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H. A. O'Connor

What was that?

Ethereal, Searching for Inspiration 2 Comments
What was that?

Hold on, because you might think I’m weird when you start reading this. Hear me out, if you will.

I have a certain memory, and it serves as inspiration for some of my writing. Inspiration for what, exactly? A sexy male lead, of course. Or at least part of him.

 

So many parts to choose from…

Images via pixabay/PinSharp and bycfotografem

Still reading? Okay, here’s the memory. Brace yourself.

I  dated this guy at one point in my life (vagueness absolutely intended). He was pretty cute, pretty confident, pretty cool. So, one day, we were talking and I said something too quietly, as I was occasionally known to do. He leaned in, kind of sexy like, and said, “What was that?”

Man, leaning. Nice. 

Image via pixabay/Engin_Akyurt

Good stuff, am I right?

Are you laughing at me? Clearly, I need to explain.

Where exactly is the sexy? Well, never mind that he was a musician (I dated a few of those, so still being vague), or that he was probably tucking his longish hair behind his ear as he leaned in (grunge was kind of my thing when I was younger. Still vague, trust me).

The truly sexy part was this: he’d missed what I said and he was asking me to repeat it. Why? So he could hear it and, likely, respond. (He did.) *Bonus: the leaning in. There was a hint of intimacy there, of course, but he was also making sure he heard me the second time around.

Probably listening really, really well…

Image via pixabay/Ryan McGuire (edited from the original)

Now, you follow?

That’s right. Men who listen. Sexy.

…Actually people who listen, because I’m sure that road runs both ways.

Can I share a little more? One of the reasons I love writing so much is that I’m heard. If I can keep the reader’s interest, I mean. If not, that’s likely on me. Still, I’ve had plenty of moments in my life when what I was saying fell on deaf or distracted ears. Nope, not nearly as sexy or as cool or as nice as being heard.

Never mind the phone. I’m sure he’s a good listener.

Image via pixabay/Free-Photos (edited from the original)

So, the moral of my post?

…Well sure, if you’re a guy I dated at some point in my life, an aspect or two of your personality might find its way into my male characters. (Especially if you were one of the good ones. Happily, most were.)

That’s not a moral, though. The moral, then, must be this: be sexy. Listen when someone speaks to you. (Reading’s always nice, too, so thank you for that.) If the situation calls for it, you might even think over what the person has said and respond, accordingly.

Sex-y. That’s what I’m talking about.

Maybe he’s done a little too much listening…. Still sexy.

Image via Unsplash/bodyscape
H. A. O'Connor

Overcoming Your Enemy

Ethereal, Searching for Inspiration No Comment
Overcoming Your Enemy

We can all agree Mahatma Gandhi was a wise man, can’t we? If not, I recommend you watch the story of his life, Gandhi (1982), and give my question another try.

One of my favorites among Gandhi’s many expressions of wisdoms is this:

“The enemy is fear. We think it is hate; but it is fear.”

By Unknown – https://www.awesomestories.com/asset/view/Mahatma-Ghandi-Photo,
Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=179397

I’ve been thinking about this quote a lot lately, with all the horribleness that has been coming to a head in the US. This is not a post about politics or statues or tiki torch-wielding protestors, however. It’s a post about humans.

We are all human, right? We still have that in common?

I think we’d remember that clearly if, say, some violent group of extraterrestrials invaded Earth, our common home, hell bent on destroying us all. We’d band together pretty quickly, wouldn’t we? Who would care if the person beside you, fighting evil ET, was of a different race or religion or sexual orientation? You’d recognize this person as a fellow member of the human race and join forces. You’d forget to fear your differences in fearing a common enemy.

So, forget the invading ETs for a moment. Forget the differences between you and the human fighting beside you. What’s left? A fellow human being, with a desire to be safe and to protect the safety of loved ones.

Image via pixabay/41330

Let’s talk a bit more about this person, the one beside you. This person probably desires good health and happiness, wants to love and be loved. Correct? Don’t we all, right down to our cores? Then, what makes us forget these common needs and hopes? Anger and distance, maybe, but mostly fear.

Fear comes from a lack of knowledge. An inability to understand.

I think of the modern world, spewing hate across the internet. It reminds me a bit of road rage. People who would run each other off the road for minor driving infractions would be a lot less likely to get into a fist fight if they annoyed one another in person. They’d be far, far less likely if they knew a few things about each other, on a personal level. Things like the other’s most cherished memory or children’s names or favorite pizza topping.

Same goes for all this political opposition. It’s not easy to get to know each and every one of our philosophical opposites on a personal level, but it might help to remember that much of our opposers’ anger or apparent hatred is coming from a place of fear. Name it what you will, it’s coming from the same place of fear we hold within ourselves. Remember: we all want to be safe and ensure the safety of our loved ones, don’t we?

