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Peace, Love & Anxiety

Looking Up

by Christy Gualtieri

A few months ago, my cousin from New York City came to visit with his four kids in tow, the oldest of whom was sixteen. We got to talking about cell phones and how old the kids were when they first got them, a topic that I listened to with interest, since although my kids are relatively young, it’s a conversation I’ll end up having sooner rather than later. The sixteen year old does everything on his phone. Calls and texts, obviously. Social media apps, getting his news. But also, schoolwork. Writing essays.

“Writing essays?” I said incredulously, like a proper Old Person.

“Yeah,” he shrugged. “I type them on my phone and then email it to myself to print out.”

I sat there relatively agog, half-wondering if he was a warlock of some kind. “But…how do your thumbs still work?” I checked his hands fully expecting to see inhumanly large thumbs with huge muscles bulging out, but they looked like normal teenage hands to me.  “Haven’t they fallen off?” I was joking, but still…I was pretty taken aback.

It’s such a funny thing, living in a time when things are changing so rapidly, where new technologies are cropping up every day. I imagine it’s like someone who just got electricity in their home for the first time, and what the Old People in their times would say. “But…you just turn on…lights? In your home? What do you do with all the candles?”  Or people who just got radios. “But…how do you hear someone’s voice in your house…without them being there?”

But back to the phones. Being of a certain age, I wouldn’t say that I’m the kind of person who is attached to my cell phone all the time, but I do check it pretty frequently. I can’t imagine being a kid and feeling like a limb was missing if it was taken away, or what someone’s brainwaves look like after only knowing the reality of being able to access information in the palm of your hand.

The other day, I was standing on the corner waiting for my son’s school bus. I was alone and it was a chilly day, but a bright one, and the sky really was lovely: a robin’s-egg blue color with this smattering of white clouds all across it. I looked up and watched the cloud for a minute, and then saw something else, and kept watching. I was transfixed. No one had been driving by at the time, but I can guess what they’d have been thinking if they did: what is she looking at? And maybe they’d stop too, crane their neck up against their car window, or peer upward past their sun visors that hung down, trying to see why in the world one solitary woman was doing just standing there on the corner, looking up at the sky.

There was this bird, that’s all. A huge bird, the kind that was so big so way up high that you knew it would be absolutely monstrous if it was closer to you. We get plenty of birds in our neighborhood; cardinals and blue-jays, crows (my favorite), and sometimes little yellow ones – canaries, maybe – but this was no bird like that. I wondered how high up it was, and remembered that hawks can spot a little mouse for dinner from something like a mile up in the air, and I wondered if that’s how high this bird was. After a minute it kept flying out of sight, and I thought about how silly I must have looked, neck crooked, eyes straight up, with a hand to shield the strong light of the sun.

Why is it strange to see someone looking up…and why is not strange to see someone looking down? Because that’s what we do, most times, right? I know I do. Looking down gets you knowledge of things that are happening not very close to you…but looking up keeps you focused on the world you’re in right now.

Chances are, you’re like me, and could do with some more looking up. Of course, we all need distractions, especially if you’re not very comfortable with the world you’re currently in right now, but we need balance, too, and the world needs you in it – to participate, to acknowledge, to understand that although it’s a big, wide world, it’s all the more special because of what you contribute to it.

So if you get a chance (and you should make one), take a minute to look up. Observe what the sky looks like, and the clouds, if there are any. Take a deep breath, and then another one. Then go back to whatever else you were doing, and try to take that time again tomorrow, with some extra time added on…and see what you see! You may be surprised!

Until next time, be well!
Christy

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Peace, Love & Anxiety

Scary Air

by Christy Gualtieri

You’ve most likely heard the saying, “Do one thing that scares you,” a popular – and somewhat useful – nudge designed to move you out of your comfort zone. Doing things that scare you, or even things that make you uncomfortable help give you confidence, trust in your own abilities, and spur you onward into even greater things.

