Tuesday, December 30, 2014

RECLAIM WONDER! – New Years Resolutions for Mystics

I believe I'm surrounded by wonders great and small, all the time, wherever 
I am.

I understand that many of those miracles lie hidden to first glances.

I will open my spirit to wonder. My eyes, my ears, my heart will follow.

I will make time for awareness, curiosity and wonder.

 
I will turn off the television, put down the book and start looking, learning and living first-hand.

I will decide for myself what entertains me and, more importantly, what nourishes my soul.

I will notice and celebrate the power of presence.   

I will carefully examine the myth of certainty, and value learning more than knowing.

I will be more aware of the miracle of grace that resides around and within 
every person.

I will shine the light of my own spirit, and will give other people the chance to shine too.

I will try to experience everything as if it were for the first time.

I will approach each day with faith in Nature's instruction, and with gratitude for being Her lifelong pupil.

I will be patient, not just with Nature, but with myself, celebrating small steps in the right direction.

I will seize every opportunity to help a screen-bound child reconnect with Nature. 


WANT TO PRINT & FRAME THESE RESOLUTIONS?

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ORDER YOUR FREE, FRAMEABLE, FULL-COLOR 
RECLAIMING WONDER PLEDGE DOCUMENT.
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.

TO ORDER, JUST SEND JEFF AN E-MAIL: jeff@willius.com
Thanks for taking the Reclaiming Wonder Pledge! Have a wonder-full 2015!

Friday, December 26, 2014

THE PERFECT SNOWBALL


Snow is a wonder of Nature, exquisitely beautiful from the detail of a single flake to its sparkling white accumulations.

Those of us fortunate enough to live in northern climes learn about snow from an early age. We learn that a single flake landing on your tongue is the most ephemeral of delights; that the joy derived from rolling in it is just barely worth the jolt of an occasional handful down your neck.

Not only is snow beautiful. Not only does it magically cleanse a graying winter landscape. Given the right conditions, it’s also plastic; you can make stuff with it. Snow angels, toboggan jumps, snowmen. You can build a fort or—a time honored tradition for the young and the young at heart in these parts—have a snowball fight.

    The more sensible your gloves the harder it is 
    to make the perfect snowball.

GLOVES, SCHMUVS!
Here in Minnesota, many of our winter days are too cold to make snowballs— there’s just not enough free moisture in the snow for it all to stick together. But at 32 degrees Farenheit (0 celsius) and above, bring it on.

PHOTO: L.L Bean
Conventional wisdom would say you must wear good gloves to make snowballs. I’ve done it in everything from the wispy woolens Aunt Elsa knit us for Christmas to those fabulous creamy-soft, golden, wool-lined leather choppers. And I’m here to tell you, the more sensible your gloves the harder it is to make the perfect snowball.

Once you accept the initial burn—and then the inevitable numbness—of your fingers, you’re good to go. Scoop up a double handful of nice damp snow—not too much; just enough so your hands wrap all the way around as your snowball takes shape.

RHYTHM METHOD
A good maker develops a certain rhythm. Your first squeeze or two dispenses with any overage of material, which you unconsciously whisk off as you go.

After that first rough compression, you impel the clump about an inch upward, rotating it slightly, while at the same releasing your grip on it. This frees the mass to turn maybe 20 degrees and land back in your closing hands for your next press.

By the time you’re about eight, you’ve got this down to a science, effortlessly executing two or three of these lift/turn-release-squeeze cycles a second.

This repeated rotation is what gives the ball a nice round shape, something veteran snowball warriors appreciate both aerodynamically and esthetically. As you continue the forming, you learn to feel for high and low spots and compensate by tamping down or repositioning small amounts of your medium on the fly with a finger or thumb.

      Then there's the satisfaction of seeing 
      that sweet roundness explode into shivery 
      shrapnel as it hits home.

AMMO
I’ve seen folks who think snowballs are more about quantity than quality. They slap together clumps of the white stuff that barely resemble balls. Worse yet, some don’t even bother with that, just grabbing and throwing hands-full. I've never quite understood this utter disrespect for the medium.

