All posts by Julia Swancy

About Julia Swancy

writer, shaman, seeker, radical homesteader, unschooling mother of three, life learner, local food advocate, unabashed treehugger, herbalist, pontificator, farmwife

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What Would You Be Doing If You Didn’t Have To Work?

Julia Swancy:

Oh, kindred spirits, how I love finding you… enjoy!

Originally posted on Doug Does Life:

A quiet secluded life in the country, with the possibility of being useful to people to whom it is easy to do good, and who are not accustomed to have it done to them; then work which one hopes may be of some use; then rest, nature, books, music, love for one’s neighbor — such is my idea of happiness. ― Leo Tolstoy

What is the dream, exactly?

Most everyone dreams about not having to go to work. Holidays and and other breaks in the routine of the daily grind are looked forward to and cherished when they arrive. This dream is what drives the lottery players and those stuck in dead end jobs… “If I just didn’t have to work…”.

What would you do? The answer seems to be “I have no idea”, at least if this conversation is accepted as normal. Most people say watch movies, learn a…

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The Eye of the Storm, or Jeff Corwin’s Foot

Last week I took the kids to see the premier of a new IMAX movie, Galapagos 3D. Jeff Corwin narrates this film and was at the IMAX theater in Chattanooga to introduce it. After the movie, he shared an experience he had while researching in those islands. He had been swimming with penguins, got cold, and climbed out of the water. A Sally Lightfoot crab crawled onto his foot and began nibbling at the dead skin flaking off of his toes, only to be snatched off and eaten moments later by an octopus… life doing what life does, revolving for those few minutes around Jeff Corwin’s foot. Seriously, no one could make this stuff up.

Moments like this seem to float outside of time, paused, as the rest of the universe, hinged on that point, revolves and swirls around it. The eye of the storm. How many moments like this do we get? I find myself considering what tools to employ to notice and really immerse in more of these moments. Surely we swim in a river of these moments, but how does a fish notice the water? This story sounds rather exceptional, but so are our ordinary moments, when viewed through the right lens, the lens of awareness.

How do you shift your focus to notice the extraordinary, the exquisite, in the ordinary? How do you change your lens?

Good Enough

What does it mean to be good enough?

To be a good enough mother? Partner, spouse? Human being?

Welcome to the mine field! Our brains are wired to evaluate our actions and the actions of others. We make decisions in microseconds based on these evaluations, but there is no absolute, no yardstick of truth to measure by. Most of the time we aren’t even aware of this process, already immersed in the actions that arise from our subconsciously made decisions, but it happens just the same. Awareness is not required.

What if we bring awareness to the table? Instead of plunging headlong into action based on judgments unquestioned, what happens when we pause and question our assumptions first?

I begin each day like every other primate on the planet: I wake up. My evaluations of my day and myself in all the roles I play and the jobs I do begins immediately. I’m so lazy or I shouldn’t have stayed up so late follows on the heels of What time is it? at lightning speed. I may find as many as five or seven judgments against myself before my eyes are all the way open. What happens next takes form out of these thoughts. If I decide I am lazy I may rush about attempting to compensate; I may burn myself with my coffee or break a dish or hit my head on a shelf. I can then turn this into evidence to support my story that I am, effectively, an idiot.

This topic is difficult enough for me that I began this post three weeks ago, only to hit a wall, unable to wrap it up. Rather than judge that, what if I apply awareness here? One interpretation could be that I did not work hard enough or I was inefficient with my time. What else might be true? Perhaps the ideas needed to incubate a while. Perhaps other ideas bubbling to the surface in the meantime needed expression. Maybe this delay has brought this piece to light at a perfect moment for someone else. Who knows? And what use is it to believe in some fault, some irreparable weakness in me, about it?

What cruel stories do you spin about yourself? Can you imagine a different possibility? How will you respond to your thoughts with a new, kinder story?

 

 

Permission to Feel Bad

Some days are better than others. All days are not the same. It is physically impossible for all days to be. If we buy in to certain cultural messages we can easily slide into judgment of these different days, and it’s a mere breath of thought away from a judgment of ourselves: this good day means I did it right, let me try to repeat that (which is impossible); this bad day means I did something wrong, what can I do to avoid this in the future?

I don’t mean to say that we should never use discernment. Sometimes it is simple like that, as in, I ate some crappy food and consequently felt ill, I think I’ll resist that next time. And I also don’t mean to say we aren’t responsible for our own actions: if a person drives drunk, no one did it but him/her, and that needs to be owned. But frequently some days are just “off.” We can’t ever put our finger on any particular why or how. Maybe we catch a cold, maybe we wake up in a funk or have a difficult night’s sleep. Some days just feel wrong. We cannot begin to feel better if we are striving to resist admitting we feel bad in the first place.

