Last month I had the privilege of visiting Thailand with my two youngest grandchildren and their mother Kan, who grew up there and emigrated to the United States as a young woman. It was my first experience of Asia, and the primary purpose of the trip, for me, was to...
In this in-between time when winter and spring are playing their annual game of tag, Nature makes it clear that although her seasons are eternal and somewhat orderly, they can also be mercurial and unpredictable. In northern California, the past two months have brought snow to mountain tops, blue skies alternating with torrential rains and fierce winds, the waxing of sunlight and record lows at night, and spring flowers poking their way through the frosty ground. Winter/Spring is a wild time.
I’m taking some time off to enjoy being with family, friends, and Mother Nature during the Holydays. Returning sometime in January.
The Winter Solstice arrives tomorrow, the shortest day and longest night of the year in the northern hemisphere. Since ancient times human beings have honored the sun at its lowest ebb and celebrated the lengthening of days and the diminishment of darkness that immediately follow.
One of the complaints I sometimes hear about aging is that it slows us down. It’s true that we process information a bit more slowly as we age and move at a somewhat slower pace. But overall it seems to me that slowing down is much more a gift than a loss – one that is especially welcome during the winter holidays (originally holy days) that tend to leave us feeling more dazed than holy (whole). Slowing down and its faithful partner, Paring Down, are inclinations in later life that enhance the quality of life as well as buffering us against the frenzy of the Holidaze.
Paring down is a natural inclination as we age, and it can be an ally at this time of year when too-muchness tends to expand exponentially. Several late-life trends move us toward simplification—our physical energy wanes somewhat; the nearness of death and the preciousness of life become more palpable; appearances, achievement, and acquiring tend to lose their appeal; and our capacity for savoring ordinary moments deepens. All of these help us to learn that less really is more – and to live accordingly.
Each year, from mid November through December, it is a challenge not to become swept up in the Holidaze – a shopping and overdoing frenzy that takes an enormous toll on bank accounts, physical and cognitive health, and emotional well-being. In the past few years, I’ve tried many strategies for slowing down and restoring simplicity, stillness, and silence to the weeks before and after the winter solstice, a time that humankind has long regarded as sacred.
Creativity is our essence and our birthright, a way of being that every child knows and adults can rediscover. It is often associated with genius and works of art, yet creativity is also a way of living, characterized by curiosity, playfulness, and wholeheartedness—qualities that tend to be at their peak in early childhood and often again in the winter of life.
Early studies of creativity focused almost entirely on the extraordinary achievements of exceptional people like Mozart and Einstein, which led to the view that it is a rare quality, reserved for a talented few. More recent study by Ruth Richards and others has broadened our understanding of creativity to include experiences of discovery and originality that occur in the day-to-day lives of ordinary people (Everyday Creativity). Almost any meaningful activity that involves exploration, discovery, and some kind of expression can be considered creative.
November 13 (next Tuesday) is the day humankind has set aside to remember the importance of kindness and to make an extra effort to treat others (and ourselves) with gentleness and understanding. World Kindness Day was established in Tokyo in 1998 by representatives of kindness organizations from around the world and is currently observed in 28 nations. This year, when incivility and even hostility are so prevalent in our own country and elsewhere, doing what we can to reestablish kindness as a social norm is especially important.