Tag Archives: journaling

Digging In The Dirt

Just for fun, here’s an interview with me that my colleague and friend, Jean Rowe, wrote for The Center for Journal Therapy last fall.  Some good dirt on me!  (Jean is the Program Manager and Oncology Certified Social Worker at Young Survival Coalition in Atlanta, and leads journaling workshops for young survivors.)

What is your relationship between actual gardening and journaling?

My garden is both a metaphor for my life and a literal experience, where I can connect with myself and the earth. In my journal, I write about both experiences. In the process, I learn a lot, about myself and about the world. Plus, I often write IN the garden. I have a bench in my front yard, tucked under a tree and near my bluebird nest box, and it is a delightful spot to journal in the early morning, among the birds and flowers.

What have your harvested from the garden that is your journal?

Stability. It’s an anchor, a root system, one that keeps me grounded. I write in my journal every morning, without fail, and often throughout the day. It’s how I find out what’s going on with me, how I process the events of my life, and connect with my spiritual self. These are all activities I did not do very well until recently.

Here’s the link for the rest of the article: http://twinstitute.net/wp-content/uploads/2011/01/C4JT-E-Zine-Autumn-2012-smaller.pdf

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The Happiness Project

This year, I spent New Year’s Eve in Sedona. It was a reunion with friends I met last year on New Year’s Eve, when we were all licking our wounds from various traumatic events in our lives.

On the way to our reunion, in the airport, I noticed that book (again), called The Happiness Project, by Gretchen Rubin. This time I picked it up and made note. Even took a picture! But I did not buy it. Just left it on the shelf, thoughtfully.

The next morning, we took a “wall yoga” class (Have you tried it? Really cool. You hang from a strap on the wall! We always try to do something new and different when we get together.) The instructor announced that “letting go” was the theme of the class. That seemed appropriate! Then, at the end, he read an affirmation that really caught my attention: “I affirm my ability to have a happy life.”

Can I do that? Can I have a happy life? Can I let go of the sorrows of my past, honor them, and then step lightly into a new life filled with happiness and joy?

We had a sparkling New Year’s Eve black-tie dinner party that night with a lovely group of Danish friends. I drank champagne, ate tasty raw oysters and fragrant cod, did some ballroom dancing, and deliciously, took a nap by the fireplace until the ball started to drop!

And the next morning, as the brilliant sun rose over the beautiful Sedona rock formations, I woke up happy.

So. I’ve decided to make 2012 my own personal Happiness Project. I decided to do things every day this year that will make me happy. For example, I made an artsy collage of my intentions for the month of January. I played ping pong with my son even though it was bedtime. I bought three new books and started reading them: The Road Less Traveled, The Happiness Project, and A Life of One’s Own. And I spent a few hours last Saturday in the garden, trimming old branches and cleaning up debris.

I even created a Meetup.com group for people in Jacksonville called “the Happiness Project — Jacksonville.” It’s live! Invitations will go out to the general public in the next day or so!

http://www.meetup.com/Happiness-Project-Jacksonville-FL/

So. Not sure where this will lead. I’ve been journaling a lot, focusing on all that I am grateful for, but also acknowledging the difficulties in my life. And there are a few of them. However…this too shall pass. I don’t think it has to ruin my happiness. In fact, it may even be necessary for my happiness, to feel the pain and walk through it, and get to the other side.

I just read this lovely passage in Thich Nhat Hanh’s book, Your True Home:

The goodness of suffering is something real. Without suffering there cannot be happiness. Without mud there cannot be any lotus flowers. So if you know HOW to suffer, suffering is OK. And the moment you have that attitude, you don’t suffer much anymore. And out of suffering, a lotus flower of happiness can open.

Here. In the garden.

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Bluebird of Happiness

A bluebird of happiness was at my front door today.  Actually, two of them, a male and a female, visiting the nest box we put out on the front yard a week or two ago.

There I was, innocently laying down pine straw in the beds early this morning, in the sparkling sunlight, when I heard an unfamiliar bird call.  I looked over my right shoulder, and spotted a male bluebird, flying toward me, closely followed by his mutely colored mate.  They rested a minute on the box, then the male lifted his right wing, just as they say they do, sort of as a salute.  He hopped over to the entrance hole and ducked inside, while the female kept guard on the roof.  Then out he popped, and in she went! Their tails ducked in and out, as they apparently ate the dried up mealworms I’d been sprinkling inside. Then they flew off, ready to start their day.

I can hardly believe it.  If you build it, they will come.

And this means Matthew was right, he probably DID see the bluebirds last week.