Image via Pixabay/PublicDomainPictures

The only way to combat such fear, to keep it in check, keep it from consuming our better thoughts and impulses, is to seek understanding. Seek to know your opposer, or the person who’s beside you, the one who seems so “different.” Approach them on a human level, and you will grow. Learn whatever you can and do your best to recognize a fellow human being behind the words and ideologies. You may still disagree with your opposer’s point of view, but the mind-numbing, sense-obliterating anger won’t be there.

Hatred cannot exist in a place of true understanding, which means, in effect, you win. You have overcome your real enemy, and that is fear.

H. A. O'Connor

Confirmed Mutt

Ethereal, Searching for Inspiration 6 Comments
Confirmed Mutt

I wanted to write this post earlier, but my eye doctor dilated my pupils, so I couldn’t see well for a chunk of the day. (Brief aside: does anyone else get completely disoriented when they have their pupils dilated? I felt like because I couldn’t see, I also couldn’t hear right or think right, and was being generally being bombarded by sunlight and the world at large. Only me? Fine…)

Me, with dilated pupils: I’m lost!

Image via pixabay/TonW

Anyway, what I wanted to write about is ancestry, DNA, and…um, spit. You see, there’s this thing you can do these days, where you submit a little ol’ spittle-laced DNA to unlock the clues to your ethnic ancestry. No doubt you’ve heard of it already. As you probably know, it’s hosted by ancestry.com. (Just to note, I’m not sponsored by them, just a fan.)

My husband and kids bought a DNA test a while ago (caught it on sale) and gave it to me for Christmas. Sure, Christmas happened many months ago, but no, it doesn’t take that long to get the DNA results. (I think the wait can be about six to eight weeks or so, although mine took less time…which is nice, because being patient can be painful.)

Me, trying to be patient, and slowly…falling…apart

Image via pixabay/annca

Therefore, the long wait for my test results rests not on Ancestry’s shoulders, but squarely on my own. Why? I’ll admit it: I was chicken. I’d been dying to find out more about my lineage and then, when I got the chance? Unh-uh. To be fair, the spit-in-a-tube thing bothered me some…it looked like a pretty long tube…and the thought of someone analyzing it? Ick. Turns out, it’s not as bad as it sounds. Although, I’m not on the receiving end of those vials, so easy for me to say.

All spitting aside, the real thing that held me back was fear. I was afraid of what they might find…rather the lack of what they might find. I wanted my genetic makeup to show a little bit of everything. Native American, African, Asian, Continental European, Easter Islander…you name it. You see, I’ve always known most of my ancestors came from Ireland and Great Britain and I’ve been very content with that fact. However, not knowing who else might have contributed to my lineage meant I could potentially claim a bit of everyone. Maybe I’m just greedy.

Genetic glutton or not, I brushed and flossed, waited a bit, did the spit thing, sent it in, waited longer and then, lo and behold…Thursday night, my husband, kids, nephew and I gathered around my laptop (literally) so I could do a grand unveiling of my ancestral location results. They were…duh duh duuuuh…63% Ireland and 30% Great Britain (England, Scotland, Wales). Womp womp. Yes, I was a little deflated to find I wasn’t a mix of all things. On the other hand, I’ve had my Celtic Mutt status confirmed. Which I really like. I mean, these are my people. They got me here. I’m simultaneously proud and grateful.

That said, there were also some unexpected potential ingredients in the mix of my ancestral blood. They were interesting, if not guaranteed. Listed among my “Low Confidence Regions” were the following: Iberian Pensinsula (Spain/Portugal) 3%, Italy/Greece 1%, Caucasus region of West Asia (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Turkey) 1%, North Africa (Morocco, Western Sahara, Algeria, Libya) <1%, Finland/Northwest Russia <1%. Granted, these aren’t “sure things” when it comes to my genetic mix, but I like the diversity, so I’ll accept, thank you very much.

Image via pixabay/TheAndrasBarta

There was more info, by the way; Ancestry also shares what they call your “Genetic Communities.” I had two: settlers of the Delaware Valley, (which was no surprise, given that’s where most of my known ancestors settled), and the Connacht Irish. Very cool, if I do say so myself.

Aside from all of this, I was linked to several potential relatives…almost 300, actually, which should make for a pretty decent family reunion. Of them all, one was a second cousin and the rest fell anywhere from third to eighth, which means I’m probably less connected to them than I am to Kevin Bacon. (You know, Six degrees…? Never mind.) The point is, none of us share close blood ties, but still…we are family. Somehow, deep in the threads of our DNA, we seem to be connected.

“Everybody, say ‘Cheese!'”

Image via pixabay/geralt

Some of my genetic curiosity has been satisfied…for now. As expected, I’m mostly a Celtic Mutt, but I’m also potentially linked to people from various regions of the world. I guess I didn’t need a DNA test to tell me I’m part of the big, diverse human family, but it’s kind of nice to see that the connections I feel in my heart and spirit even show up in my…spit.

H. A. O'Connor

What You Wish For

Earthy, Ethereal, For the love of animals, Parenting, Searching for Inspiration 2 Comments
What You Wish For

There are times in my house–quiet times–when you wouldn’t know we had any pets at all…unless you looked around, that is. Dogs seem to be dozing all over the place (often with our lone cat somewhere in their midst). Don’t even get me started on the other evidence: fur.