I see this as a major failing in the self-help and New Age movements. A lot of talk gets spouted (and a lot of books sold, a lot of seats in workshops filled) with the promise of feeling great NOW and ALL THE TIME, and while that’s just dandy, the shadow side of this is that we can feel like we’re “doing it wrong” when we don’t feel great. “Be extraordinary!” quickly turns into “I am nothing when I am not extremely successful.” The nineteen-year-old who recently shot six people at a Fed Ex facility before killing himself is reported to have said, “A life lived in infamy is better than being a nobody.” Sometimes we just have to sit with our less-than-stellar feelings. Sometimes we may be bored or irritated with some aspect or aspects of our lives. We may be depressed or anxious. We can use these feelings to guide us toward something better, to learn something about ourselves, or to heal, but judging ourselves for having these feelings just adds to our pain. Running from these feelings or trying to escape them can have dire consequences. Or, as I have learned from Lynne Forrest, when we argue with Reality, we always lose.

What feelings are the most difficult for you? How can you strengthen your ability to sit with those feelings as an observer, without running away?

Getting Back on the Bike

I learned to ride a bicycle when I was ten years old. We had a really steep driveway, covered with crunchy brown leaves every fall, and my next-door neighbor and I devised a game of running over leaves on our bikes and tallying up points. At the peak of the season the driveway would be covered, no visible concrete anywhere. We decided that by riding down at full speed while twisting the handlebars back and forth, we could acquire maximum points in our game. Thus, a few months into riding, I flew over my handlebars and with spectacular style, took almost the full impact of the crash on my chin, breaking my jaw.

The next time I rode a bike, I was twenty-one years old.

Now, I could go on about all the other things in life, then and now, that I am much better at than bike riding. I could get defensive and say I didn’t want to ride! My parents forced me to learn! I could continue in that vein and say, No one valued what I did well and always focused on what I couldn’t do! But see, that really doesn’t matter. I can go with the “I’m a big fat victim of my life” school of thought and find all kinds of lovely vindication, er, evidence, of how the world has done me wrong from the beginning. Or, just as a suggested alternative, I can put on my big girl panties and say “Who is in charge in my head of all these thoughts? That’s right, I am!”

When I wrote my last post I did not expect to be required to take such a long break. It’s funny how we seem to be tested on these things we claim to understand sometimes. But the pivotal point, where I historically have stumbled, is when the break ends and I can’t recover my momentum, my motivation, or my focus. I don’t get back on the bike. I can see that I still judge myself a failure for needing a break, for being unable to do all the things perfectly all the time, for being human and not a god. All this judgment (besides making me feel lousy) prevents me from finding a way to pick my work back up, to resume or to begin again, as needed. What if, instead, I just brush myself off and get back up? No fanfare, no berating, just get back on…

Learning To Rest

Every day myriad fleeting thoughts and half-formed ideas vie for the elite position (tongue firmly in cheek) of becoming this day’s post. Somewhere along the way I learned to be comfortable with leaving the unchosen on the cutting room floor… I’m not sure how or when that happened, only that it did, as I no longer have the paralysis in the face of sitting down to the page that I once had.

For the past few days I have had some form of upper respiratory shenanigans going on, and yesterday it just won out. I took the kids into Atlanta for the last day of the Go West! exhibit at the High Museum (if you ever visit Atlanta, it’s worth a visit) and at the end of the day I chose to simply go to bed.

But.

I felt guilty. I have been posting every day recently. I broke my stride. What will happen tomorrow? What if I have fallen off, like so many times before, and I don’t get back on for months or years? I am running out of time!

Well, tomorrow has arrived, I am here, I am posting. Look at that. Sometimes it’s not just ideas that need to be left on the cutting room floor. Sometimes it may be a mood, a belief, an opinion, an assumption… perhaps an entire day (because let’s be honest, some days suck). If we can leave those things, let them fall where they fall, we free ourselves to move on to the next thing. I can let myself rest when I need to without worrying that it means anything about what I’ll do next– except that most likely I’ll be less tired :)

If you need to rest today, but you’re struggling against it, I wish you a lovely nourishing nap from which you wake refreshed and rejuvenated… and guilt-free!

Reflect, Reflect, Reflect

Facts. Sometimes useful, sometimes limiting, but by definition, always immutable. It is, for instance, a fact that the earth revolves around the sun; it is a fact that the sun is a star, that the earth is not, and that the moon, also not a star, is a satellite of earth. It is a fact that two of my children are in the next room playing together in this moment. It is a fact that this chair under me was once part of a tree or trees, with the exception of its metal feet, likely some nails or screws, and possibly the varnish (although that too may have once been part of a tree).

Those were easy. Teasing out fact from opinion gets complicated when we start examining our minds and emotions. So much interpretation is completely subjective. How do we know what is true?

We all respond to the outside world based on our inside world.  No one makes us feel or think anything. Thoughts are not facts. When I experience discomfort, whether within myself or with another, I desire a return to comfort, so I seek a solution to a problem. Already I have made a decision: I decided the discomfort was a problem. What if that, my very premise for starting this investigation, is false?

Here I pause and reflect. What can be objectively identified as true within my perceived conflict? I am mother, wife, daughter, friend, enemy; my days have no shortage of conflicts. When disagreement arises, what is fact, and what is my reaction? From where does my reaction arise? What do I believe about this disagreement, about myself in this moment? Do I need to be right, to win, to prove something, more than I need to be happy, to feel peaceful? Can I even, objectively, discern “right” over “wrong”? We humans love to think we know things, but to know a thing we have to believe our thoughts about it first, and sometimes our thoughts are simply not accurate. A litmus test for truth would be lovely…

To be continued… :)