Last summer, I took a much-needed break and went to the mountains of North Carolina, staying at a lovely place called the Cataloochie Ranch. The name of my room in the ranch house was “The Bluebird.”  And in fact, there were several bluebirds on the property, which I enjoyed watching immensely.

I wrote in my journal in that room for seven days straight, trying to untangle the mystery that my life had become.  I woke up every morning, and looked out to the Smokey Mountains, their blue tops far away, a place where God waited for me.

At night, I surrounded myself with my books on the quilted bed in the safety of the Bluebird room, reading and writing, until the answers came.

Happiness, it seemed, was available to me.  But first I had to let myself out of my self-imposed prison, a cage of my own construction. I had to get free of my own false belief systems and my self-imposed fears.

Fly free, the bluebirds said.  Fly free, Jennifer.

And now, here it is…the bluebirds have come to roost, right in my own front yard.  Happiness is right here with me, as I gently do my work, in the garden.

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Painted Bunting

Yes, that is a painted bunting.  In my garden.  First spotted by Camille on a feeder, then photographed by Matthew on the orange tree.

I think I first fell in love with birds at Mrs. Andes’ house (my piano teacher, in West Newton, Pa.)  She had a wonderful, well-maintained, neatly enclosed backyard, with bird feeders stationed all over it, including pine cones hung with peanut butter and seeds.  When I completed a piece as a little girl, she placed a bird sticker in my music journal, where she wrote her notes each week.  (I got to pick which bird from a sticker set.) And if my mom was late picking me up, and the next student came, I could spend time in her yard, watching and wondering at the order, at the grace, of a simple backyard of an elderly couple with no children, a small paradise for me and several lovely little birds.

We were standing at the kitchen counter tonight when Camille spotted the first painted bunting.  “Mom, Mom!” Urgent.  I always feel like I go into slow motion when she says that…can’t move quickly enough to see what she wants me to!

And there it was.  A painted bunting, on the feeder right outside the kitchen window, hanging on the hook-and-line contraption that Dad set up for me the last time I was here, so that I could raise and lower the feeder as needed off the pergola.  I was stunned, not quite sure what I was seeing.  Then Matthew said, “It’s a painted bunting, Mom!” And he picked up the Peterson’s bird guide that happened to be sitting on the counter, and there it was, right on the front cover. I couldn’t believe it.  Camille has always had extra sharp eyes.

Matthew got right to work, looking up the details on the bird in the book.  “There it is, Mom,” he said, as he showed me the migratory patterns, and pointed out that the little fleck of color on the tiny map meant that we would see buntings throughout the summer.  Wow.  The most glamorous bird I’d seen on that feeder before was a tufted titmouse last week, and I thought that was pretty darn exciting!

Of course, ol’ sharp-eyed Camille had also recently spotted two bluebirds checking out the nest box I had casually set on the baker’s rack on the back porch.  (Put that box up in the front yard last Saturday morning…more on that later.)

Matt decided we should always keep the camera handy from now on, and set it up with the long focus lens. And I decided we should start keeping a bird-spotting list.  I got a blank journal from my mini-stash (one with birds on it, of course), and documented the sighting.  Camille moseyed out from her room briefly to see what was going on, and Matt went outside with the camera.  All was quiet for a few minutes while I finished cooking, then Matt came in with his announcement: He’d seen several more male painted buntings, as well as a pale green female, and had the photos to prove it!

So, we set up for some more bird watching.  The kids set the table outside, under the pergola, while I finished up our dinner of breaded chicken cutlets, mashed potatoes, and a salad of sliced red tomatoes, purple onion, balsamic vinegar, and green basil leaves picked from a container on the back porch.

Then Matthew read his favorite prayer from the Book Of Gratitude:  “Gratitude is a sickness suffered by dogs.” And Camille said the follow-up prayer: “Help us to be grateful for everything we have, to remember to be kind, loving, and thankful, and to have a positive attitude about everything.”

And then we spotted another painted bunting, this time on the feeder at the far end of the yard.  Then he was gone, and back.  And gone and back again! Finally, two appeared at once, and rested in the cypress tree. It was quite a show, while we finished our dinner, the kids enjoying swishing the cutlets around in their ketchup (horrors).  “Why don’t you like ketchup?” Camille asked me for the thousandth time.

Then she hesitated, considered going inside, and instead pulled her latest English book, Lord of the Flies, from behind her on the chair. “Want me to read this you guys?” “Yes,” I said.

“You can learn a lot by reading books,” she pointed out, the understatement of the evening.

And by hanging out together, in the garden, watching birds.

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