At other times, even if you closed your eyes, there’d be no mistaking that there are more than a couple of dogs here. They burst into activity and seem to be everywhere at once, wrestling and chasing one another, barking or play-growling, hunting down and dismembering unsuspecting chew toys.

Here’s a little clip of most of them, doing a bit of their doggy thing.

Today, during one such moment of canine chaos, I thought, I feel like I’m living in the middle of a wolf pack. The thought, in turn, struck a memory: I once wished for this.

Years ago, I’d read about a couple who lived in a national park somewhere, surrounded by nothing but woods and wildness. They were there to study the wolves, and could sometimes even watch the pack’s interactions through the windows of their home. How peaceful, I’d thought. I could do that. Part of me–most of me–could really love that life.

Image via pixabay/Der_Windsurfer

Another time, I’d read an article about a family who’d adopted a great big bunch of kids–all colors and creeds, ages and sizes. That, too, I felt I could love. I’ve discussed adoption with my husband many times over the years, and at one point, “the more, the merrier” sounded really, really good. I’m someone who enjoys quiet and craves solitary moments, someone who loves a tidy, clean house–not that I remember how it feels to have such a house–but I was willing to trade those preferences in return for so much giving and receiving of love. I wanted to expand our family by opening it to those who didn’t have one. I wanted to love multitudes.

Image via pixabay/Theo_Q (image is cropped)

The funny thing is, I feel like the universe has granted me those wishes in a roundabout way. Sure, they’ve been altered, but still…

I have my wolf pack. Not only can I watch their wild play through the windows, but they also carry it indoors, often right up onto and across my lap. True, only one of them can really qualify as lap-dog sized, but on the upside, there’s no such thing as catching a chill when you’re resting in this house–not with a dog curled up in front of your chest, another behind your legs, maybe one nestled by your feet, possibly another perched along the top of the couch, and the fifth and final (and largest) lying on the floor next to you. It can get pretty cozy, living inside a wolf pack, but that’s not so bad.

I have my adopted family, too. Our dogs certainly don’t qualify as children, yet we’ve taken those who were without families and we’ve opened our home and hearts to them. Not that I wouldn’t love to welcome a child or two (maybe more?) into our family–if I had the money and the time and the sanity to spare–but the older I get, the more I have to acknowledge that ship has most likely sailed. Yet we love our dogs and you’d better believe they give that love right back, with some to spare.

There are definitely times when I fantasize about having only one or two pets (not that I’d trade any of ours for anything). Days when I’ve just finished sweeping or vacuuming and already there are little wisps of fur floating toward the floor. Moments when I panic. So. Many. Dogs. What have I done? It can be a little too much of a good thing, but in my defense (probably my only defense), it’s hard to say no to kids and puppies, especially when you love them both. Regardless, I asked for this…in some way or another…and the universe saw fit to give it to me.

There’s a Buddhist quote that says, “Mind precedes all mental states. Mind is their chief; they are all mind-wrought.” (From The Dhammapada; for the complete quote, visit: King’s Lynn Triratna Buddhists: Dharma Quote of the Week.) Though this quote has much more depth of meaning than what I’m discussing here, I feel the two ideas are related. If you think a certain way, your mind begins to focus in that direction. Your perspective will be affected, your choices will align with your beliefs, and the course of your life may become deeply altered over time. I think of this, in very basic terms, like driving a car: if you turn your head one way or the other, there’s a pretty good chance your steering wheel will follow.

The moral of my post? You know it already: watch what you wish for (because you just might get it).

Is there anything in your life that could make you think, I wished for this? How do you feel about it? Was this something you simply wanted, or was there some part of it you truly needed? Are you on the right road, or Is it time to straighten the steering wheel?

H. A. O'Connor

Happy (Belated) Beltane!

Earthy, Ethereal, Natural and Noteworthy, Searching for Inspiration 4 Comments
Happy (Belated) Beltane!

Well, spring was here…and gone…and here…and…so I’ve decided it’s all right that I’m a little late with my Beltane wishes, which should have happened around the first of May. Beltane is one of a number of seasonal celebrations based on ancient Celtic festivals (and often practiced by modern pagans–and others, like me).

The Celtic festivals centered around the seasons: four of them mark the change of season (solstice or equinox) and four mark the midpoints between. Beltane marks the point between the spring equinox and summer solstice, also known as one of my absolute favorite times of the year.

By User:The Wednesday Island, after en:User:Brenton.eccles –
Based on en:Image:Wheel_of_the_Year.gif but redrawn, Public Domain,
https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5293620

I consider myself essentially to be a Celtic mutt, based on mostly a mix of Irish, Scottish, (probably) Welsh, etc. ancestry, so I’ve long been interested in these ancient festivals. Since I’m refreshing my memory on them, I thought I’d share.