Me, I prefer quality. I know that the more perfectly spherical a ball is, the farther and truer it flies. And then there’s the perverse satisfaction of seeing that sweet roundness explode into shivery shrapnel as it hits home.

PHOTO: Chuck Kerr

No matter your work ethic, the side with the biggest arsenal often prevails—and it helps a lot if it’s all within arm’s reach. For as soon as you bend over to pick up more of your raw material for another ball, a crafty opponent will be all over you like…well…like the snow she dumps on your head.

HONOR AMONG HEAVES
There are a couple of unspoken rules about snowball fights. No throwing at the face—though this one walks a fine line, since handfuls of soft snow don’t count...and if I just compact it ever so slightly, who's to know?

Another rule is you can’t gang up on someone—unless, of course, that someone is an adult and you’re a bunch of kids. Hey, nobody said this was fair.

And finally, only the most malicious sort will craft a snowball that won’t disintegrate on impact. Like that hoodlum back in middle school who picked on the weak and timid, the one who just disappeared mysteriously from class one day—probably headed to reform school.


  The “cotton-to-cannonball” technique does for 
  a snowball what brass knuckles do for a fist.

Not that I would know first-hand, but I’ve heard there are basically two ways to design these deadly projectiles. First, there’s the “diamond” process, in which so much pressure is put on the damp snowballs that they take on the shiny surface and near-transparency of pure ice.

The second method produces an even denser missile. The “cotton-to-cannonball” technique does for a snowball what brass knuckles do for a fist. You take your “raw” snowballs, saturate them with cold water and then let them freeze solid.

One caveat here: you’d better really enjoy a snowball fight with such heavy weaponry, as it will likely be the last one you ever have. Even if you don’t end up in reform school with that now-aging fiend from middle school, no one will ever again accept your challenge.

THE MEDIUM, THE MESSAGE
PHOTO: TrendHunter.com
If the simple act of making and hurling a snowball is somehow too much for you, there are a few clever devices out there that will do the job for you. One, a big plastic, scissor-like press with a hemispherical cup on each arm, takes a clump of snow and presses it into a near-perfect sphere. Another, shaped more or less like a jai-alai basket, throws a snowball with a quick flick of the wrist.

These devices are not fair. Besides, they completely miss the point. This is about children—and adults who are in touch with their child sides—interacting directly with Nature. Like splashing water in the summer, rolling in dry leaves in the fall or digging dirt, making something to play with out of snow is the most eloquent of expressions of a human being’s oneness with the natural world. Why would you want anything to insulate you from that essential connection?

Making snowballs is about the way your hands feel...and then don't. It’s about the smell and taste of snow. It's about everyone’s different idea of perfection—its shape, its texture, its heft.

And it’s about seeing and hearing that pristine white orb, the one with the ideal size and consistency, land, just between the shoulder blades of a stunned adversary—preferably an older one if you’re young; a younger one if you’re old—who never dreamed you had that kind of an arm.

PHOTO: Molly Redden, Georgetown Voice

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

SEASON'S GREETINGS!

I wish all my visitors and loyal followers from all over the world—75 countries so far—the very best of this season. For us Christians, that means MERRY CHRISTMAS! (para mis hispanohablantes amigos, ¡FELIZ NAVIDAD!) For my Jewish friends, it's HAPPY HANUKKAH! For all of us here in the northern hemisphere, it's HAPPY WINTER SOLSTICE! 

Whatever your celebration, may these days be kind to you, your families and your loved ones. May they bring you new awareness, wonder and gratitude!

Sunday, December 14, 2014

THE JOY OF BLOGGING – A Virtual Person of the World

PART II (continued from Dec. 10 )

ILLUSTRATION: Carol Aust - carolaust.com

CREATURES OF HABIT
Several friends and family members have asked me about how to get started blogging. Of course, I’m happy to share what little knowledge and experience I have. After all, I ask them, what have you got to lose? At worst, you’ll spend countless hours writing and posting for your own and perhaps a few other sets of eyes. At best, you’ll become the next Life Hacker or Mashable, get absurdly rich and never leave your computer chair again.