I know all these to be true, my friends, because just the other day I also did something that scared me: I put air in my car tires.

Putting air in your car tires seems to be the kind of thing that 99% of car owners would probably not bat an eye at, probably because it’s one of the most simple ways to take care of your car.  But while I consider myself a fairly intelligent person, there’s a surprising (at least to me) number of “simple” things that I struggle to do. Jello, for example. I can’t make jello.  I’ve burned spaghetti (which you are supposed to boil).  I have been that person at the gas pump who has sprayed gasoline all over her pants during a six-hour drive across the state.  (In my defense, I learned how to drive in New Jersey, where it is illegal to pump your own gas, so I didn’t learn how to until I was solidly ten years behind every other American driver my age not from New Jersey.) So you’ll understand why I was nervous about pumping air into my tires.  It just seemed hard.  There’s the little cap you have to screw off, and what if I lost it? And what if I put too much air in, causing the tire to explode right in my face? What if I couldn’t do it, and everyone would see what a failure I was?

But it’s the autumn, the time of year when the cooler weather necessitates a trip to put air in my tires. And while I am very lucky to be married to an extremely capable man who is more than willing to do things like this for me, I was determined this year to learn the skill for myself. So I drove up to the air pump at the local station, read the instructions, and got to work. I put in the amount of air pressure I wanted, hooked up the pump to my tire (after screwing off the little cap), and it worked! The machine beeped when it was full, and I replaced the cap and moved on to the next tire. No tires exploded in my face, and when I was finished, I replaced the air pump hose back to the machine with total satisfaction.

I was downright ecstatic…until I found out it didn’t work. When I got back in my car to drive away, my tire pressure numbers hadn’t inflated. I was so annoyed! What did I do wrong? What was wrong with me? Would I ever learn to fill my own tires? I drove the short distance home, hoping the numbers would readjust, but they stayed put. I asked my husband what it could be and he told me that he’d show me a few days later when we went out for church, but I wanted to figure it out for myself, today.

And so I did. A couple of hours later, I returned to the same gas station and the man there said the air pump was broken; they’d just hadn’t had a chance to put up a sign.  So off I went to another station down the street with an air pump, absolutely determined to get this right. I put in the pressure numbers, hooked up the pump, and…success! I managed to fully and properly inflate all four car tires by myself. I drove away just as pumped as my tires!

I fully understand how ridiculous this all sounds, especially from a grown woman, but it really was something that scared me and it was something I was able to gain a lot of confidence from. I learned that I was able to persevere and figure out what I wanted and needed to do, and I did it. It’s probably the smallest example in the world, but those are the best kind, because everyone can do them. Even you!

So choose something that scares you today – or at least makes you a little nervous. It can be anything: a hard conversation with a friend, base jumping off the Grand Canyon, whatever. Even putting air in your car tires. But give it a try. Because even if you don’t succeed at it, like I didn’t the first time I tried, you’ll know you got that far, you’re still alive, and you can always try again.

Until next time, be well!
Christy

 

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Existential GPS

Digging in the Dirt

by Don Laird, MS, NCC, LPC, DCC

Why gardening? It is a question I have been thinking about as the days begin to grow longer and summer is quickly approaching. Amid all the thoughts roving the terra nova of my consciousness, the act of gardening – excuse the pun, has taken root. By no coincidence, I began to reflect on gardening while standing in line at my local home improvement store, that vast warehouse of do-it-yourself paraphernalia that includes an overabundance of trappings designed for the weekend and professional landscaper.

On the surface, the subject of gardening appears fairly innocuous, but dig a bit further and what is uncovered is a rich topography of metaphor and meaning that spreads deep and wide. Arguably, the pragmatic reasons for why people garden are to eat and to improve the curb appeal of their homes. If you survive on the vegetation from your garden or fancy an attractive lawn, it is easy to understand these primary motives. However, why the obsession? Our agrarian way of life ended around the same time industry began seeing dollar signs in the valleys and rivers that shape this region, and we never looked back. Sort of.