The word Beltane is Celtic for “fires of Bel.” Belenus was one of the most widely worshipped Celtic gods, apparently known as “The Bright [or Shining] One.” Beltane was celebrated at a time when the barren landscape of winter had begun to burst forth again into life. The Hawthorn, or May-tree, was showing its abundance of snowy white blossoms and the land was coloring itself a fresh, vibrant green. People would be preparing to turn out their livestock into summertime pastures, so at Beltane, they’d burn ritual fires for the animals to pass between. This, they believed, would help protect the livestock and ensure their fertility. Fertility for the people themselves was also of the utmost importance, so Beltane was often a time for couples to court or marry.

Hawthorn, or May-tree, in bloom

Some of the ways people celebrated (and continue to celebrate) Beltane, was by lighting these bonfires, which were central to the festival. The merrier the bonfire bash, the better, no? Also, maypoles aren’t phallic by accident. They represent the fertility of Beltane, with its burgeoning life. People have historically danced around maypoles, while decorating them with colored ribbons and flowers, including those of the Hawthorn.

I’m not an ancient Celt or a practioner of paganism, but I’m perfectly prepared to celebrate Beltane (even belatedly). I can offer gratitude for the physical fertility I’ve had in my life (no need for more of that, thank you very much), but I can also welcome in other types of fertility and abundance–creative and spiritual fertility, and maybe some financial abundance would be nice. Spring is here, with its new beginnings, and bountiful summer is on its way. I don’t need a better reason to celebrate, do you?

If I dance around my May-tree, you’ll join me, right?

H. A. O'Connor

Wait for it…

Ethereal, Searching for Inspiration 2 Comments
Wait for it…

I should never be left alone with a pound cake. Honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever made eye contact with a dessert so many times before in my life.

So, how am I coping with this vision of buttery loveliness, placed just above eye level on top of the refrigerator, catching my gaze all day long? Do I beat myself up for being tempted? Do I swear up and down that not a single crumb will cross my lips? Nah. I’ve been trying this: “Okay, but wait.”

Wait for it. That’s all. So far, it’s been enough.

What about my stash of dark chocolates in the cabinet or the Tastykakes my husband insists on buying? Same: just wait. Actually, I’m pretty good at resisting the Tastykakes. They never seem to be quite as tasty as they were when I was a kid.

Speaking of childhood, I played the waiting game back then, too. In fact, I’m pretty sure I reached Expert Level in Delayed Gratification, which probably only goes to show I was kind of a weird kid.

Believe it or not, though, back in the ancient days of my old-millenium childhood, few things happened at the speed of light, as they seem to do today. Waiting for things was (*gasp*) a regular part of everyday life.

Seriously, if you wanted to buy something, you had to save up your money for it. If you wanted dessert, first you had to eat every pasty lima bean on your plate. If you felt like playing with your friends, you had to hop on your bike and roam the streets, searching for evidence of them–shouts of laughter, a collection of bikes on someone’s lawn–or you actually had to ride to individual houses and gather the group, piece by piece.

Image via FreeImages/Griszka Niewiadomski

Still, as a kid, I took this waiting to another level. When I received an unexpected piece of candy or a cupcake or some other bit of deliciousness, I wouldn’t just go ahead and gobble it up. I’d hold out for as long as my willpower would allow–which probably, in hindsight, wasn’t all that long–and then, I’d eat it slowly, savor every bit, stretch out the gratification. So, yeah, I guess I was a weird kid. Still, those little treats were some of the best indulgences I’ve ever experienced. Maybe it was the lima beans beforehand, but there was some serious deliciousness happening right there.

So, when was the last time you had to wait for gratification? Been a while? It probably has, so let me help you remember how it goes. The waiting’s a bit torturous, but the anticipation is pretty sweet. When the moment arrives for you to taste that piece of cake or buy that Hawaiian shirt or giant, shiny boom box with the bass expander…that’s a pretty great moment, yes? Then, if you do it right, you can really draw out the experience, soak in every bit of its awesomeness. It might be the kind of moment you’ll never forget. This is what can happen when you wait–especially when you wait some more.

Image via Unsplash/Eric Nopanen

Waiting isn’t all about indulgences, though. As blogger James Clear says, “Success usually comes down to choosing the pain of discipline over the ease of distraction. And that’s exactly what delayed gratification is all about.” (jamesclear.com)

In his post on delayed gratification, Clear goes on to describe a series of studies conducted at Stanford and later again at the University of Rochester, known as The Marshmallow Test. Children were offered marshmallows under varying circumstances, to see how long they could delay their gratification, in hopes of receiving a greater reward. The studies (and follow-up studies) found something notable: those who felt more comfortable delaying their gratification tended to be more successful later in life.

It makes sense. If you hold off on binge watching your new favorite TV show until after you’ve finished putting together that report, you’re likely to have a better end result. If you’re willing to work hard and put in the effort to learn something well, rather than going on a marathon pub crawl, your knowledge is going to act as a stronger foundation for future learning.

Another thing about waiting? As hard as it may be at times, you can get better at it. Start small, set little goals for yourself, forget the never, evers…instead, simply remind yourself to…wait for it. 