Start with what you know best. Perhaps it’s stuff related to your nine-to-five, but which isn’t fully appreciated by your boss. Maybe it’s some hair-brained theory you can’t get folks to listen to. Or maybe, as in my case, it’s just a series of unforgettable life experiences strung together on threads of spirituality, philosophy or some other theme. Whatever you know, care deeply for, or just wonder about...that’s your content.

You produce something heart-felt and interesting 
on a regular timetable or people will go somewhere 
else for their blog fix.

A word of advice, though: If you’ve ever been in charge of producing a newsletter, you know that all the best intentions in the world are not enough to save you each week, month or quarter when that merciless deadline approaches. I have, and believe me, that publish-or-perish date seems to sneak up on you faster every issue. You’ve got to produce something heart-felt and interesting on a regular timetable or people will go somewhere else for their blog fix.

How often should you post? If you want your site to attract and retain a following, you must commit to a regular schedule. The frequency will hinge on how much you have to say, how efficient a writer you are, your resourcefulness in wrangling content from yourself and other contributors, and of course how much time you can devote to your writing.

(For the first year or so, I managed a new post every third day. Now, it’s more like once a week—and that seems to be the threshold at which I notice daily readership starting to fall off.) Remember, blog followers, like newspaper readers, radio listeners or podcast fans, are creatures of habit.

PACKAGING THE WORD
Just a word or two about design. Without even reading a word, it’s pretty easy to see who the credible bloggers are and who are the rank amateurs. Not even the most engaging content can hold its own against a poorly organized, unappealing, visually unwelcoming design.

PHOTO: r77designs.com

My goal was to position my One Man’s Wonder as far toward the professional end of that spectrum as I could with the resources at my disposal. As I mentioned, I spent nothing on design (though I am a career graphic designer and know how to make the best of even a limited number of design options). Perhaps you have a friend or two who are conversant in design and would give you some pointers.

Here are half a dozen design and style tips you might consider:
  • Strike a balance between verbal and visual content. Use sub-headings, featured quotes, photos and illustration to both support the story and lend visual relief to long blocks of type.
  • Limit your paragraphs to three sentences if possible. Even if technically it’s not a new thought, breaking it up like this makes it much easier to follow on a glowing screen.
  • Use fonts that are easy to read. Serif fonts are well-known to be easier to follow in blocks of text, while the occasional use of sans-serif type can lend variety for headings and captions. Try not to use more than two different type styles in a single post.
         If you need a bit of encouragement—
         let me know and I’ll be glad to help. 
  • Use comfortable language. You don’t want potential readers turned off by too much technical jargon or a stilted tone; they can get their fill of that in an academic textbook. Use connecting words and transitions to let one thought flow easily into the next.
  • Avoid garish colors and backgrounds that compete with your text. You’ve probably seen them: blogs where the author’s favorite color gushes from the page, drowning the other content. And that forest green type on a royal blue background? Bad idea! You want as much contrast as possible between text and what it sits on.
  • Maintain a consistent look. You wouldn’t wear a disguise when showing up for a second date, right? Well, your readers shouldn’t have to take a second look to recognize your blog either. Not to say you shouldn’t freshen up your face once in a while. Between the occasional make-over, though, keep it familiar with your usual fonts, colors and layout.
And, if you have any questions—or simply need a bit of encouragement—let me know and I’ll be glad to help. We bloggers, I've found, are mostly an open, supportive bunch. Happy blogging!

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

THE JOY OF BLOGGING – A Virtual Person of the World

PART I  of two parts
 
ILLUSTRATION: kingdesignllc.com

About ten years ago I ran into an old schoolmate who told me how much he
was enjoying blogging. “Great!” I replied, not wanting to reveal my ignorance. Nonetheless, he explained briefly how it worked and that it allowed him an international forum for his best thinking and writing. He said it was easy; I
wasn’t so sure.

