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Creating or Finding a Peaceful Space

Sugar and PIth, image of a garden gate covvered in blooming pink jasmine

I’ve been setting up a peaceful space in my side garden to write in. I have my old mesh metal table and chairs there, just got a sunbrella so I can be out there when it’s bright, and I’ve planted up one bed and started the arduous task of weeding the space which is – ALL WEEDS. Having a place to write that’s all mine and in the garden has turned out to be exactly what I needed. A place for calm reflection, for writing fiction, journals, and to write more posts for this website. Writing in my garden means I’m also getting up to weed for little breaks. It means I’m already out there so I check on my plants and do a little spur of the moment pruning.

Writing and gardening are two of my best self care activities so my general perspective has been improving. I’ve also been on a news fast which helps a great deal because the world is on fire with no sign of abatement.

It’s not always possible to create a space like this, as I’m lucky enough to be able to do. Some of you might live in an apartment, for example. If it’s large enough you can create a little corner of tranquility for yourself. But even if your space is extremely limited, you can find spaces that make you feel peaceful and that improve your mood and/or perspective. Once upon a time I lived in a studio apartment with a roommate in San Francisco, then I lived in another studio apartment with a different roommate. There was no where to hide. No where to retreat to for peace and quiet. So I found a number of locations near my apartment that I loved to sit quietly in by myself (and a thousand strangers) to recharge and breathe more deeply, or sometimes calm down from a rage.

My favorite peaceful place was to sit in the pews of Grace Cathedral. I’m not religious. I don’t actually like religion. But one thing I LOVE are cathedrals and old religious art and music. I love the hush of cathedrals and the sky-high cielings. I love the stained glass and the marble floors. I love the alcoves and candles and the residue of thousands of people’s most intimate prayers and hopes stuck to the walls. I would sit there for an hour just breathing and letting go and being alone and it was incredibly peaceful.

I also used to spend a lot of time sitting in the little park across the street from Grace Cathedral that my friend Carrie and I dubbed “Heaven”. Old Chinese people met there to practice Tai Chi and I loved to watch them. Is there anything so beautiful as watching a bunch of old people moving as gracefully as herons through quiet marshes? Mom’s with babies in strollers and rowdy children would stop there on walks and hang out. Ruffians and homeless people hung out there too. Some people ate their bagged lunches there on breaks from work. I loved watching all the people come and go.

But my favorite hideaway spot of all was a little park off of Grant Street in China Town with a big metal statue in it. No one I knew would ever bump into me there. Hardly any tourists ever stopped there either. It was a favorite spot of mine to write in my notebooks, steam with anger (and then relax as the environment drained it all away), and plot my dreams. I also worked on different styles of alphabets that eventually morphed into my real handwriting that I still use today.

If you don’t already have somewhere to go to feel peaceful in, start looking for one.

If you already have one, I entreat you not to forget to spend time in it as often as possible.

xo

a

 

Finding My Way Back

Sugar and Pith, graphic image of an eye being flushed by water

I feel like I’ve been running an emotional marathon for the last few months. My city caught on fire, my mom has been staying between the hospital and skilled nursing facility for three months, and my mental health (already at a low ebb) has deteriorated. I have an appointment with a new psychiatrist this week to get some extra support, a change of meds, and some therapy. I’m scared for that meeting but also looking forward to getting some help sorting myself out.

One of the things that has contributed to my mental health decline is losing touch with all but the most basic self care. I shower less often than I used to, I’m in an awful sleep cycle, I don’t keep up with chores, and I eat out a lot or when I’m home I just eat lots of cheese sandwiches because they’re fast to make. I want out of this whole cycle I’m in and it feels like it takes a herculean effort to make even the smallest changes in my current unhealthy routine.,

However, I’m motivated. Over Christmas I got a lot of orders for Sugar & Pith products. A huge volume of orders compared to what I’m used to making and processing and though it was hard to shift gears to get into the bustle of production – IT FELT AMAZING AND ENERGIZING. If I got that much business every month I’d be propelled by the forward motion of work. I was fortunate to have been included on the Simply Recipes gift list. Now my business is super slow again and to rev it up I need to get myself in better emotional shape.