Image via pixabay/Monoar

As for me, I’m still waiting…all that delayed gratification I practiced in childhood ought to have earned me a pretty big stash of success chips. Hoping to find them and cash them in sometime soon, but for now, I have to run. There’s a pound cake nearby, begging to be noticed.

 

H. A. O'Connor

Parenting with More…of Less

Earthy, Ethereal, Living Sustainably, Minimalism: Less Is More, Neighborhood Homesteading, Parenting No Comment
Parenting with More…of Less

Generation after generation, parents have set out to give their kids more than they had. So why do I feel the constant desire to give my kids less?

On the surface, it might sound like a simple case of bad parenting, and I definitely have had (and will have) my share of parenting fails. I think I’ll be able to chalk this one up to a win, though, and I’m sure others feel similarly.

By Charles Ellis Johnson – Harold B. Lee Library Special Collections, Public Domain,
httpscommons.wikimedia.orgwindex.phpcurid=54968740

To clarify how this less thing works, think: less busy-ness, less unnecessary technology, less consumerism, less time indoors, less stress…. (I could add “fewer possessions, fewer distractions,” etc., but then I’d have to mess with my “less” theme, so….)

In having less, kids also get more: more free time, more outdoor activities, more bonding with family and friends, more healthful living, more imagination and creativity, more appreciation for life’s basic pleasures, more peace….

Childhood, for me, had some definite highlights. Generally, the simple things were what I treasured most and still remember best: exploring woods and fields and farms with friends, climbing trees, riding bikes, writing, drawing, painting, spending quality time with family and pets.

By State Library of Queensland, Australia [No restrictions], via Wikimedia Commons

I can’t help feeling we were onto something in those long-ago days of my youth, you know, back in the 1900s. I like to think of it as hands-on living.

This, then, is what I want for my kids: I want more…of less. I want them to be plugged into their lives, rather than plugged into electronics and disconnected from real living.

How do I hope to achieve this? (On a wing and a prayer?) The general idea is to stick with a back to basics theme. In terms of specifics, well, I’m still working on those. For now, I’m focusing on the following hopes and goals, some of which are already in the works:

(To simplify, I’ve grouped the details into broad categories.)

Image via Unsplash/Redd Angelo

The Minimal the Better (<–click for more on minimalism)

Minimalism can involve decluttering life on multiple levels–from physical items to activities/habits that use up time and energy.

*Clear out unnecessary belongings–donate!

*Buy less (e.g. instead of owning massive amounts of clothing, focus on fewer, more versatile items; for people who have young children, point out to them that one or two stuffed animals are easier to love and tote around than a dozen)

*Encourage (aka demand) less screen time–this was so much easier when my kids were little!

*Choose activities more carefully–weed out unnecessary distractions and use free time better (e.g. instead of an expensive indoor activity, go for a walk together at a state/national park. Add a dog, a camera, and/or a picnic lunch and it qualifies as a bona fide event, without too much fuss)

By Internet Archive Book Images [No restrictions], via Wikimedia Commons

Self-sufficient? Naturally

Self-sufficiency can happen as an individual or on a larger scale.

*Individual self-sufficiency–encourage kids to do more for themselves. It may take longer in the beginning, but it will help them gain confidence and skills along the way and, eventually, might free up some time for the adults. (I did say “might.”)

(*Sidenote: I remember standing inside a store years ago, waiting for one of my sons to tie his shoe. I used it as a momentary reprieve–a chance to catch my breath before he was up and active again–but a woman beside me apparently found the whole experience exasperating. “I don’t know how you can do that,” she said to me, as he tried and tried again. “I’d just have to jump in and do it for him.” I smiled at her, still happy with my choice. If I took over for him this time and the next (and the next) how would he ever learn? By the way, I’ve definitely lacked patience as a parent–and as a human, in general–but sometimes I think I got it right.)

*Self-sufficiency on a bigger scale–in desiring to live more independently as a family, it will be important to work in harmony with the natural world. We hope to:

*Grow more of our own food–veggies, herbs, fruits, berries (*Another aside: we’ve already planted two fruit trees in honor of lost loved ones–a Grandma Hon Tree and a Grandy Tree. I think they’d approve, especially when their trees are in bloom.)

*Make more food from scratch–the closer you stay to nature, the better = great rule of thumb, when it comes to food

*Use natural remedies and preventative treatments to help improve our health–including herbs and common lawn weeds (<click to see that post)

*Make our own soaps and other personal products from natural ingredients (such as I’ve demonstrated on my little YouTube channel–* here*)

*Continue with our chicken keeping (love those girls!)