But the idea of blogging simmered in the stew of my ambitions. Then, a few years ago, I found myself on the verge of having my first book* published. One of the first questions I knowingly asked my publisher was, “Should I start a blog?” And they agreed that was a great idea.

The strategy, they told me—apparently the rapidly changing indie publishing industry’s new model of how to market a book—was to build, well before our release date, an online following for the kind of content featured in my book, and then pitch the release not just to the nebulous universe of Amazon and Barnes & Noble shoppers, but to my own, pre-vetted, captive audience.

So, a few years back, I started One Man’s Wonder. It was as easy as my friend had said it was; I used Google’s Blogger** platform, which provided me a number of predesigned formats and simple, intuitive tools to customize them to my tastes. And—unbelievably then as now—it was free.

        If it was good, I got comments from 
        readers, making it not just my soapbox, 
        but a lively forum.

The blog, along with my faithful empire-building efforts on Facebook and Twitter, delivered more or less as everyone had hoped. Sure enough, I gained followers who became fans who became buyers of my book. But I also got to connect with kindred spirits who simply share my love of Nature and my appetite for the spiritual nutrients it provides—some of whom were also working on their own books.


A few of these more-famous-than-I new friends, at least partly because of their familiarity with my work through the blog, were kind enough to endorse my book—which has made a huge difference in gaining it interest and credibility.

But One Man’s Wonder’s connection with my book soon became secondary, for blogging came to be a joy in its own right. I got to write about things I ponder all the time and that I love to share. If it was good, I got comments from readers, making it not just my soapbox, but a lively forum. I was grateful, too, for the occasional push-back, which helped me to examine both my thinking and my style.

MYSTICAL MINGLING
It was thrilling to count—in Blogger’s rudimentary analytics feature—the number of visitors I was getting every day, which operating systems and browsers they were using, the keywords they entered to find me, and in which countries they logged in.

I remember those first weeks when I was checking my page views every hour or two, hoping to break double figures for that day. Then, gradually, with the help of my growing followings on Facebook and Twitter, my daily readership grew to the hundreds and, on a good day, the thousands.

Even as I close in on 200,000 all-time page views, I realize these numbers mean little by themselves. Still, it’s been an amazing experience tracking them, watching them grow, and trying to imagine people in, say, China gazing down at the exact same screen view I was seeing—my writing, my photos, my thoughts and feelings.

    Connecting with someone across repressive 
    political or cultural barriers, like fishing 
    for giants in a deep, dark pool, borders on
    the mystical.

But the truest rewards of all have been the wonderful comments I get in person from readers, many of them “lurkers,” followers who never comment online, or who do so anonymously. Ranging from “Oh, I love the photos you share!” to “Such-and-such a post inspired me to get my kids off their little screens and outdoors for some real connection,” this feedback reminds me that my audience is far wider and more interested than the number of comments would suggest.

Visitors to One Man's Wonder have logged on from 75 countries.

Especially fascinating is the international following I seem to have built. At first I was blown away by noticing an occasional page view from Canada, Mexico or somewhere in Europe. But the list has grown, now comprising 75 countries from Argentina to Vietnam.

Connecting with someone on the other side of the world—often across repressive political or cultural barriers—is more than just gratifying; like fishing for the denizens of a deep, dark pool, it borders on the mystical.
(to be continued)

* UNDER THE WILD GINGER - A Simple Guide to the Wisdom of Wonder. You can order custom-dedicated, signed copies directly from the author at a special discount for the holidays—just $9.95. Just send Jeff an email: jeff@willius.com

** There are many other free blogging platforms, including WordPress, Typepad, Moveable Type and Tumbler, some of which have far more sophisticated features, but I’ve found Blogger’s intuitive design features—not requiring any knowledge of HTML programming—suit my needs very well.


