over the winter break, my grandkids and their parents moved to a more distant community, still close enough to visit but not close enough for the kids to come here after school or when they’re not feeling well and parent need to work. That’s going to take some getting used to for all of us, but to ease the transition, the kids will remain enrolled in their island school through June. That will make for a very long commute, so the whole family will be spending a midweek night a week at my house. My TINY house. Hmmm. The need to find room for four more sleeping spots sparked a refreshing round of early spring cleaning that left me rethinking some of the ways we’ve been using our limited space. While there aren’t a lot of options, there are definitely some things that can be shifted as we make room for this new pattern.
Releasing Old Habits
January is often a time for rethinking our lives, something that’s as useful as getting an annual physical and seeing the dentist. Whether we make formal behavior altering resolutions or not, an annual life review can be a valuable trigger for change and refreshment. However, it can feel discouraging when hoped-for changes don’t come easily. It was long held that it takes about three weeks of daily repetition before any new practice starts to feel normal. Recent research reveals that for most of us, it takes a lot longer than that; the average time needed to adopt a new habit is around 66 days and some of us require closer to a year before a change becomes second nature. Apparently creating a new habit is easier than getting past an old one, though creating a replacement habit (something that can serve the same purpose) can help.
That might mean starting a meal with a bowl of salad before serving the main entree, putting a little bowl full of smooth stones to fiddle with instead of plunking a bowl of snacks at our side, or as one of my neighbors is trying, singing a song instead of smoking a cigarette. (Lots of tuneful moments around here lately!) Whichever way we’re trying to shift, towards or away from something we’re used to, the bigger the change, the longer the adjustment period may be. Laying off the chocolate for a week may not be too tough, since recent news about all those heavy metal residues in chocolate might be a bit of a deterrent. Try quitting smoking after decades, like my striving neighbor, and see how painfully slowly the longing dissipates. And these are small things, really; try getting used to being a widow, or losing your job, or your home. Or your country. Or your culture. Adapting to changes like these require some serious effort, and it can feel fake or silly to try to be grateful in dark and dangerous circumstances. But. However. And yet.
Doing What Works
Support groups for addicts of various stripes have a common saying: “Addiction is finding something that works and not doing it.” It can be hard to tell if we are actually willing to change or not quite ready, but that saying captures the essence. If we are really ready to give up stuckness and despair, then we will really commit to working for change, personally and publicly. To truly change on a personal level, we need to alter our brains, because entrenched behaviors create neural pathways that require multiple exposures to a desired new way of being. Practice. Persistence. And more practice. For me, the worst addiction is to doom scrolling, getting caught up in the horrible daily direness and letting it take me down to the depths of despair. Ack! What is the good of that?
The world does NOT need any more depressed, anxious people and I don’t want to contribute to more negativity. Instead, I keep working on the practice of gratitude. You’d think it would come natural to humans, and maybe it does, but with so little cultural support, our natural gratitude can get lost under the load of woe and worry. To get myself out of that sorrowful rut, I learned to write down my gratitudes, to speak them out loud as I wash dishes, bake bread, make the bed. I speak gratitudes as I walk; Look at those clouds, thank you! Gorgeous effect of sunlight in mist, thank you. Love the bird, thank you. Awesome clean hot water, thank you. The you you thank may not be the same as mine but that doesn’t matter. Thanking does. Let us persist in gratefulness together.
Let’s Build A Brighter World
Every act is an act of hope, really. Sometimes doing the hard thing because it’s the right thing to do feels thankless, yet once it’s done, it often rewards us with a heartening sense of both gratitude and hope. Gratitude that we are willing to do what needs doing and hope that each time, we move the community, the culture, the country, the world a tiny bit further along the path towards the light. A friend recently spoke about an occasion when she was able to bring the beginning of reconciliation between a Sovereign Nation Tribe and a nearby community where unconscionable wrong had been done without repercussion for the wrongdoer. That kind of work is lengthy and complex, requiring a deep knowledge of human nature and a strong moral compass. While it isn’t given to most of us to change the world in big, sweeping ways, any of us may be called and able to work for positive change in our own small place in the world. Onward, right? And maybe upward too…