By Kheel Center – Flickr Adults and three young children make artificial flowers around a table at
home., CC BY 2.0, httpscommons.wikimedia.orgwindex.phpcurid=20256953

Put ’em to work

*Show kids the value of hard work–not only general yard work, housework, pet care, but also projects–currently, the boys are helping my husband put up a fenced area behind the house for the dogs (YouTube video on that soon to come)

*Add to our DIY lifestyle–this helps ease the strain on our budget, while showing the kids we’re capable of a lot, if we are willing to learn. For example, I started cutting everyone’s hair years ago (bit of a rough start, but I think I’ve got the hang of it. They might beg to differ.) Also, my “To be painted” list has quite a few rooms on it, so I’d like to start teaching the kids how to help me

*Have them brainstorm with us on future projects or current problems–this shows the kids they’re really part of the team, plus they have some great things to contribute

*Encourage creative pursuits (paints, paper, pens, cardboard, wood, hammer, nails, etc.–simple tools can spark all kinds of endeavors)

*Help them help others–from raising money for a child-driven charity, Our Children Making Change, to assisting the runners at Philadelphia’s annual Broad Street Run, to fostering puppies from the rescue where I volunteer (Greenmore Farm Animal Rescue), the kids have experienced how good it feels to offer someone a helping hand

Public Domain, httpscommons.wikimedia.orgwindex.phpcurid=268522

Become a Model

In addition to working with our kids on the activities I’ve mentioned above, parents can think about our own behavior as modeling. Some examples:

*If we want our kids to value long-term achievements over short-term pleasures, we can let them see how we work toward goals and, when met with challenges, how we adapt and persevere

*If we want our kids to be aware of society’s focus on consumerism, materialism, and other “surface” living, we can talk with them about things like need vs. want and how consumer-driven lifestyles can be damaging to us and the environment

*If we’d like kids to understand the value of learning, we can put down our smart phones or tablets and pick up a book, build/repair something, or start another kind of project

(*hint: our kids won’t be the only ones who benefit when we choose well)

 

Turns out I’ve listed a lot for a post on “less.” Granted, I may have overcomplicated things, but a list like this should only serve as a reference, anyhow. I find that when we set our sights on choosing a “back to basics” life, things begin to fall into place naturally.

I know I’m not the only one who feels less really can be more, so I’d love to hear how others are giving their kids (or themselves) more from less. Do you agree that a simpler life can help nurture healthier bodies, as well as happier hearts and minds?

H. A. O'Connor

Memento Vivere

Ethereal, Searching for Inspiration 6 Comments
Memento Vivere

Carpe diem! Live life to the fullest! Live for the moment!

The advice flying at us from memes can be in-your-face upbeat. Inspiring, isn’t it? I guess so, but when I see those memes, I can’t help panicking a bit. Have I seized the day today?! I don’t know. Am I making the absolute, utmost use of this very moment??! Um…can I get back to you on that one?

Sure, I understand those memes are trying to remind us to wake up and smell the coffee, or stop and smell the roses, or do something besides smelling. Still, when I see them, I can’t help feeling there’s pressure to be “on”–successful in some way at all times, or at least heading somewhere important. It could just be my interpretation that’s faulty. Maybe such inspiration swooshes right over my head.

Huh?

Image via pixabay/geralt

Memento vivere represents another of those meme-worthy phrases, yet it’s not something you hear everyday (at least I don’t–I only encountered it through researching another post). I like that it’s under-used. It seems to come with less pressure and maybe even without an exclamation mark. Translated from Latin, it means “remember to live,” and it’s essentially a mid-nineteenth century response to the much older memento mori (aka “remember to die”). Although I’m pretty comfortable with memento mori, it does seem to hint that we should hurry up and do something. (Maybe it’s the clock ticking in the background of the phrase and some of its related imagery?)

Still, memento vivere is kind of refreshing:

Hey, good morning to you. Memento vivere.

Oh yeah, remember to live. Got it. Thanks!

In comparison, hurry-up/life-is-fleeting kind of phrasing has one of two effects on me: if I’m feeling up to the challenge, it can light a welcome fire under my lazy bum. If I’m feeling a little less-than, it can overwhelm me and shut me down completely.

Hello, Rut. Mind if I step inside?

Image via pixabay/lajospeszt

This is why I’ve decided to assign my own interpretation to memento vivere. (It’s old and Latin, so I figure I can play with its original connotations if I feel like it.)

For me, memento vivere now means: remember to live, in the sense that you should keep coming back to being awake and aware in the present moment. A little less catchy than the original meaning, but it’s a work in progress. Still, it entails the following: no pressure to fill each moment with mountain climbing or CEO-ing or masterpiece making. Instead, be awake and absorb what you can of the experience and meaning happening right now, right where you are.

Still a fuzzy concept, yes? Here I am in this moment, now this moment, now this one….

I find it helpful to think of it in similar terms to meditation. I used to consider meditation to be a restrictive, super self-controlled practice. Full lotus position, no peeking, no thinking, maybe levitate a little. I now understand that there can be a lot more flexibility to the practice. Hey, if you’re meditating and your thoughts wander? No worries. Acknowledge the random thoughts, don’t punish yourself for going astray, and then just come back to your breathing. Lather, rinse, repeat. You can meditate when you walk, when you brush your teeth, when you wash the dishes…it’s just a time to be, and if you can’t be, well then, come back to your breathing whenever you’re able.

