The Cobwebs of my Mind
December 19, 2021
One hour before sunrise. Cloudy. 20-30 mph north winds. Temperature right at freezing. No expectations. My brain says cloudy and windy days don’t make good photography but I am aware my brain is often wrong. Good time for a walk.
Sunrise. Clouds have cleared. There’s not another human around even though I’m in a public parking lot and it’s Saturday. I look up from the spot next to the dock where I have sat down to watch the sunrise and notice a flock of dark-eyed juncos playing behind me on the rocks. I manage to turn around without scaring them away, which is lucky because while junco’s will tolerate me standing right next to them, they sometimes fly away when I am sitting on the ground.
After a little while I take a short walk and find another spot where I can sit in the sun partly blocked from the wind. I’ve chosen well without knowing it - there are lots of poison ivy berries (aka bird candy) in the trees. Flicker is the first bird I see discover the berries. He alternates between eating berries and looking to make sure no one else is encroaching on his find. At some point he flies across the cove. A downy woodpecker flies in to eat the berries and within a minute the flicker is back to chase her away. Eventually he relents and shares the berries with another flicker and a pair of downy woodpeckers.
Meanwhile the robins are splashing in the water’s edge, perfectly camouflaged by the dry leaves. The noisy blue jays are chasing each other back and forth between the trees and the tufted titmice are grabbing seeds and berries of their own. Titmice will grab a seed and fly up to a branch to pulverize it against the wood and then fly back to get one more. One at a time, over and over.
Eventually a couple humans showed up with their dogs, scaring the birds away. I headed off down another trail where I found a large flock of robins feasting on juniper berries and some other berries I can’t identify. There is a huge winter roost of robins in that area and there were dozens around. The cedar waxwings came to join in the berry feast and a purple finch popped up on a branch for a second and was gone - I never saw another one!
Three hours after I arrived I climbed back in my car, glowing from the sheer contentment of the morning. I’ve been reading a lot lately about the importance of “savoring” so I just sat there for a few minutes taking in how deeply enjoyable it had been to sit there in the middle of all these birds letting the sun warm my back. I noticed how rested I felt and how my heart felt warm and light. I felt gratitude for the trees that blocked the wind.
As I drove home, I suddenly noticed my mind had gone from “I feel so incredibly blessed and happy” to an inner dialog about how unfair the world is to women and thinking about work - on a Saturday, without looking at my phone or turning on the radio or even encountering another human the entire morning! All by itself it had gone from content and happy to angry - WTF?!?!?!!!!!
I tried to be as kind as I could to myself - which might not have been that kind in retrospect - and say no, we are not doing that, let’s go back to just enjoying where we are right now! I am aware my mind needs retraining and I am working on it. Even so, it was quite amazing to witness just how sneaky it can be!
Author and researcher Dr. Brene Brown uses the term “foreboding joy”. She says: "Joy is the most vulnerable emotion we experience and if you cannot tolerate joy, what you do is you start dress rehearsing tragedy." I have read the books, I have heard the research but this was definitely the most clearly I have ever seen it in my own mind. Based on her research, she says the antidote is practicing gratitude - which makes it all the more interesting to me that I experienced it literally moments after practicing gratitude and savoring.
My friend Oriah wrote this many years ago, and told me over and over that nature, the lake, and my practice with my camera were my teachers. This continues to be true for me, day after day. I am truly grateful. What if you were sent here by something larger Not against your will or wishes But in alignment with your deepest longing What if it was as simple as finding what you love And letting it teach you how to live. ~Oriah "Mountain Dreamer" House
Do you ever notice yourself moving out of the joy, contentment or happiness of the moment in strange and unexpected ways?
Some of the books and podcasts I’ve been listening to recently as I work to retrain my brain:
Tara Brach - weekly talks, meditations, online courses and books
Designing Your New Work Life - Bill Burnett & Dave Evans
Think Again - Adam Grant
Unwinding Anxiety - Dr. Jud Brewer (and the program using the phone app which I have been using for 6 months)
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