Wednesday, December 3, 2014

COMING TO OUR SENSES – How to Free Your Inner Child

What incredible contraptions we humans are. Our bodies make even the most complex machine we’ve ever devised look like a child’s toy. They’re an astounding integration of systems, each a marvel in itself—musculoskeletal, circulatory, pulmonary, digestive and immune, among others.


Perhaps the most amazing of all is the nervous system. Sight, hearing, touch, taste and smell are the receptors we use to sense the world around us. They afford our brains the reach they need to collect data about the conditions and resources we need to survive.

They tell us when danger is present, compel us to satisfy our hunger and thirst, and let us communicate. Should one sense fall short of the job, the system calls in reinforcements from the others. Our senses nourish us with learning, recreation and spiritual connection. And they indulge us with pleasure. 

As blessed as most of us are to have all our senses, too many of us under-appreciate and under-use them. Life’s tough for a sense. First of all, since few of us any longer depend solely on our raw, native senses for survival, they’ve gotten soft and bloated. What’s left of them gets harried, waylaid and drowned out by all the demands—and perceived demands—of life in the 21st century.

  Curiosity does for our perception what a strong 
  sense of self does for our health and well-being.

SHAPING UP
But we can rescue our poor senses. It’s not hard to do, but it takes some re-prioritizing and a bit of practice. Just like when we’ve failed to properly feed and exercise our bodies for a while, we must assert some discipline to get back in shape.

No, you can’t just sit on the couch or at your desk all day; no, as hungry as you might be for it, you can’t pig out on the tempting, but far-from-nutritious virtual experience and “connection” heaped on your plate by a phone or iPad screen.


Reclaiming our native senses also requires the recruitment of an ally, a quality no less deserving than intuition of status as our “sixth sense.” Curiosity is the impulse that fuels the senses. It does for our perception what a strong sense of self does for our health and wellbeing.

We’re all born with curiosity—lots of it. As far as we know, we’re the only creatures with the luxury of possessing it for reasons not immediately related to survival. Other animals may track a smell, follow a sound or turn over a rock to see if there might be something to eat. We get to do so just for the joy of discovery, just for the fun of it.

Turn off all the little i-robots conspiring to keep you in your seat under their all-consuming spell.


FREEING YOUR INNER CHILD
So, how do you start? Just ten or fifteen years ago, I would have said just observe a five-year-old child. Sadly, though, children, even more so than we adults, have been abducted by the fat, lazy aspects of technology.

So perhaps the best way to picture success is to remember what childhood was like for you. No phone; no laptop; no 24/7 news scaring you into believing conflict and danger are ever-present in your life; no über-litigious legal system instilling fear into anyone daring to let kids experience spontaneous, parent-free, outdoor adventures.


Try to channel that spontaneity and freedom. Feel the rekindling of that old inner fire of energy, awareness and curiosity. Meditate, in whatever way you like, to rise above the myriad “adult” concerns holding those native instincts back.

Turn off all the little i-robots conspiring to keep you in your seat under their all-consuming spell. And get outside in Nature, whether that means in a remote wilderness, a national park or just that little patch of grass down the street, and let her draw out your senses as only she can.

         What’s so hard about it is actually 
         that it’s so utterly simple.

OUT OF CONTROL
And finally—this is the bitterest pill for many folks—let go the illusion of control that’s come to delude nearly every one of us trying to cope in what seems an ever-more-out-of-control world. Surrender your senses and your spirit to the ever-wise, all-knowing oneness of the universe. For it knows, even if you do not, where peace and wisdom reside.

Many find it hard to grasp this exercise in faith, because somehow it’s gotten confused with something complex and abstract. Some would have you believe that we have to go on long, arduous quests for it. We think we have to pay people to guide us to it; we take all sorts of elixirs to bring it on.

But what’s so hard about it is actually that it’s so utterly simple, and—perhaps the biggest obstacle to our sensing like kids once again—we’ve gotten conditioned not to trust that simplicity.

We must re-learn it, for the sake of our own health and happiness, for that of our children and grandchildren, and for that of this precious, vulnerable planet.