He can probably levitate

Image via Unsplash/Ashes Sitoula

Same goes, I’ve decided, for memento vivere. Lose focus on life? Well, just keep coming back to the present. Sure, you’re going to get tugged into memories of your glory days, when you climbed Mt. Everest or won the spelling bee (I’ve never done either, so you have me there). Enjoy those memories, acknowledge them for what they are (experiences of the past), and come back to your present. You’re going to find yourself thinking about the future, too–maybe worrying about it or, better, anticipating it. All good, too. Just acknowledge that it is the future and, as such, unknowable. Then, come back to your present.

But what if you’re stuck in a rut in your present life? As I wrote in my recent post, When The Journey Sucks, that is a-okay. Ruts happen to all of us. Just acknowledge the rut instead of wasting time and energy denying and fearing it. Learn what you can from your rutty experience, so you can gather the strength and knowledge to move on when it’s time.

What if you’re in the middle of a root canal? Should you try to stay present in that kind of moment? How can I answer, except by throwing another trite phrase at you? Life is hard, sometimes. Be there, acknowledge your fears and give yourself a mental hug; also, acknowledge your strength as you’re moving through the experience. Those thoughts might enhance your understanding of something else, at a later time.

The good, the bad, the ugly–they’re all parts of our lives and each has something to offer us. Much of life falls into the spaces where they overlap, too. There’s often a downside to something good, just as there’s usually an upside to something bad, whether we know it immediately or not for a long, long time. Our lives are difficult and wonderful, and it serves us best to participate in them fully.

The Thinker, chimpanzee style…just because

Image via pixabay/skeeze

Last, but not least, if we’re fortunate enough to catch hold of the present moment, awake and aware, maybe the most important thing we can do is to be honest: peel away the layers of story we tell ourselves about our lives, and see our real selves, right where we are, right how we are. Then, it would be a really, really good thing if we could show ourselves some compassion and understanding, because we all need that, don’t we? If it’s a new experience for you and it feels uncomfortable, remember it’s easier to spread love if you share it with yourself, too.

So anyway, memento vivere. Remember to live. Go ahead and dream, send out wishes and hopes for the future. Enjoy those momentous memories of your past. But, as often as you can, come back to your breaths, come back to your present moment.

You are here. 

(To channel Mr. Rogers, you’re also beautiful and worthy of love–right now, just as you are.)

It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day

Image via Unsplash/Anton Repponen/Song reference–Nina Simone

*As I’ve mentioned previously, I’m a huge fan of Tara Brach and her teachings. They helped inspire this post.

H. A. O'Connor

Memento Mori

Ethereal, Searching for Inspiration 8 Comments
Memento Mori

My husband and I were driving home from Philadelphia the other night, when we realized the oddly shaped car we’d been following was a hearse. Oh right, I thought. Death.

The hearse was a real life memento mori, which is Latin for “remember to die.”

The phrase apparently dates back to ancient Roman times. As legend has it, when a general returned from winning a battle, he would be given a celebratory parade, a “Triumph.” Faced with cheering crowds and the great satisfaction of victory, the general would have a slave ride behind him in his chariot, whose sole task was to whisper in his ear a memento mori, a warning that death would come for him someday. Why? This helped the general stay humble and avoid the kind of overconfidence that would make him vulnerable.

General, come back! I have to tell you something!

Image via pixabay/elukac

Despite how ancient I sometimes feel (or how ancient my kids seem to think I am), I was not alive in the days of Roman generals and chariot parades. Instead, my first encounter with the term “memento mori” was in a college art history class. We explored the theme as it was expressed in paintings, sculptures and mosaics, throughout history and into modern times. Sometimes, the memento mori features blatantly, e.g. a skull, front and center; other times, the image might be a more subtle reminder of death–a sputtering candle or an emptying hourglass.

Either way, the message remains the same: where life goes, so follows death.

Inscription, translated: Everything passes with death,

death is the ultimate limit of all things.

Vanitas Barthel (Bartholomäus) Bruyn
(*Vanitas art is a sub-category of the memento mori genre)
published before 1923 and public domain in the U.S.

There are still other forms of the memento mori. The Victorians, for one, were experts in incorporating death into daily life. Ironically, as the middle class grew and lifespans lengthened (relatively speaking), premature death was increasingly seen as tragic. Queen Victoria herself openly and prolongedly grieved over her husband Albert’s passing at age forty-two, and the practice of deep mourning spread to her subjects and beyond. People wore black mourning clothing for years after a loved one’s passing, kept locks of hair encased in mourning jewelry, and even had photographs taken with the recently deceased. Death was a powerful presence in Victorian life and, ironically, it helped keep people’s connections to the deceased very much alive.

Mourning brooches containing the hair of deceased relatives.
Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images
images@wellcome.ac.uk
http://wellcomeimages.org
Photograph,
19th Century
Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons
Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0
http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

In this respect, Victorian mourning reminds me of the Mexican Dia de los Muertos (“Day of the Dead”). Indigenous Mexicans believe the gates of heaven open at midnight on October 31st and remain so into November 2nd, allowing the return of deceased loved ones. During this time, the living honor and celebrate those who have died, decorating altars in their homes with gifts for the dead: sugar skulls, candles, flowers, fruits, etc. The celebration closes with a gathering in cemeteries, where people tend to the graves of loved ones and share stories of their lives. This not only preserves bonds to the deceased, but also among the living.

