Tuesday, May 29, 2012

HOW TO BE IN THE MOMENT – 101 Little Tips

 TIP #88
Touch more.

You can see, hear, smell or taste more or less anonymously. 
But when you touch something, it automatically touches you.

Explore this, the reciprocal sense; share it with earth, water and air, 
as well as living things. Touch…and be touched.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

How May Flies...For a Mayfly

When you live for just hours, you'd better make that time count. And that's exactly what adult mayflies do. Hatching from gilled water nymphs, they do nothing but fly, mate and die.

I've seen millions of these elegant sprites in my lifetime, from one small soul landing on my lapel, to blankets of them clinging to the leeward sides of cabins, to corpses piled so deep on a bridge that it took snowplows to clear them away.

But, you know, there's always a way to see even the most familiar thing in a fresh, new light. 

Recalling one of my favorite tricks for spotting small wonders, I decided to ignore the swarm and focus on just one individual.

My brother and I were canoeing in northern Wisconsin the past couple of days. One evening, just after sunset, we were were standing and admiring trees' black lace reflections on the still, gilded water.

I happened to look up, and noticed hundreds of mayflies hovering silently just above our heads. At first, they seemed to be moving randomly about. But, recalling one of my favorite tricks for spotting small wonders, I decided to ignore the swarm and focus on just one individual.

PHOTO: Joe Petersburger - National Geographic Stock

Wings ablur, my fly would lift straight up five or six feet. Then his wings would suddenly come into sharp focus—stopping, not together in their resting position, but spread out to the sides—and the little guy would parachute straight back down to where he started.

We looked around, and just about every other mayfly was doing the same thing, bobbing straight up and down, over and over. We figured it must be some kind of mating ritual.

The composite wisdom of thousands of 
generations has taught them the best chance 
of landing atop Ms. Right.

Come to find out that there is, indeed, a method to the mayfly's madness. It's just the males bobbing up and down, not to show off their prowess, but simply to cover more ground—air, that is.

Evidently, the composite wisdom of thousands of generations has taught
them that, when you mate in mid-air, this affords you the best chance of landing atop Ms. Right.

Oh, what you can learn and marvel at when you look at things—
even things you thought you knew well—in new ways!

Friday, May 18, 2012

A NOSE FOR WONDER – Making Scents of Spring

To be overcome by the fragrance of flowers 
is a delectable form of defeat. ~ BEVERLY NICHOLS

I was just walking along the high, wooded bluffs of the Mississippi, near my home. While there's certainly no shortage of beautiful things to see and hear and feel, I found myself homing in on smells.

Spring's such an amazing time to explore smell, that most underrated of our basic senses. Starting with the demure crocus, followed by voluptuous hyacinth, intoxicating lilac and enchanting lily of the valley, it seems the olfactory banquet serves up a new course or two every week—and so it goes, through most of the summer.

Today, now that many of those easy, early scents have come and gone, I was picking up on a couple of new ones. With a little research (grabbing anything that looked even remotely like a flower and putting my nose in it) I found that today's sweet fragrance was coming from the much maligned common buckthorn, an invasive shrub that's taking over vast tracts of forest understory, crowding out more polite species, including the hardiest of tree saplings.


For such an unsavory sort, buckthorn does have that one redeeming grace: it smells great. Detractors might deny it, because you can put your nose right on one of the barely recognizable flowers and not smell much at all. But en masse, and given the right conditions, they conspire to put out a surprisingly sweet aroma.

Here’s a simple exercise . . . check out every blossom you see and—you guessed it—smell it. 

Buckthorn's just one of hundreds of unexpected botanical scents out there waiting to be discovered. If you want to see for yourself, here’s a simple exercise. From spring through autumn, check out every blossom you see and—you guessed it—smell it.

Even if it seems too common to be interesting, even if it looks like it couldn’t possibly have a smell, many will surprise you. Some will be heavenly; others will disappoint; a few might even offend. But each will be distinctive. Among the pleasant ones I’ve discovered:

  • RUSSIAN OLIVE – a smell I call dusty-sweet
  • GRAPE VINE – fresh and clean
  • MILKWEED – one of the best smelling of all “weeds”
  • HONEY LOCUST – heady, syrupy-sweet, almost overwhelmingly exotic
  • HOSTA (some varieties) – subtle and surprising
  • CLOVE CURRANT – distinctly spicy

And my favorite under-rated blossom so far, that of the BASSWOOD tree – reminds my wife and me of how someone smells right after they step out of the shower.

Find a grove of blooming basswoods on a 
warm summer day and you’ll be transported 
by the trees’ sweet, light fragrance.

A single basswood flower, like one of the buckthorn's, may be quite small and produce very little smell. But find a tree—or, better yet, a grove of blooming basswoods—on a warm summer day and you’ll be transported by the trees’ sweet, light fragrance.