Self care routines are vital to people with mental or emotional issues. A good self care routine can keep you going during the tough cycles and to some extent keep emotional cycles from becoming desperate. For some people a good self care routine kept up meticulously is all they need to maintain good mental and emotional help, for others (like me) it’s never going to be enough on its own to keep me in a healthy place. But it’s still an incredibly important support to other therapies and meds that keep me steady.

One of the things that I’ve let completely drop from my routine over the last few months (nay! the last year!) is spending time in my garden. The importance of spending time in my garden can’t be understated. It quiets my mind almost as well as alcohol does but burns calories rather than piles them on. It grounds me, delights me, and soothes me. Lately I’ve made the effort to do little tiny things in the garden just to get myself out there. Even a few minutes can refresh  me.

One of the best memories of my entire life, and a formative one, was the time my family went on vacation without me. I was 14 years old. My parents gave me money to buy myself groceries and it was my job to make sure the garden was watered every day. It was summer and I hate summer heat so I got up early every day before the heat and I ate yogurt with granola in it and some fruit, drank some tea, and then headed out to the garden to water. After watering I would take one of my mother’s harvest baskets and go pick beans, squash, and tomatoes, probably some raspberries too. It was the best part of every day. I had our beautiful turn of the (last) century house all to myself. After spending time in the garden I would escape the encroaching heat by coming inside to make paper dolls and watch soap operas. Later in the afternoon I would go downtown to meet with friends and get ice cream. We were writing a novel together that summer.

This morning I got up before 9 am (a feat for me these days), made coffee, took a shower, and got dressed. I’m creating a writing space in my garden to get myself out INTO the garden more often and to write more often as well. So I brought my mug of coffee and my laptop out to my new bare garden spot and as I’ve been writing this post I’ve stopped to pull up weeds a few times. I’ve been listening to the mourning doves cooing (a favorite sound of mine) and watching some tiny birds playing in the tattered hedge between ours and the neighbor’s driveway. This is how I want to start every day. It was so hard to drag myself out here but I’m glad I did.

Skin care and body care are important aspects of self care, but we all need activities and routines that strengthen our emotional and mental health too. What activities make you feel really good, peaceful, supported, and/or healthier? Are you able to keep up with it? Have you let those activities lapse? Obviously I would never judge anyone for letting their self care routines slide – but I hope that if you’ve let something go by the wayside that you really love or need in your life because you’re overwhelmed or tired (or both) that you try to figure out how to get back into doing it. And never be afraid to seek extra support and help to get you there!

 

Stop and Snap the Details

red salmonberrySalmonberry, photographed at a rest stop in Oregon off of Interstate 5

Take break to look around.

Sometimes the best way to get out of your head is to notice the little things all around you. Nothing helps me focus more on the little things than my camera. Ever since I started taking pictures for my blogs over a decade ago I found that looking for good compositions everywhere I went kept me engaged in the world all around me. It’s not just good compositions that attract me, it’s colors and textures. I tend to focus a lot of plants and insects and walls. Walls might seem boring to some, but I’ve noticed that there are a lot of walls out there that are like abstract paintings. Peeling paint, graffiti, cracks, vines digging into grout, and sometimes weird things leaning against them.

I’ve heard so many creative people suggest that you take a walk to clear your head to garner fresh inspiration. I do love a good walk, (or at least I did before my feet turned into dust), but until I started bringing my camera along with me I didn’t see half as much as I do now.

If you’re in need of fresh perspective, or a break from a heavy head space, how about taking a little outing with your camera and see what cool things you can find?

Spending sixty seconds of your day marveling at the weirdness of the beetle you noticed cavorting on a bright flower counts as micro-self care.

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