Image via pixabay/pexels

So, are all these reminders of death creepy? I don’t think so. Granted, I’m a little Morticia Adams-y by nature, but death doesn’t really scare me. Well…okay, some parts of it do. I find open caskets and viewings to be deeply disturbing. I don’t want to remember someone in death; I want to remember their life and all they’ve meant to me.

On the contrary, I find graveyards to be fascinating places. I’ve been comfortable in them since childhood, maybe because my younger sister and I sometimes played in one. Our mom did the bookkeeping for a church preschool for a time, so we kids would roam the cemetery, reading epitaphs, expressing sadness over those who had died too young, standing in awe over the really old stones. Yet, neither of us were troubled by thoughts of death. Though faced with concrete evidence of it, we thought instead about life–those individuals’ lives, to be exact. We wondered about how they had lived, what their interests and daily lives were like, who they had loved.

Image via pixabay/MikeBird

As for the memento mori that sometimes pop up in our lives, I say be not afraid. A certain amount of comfort with death can aid us in our grieving, it can help us retain our connection to those we have lost. I’d recommend viewing memento mori the way the ancient Romans did–as reminders that we are all mortal. Our time is limited, so how do we want to spend it? How do we want to explore our interests, conduct our daily lives? Who do we love and how do we show them?

Image via Unsplash/Bistrian Iosip

Memento mori. Death as inspiration to live and live well.

H. A. O'Connor

When the Journey Sucks

Ethereal, Searching for Inspiration 3 Comments
When the Journey Sucks

Here’s a truth about life, about trying to grow and evolve, become generally better at being us: the journey is not always fluid or smooth. The journey, sometimes, sucks.

I was reminded of this today, when I briefly tuned in to a recording of Tara Brach, noted psychologist and meditation teacher. She was giving a talk on trusting in our own evolution, having faith in our individual growth. Yet, she began the talk by saying she and her husband had recently gone on a meditation retreat together, an annual tradition for them. When they were relating their experiences, her husband shared that he hadn’t felt well during the entire weekend. For him, the retreat had sucked. Brach laughed as she was recounting the story, but went on to say it was good that he could be so open and honest.

It’s true that even if we are moving toward some form of betterment, our progress is not always palpable. You may hit bumps, you may get stuck in ruts–potentially one after another. The point is, you’re still on the road.

Image via Unsplash/Clem Onojeghuo

Those ideas tie into another I’ve heard, this one from Natalie Goldberg, author of the best-selling book for writers, Writing Down the Bones. A line of Goldberg’s has stuck with me throughout the years. You have to slow to grow–your writing, your awakening heart, or whatever it is you’re attempting to evolve. I try to remember it whenever my life has slowed to a crawl or even come to a standstill.

In contrast, life usually moves so quickly, doesn’t it? Information flies at us from multiple angles–from texts and emails to social media and the never-ending maze of Google. My husband has mentioned on more than one occasion that he can barely watch certain TV shows, because they cut between shots too quickly and end up giving him a headache. Have you ever noticed how images and sounds bombard you during television commercials or when you’re plugged into the internet?

Where is the quiet in our daily lives?

Where is the time for us to decompress and digest?

Image via pixabay/nico 1979

Honestly? It’s probably in the ruts. In fact, maybe that’s why we fall into them–because, on some level, we are desperate for a pause. Then, why not just choose them? Opt for a break on our own? Because ruts are scary. We know we can get stuck in them. This is true enough, but maybe it’s our fear of the rut that makes it deepen and become seemingly inescapable. As an alternative to getting stuck, we can choose to let the rut play out. We can look around while we’re stopped, acknowledge our situation, and see what the pause can teach us. Maybe this is how we find the strength to climb back out.

Anybody up there? I don’t think this is a rut anymore.

Image via pixabay/grafontour

I’ll be honest, I’m a chronic rut avoider. I’ve repeatedly heard myself say the words, “As long as I’m making progress, I’m fine.” Yes, the traffic jams of my life tend to cause me some pretty deep frustration, yet over the years, I’ve begun to appreciate that there may be something to them.

It could be that the pauses happen because we’ve been heading down the wrong path and something in our subconscious says, “Stop. You need to find a different way.” Maybe these pauses simply offer us a chance to breathe, so we can regroup and become re-energized; maybe they allow us to process and reflect on our journey, so we can bring a new level of awareness to the road ahead.

Sure, life has its ups and downs. It has its ruts, too, but maybe they don’t suck as much as we think.

Maybe, stopping for a bit is its own kind of progress.

I think I’d like to stop here awhile…

Image via Unsplash/Drew Geraets

*You can find the link to Tara Brach’s talk here. (She’s fantastic, if you haven’t had the chance to listen to her.)

 

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