We just discovered a mile-long row of basswoods running along a street in St. Paul, and can’t wait to walk or ride our bikes back and forth under it, bathed in that wonderful, intoxicating perfume.

So get out there. Keep using all your beautiful senses. But don't let smell always get elbowed out by its more assertive cousins. Stop and close your eyes if necessary, plug your ears. Better yet, just set aside an hour or two and let Nature lead you around by the nose.

Monday, May 14, 2012

WALKING – As If For the First Time

(This is the fourth post in my series of reflections, As If For the First Time, describing the most mundane of daily activities through a fresh lens, one of innocence and wonder.)

Gosh, my feet feel good today! How about yours? Are you conscious of your feet as you sit there?

I actually think about my feet quite often. I wonder what it is that allows those, the lowest tracts of flesh and bone on our bodies, to put up with such a beating, one that other parts would surely protest. Over and again, they bear the full weight of our being—not just physically, but sometimes, it seems, emotionally.

Such lightness of spirit makes each stride flow 
from the last like water down a gentle rapids.

But today I feel no such burden. Why is it that my lightness of spirit makes each stride flow from the last like water down a gentle rapids? That's the way my walking feels today: laughing, liquid, free.

I'm so glad I put on these wool socks. It's more than just their warmth; something about the way wool defies dampness that feels so snug. And the real miracle: if they were on my neck they'd itch; on my feet they don't.

Step by step, a glow starts in my feet and spreads up my calves and through my thighs. Like engine oil, it wicks in between moving parts, salving the friction, cooling the pain.

I'm aware of the complex mechanics of the walking motion. Something so automatic that I'm seldom more aware of it than of my breathing. I watch its workings as a boy watches a steam shovel, marveling at the coordination of so many complex movements—hip, to knee, to ankle, to toes.

I picture muscle and sinew grasping and pulling, tensing and pushing, sliding freely against one another in easy synchrony.

Then there's the matter of balance. How in the world can such a vertical creature go through such a range of motions—starting, stopping, jumping, leaning—and still manage to stay upright? I try to be aware of some of the constant adjustments hundreds of my muscles are making, but they're just too subtle.

What's left is a bright, spacious, inviting place 
for kinder thoughts to settle.

Like any meditation, my focus on the repetition pushes aside thoughts I'd planned to leave at home, but which still managed to stow away somehow: worries, deadlines, self-doubt. Step by step I imagine them nudged from my consciousness, dropping to the path and fading into the distance behind me. 


What's left is a bright, spacious, inviting place for kinder thoughts to settle. And they do . . . as if they'd been searching for it. They alight full of wisdom and certainty. I feel abundant.

Hope, joy, connection with all things and all times—sometimes it feels like my strides are the strokes of a pump, not just impelling blood and oxygen, but drawing in and circulating those ample thoughts. 

I sense that my consciousness is shared with 
land and sky, with water, trees and birds.

My thoughts move easily back and forth between soaring possibilities and Nature's constant reminders of my attachment to my body—and, by way of my happy feet, to the earth.

Today, at least while walking, I know myself body and my soul. I thank both for bringing me here to this place of awareness and gratitude. And I sense that my consciousness is shared with land and sky, with water, trees and birds. As sure as I celebrate them and this precious moment, they celebrate me.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

TAKEN ABACK BY SUMAC – A Passion of Color

Rising once more to primal needs, 

An ardent cycle of color and life begins.

Velvet sumac stems blush with spring's pulsing anticipation.

Color upwells, swells, engorges deep crimson summer's fruit,

Then explodes in avid seeds, strewn in fall

Through leafy cries of red and orange.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012


In this increasingly sped-up, dumbed-down, 140-character world, are you starting to hear, as I am, that little voice of unease from somewhere deep in your soul?

Doesn't some part of you just want to say no to all that virtual "reality," all the quick, shallow relationships this digitized culture expects us to buy into, and get back in touch with more real-life, first-hand experiences? Don't you yearn to recapture that sense of wonder we all felt so naturally when we were kids?

Use the ideas as goals, resolutions, or just occasional affirmations of your intention to live      a more attentive, curious and grateful life.

That's what my Reclaiming Wonder Movement is all about. It's recognizing that yearning, and beginning to make our own choices as to the kind of depth and substance we want in our relationships with ourselves, each other and Nature.

The movement can start philosophically and leads, most likely, to lifestyle changes, but it's inevitably a spiritual journey. Lots of people want to take part in this journey, but don't quite know where to start. That's why I've crafted the Reclaiming Wonder Pledge.

Think of it as a list of first steps and/or mileposts to guide you on your quest for more mindfulness. You can use the ideas as goals, resolutions, or just occasional affirmations of your intention to live a more attentive, curious and grateful life.  
You • can • do • this!!

Framing example only; frame not included in offer.
Use the peach-colored order form to the right just below the "Popular Posts" listing. ->
Print it out, frame it, or make it the background of your computer desktop. Give a framed copy to someone you know who's also yearning to reclaim wonder in his/her life.
Thanks for taking the Reclaiming Wonder Pledge! Have a wonder-full day!