According to Christianity, humanity started in a garden. Buddhists create gardens to allow nature to fuse with their surroundings. The Babylonian’s imagined a “garden of the gods.” Almost every major palace and government building has a garden. So why all the attention to something we can only do a few months out of the year based on our temperate climate zone?

I believe one of the reasons people love gardens and the act of gardening is that while we have a desire to progress and develop in a contemporary milieu there is, deep within us, a primordial requisite for human beings to join with nature. In short, we are driven to make something, to grow something, apart from ourselves. Hence, the garden, a small path for nature to reenter our existence becomes that something. Being in nature connects us with our earliest evolutionary development.

Gardens remind us that we still care, and that we are capable of nurturing and cultivating the earth in a peaceful fashion. The garden stands in contrast to our collective, destructive patterns of behavior. Ancient philosophers viewed gardens as a means of self-actualization and enlightenment. Thus, gardening nourishes a natural need within us to create order, structure and beauty. The garden becomes the conduit between the self and the natural world.

From a practical standpoint, gardening is definitely a healthy habit that promotes physical exercise, helps the environment, and improves our diet. So go – get your garden on – weekend warrior. What you may view as a hobby has a history that serves to improve the current state of our individual and collective well-being.

In good health,
Don

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Peace, Love & Anxiety

The Freedom of Learning

by Christy Gualtieri

It’s very possible that everyone else in the world but me knows this, but I recently learned that the origin of the term “liberal arts education” was based around the idea, long ago, that when it came to learning, if you did not have to learn things to work in order to make a living (because your family had a lot of money, say; or because of other serendipitous circumstances), you were free to learn more about things for the sake of learning them – things like the humanities, the arts, etc. The Latin word for freedom is “libertas,” which the English word is drawn from.

Learning for the sake of learning – learning just because. It’s fascinating, isn’t it? It’s different from how a child learns; a child learns in order to understand the world around them. It’s different, of course, then how a scholar learns, or how a person who works in a trade learns – all of those types of learning have ends to them. Anyone who’s watched a YouTube tutorial (*raises hand*) has learned for the sake of a particular goal in mind.  But learning something just because? There really is freedom in that!

And these days, it’s so easy to do that because of the sheer volume of information that is so readily available to us. If I wanted to, right this minute, I could look up how to create those amazing Japanese fluff-ball edible desserts that are designed to look like a cherry blossom suspended in a raindrop. (I’d make it and I’m sure it would come out looking nothing like it is supposed to, but I could try.)

And I should – and so should you. Not the Japanese cake (although, it does look challenging and delicious; and if you do it, please post a pic in the comments, because you’ve pretty much just become my personal hero), but learning something new – and not because you need to. Because you’ve always wanted to, but never did. And you may not have time (I feel you – I’m a mom of two young kids, and so personal time is an extremely foreign concept to me), but I think this “liberal learning” would be beneficial. And you can find the time, because you can learn new things during your self-care time; the time you take to practice taking care of yourself mentally, emotionally and spiritually.

What’s that, you say? Self-care? To quote that ever-famous meme, “Ain’t nobody got time for that.”  Indeed. But you and I both know that it is essential to our mental health to find some time, even if it’s just a sliver of a few minutes. And just like looking at glossy Instagram pics of beautifully-plated, delicious whole foods does not make you a nutritionist, neither does just thinking of delighting in something new make you more learned in it. We live in a time period full of accessible knowledge that was unthinkable to people not even a generation before us. We have more time than they did to think liberally (meaning freely – no politics here!) about things; and so I really encourage you to take a few minutes to learn something new just because.

So, take a minute. Close your eyes. Smile, and think of something that delights you. Now, research how to do it / build it / pronounce it. For no other reason than that you delight in it. After you’ve done that, smile again. You’ve learned something new.

Wasn’t that fun?

Until next time, be well!
Christy