Saturday, May 5, 2012

HOW TO BE IN THE MOMENT – 101 Little Tips

TIP #2: Give Someone the Benefit of the Doubt.

PHOTO: Chris Owens - Flickr

Next time you sense the wagging finger of your judgment, imagine a plausible, forgivable reason for the offense. 

See, you've just extended the rest of your fingers and turned the wag to a wave—your gesture of understanding, patience, peace.

TIP #3: Give Yourself the Benefit of the Doubt.

Who are all these people whose voices we hear inside—controlling, judging, berating. Who do they think they are?

Remember, those voices are not yours. While perhaps well-intentioned, they have their own baggage. Trust your 
own voice.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

INTERLUDES – What Mexicans Have Taught Me About Patience

Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.
JOHN LENNON – "Beautiful Boy"

One of the many things I admire about Mexican culture (at least in parts of the country I’ve visited) is the way people savor life—not life shaped to their ends, but simply life as it is.

For generations Mexicans have gotten a bad rap for being slow, unreliable and lazy. While I know from much experience that this is far from an accurate characterization, I can see how an ignorant person might get that impression.

It’s a responsibility to things on which a norteamericano or an europeo might not 
place as high a value.

Mexicans don’t let plans, schedules or clocks run their lives. This isn’t because they’re inconsiderate or irresponsible; they aren’t. In fact, it’s often because they are so responsible that Mexicans refuse to be bridled by time. But it’s a responsibility to things on which a norteamericano or an europeo might not place as high a value—especially their commitment to family and community, and their unfailing graciousness.

Mexicans know how to appreciate the simple little wonders that life presents while others might be busy making other plans.

One telling—and typical—experience with this occurred several years ago when I, two of my fellow Spanish students and my compadre Silverio were visiting the home of Silverio’s old friends, Ignacio (Nacho), Marta and their three daughters in Tlalnepantla, a northern suburb of Mexico City.

Mexicans know how to appreciate the simple little wonders that life presents while others might be busy making other plans. 

They were going to join us for dinner and a sampling of the scores of mariachi bands strutting their stuff in the big city’s famous Garibaldi Square. We arrived at their house at about 8:00 PM. I thought we were in a bit of a hurry, since we’d planned to leave for the restaurant by about 9:00.

After hugs all around, I presented our hosts with the customary regalito—little gift—a bottle of maple syrup I’d brought from home. (On a previous trip I’d given them another taste of Minnesota exotica, a ceramic moose.)

We sat around the dining room table. Nacho offered us the obligatory tequila, poured from the fanciest of four or five bottles prominently arrayed on the overwrought bar—obviously his pride and joy. When Marta asked if anyone wanted popcorn, the hands of Brenda, Andrea and Abril, shot up in the air, making it unanimous.

A few minutes later Marta emerged from the kitchen carrying nine paper napkins and one small, steaming bag of microwave popcorn. We all helped ourselves to our share, just about a handful each, which we piled on our napkins.

One precious kernel at a time, they’d hold it up, inspect it and finally place it in their mouths.

As we chatted, I watched the little girls quietly savor that popcorn. It was as if it were the last popcorn they’d ever see. One precious kernel at a time, they’d hold it up, inspect it and finally place it in their mouths. They made those few buttery morsels last for about ten minutes.

I got up to stretch my legs, taking a closer look at some of their prints and knick-knacks. Nestled in the corner of the living room was a small glass étagère with three or four shelves. On each were five or six little souvenir items from places the family had been to or dreamt of going to: a baby spoon engraved with the name of some amusement park; a shot glass from a resort area near Guanajuato; a plastic replica of the Statue of Liberty. And there, front and center on the top shelf, was my moose.

By this time, everyone else had joined me around the curios. For the next half hour, we all stood there admiring those three- or four-dollar items, listening to the girls recalling each trip, hearing all about the people who’d sent them this keepsake or that. At times, I felt a bit uncomfortable with the lengthy silences, no one uttering a word except for a few contemplative “Hm-m-ms.”

Many of us north of the border strive too much, 
brag too much and admire too little.

Do you think that here in the United States this scene would have played out the same way? First, wouldn't the mementos would have been more expensive by a factor of a hundred? But that’s not the point. Even if they're Faberges and Hummels, we’re not exactly famous for our attention spans. Don't you think that, the first time there was a lull of more than a few seconds, someone would have jumped at the chance to go do something more exciting?

Many of us north of the border strive too much, brag too much and admire too little. Silences make us nervous. I’ve tried to adopt a bit of the Mexicans’ appreciation of little things, their comfort with quiet, thoughtful interludes in conversation, and their knack for being in the moment.

All these gifts, it seems to me, lend themselves very well to our relationships, not just with other human beings, but with ourselves, with Nature and with whatever it is we find sacred.